Not So Fast, Mr. George (2)

In his reply to my post, for which I thank him, Robert George fairly notes that many of the family radicals who signed "Beyond Marriage" favor SSM. Of course they do. But so do nearly all left-wing and queer-theory academics and activists, which is what these folks are. (With the exception of Chai Feldblum and a few others, they have not played prominent roles in the same-sex marriage fight. I mean, Cornel West? Gimme a break.) The important distinction is that SSM is only part of what these folks favor, and the rest is what they really care about. As the title of their manifesto proclaims, they are looking beyond same-sex marriage: they favor SSM, not as an end in itself, but as a way-station toward a post-marriage society in which all concepts of family enjoy equal status and marriage is irrelevant.

There's no denying that they speak for a prominent element of the gay-rights movement (not the gay marriage movement; there's a difference). I worry about their influence, as I do about that of socialized-medicine advocates and anti-globalists and gender-abolishers and other members of the ultra-egalitarian left, but I don't think they'll prevail, even within the gay universe, most of which is neither radical nor "queer."

There's a legitimate argument here about whether the culture will interpret gay marriage as "anything goes" or as "marriage goes." Actually, some of both may happen, but I expect the dominant vector to be reaffirmation of marriage's privileged status as the family structure of choice. Parents asking their gay kids, "So, you guys going to get married?", plus the longstanding social preference for the unique commitment of marriage (as expressed, for example, in corporate benefits reserved for married couples), plus the fact that most marrying gay couples marry precisely because they see marriage as a unique commitment - all these, I expect, will lead the culture to read SSM as a return to the values of marriage, not a further flight from them. The wind brings positive straws from Massachusetts, where a number of employers are revoking domestic-partner benefits now that SSM is legal.

In any case, it's hardly fair to saddle homosexuals with the burden of exclusion from marriage in hopes of preventing heterosexual folly. If straights insist on trashing marriage, it's not gays' job to stop them. Question: how many American heterosexuals would give up their own marriages to (maybe) forfend polygamy? Who would even consider asking them to do so? I'm often saddened by otherwise compassionate conservatives' willingness to think of gay people, in the SSM debate, as pawns to be manipulated for some larger social good. They must forgive us for declining to think of ourselves that way.

Regarding polygamy...OK, let me see if I get this. Polygamy destabilizes societies, is inconsistent with liberal democracy, shows pronounced inegalitarian and misogynistic tendencies, is frivolous by comparison to SSM, has no logical connection to SSM, and indeed is logically antithetical to the principle of SSM properly understood (everyone should have the opportunity to marry)...these are not principled arguments? Whereas "one man plus one woman makes baby" is not just a principled barrier to polygamy, it is the only principled barrier?

The problem, which is immediately obvious, is that "one man plus one woman makes baby" is no kind of barrier to polygamy, either logical or practical. Logically, man-plus-woman-makes-baby is a biological fact, but one-plus-one-makes-marriage in no way follows from it. Men are perfectly happy to marry all the women they can make babies with, as they have been wont to do since the dawn of history. Given that most human cultures have been polygamous (and quite a few still are), and that presumably all of these cultures have been well aware that heterosexual couples make babies, it seems self-evident that the man-woman-baby argument has little or no deterrent effect on polygamy.

A point of honest disagreement with George is this: in my opinion, the reasons to oppose polygamy are instrumental, not metaphysical, and all the stronger for that. And they are the same reasons for favoring gay marriage. Society and (generally) individuals are better off when everyone can marry and most people do.

That disagreement aside, I wish George would reconsider his strategy of pooh-poohing all the arguments against polygamy (and polyamory) that don't also militate against SSM - which is to say, virtually all the arguments against polygamy. Surely we could agree that this strategy does monogamy no favors. As SSM and gay partnerships gain acceptance, conservatives will be stuck with their own arguments that any change to the boundaries of marriage entails every change. It will be harder for the public, sensible though it is, to hold the line with conservatives insisting there is no line to hold. Sometimes I wonder if, like Col. Nicholson in "Bridge on the River Kwai," slippery-slope conservatives are forgetting what they're supposed to be defending. (Hint: not polygamy.)

As for polyamory, if by that George means group marriage, it might be different in some ways from polygamy, but it's analytically similar: frivolous, logically antithetical to SSM, and, to judge by the last several thousand years of experience, likely to devolve in the vast majority cases into polygamy. As for fending off formal recognition of non-marital polyamory (e.g., group cohabitation benefits), gay marriage is the surest method of preventing that.

In any case, it's well to remember that all this polygamy/polyamory talk amounts to changing the subject. Gay people are asking only for what straight people currently have: the opportunity to marry someone we choose (not anyone or everyone we choose). When straights get the right to marry two people, their mother, a dog, or a toaster, gay people will want the same opportunity. But not before.

Not So Fast, Mr. George

Robert George gloats that gay-marriage supporters, in this statement, have finally dropped the veil and blurted out what they really want: plural marriage and other forms of legal recognition for "committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner." Well, the statement is wrongheaded, and it's poorly drafted to boot (don't they mean more than two conjugal partners?), but George nonetheless gets it wrong.

First, there's nothing new here. Left-wing family radicals have been saying all this stuff for years. Second, what they're saying has no particular link to same-sex marriage. Few if any of the signers have been leaders of the gay-marriage movement. In fact, many of them (Judith Stacey and Michael Warner, for instance) have expressed ambivalence or outright hostility toward same-sex marriage. That's because, third, they're not particularly interested in including either plural relationships or same-sex couples in marriage; their agenda is to deinstitutionalize marriage by extending legal recognition to everything else-"conjugal" and otherwise. In other words, they don't want to put gays or polygamists on the marriage pedestal; they want to knock the pedestal over. They'd like to see a world where there'd be little legal or social difference between same-sex marriage and same-sex cohabitation.

Fourth, the likeliest way to get where these folks want to go is by not having gay marriage. The result, over time, will be to create and legitimize alternative family structures, including cohabitation benefits. Not by coincidence, "Beyond Marriage" folks are pointing to the recent string of judicial defeats for SSM as evidence that gay-rights supporters should "rethink and redirect" their energies away from marriage, and toward creating a host of marriage substitutes.

Finally, George claims that gay-marriage advocates "have made no serious effort to answer" the argument that there's no logical way to favor same-sex marriage and hold out against polygamy. On what planet? Here on earth, we have answered early and often-and we're still waiting for a substantive reply. If George wants to bone up, he can start here, here, here, here, and here (where he'll find a whole chapter on the subject).

First Gays, Then Polygamists?

AN INCREASINGLY COMMON objection to same-sex marriage takes the form of a slippery-slope argument: "If we allow gay marriage, why not polygamy? Or incest? Or bestiality?" This argument is nothing new, having been used against interracial marriage in the 1960's. But what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in rhetorical force: given the choice between rejecting homosexuality or accepting a sexual free-for-all, mainstream Americans tend to opt for the former.

Unfortunately, sound-bite arguments don't always lend themselves to sound-bite refutations. Part of the problem is that the polygamy/incest/bestiality argument (PIB argument for short) is not really an argument at all. Instead, it's a challenge: "Okay, Mr. Sexual Liberal: explain to me why polygamy, incest, and bestiality are wrong." Most people are not prepared to do that - certainly not in twenty words or less. And many answers that leap to mind (for example, that PIB relationships violate well-established social norms) won't work for the defender of same-sex relationships (since same-sex relationships, too, violate well-established social norms).

In what follows I respond to the PIB challenge. But first, I wish to set aside two popular responses that I think are inadequate. Call the first the "We really exist" argument. According to this argument, homosexuality is different from polygamy, incest, and bestiality because there are "constitutional" homosexuals, but not constitutional polygamists, incestualists, or bestialists. As Andrew Sullivan writes,

Almost everyone seems to accept, even if they find homosexuality morally troublesome, that it occupies a deeper level of human consciousness than a polygamous impulse. Even the Catholic Church, which believes that homosexuality is an "objective disorder," concedes that it is a profound element of human identity....[P]olygamy is an activity, whereas both homosexuality and heterosexuality are states."

Sullivan is probably right in his description of popular consciousness about homosexuality. Yet traditionalists may reject the idea that homosexuality is an immutable given. At a June 1997 conference at Georgetown University, "Homosexuality and American Public Life," conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher urged her audience to stop thinking of homosexuality as an inevitable, key feature of an individual's personality. Drawing, ironically, on the work of queer theorists, Gallagher proposed instead that homosexuality is a cultural convention - one that ought to be challenged.

If Gallagher and her social constructionist sources are right, the "We really exist" argument must be abandoned. But whether they're right or not, there are good pragmatic reasons for abandoning this argument. "We really exist" sounds dangerously like "We just can't help it." And to this claim there is an obvious response: "Well, alcoholics really exist, too. They can't help their impulses. But we don't encourage them." Though the alcoholism analogy is generally a bad one, it underscores the rhetorical weakness of claiming "We really exist" in response to the (rhetorically strong) PIB challenge.

A second response to the PIB challenge is to argue that as long as PIB relationships are forbidden for heterosexuals, they should be forbidden for homosexuals as well. Call this the "equal options" argument. To put the argument more positively: we homosexuals are not asking to engage in polygamy, incest, or bestiality. We are simply asking to engage in monogamous, non-incestuous relationships with people we love - just like heterosexuals do. As Jonathan Rauch writes,

The hidden assumption of the argument which brackets gay marriage with polygamous or incestuous marriage is that homosexuals want the right to marry anyone they fall for. But, of course, heterosexuals are currently denied that right. They cannot marry their immediate family or all their sex partners. What homosexuals are asking for is the right to marry, not anybody they love, but somebody they love, which is not at all the same thing.

Once again, this argument is correct as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough - at least not far enough to satisfy proponents of the PIB argument. As they see it, permitting homosexuality - even monogamous, non-incestuous, person-to-person homosexuality - involves relaxing traditional sexual mores. The fact that these mores prohibit constitutional homosexuals from marrying somebody they love is no more troubling to traditionalists than the fact that these mores prohibit constitutional pedophiles from marrying somebody they love, since traditionalists believe that there are good reasons for both prohibitions.

In short, both the "we exist" argument and the "equal options" argument are vulnerable to counterexamples: alcoholics really exist, and pedophiles are denied equal marital options. (Indeed, traditionalists are fond of pointing out that, strictly speaking, homosexuals do have "equal" options: they have the option of marrying persons of the oppostite sex. Such traditionalists usually remain silent on whether this option is a good idea for anyone involved, but so it goes.)

There is, I think, a better response to the PIB argument, one that has been suggested by both Sullivan and Rauch (whose contributions to this debate I gratefully acknowledge). It is to deny that arguments for homosexual relationships offer any real support for PIB relationships. Why would proponents of the PIB argument think otherwise? Perhaps they assume that our main argument for homosexual relationships is that they feel good and we want them. If that were our argument, it would indeed offer support for PIB relationships. But that is not our argument: it is a straw man.

A much better argument for homosexual relationships begins with an analogy: homosexual relationships offer virtually all of the benefits of sterile heterosexual relationships; thus, if we approve of the latter, we should approve of the former as well. For example, both heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships can unite people in a way that ordinary friendship simply cannot. Both can have substantial practical benefits in terms of the health, economic security, and social productivity of the partners. Both can be important constituents of a flourishing life. Yes, they feel good and we want them, but there's a lot more to it than that. These similarities create a strong prima facie case for treating homosexual and heterosexual relationships the same - morally, socially, and politically.

"But wait," say the opponents. "Can't you make the same argument for PIB relationships?" Not quite. It is true that you can use the same form of argument for PIB relationships: PIB relationships have benefits X, Y, and Z and no relevant drawbacks. But whether PIB relationships do in fact have such benefits and lack such drawbacks is an empirical matter, one that will not be settled by looking to homosexual relationships.

To put my point more concretely: to observe that Tom and Dick (and many others like them) flourish in homosexual relationships is not to prove that Greg and Marcia would flourish in an incestuous relationship, or that Mike, Carol, and Alice would flourish in a polygamous relationship, or that Bobby and Tiger would flourish in a bestial relationship. Whether they would or not is a separate question - one that requires a whole new set of data.

Another way to indicate the logical distance between homosexual relationships and PIB relationships is to point out that PIB relationships can be either homosexual or heterosexual. Proponents of the PIB challenge must therefore explain why they group PIB relationships with homosexual relationships rather than heterosexual ones. There's only one plausible reason: PIB and homosexuality have traditionally been condemned. But (whoops!) that's also true of interracial relationships, which traditionalists (typically) no longer condemn. And (whoops again!) they've just argued in a circle: the question at hand is why we should group PIB relationships with homosexual relationships rather than heterosexual ones. Saying that "we've always grouped them together" doesn't answer the question, it begs it.

The question remains, of course, whether PIB relationships do, on balance, have benefits sufficient to warrant their approval. Answering that question requires far more data than I can marshal here. It also requires careful attention to various distinctions: distinctions between morality and public policy, distinctions between the morally permissible and the morally ideal, and - perhaps most important - distinctions between polygamy, incest, and bestiality, which are as different from each other as they each are from homosexuality. In what remains I offer some brief (and admittedly inconclusive) observations about each of these phenomena.

Polygamy provides perhaps the best opportunity among the three for obtaining the requisite data: there have been and continue to be polygamous societies. Most of these are in fact polygynous (multiple-wife) societies, and most of them are sexist. Whether egalitarian polygamous societies are possible is an open question. Whether egalitarian polygamous relationships are possible (as opposed to entire societies) is an easier question. Though I find it difficult to imagine maintaining a relationship with several spouses - having had enough trouble maintaining a relationship with one - I have no doubt that at least some people flourish in them.

This conclusion leaves open the question of whether such relationships should be state-supported. As my acquaintance Josh Goldfoot put it, "Marry your toaster if you like, but please don't try to file a joint tax return with it." Whatever reasons the state has for being in the marriage business (and this point is a matter of considerable debate), these may or may not be good reasons for the state to recognize multiple spouses.

Polygamy also provides the most troublesome case for the traditionalists, since polygamy has Biblical support. True, the Bible reports troublesome jealousies among the sons of various wives, which perhaps should be taken as a lesson. But polygamy is clearly a case where the religious right can't point to "God's eternal law."

Incest, too, is common and expected in some societies - typically in the form of rites of initiation. In our own society incest typically results in various psychological difficulties, difficulties that should at least give pause to the supporter of incest. But one can easily construct a case that circumvents most (if not all) of these difficulties: imagine two adult lesbian sisters who privately engage in what they report to be a fulfilling sexual relationship. Can I prove that such activity is wrong? No - at least not off the top of my head. On the other hand, I don't think it's incumbent upon me to do so. If there are good arguments against such a relationship, they will remain unaffected by the argument in favor of homosexuality. And if the only argument traditionalists can offer against such a relationship is that longstanding tradition prohibits it, so much the worse for traditionalists. Again, that same argument is applicable to interracial relationships, and history has revealed its bankruptcy.

The bestiality analogy is the most irksome of the three, since it reveals that the traditionalists are either woefully dishonest or woefully dense. To compare a homosexual encounter - even a so-called "casual" one - with humping a sheep is to ignore the distinctively human capacities that sexual relationships can (and usually do) engage. As such, it is to reduce sex to its purely physical components - precisely the reduction that traditionalists are fond of accusing us of. That noted, claiming that bestial relationships are qualitatively different from human homosexual relationships does not prove that bestial relationships are immoral. Nor does the lack of mutual consent, since we generally don't seek consent in our dealings with animals. No cow consented to become my shoes, for example.

To be honest, I feel about bestiality much as I feel about sex with inflatable dolls: I don't recommend making a habit out of it, and it's not something I'd care to do myself, but it's hardly worthy of serious moral attention. I feel much the same way about watching infomercials: there are better ways to spend one's time, to be sure, but there are also better things for concerned citizens to worry about.

Why, then, are we even discussing bestiality? Perhaps it's because traditionalists have run out of plausible-sounding arguments against homosexuality, and so now they're grasping at straws. And then there's the emotional factor: mentioning homosexuality won't make people squeamish the way it once did, but mentioning bestiality and incest will at least raise some eyebrows, if not turn some stomachs. In short, the right wing knows that it's losing its cultural war against homosexuality, and it's trying to change the subject. We should steadfastly refuse to join them.

Gay Life Remembered

Originally published in 1993.

Jeb and Dash offers an unrivaled look at the life and thoughts of a gay man living in the Washington, D.C., of the 1920s, putting us much in the debt of the surviving niece who edited his diaries.

Jeb and Dash: A Diary of Gay Life, 1918-1945 (Ina Russell, ed., 1993) is an important and stunning book. It is fact, the diary of a gay man in Washington, D.C., two-thirds of it set in the 1920s. But it often reads like a novel thanks to the skillful editing of Ina Russell.

The work is enjoyable on two levels. One is simply as a superbly told story. The other is in capturing our history, a window to our scantily documented past. The truism that history is written by the victors explains the rarity of our written record, for gays and lesbians have seldom been victors in the eyes of society. So then, Jeb and Dash assumes an importance simply because of its singularity, its voice amidst an ocean of silence.

One has become so accustomed to the idea that the gay and lesbian world began with Stonewall that it comes as a shock to read entries, thoughts and observations written perhaps even before our parents were born, which sound freshly contemporary.

The fact is that there were gays and lesbians long before Stonewall. And they had developed patterns of association, a sense of community, even a common sense of oppression. What they had not developed was a systemic way of linking those small groups together, communicating, or creating a historic record of their existence. And so for us they ceased to exist. But now with this diary, we can reclaim some sense of the past and recognize the long traditions upon which our community is based.

It is perhaps one of the great ironies that the catalyst for reclamation of gay history is a straight woman. Ina Russell inherited the diaries from her uncle in 1965, all fifty years of them. They stack taller than her.

She skimmed a few primarily to confirm her belief that he was gay, and looking for things about the family. Once Jeb moved out on his own that meant the traditional Sunday journey back for dinner and the faithful journal entry that night. She says that perhaps she wasn't ready then, didn't have the "maturity" then to edit the diaries, and besides, there was no way they would possibly have been published.

"In the late eighties you could tell, I don't know if everybody could tell but I could tell that gay issues were going to be very up front, that I really had a good shot at getting them published," said Russell. So she began the task.

Fifty years of diaries, with each day devoutly entered save for when struck by the direst of illness. Each beginning with the weather, and breakfast, and ... Clearly the raw material needed some pruning.

"I wanted to do a love story. He was a one man man," said Russell. "He was a romantic. He slept with a lot of people but that was irrelevant."

C.C. Dasham - Dash - was the center of Jeb Alexander's life and the book. He was an obsession for Jeb from first glance, to their six month affair a few years later, and for decades more until Jeb's last breath. Reading the diary I sometimes wanted to reach into the pages, grab him by the ever present lapels and shake, bellowing, "get a life, get over him and go on."

"Boy gets boy, boy loses boy, boy sulks forever," is the way Russell put it. She found it both frustrating and charming. But that was part of the reason she decided to end the book in 1945; after all, sulking as a literary device can only go so far.

She changed names to offer some cover for possible survivors and family, and made minimal use of composite characters to make the story line easier to follow. But the voice of Jeb Alexander sings through. Russell says she "surprised, not quite so much surprised as gratified that they (the diaries) were sometimes wonderfully lyrical and well written. I was afraid that they might not be."

Jeb and Dash is packed with the names of places which at least some of the gay set frequented. A little digging turned up continuities that remind us how small our community is, even across time.

It is a recognition of continuity: Cruising Lafayette Square (which faded only long after Stonewall) and Dupont Circle; the persistence of panhandlers and bums; and watering holes where the friends of Dorothy gathered.

Hammond's in Georgetown was a regular haunt for Jeb. The owner retired in the late 1940's and the place became the Georgetown Grill, a gay bar which survived into the 1980's, until that owner decided to retire. We had lost sight of the fact that the place had a gay clientele even before it was known as the Grill.

Krazy Kat in 1920 was a "Bohemian joint in an old stable up near Thomas Circle ... (where) artists, musicians, atheists, professors" gathered. Miraculously the structure still stands, five blocks from the White House, as a gay bar called the Green Lantern.

Jeb was typical of many gay men in first repressing his sexuality, then embracing it in stages. His pattern seems so contemporary - discovering a cruising area, his first brief affair and inevitable broken heart, eventually working into a pattern of friendships, a sense of community, and greater self-acceptance.

These first excerpts are taken from a few weeks in 1920, the summer of his twentieth year. They are filled with the melodramatic hyperbole that only a highly romantic youth could have penned.

Wednesday, 25 August: I have at last found a friend, a lovable, handsome fellow, a realization of the friend I have dreamed of during all those lonely nights while I walked alone through the streets. Above all, our friendship is mutual. It has burst into full blossom like a glowing, beautiful flower. It happened like this: I went to Lafayette Square and found a seat in the deep shade of the big beech. It is the best bench in the park. A youth sat down beside me, a youth in a green suit with a blue dotted tie. He has beautiful eyes and sensuous lips. He wants to become a diplomat, but is devoted to music. Earlier tonight he had been singing at the Episcopalian Church, and is taking vocal lessons. His name is Randall Hare.

We strolled down to the Ellipse, where we sat affectionately together on a dim bench. Later we came to rest in the moon-misted lawns near the (Washington) Monument. With an excess of nervous caution I gazed about, watching for some prowling figure. "We are safe," Randall whispered. And he was right. Nothing disturbed us and we lay in each other's arms, my love and I, while the moon beamed from a spacious sky and the cool night breezes rustled our hair. The black trees stood like sentinels against the silvery grass. Afterwards we lay close together and gazed at the stars above, becoming fast friends, exchanging confidences. Ah, happiness! As [Oscar] Wilde said, Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!

Sunday, 5 September: During the ride back (on the streetcar) Randall had his hand lying on mine, and a girl across the aisle made an audible remark about it to her companions. But Randall in his melodious voice said, "We should worry," and kept his hand on mine. He said, "Be glad she noticed, so she won't be shocked the next time she sees it." He said there was not reason boys should not be demonstrative toward one another, as girls and Frenchmen were.

Sunday, 12 September: On this day I realized complete disillusionment. My "friendship" with Randall Hare was a fabrication! Friendship indeed! We went to Washington Cathedral. As we left the beautiful open air service and strolled together across the lawns, we had an unpleasant exchange with some rudeness on his part. I became somewhat stammering. Randall said scornfully, "What have you been believing? Did you think that when I wasn't with you I was singing!" I replied, "I did think that, and I feel deceived." He leaned back looking disgusted. "If I wanted a clinging vine I'd find - a woman." End of my friendship with him! I shall never find real friendship, never!

Randall Hare is one thread running through the diaries. Jeb is alternately attracted to and repelled by Randall who always seems so sure of himself and able to get it. He embodies the compromises many gay men made until very recently. In his youth he is a perennial in Jeb's accounts of cruising, then marries a woman for cover and has children, and continues to indulge in his voracious appetite for men, including the enduring object of Jeb's desire, Dash.

Over the course of years we meet a limited cast of characters. Isador is the most flamboyant, a proud, true queen who paid the price, as this entry shows.

Sunday, 7 January 1927: A cloudless day. Patches of snow on the walks. Isador arrived in a cab to pick up his belongings that had been packed by those magnificent Christians of the Young Men's Christian Association. I watched the scene from inside the lobby door. The packages and bags had been placed outside. Brindle, the malignant desk clerk, stood on the sidewalk with his arms crossed. The cab pulled up and Isador emerged, wearing a brown suit with a tan handkerchief tucked in his pocket, and a tan felt hat. Brindle pursed his lips as Isador, attempting a futile jocular conversation, began to load his possessions into the back seat of the car. He got in front with the driver and as they pulled away, his eyes met mine through the glass of the door and he waved vigorously, calling, "Thank you, Jeb dearest." Brindle turned around. My heart sank when I saw the expression on that reptilian beast's face.

Brindle wiped his feet on the mat. "I didn't realize that Mr. Pearson was a friend of yours." I replied, "He is a classmate in my art history class at George Washington University. We share school books." "Can't you share with someone less unnatural?" My voice shook, but I told that reprehensible beast, "I consider it a valid economy to be sharing books with Mr. Pearson."

Waiting for the elevator took an eternity. I found myself imagining that I was helping Isador put this packages in the cab, until the details became so vivid that it almost seemed that in fact I had helped him. And after all, there is no benefit in having two of us evicted from the Y. It is bad enough for something so humiliating to happen to one.

Hans appears to have been briefly a lover of Jeb and later a friend. He is involved with the theater in Washington. At the depths of the depression and unable to find work, he returns to his native Germany to disappear in the Nazi crackdown on homosexuals.

There is Nicky, once the lover of a successful older man, who attempted suicide when he was named in divorce proceedings by the man's wife. He is later drafted and lost in action off the coast of New Guinea in the Second World War.

There are tiny peeks at parties in apartments and private homes where the most vibrant gay social life flourished. But Jeb was more a recluse who seldom allowed himself to be dragged onto the faster track.

"If only Isador had written a diary," laments Russell, "we would have a much broader picture of gay life in D.C. ... I can tell, though I don't get to look at it much, that there was a much rowdier, bawdier subculture, more freewheeling than this particular little look at it." She says that Isador was much too busy having fun and so didn't write a diary.

Jeb's story is a quieter one, more of the daily routine of life than of the weekend flings. And in this day - no, eon - of AIDS, the closing paragraph of the diary is bittersweet, both sobering and consoling, a commentary we do well to remember.

It reminds us that neither loneliness nor heartbreak is new, nor is our persecution, nor our capacity to form communities, and survive. Above all, it is a testament to our endurance. Memory is often our only defense, our only celebration of those we have held dear. So bear witness, treasure your past and speak it, for that is what keeps it alive.

Monday, 31 December 1945: (I) walked in the rain to Crescent and got a seat at the bar. Houndstooth blustered in, bundled against the rain. We talked and had a good time. So many boys in the bar tonight, back from the war. Without saying anything to Houndstooth, I drank a silent toast to the memory of dear Hans, who has simply disappeared, and to sweet Nicky, who will never come back because he is a skeleton at the bottom of the Pacific. It hurts to think about them. When the clock behind the bar struck midnight I banged a salt shaker against my glass to make noise, and together old Houndstooth and I sang "Auld Lang Syne."

Permission to excerpt was generously granted by the editor and publisher.