Season 8 — Preview
Making Gay History is back! Join us as we mine the Studs Terkel Radio Archive in Chicago for stories from our proud LGBTQ past to bring you eight intimate conversations conducted between 1959 and 1981 by the legendary oral historian.
Episode first published October 1, 2020.
Eric Marcus Narration: I’m Eric Marcus, and we’re back—with season eight of Making Gay History.
For this season we’re doing something different. We’re reaching beyond my Making Gay History audio archive to bring you interviews with LGBTQ people, all drawn from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive in Chicago.
I’m thrilled to be working with the archive, because there’s a special place in my heart for Studs Terkel. Back in 1988, when editor Rick Kot at Harper & Row commissioned me to write an oral history book about what was then called the lesbian and gay civil rights movement, he gave me an example of the kind of book he was looking for. He said he wanted a book for general readers, like Studs Terkel’s oral history that explored what people do for work and how they feel about it. It was called Working.
Growing up with my lefty parents, I of course knew who Studs Terkel was from his popular radio show, his books, and his outspoken support of liberal causes, from unions and the Black civil rights movement to gay rights and women’s rights.
Studs Terkel liked to point out that he was born three weeks after the Titanic went down in 1912. Studs had a lot more staying power than the Titanic and over the course of a half-century he conducted more than 5,000 interviews with regular people, famous people, literary legends, and, on occasion, young authors just out of the gate.
Here’s Studs Terkel with one of those young authors in 1992 in his studio at WFMT radio in Chicago.
Studs Terkel: Making History is the book, my guest is Eric Marcus, and it’s an oral history of the gay movement from 1945 to 1990. It’s a pip!
You speak of, uh, the two women, Cecelia and Nancy, Nancy Andrews and Cecelia Walthall…
Eric Marcus: [overlaps] Cecelia Walthall.
ST: Is it—
EM: Yes, and their, and their view of, of the world is really my view, that we can’t change opinion without, uh, revealing to people who we are. And it’s very much a one-on-one effort. A cab driver just the other day asked me, uh, if I was married. He came from the same part of the Ukraine as my family. We had a great talk. He asked if I was married, and I said, “I’m not married, but I’ve been with my partner for nine years, and we’re not married because two men cannot marry in this country.”
ST: You told this to the cab driver.
EM: Told this to the cab driver.
ST: Now I’m the cab driver, I’m driving the cab, now I hear this. Suddenly my back stiffens…
EM: No, he paused for a second…
ST: He did.
EM: And he said, “All people have the right to live as they choose.” And then he paused again, and he said, “Can I ask you a question?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “I’ve never talked to someone I knew was gay before,” he said, “How do you get to be that way?” Well, we had the best conversation.
ST: That’s great.
EM: And here was the opportunity for me to talk one on one.
ST: See, now, you see what I did? I was guilty…
EM: You assumed.
ST: … of a generality.
EM: You assumed he would, he would have a problem.
ST: You said “cab driver.” A cab driver, forgetting about Third World cab drivers and others, cab—not that that would make any difference—cab driver. And so I said, “My back stiffened.”
EM: That’s right. And his back didn’t stiffen.
ST: The opposite. No, you see, so…
EM: I had a cab driver yesterday, who asked me also what I did, and he said, “Oh, I had two gay roommates in college.” This is a younger man. But I have not encountered yet a problem with a cab driver, yet. Despite the stereotype.
ST: Here again those stereotypes, you see. We’re talking really about stereotype, whether it be Black, women, gays…
ST: Cab drivers.
ST: Stereotype… That’s basically what we’re talking about.
EM: And what I hope when people read this is they’ll stop making assumptions about who gay and lesbian people are and find out that we are very, very much living, breathing humans.
EM Narration: Over the course of the next eight episodes, you’ll get to know just a handful of the living, breathing humans Studs interviewed, including Quentin Crisp. He was an infamous and iconic homosexual British eccentric and author of a bestselling memoir, The Naked Civil Servant.
Quentin Crisp: I have known homosexuals who thought the whole thing was wonderful and amusing, an adventure, and so on. I’ve never liked it. I never wanted to be on the outside. I never wanted to be someone whose sex was an object of, whose sex was a subject of discussion. If I’d been a woman, my sex would not have been the subject of discussion at all.
EM Narration: You’ll also hear a conversation about racial and gender oppression with Lorraine Hansberry, from an interview recorded in 1959, just a couple of months after the curtain went up on her landmark play, A Raisin in the Sun.
Lorraine Hansberry: Obviously, the most oppressed group of any oppressed group will be its women, you know? Obviously. Since women, period, are oppressed in society, and if you’ve got an oppressed group, they’re twice oppressed. So I should imagine that they react accordingly, as oppression makes people more militant and so forth and so on, then twice militant because they’re twice oppressed.
EM Narration: And you’ll meet a female impersonator best known as Les-Lee, in a 1967 interview that took place at Les’s raucous Paris nightclub.
Les-Lee: So I felt that I would make my life as I choose and no one would bother me, which they didn’t. And I came right out of my shell. I really did. Because I knew that by hiding or by, by trying to be something that I’m not would become very artificial, and therefore I’m exactly as I am. I talk the way I please. I dress the way I please. And if people accept me, it’s because I am what I am and otherwise, otherwise they don’t and I don’t really care.
EM Narration: So join me for this eighth season of Making Gay History as we travel back in time with Studs Terkel to hear these and other extraordinary conversations with LGBTQ people from decades past.
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So long. Until next time.