Untold Stories; or, You’re Probably Sick of Hearing Me Talk About Gay Men By Now

I’m doing a project for a class about Princeton and race and campus planning and things, and it’s involved a lot of archival research. This is great, because I actually really love archives—particularly when, by chance, they lead me to totally unrelated gems like this Daily Princetonian article from May 1971:

“Departing Duberman” is Martin Duberman, founder of the CUNY Graduate School Lesbian and Gay Studies Center and one of the seminal figures in queer scholarship. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the Prince article, which frames Duberman as a fairly classic child of the Sixties, whose “experimental, non-graded and non-structured seminar on American radicalism” befuddled the Princeton establishment, and whose students “had criticized him for his informality and call for spontaneity.” The article quotes Duberman, too, who appears to make no mystery of his departure to CUNY, saying, “Staidness is the best summary word for my experience at Princeton and it symbolizes what Princeton has always stood for.”

“Staidness,” however, is a pretty nonspecific word, and a glance at Duberman’s 1991 memoir Cures (the title refers to alleged cures for homosexuality) fills in some of what he might have meant when he used it. (I would like to note at this juncture that if I have any useful knowledge, knowing the queer shelves in Firestone well enough to find Duberman’s books without a call number appears to be one of them.) The prologue to Cures refers to Duberman’s time at Princeton in the ’60s, expressing his frustration at outdated attitudes to women and African-Americans, and a hostility towards radicalism or really anything different or threatening. But, gesturing towards the subsequent material in the book, this is how the prologue ends:

My private world was not nearly so comfortable [as my students’]. I lived in faculty housing—a small pseudocolonial unit built to sit “picturesquely” next to an artificial pond—and my personal life was a neat match for the antiseptic surroundings. Except for one local pub where ambivalent glances were rumored to have been exchanged by men awaiting their turn at the dart board, and the town of New Hope, about an hour’s drive from Princeton, where a gay bar was actually known to exist (though subject to police raids), the only other hope for contact was in the bushes and the men’s room at the Princeton railroad station, dim prospects in every sense. Even if Princeton had offered more opportunities, I would have been ambivalent about taking advantage of them. In these pre-Stonewall liberation years, a few brave souls had publicly declared themselves and even banded together for limited political purposes, but the vast majority of gay people were locked away in painful isolation and fear, doing everything possible not to declare themselves. Many of us cursed our fate, longing to be straight. And some of us had actively been seeking a “cure.” In my case, for a long time.

Of course, the Prince would hardly report this, because Duberman would hardly have said any of this in 1971. It’s a useful reminder of the apparent insurmountability of piecing together the history of a community that is not a community, and how much goes unmentioned when there’s not an accompanying memoir against which to fact-check.

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