Before I was seven years old there were so many labels on my back beginning with nigger. By the time I was 14 I went through a kind of nervous breakdown, which happened when I was a preacher. And by the time I was 17 1 had survived all the labels, including the label of faggot. It wasn’t and it isn’t easy.
by Dr. James S. Tinney
For the first time in his career, novelist James Baldwin openly identified with the Gay community by addressing more than 200 persons at a forum sponsored by The New York Chapter of Black and White Men Together (BWMT-NY). The forum was held June 5 in the Gay synagogue known as Simchat Torah on the West side of Greenwich Village.
Speaking with candor and openness about his own homosexuality, Baldwin claimed that his life-long sexual orientation had never been a secret, but he had not always felt it was necessary, “or anybody’s business,” to openly affirm it. “Before I was seven years old,” he said, “there were so many labels on my back beginning with ‘nigger.’ By the time I was 14 I went through a kind of nervous breakdown, which happened when I was a preacher. And by the time I was 17 I had survived all the labels including the label of faggot. It wasn’t and it isn’t, easy.”
Baldwin briefly mentioned his becoming a Pentecostal minister in Harlem as a youth, and then declared, “I still consider myself a Christian,” although he was careful to point out that he did not necessarily identify with institutionalized Christianity. Similarly, he explained that, while he is Gay, he does not necessarily identify with all of the institutionalized and “ghettoized” Gay community. Lashing out at the “mercantile morality” of both the Right Wing and the Gay community itself, Baldwin depicted racism in the Gay community as merely an extension of racism in the wider White Western societies.
“White folks have nothing whatever to contribute to morality; they have nothing whatever to contribute to the fashioning of a new and better social order,” stated Baldwin. “They are morally bankrupt.” “Even the so-called humanist thinkers are morally bankrupt!” he exclaimed. Baldwin noted his personal acquaintance with many of the famous European humanists and existentialists, but declared them unfit to lead the world out of its dependency upon “slaves, colonies, and war.”
Gays, like Blacks, he believes, are being used as scapegoats for society’s own fears. They are becoming victims of the anger Whites feel when they see that capitalism must, of necessity, give way to a new economic order of socialism. “Yet even White socialism seems unable to eliminate its racism,” he added. He also claimed that White Gays exemplify the same racism, by and large. He referred to the fact that Gore Vidal, a celebrated Gay writer, has referred to him as a “jungle bunny.”
In answer to a question from the audience, Baldwin seemed to indicate that his own political consciousness as an open Gay advocate has evolved over a period of time. It began with the writing of his book, Giovanni’s Room. “That was something I had to do; I had to work through it,” he said, in reference to writing the book. It is no secret that it is partly autobiographical.
More recently, he admitted, his consciousness has brought him to the point where in his latest novel, “Just Above My Head,” he is able to write freely about the homosexual relationship of two Blacks. (His previous works dealt with sex between Whites, or between Blacks and Whites but not between Blacks.) He concluded, “One has to reject, in toto, the implication that one is abnormal. That is a sociological and societal delusion that has no truth at all. I’m no more abnormal than General Douglas MacArthur.”
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