Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 7 of 27

Gourley's initial reaction was anger that "a straight" was attempting to talk to him about "true gay love." But after cooling off, he had realized that Judson's view was no different from his own. However, he argued, that allegation didn't take into account society's role in forcing gay sex into the bathhouses. Straights had their school dances, their proms; they were encouraged to go on dates and establish monogamous relationships, the prime example being church- and state-sanctioned marriage. Gays had always been shamed and tormented into parking-lot trysts, the cruising scene at gay bars and casual sex in bathhouses. Despite the efforts of the movement, he wrote, at least 90 percent of all gay men were still in the closet to some degree. For these men to go to a clinic and ask for oral and anal gonorrhea tests was to admit their homosexuality. Instead, they stayed quiet and passed on the diseases to others.

"So rather than have health professionals preach to us about such bogus issues as 'true gay love' and 'monogamous relationships,' which are merely opinions reflecting their own hetero-Judeo-Christian mores, it would be much more productive to begin working for a society in which the gay lifestyle is an equally acceptable form of self-actualization," he wrote. "There is a significant correlation between the social, cultural, political and psychological repression of gay men and their inflated rate of venereal disease."

Gourley had received a 100 percent on the paper. And when he tested men for STDs at the bathhouses, he made no attempt to lecture them. Still, he was concerned about the health of his people. It took only a quick look in trash cans of bathhouses and bar restrooms to note the used syringes. Along with repeated bouts of STDs and viral hepatitis, all that drug use simply couldn't be good for them. But it would have been politically incorrect to preach about that to other gay men. Besides, when he wasn't testing, he was an active participant.

In 1979, the name of the center was changed to the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, reflecting the growing role of women in the movement. Soon a woman named Carol Lease was appointed its director.

In June of that year, Gourley brought Hay to Denver to be the grand marshal in that year's march commemorating Stonewall. Instead of hundreds, there were now a few thousand men and women participating. The lesbians wanted to call it a march, the gays a parade -- but the important thing to Gourley was that they were becoming an increasingly political and cohesive community. He thought it was an important step forward that as grand marshal, Hay represented a way of thinking that went beyond sex.

In part because of his conversations with Gourley and other young gay activists, Hay had decided to put in motion something he had been thinking about for some time. He called it A Spiritual Gathering for Radical Fairies, to take place in the desert near Tucson later that summer. It was the chance to examine the spiritual and political side of being gay, Hay said. He had been careful to choose each word for the event carefully: Spiritual, to emphasize that this was to be more than a party in the wilds; Gathering, which seemed to denote a coming together of equals; Radical, which Hay was always reminding Gourley meant "to the root," in that they would be exploring the root of their gayness apart from their sexuality; and Fairies, partly to "reclaim" a word that was derogatory when applied to gays, but also because it evoked images of the elusive, magical creatures of folklore.

The gathering of a couple hundred went off beautifully. Big on ceremony, queens were all over the "mud ritual" of worshiping Mother Earth by smearing their naked bodies with the stuff and dancing around in the warm Arizona air. Hay was so pleased with the outcome that he immediately put Gourley in charge of planning a second gathering for the following summer in the mountains of Colorado.

But danger was on the horizon. Its first warning came to Gourley after the spiritual gathering that fall.

He and his boyfriend at the time, an emergency-room physician, grew hallucinogenic mushrooms. They liked to take them before heading off to the bathhouses, which they viewed as the ultimate playgrounds. One night Gourley ate a new batch of the hallucinogens, more powerful than he was used to dealing with. Inside the bathhouse, he began freaking out and made his way to the outdoor part of the facility, hoping that cool air might help bring him down. But it only got worse.

Demons appeared, looking like gargoyles. They danced toward him, their long purple and pink tongues protruding from grinning mouths and distorted faces, their tentacles and hands reaching, grasping. They were everywhere, whichever way he turned. If they caught him, he thought he would surely die.

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Steve Jackson