Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 9 of 27

And while Gourley was fond of saying that he got his nursing degree from University Hospital and his "Ph.D. in Queerdom" from Harry Hay, he had a difficult time getting his mentor to discuss his concern about gays' hedonistic sexual behavior. Hay found discussions about sexual behavior counterproductive to his principle theme that being gay was more than "where you put your dick." He was fond of shocking listeners by declaring, with a twist on the old gay adage, "We have nothing in common with straight people except for what we do in bed." In one of the rare times he did discuss sexuality with Gourley, Hay noted that gay men's behavior had changed radically over the years: They now had more anal sex, in part because of the opportunity provided by the bathhouses.

That was one of the reasons Gourley noted on a flier for the gathering that "the fairies planning the gathering ask that there be no drug or alcohol use on the site." They wanted to remove the gathering -- physically and psychologically -- as far as possible from the party scene that defined the liberated gay lifestyle of the '70s.

The campsite permit forced them to limit the number of participants to 300, some of whom arrived in Denver early and headed for Gourley's home in Five Points, where Hay and Walker were soon leading discussions. The other participants arrived, coming from major metropolitan areas and small towns all over the country; there were even a few from Canada. All were taken to the fifteen-acre campsite at the end of a box canyon where Gourley's two tents were set up near a large fire pit.

The evenings were social and spiritual in nature. Taking their cue from the lesbians, who Gourley joked with friends were a "more highly evolved life form than gay men," there were a lot of pagan and wiccan influences in their rituals, a lot of evoking the "Great Mother" and worshiping nature. The weather -- which had been alternately cloudy and rainy -- put a damper on another mud ritual (making Gourley glad that he'd warned participants that at 8,000 feet, even in summer, it was a good idea to bring down coats and rain gear in addition to "your entire wardrobe of flowing non-hetero garb"). A big hit was the drumming and dancing, which reached its peak when Offutt appeared on a hillside one evening dressed from head to toe in a magnificent buckskin outfit, pounding on a large drum. Soon participants were dancing around the fire like wildmen.

The days had their hours for hiking, quiet contemplation and simply building a sense of community by networking with like-minded gay men from all over the country. There were, of course, several "fairy circles," in which the men would gather to discuss issues, some dressed in dresses and skirts or nothing at all. The workshops dealt with more serious matters. The idea of the gay sanctuary was a big hit and, while not everyone agreed on how best to go about it, the consensus was that the gay community needed to move beyond sex as the issue that defined gay culture both to themselves and the straight world. There were also discussions about health concerns and the relationship to the bathhouse scene.

It was during one of these discussions that Gourley first heard the disturbing news brought by participants from San Francisco. They told about a rash of sudden immune-system collapses resulting in the deaths of gay men on the West Coast.

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Steve Jackson