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Konstantin Berlandt


 

Excerpts from “My Soul Vanished from Sight: a California Saga of Gay Liberation”

I walk through the Cal library undergraduate reading rooms now, afraid of being picked up. I look at everyone’s eyes but lower them again when I see the same thing in them that I feel in mine.

I’m discovering who I am and I’m afraid of it. See me looking at you. Don’t you think I’m queer.

Of course, I’m not. I’ve just done the research. I know that the third floor head in the library is a cruising spot for homosexuals and I’m afraid to go in there.

Class, let me tell you about them: “Homosexuals use the same words the straight society uses for them. Their words are derogatory when used by straights. For example, this word: “I’ll write it on the board and leave out a letter so as not to offend anyone. C-CKSUCKER.” This was during Berkeley’s four-letter word controversy, which I was parodying.

I sat on a desk in front of my speech class and told them what homosexuals wore according to Life magazine — fuzzy sweaters and tight Levis. I sat before them in tight cream Levis and a ski sweater. The visual message — homosexuals look just like me, but the whole rap, detached, academic, objective, third person, said, “I’m not a homosexual.” Homosexuals are just like us, I said, except they make love to each other, hate themselves and each other, and we hate them too as we hate ourselves as we are them and as we separate ourselves from them who are not them but us.

The next class speaker, a burly football-player build, crew-cut, madras shirt, erased C-CKSUCKER from the board with anger.

   

Chris and I were classmates, studied together. He was very lonely at Berkeley and I was his first close friend there. I took him to the Rendezvous on the bar’s anniversary ostensibly to hear the Grateful Dead. I wanted him to know I was gay and find out if he was. He recognized immediately that it was a gay bar, but he paired me up in his head with the girl, an old friend, who I asked to come with us. He and I were together every night, ostensibly to study, but we mostly talked. I wanted to touch him very much, kiss him very much and didn’t, waited, frustrated.

I told him if I didn’t get out of the draft any other way, I’d tell them I was homosexual. I never overtly said I was homosexual. He never said he was. I cried in frustration after he left one night, angry with myself: “It’s just sex. It’s just sex,” I cried. “I don’t even know him. I only just met him.”

He wrote me a letter: “Konstantin, I like you as a friend. And I like to touch my friends. It is something a girl with whom I was very much in love taught me. For you see, Konstantin, I am not homosexual like you.”

I felt we had a homosexual relationship. I would be his friend in a physically sexual relationship and be frustrated at times, but I would not try to seduce him, not try to bring him out. If he wanted to come out, he now knew where the Rendezvous was. He touched my shoulder and said he liked me and wanted to continue to be my friend. Another night as we walked to his house he took my hand. I took him into the shade and kissed him. He withdrew again for a few days and then, filling himself up with beer, he initiated our making love.

He told me later he had always known he was homosexual but had had a recent love affair with a girl and proved to himself he was straight after all. He wanted to work for the government, and letting his homosexuality come out again conflicted with his life’s ambitions.

“Don’t call my house any more. Don’t come over except when I tell you my parents aren’t home. My parents know you’re homosexual, and I don’t want them to know I am.” He thought they could tell because my laugh is sometimes high and because I called so often. We were living together. If his parents came to visit I rolled my face to the wall as his lethargic, nameless roommate. When other people knocked, we messed up one bed before we answered the door. If people stayed overnight, we slept apart. If we went to parties together we danced with the girls and pretended we weren’t interested in each other.

   

Gay Liberation held an open party across the street from the Berkeley campus — “Come Together” — to celebrate our second coming and the opening of our office — a free space. This was the first open and mass homosexual get-together in Berkeley’s history. Womb and the Crabs played for free. Some 500 people came out of their closets to dance and sing and kiss. Gay Liberation Theatre performed, and Don Burton, a deep blue silk sheathe over his naked body, sang some gay civil rights type songs he had written. We sang one song together and I felt a brotherhood like never before.

In our faces was the same feeling — we have faced the same battles, the same mothers and fathers, administrators and friends.

Sitting around the new gay liberation office [Sherwood Forest] at Bancroft and Dana across the street from the campus while the telephone man installs the phone. People walk by, see the sign in the window, come in.

Paul: I’m sick and tired of having to go to Harmon Gym restroom to get a trick. But nothing else is happening.

Nan: I’m graduating from Berkeley this year. I want to meet other people here like me.

Mike: I’ve been at Berkeley since 1962.

Me: I’ve been here since 1963.

London: Where have you been all these years?

Me: I’ve been hiding.

Telephone man (answering the new ring): Gay liberation, honey. We are everywhere. How can we hide from each other?

Read More About It

  • Konstantin Berlandt, “My Soul Vanished from Sight: a California Saga of Gay Liberation,” in Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation, edited by Karla Jay and Allen Young. — Twentieth-anniversary ed. (New York : New York University Press, 1992), p. 38-55.
 
 

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Copyright 2002 Regents of the University of California. Email: benemann@law.berkeley.edu.