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Pre-Stonewall Berkeley


 

The 1940s

“Cal had about fifteen thousand students at that time. It was a horrendous number, but — I managed to get registered and get classes and get going.... As it turned out we had some problems with my roommate, the one from San Diego. And that’s a whole story of how I had my first experience with being a lesbian — which is a term I really resisted adopting for umpteen years. It just took me a long, a long time to view that term as being other than sort of — I don’t know — sort of a dirty word, or something. I don’t know.... Some distaste for that term. It seemed like that was something worse than being a homosexual. I don’t know why. It was just kind of a nuance that I didn’t like. It actually took me until about ten years ago, and I’m now seventy-eight, so.... It took a lot of re-education for me to accept that term. Anyhow, I’ll stop right there. That’s a long way to say that I was pretty innocent when I arrived at Berkeley.

Well, what happened was that my friend from San Diego (whose name was M---) she had signed up for a pre-med course and was taking Chemistry 1A, which I guess is about one of the worse courses that anybody can take at Cal, one of the toughest, and everybody is pretty miserable and scared to death about it. I don’t know whether that triggered her problem, but she developed a strange phenomenon of waking during the night and being very aggressive. Well, appearing to awake, but actually being asleep — sleep-walking in a very aggressive, noisy, attacking manner. And she started (this was, I guess, two-thirds of the way through the semester, maybe a little less) and she began to attack Joanne and myself in the nighttime. And we physically had to fight her off, and hold her down, until she’d finally come to. And then everybody’d go back to bed!

But it finally got to be very scary — one night she did in fact pick up a knife — went in the kitchen, got the biggest knife we had, came out, started attacking us with that. Well, fortunately, I was pretty athletic and aggressive enough to finally get the knife — somehow we got the knife away. I don’t remember how we did, but I remember we were pretty damn scared. Got the knife away from her, and got the thing all settled down. But then the next day, Joanne and I decided, you know, this is getting really scarey! So we went to the hospital — Cowell Hospital, the student hospital — and talked to a doctor there who arranged for M--- to go up and have a discussion with them about what was going on....

And I think she must have talked to a psychiatrist who advised her to take a leave of absence from school and go home for a while and try to get settled down. While all this confusion was happening and before she left, M--- was sleeping on the couch. Joanne and I were sort of drawn together physically in the bed, you know, sort of in fear and trembling. And at that point I realized that I had a really strong emotional affection — I was really very much in love with Joanne. But part of it was that we were very congenial. It wasn’t just this circumstance, but we were really congenial. And I had really enjoyed for the first time really getting to know somebody that I hadn’t known all my life.... I never had a chance to get to meet and know somebody else on a sort of personal basis, or to know anybody whose background was different from my own, so to speak. To me it was just really exciting to get to know somebody that way. Joanne was two years older than I. She had finished junior college in Santa Maria. So I looked up to her. For one thing, she knew all sorts of things I didn’t know.... So I was, from a friendship point of view, really, really, really taken with this gal and impressed by her wisdom and experience and so forth. And then we fell in love. So then that came as a great shock, because I didn’t know what really was going on. I couldn’t quite figure out — we didn’t engage in a lot of heavy sex, but we engaged in a lot of hugging and — mostly hugging, and some kissing, but mostly just holding on to each other. But I found that very gratifying.”

Ann Wansley, ‘44
“A Lifetime Learning to be a Lesbian”
Oral history interview
Gay Bears! Collection, The University Archives

   

The 1950s

“It was an exciting, interesting period. I mean, I never have looked upon that with any negativity, and I don’t think with any over-romance, either. All of us were very troubled. We were all going through horrible things psychologically because none of us could admit we were gay. And obviously a large number of people who were drawn together, as always happens, in fact turned out to be gay in the long run. And most of us had done (because most of us were fairly bright) the same things — which we only mentioned many, many years later. You know, gone to the Library, and we’d gone to the card catalog and looked for Homosexuality and found out that in the end we always get killed or commit suicide. So it did not seem like a good lifestyle choice....

So anyway, it was a kind of a bizarre life, and the fun was wonderful. But also, a lot of complications, because of course a lot of us did sleep with each other. And there was either denial the next day — you just kind of ignored it, though you liked it — or it was that game of, “Gee, I was so drunk last night I don’t know what I did.” At no point did any of us ever sit down and talk.

And sometimes — you know, there was one person who we all were in love with — straight or gay. Part of our group was a fascinating person (I really don’t know how I can say much about him, because I really don’t want this person to be identified) — but anyway, someone who was a German who had been in Japan throughout World War II, in Nagasaki when the bomb had fallen on him. Fortunately, he was in the hills. But someone who we found very intriguing, and very exciting.... And — blond, blue-eyed, tall, handsome — really interesting person. Had a fascinating life. And I think he got seduced by all of us at various times. Sometimes, like with me, in the Eucalyptus Grove. And again, all that was very dangerous, because if you had ever gotten caught, it would have been — God knows what. I mean I hate to even think what the Administration would have done to you had they caught you doing any of these things.”

Erwin Kelly, ‘54
“Gay Life at Berkeley in the 1950s”
Oral history interview
Gay Bears! Collection, The University Archives

   

The 1960's

“Essentially, there is not a homosexual community in the Berkeley campus; rather the college homosexuals are scattered throughout the community and each one belongs mostly to a San Francisco or Oakland click. This is not to say that they do not know about each other but rather that campus homosexuals do not form a joined group having the same interests and social activities.

Upon interviewing homosexuals, the writer found that the major source of attraction and social activity is in San Francisco. Thus the typical Berkeley college homosexual lives what appear[s] to be a double life: he sleeps, eats and studies in the dorm and goes to San Francisco early in the evening. In San Francisco he will congregate with other young college homosexuals from the Berkeley campus or San Francisco State College. In fact, the writer was told many times that in order to meet young Berkeley college homosexuals she ought to visit Pearls (a coffe[e] house in San Francisco for homosexuals under 21 years of age) rather than expect to meet any in the community....

One homosexual interviewee differentiated between the ways he met homosexuals in San Francisco and the ways he met them here. Thus, “in San Francisco I walk up and introduce myself. Here one almost always is introduced by a friend.” However, even though a few homosexuals will attend some private parties, they refuse to attend any public homosexual dances in Berkeley. Rather, they go to special dance halls in San Francisco reserved for them. The same interviewee told the writer that a few months ago the Sexual Freedom Forum was going to sponsor a homosexual dance in the Pauley Ballroom; though many campus homosexuals were aware of this they were not going to attend for fear of being exposed, labeled, and put perhaps in compromising positions in the future. This particular homosexual explained that if the dance had been given he would’ve attended but with a female homosexual. Thus satisfying his curiosity and appearing ‘straight’ before the campus community....

Friday and Saturday evenings from 10:30-12:30 are the prime ‘cruising’ time on Telegraph Avenue. Though in San Francisco a typical homosexual dresses in a very flashy, suggestive manner — brilliant colors, silk shirts, wide sexy-looking belts with large buckles — the typical campus homosexual dresses very ‘straight’ and collegiate — white socks, white tennis shoes, tight levis and madras shirt.”

Amelia Jackson
“Recreation, Communication and Social Activities Among Campus Homosexuals”
Student paper (circa 1965)
Gay Bears! Collection, The University Archives

 
 

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