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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Joseph A. Herzenberg, November 1, 2000. Interview K-0196. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Some gay men try to downplay their sexuality

Herzenberg describes conservatism among certain gay men. These men are gay, but uncomfortable with the more vocal members of their community, and used to discrimination, keep their sexual identity muted. This impulse, Herzenberg believes, is a response to homophobia.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Joseph A. Herzenberg, November 1, 2000. Interview K-0196. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Did you ever know a lot about—traditionally in closeted societies and even today, a lot of the gay male population is [pause] well not a lot now, but there is definitely a component, are married. They are posing that would probably be a good way to put it. Did you see a lot of that? And do you still see that?
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
No, I think that I effectively cut myself off from that by being too out, so those people were reluctant to—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Associate
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
Yes, I don't. I am trying to think of anybody. I am sure that if I thought about it I could come up with a few names of people who were in that category, but. And you know, there always were people who were relatively conservative, I don't mean in terms of supporting Ronald Reagan conservative, I mean, they were personally more conservative and their style was more conservative. I remember once going to a small supper party at a gay faculty member's house, a student had asked me to come with him to that party and the reason was that there was a conservative gay man there, at this party who was a scientist, I forget—a biologist I think of some kind, who has been dead—who died not too long after this supper—who he wanted gay organizations to take gay out of their names. I think what he was working on was the gay and lesbian health project in Durham. He wanted them to—and he said that he could get them a lot more money for their work if, if they called themselves something else. And I said, 'Well, that may be, but they are not going to change their name, it is a waste of time to bother them.'
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
I mean, the whole point of that organization is to have that name.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
He didn't really appreciate that, I think. So—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
He didn't happen to be married or anything like that, did he?
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
No, I just mentioned that as another, another—and conservative is not quite the right word, just a more closeted approach to things.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Yeah, there was definitely a trend in gay history—
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
Oh sure.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Especially, you know, when you are experiencing something like McCarthyism or something.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
Yes, of course.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You want to be mainstream—
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
Yes, and there was good reason for it. No, I wouldn't criticize those people necessarily. I just think that just as we have to try to understand why they were that way, it's important to point out that they didn't understand what other people were in another way. That is, this guy just could not understand why the Gay and Lesbian Health Project wouldn't want to change its name. [Laughter] It made no sense to him. Because all he could think about was helping them in their work by getting them more money, by getting them grants, you know.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
And he thought that if they said homosexual or—
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
No, I don't think that he wanted that either.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
He didn't want anything.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
No, maybe alternative health project, or something, I don't know what he wanted to call it. But, I knew those people in Durham, they were not going to change that for anything.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
The whole point of that organization was to be out there.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So people who were gay and lesbian could get there.
JOSEPH A. HERZENBERG:
That's right. It does strike me that even today, in the year 2000, there are remarkably few UNC faculty who are out.