Perry Brass was born in 1947 in Savannah, Georgia. His family was part of a close-knit community of mostly Polish Jews. Perry’s relationship with his mother was troubled, but his father exhibited a deep acceptance for Perry—just as he was. When he took Perry hunting, the sound of gunfire literally made Perry throw up. But his father took him aside and said he would never take Perry hunting again. When Perry was 11, his father died, leaving his family bankrupt. Perry spiraled downward. At 15, he attempted suicide. He later wrote, “I did not have to ever go to anyone for validation, support, or even simple nourishment. I had no family basically to worry about. I could not be disowned because no one had ever sheltered me.”
At 18, Perry fled the South, moving first to San Francisco for a year, then ping-ponging across the country to New York City, where he threw himself with abandon into the city’s gay culture. He heard of the practice of gay men carrying “cop money” (around $40) to buy off police officers who preyed on their cruising zones. This infuriated Perry. In 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, and the gloves finally came off. Perry was exultant. In the violent street protests, in the shattered glass covering the streets of Sheridan Square, Perry saw something powerful – an intangible force that, nearly a century earlier, Walt Whitman had called “adhesion.” Perry immediately joined the Gay Liberation Front, publishing the organization’s groundbreaking radical newspaper Come Out! from his Hell’s Kitchen apartment. Soon after, Perry and two friends founded the Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic to look out for the unique health needs of gay men. Organized and run by the men who used it, rather than doctors, the clinic still exists today as Callen-Lord Community Health Services, with an annual budget of more than $70 million.
But Perry’s true vocation was to become “a writer for the community.” His aim was “to bring the entire life cycle of gay men into focus.” He embarked on his quest in 1975. In 1990, he wrote a book of poetry combined with photographs of gay men. All the gay presses turned him down, so he decided to self-publish with the help of his partner Hugh. The book sold 3,000—an almost unheard-of number in the genre. Perry never looked back. Today, he has published a total of 16 books and been a finalist six times in three different categories (poetry; science fiction/fantasy; and spirituality/religion) for prestigious Lambda Literary awards. Perry’s work has been anthologized in countless anthologies as well as the Huffington Post, and he is a member of the PEN America Society.