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Franklin Abbot was born in 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. He grew up in Birmingham, Buffalo, and Nashville. As a kid, Franklin marched to the beat of his own drummer, which wasn’t always well received his buttoned-down family. But in high school, he found an outlet for at least some of his creative energy in a youth service group called the Order of DeMolay. 

Coming out as gay during college, Franklin was simultaneously drawn towards the women’s and black liberation movements. The writings of Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde opened his eyes to feminism as a force of liberation for both women and men. Franklin would ultimately publish three anthologies on men and gender: New Men, New Minds (1987), Men and Intimacy (1989), and Boyhood: Growing Up Male (1991).

After college, Franklin worked at a facility for mentally challenged adults and children, and plunged deeper into social activism. He also got his master’s degree in social work, and in 1979, he became one of Atlanta’s first openly gay professionals when he opened a private psychotherapy practice. 

Also during the 1970s, Franklin’s life took an important turn when he connected with America’s radical faerie community. The radical faeries are a loose, global organization of mostly-male queer people who resist assimilation into mainstream society, focusing instead on alternate spirituality, environmentalism, and anarchism. Originally founded in California, one of the main radical faerie centers today is at Short Mountain, Tennessee. For two decades, Franklin spent extensive time at Short Mountain. He served as poetry editor for the radical faeries’ unofficial journal RFD, worked with the journal Changing Men, and also published two volumes of his own poetry. In 2008, he founded Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, and in 2017, he released an CD of original songs and poetry, Don’t Go Back to Sleep.

Today, Franklin lives in Decatur, Georgia, where he continues to practice psychotherapy, write, and make music. His home is filled with memorabilia, souvenirs and photos of the places he’s traveled, and the rich cast of people he’s known. OUTWORDS interviewed Franklin in March 2018 in the same room where he sees clients, which somehow felt just right for the stories and emotions Franklin shared of a gifted individual finding his path in the world – and seeking to make the world a better place for those following behind.
Kate Kunath: [00:00:00] How's that?
ManSee Kong: Okay, thanks.
Kate Kunath: Okay. Let's start with your name, the spelling of your name.
Franklin Abbott: Okay. My name is Franklin Abbott, and it's F-R-A-N-K-L-I-N A-B-B-O-T-T.
Kate Kunath: Okay and now your name with the place of your birth and the year.
Franklin Abbott: [00:00:30] My name again is Franklin Abbott. I was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1950.
Kate Kunath: Okay, tell me one more time without the again.
Franklin Abbott: My name is Franklin Abbott and I was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1950.
Kate Kunath: Great, and then I just want to touch on your upbringing a little bit in terms of your family, what your family was like, what your parents did for a living. Paint a little picture of when you were born.
Franklin Abbott: [00:01:00] Okay, my family's from Alabama. My father went to college via the GI Bill after World War II and became an engineer. My mother never completed college and basically she stayed home and after my father left corporate America,
Franklin Abbott: [00:01:30] she worked with my father in his business. I have one younger brother who's three and a half years younger. We were in the middle of the middle class. We lived in a very white world where everybody was Protestant and the main differentiation there was were you a Methodist, a Baptist, or Presbyterian.
Franklin Abbott: [00:02:00] I was unaware as a child of the sort of social foment that was happening in Birmingham. We lived in a suburb that was outside of the city and so other than hearing adults around the dinner table talk about things, I had no direct experience of social unrest.We did not have black people working for us as servants
Franklin Abbott: [00:02:30] so I had no connection with black people. The only thing that I remember other than derogatory comments being made by adults around the dinner table was that when we would go through a black section of town, my parents would say lock your doors, meaning that we were to lock the back doors of the car. They didn't say anything beyond that,
Franklin Abbott: [00:03:00] but it imparted sort of an aura of fear that there was something for us to be afraid of when we went through that neighborhood.My grandparents lived in Birmingham and I spent a great deal of time as a child with my grandparents. I was the first child born on either side of the family and the first male
Franklin Abbott: [00:03:30] and so I was a very welcome child in terms of my grandparents. My parents were young and I think that from from the way they talk about it, I was a surprise. They had not planned on having children quite so soon. They were not prepared emotionally or economically and I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents who lived in kind of what seemed to me to be magical places
Franklin Abbott: [00:04:00] and in those places, I could be myself. They were quite entertained by having a very fey, creative grandchild who would put on little shows and sing and dance and pranks about. My parents were horrified by that because they were the ones responsible for my upbringing and of course, during that time,
Franklin Abbott: [00:04:30] effeminacy was seen as a bad thing in a boy child because it meant that you might develop into an undesirable person.I didn't see the word, I didn't know the word homosexual until I was 12 years old. I saw it in a magazine article in LOOK magazine and I knew at that very moment that that's what I was
Franklin Abbott: [00:05:00] and that it sort of explained everything to me why I had been told that I should not walk a certain way or talk a certain way or move a certain way by my parents and my mother.So much was communicated to me about other people in the world through gestures. If my mother saw an effeminate man, she would grimace like there was something really wrong there.
Franklin Abbott: [00:05:30] When I was eight years old, my dad was working in corporate America and we moved to Buffalo, New York, which was the last thing my parents wanted to do but for him to have upward mobility in his company, he had to take a transfer and in Buffalo, the world was very, very different than the world in Birmingham and there was
Franklin Abbott: [00:06:00] ethnic diversity. Our next door neighbors were Catholics. The people across the street were Jews. I was very, very happy to be in a world where being a creative kid was valued.In the world of the South, the only real values that you could have was through athletics as a boy and I was a terrible athlete, a disappointment to my parents
Franklin Abbott: [00:06:30] through and they put me in every form of sports, after school sports and Saturday sports and lessons and my dad coached a softball team. It was just an unending diet of sports and the men folk in the family would sit around and watch sports on TV and I was supposed to sit in the living room and watch the sports
Franklin Abbott: [00:07:00] while I would rather be with the women in the kitchen, who were talking about relationships and cooking and that kind of stuff.We got to New York and it was so much easier for me to be, the gender role wasn't as tightly defined there, but I think because of the diversity in the culture and the value that was put on art
Franklin Abbott: [00:07:30] and creativity, music, that was all a big part what happened in school. We had all of those programs. We moved back to Nashville, Tennessee when I was 12. My dad saw that in corporate America, there was, it was a doggy dog kind of thing and he didn't want to, he didn't see that he had a future there.
Franklin Abbott: [00:08:00] He bought a small company, took a real big risk and bought this little company in Nashville, Tennessee, and we moved back and that was a hard, hard thing for me because I went back into the football culture and went back into not fitting in and being different and not having that difference value.
Kate Kunath: [00:08:30] How did you cope with this? How did you cope with that?
Franklin Abbott: Well, I think that my experience of having a finding havens, that my grandparents had been a haven for me when I lived in Buffalo really, I was sort of adopted by
Franklin Abbott: [00:09:00] families who enjoyed having a little creative kid around and they were all either Catholic or Jewish. There weren't many Protestant in Buffalo. We had to join a church, a Swedish church to find Protestants so even the Protestants that we knew were not typical of the Southern stock that we were from. So when I got to Nashville,
Franklin Abbott: [00:09:30] I quickly located teachers that were sympathetic.I found a Latin teacher in high school. I took everything that she taught. She was a quite unusual person and was very, very atypical of the teachers I had in high school. She was from the area. She had,
Franklin Abbott: [00:10:00] when she was 16, she got polio and so she was in a wheelchair. She lived with her parents. She had numerous college degrees and spoke numerous languages but she was really restricted in terms of what she could do in life because she was dependent on her parents for support service. She taught Latin. She taught German. I was in her class.
Franklin Abbott: [00:10:30] She became my protector. I found several other teachers who were humanities teachers who became my protector and then there was an organization outside of my high school. There was a junior Masonic organization called the Order of DeMolay and the Order of DeMolay was sort of an ideal thing for me as a gay kid because I got to be around a bunch of other boys.
Franklin Abbott: [00:11:00] We got to do rituals. I got to dress up in this ritual garb that they had. I had a long black cloak that had a red lining and I always got to wear sort of a jewel around my neck, because I was an officer. I had a lot of fun with that and
Franklin Abbott: [00:11:30] I learned as a young teenager how to organize things, how to organize a group. There were chapters all over Tennessee and I became ranking in that organization and I organized state conclaves and so it was great for me both being an odd kid who got to play dress up with approval.
Franklin Abbott: [00:12:00] The Order of DeMolay is named after Jacques de Molay, who was the last Grandmaster of the Knights Templar and they were an order of fighting monks back during the Crusades. They became very powerful, too powerful and too rich and ironically,
Franklin Abbott: [00:12:30] when they were attacked and disbanded, one of the things that they were attacked for was that they were Sodomites and Jacques de Molay, the Grandmaster was burned at the stake in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in like 1124 or something, something like that.
Franklin Abbott: Anyway, so that that was one of the places I took refuge.
Kate Kunath: [00:13:00] Was it for gay kids?
Franklin Abbott: No, no, not at all. It was to train teenagers to be ready to join the Masons. The Masons were very important in the southern states. I mean, they're all over the United States, but being a mason attested to your moral character and if you were a member of the Masons, it meant that you had
Franklin Abbott: [00:13:30] some political sway. If your kid got in trouble with the police, well the judge was a Mason and everything was sort of lubricated from that vantage point. George Washington was a Mason and Thomas Jefferson, everybody was a Mason, and particularly everybody who was anybody in the south was a Mason.The women were called the Order of the Eastern Star.
Kate Kunath: [00:14:00] The women were not in?
Franklin Abbott: They were not in the Masons. They had their own parallel organization. It was a parallel organization for girls called the Rainbow Girls and I had a girlfriend who was in the Rainbow Girls. It was very strange.
Kate Kunath: [00:14:30] Were you out to your brothers, your Mason junior brothers?
Franklin Abbott: I wasn't out to myself. I mean I knew the word homosexual. I knew that it applied to me and I wasn't a very religious person. My family was not very religious. We didn't read the Bible. We were Presbyterians, which was about
Franklin Abbott: [00:15:00] the least religious you can be and get by with. There weren't very many rules at all, but I prayed that God removes the thorn from my flesh. It was my hope that it would go away because I could not see, in the 60s a pathway to who would I be if I didn't get married and have children, that that was part of the sort of life,
Franklin Abbott: [00:15:30] that was part of the progress of life. It's just one of those things that you did and if you wanted to be successful, you did that.I just prayed that I would change. My part time job in high school was in a drugstore and we were allowed to
Franklin Abbott: [00:16:00] take items from the drugstore in lieu of wages. We kept a little list of the things that we took and mostly what I took were candy bars because my mother would not allow those at home, but paperback books and there was a paperback book that I got. It must have been my senior year in high school and it was called The LSD Experience and there was a chapter in the
Franklin Abbott: [00:16:30] LSD Experience about how LSD cured homosexuality.Between my freshman and sophomore years in college, during the summer I was in upstate New York, working in a little diner with a group of kind of college kids and LSD became available to me for the first time, and so I thought, okay, this is it. I'm going to take LSD and I did
Franklin Abbott: [00:17:00] and I had one of those nights where the colors were very vivid and everything sort of the shape of things shifted and the shadows seemed to become substantial. It wasn't particularly scary. It was weird and I woke up in the morning and I still was attracted to guys and I just gave up on it at that point. I just thought,
Franklin Abbott: [00:17:30] well prayer didn't work, LSD didn't work, and so when I went back to college my sophomore year, I fell in love with one of my classmates and came out. That was 1970.
Kate Kunath: Okay, so leading up to that, I don't know when you started thinking about being a psychotherapist but did you think of homosexuality as a sickness basically?
Franklin Abbott: [00:18:00] I didn't think of it, I didn't think of much about psychology at all when I was a teenager and I started studying in college and by the time I had started to study it, I had come out and I had started reading about, it was still classified as a pathology, but there was an argument about that
Franklin Abbott: [00:18:30] and I did not feel that it was pathological although I had some encounters with psychiatrists where they asked me if I would consider that I could change and I was very young and I was seeing a psychiatrist because I was in distress, but it was silly.
Franklin Abbott: [00:19:00] I think part of why I became a psychotherapist is that I really saw the need for there to be openly gay psychotherapists in the community to counter that bullshit because it was, even though the psychiatric association and the psychological association changed that, it still was very, very pervasive in terms of people who did clinical work,
Franklin Abbott: [00:19:30] that it was something. I mean people made a lot of money off of that, a lot of money and there was a great deal of misery that was created. I was one of the first out psychotherapists here in Atlanta and there was a price to pay for that in terms of not getting referrals and being shunned but there were also plenty of gay clients, so I survived.
Kate Kunath: [00:20:00] Okay, so tell me about coming out and your first relationship and coming out.
Franklin Abbott: Well, that's a hard story to tell. I went as far away from Nashville as I possibly could to go to college, to be away from my family because the conflict between me and my parents was growing steadily
Franklin Abbott: [00:20:30] and the gay thing was underneath. It was the late, I graduated from high school same year as Stonewall, 1969 and it was also the same year as Woodstock, so we had the anti-war movement. We had women's liberation. We had the Summer of Love. We had all of those things going, so there was a huge generational divide
Franklin Abbott: [00:21:00] and the line that I drew with my family was around race because they were, I just couldn't tolerate their racism anymore and I would get into conflict with them about their language.I went to an unlikely place.
Franklin Abbott: [00:21:30] I wanted to go to school in the north, but my parents said that the schools up there were full of communists and they wouldn't send me north to a college and so I found this odd school in Macon, which is south of Atlanta, Mercer University and by all outward appearances, it would have been a conservative school. It's a Southern Baptist school or at least it was at the time
Franklin Abbott: [00:22:00] but there was a very hard core liberal socially progressive elements in the faculty there and there were some really interesting students.My parents had no idea really where they were sending me and I really didn't understand until I got there. I just knew it was as far away as I could get. It was too far to go visit on the weekends. It was too far to be dropped in on so it was as far as
Franklin Abbott: [00:22:30] I could go and I pretty quickly fell in with these socially liberal people. They were Christian, they were Christian progressives but they were doing a lot of work around civil rights and the anti-war movement and that really attracted me.
Franklin Abbott: [00:23:00] I was aware of my attraction to other boys but I just couldn't get enough energy up to do anything about it, and so after my summer break between my freshman and sophomore years where I did my LSD experiment, I came back and there were a lot of drugs that were being experimented with at the time.
Franklin Abbott: [00:23:30] I did some MDMA with two friends one night and we stayed up very late and the campus was sort of deserted. We could wander around. It was kind of a fantasy land. One of the guys drifted off and the other guy and I sort of stayed and spent a lot of time looking into each other's eyes and
Franklin Abbott: [00:24:00] it was very sweet and I just fell in love beyond my ability to repress that. I felt it.I knew I had to say something about it. I think it took me a week or so to get up the courage to have a conversation with him and he was so sweet about it. He said he wasn't gay but that he loved me back and it was fine
Franklin Abbott: [00:24:30] that I was gay, and so then I started telling people. I didn't know any better really. I didn't know what it meant to come out. Part of it, I was in love and I've had this revelation and there was this sort of culture of authenticity that I was a part of and they were really cool about all kinds of things, but they were not cool about that.
Kate Kunath: [00:25:00] Your parents?
Franklin Abbott: No, the college people. I didn't tell my parents. I had good enough sense to know that as long as I was financially dependent on them, I did not want to breach that, that I sensed that they would have very strong feelings about it and when I did come out to them later, they did have very strong feelings about it,
Franklin Abbott: [00:25:30] but the college community that was so liberal about everything else wasn't so liberal about me being gay. Later they changed and I mean, this was 1970. There weren't hardly anybody who was liberal about that. There's hardly anyone who was out as a gay person.
Kate Kunath: Except Stonewall had just happened, were there a few more?
Franklin Abbott: [00:26:00] Well, on the campus that I was on it, you could be gay but not say you were gay and everybody knew you were gay but saying you were gay pushed the issue, pushed the envelope and so I was the first one who said I was gay and that became the issue. I also found a gay bar in Macon, which was a very sleazy place called the We3 Lounge because nice people didn't go to
Franklin Abbott: [00:26:30] gay bars back then and there was only one gay bar. So although ... At least there may have been one in the black part of town, as almost all the patrons were white. It was segregated but women and men, it was mostly sort of rough. I mean the lesbians were hair slicked back and the sleeves rolled up with the cigarettes, stone butch and lots of
Franklin Abbott: [00:27:00] drag queens and in fact your sort of debut into gay society as a gay man is that you would do a drag number.I don't know why I didn't do that. I wasn't particularly attracted to it. I think it just seemed like a lot of work to me but I would take other kids from college, straight and gay down to the We3 Lounge and we
Franklin Abbott: [00:27:30] would dance and we would mingle with these denizens of the night and this really caused great consternation in college. There was one young man in particular who was caught, had kind of been brought in because he was a protege of some ... Who's the child of someone who was important to someone and he was very interested in the gay life and gay world.
Franklin Abbott: [00:28:00] I think that that was the main problem that I hit, taking one of the Golden boys, and so anyway, they didn't throw me out. I think that had the war in Vietnam not been going on, I would have been expelled. I just recently learned that some lesbians had been expelled from Mercer the year before I got there,
Franklin Abbott: [00:28:30] so they were not above expelling people who deviated from their norm, but I was, during my freshman year before I came out, I was very active in academic reform. They were reforming the curriculum. They were challenging the department structure and all of my organizing abilities that I learned in
Franklin Abbott: [00:29:00] the Order of DeMolay, I brought to bear in terms of organizing students, so I had a high profile on campus. I think part of it is that they cared about me and part of it is they knew that if they threw me out, I'd be drafted and I don't think I would have made a very good soldier.
Kate Kunath: [00:29:30] Is there anything else that we should cover in college? Did you enter any relationships in college?
Franklin Abbott: Yes, the man that I fell in love with,
Franklin Abbott: [00:30:00] he was a very special guy and I don't know if he had lived, he might have come out. People come out at different times and there was a very androgynous spirit there. He died in an automobile accident about a year and a half later, and that just broke my heart.
Franklin Abbott: [00:30:30] It's been something that has affected me for my whole life. I've never known, no one important to me had died, my grandparents were all still living and I've never lost a childhood friend or a cousin or anything and through an odd set of circumstances, he was out at a friend's sort of rural retreat and
Franklin Abbott: [00:31:00] he and another friend were driving back into town and they had an accident and the friend who was with him, her name is Martha, Martha called me from the hospital and asked me to come down and of course I went.Most of our other friends were off on some kind of religious retreat weekend that we weren't on because we were being bad,
Franklin Abbott: [00:31:30] and so I went to the hospital. It was a Sunday morning. He had head injuries and so they couldn't give him any kind of medication and he was kind of out of his head and he was a strong guy. He was like a football player type guy and there was obviously a lot of commotion
Franklin Abbott: [00:32:00] going back in the ER, trying to get him to be still so they could work on him and I told the guy who was in charge of the ER that I thought that if I went back, that he would calm down and I did go back and he did calm down. He lived for about 10 minutes and then died.
Franklin Abbott: [00:32:30] It was an extraordinary experience and one that happened almost 50 years ago.
Kate Kunath: [00:33:00] Still very close to your heart.
Franklin Abbott: Yes, still very, so I was a dorm counselor and that was my junior year, and one of my charges, a freshman who was on my dorm was also gay and it was a little school. There weren't many of us there. I think he and I both looked around
Franklin Abbott: [00:33:30] and we thought, that's the best I'm going to do, and so we became a couple and we became an out couple. Again, there had never been one of those on the college campus. We were together for about four and a half years. When I graduated, I ended up opening a school.
Franklin Abbott: [00:34:00] It was a state funded school for developmentally disabled children and adults in South Georgia and he worked for me part time.He went, he finished college and we had lots of independent studies so we could live together some of that time and then he went to graduate school and after he finished his graduate program, we broke up, but he's still a very close friend.
Franklin Abbott: [00:34:30] Yeah, I came out. I had a boyfriend. Somehow I managed to get through college. I really, I think I was so anxiety ridden by the dissonance of coming out and what all of that meant. I was so attracted to all the partying
Franklin Abbott: [00:35:00] that was happening I was broken hearted over losing my dear friend.I was very angry. I was angry about the war in Vietnam, which had just been terrifying me since I was a teenager and I was angry about the racism that was endemic in the area,
Franklin Abbott: [00:35:30] and so I wasn't a very good student.It was hard for me to focus and I got through college primarily on charm. I think that one of the reasons I became a poet is that you don't have to concentrate very hard to write a poem and a lot of times, professors would accept poems in lieu of papers so I was able to
Franklin Abbott: [00:36:00] get a liberal arts degree with probably really reading four or five books.I learned how to scam. I learned I was excellent at class discussions. I was intimidating. Professors would ask me not to attend their class and to take an independent study as I would ask questions that were hard for them to answer. Whenever I see somebody from that period of time, I apologized to them
Franklin Abbott: [00:36:30] because I really was, I was just an angry, angry kid. When I got out of college, I thought about becoming an academic. I just thought it was a bad idea. I thought if you can't read but five books, graduate school is not going to be an easy road for you and if there was an authority, I rebelled against it.
Franklin Abbott: [00:37:00] I didn't like anybody telling me what to do, so I lived for a summer down on Jacksonville Beach with a friend and thought about opening a gay bar. I'm glad I didn't do that.I'm glad I didn't go to graduate school. I'm glad I didn't open a gay bar and then I just happened into this job. Because I had a degree in sociology,
Franklin Abbott: [00:37:30] the state would hire me to run the school. They were desperate. Jimmy Carter had been Governor. Rosalynn Carter's big thrust was mental health and they had closed the big state institutions for the mentally ill and disabled and funded all of these local county centers and they needed people to go into the county,
Franklin Abbott: [00:38:00] recruit the students, hire the staff, develop the curriculum and run the program. Well, I was not qualified to do that by any stretch of the imagination but they were desperate and I needed a job and I could get my boyfriend hired, so there I was in Turner County in the middle of South Georgia, one of the poorest counties there was and dealing with some of the poorest families in the county
Franklin Abbott: [00:38:30] and with people who are really refugees from these huge plantations.Central State Hospital had like 60,000 or 70,000 people living there at one point in time. It was self sustaining. They grew their own food and once you went in, you never got out. The people in the county were horrified
Franklin Abbott: [00:39:00] that these folks were sent back into their very, it was a very segregated but stable society that worked exactly. I mean everything, nothing had changed since I don't know 1928 and they looked at me as if I were Mother Teresa, that I was willing to work with with these poor people but these people are nothing compared to you.
Franklin Abbott: [00:39:30] My boyfriend and I found a place way out in the country where nobody would see us or disturb us and we drove into Ashburn every day. I would stop and pick up one of the students as what we call them, who was oh God, she was maybe four years old, cerebral palsy, profound mental retardation, epilepsy.
Franklin Abbott: [00:40:00] I just strapped her in the car seat and we'd go in and she was one of the happiest human beings I'd ever met. She sang the whole way so that was an interesting time too.I had no business doing what I was doing,
Franklin Abbott: [00:40:30] but I figured out because I have these organizational skills how to organize it, how to, I had 20 something people working for me. I was a terrible supervisor. I finally talked another friend of mine who was one of these no nonsense cool calm, collected lesbians into coming down and being sort of the general manager for me
Franklin Abbott: [00:41:00] because I could manage the staff. I got away with murder but we did. We worked with these families. We created sort of a renegade day care program for the children of some of these folks. It was a very interesting and life changing experience for me because reading about poverty and seeing
Franklin Abbott: [00:41:30] it are two different things and being in relationship with people who are poor and being in relationship with people who are suffering from the racism, I mean it was superior to anything I could have learned in school.
Franklin Abbott: [00:42:00] It was also just very, very difficult personally because I was isolated. There was no internet so there was no app on your phone that tells you that the next gay person is 40 feet away or in the next little town. There was no place to gather, no place to get to know anybody. There were two television stations that sometimes
Franklin Abbott: [00:42:30] would come in. Every phone call was a long distance call so no VCR, no nothing like that. It was very, very isolated and I knew that I had to get out of there because I was drinking too much and I was becoming less and less happy.We had a visiting social worker who came through
Franklin Abbott: [00:43:00] once a month. We would go out to lunch. She had uncommon common sense. I could talk with her about not only what was going on with the school but what was going on with me. I don't think I came out to her, but I did come out to some of my colleagues there. I mean, it was known. The people in town wouldn't believe it when I was publicly accused of being gay by a disgruntled employee
Franklin Abbott: [00:43:30] because I was Mother Teresa, which was kind of funny to me but she sort of said, Why don't you go to social work school? And I looked at that and I thought, hmmm, because you only had to go really for, it was a shorter period of time rather than being a clinical psychologist, which would have taken forever.Half of it was classroom stuff
Franklin Abbott: [00:44:00] and half of it was field experience, and so I figured I could survive three quarters of classroom stuff. I could surely keep my mouth shut and do what I was supposed to do, which proved not to be true, but I did graduate and that was in Athens. I found a gay community in Athens. It was in 1976, 77.
Franklin Abbott: [00:44:30] There was a group on the campus of the University of Georgia called the Committee on Gay Education and they were a very strong activist group. They had elected a student council president the year before I had been there. They had a speaker series. They had a social group that they did.
Franklin Abbott: [00:45:00] They did a lot of different things and they certainly challenged the university on all kinds of homophobic stuff.I joined that and I made friends through that and through that, I went to, there were at the time, there was a bit, a network beginning in the south of activist lesbians and gay men.
Franklin Abbott: [00:45:30] It was called the Southeastern Gay Conference, later the Southeastern Gay and Lesbian Conference. I went to a conference in Chapel Hill and that's where I really first met kindred spirits, people who were as socially radical as I was. I met a lot of gay men who disappointed me because,
Franklin Abbott: [00:46:00] while they were gay, they didn't seem to connect that with anything else but in this organization, people were politically to the left and there were a lot of people who were radical so I got involved in the planning for the next year's conference, which was going to happen in Atlanta and I moved to Atlanta to do my internship
Franklin Abbott: [00:46:30] and organize this conference that happened in 1978 and that was a fascinating experience because at that time, when I first came to Atlanta, I managed to get part of my practicum with an older social worker who was trying to set up a gay helpline.There were almost no gay organizations in Atlanta
Franklin Abbott: [00:47:00] at that time. There were a few religious organizations and there was a group that had coalesced called The Coming Out Group, and so part of my job in my internship was to work with that group and I made some of my first friends here in that group and the Metropolitan Community Church
Franklin Abbott: [00:47:30] had an old movie theater that they had rented, that had these huge very badly painted murals of Bible scenes on the wall, but we could have the space for our Coming Out Group and it was very well attended because there was nothing else going on.We would have 100 or so people come and we did small group discussions
Franklin Abbott: [00:48:00] and topical stuff and people would speak about things, so that was an interesting start. The woman that I interned with turned out to be a very narcissistic person, I mean well intended but she wanted an organization that she could be President for life of and that wasn't a very good idea, so we split, but my main focus was this
Franklin Abbott: [00:48:30] Southeastern Gay and Lesbian Conference.There were about as many men as women on the organizing committee and one of the men was a friend of mine who'd gone to this other conference before and was a very left wing guy. His name was Terry Barfield and so, when I sort of split with Jane,
Franklin Abbott: [00:49:00] the woman that I was working with. She was a member of Dignity, which was probably the biggest of the gay groups and it was a gay Catholic group, and the women who came to the organizing were mostly members of ALFA, which was the first, I don't know if it was the first,but it was the first big lesbian group in Atlanta,
Franklin Abbott: [00:49:30] Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance and they were separatist lesbians.They had a house called the ALFA House that men could not go in, but they were working in tandem on the conference with these mostly conservative religious oriented men, so an issue came up about having a lesbian only workshop on sex
Franklin Abbott: [00:50:00] and the man said they could not support any kind of workshop that excluded other people, I mean just totally tone deaf to the situation. We had a vote and Terry Barfield
Franklin Abbott: [00:50:30] and I voted with the women, at which point we were meeting in the Dignity office. They threw us out. We couldn't meet there anymore.We went ahead and organized the conference and it was a very interesting conference. There were things that came from that but it was such an, it was a very different time in LGBT community.
Franklin Abbott: [00:51:00] There weren't very many out bisexual people at all. T meant really more crossdressing than transgender. There were very few people who identified as trans and many, many lesbians were separatists, and for good reason because there were not
Franklin Abbott: [00:51:30] very many men who were well rounded in sexual politics.
Kate Kunath: It makes you emotional when talking about voting with the women.
Franklin Abbott: Well, I think that
Franklin Abbott: [00:52:00] personally and socially, what it did is it separated me from the majority of the activist gay men and it was not a choice that I hesitated about or a choice that I regretted but I became somewhat of a pariah in that. It's just sort of like having to deal with one more thing
Franklin Abbott: [00:52:30] and it really saddened me that they were so obstinate and shortsighted. That was really difficult, so the conference went ahead and all of these marvelous radical people, mostly from the southeast,
Franklin Abbott: [00:53:00] came to this ratty Hotel in downtown Atlanta, which was the only one that would rent to us.At the end, we had these big process circles. The circle was the big sort of way in which business was done and we all came in for our final, what we thought was going to be the final session of the conference
Franklin Abbott: [00:53:30] and it was a circle and it became contentious and I'm not sure why. It was just very tense and several other women said we're going to have a women's caucus, and all the women left the room and so we had a men's caucus by default, and it was all of the ... People like Terry Barfield and myself,
Franklin Abbott: [00:54:00] these strange left wing atypical gay men, gay men who didn't want to fit in, who didn't want to be doctors and lawyers and we're the same as everybody else except in bed.One of the weirder guys who was there was a guy named Michael Wilson and Michael lived on a little farm high up on a mountainside in North Carolina
Franklin Abbott: [00:54:30] and he was a weaver. I think he had some other source of income because he would have starved to death but he wore this cloth that he had woven and had a staff and long hair and a beard. He really looked like an Old Testament prophet and we had this marvelous conversation, sort of a heart to heart conversation about what it was like to be
Franklin Abbott: [00:55:00] gay men outside the mainstream, not only the mainstream of the straight world, but the mainstream of the gay world.We didn't fit in there either and Michael had this farm and he said, why don't you come up to my farm and we'll continue to have this conversation and about 25 or 26 of us did,
Franklin Abbott: [00:55:30] and that was our first Faerie gathering and again that just, that was a pivotal moment for me in terms of my identity and my community. Community has always been really important to me but finding a community in which I could be myself
Franklin Abbott: [00:56:00] and could grow into whatever self that I was going to grow into, that had always been very elusive. This felt like a place where that could happen and did, in fact. It became very central to who I was and how I did things and how I could be a gay man but not a conformist, not trying to fit in.
Franklin Abbott: [00:56:30] I could be myself and many of the Radical Faeries were far more radical in their appearance than I was, although at Faerie gatherings, there would always be all kinds of clothing worn in all kinds of combinations, and there was a real festive atmosphere to it.It was also a time to talk about the
Franklin Abbott: [00:57:00] very constricted definition of gender that we've been brought up in and that was something that was really, really important for those of us who were not conformists is that part of why we didn't conform is that we just didn't conform to our gender role and we needed a place where it was not only okay but it was celebrated
Franklin Abbott: [00:57:30] to be gender variant. At the same time as the Running Water Gathering happened, there started to be sort of simultaneously these gatherings of gay men all around the country and there were some big national gatherings that happened out west where people, faeries from all over the country came in and there began to be a broader culture
Franklin Abbott: [00:58:00] and there was a magazine that had been established for gay men living in rural areas that sort of became the faerie magazine called RFD and so I was very active, both in terms of gatherings here in the southeast and working with the magazine.
Kate Kunath: Is that Radical Fairy Diary?
Franklin Abbott: Well, the thing about RFD is that it was named after,
Franklin Abbott: [00:58:30] it used to be if you lived in the country, you would have RFD as part of your address. It meant rural free delivery, and when they started RFD, there was not a faerie so it didn't refer to faeries. It was just basically a way, it was a way of describing it, I think without getting in trouble with postal authorities, because there were still problems sending things through the mail
Franklin Abbott: [00:59:00] but every issue of RFD is ... It continues to be published and has been published for over 40 years now, RFD means something different. They come up with a new something for RFD, and that's part of the fun of it.Faeries are very, they don't like structure, so anything that, any way of avoiding structure
Franklin Abbott: [00:59:30] and kind of embracing anarchy and anarchy's maybe not the best word. There's no archy.
Kate Kunath: How long have you been going to the Faerie gatherings? Which ones do you go to and how long have you been going?
Franklin Abbott: Well, we had a summer and fall gathering at Running Water for
Franklin Abbott: [01:00:00] many years and Running Water was a place that really can only accommodate a small number of people and ultimately, the center for the gatherings became Short Mountain, which I think you're going to. Short Mountain, I believe the first Radical Faerie Gathering there was in 1980 and
Franklin Abbott: [01:00:30] I was very active for about 10 years, sort of a few years into it, I, through another Radical Faerie, a guy named John Massoud found out about the National Conferences on Men and Masculinity, which was a pro feminist, it was a gathering of pro feminist men,
Franklin Abbott: [01:01:00] straight, bi and gay that happened every summer and I started going to those in addition to going to the Faerie gatherings.We also started having Faerie gatherings in Atlanta and in other urban areas and probably after Running Water Farm was finally sold, there was
Franklin Abbott: [01:01:30] another group that spun out of that called Gay Spirit Visions and it's been going for almost 30 years now and I was very active in the initial organizing of that and attending conferences. I think that overall, I was active for about 20, 25 years
Franklin Abbott: [01:02:00] and then, well a number of variables happened.I haven't been to a Faerie gathering per se in a long time. Part of what happened is that the the initial gatherings were very, very much a discussion about identity, who are we, where do we come from, why are we here,
Franklin Abbott: [01:02:30] a real exploration of why do gay men exist, what do we do in society, what is our relationship with women, what is our relationship with the earth. These were really interesting conversations and conversations I'd never been a part of and I don't think that had happened.Maybe in other times and other societies, but we'd been marginalized for so long.
Franklin Abbott: [01:03:00] We've never been able to come together, except as people who thought of themselves as less than and we didn't think of ourselves as less than, but we we didn't have a heritage that we could necessarily plug into. We had to figure out who we were and that was what was really interesting to me, that and deconstructing masculinity, to understand.
Franklin Abbott: [01:03:30] I mean it sounds weird now but men didn't understand that that was a construction, that it had been made up. It was part of the natural order, which is the way it was presented, sort of like if you're a man, you're like this. If you're a woman, you're like this. If you're not like this or that, you're brokenand we didn't think of ourselves as broken and so we thought of the way that things were constructed as being dysfunctional.
Franklin Abbott: [01:04:00] I was very involved in that for a long time.
Kate Kunath: Do you remember before you move on from there, do you remember any of those conversations in particular, is there any conversation that stood out in terms of not just the questions you're asking, but any revelations you guys may have come up with together or of
Kate Kunath: [01:04:30] words to live by moment or any kind of pact moments where you guys decided or had cracked the code or figured something out?
Franklin Abbott: There were times during the gatherings that were synergistic, where the sum of the parts was greater,
Franklin Abbott: [01:05:00] and that happened a lot and a lot of it happened in a non verbal kind of way where we did it, it was all in a circle so there was not, there was not a hierarchy at all. There was a lot of holding, weeping
Franklin Abbott: [01:05:30] and singing and so it was a very fluid experience and there wasn't, I can't think of a moment where someone stood up and said X and a light bulb went off and we all said, Aah. I think that we were very suspicious
Franklin Abbott: [01:06:00] of anybody who claimed to know the truth, but we were very open to that kind of energy that flowed between us and it just felt, it felt like nothing that we'd ever experienced before.The people who came I think, their stories, because people shared
Franklin Abbott: [01:06:30] a lot of their personal heartbreak or their struggle and there was a lot of questioning that if somebody seemed unclear, that they said something that seems sexist or racist or in any way supported it, that there was a hierarchy where somebody was superior to somebody else, it was called to question,
Franklin Abbott: [01:07:00] generally in a pretty loving way where the person didn't didn't feel bad about it, but it was kind of like my experience is different than your experience and let me tell you about that, but there were people that I loved a lot that I remember from the time.One of the guys was named Feygele bin Miriam and Feygele had made up his name, lots of faeries make up their names, it's a way of casting off of your
Franklin Abbott: [01:07:30] patriarchy and Feygele, his name was John Singer but Feygele is Yiddish for little bird and it also means, it can be used for a gay man and so he took that is his name and bin Miriam, his mother was Miriam, so among Jewish people, you can sometimes be bin, meaning the son of and it's usually the father's name so Feygele bin
Franklin Abbott: [01:08:00] Miriam was, I don't know why he was so radical. I think that he was what they called a red diaper baby. His parents had been communists and so he grew up in the left wing and the first time I met him was he was asked to speak at a Committee on Gay Education function in Athens
Franklin Abbott: [01:08:30] when I was in graduate school and he came out and he was a sort of a svelte guy but he was wearing a black dress and it was all very natural to him. He came out. He gave a speech. I can't remember what he said. I'm sure it was lots of radical things, but the black dress is what got me.Feygele had been part of a lawsuit when the federal government changed,
Franklin Abbott: [01:09:00] finally changed their dress code so that women could wear pants to work. Feygele wore a dress to work and they fired him and I think his case went all the way up to the Supreme Court and he was reinstated with back pay, but he was that kind of guy. He was one of the most radical people I ever met. We had all kinds of conversations where I'd say oh Feygele.
Franklin Abbott: [01:09:30] He was constantly knitting or baking. I don't think he slept. He was always doing something for the cause. He was such a character but if anything needed to be called out, Feygele would call it out. There was another group that came from New Orleans. They were called LASIS
Franklin Abbott: [01:10:00] and LASIS stood for Louisiana Sissies in Struggle and they always wore, they were mixed clothing that was male and female and they said that they did that,
Franklin Abbott: [01:10:30] so they would not be identified as rapists. They did a lot of anti-rape work in New Orleans
Franklin Abbott: [01:11:00] and that was a very strong element I think in the Faeries was the identification with women and with women's reality and we don't think it's possible now how negative opinions were and how,
Franklin Abbott: [01:11:30] I mean it wasn't just sexual harassment. It was just rape that happened all the time.They would go to these rallies and they always had the stop rape things that they handed out and they also, in the service of gender equality, would go up to men who had taken their shirts off and tell them to put their shirts back on
Franklin Abbott: [01:12:00] because it was illegal for women to remove their shirts. When I think about them now.
Franklin Abbott: [01:12:30] You know most of them are gone, so many died in the epidemic. Just the courage because gay men compensate for their lack of social standing by creating a hierarchy in which
Franklin Abbott: [01:13:00] the degree to which you conform to the heteronormative ideal of what a man is gives you status and when you don't, you lose that status. You become undesirable, somebody that you don't talk to, somebody you don't look at.
Franklin Abbott: [01:13:30] why I feel emotional reflecting on that is that that was so very strange at that time. There were so few people, so few gay men who were willing or able to be on the other side of that and just to really advocate for an identity
Franklin Abbott: [01:14:00] that was that was okay, that was just fine. It was just fine to be who we were. We didn't have to be a better version of the straight ideal of what a man is. Of course there was a very strong contingent for that and they didn't invite us to their parties and that was okay. We had better parties.
Franklin Abbott: [01:14:30] We had better parties, but that was a beautiful kind of bubble in time between the late 70s and the early 80s where gay liberation was ... It was free to sort of become whatever it could be and even though we were in small numbers
Franklin Abbott: [01:15:00] compared to the rest of the gay population and many people were still closeted or only out to a select few, we certainly stretched the limits. We made it possible to be further out and further, and for that positive identity to begin to emerge.
Franklin Abbott: [01:15:30] I was working as a psychotherapist here in Atlanta. I'd gotten my degree. Back then, you didn't have to jump through 1,000 loops to open a private practice. I worked for about a year in a mental health center and it was dreadful. It was like 1984 where something is the opposite of its name. Calling it a mental health center was sort of the opposite of what it was,
Franklin Abbott [:01:16:00] so I liberated myself from that and had a tiny little office in sort of the hippie area of Atlanta and we had lots of allies. There were lots of straight guys who were non conformists, long haired, left wing. There were lots of straight women.
Franklin Abbott: [01:16:30] There were lots of lesbians. Again, the divide between lesbians and gay men was pretty strong or pretty defined at that time, but in Atlanta, which is a relatively conservative city and it's not a city known for art or culture or some money town. It's the financial capital of the region.
Franklin Abbott: [01:17:00] We were a small community, but we were feisty, lots of artists. It's where I began doing poetry readings and organizing art events. I didn't know when I came to Atlanta that it was probably the best place in the country to get further training as a psychotherapist,
Franklin Abbott: [01:17:30] that some of the best psychotherapists in the world lived here and worked here and I happened into their company. Some of the most prominent were a couple of lesbian women who were a couple, Joen Fagan and Irma Shepherd and so I just lucked out in that regard. I got really good training and supervision.
Franklin Abbott: [01:18:00] They accepted me, odd as I was and I was in a therapy group that Irma co-led with a male therapist whose name was Earl Brown, who I took as my therapist because I couldn't find a gay therapist.
Kate Kunath: Hold on one second.
Franklin Abbott: [01:18:30] I was in a therapy group with Irma Shepherd and Earl Brown and I met another therapist who is in the group and we decided we were going to work together and her name is Martha Brock
Franklin Abbott: [01:19:00] and Martha is about as different from me as I could have chosen someone. She's a lesbian. She comes from a very working class Oklahoma background. Martha is everything as straightforward and I'm a curvy guy. I'm a southerner.
Franklin Abbott: [01:19:30] There are no straight lines in the south and so everything is around this and around that, and so we did therapy groups together for many, many years and we did a gay and lesbian therapy group, which was pretty radical at the time because gay men and lesbians didn't tend to have relationships but Martha and her partner Jane Demore and I had a very close relationship. We all worked together.
Franklin Abbott: [01:20:00] Things I think between those communities started to break down little by little. What really changed things in terms of the dynamic between gay men and lesbians was the AIDS epidemic, because when gay men started being so affected by AIDS, that all of our community resources had to go into taking care of each other.
Franklin Abbott: [01:20:30] Lesbians became much more active and in leadership positions of community organizations and they did a lot of support for gay men who were dealing with AIDS, again something touching.
Franklin Abbott: [01:21:00] That was just an absolutely awful time. We didn't know for a long time what it was, and then we were told not to find out whether or not we had the virus because there was nothing that could be done except if your insurance company found out,
Franklin Abbott: [01:21:30] they would throw you off your insurance. There was just a huge amount of fear. One of the things that I organized was a circle of healing here and I did that with another lesbian woman, a woman named Elizabeth York who's a composer and musician.
Franklin Abbott: [01:22:00] She doesn't live here anymore but Beth would come and play the piano. We had a grand piano in this church sanctuary and we'd all sit in a circle on the floor and do these meditations, and it was the best that we could do for each otherI think that it added hope. It added energy. It perhaps helped some people hang on long enough that there was a
Franklin Abbott: [01:22:30] medical solution to their problem but lots and lots of beautiful men died, and because I had a social life, I was a therapist and I had this big network through the Radical Faeries and through the Men's Movement, I was very impacted.
Franklin Abbott: [01:23:00] There was a point at which I just couldn't name all the people who died that I knew and that I remember writing about it that at that time, I believe, 14 was the average number of deaths that the average American experienced in a lifetime and in less than three or four months, 14 people would die
Franklin Abbott: [01:23:30] so there was no time to mourn, no time to grieve. There was always somebody else who was getting sick and needing help and at a certain point, we could get tested. I had a boyfriend at the time and he tested.I think he just couldn't live with the uncertainty of it and he tested positive, which was really, really hard because if you tested positive,
Franklin Abbott: [01:24:00] it was a death sentence. It took me a year before I was willing to get tested and back then, you had to wait for two weeks. That was the longest two weeks of my life and I tested negative and have remained negative but it wasn't because of superior moral character.
Franklin Abbott: [01:24:30] Some of it was luck. Some of it was being a therapist. I just couldn't be a slut. I couldn't go out and do slutty things in the town I lived in because I couldn't sleep with my clients or their boyfriends, so I couldn't go to the bass. I couldn't go to orgies. I don't think I had the proclivity to do that anyway, but
Franklin Abbott: [01:25:00] I wasn't a morally superior person or less promiscuous than a lot of people.Oddly, the experience that I had with my friend in college, the one who died I think made it possible for me to be with people who were in very difficult situations
Franklin Abbott: [01:25:30] with my clients. Once they were unable to come to the office, I would go see them at home but I couldn't charge for the time because I didn't know how long I could be there for them
Franklin Abbott: [01:26:00] if I needed to see them at home or in the hospital. It was just something that I had to have to give myself the flexibility to not be there for if I could only be there for 10 minutes, I could only be there for 10 minutes
Franklin Abbott: [01:26:30] and I had numerous of those visits every week and I think I've developed a phobia about hospitals as a consequence.I don't like to go visit people in hospitals and I certainly don't like to be in one.
Franklin Abbott: [01:27:00] I lost a number of people I was very close to. It was really, really difficult. It was really important to have the community of the faeries and gay spirit visions as an ongoing part of my life to have the art community and the therapy community. I really think that that's what helped me hold together psychologically
Franklin Abbott: [01:27:30] to the degree that I could and things changed all of a sudden. The cocktail became available and there was a whole group of guys that I call the Lazarus generation where they literally came back from the dead
Franklin Abbott: [01:28:00] and the community started to change Ironically, the fundraisers that were begun to raise money for AIDS research and services became these elaborate parties, the white party, the black party this, that and the other and they gave birth to a new epidemic and it was the drug epidemic.
Franklin Abbott: [01:28:30] We shifted from one health epidemic to another health epidemic and I saw that in my practice that all of a sudden I was seeing men who would not have been addicts, addicted to things like crystal and cocaine
Franklin Abbott: [01:29:00] all those alphabet drugs and that was pretty dreadful. I don't think it's run its course.
Kate Kunath: No?
Franklin Abbott: It's better. I think there's an awareness now. I think maybe younger guys are less susceptible to it because they've seen some of the ugly parts of it.
Franklin Abbott: [01:29:30] Well, there's always been a superficial aspect to gay culture that is youth and beauty oriented, very party oriented, lots and lots of drugs and alcohol and some of that is just being a young person in the world but I think that gay men attenuate that, that we want to be young when we're 40 or 50
Franklin Abbott: [01:30:00] and we have a different challenge with aging because we lose our cachet.
Kate Kunath: Have you seen the themes of the Faeries evolve over the years, kind of in parallel with,
Kate Kunath: [01:30:30] I guess with gay marriage in a way because like you're saying, there's a division there. It's interesting to hear you talk about that because I think of there being division, which like a white gay male movement culture and everyone else. They don't really think about all the diversity within
Kate Kunath: [01:31:00] the male experience, basically the gay white male experience and how those are also different also.
Franklin Abbott: Well I've joked that I always thought that the perks of being gay were that I didn't have to get married, I didn't have to join the army and I didn't have to have children, and then all of a sudden, the political agenda
Franklin Abbott: [01:31:30] became having access to the military, being able to adopt children and being able to legally marry and when I was young, I had sort of studied the ignorance of all things economic, which was part of my privilege growing up in the middle class, not having to think about money and always, there was just always enough
Franklin Abbott: [01:32:00] and in the 70s and 80s, the economy was much more relaxed. It was easy to get work. Housing was cheap. Food was cheap. Gas was cheap, and so I didn't think about those things as being important.As the issues started to come up and I thought about it, I still didn't want to get married, have children, join the military, but I could understand why it was important
Franklin Abbott: [01:32:30] economically for people to do that. I think that that has more impact really on minority communities and women because economics is more of a struggle for minority communities and women.
Franklin Abbott: [01:33:00] Gay men have this sort of, white gay men have this sort of weird circumstance in which I can walk out into the world dressed like this and because I'm not extremely effeminate, people are going to make an assumption that I'm straight
Franklin Abbott: [01:33:30] and whenever I'm in an unusual situation, those who asked me if I'm married and have children and all this, that and the other. That's a loaded question for me and I'm pretty honest and open most of the time, unless I feel like there's a threat to my safety.
Franklin Abbott: [01:34:00] I think that privilege is privilege, and one of the things about having privilege is that you don't in a sense know that you have it. I can walk into any of a number of establishments with African American friends and they have a very different experience of walking in than I do, because
Franklin Abbott: [01:34:30] they're looked at differently. A store wants me to come in because they look at me as somebody who's going to spend money. A store may not want them to come in because they look at them as somebody who may take something or who may be a danger. I'm aware of that, but I think that I'm an unusual person and I'm not always aware of it and there are levels of privilege
Franklin Abbott: [01:35:00] that I still don't understand about myself or ways in which I let it work for me unthinkingly.My early experience working with poor people, most of whom were black in South Georgia really gave me the experience
Franklin Abbott: [01:35:30] that there's not a level playing field. I know that that is true from having many, many close friends who are women, that women deal with obstacles that men don't deal with. I think if you do your intersectionality
Franklin Abbott: [01:36:00] and you can move way over here in terms of a black trans person being perhaps the most discriminated against the least privileged person because of their circumstances, and I think that it's,
Franklin Abbott: [01:36:30] as someone who advocates social justice not just for myself but for everybody, I have to become aware of that and I have to advocate beyond my own self interest. I think that most white gay men don't advocate beyond their own self interest, that if they're okay, it's okay and if they can have a big poofy wedding somewhere and
Franklin Abbott: [01:37:00] purchase children by surrogacy, then all is well with the world.That's just been a constant tension in the LGBT community is between privilege and between looking at all of the other things that impact all of the other struggles that are parallel struggles.
Franklin Abbott: [01:37:30] When I meet a gay man who says he's a Republican, I think oh my god, how could you be a Republican? Are you really, really wealthy, really, really wealthy? I mean I just can't imagine. Self oppressive behavior is part of stigma. You identify with the stereotypes that are projected onto you,
Franklin Abbott: [01:38:00] and gay people have done that forever, that we are not as good as, that we are deficient in some way, that we're defective in some way and we treat each other that way. We internalize homophobia. It affects all of our relationships. It makes it difficult for us to have an intimate relationship and that was certainly one of the themes that I work with a lot. I mean out gay therapists
Franklin Abbott: [01:38:30] in the 70s and 80s was just how difficult it was for us to be in relationship with each other.I think that what happened for me with the Faeries is that they became increasingly about
Franklin Abbott: [01:39:00] costume and I get in trouble for saying this, but for me, there's a lot of substance use. I don't have a moral judgment about smoking pot. I've smoked pot. I will smoke pot, but I don't think it needs to be the central organizing principle
Franklin Abbott: [01:39:30] of things. I stopped going to the gatherings, one because I got old and I didn't want to sleep on the ground and two, because it just got too weird for me, too many stone drugged out people. The emphasis was on who had the best costume rather than that deeper conversation about who are we,
Franklin Abbott: [01:40:00] where do we come from, why are we here.I think other things became redundant for me because things do. I mean an organization like Gay Spirit Visions, I've really enjoyed the development of it, but then it sort of became what it is and if I go to a conference, it's going to be a lot like the last one and I like to start things. I'm much more into getting something going and then
Franklin Abbott: [01:40:30] once it's going, letting other people who like to maintain things do that. I worked on setting up the Atlanta Literary Festival here and I guess I'm not sure how many years. That's about 10 years ago and it was really a lot of fun for about four or five years , kind of getting it together and finding people and
Franklin Abbott: [01:41:00] I still work with it.I still, there's still thing, I find things to do. I do a lot of oral histories with Georgia State. They collected my papers. I was a correspondent ... I was a letter writer when I was younger and there was a little publication called Paz y Liberacin that came out of Texas, out of Houston
Franklin Abbott: [01:41:30] and this gay guy somehow or another collected pen pal ads from all these international gay publications and put them together and you could put an ad in or you could respond to ads and so I had an experience in the early 80s.I have failed at every religion I've attempted but
Franklin Abbott: [01:42:00] one of the religions that I got interested in was Wicca and there's a teacher and writer named Star Hawk, who was leading sort of a witches' tour of Ireland and I wanted to go. I just thought that that was going to be, I would surely find the truth and I had a marvelous time and I have huge respect for Star Hawk. She's a feminist and an environmentalist, but
Franklin Abbott: [01:42:30] ceremonial witchcraft is just not my cup of tea but I stayed after the tour and there was a gay center in Dublin called Hirschfeld Center and I wrote to them and I said I'm a poet. I'm going to be there. Can I give a reading?They set up a reading for me and they had a coffee house and I went to the coffee house the night before the reading and I met a guy and he and I developed a relationship and
Franklin Abbott: [01:43:00] probably of all the men that I was ever with, he would have been the one to have stayed with. He and I had more in common but because he was Irish and I was American and we couldn't have marriage and all this, that and the other, we couldn't make that happen. We did spend a lot of time with each other over a couple of years, me visiting him, him visiting me and I learned that if you know somebody in a culture,
Franklin Abbott: [01:43:30] oh it makes a huge difference. You become a traveler. You're not a tourist and I've been a tourist and that's okay I mean, but art museums and cathedrals and government structures and that kind of thing, a little bit goes a long way but if you know somebody, you get to see all kinds of things.I have this just big adventure
Franklin Abbott: [01:44:00] corresponding with people. I, first I went to Asia, had pen pals in Japan and Taiwan and Singapore and then I went to Venezuela. I developed a relationship with a couple there that because Atlanta was a short distance by air from Caracas,
Franklin Abbott: [01:44:30] I went many times and it was a way for me to get away from AIDS and I also went to Africa the first time as a result of correspondence. I had these wonderful relationships with people where I'd step off the plane, I would have a local host that would greet me and I would disappear for a period of time and be in a different world.
Franklin Abbott: [01:45:00] In the developing world, it was dangerous to look for the gay community and I'm not good at languages so I never learned to speak anything other than English, but by virtue of having these friends I had, I had a wonderful time. I still have a wonderful time. I still go places and meet people and the internet does that now but
Franklin Abbott: [01:45:30] I had boxes and boxes and boxes of letters and so Georgia State came and there were some other things that I had that were of interest. The Women's Studies Department at Georgia State became the Women and Gender Studies Department and they needed some gender for their archives and so I could provide that for them and I can now park my car in my garage,
Franklin Abbott: [01:46:00] All of those letters and ephemera and I did three anthologies of writings from RFD and the pro feminist men's journals and the people that I've met in those movements all on men's issues and all the correspondence that goes with that, the conferences that I worked on. I've had a really interesting life.
Franklin Abbott: [01:46:30] I don't feel at all estranged from the Faeries. I still have many Faerie friends. I still will submit work to RFD. I still get called in to do things about I don't know, how long ago was it, it was in the 90s sometime. They were beginning to,
Franklin Abbott: [01:47:00] there was an initial gathering of Faeries in Europe, called the Euro Faeries and they needed an old Faerie to come over, who is familiar with all the Faerie things to help them set up, to do the circles and do all the the hoo ha that's associated and they asked me to come do that.It was really a wonderful thing to be able to do, to kind of bring the tradition over and to meet
Franklin Abbott: [01:47:30] men from all the different countries there. We were on Terschelling Island, which is off the northern coast of the Netherlands, pretty isolated and it was just magic, and I'm still close friends with many of the people that I shared that experience with.I think that the gift,
Franklin Abbott: [01:48:00] being gay is one of the greatest gifts that I have because it has given me the opportunity to move outside of conformity and to explore being whoever I am in the moment. I don't have to be a certain way so I don't have to,
Franklin Abbott: [01:48:30] the processes that all contributed to that were sort of organic, I incorporated them all so it doesn't feel like I have to go back and go to gatherings or conferences or that sort of thing and I have enough connection and the kind of people I connect with are people who are unusual.They are themselves
Franklin Abbott: [01:49:00] and they're from all over the place and they're all kinds of people of all ages and so I have this lovely life and now that I'm older, I don't have to work as much. I still see clients. I still enjoy that very much but I enjoy having a lot of leisure time that I can write. I finally got around to recording some songs that I'd written.
Franklin Abbott: [01:49:30] That was a very interesting process. I worked with some very, very fine jazz musicians who were extremely patient and kind with me. It's not that I'm not musical but I'm not a musician and so I have to find musicians who understand that we have to work off of rapport. In my department,
Franklin Abbott: [01:50:00] they can sit down and do all kinds of things together without batting an eye but that's been fun and I just get to do what I want to do and enjoy sort of the magical life that I have.Getting older is mostly a gift. I'm 68 on my birthday but I feel my age
Franklin Abbott: [01:50:30] mostly in the morning, when I don't want to get up or in the evening when it's 10:30 and I'm no, I'm not going anywhere. I'm home. I want to sit on the bed with the cats and read a book. My parents are still alive and they're in very good shape, so it just, I don't know. I think there's something about losing your parents
Franklin Abbott: [01:51:00] that brings you into the aging process, and so I'm fortunate we get along very well now. They've gotten much sweeter. They can actually say the gay word and they've learned through watching my life and my brother's life and the lives of their friends' children that being straight doesn't mean you're going to be happy and being gay doesn't mean you're going to be sad.
Franklin Abbott: [01:51:30] I think for them, they were, the only information that they got was there was like one paragraph in the sociology book that would have been available to them in 1948 when they were in college, which was a paragraph on deviance,
Franklin Abbott: [01:52:00] which listed homosexuality, bestiality, drug addiction, prostitution and kleptomaniac all in the same grouping and of course they didn't want their child to be someone who fell into that category and all of their misguided efforts to get me good at at least one sport,
Franklin Abbott: [01:52:30] they finally gave up when the golf instructors said there's no hope but they also discouraged anything that was artistic or creative because that would take me in the other direction.My life has been to stretch back into who I am and to be that little magical child, that little fairy who, when he could be himself was
Franklin Abbott: [01:53:00] so at one with the universe and for the most part, I get to do that and I feel like I've helped lots of other people get to do that. When I tear up, it's not sadness really.
Franklin Abbott: [01:53:30] We don't often get to talk about the whole arc of our life, and I feel so lucky.As far as I know, I get to be lucky for a while longer.
Kate Kunath: [01:54:00] I feel like having experienced the arc, the small version of that arc sitting here with you.
Franklin Abbott: I really appreciate you guys coming and giving me the opportunity to reflect.
Kate Kunath: Despite how you warned me that you're going to be terrible at being interviewed, you are, I don't know, maybe like top three
Franklin Abbott: [01:54:30] Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. You both are benevolent presences. It's easy to talk with you both. Is there anything else you want to know or have we done as much as we can do?
Kate Kunath: I think that we did really a lot. There's a couple of people that I wanted to ask you about.
Franklin Abbott: Sure.
ManSee Kong: [01:55:00] There's something on your shirt right here.
Franklin Abbott: We've got it.
Kate Kunath: Assotto Saint?
Franklin Abbott: Assotto Saint.
Kate Kunath: [01:55:30] Assotto Saint, and there was some other black activists, artists including Essex Hemphill, Cary Alan Johnson?
Franklin Abbott: Yes, yes. Well, I worked with a tiny little journal called Changing Men. I was the poetry editor and they decided at some point we were going to do
Franklin Abbott: [01:56:00] a special issue on black masculinity and so I looked for somebody that I could work with to find black poets because I knew that as a white person, I mean it sounded silly to me and inappropriate that I could be the liaison from the magazine, but I couldn't be the one who who did that.
Franklin Abbott: [01:56:30] We put a notice in the the journal and a fellow named Daniel Garrick contacted me and through Daniel, I met Assotto and Essex and Craig Harris and Cary Alan Johnson, Isaac Jackson.There was sort of a renaissance of African American gay men writing at that time.
Kate Kunath: [01:57:00] What year was that?
Franklin Abbott: It would be, a sneaky kitty coming in, I'm thinking that the year would have been that have been right around 1986 because my first book, New Men, New Minds came out in 1987 and
Franklin Abbott: [01:57:30] there are pieces by Essex and Assotto and Craig and Cary Alan Johnson in the anthology, so after the anthology came out, I went to New York to publish it or to promote it and did a big reading and I got to meet them in person and I worked with each of
Franklin Abbott: [01:58:00] them in terms of the publications I worked with and future anthologies but I got to know Assotto very well.We developed a romantic relationship, which was complicated. He was in a relationship and it was an open relationship, but it was an open relationship with Byzantine rules about what could and couldn't happen
Franklin Abbott: [01:58:30] and I think he and his partner Jan, they were obviously together, there was no, I never had the thought that, Assotto's given name was Yves, Yves Lubin. He was Haitian American. Assotto Saint was his writer's name I never had the thought that he and I would become a couple.
Franklin Abbott: [01:59:00] He was in New York for one thing. I was in Atlanta. I was in a relationship. He was in a relationship and he was one of the most sort of incendiary people I have ever been around and he was so hot literally and figuratively that I just couldn't have maintained a relationship with somebody like that. I couldn't have maintained a friendship with him if he lived in the same city. He was so intense. The thing that I think that was
Franklin Abbott: [01:59:30] probably the most intimate thing that happened between the two of us was that we had a telephone relationship where we checked in with each other. He was in the middle of the epidemic in New York. I was in the middle of the epidemic in Atlanta. My lover was HIV positive. He and Jan were both HIV positive. We were both experiencing multiple losses
Franklin Abbott: [02:00:00] and we just kept talking to each other and we had several opportunities where our paths crossed and we spent time together. After Jan died, he came here once to promote a book and stayed with me and we had a very loving exchange
Franklin Abbott: [02:00:30] and it was the last time I saw him.Most of those guys died. Essex died, Craig Harris died, Carrie Alan Johnson is still a friend of mine, Isaac Jackson is still a friend. I would say there was about a five or six year period
Franklin Abbott: [02:01:00] where they were all living and publishing and putting out anthologies and doing readings together that it's just one of those magical periods in gay culture that I think will be remembered for a long, long time.It's hard to say who was the most gifted
Franklin Abbott: [02:01:30] because they were all developing and the ones who survived were impacted terribly by the loss of the others, but there were really beautiful intense potent work that came out of that time and I felt very, very fortunate to know Yves and the others
Franklin Abbott: [02:02:00] and to know Yves so well.
Kate Kunath: It's great. Do you need a chair?
ManSee Kong: Oh I'm sorry.
Kate Kunath: [02:02:30] Beautiful, I'm sure you do this, you must have already given this advice on one million times but advice for young people or and can you put that water on the floor actually?
Franklin Abbott: Yes.
Kate Kunath: Your advice for young or old people ready to come out.
Franklin Abbott: [02:03:00] Well, I think coming out is something you do in stages and there's a coming out that you do with yourself and a coming out you do with those people who are close to you, and I think to be solid in those things before you come out in a big way, I think that that's very important.
Franklin Abbott: [02:03:30] Where you come out is also extremely significant. Coming out in an urban center like Atlanta or New York or LA, there's going to be a lot of support even if you come from a conservative background. Coming out in a rural area or coming out in societies that are not accepting,
Franklin Abbott: [02:04:00] that's a much different challenge and your physical safety is something that you have to take into consideration.One of the things that we know about how attitudes have changed about gay people is that straight people are very much affected by knowing a gay person, that they may be very religious or politically conservative
Franklin Abbott: [02:04:30] but if they know a gay person, then they have cognitive dissonance because they can't think of that person that they know, that they like, who does their hair or is their kid's teacher or is their next door neighbor. They can't think of them as a bad person. They know they're not a bad person, so whatever they hear about gay people,
Franklin Abbott: Franklin Abbott: LGBT people being bad gets undone by the good people that they know.That's why it's important to come out if you can, not just for you, but for others and for those of us who came out when not very many people were out at all, well there were consequences for us and there are going to be consequences, but for me it's been worth it and I haven't had to,
Franklin Abbott: [02:05:30] I don't have the regret of having had a marriage where I was lying to somebody. I don't have to have the regret of children, although many of my friends who had children don't regret the fact they had children, but they regret that they didn't get to be gay when they were young. It's really come out, come out
Franklin Abbott: [02:06:00] whenever, wherever you can but find support, find internal support, find external support and then it's okay to take the risk.
Kate Kunath: Why is it important for you to tell your story?
Franklin Abbott: [02:06:30] I got to come out at a time when there were very few people who were out. I graduated from high school the same year as Stonewall. I've seen tremendous change. As a child and a young person, there was no way that I would have any kind of social intercourse
Franklin Abbott: [02:07:00] with people who were not the same color as I was. As a male growing up in our culture, I had a role that was I was ill designed for but I had to conform to or risk being ostracized. I've lived through a lot and
Franklin Abbott: [02:07:30] I've had a wonderful life and a terrible life and I'm a survivor. I think if being true to yourself is a strength, then my story is about that.
Kate Kunath: [02:08:00] What's your hope for the future?
Franklin Abbott: I hope as the world becomes more interconnected, that gender justice will be just one piece of justice,
Franklin Abbott: [02:08:30] that justice will be the primary thing that we all focus on, that because we're LGBT, it gives us an opportunity to experience injustice and to be an advocate for justice and not just justice based on our own issues but justice
Franklin Abbott: [02:09:00] that gives everybody a good life.I don't think I'm going to live to see that but I have lived to see the sort of the fall of segregation and Jim Crow, it's not been the end of racism. I've lived to see women in the military, which is not the end of sexism and I've lived to see gay marriage, which is not the end of homophobia,
Franklin Abbott: [02:09:30] but it sure feels good to see all those things, so I'm hopeful. Maybe I'll get to live another 20 years or 30 years and maybe there'll be some remarkable things that I'll get to see. I hope we can figure this out because I think that there are enough resources on the planet that everybody can have a good life.
Kate Kunath: [02:10:00] Finally, one last question, what do you think is the importance of the OUTWORDS and if you could say OUTWORDS in your answer, I would appreciate it.
Franklin Abbott: Well, I'm honored to be included in OUTWORDS, because I believe that the older members of the LGBT community have a lot of wisdom and experience to share.
Franklin Abbott: [02:10:30] Our community isn't so different from all the other communities in that there is a segregation based on age and it's more likely that we're going to be in social relationships with people who are our own age and particularly in the LGBT community where most of us don't have children.We tend to group around our own age,
Franklin Abbott: [02:11:00] so this is a way for people who are my age to feel like they've got a kindred spirit and for people who are younger, to be able to hear a story about what was it like before and during and after the big push of the LGBT movement. I hope that it inspires.
Franklin Abbott: [02:11:30] I didn't have this when I was a young man. There weren't older people who'd been out and fought the good fight that I could look to. People of my generation had to make it up as we went. It was wonderful to be able to do that, but it was very difficult. It's sort of like everything's from scratch. You're a pioneer.
Franklin Abbott: [02:12:00] I'm very appreciative for what OUTWORDS is doing. The other thing that I appreciate is that this becomes part of my legacy and OUTWORDS is creating a library of stories for older people in our community that will be available 100 years from now. History is really, there are really two things that inform history.
Franklin Abbott: [02:12:30] One is the obvious headlines that we can go back and read the front page from 100 years ago or we can read the documents from 1,000 years ago, but the other part of history is the stories and before there was video, it was the letters and the diaries and we really want to know what was going on. We have all of the time,
Franklin Abbott: [02:13:00] the place when the battle happened, when the king died but we also have the stories that were somehow or another preserved, and that's what gives depth and flavor and character to the human experience.That's where we will find, I may not be able to identify with the events of 1,000 years ago, but I can identify with the experience of someone who's living through them.
Franklin Abbott: [02:13:30] If you're out there in the future-
Kate Kunath: To the gay life on Mars.
Franklin Abbott: Yes and beyond and beyond.
Kate Kunath: Thank you so much. It was wonderful.
Franklin Abbott: My pleasure, my pleasure.

Interviewed by: Kate Kunath
Camera: ManSee Kong
Date: March 26, 2018
Location: Home of Franklin Abbott, Decatur, GA