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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.
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. So start off by stating and spelling your first and last name.
Perry Brass: I'm Perry Brass. P. E. R R Y. B. R. A. S. S.
Mason Funk: Do you have a lozenge in your mouth or something?
Perry Brass: No.
Mason Funk: Okay. Could you tell us the date and place of your birth?
Perry Brass: [00:00:30] I was born on September 15th, 1947 in Savannah, Georgia.
Mason Funk: So I've read your website where I read some of your background and your story. If you could just paint a picture for me of your, the family you grew up in and just a brief overview of your childhood years, what they were like.
Perry Brass: Okay. That's not difficult. I like to tell people that I come from four different and basically mutually exclusive groups.
Perry Brass: [00:01:00] I grew up Southern, Jewish, poor, really poor, incredibly impoverished and gay. By the time I was 12 years old, I realized that I was different, really different from other kids, certainly from other boys. Actually. I knew that probably by the time I was about eight, but by the time I was 12, something was going on with me that I knew
Perry Brass: [00:01:30] I could not share with anybody. I'd been an extremely sensitive child. I had great fears around this sensitivity because it was so different from what most other people were. My parents were Southern Jews. My mother was born in Savannah, Georgia. My father was born in Charleston, South Carolina. If you go back past that generation,
Perry Brass: [00:02:00] everybody else came from basically what was Polish Russia. So my background was quite Jewish. I went to Hebrew school. and was bar mitzvah'd. When I was 11 years old, my father died. He died in a state of bankruptcy, basically. We were thrown into a, just, it's,
Perry Brass: [00:02:30] it's almost hard to describe the level of poverty we're thrown into. Especially for Southern Jews. It took me a long time to understand that most Jews did not end up in the South in order to be poor. I mean, they were part of a real mercantile class. And my father also was much more working class than a lot of other Jews were. He had his background was meat cutting.
Perry Brass: [00:03:00] He knew how to cut meat. Uh, and he'd been in World War Two in the infantry. And most of his friends at that point, while I was growing up, were his army buddies. So a lot of his friends were not Jewish. And he had this wonderful attitude about people, of accepting people. He had friends who were Black. I mean, that was just extremely rare in the South in that time.
Perry Brass: [00:03:30] He spoke fluent Yiddish and lovingness and considered himself, and very much was a Southern gentleman. And I grew up with these kinds of Southern gentility that this kind of Southern gentility. My mother, she came from a kind of like the poor relations of rich relations. Most of her family had made money, usually in the dry goods business or the wholesale business.
Perry Brass: [00:04:00] And her part of the family never made money. So that we were the poor relations of richer relations. My father, though, his parents had actually made money. His mother and father were kind of entrepreneurial and they owned several businesses and first in Charleston and then in Savannah, and they considered themselves to be superior to my mother's family.
Perry Brass: [00:04:30] I don't know if you know much about European Jewry, but my father's family were Lithuanian Jews who considered themselves to be, you know, a cut above Polish Jews. My mother's family were Polish Jews who never spoke Polish. They only spoke Russian and Yiddish. So you had this interesting kind of conflict that happened. Went back to even before my birth and then when my father died, he was, I think he was 42.
Perry Brass: [00:05:00] He died. Well I was never told what he died of. I was told that he died of kidney problems. It wasn't until at my mother's funeral, when I was 38 that one of her brothers let several cats out the bag. And one of them was that he had actually died of colon rectal cancer, which is one of the most inheritable of all forms of cancer. And thank God I found out about that.
Mason Funk: [00:05:30] So for a white wasp kid from Los Angeles, is like a foreign country for me. So one of the things, I don't know is that, so there was a, there was a kind of a community of Jews in Savannah.
Perry Brass: Oh, yes. Yes. There were, there were 1000 Jewish families in Savannah when I was growing up, which I like to say is as many Jewish families as you would have found on two blocks of Flatbush. So it was a very close-knit community.
Perry Brass: [00:06:00] We would say like everybody knew everybody else, or at least within these thousand families, there were actually three synagogues in Savannah, which is kind of amazing. You'd have a thousand families that could support three synagogues, but I think it also is an indication of the affluence of the Jewish community. Then, you knew people who went to your synagogue.
Perry Brass: [00:06:30] And because I was part of this baby boomer generation, I knew God knows how many other Jewish kids from my generation too, and some of them, their families went to other synagogues. But yes, it was, it was a close-knit community. And it took me a long time to understand, you know, what it was about Southern Jews at that point
Perry Brass: [00:07:00] that kind of made things tick the way they did, especially, within my mother's family. My father's family was basically all wiped out by Hitler and Stalin, and he was an only child. So I had no family from my father's side of the family. I did from my mother's side of the family. And, my mother's side of the family. Because some of them were actually immigrants themselves.
Perry Brass: [00:07:30] That is, they were my mother's like uncles and aunts, and they had come over, again, from Poland. Their basic instinct was to try to be accepted by the other Jews, other parts of the Jewish community to not let out anything that would have been socially looked down upon or socially ostracized.
Perry Brass: [00:08:00] They, they, they were like really aware of this. And also, and I heard this too many times, their feeling was that even though being Jewish was not that accepted in Southern society, by my generation, there was not so much overt antisemitism as in my mother's generation, even though being Jewish was not that accepted, at least you weren't Black.
Perry Brass: [00:08:30] And I would hear this too many times from my mother's uncles who would come over, they were the right off the boat people, although they'd been in Savannah at that point, probably for like 40 years, at least 50 years. But, one of my mother's uncles used to say to us going through this experience of terrible poverty, he would say, Vell, at least you've wasn't born a n****r.
Perry Brass: [00:09:00] And this was kind of like put things on the,that level. Later on I understood things about my family that I did not know as a child that had been kept from me. And, there were three things about my mother that I found out and one of them was, well, I'm trying to think what, sorry, just for a moment. Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] it's not great. Okay. So we'll try to hold, if I hear a train coming, I'll just have you, okay.
Perry Brass: Okay.
Mason Funk: We did, do we still have a humidifier running because I feel like I still hear some white noise.
Perry Brass: Yes. I wonder. I do. I hear it all. So I hear it.
Mason Funk: [00:10:00] I'm not too worried about it. I'm really not worried about all the settlers. Oh yeah, we have one right here.
Perry Brass: Do you want to just turn that off? Can you try?
Mason Funk: No because we've been recording with them, so I think we'll just do consistency. We'll keep it. Yeah. So we'll just worry about trains. I can usually hear the train a couple of minutes before it gets loud. So I'll just have you pause. Okay. So are there three things? Do you remember what they were even matters? You remember all three?
Perry Brass: Yeah. Well, well, it took me a long time to understand, you know, boy, when I say it took me a long time to understand this.
Perry Brass: [00:10:30] Some of it only came out actually again after her death. One of them was that she was severely disturbed. I mean, much, much more disturbed than I had known as a child. The second thing was that she was schizophrenic. I mean, she was a paranoid schizophrenic and this had been kept from me, kept from me and from my sister.
Perry Brass: [00:11:00] And she could be violent at times and often this violence was directed at me. And the third thing was that she was a lesbian. This was something that I kind of understood certainly by the time I was in my early twentie.
Perry Brass: [00:11:30] Before that. there'd been kind of hints about it. And she had been repressing it horribly. Oh, yes. The third thing was that she really didn't want to be married. She did not, she did not want to be married. She did not want to have children. This had been forced on her. I think that
Perry Brass: [00:12:00] my relationship with her was really colored by this. The idea that she had been a closet lesbian who had repressed this so painfully when she didn't want to be married and didn't want to have kids. And then she ends up with a gay child. And the fact that I was a gay child, I mean, they understood this much, much more before I did it.
Perry Brass: [00:12:30] They, they understood it. I'm going to say much more before I, before I even understood what it was like, my parents understood that I was not like all the boys. I had no interest in sports at all. It was like, it was like there was this curtain between me and sports. I had absolutely no interest in it. I loved small animals. I hated hunting. My father loved hunting and fishing, which was unusual for a Jewish man to, to really be into blood sports,
Perry Brass: [00:13:00] but he loved them. And he loved guns and I hated guns and to his everlasting credit and my huge love for him, he never made me feel that he was disappointed in me. He never made me feel that I had to love guns and I had to love hunting. And he only took me out once hunting with him. And I was seven years old
Perry Brass: [00:13:30] and we went out into the Backwoods in Savannah and I was supposed to fire a gun, like a little air rifle, and I did it and hated it. And the sound of guns made me throw up. I mean, I just, I started throwing up and he just took me aside and he said, you never have to do this again. I'll never ask you to do this again.
Perry Brass: [00:14:00] And that was just wonderful. I mean, I've met so many other guys who went through this kind of situation with their fathers and they tried so hard to conform to what their fathers wanted or they, their fathers forced them to do something they didn't want to do. And he never did that with me. And when I was I think about eight years old, I discovered puppets and I love puppets. And he encouraged this,
Perry Brass: [00:14:30] he made a puppet stage for me and he brought books from the library about puppets and he helped me make puppets. And my mother hated this. Uh, she thought it was effeminate. She referred to my puppets as Perry's dolls and said my son plays with dolls. And I hated that for her to say that, it was a horrible thing per se, but it just shows the anger she had towards, here she is a repressed lesbian. She has a queer son. So this situation with us was just something
Perry Brass: [00:15:00] that went on all through my childhood. And at the time I was 16, I was already, as they say out. I had a sexual relationship or sexual situation with a man. And at that point, things change hugely.
Mason Funk: Lets pause here for a second. Let me fill in a couple of questions. Okay. First of all, how did you find out your mom was closeted or a repressed lesbian?
Perry Brass: [00:15:30] Yes. Well, people guessed at it and some of my friends even alluded to it. And there was also the fact that she did not, she did not and could not act like a regular woman.
Perry Brass: [00:16:00] She, you have to imagine this was in the South in the fifties and early sixties. She wore pants on the street. Other women did not wear pants. I mean, she was wearing pants in Savannah, Georgia when she was often the only woman on the street wearing pants. I mean, she wore pants. She did not like wearing dresses, although she was forced to wear them sometimes. She smoked cigars. She was like a cigar smoking Dyke kind of.
Perry Brass: [00:16:30] She smoked cigars. She had just no interest in these things that women, certainly Southern women, were supposed to be interested in. She hated cooking. She hated housekeeping. She, she hated all the frilly crap that women certainly in the South were supposed to like, and they were almost forced on her by her relatives like that she should like put up curtains in the house
Perry Brass: [00:17:00] and she should keep the house better and she should have a garden and grow flowers. She had no interest in that at all. She likes sports and had been very athletic as a young woman and, and I was extremely unathletic. I mean, part of the, the unathletic thing was that I hated sports. I had no interest in baseball, football, basketball, had no interest in those things at all.
Perry Brass: [00:17:30] And what I did do, was when I was 11, I discovered boy scouting all right. Actually, it was kind of sort of foisted on me that I, I should become a regular boy and become a boy scout. And I adored boy scouting. And then in Savannah, Georgia, at that point, boys had two choices. It was either little league baseball or boy scouts. So I became a boy scout and my mother hated that. She hated anything
Perry Brass: [00:18:00] that took attention away from herself. And we had a major blowout fight and she made me quit boy scouts. And it was something that I held against her for the rest of her life. I felt that, it was just a horrible thing. And one of her, actually her sister, my aunt Joanne said, why did you make Perry quit boy Scouts? And she said something that was the most heartbreaking thing she'd ever said to me. She said
Perry Brass: [00:18:30] it was the only thing he had I could take away from him. So, I mean, that shows you the level of poverty I grew up in.
Mason Funk: Did you ever have any conversations with your mom about this before she died?
Perry Brass: I mean, about her lesbianism?
Mason Funk: Well, that specifically or about what made her so unhappy as a, as a marriage, as a mother, and as well.
Perry Brass: By the time she died, it was, shed come out, she had come out
Perry Brass: [00:19:00] and she had several lovers. It was at that point, I mean, by the time I was about 23, which was basically the same time I was in GLF, she came out, I mean, fairly openly, at least openly enough. She couldn't talk about it very much, but she openly lived with women. She had several, as I used to say, girl friends.
Perry Brass: [00:19:30] She had several girlfriends and then the last about 12 years of her life, she was living basically with another woman who was her, her partner. Uh, the last eleven years of her life, I didn't talk to her. I, we were estranged, last eleven years of her life. I just finally reached this point that the relationship was so corrosive, I couldn't take it any longer. And I went back to Savannah and I, I finally announced to her, I said, I'm not coming back.
Perry Brass: [00:20:00] And she, I was 26 at the time and she said to me, that's fine. I don't want you back. We agree to disagree. And years later I thought, with a lot more maturity, I thought, what parent would say to a 26 year old child who says to this parent, I'm not going to see you again. What parent would say, I don't want you back. We agree to disagree. I mean, most parents would say, can't we talk about this?
Perry Brass: [00:20:30] You know, can't we try to resolve this? But it was her own anger also towards me. And part of that was also, I guess instilled by the idea that my mother really believed that both of her children are me and my, my sister Nancy, who's two years younger than I am. We had one purpose in life and that purpose was to take care of her
Perry Brass: [00:21:00] through my childhood. Certainly after my father died when I was 11, we reversed roles too often and I had to become the parent of my parent. And by the time I was 14, I realized that this was not going to happen. I was not going to take care of her. I made it very plain. I was not going to take care of her. By the time I was 14, I was in open rebellion.
Mason Funk: [00:21:30] You mentioned, I read your questionnaire online that you at 15, you attempted suicide.
Perry Brass: Yes.
Mason Funk: Can you tell us why and what happened?
Perry Brass: Basically, she pushed me into it.
Mason Funk: Tell me what you're talking about.
Perry Brass: Oh, I'm sorry. My suicide attempt at 15. Yes. Mostly she pushed me into it. We had come to this point of, I'd come to this point of total rebellion against her. And she had decided that she was not going to let me grow up, that she was going to control every aspect of me.
Perry Brass: [00:22:00] And I think this was a residue of her own growing up. She had a father who was extremely dominating and I think that he had controlled every aspect of her. And I was 15 years old, but I was, the next year when I was 16 would be my last year in high school. I graduated from high school at 16. So a lot of this, this,
Perry Brass: [00:22:30] this horrible situation kind of came to a point the summer that I was 15. And also by that time I knew inside that I was queer. I knew it. I could not rationalize it anymore. I couldn't try to just block it anymore. I knew that there was this thing inside me that would destroy me certainly in the South at that period. I mean
Perry Brass: [00:23:00] the level of homophobia around me was so intense. This hatred of queers, this hatred of people who are different, was so intense. And it took me a long time to understand that what had happened and what had happened in Southern society and in American society was that the white society had gone from hating Black people to hating homos. And, it's interesting to look back on it and,
Perry Brass: [00:23:30] and to see this level of hatred, this level of scorn and fear about gay people. What was the, the trajectory of this? What was the scheme of it? And I realized that when I was growing up as a small child, you could hate Black people as much as you wanted to because they were always in the background. They were always like the stage hands of society.
Perry Brass: [00:24:00] They're the people who move the scenery around. They're the people who were in the kitchen working or in the backyard, cleaning up your backyard if you were part of polite white Southern society, At that point. And then civil rights started happening and Black faces started to appear on the news and in the newspapers and you couldn't hide that anymore. So we have to have another group to hate. So we don't, we can't hate black people. Uh,
Perry Brass: [00:24:30] so overtly we'll just start hating homos. And also at that time something that a lot of people are not aware of was that one of the biggest influences in American culture had become Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine and the so-called Playboy philosophy, which is something that if you were a kid my age, you couldn't help, but it'd be percolated up to you.
Perry Brass: [00:25:00] The Playboy philosophy was that every red blooded basically white American boy had a right to all the, to put it in the words of our beloved president, all the pussy he could get. And if you were a homo, it meant that you are not simply a sinner from the church. You are not simply a sicko from psychiatry. You were a loser. You were,
Perry Brass: [00:25:30] you had lost out in the American scheme of life. So it meant that boys, my age at that point, became rapidly or rabidly homophobic. A generation earlier, They didn't even know if this was, they had no idea what it was, Samuel Stewart once said that, in his generation, gay men lived under the vast umbrella of American sexual naivete.
Perry Brass: [00:26:00] They were protected by it. But by the time I was growing up, that umbrella had been tossed to the wind and it had been exposed and you were either going to be an acceptable heterosexual, or you were going to be a loser and a queer. So that was part of what I was growing up and certainly push me into the suicide.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let me take a quick check.
Perry Brass: [00:26:30] But I will say that I want to add this though. The good thing about the suicide attempt was that when I came out of it and
Mason Funk: Can I interrupt you for just one second and ask if you, I don't know how explicit you want to be about the suicide attempt, what you tried to do.
Perry Brass: Well, what, what I did was I took all my mother's pills. I mean,
Perry Brass: [00:27:00] she had all of these sleeping pills and tranquilizers and I took about two bottles of them. And the next morning, she tried to wake me up and couldn't wake me up and she knew that I had done this and she knew that I was on this trajectory to do it, and we'd been in such a level of conflict that she realized that this was going to happen. So she drove me to a large, like the county hospital, Memorial Hospital in Savannah
Perry Brass: [00:27:30] and her whole feeling, while driving me. I'll never forget. She's like driving me and she, all she could say over and over again, It was, I know they're going to blame me for this. I know they're gonna blame me for this. And this was her main concern. It wasn't a concern that her only son was going to kill himself. It was that she'd be blamed for it. So, I stayed in the hospital for a week under observation and when I got to the emergency room, they kept saying, why did you want to kill yourself?
Perry Brass: [00:28:00] And I couldn't answer it. I just could not answer it. I had been in therapy at that point. Our whole, my whole family, had been in so-called therapy and I realized later on why we were in therapy. It was because my mother being a schizophrenic, she'd been hospitalized for several months. And I think that the terms of her release, was that she would stay in therapy and
Perry Brass: [00:28:30] I, and, and our whole family would be in therapy in order to be able to cope with our mother. So after I got out of the hospital, I went through a ,several weeks later, I went through an amazing epiphany. And the epiphany was that I was, I decided that I would never try to commit suicide again. I would never let anyone drive me to suicide again. I would not let my mother do it. I would not let the kids...
Perry Brass: [00:29:00] Yes, you can hear it. Okay. Okay. [inaudible]
Mason Funk: okay. So you said, tell me again.
Perry Brass: That I went through this, this epiphany that I, I decided I would never try to commit suicide again.
Perry Brass: [00:29:30] I would never let anyone push me to suicide again. I would not let my mother do it. I would not let the kids at Savannah High School do it, who had started a whispering campaign against me the year before, which was my junior year and I was 15 then, which is a very vulnerable year, certainly for boys. I, that's like 15 is like the beginning of a real adulthood. It's like, you were at the cusp of it, of adulthood at 15.
Perry Brass: [00:30:00] By the time you're 16, you're already on that path towards adulthood, I would not let them do it. And also most amazingly and I, I still, I still can't figure out how I came to this. I would be myself. I would accept myself. And the next year at Savannah High School, which was a huge high school it was, might be one of the biggest high schools in the state of Georgia,
Perry Brass: [00:30:30] I decided that I would not let anyone hurt me. The kids who'd been horrible to me earlier, I totally snubbed them. I had nothing to do with them. I would walk through the halls and not look at them. And these same kids suddenly thought, Oh my God, Brass must have something going for him that we don't know about. And they started to approach me and I became quite popular that last year in high school.
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] Well definitely once again, I want to get more water. Do you want anything? Any, Alrighty. So moving forward. Thank you for all that information and that detail. It really does paint a very distinct picture. So you graduated high school and let's just jump forward a couple of years to where you got to New York 2000 direct shot, if you want to say. I was just going first. But I think I'd rather get to essentially 1969. And set the stage for me.
Mason Funk: [00:31:30] By 1969 you had moved to New York or something short of that. And then talk about how you became God involved with GLF, what GLF was.
Perry Brass: Well by 1969 I'd been living in New York basically for three years. I came here in August of 1966, one month before my 19th birthday, so it's still 18. Basically the reason why I came here was that
Perry Brass: [00:32:00] I decided that I wanted to work in the quote art field. I'd had one year at the university of Georgia, getting a BFA, which I dropped out of university of Georgia after one year, basically because of the intense homophobia there. I'd had death threats in my dorm room. It was, it was an environment where I felt constantly threatened.
Perry Brass: [00:32:30] The weird thing is,, as one girl at the university of Georgia went, said to me, she said, Perry, you're not effeminate. You're aesthetic. I mean, I didn't, I mean, there were like more blatant sissies at Georgia than I was, but they seem to be able to, as you know, exist in this world by making constant compromises with it. And I just was not ready to do that. I mean,
Perry Brass: [00:33:00] later on, people would say to me, well, why weren't you ready to do that? Why couldn't you be more tolerant of the other side? And I used to hear that a lot as a, as a young person that my problem was that I couldn't tolerate people who are different from me. It was okay for them to want to kill me, but I was supposed to tolerate them. So I came to New York with this idea that I wanted to work in the art field and I got jobs almost immediately doing that. People were incredibly nice to me.
Perry Brass: [00:33:30] One of the things that amazed me about New York was, I was this kid, and fairly small kid. I actually grew like two inches from the time I was 18. I was a late grower, maybe even more than two inches. It was a small kid with a very heavy Southern accent and Southern manners, very nice manners. And people were very kind to me, generally.
Perry Brass: [00:34:00] So I, I came here and the gay world in New York at that time was, I described it, it was like joining a private club, which is a term people, I mean, I've heard so many people from my generation say that it was like belonging to a private club. There were certain things that would give you access to the club. One of them, certainly to the,
Perry Brass: [00:34:30] let's say the more middle-class aspects of the club. There was a working class aspect of the club too, but one of them was to be presentable, which I was, I was. I was good looking as a young man and also to have a sense of manners and decency to you. And it would be very easy to not have that within the gay world because it was so furtive. It was so closeted
Perry Brass: [00:35:00] to be openly gay was extremely difficult, almost impossible. Even blatant sissies could not be openly gay at that point. So once you got into this, this gay world, it was incredibly embracing. I mean certainly within the first two years of my being in New York, I, probably had met like 15 or 20 people who would be my friends. And that was a beautiful aspect of it.
Perry Brass: [00:35:30] Uh, there were bars at that point bars were coming back into New York. I don't know if you knew about that mayor Robert Wagner, I think it was his name, he had closed virtually every gay bar in New York for the New York world's fair in 1964. So by 1966 and 67 bars were starting to open again. And the bars themselves became like a kind of a club.
Perry Brass: [00:36:00] Like you knew people by what bars they went to, what kind of person they were. And when you went into a gay bar, even though the bars were very mafia controlled there was this aspect of being protected within the bar. So I found the, this is something that people find kind of peculiar about me as a person growing up in the South that I, like I did and feeling so
Perry Brass: [00:36:30] just disenfranchised from this society that I grew up in. I found the gay world so embracing that I didn't dislike it. I met other people who hated it. They hated the fact that it was furtive, that it was shadowy that it wasn't real to them. And I thought the bars and my friends, they were so much more real to me than anything I'd ever experienced in the South.
Mason Funk: [00:37:00] Okay. Thank you. Just hold that thought. I have to go change a card on my computer. Ill be right back. So you found a place where you really felt at home.
Perry Brass: [00:37:30] Yes, of, for the most part, yes. What I did not like about the queer world in New York at that point was its passivity. It was that whatever happened in the bars and sometimes the mafia owners of the bars that are the managers could be really ugly and people just accepted that this, this is just a part of it. This is a part of being, a part of this basically underground world.
Perry Brass: [00:38:00] You had to accept this, you had to accept that the mafia rudeness, ugliness, oppression from them. You had to accept the cops and the cops were really monstrous at that point in New York. They are a constant situation with the cops and the queers was being shaken down by the cops. And there was even something like, I'm sure you've heard of that term mugging money that people had in New York in the seventies.
Perry Brass: [00:38:30] You'd go out with it $10 from mugging money. Well, if you were gay and on the street in New York, especially if you were cruising after dark, you would carry cop money and the cop money could be about $40. A cop could stop you, especially if you were anywhere near Central Park, which was a big cruising ground. A cop could stop you and arrest you and you would give him $40. And I heard this story several times from,
Perry Brass: [00:39:00] from older gay men that they would carry this kind of money cop money. So I hated that. When Stonewall happened I was actually around the corner at a bar called Julius's.
Mason Funk: Lets pause there. Start that story fresh. So start by saying something like the night of stonewall.
Perry Brass: The night of Stonewall, I was actually around the corner at a bar called Julius's which at that point had actually become a gay bar.
Perry Brass: [00:39:30] Julius's is one of the oldest bars in the city. And for years it had been basically a men-only sporting bar. It was filled with pictures of, of boxers and baseball players and guys would go to this bar in order to drink with buddies. And it was a part of at that point, New York probably had like five or six all male bars. McSorley's was one, Julius's was another.
Perry Brass: [00:40:00] So you'd go there for this kind of macho Buddy-ism camaraderie. Well, by the time that Stonewall happened, Juliuss has had become an overtly gay bar. And so the first night of it, I'd heard some guys came into Juliuss announcing that the girls are rioting at the Stonewall, the girls, the street Queens at the Stonewall. And I didn't think a whole lot of it because this was not that uncommon.
Perry Brass: [00:40:30] There were a lot of, I would say like, not necessarily riots, but there were, there a lot of disruptions going on in New York. There were antiwar things. So I thought, well, okay, so, it just seems sort of like a crazy thing. And I didn't think that much of it. The second night I went out there and I did see what was going on. And by that time the streets around Sheridan Square were just absolutely covered with glass.
Perry Brass: [00:41:00] I mean, there was so much from broken windows, from car windshields, the streets were covered with glass, and there were just dozens of people out and the cops had set up riot lights. So it had this extremely theatrical feeling to it to be, you know, Sheridan Square in front of the old Stonewall, in front of the Stonewall. And my feeling about this was absolute elation.
Perry Brass: [00:41:30] It was absolute ebullience. I was so happy that we had done this. I felt at that point, this idea which, that there was something about us that was holding us together and I'm not going to use the word gay community yet because I still think this idea, this concept of an actual gay community had not occurred to me, but there was something that was holding us together.
Perry Brass: [00:42:00] And it was so fabulous. This thing that was holding us together, this thing that was holding us together was so palpable to me. It was so real to me that what I hated was when people negated that when they wanted to say, well, we have nothing really in common except what we do in bed or what we do in the dark. And I never felt that way. I thought that there was,
Perry Brass: [00:42:30] there was this sensibility and sensitivity that we had in common. And I could just feel this, it was like, some people would call it gaydar, but it was, it was kind of like on a certain level, it was like what Jews feel for each other. There's, there's this sense of blood in common and that's how I felt about what went on. I would later understand to be the gay community.
Mason Funk: You know, it's funny, a woman I interviewed in Los Angeles, she came from a Catholic background and
Mason Funk: [00:43:00] one of her first political, or overtly, lesbian or gay acts was to join a Catholic, gay Catholics organization. She likes to compare the early days of that early gay community to the early church. It was very underground. Of course it was kind of similar.
Perry Brass: But you had this kind of common soul, this common soul
Perry Brass: [00:43:30] and with, certainly with the gay men of my generation, there was very much this sense of a common soul. And you could approach the common soul through art, through religion, through a sense of tenderness towards other people and other men and animals. And children.
Perry Brass: [00:44:00] The sense of tenderness that we jumped over all of those blocks, that American society, these cinderblocks, that American society put around you that said you're supposed to, as a man, you're supposed to not have real feelings. You're supposed to be a blank. You're a cipher. A man was a thing in a black suit with a tie. Gore Vidal said that I think, I'm sure he said that
Perry Brass: [00:44:30] Marlon Brando electrified the Broadway stage in A Streetcar Named Desire because before Brando, all a man was a suit, a tie, and a shoe shine. And then Brando came out in a tee shirt. Well that, but Brando was queer in a play written by Tennessee Williams who was queer. So there was a soul going on.
Perry Brass: [00:45:00] The soul thing was going on. And that's what we had. We had this, this, this common soul. And the question was, how do you approach it?
Mason Funk: What do you mean when you said the question was how do you approach it?
Perry Brass: How do you connect with this common soul? That's what I meant. More like that. But approach it too. I mean, you know, like approach it too. And it's taken us so long to understand how do we approach the common soul?. So I mean it's taken us so long. I mean for you,
Perry Brass: [00:45:30] you still have the part of, I'm gonna say gay studies that says that all gays have in common is that homosexuality is constructed. That there's no, nothing essential about us. It's all constructed, society does this, blah, blah. Well, I've always rejected that. And the gay soul rejects that, or this common cell rejects that. So how do you approach, how do you approach it? How do you approach it?
Perry Brass: [00:46:00] How do you connect to it? And certainly when I was younger and I was, coming to New York or in New York, I saw how we connected with this, you know, we connected at the bars, or going to the the beaches, but this sense that we, we had something to talk to with, talk about with each other.
Mason Funk: That's fascinating. That's great. So let's go to those.
Mason Funk: [00:46:30] Talk about the GLF. How did you first encounter this group? You helped form it.
Perry Brass: No, I didn't help form it. No, but I'd love to talk about that. Sure. I'd love to talk about that. Well, first let me say about how it approached me.
Mason Funk: OKAY
Perry Brass: I joined GLF in November.
Mason Funk: Im sorry, i misspoke. Instead of GLF say the Gay Liberation Front.
Perry Brass: I mean, how I got involved with the Gay Liberation Front.
Perry Brass: [00:47:00] I joined GLF, Gay Liberation Front in November of 1969, which was basically about six weeks after my 22nd birthday. And GLF had been holding dances at something called Alternate U, which was on a building at 14th street and Sixth Avenue in the North West corner of the building.
Perry Brass: [00:47:30] And they just tore the building down, which is painful to me. There should be a plaque up there that this is where Alternate U was and where the Gay Liberation Front held the first openly gay dances in the damn city of New York. So they had, they would announce the dances by an ad in the Village Voice. The Village Voice at that point had a back page called Village Voice Bulletin Board, which people in New York read religiously.
Perry Brass: [00:48:00] It was a fabulous thing cause it, like everything that was going on was in the bulletin board. And there was a little little ad that said, Gay community dances, Alternate University, the address at the time. And I had never ever heard that term gay community before. And I read that term and it just electrified me. I thought, this is it. We're a community. I never thought we were a community. We're a community. So I started going to the dances
Perry Brass: [00:48:30] and I love the dances. People were friendly and sweet. They asked, I think a $2 donation to get in, I believe it was $2. And they served a beer and a soda for something like 50 cents. Instead of going to like one of the mafia bars where they would charge $3 to get in and a beer was a dollar. And if you were making, like I was, $60 a week, I mean
Perry Brass: [00:49:00] this was a lot of money. But people are so friendly and very, very sweet. And I started talking to people there and they said, and I said, well, what is uh, the Gay Liberation Front? And they said, well, we cant explain it to you. You have to come to a meeting. So I said, okay. So I went to my first meeting,
Mason Funk: perfect timing.
Perry Brass: [00:49:30] so I went to my first Gay Liberation Front meeting and it was just so remarkable to me. I'd never been in a situation like that where, well, to begin with, it was basically half men and half women. I'd never been in a situation where there were this many lesbians. And people were so upfront and you know, up upfront and out. And one of the things we did and in these meetings,
Perry Brass: [00:50:00] I don't know if we did it that often, but we broke into small discussion groups of eight people. So I was in the small discussion group with four women and four men. And I remember even who was in this, at this first meeting who was in this discussion. And one of them was a man named Pete Wilson, who unfortunately died of AIDS, but Pete had a show on WBAI and I'm not sure if it had turned into a gay show yet,
Perry Brass: [00:50:30] but he was already out. I mean, this was November of 69. So it was not that long after Stonewall, but he was already out. So Pete was there. And several other people were there that. Oh, a wonderful woman named Ellen Shumsky was there. And she was also in this discussion group with me.
Perry Brass: [00:51:00] So I remembered that. And for the first time I, could talk about it. I could actually talk about being gay and with people who, like sometimes you could talk about being gay in bed with another guy, but here I wasn't in bed. Here are these people. And we were strangers and brothers and sisters at the same time. So I remember afterwards I went out with several people who said, wedo you want to come out with us and have coffee?
Perry Brass: [00:51:30] So we did that and then we ended up at someone's apartment. And immediately people started telling me about the Gay Liberation Front and the politics and what it was and what I needed to know. And basically what I needed to know was what were GLF politics? Because it was a political organization. It was a radical organization and I had been very apolitical.
Perry Brass: [00:52:00] I felt like being gay, politics had nothing to say to me. And during that year at the University of Georgia, I had gotten involved with a civil rights group at Georgia, which was a hard place to be. And what I learned was that the civil rights group at the University of Georgia was as homophobic as everybody else was. And they, constant put downs of fairies and pansies and,
Perry Brass: [00:52:30] you know, right going on there. At the civil rights group, this was like, this is like a shibboleth that people, I don't know if you know, it was a shibboleth. Like, like, if we can't, let's, let's, let's just start characterizing people we hate. They're all fairies. And pansies and I went to, I think, two meetings and I decided, I hated this and I made up this little thing in my head. It was okay for these people,
Perry Brass: [00:53:00] If you were Black or brown or yellow or green, you just couldn't be yourself. And I think that this was very true for a lot of gay people in the civil rights movement. I mean, this was true for Bayard Rustin and God knows how many other gays in the civil rights movement, they had to go through this kind of oppression in that, in that movement. So I had, I was apolitical. I was, you know, and I got into GLF and people started inculcating me with GLF politics
Perry Brass: [00:53:30] and I listened to it. And suddenly it was like the light went on. It was like, they explained to me what was going on. That patriarchy ruled the world, that patriarchy said that men will always be on top of women. They will control women, they will control children, men will control women and children.
Perry Brass: [00:54:00] And if you're gay, if you're queer, you are an afront to patriarchy and patriarchy causes sexism and homophobia comes directly out of patriarchy. And capitalism basically works through patriarchy. You know, or, or maybe its the patriarchy, it works through capitalism. Patriarchy works through capitalism. And the feeling was that capitalism pits one group against another group, it pits the workers against the,
Perry Brass: [00:54:30] the workers basically against each other so that they, the owners, can control the workers. So we, we, you know, so it it, um uh, Oh God, the word is... anyway, it fosters racism. Capitalism fosters racism, that it fosters homophobia. It fostered sexism. And I believed all of that.
Perry Brass: [00:55:00] And one of the sort of tenants of, of GLF thinking was that if we did away with capitalism, if we promoted socialism, and for some people, socialism did not go far enough. They were, they wanted pure communism. In fact, they were, we had a Maoist section. They wanted like a Maoist communism,
Perry Brass: [00:55:30] no truck with capitalism at all. We're going to kill the capitalist so that anyone who steals a nickel from the people should be shot, this kind of thing. I mean they were so Orthodox communists or Orthodox reds anyway. Anyway uh, I was not a part of that. I said, no, I'm not that.
Perry Brass: [00:56:00] And I was kind of agnostic as far as a lot of that kind of politics is concerned. I did not come from that kind of background. A number of people in GLF had actually come from there were what we called red diaper babies, they had grown up in a leftist world. I had not. So I did though swallow very, very much this idea that patriarchy was the enemy. We had to overturn patriarchy.
Perry Brass: [00:56:30] And if we overturn patriarchy, guess what would happen? Socialism would come right through, well overturn patriarchy and socialism would come. The idea that you could overturn patriarchy and you could have a capitalism that basically is running on a sort of open playing field that did not occur to us. But if you, if you overturn patriarchy, then socialism would be a normal result. Capitalism and patriarchy are so bound up with each other.
Mason Funk: [00:57:00] Let me ask you a quick question. Were there like an average GLF meeting? You don't have to mimic what they said, obviously. Lets hold for the train. Like they said, there was like a different person who would lead each meeting.
Perry Brass: [00:57:30] No, not each meeting, but we had this idea that . . . say. So just start by saying the way GLF meetings were. The way that the GLF meetings were organized was that we did have a moderator and the moderator usually stuck around for a month and we alternated between a male moderator and a female moderator. So the problem about that was that we had a finite number of people who really could moderate a meeting.
Perry Brass: [00:58:00] And then you had people who, if they moderated a meeting, the meeting would just descend into a clown show. Uh, really a clown show. I mean, I remember we had one guy who moderated a meeting and he, he couldnt even take the meeting seriously. He couldn't take his own moderation seriously. So it, it just ended up a clown show. But we did have people who could moderate meetings and they were fairly good at it,
Perry Brass: [00:58:30] but we also had people who were what we called stars. And the main star was a guy named Bob Kohler, who Bob died of throat cancer about Oh, 20 years now, maybe 15 years ago. And Bob was older. He was like, he was like the GLF daddy. I was 22 when I joined GLF and Bob at that point was 44, which was very old to me. And Bob had come from a real red background.
Perry Brass: [00:59:00] He, he had been a red diaper baby himself. Uh, and he had been a Communist. He'd been a member of the CP and he'd also been married. And the rumor was that his wife had been Black. So he was very involved with civil rights and the antiwar movement. And then he got involved with GLF. Bob had not been there at Stonewall, although he lived in a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village virtually all of his life.
Perry Brass: [00:59:30] So he kind of benefited from what happened at Stonewall, that is like there are all these people out on the street and I'm sure that Bob got to know some of them. Bob was a very gregarious person. He liked being with other people. He lived alone with his dog, but once he was out on the street, he was kind of like the Pearl Mesta of Christopher street. Uh, so you had people like.
Mason Funk: Sorry
Perry Brass: [01:00:00] Okay. So you had people like Bob and you also had Jim Fouratt and Jim was a another star in the fact that he had a lot of personality, a lot of aura to him. And when he said things, people really listened to him. There were, there were several other people like that. Some of them were older people.
Perry Brass: [01:00:30] There was a guy named Bernard Lewis who'd been an old Communist. And Bernard I think was maybe 60. So when he spoke, people really listened to him also. So this idea of that, I think he used the term controlled chaos. The only chaos, and I'm from a different point of view I think. The only chaos that went on at the meetings
Perry Brass: [01:01:00] besides just people using the meetings as a, as a time to vent. And unfortunately a lot of the street transvestites, the drag Queens would do that. They'd use the meeting as a time to vent. But the only chaos was when things could not get done. Like we couldn't come to any kind of genuine consensus about where, were we going to go and picket at this or we're going to have an action, a demonstration on that. Because we, we had a cell structure
Perry Brass: [01:01:30] it meant that the organization was divided into these basically autonomous cells and the work was done by the cells because we had the cell structure. Things really did get done certainly for the first year or two of GLFs existence. So they did get done. But if you had people who just were going to obstruct anything getting done, then it became chaotic. And we, you did have people who were like on a kind of negative ego trip.
Perry Brass: [01:02:00] And if you were on that, that kind of thing, people wanted you to just get the hell out.
Mason Funk: Huh. Okay. That's awesome. Now you mentioned, Come Out!.
Perry brass: Yes.
Mason Funk: So what was Come Out!?
Perry Brass: Come Out! was the GLF newspaper and it was actually one of the reasons why I joined GLF. I had been writing a lot.I had started out as an artist, as a visual artist and drawing and painting, but I love to write
Perry Brass: [01:02:30] and I'd been writing poetry and short stories. I'd actually completed a novel by the time I was 19 years old and everything I had been writing was openly queer. And people just kept saying to me, you'll never get this published. No one will ever want to publish this. And I remember for the novel that I wrote when I was 19, someone actually said, well, if you just change,
Mason Funk: Is there such a thing as rush hour?
Perry Brass: [01:03:00] Yes. And there are more trains. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Its sort of beginning, yes. So there'll be trains about every 15 minutes.
Mason Funk: Start by saying Id written a novel.
Perry Brass: I'd written, written a novel by the time I was 19. And people actually said to me, well, if you just changed half the names to female names, you might be able to get it published. But I was not going to do that. It just seemed to me that this was what I was about. And also the thing I did not say about GLF and I really want to say this and,
Perry Brass: [01:03:30] and I should say this, that you can wipe all the politics out of GLF just skim it right off. And what you really have and what made GLF so compelling was that our primary focus was to be authentic. What was, how could queer people be their authentic selves, their sexual selves, their personal selves, their selves within society
Perry Brass: [01:04:00] so that you could be functioning within society and be open about your real self. And that was what GLF was all about. And the rest of the gay movement that came after us was simply an iteration of that. I mean, GAA, they were an iteration of that. The other groups that they came afterwards. I mean this is the reason why GLF -
Perry Brass: [01:04:30] This is the reason why the Gay Liberation Front exploded. Within a year after GLF was formed, there were probably six chapters of GLF. There was one in Boston, one in San Francisco, one in LA, I think there's one in Madison, Wisconsin. There was one in there might've been one in Texas someplace.
Perry Brass: [01:05:00] Yes, there's one in Austin, Texas. I mean, all of this happened because the message that GLF spread was that you can be your real self and what would allow this would be political organization and the political organization was leftist, but it wasn't. You didn't have to be a card carrying commie to be a part of this. What you had to do was to be a part of a progressive agenda,
Perry Brass: [01:05:30] you know, which was feminism, anti-racism, antiwar. We were very antiwar. And also we were for people who were poor, you know Black people, Hispanic people who are organizing their, you know, around their own poverty. We were with them.
Mason Funk: So let's go back to Come Out!.
Perry Brass: [01:06:00] Yes. One of the reasons why I joined GLF was because they had this newspaper and I joined in the third issue of the newspaper. And in the third issue of the newspaper, I published, I think, two poems under the name Mark Shield. I was still scared to use my real name, but my name appeared in the masthead. By the fourth issue of the paper, I stopped that completely and I only used my real name after that. And I contributed features, articles,
Perry Brass: [01:06:30] artwork, some woodcuts, drawings. By the last three issues of the paper. So this would be by the fifth issue of the paper it was being published out of my apartment in Hell's Kitchen. Originally the paper had been published in the East village in an apartment that was rented by these two wonderful women.
Perry Brass: [01:07:00] Ellen Broidy was one. And Linda Rhodes. Ellen Broidy and Linda Rhodes. And I just saw Ellen Broidy for the first time in like 50 years. And she's fabulous. She's such a wonderful woman. But these two marvelous women had rented an extra apartment in the East Village that they wanted to use for a business that they had organized that was a lesbian paperback service or lesbian paperback business. There was already at that point, enough lesbian paperbacks
Perry Brass: [01:07:30] that you could offer them as a business. So they and I can't remember the name of that business, but, so they rented two apartments and so they let the Come Out! staff use one of them. But by the fifth issue of the paper, they decided, their business was growing enough that they needed that apartment. And I think at that point, an apartment in the East village could be rented for something like $50. So they had two apartments for 50 bucks each.
Perry Brass: [01:08:00] Hard to even imagine that. So they said to the Come Out! staff that we would have to find another place for Come Out!. And several people, actually, they were women they approached me and they said, would you bring Come Out! into your apartment? And I was very trepidatious about it. I knew virtually nothing about running a newspaper. I mean, I'd been writing, but I knew nothing about running, actual running of the newspaper.
Perry Brass: [01:08:30] So they said, well, don't worry, we'll help you. We'll support you. But we need to have a place to have it. So I had an extra kind of room in my Hell's Kitchen apartment, which was a four room, what they call a railroad apartment. I had an extra room, we could put the Come Out! stuff in it. So the last three issues came from my paper. I'm sorry, it came from my apartment. Yes.
Mason Funk: And you mentioned it. So it only published a total of nine.
Perry Brass: Yeah. About nine. Yeah.
Mason Funk: It sounds from your perspective, like it really had a significant influence.
Perry Brass: [01:09:00] Oh yes. Yes. It really, well, it was the very first gay liberation newspaper. Come Out! was the very first gay liberation newspaper that is, was the very first paper that had an agenda of liberation. They'd had been other like homosexual papers. There had been a commercial paper that came out right after Stonewall called Gay
Perry Brass: [01:09:30] that was put out by Al Goldstein who had published Screw and Al was one of these kind of slimy creatures who as soon as he figured that there was a market there you know, let's get to that market. The good thing about Gay was that it had, I believe it was actually edited by Jack Nichols and Jack Nichols, who was one of the old Mattachine people
Perry Brass: [01:10:00] who had been just a significant force in the gay movement during the Mattachine period. And he went and he edited Gay and the reason I'm bringing that up is that Jack and I became very close. Oh actually in the kind of like in the mid nineties, we became really close again. Uh, but so Gay was a homosexual paper. It was I mean, it,
Perry Brass: [01:10:30] its whole agenda was basically homosexual sex. I mean they would do ads from mafia bars whereas Come Out! was about liberation. We had no ads from mafia bars. We had almost no ads at all. We were the house organ of the Gay Liberation Front. And then later on certainly by the time it was being published out of my apartment, it became
Perry Brass: [01:11:00] almost an entity unto itself. And it was very, there's always controversy around it. There was always controversy around the paper.
Mason Funk: Why?
Perry Brass: Because well to begin with GLF had its own factions. And like I said, there was like the Maoist faction. There was a, there was like the
Perry Brass: [01:11:30] Maoists section of the Gay Liberation Front. There was a Third World section. There was STAR, which was the Street Transvestite Action Revolution Section, and all of them at various points, they wanted to have control of the paper. And they would dictate, certainly come to me and dictate their own feelings about this, that, like the Third World people, they came to me and they said we want to have control of one quarter of the paper.
Perry Brass: [01:12:00] And we will write it. We'll decide what goes into it and the Come Out! collective will simply produce it for us. And I, and I was against this. So was the rest of the collective. I mean, the paper was brought up by a collective of editors. It wasn't brought up by people who'd come and dictate to us what should be in the paper. That just shouldn't happen to any group like that. So we were very much against that. And it became very controversial for me because of the
Mason Funk: [01:12:30] Just one second..
Perry Brass: Then it became very controversial for me because the Third, the Third World Gay Revolution, their group decided that if I would not acquiesce to their demands and (in)
Perry Brass: [01:13:00] GLF this idea of demands was very important. And I can talk about that in a minute. But if I would not acquiesce to their demands, then I had to be ergo a racist. So I was branded as a racist. And the fact that I was from Georgia helped, you know, of course he's a racist. He's from Georgia. So that was a very painful experience for me. The street transvestites,
Perry Brass: [01:13:30] they decided, I mean, the rumor went around that if Third World Gay Revolution has their quarter, Street Transvestite should have a quarter of their own too. So they came to me with their own demand, which was that they were going to have a quarter of the paper and if they could not get a quarter of the paper, then they were going to start setting fire to newsstands that sold Come Out! in the West village. This is what Bob Kohler told me. And the Come Out! collective said, no way.
Perry Brass: [01:14:00] I mean, again, we're a collective, we're putting out this paper. We can't have people come and make demands on us, but we published lots of stuff from Third World Gay Revolution. We published lots of stuff from STAR. We published lots of stuff from the Maoist faction, they were called the Red Butterfly. They were the Maoist section. We published lots of stuff from them, but one of the most, one of the more, controversial things was that
Perry Brass: [01:14:30] certainly for about the first five issues of the paper, it was just kind of SOP that we would be an obeisance to the Cuban revolution. The Cuban revolution was a socialist revolution in the Northern hemisphere. Well is it the Northern hemisphere? Well, anyway, in the New World, I don't know if that's the Northern hemisphere, but it was a, it was a socialist revolution and it flattened the class lines in Cuba,
Perry Brass: [01:15:00] that it promoted a race free environment of no racism. So we had to be in favor of the Cuban revolution. And I think by the fifth issue of the paper, the cat got out of the bag that Castro was putting gay men into what he called education camps. And this was horrifying. He was rounding up gay men, some of whom had been male prostitutes. Sure.
Perry Brass: [01:15:30] I mean, but what else could they do? And others of whom had simply been just, wonderful men who were gay and he was putting them into basically concentration camps. And this is what happened to Reinaldo Arenas. He went through that. And then there was this feeling in GLF that
Perry Brass: [01:16:00] we had to just swallow this, that as leftists, as revolutionaries. We had to be on the side of the Cuban revolution and just admit, okay, they're not perfect, they're doing this, but it's only to a small group of people. And others felt, others of my brothers and sisters, they were furious. They said, how can we have this attitude? These are our brothers, these are our brothers in Cuba who were being put into concentration camps.
Perry Brass: [01:16:30] So I wrote a piece in Come Out! just condemning this and, and it was very overt from me. I mean, it was like, right there on the line condemning this and just, and condemning and saying, we cannot condone this. And this was very controversial. I mean the, some of the people from Third World Gay Revolution wanted to just kill me. They said, that's just racist. You're just, you're being racist again, Perry,
Perry Brass: [01:17:00] you're condemning Cuba. You know, like again, you see this kind of you had this feeling, therefore you have to be that and that this was a a bad aspect of the Gay Liberation Front. I mean I'm as much as I am for this experience in my life of being in GLF, there are other aspects of it that were not so good.
Mason Funk: Good. Great. Let me go change a card for the transfer of data and also want to go to the restroom. Do you want to take a little break?
Perry Brass: Sure. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:17:30] Let's take a little break.
Perry Brass: But that was later.
Mason Funk: Well, yeah, recent. Very interesting. So yeah, we'll talk about it. I think you probably, well, no, actually let's see.
Michelle McCabe: Is it getting his face?
Mason Funk: It's adding a little bit of a glow.
Michelle McCabe: Yeah, it's nice, right?
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's actually not horrible.
Perry Brass: Okay, good.
Mason Funk: [01:18:00] That's quite a bit. I would split the difference and then in about 10 minutes, yeah, I would do that like that. You have a look and see what you think. Okay. And then probably a little bit, well first it's going to get super intense and then we'll start to lose it.
Michelle McCabe: Okay. Yeah. That's good. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. Drop the water. Okay.
Mason Funk: [01:18:30] I'm very glad I remembered to take the photographs beforehand.
Perry Brass: That was smart. Yes. It was because it will be darker. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. So you told me that you feel like the GLF was erased or forgotten for a long period of time. Why is that?
Perry Brass: When Ronald Reagan came in and America went through, it's 180 degrees swing to the Right at the same time that a kind of more corporatized version of the gay movement was starting to surface
Perry Brass: [01:19:00] like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. And I mean there were other organizations all over the, all over the country that were starting to, you know, surface to get some sort of public traction. The idea that this movement had been, and I say this movement, I mean that the, the real gay liberation movement, which we now call the LGBT movement,
Perry Brass: [01:19:30] had been started by this group of ragtag socialists and commies was just too repugnant. And at first what people wanted to do and I saw this, was to erase GLF and then sort of remember Gay Activists Alliance because Gay Activists Alliance was a single issue organization. And it was some of my brothers and they were really brothers in GAA.
Perry Brass: [01:20:00] And I had a lot of friends in Gay Activists Alliance. I really love them. Especially people like Arthur Evans and Mark Rubin who are now no longer with us. But some of my closest friends in the movement were in GAA. So the feeling was that GAA could certainly be more palatable to corporate America than GLF,
Perry Brass: [01:20:30] which was so anticapitalist. It was so stridently pro-feminist. It was so stridently I want to say unmasculinist. here was this term called masculinism, which was like the revering the masculine as opposed to the feminine. And we can, and GLF, we considered GAA to be a masculinist movement.
Perry Brass: [01:21:00] So this was going on. And also culturally within queer culture, there was this big movement towards masculinism towards gay men now trying to reassert re-explore, even reinvent their own masculinity within a queer context. And
Perry Brass: [01:21:30] I was certainly not against that because my idea about masculinity is it, it has a warm and rich side as well as it has an, an abusive bad side.
Mason Funk: hold that thought. Okay.
Perry Brass: But the idea that this movement had really been started by these, you know,
Perry Brass: [01:22:00] leftists was just so repugnant to them that if you read a lot of what came out, certainly by the late seventies into the eighties, it just erased us, really erased us. And this was really true certainly in the seventies with as, as gay culture was starting to come up into the national world, in the more corporate world.
Perry Brass: [01:22:30] So that you started to have some gay magazines that were actually on the news stands that were slick magazines. None of them wanted to even admit that the Gay Liberation Front had existed.
Mason Funk: That makes sense. I do know what you're talking about. And a lot of people would argue that in a sense, due to various reasons that the entire liberationist soul of the community
Mason Funk: [01:23:00] has been gutted and replaced by a more corporate, you know, like during the Stonewall city march when people were so up in arms about the fact that there were so many corporations. Just one example. Do you feel that, describe how you see that phenomenon, whether it's as black and white as some people paint it and, or whether you feel like that kind of liberation, liberationist soul still finds its expression.
Perry Brass: [01:23:30] I think there's a huge desire, there's a huge need and want for it.
Mason Funk: For what sorry?
Perry Brass: There's a huge need and want for this liberationist soul as you said, as I said. How to, how to approach, how to connect with the common soul, that, that is what gay liberation was about. And there's this need to do this. And the fact that
Perry Brass: [01:24:00] certainly the movement itself is not offering this. I think that this is one of the reasons why young people very often get turned off to gay liberation or to the LGBT movement. They get turned off to it because they really want this. And too often you see in the cases of young queer people, especially young, queer men
Perry Brass: [01:24:30] and boys is that their entire idea of being gay is basically a consumers' commercial image of what it's like to be gay. That you have a gym body and that you buy gay clothes and you got to gay clubs and you do gay drugs. And this is the absolute opposite of what GLF was about. You know, about the gay liberation movement was about, but the problem is how do we take this
Perry Brass: [01:25:00] and bring it into the next generation? And there is some of that going on. I mean, I, I meet young queer people who really want that, and they are organizing around the idea that there's a lot more to what's going on than Will and Graceless, just to use an example, there's a lot more, a lot more to our lives than just consumerism, which will consume us.
Michelle McCabe: [01:25:30] Im curious, you obviously embraced the word queer. Did you always, or have you reclaimed it or
Perry Brass: No, I did not always do it. It was a very painful word for me.
Mason Funk: Tell me what you're talking about.
Perry Brass: Using the word queer was very painful for me when I was younger. But it has a real history. And older writers like W.H. Auden.
Perry Brass: [01:26:00] Auden referred to himself as queer back in the fifties and the sixties. He said, I'm queer. He said that. Christopher Isherwood used it. It was an old English term. And indeed in England, the word queer is not so pejorative as they have other pejoratives. They had their own pejorative words, like poofter and poof, those are really ugly words in England, whereas queer, like to say he's queer is not so bad; to say he's a poofter is horrifying.
Perry Brass: [01:26:30] So it has a history there. And what I like about the word queer is simply that it has no gender association. It has no real gender association and it has no real sexual association to it either. I mean, if you actually look at it, I mean you could be straight and queer and the fact that you just don't fit into the straight world either.
Mason Funk: Okay. Excellent. Now jumping forward, you also wanted to talk about the gay men's health project.
Perry Brass: [01:27:00] Yes.
Mason Funk: So what was that?
Perry Brass: Oh, that was good to talk about that. The Gay Men's Health Project Clinic was a clinic that I, and two of my close friends, started back in 1972. It was the first clinic for gay men on the East coast, basically. There had been one on the West coast and
Perry Brass: [01:27:30] it was started by Lenny Ebreo and Mark Rabinowitz and myself. And what had happened was it had come out of a consciousness raising group that Lenny Ebreo had organized around the idea of gay health, gay men's health. Lenny Ereo was this kind of marvelous but difficult character who had started out being an Italian Catholic and converted to Judaism
Perry Brass: [01:28:00] and took the name Ebreo, which is Italian for Hebrew. And he wanted, he wanted out of the gay world to bring back the closeness and warmth that he'd felt growing up in an Italian family. In an Italian Catholic family. He rejected Catholicism,
Perry Brass: [01:28:30] but what he had experienced as a boy in this Italian Catholic family, despite it's homophobia and antisexualness, whatever you want to call it. You know, anyway he wanted the gay world to have this warmth to it, to have this embrace to it. And he felt it didn't. And he felt that one of the reasons why it didn't was that gay men are alienated from their own bodies. They're scared of their own bodies
Perry Brass: [01:29:00] because everything that has to do with being queer, you can't actually talk about it openly as far as how the body works sexually. And this was very true. And still to a certain degree, true. You can talk about the body as that, you know, a functioning machine and something that you pump up with muscles and you feed it all sorts of supplements. But how the body actually works sexually
Perry Brass: [01:29:30] and emotionally is still very, it's still difficult to talk about. So we started this consciousness raising group and every week we would talk about some aspect of the body and how it affected us sexually and emotionally. Like we would talk openly about your penis, your asshole, your nipples, your mouth, your feet. Wed talk about all these things. And you know, itd become the theme of the week in a consciousness raising group environment.
Perry Brass: [01:30:00] And then Lenny had this idea, well, there were about eight guys in the group. Let's do a public event. So Lenny had this idea, we should do a public event. So we had,
Perry Brass: [01:30:30] we did a public event at Washington Square Methodist church about gay health. And we put out some, basically, flyers and posters in the West village, a public a forum on gay men's health. And we got 125 guys there. I mean, you know, quite amazing. So we realized that there was this huge need for gay men to connect with their physical selves
Perry Brass: [01:31:00] and their health. And we did another public event. And then Lenny had this idea. He said, we should start a clinic. We should start a clinic. We'll open the clinic once a week. And what we'll do is we'll do STD testing and it'll be, the clinicll be run for and by gay men, only gay men and it will not be run on a hierarchical basis.
Perry Brass: [01:31:30] In other words, the same guys who are patients will run the clinic and we'll have as much to say with the clinic, with this clinic, as any doctor would have to say. I mean the idea of professionalism and doctors had always been people who looked down on us, who said horrible things about us or to us. And there were a couple of openly gay doctors in New York at that point, and they were famous for overcharging the crap out of you anytime you went to them
Perry Brass: [01:32:00] because they were, you could go to them if you had like anal gonorrhea and he would charge you triple what any other doctor would charge you. Cause at that point you had to pay out of pocket triple what any other doctor would charge you for, you know, a shot of penicillin. So they were all rip-offs. So we wanted to do away with this. And so we started the clinic and very soon we realized that this was in a much bigger project
Perry Brass: [01:32:30] than we'd ever imagined. And we needed professionals. And we worked with the New York city Department of Public Health and the Department of Public Health, they wanted professionals to come in. So we had several doctors who came in. One was to became a wonderful kind of famous man named Dan William. Okay.
Perry Brass: [01:33:00] So he came in and as the professionals came in, Lenny became more alienated from the clinic and he finally dropped out of the clinic. He would despise the idea that the professionals, they would have the last word. He envisioned the clinic as being completely, democratic egalitarian. So that, and it was a lovely idea and some of this came out of feminism because women had been opening up women's clinics.
Perry Brass: [01:33:30] And the idea was that in the women's clinic, that the difference between the patient and the doctor was effaced, that because the doctor could be a patient. There were all women there, run by and for women. But we didn't quite, I don't think we quite faced the idea that women running a clinic would be different from men running a clinic and men go into hierarchy very fast. So Lenny dropped out of the clinic
Perry Brass: [01:34:00] and I stayed with the clinic for about two years. And then by 1974, I realized that I needed to leave the clinic that I needed to start spending more time on my creative life, on the art and on the writing.
Mason Funk: Gotcha. So interesting because the clinic obviously predates the epidemic. The exact organization that then came become an absolute necessity once AIDS arrived. Well, did the clinic survive?
Perry Brass: [01:34:30] Oh, yes. No, the clinic exists. The clinic exists today. What happened was the clinic became known. First it was the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic, then it became the Community Health Project Clinic. And then finally it morphed into Callen-Lord Community Health Services. So Callen-Lorde stems back from the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic.
Mason Funk: And what is Callen-Lord today?
Perry Brass: [01:35:00] Well, Callen-Lord today is a major provider of health to the gay community. Its hallmark is that you can go to Callen-Lord, even if you have no insurance. It does not deny health uh, services to anyone. They take all insurance. But you know, if you're some street kid and you have no insurance, they'll also take care of you
Perry Brass: [01:35:30] and to show you how far things have gone, I've made friends at Callen Lord, and they now have a $76 million a year budget. So this service with a $76 million year budget stems from this idea that the situation, this clinic that was started by Lenny Ebreo, Mark Rabinowitz and Perry Brass in the raw basement of a building on,
Perry Brass: [01:36:00] I think it was on West 10th street that had a raw concrete floor and folding chairs and a couple of screens. How we first started the, the clinic was
Mason Funk: Just one sec.
Perry Brass: [01:36:30] Well how we first started the clinic, the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic was that we decided that all of us should take part in all the services of the clinic so that we would do intake for the patients. We would take blood, we would take cultures. We would get in touch with the patients. We would do everything. In other words, there was no hierarchy of people saying, well, okay you will you will do the intake, but somebody above you will be taking blood. So I learned how to take blood and to do cultures,
Perry Brass: [01:37:00] to do oral and anal cultures. And it was very challenging for me because I used to faint at the sight of blood. And so now, sadly, I'm taking blood, but I became actually quite, quite good at it. And it was a wonderful thing to be involved with. And, and it came directly out of my experiences with Gay Liberation Front because the whole thing of the Gay Liberation Front was that there was nothing you could not do.
Perry Brass: [01:37:30] We put together a newspaper, but none of us had a degree in journalism. We did all these political actions, but none of us had a background. I should say we didn't have an academic background in political science. I mean, now, I mean, you can't fart without having a PhD. And so there was this idea that people could learn from each other and that was what the clinic was about too.
Mason Funk: [01:38:00] That's great. Let's pause for a second to show what I feel like is happening is it looks like you actually boosted this. You turn this off. It feels like, I mean, already just 28, you say you became a writer for the community, and I really want to just kind of get a sense of how you published a lot of books, but what that means, what that has meant to you, how you see your role, how in a sense it seems like you finally decided
Mason Funk: [01:38:30] that writing was going to be your way of expressing yourself and contributing to the community.
Perry Brass: Are we, okay. Yes. That, that is exactly what I feel that I've been trying to do, which is to be a writer for the community.
Mason Funk: So start fresh as if you've never heard my question. What was the decision you made at 28?
Perry Brass: [01:39:00] The decision was that I really, the decision I made, the decision I made at 28 was that I really felt very little connection with visual arts anymore. When I was younger, I felt that if I didn't draw or paint that there was just something lacking in me. It was like someone had just cut an important organ out of my body. And I'm not exactly even sure how this happened. I think some of it had to do also with the idea of trying to commercialize myself as an artist and trying to deal with galleries that I hated. And the gallery world was just so brutal.
Perry Brass: [01:39:30] And I didn't have to go through that as a writer and I started freelancing as a writer and working with editors and I found the editors so much more supportive and nicer than the people in galleries who were just horrible. Although I'm sure that there's some good gallery people too. And occasionally I'd meet one or two of them. And I did have some showings and some and even sold some work.
Perry Brass: [01:40:00] But I'd always been crazy about reading. I mean I got that from my father. My father actually taught me how to read. In the first grade, they were going to hold me back because I could not do what they called then the look-see method. Instead, in about an hour and a half, he taught me phonics and how to read phonetically. And once I got through phonics, by like something like the third grade, I was reading on a seventh grade reading level. I mean,
Perry Brass: [01:40:30] it was just bang, and I've always had this, this love of words. So when I was in the Gay Liberation Front, what I wanted to write, I could get published. I could publish it through Come Out! or the other underground gay papers. And there were a lot of them. But by the mid seventies, that world had just basically evaporated, just gone.
Perry Brass: [01:41:00] And there was more commercial writing, queer writing world that was coming up. There was a, a magazine called Christopher Street, which tried to be like the gay New Yorker. And the editor of Christopher Street was a guy named Charles Ortlieb, or Chuck Ortlieb. And Chuck decided that I was part of the old Liberation generation. And he was against that. He wanted to bring this new, more masculinist approach to gay writing.
Perry Brass: [01:41:30] He wanted the magazine, his magazine, to be all about that. And he basically banned me from Christopher Street magazine for many years until finally in the beginning of the nineties, a new editor came to Christopher Street named John Hammond. And John liked my work a lot and I started getting published a lot in Christopher Street and the New York Native then. But there were some other magazines
Perry Brass: [01:42:00] that were coming up that were commercial magazines and they liked my work and they started to buy my work. There was a magazine that came out of Miami called Blue Boy which was a spectacular magazine magazine when it first came out. I mean, it published work by Christopher Isherwood was in Blue Boy. Edmund White was there. I mean, like they had some real money behind them. They could really pay you.
Perry Brass: [01:42:30] So I started getting into Blue Boy but I still couldn't get books published and finally in 1990 I had this idea to publish a book of poetry which would be like my first published book. And I would use some spectacular gay photography and it would, I'd have photography and poetry together.
Perry Brass: [01:43:00] And I started querying gay presses about this. And every single one of them said, no, no, no, no, no, no. And I didn't realize, I knew very, very little about publishing and didnt understand that the, no, no, no, no, no process of publishing is just simply a way of speeding you up to more queries till finally you hit yes. And sometimes this process can go on like 40 nos before you hit a yes.
Perry Brass: [01:43:30] And so I was just not that patient enough to do that. And so I decided, I published my own book. And I knew, like I said, almost knew almost nothing about book publishing, but I'd been involved in gay journalism for years. I had lots and lots of friends in that world and they all supported me. And my first book of poetry ended up selling close to 3000 copies, which was just phenomenal.
Perry Brass: [01:44:00] For a first book of poetry to sell 3000 copies, it's just, just never happened. And then the books just sort of took off from there. But what I wanted to, to do in my books in which I have done in my books, still comes from that Gay Liberation Front experience, which is I want to present an authentic voice for gay men, for their real inner feelings and their own conflicts
Perry Brass: [01:44:30] and their conflicts with the commercialized queer world, with their own feelings of rejection and self rejection. And getting over that. And also with this connection, we have that thing that Walt Whitman called adhesion that gay men have and he labeled it adhesion. We stick to each other. He didn't use the word gay, but he said that men have adhesiveness with each other,
Perry Brass: [01:45:00] that we can, we attract each other and we stick to each other. And he said this in like 1880. And what he was talking about was that queer men had this thing with each other and that's what I wanted to deal with.
Mason Funk: Hmm. That's amazing. I've never heard that phrase that term.
Perry Brass; Oh yes.
Mason Funk: [01:45:30] So let me just ask you this, even though in some ways you've already talked about it, but I wrote this question that you wrote. What I wanted to do as a writer was bring the entire lifecycle of queer men into focus. So can you kind of repeat that thought and then elaborate?
Perry Brass: What I wanted to do with my writing was bring the entire lifecycle of queer men into focus. Its that too often so much of gay writing was all about young hot men and their problems or worse. Young, hot men who never have to make a living and their problems.
Perry Brass: [01:46:00] And this was one of my real conflicts with so much of gay commercial writing is that that struggle to survive that I've had
Mason Funk: Back up to in a second, that was one of my main conflicts. Yeah.
Perry Brass: That one of my main conflicts with so much commercial gay writing is that that struggle to survive that I've had through most of my life,
Perry Brass: [01:46:30] that so many of my friends have had through most of their lives. Like how are you going to pay the rent? How are you going to keep a job that you hate? How are you going to find support in a world that does not support you? You don't see that. Instead, you have these problems, like are you hot enough to attract somebody or are you hip enough or situations like that. I mean, there are writers that I can barely read
Perry Brass: [01:47:00] because I feel like the actual guts of living is not in their work and I didn't want it.
Mason Funk: I get that. I totally get that. You talked about Lenny Ebreo, but two other people, you said you wanted to talk about were Craig Rodwell and Martha Shelley. So let's start with Craig. Why is he important?
Perry Brass: [01:47:30] Oh, Craig was wonderful. Craig Rodwell was wonderful. He was one of the very first openly gay men I met in New York. When he opened Oscar Wilde Bookstore. Originally it was on Mercer Street near NYU. It actually made the front page of the New York Times that a homosexual bookstore would open up in New York City, made the front page, the New York times. So I went down there
Perry Brass: [01:48:00] and it was amazing. I mean, like the bookstore was about half as big as this room and there was almost nothing on the shelves. There just wasn't that much gay material to fill a bookstore. He had stacks of gay paperbacks that came out by the slew. At that point they were putting out these gay paperbacks that were always you know, like again,
Perry Brass: [01:48:30] they were about the two hot guys who finally meet each other. But one of them has got to die. They would put out, publishing was putting out hundreds of these a year and I say hundreds, they really were about hundreds of these books a year. And they were always about the same thing. So he had some of those and there were a couple of more intelligent books that were out.
Perry Brass: [01:49:00] And I still remember the first time I went to the store, it was empty. It was just Craig and myself. And Craig talked to me for probably two hours and he told me his whole life story. He told me about how he'd grown up in Chicago and how at the age of something like 17, he'd been arrested in Chicago because he'd been found on a park, sitting on a park bench in Chicago holding a man's hand. And a cop came and arrested him,
Perry Brass: [01:49:30] arrested both of them because they were holding hands in a park bench in Chicago. And he was 17 years old. And the law enforcement bullshit in Chicago said that he had to enter therapy. The judge said he had to enter therapy. That was the whole idea. If you entered therapy, you wouldn't be gay anymore. So he told me, he said he went to see a therapist and the therapist said, Why are you here? And Craig, who was 17 years old, he said well
Perry Brass: [01:50:00] I was found , sitting on a park bench,, sitting on a park bench holding a man's hand. And the therapist said, so what's wrong with that? He said to the therapist, well, the truth is I'm gay and my parents don't like it and they want me to be in therapy so I won't be gay anymore. And Craig said to me, I just lucked out. He said, the therapist said to me, that's not a problem. The only problem is the way society holds you and what it's going to do to you, that's going to be your problem.
Perry Brass: [01:50:30] So Craig said he left therapy and then he said the real problem then was how was I going to make a living? So I realized at that point that if you were gay, you had about three options to make a living. One was to be a hairdresser, the other was to be an antiques dealer. And the third was to be a ballet dancer. So I became a ballet dancer. So Craig became a ballet dancer and he had some pictures of himself in ballet costumes. And I said, well,
Perry Brass: [01:51:00] were you a good dancer? And he said, no, I was a terrible dancer. But I thought that was the only thing I could do is to be a ballet dancer. So I said, how long were you a ballet dancer? I think he was a dancer for about five years. And that time, if you were a male who could put on tights, you could get a job in ballet. So he said he managed to survive. And then he came to New York and he had office jobs and he got involved with Mattachine. So
Perry Brass: [01:51:30] he was incredibly supportive of me when I first started putting out books. I mean, he was just so kind to me, so supportive of me. And he was never a businessman. He ran Oscar Wilde Bookstore basically out of a cigar box. He never had a cash register. If you gave him a bill, you know I was selling books to him, gave him a bill, he would write out a check for you immediately. He was just an amazing person.
Perry Brass: [01:52:00] He was not, Craig, was a socialist. He was not a leftist. I think he was basically apolitical, the only thing that mattered to him was gay liberation.
Mason Funk: I assume he's no longer here.
Perry Brass: No. Craig died of stomach cancer. About 1993 or four. Yes. Yes, he did.
Mason Funk: How about Martha, Martha Shelley?
Perry Brass: [01:52:30] Martha Shelley and I were very close during the GLF period. She stayed on the Come Out! Collective the whole time from the, I think the very first issue, that stuff by Martha Shelley all the way to the very last issue. And when it was published out of my apartment, she was always there. And there were various points where
Perry Brass: [01:53:00] certain women on the Come Out! collective basically ran the collective. When I first got into the collective, there was one woman who was basically, as I always say in a collective, theres always going to be some people who are more collective than others. And her name was Lois Hart and she and her partner, Suzanne Bevere, were like the two main voices on the collective. So if you want to do anything on the Come Out! collective, you had to get it through Lois and Suzanne.
Perry Brass: [01:53:30] And by the fifth issue, they were having kind of a crisis in their relationship. And I think that they were on the verge of breaking up and Lois decided that she was going to leave the collective as well. And there was this fear that if Lois left the collective, then all the other women on the collective would leave as well. And Lois at various points would make these demands.
Perry Brass: [01:54:00] We're going back to that demand word thats very important in GLF. the idea was that everyone had a right to make a demand. This was very Gay Liberation Dront. You as a person could make a demand, even if the demand was simply to be listened to and to exist. This was your right to make a demand. So Lois, at various points, would make a demand that if women weren't, if she felt that women were ignored, if the women are going to be ignored,
Perry Brass: [01:54:30] all of us will lead the collective. And this was her demand. And I always thought this is kind of peculiar, like how could Lois speak for all women? I was certainly not gonna speak for all the men. So Martha, remember Martha, at one point, she said, I don't want to be taken as a sexist bitch, but I'm not going to let all those women make decisions for me. So she was very much her own person. I mean, she was extremely a feminist. She was extremely for women,
Perry Brass: [01:55:00] but she was sort of slightly outside of a lot of the other lesbians. She was like on her, on her own path.
Mason Funk: I'm just very aware. I'm hoping to finish up and we still have a little bit of light. Just cause the shots better. So just finish up about Martha real quick.
Perry Brass: Yes. I mean, she was always on her own path and she was much more liberated sexually than a lot of other women. She was kind of famous for this.
Perry Brass: [01:55:30] If she liked another woman, she'd sort just go up there and say I really want to go to bed with you. I really like you. At least that's what I've been told. Yes, she slept with men as well, but she didn't adhere to all of the catechism of feminism I think. And she was very supportive of me. When I was going through this thing with Come Out!, it was really difficult for me and she always backed me. She always supported me beautifully.
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] That's great. That's a great portrait of her. How do you think stories from people of your generation can be most relevant to queer youth?
Perry Brass: I think that, as a model, we can be very relevant to queer youth today. That people from my generation can be relevant to queer youth today
Perry Brass: [01:56:30] because the model from our generation was that there is an authentic self inside us and that self has to persevere. It has to survive and succeed. No matter how many people put you down or no matter what the economy does to you, young people today are so under the gun of our economy now. I mean they can barely live in a city like New York.
Perry Brass: [01:57:00] They have to deal with, with jobs that just eat them alive. I didn't have these things, these situations. When I was a kid their age, New York was extremely affordable. My rent was so little that if I had a job that I didn't like, I would just leave it. You can't do that now. I mean and the competition level now is just insane. I mean the competition to get into a school
Perry Brass: [01:57:30] or the right school or the right profession. I mean, 67% of all American undergraduates now major in business. That idea just completely befuddles me. But our generation believed that there was this real self that you had and; and endemic, organic to this real self is the queer part. The gay part. Oh, sorry.
Mason Funk: [01:58:00] Well wait that out. Thats okay.
Perry Brass: Just endemic, organic to this self is this queer part, this gay part. And it's not something that you can just skim off the top of you, which unfortunately is a feeling that a lot of LGBT kids that I speak to, they do have this attitude that being gay is just something
Perry Brass: [01:58:30] that you can skim off the top and there's another part that's more important. And that's not what we felt. We felt
Mason Funk: Hold that thought. Just hold that. Okay, thats not what we felt.
Perry Brass: That is not what we felt. We felt that this was where our real soul was and our connection with other people of our sort.
Perry Brass: [01:59:00] That was a soul connection. That was a really genuine, deep connection. And it went past all of these structures of race and class and ethnicity that the queer flowering went past all of that. That all of us were like flowers of this gorgeous bouquet, this gay or gay, lesbian,
Perry Brass: [01:59:30] whatever you want to say, bouquet. This was, we were flowers within this. So being gay puts you into contact with people who were so different from you, but the fact that we're part of this gay flowering, that's what held us together. That was, you know, Walt Whitman's adhesion. Our adhesiveness.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Great. Great.
Mason Funk: [02:00:00] If you could tell your 13 year old self one thing, what would it be? And include my question here.
Perry Brass: If I could tell my 13 year old self one thing, what it would be was that you have no idea how happy you're going to be later on.
Mason Funk: Great. Thank you. And lastly really to wrap up,
Mason Funk: [02:00:30] so OUTWORDS, this project we're, I think you're interview number 139 or 138. We've been in 26 states. The idea is to capture stories like yours across the spectrum, not just geographical but ethnic, cultural, economic and so on and so forth. Big city spots. What do you see as the, do you see any value in doing that? And if so, what is it? And if you could mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Perry Brass: I would see every value in doing this, what OUTWORDS is doing, because well one thing is,
Perry Brass: [02:01:00] as I've said, there's this adhesion we have, to use Whitman's wonderful term again, this thing that holds us together. And you will see this in all sorts of circumstances. Even the circumstances of people who say, well, I may be queer, but I have nothing to do with other people of my sort or I have a boyfriend and they're just the two of us together, but I have nothing to do with anybody else.
Perry Brass: [02:01:30] But even in people like that, there are aspects of them that we all can connect with. And these stories show where these aspects are, how we connect with each other. And it opens up the soul. It opens up our soul and that soul connection is so important now. We're going through this thing in our country that is so divisive and painful
Perry Brass: [02:02:00] and we need to be fed with these stories, these stories will be very nourishing to us.
Mason Funk: Thats great. We're going to do something called room tone, which is 30 seconds of just this room, okay. With no trains. And then we'll be done. I'll call it out. This is room tone. Oh, there's a train. We'll have to until it goes by, or maybe another. Okay. Let's start over again. Oh, thats a helicopter..
Perry Brass: [02:02:30] Could be. Wow.
Mason Funk: Let's just hold it until it's clear. Okay. This is room tone.
Mason Funk: [02:03:00] Okay. Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much.
Perry Brass: Well, you're welcome. I enjoyed it. Yes, I enjoyed it. I really did.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Michelle McCabe
Date: January 20, 2020
Location: Home of Perry Brass, Bronx, NY