I. WIGSTOCK '94
I woke up before anyone else in the apartment on Labor Day 1992. I lifted myself over the other boys lying next to me and crept into the kitchen. It was 7:00 am and I had a couple of hours to prepare. I pulled out the Cound et. al. Civil Procedure textbook bound in leatherette and began pouring over the half page of Capron v. Van Noorden. I paced myself. I read the case over a couple of times and took a shower. I worked though the Notes and Questions and then shaved my legs, underarms, and chest. I read the Gilbert's case summary and then put on my base, lipstick, and false eyelashes. I read though the text of the case once more and then slipped into a lycra dress covered with thousands of bright pink sequins, wrapped a white feather headdress around my hair, and strapped on my heels. No earrings; no purse. I was keeping it simple. I put away my casebook and focused on primping.
By this time, the other boys had gotten up and dressed and we marched out to the corner of 1st and 78th for a few photo ops lounging across the hoods of expensive sports cars. Bob was decked out in dark glasses, diamonds, a white one-piece, and a towel wrapped around his head a la Esther Williams. Charlie presented the best of Staten Island with a leather mini and an enormous wig of teased curls. We headed downtown to Thompkins Square Park and were an instant hit at Wigstock. Ru Paul had brought hundreds of straights to the annual event, providing every amateur in full drag with an eager and ignorant audience dying to take our pictures. We indulged ourselves, striking poses and camping it up with the other drag queens for a day. My dress sparkled a thousand pink lights under the brilliance of the sun. The day was only stained by our heavy makeup smearing away in the last of the summer heat.
The alarm clock rang at 7:00 am the next morning. The exhaustion of three hours of sleep after a crazed midnight drive from New York to Boston and a terrific hanger over from a half a dozen gin and tonics kept me chained to the bed. I dragged myself awake and through Capron one more time. By 7:50 am I was sitting in my assigned seat, holding my head in my hands, waiting for Civil Procedure class to begin.
Five minutes into the class I began to wonder if the man down in front was the nation's most famous Civil Procedure professor and whether the class was even Civil Procedure. I had no real way to identify either. The lecture sounded less and less like Civil Procedure, but who really knew? The 2L next to me laughed when I asked if I was in the right room. She explained to me the difference between Langdell North and Langdell North-Middle. I spoiled my attempt at sliding discretely out of the classroom by swiping over a cup of coffee on the desk behind me with my bulging backpack. Expletives and daggered looks drove me from the room.
I fled the scowling upperclassmen and into the next arena of petrified one-Ls who had their eyes fixed on the screeching professor. I was awestruck. My Civil Procedure professor out did any drag queen that I had seen the day before. His voice covered several octaves in a sentence, sometimes in a single word. Stuffed into a 1970's pin-stripped three piece suit with
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high-water pants and bright red tie, he strutted back and forth like a little bantam rooster. Even from the back of the classroom, I could see his orange complexion was caused by heavy stage makeup that ended just above his adam's apple. (Later I would recognize the makeup as a sign that he had his Good Morning America gig that day.)
The professor's vitality leapt out from the uniform blandness of my classmates. The lecture hall was a numbing mass of white men with brown hair and brown eyes dressed in khakis and button down chambray shirts. Of course, women and a few minority students were sprinkled in here and there, but I was momentarily stunned by the awesome spectacle of WASPy male straightness. My throat went dry and my stomach tightened. As I began to search for my seat in this room, the professor stopped talking, pursed his thin lips together and stared. The entire class then turned to rest its disapproving gaze on me. Under the heavy mantle of their silence, I found my seat -- fortunately located at the end of one of the back rows. Only after I had my casebook open in front of me did the professor resume barking out his introductory lecture. I blushed a bright pink.
II. GETTING IN
The week before I had cried for the first time in years as I drove the U-Haul from New York City to Cambridge. My journey to Harvard Law School that year had lacked anticipation. There had been no joy in finding out that I had been accepted to The Law School. My sister had called in January to inform me in the same run-on sentence that I had been accepted at Harvard Law School and that she had told my mother that I was gay. My mother declared it the worst day in her life and stopped talking to my sister civilly and to me altogether for the next four months.
My father and mother, devout Southern Baptists, left for a missionary trip to Kenya and I faced the decision on which law school to go to, or whether to go at all, knowing that I couldn't rely on them for financial help. Moreover, their income and lack of cooperation would mean that I would be given a financial aid package that was all loans and no grants. I came to Cambridge in February to talk to Harvard's Financial Aid Director about my situation and whether under the circumstance I could be given independent status. The Director was a cross between The Beverly Hillbillies' Ms. Jane and Martha Stewart. She oozed a saccharine sympathy in her crisp blazer softened with a loosely tied Hermes scarf. Of course she understood "my special situation" but what if "everyone started claiming their parents had stopped talking to them." I could take out the full amount in loans and I would have to get a letter from my parents describing the circumstance and detailing their financial situation to do even that. She didn't seem to understand the problem with asking my parents, who were not talking to me, to write a letter describing how they were not talking to me.
The Director's letter turned out to be a watershed in my relationship with my parents. I can't believe that I had the nerve to ask them to write such a letter, but my request triggered their Christian hypocrisy. My mother called me the day she received it. She said she didn't want to discuss "what we both knew was going on" and that I could never let my father know. This was quite a surprise since I had thought that he had known for several months. My father, the same one who didn't know, had somehow said that if he did know that he would not offer a cent of support. My mother made her statements, and then said good-bye. No explanations; no apologies.
Her assurances didn't significantly help in my decision on where to go to law school. I decided I would have to make my choice with the presumption that I would end up paying the total bill. I wanted to go to school in New York City for two reasons. First, I knew that I would end up living there after I graduated and I wanted to set up a home. I had never felt comfortable in my parent's house. After leaving Missouri to go to college at Yale, I only returned once or at most twice a year for holidays. I had been living in two apartments and two cities every year for the past four years. I wanted to live in New York City because I had worked there for the past three summers. I had a established a circle of friends and was familiar with the city and its gay community. I raised these concerns with everyone I talked to about my decision on where to go to law school. They were unanimous in advising me to go to Harvard because of its reputation, even though they thought I'd hate it. In the end, I made the decision to go, and headed to New York City for a final summer.
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By the time I left for Cambridge, I had established a very comfortable support system in the city. I cried because if what I had heard turned out to be half true, Harvard Law School would not offer anything close. The first year of law school is a tough row to hoe for anyone. For me, the normal rigors were entangled with the difficult transition of moving from a comfortable life in a queer community, to a community in which I was an isolated queer.
I came out early on in the year by wearing gay pride and ACT -UP tee-shirts. Although I had only been brought out to my parents with the assistance of my sister, I had been out on the Yale campus, and active in gay and AIDS politics for several years. Being gay in relation to straight people was far different as an undergraduate at Yale College then as a one-L at Harvard, however.
I remember the way I could feel the pink triangle on my jacket when I had first started wearing it as a sophomore in college. It burned through my clothes and I noticed every eye that flicked towards it and then quickly away. I felt the same way the first days I wore those tee-shirts in my section. Don't Hide Your Pride (with a nude man). Act Up (a fake red blood spot dripping down the front). Health Care Is A Right (a red cross). YALE BGLAD (a large pink triangle). Maybe it was because that with their bold colors and slogans they just stood out so much in that sea of khaki and baby blue chambray. In part, I imagine it had to do with the way everyone feels in the spotlight in a One-L classroom. I felt other people's eyes on me again. I felt uneasy. I kept on wearing the shirts, though. Especially on days I hadn't done the reading. None of my professors wanted to look at those large pink triangles long enough to impose their inquisition.
Although I came out during One-L orientation, my classmates just didn't seem to get it. At the first class wide party, a beautiful woman with a full head of dark curls strode across the auditorium and introduced herself. She seemed so aggressively friendly I wasn't sure what to make of it. At first I wrote it off as another example of the healthy self-confidence of my fellow students. When she invited me to drop by her house that night I knew what was up. Later in the year we could laugh about her attempts to pick me up and her annoyance when I showed up at her house with three other gay boys dressed in ribbed shirts and hot pants. By February, when a woman in my section asked me if I was dating another woman in the section, however, coming out had become tedious. This inquiring woman had met the man I was dating first semester and had been sitting right next to me in Contracts when he delivered flowers and a kiss on my birthday. No matter what I wore or said, some students couldn't seem to understand that I wasn't just articulating some wacky political position; that I actually dated and slept with men.
The straight students were never overtly homophobic. Once it got back to me that someone had repeatedly called me a "fucking faggot" during a phone conversation. Not much compared to the homophobic cartoons and posters that had been plastered on my dorm room door in college. But for the most part, they kept all of that to themselves. My unease came mainly from being surrounded by this heterosexual world. At first I didn't notice my isolation and their heterosexism. Like a glacier it engulfed me, moving at an unnoticeable pace and with overwhelming power.
Most of the law school students were conservative and the majority appeared to have had no exposure to queers. In the rare instances when issues of race, gender, or sexual orientation came up in discussion, I was amazed with their lack of familiarity with the issues and the terms of the discourse. Ideas like the social construction of identity, the power of symbols and stereotypical representations, and forms of systemic discrimination were unknown to these students. They could talk about "those people" and "some of my best friends" who were black or gay with out a trace of bitter irony. Somehow they had gone through four years of liberal education and missed the hottest issues on college campuses.
Maybe the majority of students at Yale had been the same, but I had been able to avoid them by enrolling in classes that they just wouldn't take and by keeping them out of my social life. The section system of law school prevented that type of self-selection. The traditional structure of law school placed the full of eye of the heterosexual community upon me. I was seated in a room with the same 155 randomly selected Harvard Law School students day after day, all year long. The classrooms were circular theaters where we sat for
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three hours a day watching each other with a meticulous scrutiny heightened by competition and fear. I had to listen to what they said and respond to them. Professors who had no control of the Socratic method forced me to perform in front of them by regurgitating pesky, obscure facts.
During the high-pressure atmosphere of the first year at Harvard Law School, there was little time or energy left over to get away from the law school or the other law students. We ate together in the cafeteria and read together in the library. The community eye was most effectively enforced by the coercive pressure on everyone to join small cells euphemistically called "study groups" that ensured that everyone could have detailed information about people's brains, study habits, schedules, private lives and eventually grades. The study groups provided the main source of information for the constant rounds of gossip. They knew me and I knew them. Privacy, something queers use to shield themselves from the homophobia of foes, friends, and family, was stripped from everyone by first year law school culture. I had experienced this type of oppressive community oversight before, in the gossipy rural high-schools and Baptist Churches of my hometown Grain Valley, Missouri, population 909. The law school community was slightly larger but organized much more efficiently.
Some of the straight students were very friendly and made considerable efforts. I, in turn, was expected to gratefully warm to their liberal overtures. On the One-L beer cruise at the close of first-year orientation, one of the O-group leaders chatted with me about how she loved "gay music" like Depeche Mode and Erasure. She apologized for the rock music being played on the boat and promised she'd take me to a gay bar (with some of her straight friends) at some point. Later in the semester, I was seated by myself in the Harkness Cafeteria when I was suddenly surrounded by some of the more conservative voices in my section. I kept eating and reading the paper without really even acknowledging that they had arrived. One of them brought up Amendment Two in Colorado and then firmly denounced it as discriminatory. No one responded and he looked at me expectantly. Silence for a few minutes. Another student brought up the opposition to New York City's Rainbow Curriculum and then denounced it. Silence. Again they looked at me expectantly. More silence. I played possum and kept reading my paper. They quickly ate and left. I suppose I was rather surly, but I just wasn't up for the show.
My interactions with straights at Harvard probably wouldn't have been so bad except for the scarcity of queers in the first-year class and at the law school in general. I had met the type of gays that were at the law school before, but they had either been much younger or older. I wasn't used to gays my own ages being so closeted and conservative. I was the only person that was out in the first-year class although there were over a dozen gay men and one lesbian who eventually made themselves known to me. There were only a handful of students in the entire law school who were out. There were taunting rumors, however, about 3Ls who had been very out and politically active but who now only dropped into the school for the occasional class. I never caught even a glimpse of these elusive queers during my first semester.
As an undergraduate, the Yale Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Cooperative had been the major source of my friends and extracurricular involvement. The students in the Yale Coop, who wore their pink triangles religiously, had provided me with dynamic role models. From afar, they coaxed me from the depths of my Midwestern, Southern Baptist closet. Once I came out and joined them, we constantly pushed each other to new (and sometimes ridiculous) levels of outness and activism.
COGBLLI, the law school's lesbian and gay organization, had an average attendance of five members, which wasn't too bad because the group only met twice my first year. No first-years besides me ever attended. COGBLLI, which stood for the Committee on Gay, Bisexual, and Lesbian Legal Issues, didn't provided me with a support group and left me in the position of being ahead of the pack in activism and outness. This was not a position I felt strong enough to handle, especially with the pressures of my family and the first-year of law school.
The introductory meeting of COGBLLI collapsed into a fight between the two past co-chairs. The former lesbian co-chair wanted the organization to give $500, a third of
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COGBLLI's annual budget, to the Women's Law Students Association. The former gay male co-chair, my roommate and her best friend, didn't want to give the money. They exchanged some choice words about several of their personal altercations and then the lesbian made two persuasive arguments COGBLLI was sexist and wasn't going to do anything this year anyway. Her motion to allocate the money passed with the help of the three non-member women she had brought with her .
The next order of business was to elect the new co-chairs for the year. Although this usually was done the previous spring, it seems that no one wanted to take over the organization. This election had been fixed this time to prevent such a demoralizing result. A new co-chair (despite the dictates of gender-parity they could only come up with one gay male taker) had already been cajoled into taking the position earlier in the week. The old co-chairs presented him and he said how much he was going to enjoy fulfilling the responsibilities of the position. Even though he was unopposed, he wanted everyone to know that he wouldn't have accepted the position unless he was committed to making the organization work. The old co-chairs were in the process of adjourning the meeting when I interrupted. I asked the new co-chair just what exactly he intended the organization to do that year. He told me that he had just explained that and the meeting was over. It was the last COGBLLI meeting of the semester.
Afterwards, the gay men in attendance retired to one of Cambridge's two gay hangouts Campus. The bar was filled with preppy, fresh-scrubbed collegiate gays who seemed to exist in a netherland unaffected by the AIDS epidemic, Gay Liberation, or fashion.
At the Campus I was re-introduced to Reginald Cromwell, a 2L who was the grand dame of the main gay scene at Harvard Law School. Reginald was the son of Clarence Cromwell, one of George Bush's Cabinet members. Reginald was Republican, ultra-conservative and ultra-closeted. I had met him during an event for prospective students the previous Spring because a friend of mine had mentioned that he was at the law school. Reginald had quite a reputation in the New York City night life where he had spent some time as a party promoter.
Although I had never seen Reginald before, I recognized him instantly when I met him for the first time. Not knowing that he was in the closet, I had gone up and introduced myself and mentioned our common friend while he was talking to a group of other perspectives. He looked at me in horror, pressed a piece of paper into my hand, and told me to give him a call later that afternoon. The paper turned out to be a cream business card that had been inscribed with the crimson letters "Reginald C. Cromwell, Harvard Law School." Impressive; but reading the writing I hadn't bothered to call.
Reginald appeared genuinely happy to see me. He pumped my hand and looked at me intently with his father's large bug eyes. I was slightly intrigued, especially since the other gays had clued me in to his familial connections. I had almost been kicked out of college for shouting down a speech his father tried to give at Yale. Clarence Cromwell had championed a host of homophobic and AIDS-phobic policies including suppressing a government report that concluded that gay youth were seven times more likely to commit suicide. I got some sort of sick pleasure with flirting with Secretary Cromwell's son at a gay bar.
Without a hint of irony, Reginald mapped out the gay scene at the Law School. There were the "horribles" who attend the COGBLLI meetings and there were the "beautiful people" who did not. The horribles were out and (therefore?) ugly. The beautiful people didn't feel it was necessary to run around campus screaming there heads off. At this point, Reginald did an imitation of someone chanting the Queer Nation slogan "We're here! We're Queer! We're fabulous! Get used to it!" in a lisping falsetto that the most homophobic of comedians could not have mustered. I was appalled and amused, most particularly because Reginald was about as butch as Ru Paul in a tutu. For various reasons I kept my opinions to myself and Reginald, inferring that I had made some choice, invited me to brunch the following Sunday to meet the rest of his set.
The Sunday brunch was a little Fire Island-in-training. These were tomorrow's GUPpies, ready to claim their stake to a wealthy gay social scene of Saint parties and summer shares. These gay 2Ls and 3Ls were wealthy, arguably handsome and in shape, and
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decked out in Ralph Lauren's latest fall collection. Reginald greeted me at the door in an unusual black and white stripped umpire shirt and introduced me around. The main topic of conversation was universal praise for the new book "After the Ball." These gays praised its advice that the gay movement needed to clean up its act and become more palatable to Middle America. The students of course applied the message to those outrageous COGBLLI gays.
I was truly scared. Here was a group of young gay men who were closeted not out of fear or insecurity, but because they thought it was the correct political strategy. The closet was beneficial to there careers and a way of pleasing mainstream America. So why not stick with it? Rather than respecting the courage of others who had come out, they imposed hyperbolic homophobic stereotypes, and ugliness, on that paltry group of slightly more active gays at the law school. The direction of the internalized homophobia outward covered their fear and justified their position, and gave them an offense with much currency against those who most threatened their closet. After two separate recommendations that I shut up until I'd read "After the Ball" (In truth, I'd read enough.), I left them munching on their bagels and kiwi slices.
Stranded in this heterosexual, high-pressure community, I soon become all too familiar with loneliness. Walking down the paths that wind through the apocalyptic landscape of Harvard Law School , I could feel my body imploding in the vacuums of space created by the inconsistent architecture. Other students would pass by. Something about the way the rays of sunlight, the green of the grass, the video blue of the New England sky wrapped around the angles of the concrete and their shoulders would throw the entire scene into two dimensions. Flat, paper people walking towards me. I cutting through their world in three dimensions, wondering if they or I was really there. I wanted to ask anyone of them if they could see me there, but I so feared the chaos that might be caused by my extra-dimensional wake; so hoped that invisibility might furnish some escape.
Then, suddenly, the compression would hit, flattening my body, squeezing matter and breath from me, forcing an audible gasp from my mouth. To recover I would look quickly down into my left hand. I would study the lines of the palm; slowly move my fingers; turn it over and back again. The world would be set aright. The sight of my hand would forge back some space of permission for my existence. It would remind me of all that it had done, the places it had been. My experience comforted me. Staring at my hand, the links of my difficult path became as clear and reassuring as the snarl of scar tissue, every ten-year-old stitch still visible, snaking down my wrist.
Later in the Fall, I hooked up with ACT UP Boston and made several friends outside of the law school. The pace and pressures of law school made it difficult to keep up with them and I often went out to gay bars by myself when I thought I was going to implode in this crucible of straightness. I did eventually make friends at Harvard Law School. They tended to be women who agreed with my politics, rather than other gays.
My friendships with straight women bothered me at times, sometimes justifiably so. I had rejected forming friendships with straight women in college out of the fear of becoming someone's insipid companion who dressed nice and was fun at parties. My new roommates at Harvard Law School were a constant reminder of the dysfunctional relationships that can form between gay men and straight women. Tim was a bitter gay male 3L who was a former co-chair of COGBLLI. He didn't interact with any of the other gays on campus and spent most of his time with Sally, my other 3L roommate who had been Tim's lover but now had a "regular boyfriend." Tim and Sally fought like an old married couple and my presence in their tight world was a constant annoyance, most likely because I witnessed their codependent madness. I feared ending up like Tim after three years at Harvard Law School.
I learned that just because I shared coming out stories, campy jokes, and bar time with other gay males didn't mean we were cousins. The conservative politics of most of the gay males I met my first year made me uncomfortable and aggravated. The disjunction between their sexual identity and their politics made me realize that the later was more central to my identity and choice of friends. Although I missed living within my exclusive circle of activist dykes and fags at Yale and in the East Village of New York City, making ties with progressive straights reminded me of the breadth of the issues that were important to me and led me to critically reexamine the limits and biases of the gay politics that I had been
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involved with in the past.
III. IN THE HEAT OF PASSION
I embarked on my first year distanced from family and old friends and with little feeling of connection to my fellow students. Sure, Reginald Cromwell would drop by my apartment every couple of days to chat but it just wasn't enough. I had told him about my protest against his father and had given him a fact sheet I had made detailing Secretary Cromwell's homophobic policies. Nothing could have made me more attractive to him. For lack of other options and because in spite of himself he was the gayest guy around, I hung with him from time to time. He slept over a couple of nights but I didn't have sex with him as a matter of principle. Rather than serving as a safety valve, my twisted relationship with Reginald was a metric of the pervasive straightness of the school.
With no outlets and no one to talk to, I had to blow off steam somehow. It seemed only natural that it would happen first in the arena where the pressure was the greatest the classroom.
It didn't come as a big surprise that issues of sexual orientation were not discussed in the classroom or that every question and point was framed from a heterosexual perspective. My four white male professors first semester weren't really concerned with introducing any other perspectives in the classroom. They never really said anything overtly homophobic, their social conservatism was so pronounced that if they thought about homosexuality they definitely weren't going to mention it in public. When one male student offered a point based on his experience living with a woman for several years during a discussion in Contracts class about pre-nuptial agreements, the professor thanked him for making such a personal statement that would open him up to such "disapproval" from other students. The professor then launched into a twenty minute monologue about the virtues and rewards of marriage that included the advice to "deny, deny, deny" if your wife ever accused you of being unfaithful. My Property professor created such interesting hypotheticals as whether a store in a shopping mall that attracted "the type of people who have tattoos" could be considered a nuisance. It wasn't too hard to guess their feelings about queers.
My attempts to assert some gayness into the classroom started rather subtly. In discussing International Shoe with my Civil Procedure professor I offered a few campy comments from my experience selling ladies shoes in a high fashion boutique in Kansas City. My Civil Procedure professor met me line by line, camp by camp, leaving the class in stitches.
A few weeks later I really cracked in Criminal Law. My Criminal Law professor was the only professor who introduced materials about gay people in his class. Unfortunately, they were all negative. In a discussion about excuses for criminal behavior he contrasted a Mexican-American Harvard College student who had robbed a number of convenience stores with Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer that had abducted, raped, and then eaten a number of gay men of color . The Mexican-American student was supposed to represent a criminal who we could sympathize with because of the class and race pressures on him at Harvard. Dahmer was used in the discussion to represent the criminal who acts solely for his own sick motivations. As the conversation progressed, I became more and more infuriated with the depiction of Dahmer. Finally, I raised my hand and burst out that it was odd to depict Dahmer, a gay male, as free from social oppression. I then detailed the types of isolation and discrimination that Dahmer might have felt and how his crimes could be seen as a sick manifestation of his isolation and need to connect with others.
I regretted the comment as soon as I made it. I had just stood up for and obviously identified with Jeffrey Dahmer! (Now I knew just how isolated I felt.) My horror was cut slightly when my Criminal Law professor apologized for his lack of sensitivity to Dahmer's experience as a gay male and claimed to not have known that Dahmer or his victims were gay. I was incredulous of this explanation since the Dahmer story had been in every news media from the New York Times to Oprah. I believed his ignorance, however, when several students thanked me for my comments after class and said that they too were unaware of the sexual dimension of Dahmer and his crimes.
Several weeks later I made a better showing. My anger with the class materials this ---------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Volume 1--------- -------------------------------END PAGE 241---------------------------------
time started when I was reading and outlining my Criminal Law assignment the night before class. My Criminal Law professor had assigned the readings from the section in Robinson's Fundamentals of Criminal Law dealing with graded homicide. The cases assigned were State v. Gounagias, State v. Ott, People v. Connley and a "problem" that was a transcript from People v. White.
Gounagias dealt with whether a first degree murder charge should be mitigated to manslaughter because the murderer had killed a man who had anal sex with him. The murderer claimed he engaged in the sex because he had been rendered "helpless" by several glasses of beer. He murdered his partner three weeks later because the man had told others of their encounter. The opinion referred to their sex as "the unmentionable crime" and held that the murder charge would have been mitigated if committed right after the sex, or when the murderer first learned that his victim was spreading the word. That he waited until the man teased him three weeks later, the court thought, showed that the murder was not committed in the "heat of passion." Gounagias appears to be placed in the materials to show how courts can apply the reasonable man standard (would the reasonable man have been provoked to murder under the circumstances) in ways that contradict the intuitions of the student. The student is drawn to question the judges formal distinction between "sudden" and "cumulative" anger given the "unmentionable" affront done to the murderer.
State v. Ott and People v. Connley explored the development of the "heat of passion" defense into the more modern "extreme emotional disturbance" defense. Both cases deal with unemployed men who had killed their employed female lovers after these women had rejected them and moved on to another relationship. Again the materials were edited and complied in such a way as to provoke sympathy for the male murderer and to underscore the formalism of the doctrinal requirements of the mitigation defense.
The final and non-contiguous reading assigned by my Criminal Law professor was a transcript from People v. White. The excerpted transcript was of the confession of Daniel White for the murder of Harvey Milk, one of the nation's most well-known and respected gay civil rights leader. The transcript and the questions that followed gave no indication of Milk's politics or sexual orientation. Rather, the excerpt indicated that White was merely upset about losing his job with the San Francisco government and had killed Milk because he had though that Milk had plotted to have him removed. The questions afterwards asked whether the murder should have been mitigated to manslaughter under the heat of passion defense. The notes then brought up the infamous " twinkie defense" used at White's trial (a high sugar diet made him to do it) and asked whether and under what conditions this defense was relevant.
I skimmed through the readings twice and then looked at my briefs. I started writing furiously -- not notes but analysis. I was pissed for two reasons First, all of the cases seemed to discuss the heat of passion defense with fact patterns that dealt with a man who had his masculinity insulted. The murderers were men who had their sexuality challenged by other men who either had slept with them or with "their women." All of the men were out of work and killing either a woman who had left them, or someone who had taken their job. The cases seemed to be designed to draw the reader into the underlying legitimacy of the defense by creating compelling fact situations for male readers who might share a similar sensitivity about their masculinity. Of course you would off some fag who had slept with you and then told the neighbors. Of course you would off your woman if she started sleeping around with some other guy. While this behavior can't (unfortunately) be condoned it shouldn't be treated as murder. By finding a common ground to discuss the defense in general, the case and text could then focus on particular doctrinal points such as how immediate the provocation and how objective the reasonable man standard must be. The lesson of the casebook, and the perhaps the legitimacy of the mitigation defense in general, seemed to be premised on the reader buying into the legitimacy of the "natural," and therefor excusable, rage men feel when their masculinity is insulted. In short, women who claim their economic and sexual independence and fags who kiss and tell don't deserve the full protection of the law.
What bothered me even more was the unusual placement of the White confession at the end of the readings. The confession provided the weakest facts for granting the mitigation
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to manslaughter until you read the notes, which most one-Ls do. The revealed information about the "twinkie defense" (tah-dahhh!) was then supposed to cause the reader to re-examine their assessment of whether the defense should have been granted. It upset me that the two gay men that had been brought up so far in Criminal Law were the alleged homosexual rapist who had been killed by Gouganis and Jeffrey Dahmer. When arguably the most well-respected crusader in the gay rights movement was discussed in the text his sexual orientation was omitted. It seems relevant to a discussion of Harvey Milk's murder that he was a gay man. It seems very relevant to a discussion of the mental state and motives of the murderer. To fail to mention that fact, and to go on to discuss the "twinkie" defense, incredibly perverts the circumstances of the case. The erasure of Milk's sexuality eliminated all positive representation of gays from the class materials and changed a case about a homophobic bias crime into a lesson that complicated the heat of passion defense by adding a new subjective element a perpetrator's anger caused not by provocation but by a polluted biochemistry.
I wrote out my thoughts furiously and prepared for the next day of class. During the discussion of the heat of passion defense I let loose with a case by case analysis of how masculinity was what was really being catered to with this type of defense. Although the White case fit into my analysis even better with the fact that Milk was gay, I purposely excluded it from my little speech. My Criminal Law professor looked a little stunned when I finished and just kept moving the conversation in the direction he had intended it to go. In the last five minutes of the class he got to the White case and called on a couple of students to argue the issues by assuming the rolls of the prosecutor and White's defense attorney. The student who was to prosecute had not done the reading and passed. The next student also passed. The professor then asked the class at large if anyone knew what they would say if they were prosecuting White.
I raised my hand, was called on, and exploded "If I was the prosecutor I would bring up the facts left out of the confession," I began, my voice trembling.
"If I was the prosecutor I would say that Harvey Milk was gay and one of the most well-respected leaders in the San Francisco community."
"I would point out that White didn't just murder him but shot him once through his mid-section, then twice more into his chest. When Milk fell to the ground, White shot him through the back of the head splattering the office with blood. Then White put the muzzle of his gun against Harvey Milk's skull and blew out the remainder of his brains."
"If I was the prosecutor I would mention that the police officers who took White's confession greeted him like a conquering hero and later wore tee-shirts that read "Free Dan White" and raised $100,000 for his defense."
"If I was the prosecutor I would mention that White was a former police officer and that this so-called confession had been contrived by the police officers to serve as a solid defense for White."
"If I was teaching this class I would mention that over 40,000 people marched in a candlelight vigil the night after Milk's death."
"If I was teaching this class I would mention that the actual prosecution repeatedly mishandled the case and that when this so-called confession was played in court, four of the jurors wept out of sympathy for White." "If I was teaching this class I would point out that a jury consisting of no gays or minorities did mitigate this homophobic murder to manslaughter and that thousands of gays rioted violently in the streets after the decision was announced."
"If I was teaching this class I wouldn't included negative representations of gay men such as Jeffrey Dahmer and then erase the sexual identity of a hero like Harvey Milk."
I just couldn't help myself. "As a gay male," I indulged, " I am extremely disturbed by the way this material has been presented." I stopped my impassioned presentation and caught my breath.
A good portion of the class broke out into several seconds of applause. The professor paused for a moment and then asked in the voice of the reasonable man, "But how would you
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respond to the twinkie defense?"
I was only momentarily stunned. "I wouldn't legitimate it with a response," I barked. "Don't you get it? It's a homophobic joke. He killed a faggot and therefore he has a 'twinkie' defense. Faggot. Twinkie. It 's a homophobic joke. That's why it has so much currency."
"We'll pick this up tomorrow." The professor dismissed the class. Several dozen students swarmed around me and congratulated me on my comments in class. It was somewhat embarrassing because I sat in the front row and the professor was standing only a few feet away. Someone said that they were so glad to finally hear someone say something in class with conviction. I came into contact with many of my silent fellow travelers that day but the class atmosphere was hardly changed. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the very next class I apologized for my unprofessional dismissal of the "Twinkie" defense and explained how I would respond to it in a more reasonable tone. The professor was pleased.
Although my heat of passion comments were the most dramatic performance that I gave first semester, I continued to point out omissions and mis-representations in the texts and in class discussions. I'm not sure that I was well-served by my vigilance. Classroom comments seemed to be the only way in which people could understood my sexuality and undermined any academic credibility that I had. At the end of the year, students who had felt that they had come to know me would jokingly chide that all I ever spoke about in class were issues dealing with AIDS or gays. Although I did bring up these issues from time to time, they definitely did not make up the majority of my class comments.
This response from other students sometimes made me clam up on topics I very much would have liked to discuss. When our Criminal Law class discussed Bowers v. Hardwick, for example, I didn't say anything because I felt several glances my way in anticipation of my comments. I felt so put on to say something that I couldn't say anything. It would seem like I was engaging in a piece of over-determined theater rather than making a substantive point. Several of my fellow students asked about my silence after class.
Professors also began to react to my queerness. Again there were no simple statements, only quite exclusions that limited any real access to their aid and mentorship. My Criminal Law professor responded to my outbursts by giving me a patronizing deference. He would call on me with his twisted face of feigned interest and confusion seconds after my hand went up in the air. One day, I approached him after class to give him an article from the queer news magazine, QW, that was relevant to several of our class discussions. The article gave a sympathetic description of a lesbian prostitute who had claimed an insanity defense to the charges of murdering seven of her tricks. She claimed that all of the men she had murdered had raped her. Without even looking at the article or waiting for me to describe it, my Criminal Law professor stuttered out that he would be sure to included it in his materials the following year.
Professors' discomfort with me most often manifested itself outside of the classroom. Having lunch or coffee with professors is a common practice of eager 1Ls trying to make it at Harvard Law School. Swept up in the law school fervor, I joined my eager study group in setting up appointments with my first semester professors. The first lunch was with my Criminal Law professor. He, of course, agreed with everything I said without responding and tried to keep the conversation focused on recent movies.
A lunch with my Contracts professor seemed to go well until we got to dessert. We had ignored each other throughout the meal and he had engaged in conversation with the other five students. Then he gave me his full attention and described to me a Saturday Night Live skit that did a send-up of an imaginary gay beer commercial. With the purchase of their beer, the men in the commercial find themselves in a pool surrounded by muscular preening men rather than busty blondes in bikinis. I wasn't sure what my reaction was supposed to be as he stared at me intently waiting for a response. He kept adding to his description until finally I realized that he wasn't pointing out that the humor of the skit was rooted in homophobia, but was waiting for me to laugh. I smiled weakly. My study group felt embarrassed for both of us.
The highlight of my social interaction with professors was having coffee with two ---------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Volume 1--------- -------------------------------END PAGE 244---------------------------------
other students and my Civil Procedure professor. Keeping with his blunt Socratic method, the professor quizzed all of us on what we were doing for the summer. When each of the other students told him their places of summer employment he went into a long narrative about the merits of the job and the former students of his that had worked there. When my turn finally came, I told him that I was working for the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. Abruptly, the Civil Procedure professor had to get back to work and we were whisked out of the office by his assistant. That was my final outing with a professor.
Not becoming pals with my professors didn't really hurt me on a personal level, although some of there reactions and comments surprised me. I had never been one for hanging with my professors. My inability to establish these relations did have very real academic and professional consequences, however. Although rumor has it that there is a policy of blind grading during the first year, professors' support is essential in securing job and judicial clerkship recommendations. In addition, research positions with professors are lucrative opportunities to gain experience, a mentor, and an "in" into legal academia. At the end of my first year I was at a complete loss on who to ask to write recommendations for my judicial clerkship applications. Eventually I asked my Criminal Law professor because I thought he wouldn't dare say no or write something negative. Although I applied to several of my professors and to other professors on the faculty for research assistant positions, I never received so much as a follow-up phone call in response to my cover letter and resume that detailed my experience with gay activism and civil rights. This didn't really start to bother me until I noticed students with little or no experience in the topic areas getting plumb jobs.
The professors I applied to for research positions were all apparent heterosexuals. I didn't even bother to apply with the closeted faculty members. I would have been totally uncomfortable interacting with them and having to either help maintain or pretend to believe in their supposed heterosexuality. I didn't have any interaction with the closeted professors except for Matt Green. Mike, a man I had dated the summer before in New York City, had graduated with Green. Mike thought that Green was out on campus, because Professor Green had told him this, and suggested that I look him up when I got on campus. When I got to the law school, other gay students were shocked that I had heard that Green was out of the closet.
As it turns out, Green and a couple of the other gay professors lead tragic double lives. While they were officially closeted on campus, they would go to the series of fabulous gay parties that Reginald Cromwell and the After-the-Ball crew would throw. They were "out" to the closeted "beautiful people" and like them, mocked the students who were out on campus. I would have liked to ignore Green but he unfortunately couldn't do the same with me. He was constantly giving reports to Mike about my antics on campus. He liked to tell other students about how "ambitious" I was. For the closeted students, he fabricated an elaborate tale of how I had stolen Mike, his law school sweet heart, away from him. (Mike had actually met his lover of ten years, who had only recently died of AIDS, during his first year of law school.) I wanted to confront Green about this tale but never got up the nerve. Instead, I passive-aggressively invited him to speak at a panel discussion about being out in the law at the beginning of the year. He said he was going to be out of town that particular Thursday and offered his regrets. I was frequently disappointed that the gay professors on campus were a source of frustration rather than guidance.
IV. HOLIDAY PRESSURES
As the semester progressed, I began to feel more and more alienated from the other students and the law school. I stopped going to class and attending my crazed study-group sessions. My relations with friends back in New York became more and more distant. I broke off my crazy relationship with Reginald after asking Michelangelo Signornile if he had any interest in outing him before the 1992 Presidential election. I dressed up in drag for Halloween in the same pink dress but didn't bother to shave my chest or wear makeup.
In October, I fell into a completely co-dependant relationship with a man who had dropped out of law school the year before and now worked as a paralegal for GLADD, Boston's non-profit gay rights organization. This relationship added to, rather than relived,
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my loneliness. He constantly put pressure on me to spend time with him. Of course, I was getting more and more frazzled about my school work. Periodic phone calls from my parents reminded me that at any moment my father who knew but didn't know about my sexual orientation could pull the financial rug out from under my feet. On top of everything else, Sally and Tim began to bombard me with post-its that scolded me for any sign of my existence that could be found in their cramped apartment.
I became more and more depressed and took to spending my days studying in the Boston Public Library. I read every page assigned to me several times and took copious notes. I clocked in eight hours of studying a day. In part I was acting just like a crazy, competitive one-L who didn't know how to study the law and over-compensated. Mainly, however, I was trying to keep myself busy in order to keep my mind off my environment and my depression. Other students began to ask me what wrong. Of course they noticed my unraveling, and that made it all the worse.
When I started walking on the edge of busy streets and wishing a car would just swipe me out of my misery, I decided to seek psychiatric help. To get free care, I had to get a referral from the staff at the Law School's health services. This required getting a lecture from Dr. Walter about AIDS and hepatitis B and then being cross-examined by the staff psychiatrist about every part of my life. Finally, they referred me to a gay Harvard medical student who worked at Cambridge Community Hospital. After three sessions I realized that our discussions were going nowhere. His position as a closeted gay professional blocked any meaningful discussion. Instead of discussing what was bothering me he asked me pesky questions about protests I had been involved in and about dressing up in drag. My positions on being out and active fascinated him. Like the staff psychiatrist, he seemed to have unprofessional, voyeuristic interest in finding out about my "lifestyle" regardless of its relation to my problems. When all of his curiosities were satisfied and he started to suggest that maybe I was putting to much pressure on myself by being out, I cut off our engagement. I felt even more alone and at a loss about what to about it.
Suddenly I decided that what I had to do was to confront my father about my sexual orientation. Coming out to him directly would relieve the pressure of his "not knowing" and the anxiety about my financial security. If he knew about me, I would know soon enough about my financial situation. Unlike like school, these were two areas in my life that I could exercise some control over. I rationalized to myself that unless I risked my legal education by confronting my father, I could never urge others to take the risks of coming out. If I waited until I was out of school, I would be coming out in the very privileged position of a Harvard Law School graduate. I had to be willing to risk coming out when it might mean that I might lose something. Looking back, I suspect that I decided to come out at this time because I secretly hoped that my father would cut me off and I'd have a golden-plated excuse for leaving school. For whatever reason, I flew home at Thanksgiving prepared to have the discussion. I kept myself hidden in my studies all weekend. Each night, I would lay in my bed trembling and sweating, racked by the final withdrawal from my dependency on the closet and heterosexual identity. I didn't get up the nerve until my parents were leaving the airport. I ran out to the parking garage and got their attention. I started sobbing uncontrollably and then told both my father and mother that I was gay as if neither one had any prior indication. My mother had requested this approach. They could really only respond to this drama by getting me to calm down and back on the plane. I was flying to Boston moments later wondering if my declaration had any impact. It did.
There was a message on my machine from my father waiting when I arrived at my apartment. He had already talked with Tim and Sally about how distraught he was. I called him and he started crying and then yelling. His phone calls came frequently during the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Although they took my mind off school, they exhausted me emotionally. He launched a full-scale campaign to try to reform me. He checked books out from the local library written by religious fundamentalists who had created programs to salvage backsliding homosexuals. He suggested that I drop out of school to attend one of their programs. He hired a Southern Baptist preacher to start calling me to give me "counseling." (Eventually, this preacher came out to me and now calls me when the
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pressure of his life; i.e. wife, two kids, head of a large black church, and tricks with other ministers get to be too much). My father wasn't about to cut me off. I became the lost soul the Lord needed him to save. Only through active engagement could he do the job. The financial ties were all the tighter.
I had to fly home to Missouri at Christmas. He started working on me the moment I got in the car. I came loaded with a suitcase filled with my textbooks, notebooks, computer, and printer. I tried to barricade myself in the basement behind my work. I typed a 100 page Contract's outline. My father kept interrupting my work. He pulled out the usual religious right fare. I was an "abomination," "the Devil's Spawn," and "going to hell" if I didn't change my ways. I launched back all of my well-practiced responses to his accusations, Biblical and otherwise. The more articulate and rationale my responses, the more he became convinced that I had been abducted and brainwashed by a militant gay Gestapo. Thoroughly wrecked by the day after Christmas, I flew back to Cambridge a week early.
I continued my studying for first semester finals which were scheduled for mid-January. I really only got around to studying for Contracts, my first exam which was closed-book. The professor had asked us to memorize the Restatement of Contracts by section number. I rote memorized the Restatement and my 100 page outline and then went in and bombed the test. I emerged an exhausted and thoroughly drained shell. After weeks of caring so much about school and my parents, I gave up. Instead of studying that night, I went out to a gay bar in Boston. I went alone and danced by myself. Often, being in a gay bar had been a demoralizing experience for me. Standing there with all those other men, dancing, cruising--the need, denial, and self-destruction as palpable as the stench of liquor and the clouds of cigarette smoke. Like many activists, I had viewed the bar scene as a tragic result of societal oppression filled with gays who had yet to be liberated "Out of the bars, into the streets," we chanted in our marches. The manner in which I had seen these gays as passive and useless, in contrast with my activism, reproduced the same type of thinking and imagery that many straights have about gays; that Reginald and his set had about the members of COGBLLI.
That night, the seedy gay bar I walked into took on new meaning. All of those gay men dancing, just dancing, in the face of the world outside seemed like a courageous act of rebellion, showed an incredible endurance and vitality. I smiled and laughed to myself and reveled in being enveloped in a room of other gays. I let the sweet music bolstered with a powerful back beat carry me to the dance floor. I remembered the same feelings from the first time I went to a gay bar when I was sixteen. That we were there, together, and dancing meant a lot. As I danced in the center of that dingy basement throbbing with shirtless men and colored lights, I started to regain some sense of who I was and why I had come to law school. Although I didn't talked to anyone at the bar that night, for the first time in months I felt a sense of connection; connection to these other men who stayed out until the middle of the night on week nights dancing wildly in the half-dark.
I studied for a few hours the next day and then danced away the night. I woke up just before my exam the next afternoon and took it cold. I kept on the same schedule for the rest of the week. I began to feel a sense of pride in myself again. The feeling was totally independent of law school or my relations with friends or family. I realized that even if I bombed law school, I was strong because I was alive. That in a world that wanted to rub me out of existence, I continued to exist. The biggest accomplishment of my life wouldn't be graduating from law school, it would be living, refusing to kill my body or identity when so many people wanted me to do just that. After penciling in my last exam, I skipped my section's celebration and headed down to my needle exchange route in the Combat Zone. I felt very proud of the work I did that night.
The next day I left to spend the intercession in the Cayman Islands with my family. I didn't even think of not going. I enjoyed spending time with my brother and sister and gave my father such a cool, knowing smile every time he opened his mouth he was speechless the entire week. I thought about whether or not I wanted to continue with law school and decided to put off paying the second semester's tuition for a couple of weeks.
I flew back to Cambridge and picked up my course work with a new attitude. I tried to find what interested me in the materials and stopped reading so closely and briefing every
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footnote. I found I actually enjoyed the work. My Property and Contracts courses were replaced with Torts and Lawyering for Poor People. Having liberal professors teaching interesting subjects changed my entire perspective on law school. I broke off my bizarre relationship and made several friends in my new classes. At the end of two weeks, I sent in my tuition check, mainly because of those nights spent in gay bars during finals period. Several weeks later I received my grades and was glad I had made the right decision. My grades were completely absurd. I laughed a good salty laugh for the first time in months.
I. OUT OF THE CLASSROOM
Trudging to class that Winter, I felt the cold and not much else. After the holidays, it was hard to care too much about anything. I went to class, studied a lot less, and sat around our shrinking apartment. I became bored and then restless. Having been ground through the first semester, I needed something outside of school to distract me. I upped my needle exchange route to two nights a week, started training other volunteers, and gave lectures to high school groups about the program. In February, I did two interviews with a male escort agency in Boston that employed a lot of the prostitutes I worked with on my routes. I told myself and others that I did the interviews to see what kind of safer sex education the service was giving the boys. Officially, that was true. I was intrigued however, and didn't quit until five minutes before I was to go on call (from a pay phone in Langdell Library, no less.) At least I found out that I could make $250 an hour if I ever needed to.
I started doing things around school for shear shock value. I took in a large clear plastic jug of dirty syringes to my Criminal Law class and displayed it on my desk during my Criminal Law professor's lecture. I made a poster lampooning my Civil Procedure professor for calling on only a handful of women the entire year. The poster had a 1950s housewife with a huge Doris Day smile holding a platter and a knife. On the platter was my Civil Procedure professor's head. The poster titillated the entire section and caused my Civil Procedure professor to denounce all of us as the worst class he'd ever had. He was accustomed to more reverence.
I was still casting about for something to keep me occupied when I spotted a poster on campus advertising a meeting for students concerned about the HIV+ Haitians being detained by the Clinton administration in Guantanamo. I don't think I would have even gone to the meeting but for the fact that it was going on right as I read the poster and in the same building in which I was standing. I took a chance and joined the meeting.
The students in attendance were predominately African-American. All of the big-gun activists from the Harvard Law School faculty diversity movement were also there. They were all upperclassmen who I had seen around, but not met. None of the gays on campus had shown up. Within an hour, we planned a week long hunger strike at Harvard that was to become part of a national student hunger strike that moved between twenty different schools. Having done media work for AIDS and gay issues before, I volunteered to be in charge of publicity.
The next week and a half were a whirlwind of meetings and demonstrations. Fasting cleared our head and bound us together. The activism began to get my blood pumping again.
I pulled out one of my signature protest speeches at the rally that kicked off the hunger strike.
Since I am usually fairly quiet, my fire and brimstone cadence shocked the group and instantly propelled me into the inner circle of the organizers. My daily faxes combined with some serious phone calling landed us in the New York Times on the second day of the hunger strike. My name appeared in the story and I gained a new status on the campus. By the time we passed the hunger strike on, I'd regained my energy and meshed with a circle of people that shared my activist inclinations.
II. PASSING JUDGMENT
I funneled a significant amount of my extra time second semester into the Ames Moot ---------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Volume 1--------- -------------------------------END PAGE 248---------------------------------
Court competition, the research and writing component of the first year curriculum. My moot court team consisted of me, two not-so-out gay men, and Sonya, a straight woman from my section. From our first meeting, Sonya and I were able to figure out that the other two gay men were completely out of their minds and decided that we would split the team into two us and them. At the beginning of the second semester, we learned that our case would deal with a defamation claim against a group of professional football quarterbacks; a magazine article had stated that nine out of twelve of them were homosexuals. Unlike the first year curriculum, the moot court topics were filled with issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation. While the facts of the cases dealt with these issues, the actual legal points to be argued were always more mundane doctrines selected from the first year core curriculum.
I threw myself into developing policy arguments for why newspapers should reveal the sexual orientation of professional football players and why allegations of homosexuality should not be libel per se. Sonya worked on teasing out the doctrinal issues. We got involved in the exercise and spent a great deal of time in the library doing research and in her apartment writing.
Given the extraordinary privilege of choosing my own seat in one of my classes second semester (seats in all my other course were chosen and charted by the professors) I chose to sit next to Sonya. We became quite a pair. Sonya was from Miami and had a wild past of partying. Unlike most of the first year students, she was truly jaded and we had a lot to talk about. We loved to poke fun of the provincial purity of our classmates. Of course, everyone in our section started to wonder if we were dating. Despite my denials, they believed that we were.
One night, some mutual friends, Sonya, her boyfriend and I went out to a jazz club in Sommerville. We were drunk and whispering away to each other as always. Eventually, we decided to ditch everyone and go to a gay club. We were just about to make our get away when a handsome young man approached us. He had been at the bank machine we went to before coming to the jazz club, and we had flirted with him in our drunken friendliness. We talked to him for awhile and then told him about our plan. "You know its a gay club," I said. He decided to join us.
The three of us danced in a tight circle in the middle of the club until it closed. The music had been so loud that neither Sonya nor I was able to have much of a conversation with our new friend. He made several suggestions that he wanted to leave but we ignored him. When we finally did leave, he asked us to come home with him. We agreed and the three of us caught a cab. As I was sliding out of the cab at his door, intrigued by the possibility of what might happen, Sonya grabbed my hand and held me back. She said she was too scared to go and I gave our apologies. The cab dropped the two of us off at her house.
I had spent the night with her several times before when we had worked late on our case. It was clear to both of us that this was different. I undressed and got into her bed. She followed. Seconds after the lights were out she reached for me under the covers. We made a valiant attempt to have sex, but my drunkenness and sexuality left me flaccid. We laughed and went to sleep.
We continued working on the case and hanging out with each after that night. Although I spent the night with her occasionally , we didn't try to have sex again. We did become very physical in class. We would hold hands in the hallway and hang on each other during lectures. People really began talking.
The night of our moot court round, we dressed together at her house, practiced our presentation one more time, and headed to the classroom. We were confident because it appeared from the other team's brief that they were just blowing the whole thing off. Many One-Ls didn't take the moot court exercise seriously because it was graded on a pass/fail basis. The other team turned out to be a couple of male WASPs sporting identical side-parts, charcoal suits, and red power ties. They delivered their somewhat homophobic arguments in a monotone and stumbled over their questions with a sobering deliberation. Sonya and I were really on. We gave articulate answers to all of the questions and managed to flesh our voices out with some humanity. All of hard work seemed to be paying off, or so we thought.
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After the round, the judges gave critiques of the briefs and the oral arguments. Our three male WASP judges had nothing but praise for our competition. They exclaimed over the brilliance of their brief and the persuasiveness of their presentation. We were only somewhat surprised, but then they turned on us. The judges exclaimed over Sonya's ability to answer questions "we threw you some real hard balls, little lady; we didn't think you'd be able to handle it." All three of the judges could not stop talking about my speaking style. At least once, all three remarked how "flamboyant" I was. What had scandalized them was that I had used a simile during one of my responses to a question. "It's just never really done in oral argument." You would have though I had put on a pair of pasties and done a belly dance on the podium. "Flamboyant. Flamboyant. Flamboyant." The other team was declared the winner.
We burst from the room hot with anger and shame and out into the cold Boston night. We yelled about their sexism and homophobia into the quiet snow fall that was slowly covering the city. We couldn't stop ourselves from doubting ourselves and wondering whether the judges were right. Were the judges really biased? Was the other team really as bad as we thought? We paced the streets of Harvard Square and then walked in on the middle of a movie to distract ourselves. We didn't have much to say to each other, and I could tell that Sonya felt embarrassed for me. Embarrassment is a horrible feeling to realize that someone is feeling for you. We said goodnight and went to our respective apartments.
It took awhile to let go of that night. It was hard not to see it as my first brush with a limit that would shape my entire career; a limit that I couldn't outwork to overcome. I'd been to the top schools and done well, but when I walked into a courtroom and argued about gay issues, the judges would see me as a raving queen. My opponents, with their dry manner that could make Mary Lou Retton comatose, would be praised by judges, partners, and other attorneys as persuasive and professional. My skills, and ultimately my value, would always be seen through the lens of my queerness.
All of the One-Ls had to write evaluations of their moot court judges. Sonya and I wrote scathing reports about what happened, but we never heard anything more of it and neither of us pursued the matter. Our relationship seemed strained, but we decided to spend Spring Break together at her house in Miami. I flew down several days after her and she mysteriously put me up at a friend's house. For some reason she didn't want her parents to know I was visiting. Her discomfort fed mine and we ended up spending most of the vacation apart.
When we came back to Boston, I broke things off altogether. We still sat next to each other in class, but we no longer touched. At the time, it seemed to me to be a mutual parting, but later her anger would convey that I had acted more brusquely and unilaterally. I thought I needed to do something drastic and I thought our relationship was unhealthy. I neglected to ask her what she thought about anything.
Walking alone down South Beach, I had decided that our relationship wasn't good for me; that I was reproducing the same type of relationship with Sonya that my roommates Tim and Sally had. I started to think of my relationship with Sonya as indicative of the ways that Harvard Law School had changed me. I had started wearing khakis and oxford shirts. I was hanging out with straights all of the time and had fallen into this weird relationship with Sonya. While the moot court judges and the trip to Miami had awakened me to some of what was going on, the thing that I couldn't stop thinking about was a discussion I had been dragged into in Criminal Law class the week before spring break.
It began innocently enough. I had made a point comparing the way that Americans think about crime to the way they think about AIDS. For both epidemics, individuals are identified and blamed for their inappropriate behavior (criminals and PWAs) and then demonized as a threat to mainstream America (the innocent, and therefore the good). Little attention is given to the systemic forces that cause and fuel both plagues lack of education, poverty, and discrimination. By focusing on individual responsibility and blame, the chosen societal solution becomes to identify (convict or test) the threatening figures, demonize them (savage criminals or vectors of disease) and to lock them up (in jails or in quarantine.)
As soon as I made my point, someone from the back of the room burst out his position that the entire population should be tested for AIDS. Although he had correctly
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accessed that I would be against this policy, his comment had very little to do with the epistemological concerns I had just expressed about how Americans think about crime and AIDS. I looked at my Criminal Law professor with the hope that he would intervene, as usual, by either telling the student that his point did not address mine or by moving the discussion along. The professor looked at me expectantly.
I frowned, not really wanting to lose my original point, but then responded. I debated the issue of mandatory national testing with the student for ten minutes. I brought up its costs, its impracticability, its lack of efficacy in even identifying those with the virus, and the potential for the policy to lead to oppressive measures against those who had HIV-disease. He was vehement in his reactionary responses. I was very matter of fact (and slightly board) throughout the discussion. After each of our comments, I would look at my Criminal Law professor. He didn't seem to mind that the class had been overrun with this discussion. After the student responded that universal mandatory testing every six months would not really cost so much because people had insurance coverage, I lost interest. Instead of quipping back, "well unfortunately dear, we're not all on the Harvard Health Plan," I turned and looked at the professor without saying a word. It seemed clear to me that there wasn't any sense to what the other student was saying and I just didn't feel like continuing. After several moments of silence, the professor broke in and resumed his planned class discussion.
I felt uneasy about the conversation after the class. I felt that I had let myself down by just giving up; that I should have argued through the points at least for the benefit of the rest of the class. I suspected that many of my classmates had thought that I had fallen silent because I couldn't respond to the student's arguments. I flushed with embarrassment just thinking about the conversation.
I was even more disturbed by a comment that one of my friends had made after class. She had told me how impressed she was with my response to the other student. She said that she was amazed at how far I'd come since the beginning of the year. She recalled my comments about the Harvey Milk murder and contrasted them with my performance that day in class. She said I had been so emotional during the comments about Milk, but today I was able to deliver my responses in a very even reasonable, even-keeled manner. "Way to go, guy," she said.
Her comments sunk me. I had felt the lack of energy and emotion in my comments. I didn't view it as an improvement over my former hysterical self, however. Her intended compliment made me question if more than my wardrobe had been affected by my short stay at Harvard Law School. Maybe my politics and my spirit had been as well. I didn't want to be presenting my self in class as an un-effected and un-invested medium of my positions. I wanted students to know that I cared and believed in what I was saying. I wanted to speak both eloquently and passionately. I was frightened that my year at Harvard Law School might have changed how I thought and presented myself in ways that I wasn't even aware of unless someone else pointed them out. I was frightened that the great machinery of the first year of law school was doing its number on me whether I realized it to or not.
III. QUEER AGAIN
I came back from spring break determined to be queer with a vengeance. I broke out of the relationship with Sonya and my newly found contentment with just passing through the straight world of Harvard Law School. I went shopping and bought a bright red ribbed shirt, a short plaid skirt (that's skirt, not kilt ), and a pair of red Doc Martens. I wore this little number to class on the first warm day of the Boston spring. That ended all questions about my sexual orientation and about my difference from the rest of the students. They couldn't believe it, even my friends. Flamboyant, and how!
When a homophobic editorial was published in the Law School Record, I clipped the authors face to a poster of a beefy go-go dancer, tacked on a few choice quotes from the editorial, and plastered the clip-art around the campus. I began my own weekly poster series designed to increase gay visibility and to urge people to come out. The COGBLLI crowd became very concerned and wrote a series of editorials asserting that they were not responsible for the posters. These disclaimers of activity where the most activity that COGBLLI engaged in the entire year. One of the COGBLLI gays even went so far as to rip
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one of my posters down because it used the word "queer." The poster was a picture of James Baldwin and was part of a series of posters of famous gays, lesbians, and queers. The student had thought the poster was homophobic.
I missed the one COGBLLI meeting that was held that Winter. Talking with my roommate Tim one evening, I was surprised to hear him refer to the selection of the new co-chairs for COGBLLI in the past tense. It appeared that the present chair of COGBLLI had passed over his little dukedom to two 2Ls without even calling a meeting, more less holding an election. I decided to take action.
I had eschewed official leadership of the campus gay group at Yale because I doubted the political efficacy of such organizations. The responsibilities of being a social and support system for the entire gay and lesbian community conflicted with the practicalities of political activism. Since everyone had to be made welcome, when the discussion turned to politics, the Log Cabin Republicans had to reach consensus with the radical feminist separatists. Due to most students' coming out timetable and the constraints of the consensus model, the cards were stacked against any meaningful political action.
I didn't think the gay scene at Harvard could stand another year of complete apathy, however. For Harvard Law School , building a social and support system for lesbians and gay men was still very necessary and very political. I decided to plunge back into the gay mainstream. I called the current co-chair and asked him when the election for next year's co-chairs was going to be held. While he was still silent with surprise, I told him that I would make the arrangements for the election and advertise it on campus. I postered the campus and invited every gay and lesbian I knew, out or not, to come.
The meeting drew a whopping eight students four students that I had invited, the old co-chair, the two heir-apparents, and me. The old co-chair called for candidates for co-chairs and the two cronies raised their hands. I waited for a moment and then raised my hand. They, of course, had expected this. The old co-chair said he had some questions for me. He asked what experience I had working with gay organizations. I reeled off a list gay and lesbian rights organizations I had worked with and then a list of AIDS-service organizations. That stopped the questioning. He did not ask the other two candidates what they had done. There was an awkward silence. I quickly decided that my coup wasn't constructive if it was going to alienate two members of Harvard's small gay community. At least they were coming to these meetings. I suggested that we all three work together. Everyone concurred and we were elected without a vote. The old co-chair informed us that our tenure started immediately.
Fortunately, things worked out between the three of us. One of my co-chairs made herself scarce for the rest of the year and I worked well with the other. We put everyone else that was out in a new executive board and created a critical mass of involved persons that kept the organization active and effective for the next year.
After Spring Break, I started gearing up for final exams. I had the misfortune of being in the only One-L section that had year-long courses. We had two and that meant we had four finals back to back (the rest of the first year class had three). I got caught up in my reading and started doing outlines for the classes in which I wanted to review the materials. I soon grew bored with my work. I was too on top of things and too unconcerned to be distracted, more less consumed, by my work. Luckily, a disastrous decision by Harvard's Board of Overseers took me away from the monotony of end-of-the-year studying. Harvard had invited General Colin Powell, outspoken supporter of the military's ban on homosexuals, to speak at commencement that year.
Two weeks after Harvard announced its decision, the Leadership Council, an university-wide group comprised of the heads of all the gay and lesbian organizations, held a large demonstration against Colin Powell in the Harvard Yard. The rally was quite a success, although I doubted the wisdom of pushing for Powell not to come when so much more could be done if he actually did come. Using my new title as co-chair of COGBLLI, I attended the next meeting of the formidable Leadership Council. I was shocked by their lack of interest in organizing a serious assault on Harvard's choice for commencement speaker or
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in organizing a protest at Commencement. They were more than happy to let me organize something on my own.
The next day when I called to say that I had arranged a meeting with Neil Rudentstine, President of the University, they changed their mind. Suddenly, I was a little upstart that was threatening their year long campaign to get approval for a gay and lesbian resource center. They didn't want to do anything that would upset the University. I tried to convince them that they had the opportunity to weigh in on a national debate by having a protest against Colin Powell at Harvard's commencement and that they would be in a stronger position after it was all over to ask for anything from the University. The nation was in its fourth month of debating Clinton's promise to allow gays in the military. Any story involving gays, Harvard, Colin Powell, and the military ban was bound to make national news. They didn't buy it and wished me well on my plans.
The next week I postered the entire university campus with advertisements for a meeting to discuss plans for a protest at Commencement. Over eighty people showed up. The meeting was the first of over fifty that I would attend and run in the next five weeks. In the middle of it all, I studied for and took my four final exams. I would study in the Harvard Science Center Library and use the bank of pay phones in the basement to organize volunteers, work the press, keep in contact with the national and city-wide gay and lesbian groups, and to raise money. Studying for and taking exams became chores that I had to take care of before I got to my real work of planning the protest. I cut out of my last final early to attend a phone conference with the heads of the Human Rights Campaign Fund and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The next day, I didn't even pick up the writing competition packet for Harvard Law Review. It just seemed that I had more important and meaningful work to do.
The week after classes, the students in my section worked on the Law Review competition or went to their summer jobs. I called the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and told them I would have to start a week later because of the protest. Amazing things happened that week. I started dating a 3L who had organized a queer wedding ceremony on the steps of the capitol building his first year . We worked side by side throughout the month. I went to lunch with my Torts professor, and he offered the use of his office equipment for organizing the protest. When we finished, he slipped a twenty dollar bill in my hand to help pay for costs.
By the time commencement came, we had an organization of about 100 volunteers and had a budget of eight thousand dollars. After sixty of us spent all night working in the Law School gym, we launched our Commencement protest. We passed out 7,000 pink helium-filled balloons imprinted with the slogan "Lift the Ban" to the audience as they walked into Harvard Yard for Commencement. General Powell had to stare out at a massive sea of balloons, each one representing a gay or lesbian soldier that had been kicked out of the military during his tenure as head of the Joint Chief of Staffs. A good portion of the graduating class wore slick "Lift the Ban" stickers on their mortarboards, ten faculty members stood up with their backs to the audience in protest, and one of the graduation speakers called for Powell to lift the ban in her commencement address. That afternoon, Powell shocked the country by declaring that the needs of the military must be balanced with the rights of gay and lesbian soldiers.
The story, with full color pictures, ran on the covers of every major newspaper. The bright pink balloons overhanging the pomp and ceremony of the graduation was an irresistible media image. The ceremony was picked up by CNN and the nightly news casts of the major networks. The New York Times called the event the largest mass protest in the gay rights movement's opposition to the military's ban.
Standing in Harvard Yard on the day of Commencement, I felt such a terrific sense of exhaustion and accomplishment. I had worked round the clock for weeks and been stressed out for days. I had planned, and written, and organized, and persuaded. As I walked home with my new queer boyfriend, I let my limp body and mind melt into the warm summer breeze. Wrapped in his arm that night, I dreamt of being enveloped by thousands of pink balls, all sparkling in the brilliance of the sun.
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