As most people who know me already are aware, my friend and LGBT-Today contributor, Paul D. Cain and I are in the process of editing (and finishing) the lost and unpublished memoirs of Jack Nichols. Which we’ve titled the book, For Auld Lang Syne: Jack Nichols, In His Own Words (with a little help from his friends, Paul D. Cain and Stephanie Donald). It will be printed this Christmas with Glover Lane Press, so it’s only fitting that on this 7th anniversary of his death that I take the time to remember Jack as he was in his life.
For Jack there were never any obstacles and he was the epitome of thinking on his feet. While he lived through a very depressing time for homosexuals, he never thought in terms of obstacles. Instead, he was a poet-philosopher who saw his life in grandiose views like walking to the edge of the Grand Canyon and pondering the power it took to make it and how he might harness that power.
And harness it he did, with the help of Dr. Frank Kameny and through those who touched his life with both intimacy and enthusiasm for attaining gay civil rights. If you wanted to get Jack as a friend or an ally, all you had to do was explain your avidity for gay rights and if you had the knowledge of poetry and prose or it interested you and you were willing to listen to him when he pulled out his tattered copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and showed the slightest appreciation for it, you were a friend for life.
Jack had two serious lovers in his life, Lige Clarke and Logan Carter. But after reading his lost memoirs, I have no doubt that none touched his life deeper than Lige. Even Logan’s appearance echoes Lige’s so closely that when you place their pictures side-by-side they’re virtually indistinguishable.
But Jack’s activism also was a great love in his life and in his younger life--that life he tried to lead with Lige--he often neglected being attentive even when he thought at the time that he was. He wrote that sex with Lige, to him, felt like it was the best sex he ever had in his life. But later in his life, in reflection, he realized he was taking without giving and he set a chain of events in motion that led to a series of collisions he never wanted. These difficulties forged his character with a much harder edge than he would have preferred in his last few years of life.
When he and Lige began writing The Homosexual Citizen column in Al Goldstein’s straight porn magazine, Screw, neither of them realized that they would soon become the most famous homosexual couple in America.
It was a title well deserved. Lige was gorgeous and that’s a huge compliment coming from this lesbian writer who rarely finds men attractive. Jack was the picture of the all-American man. Standing 6’2”, slim and muscular. They looked like a pair of Greek God statues.
The Homosexual Citizen column became so popular that Goldstein was persuaded by Jack to pay for a weekly newspaper (believed to be the first weekly magazine for the gay community) called Gay, which Jack and Lige wrote and edited.
Shortly after that Lige began to wonder if he was living in Jack’s shadow and whether he was first in Jack’s list of important things or whether he needed to explore his own horizons and round out himself as a person before their relationship could go forward.
Lige didn’t doubt his love for Jack but perhaps his desire to explore other experiences was an attempt to help Jack sort out his priorities. No one knows for sure except Lige and unfortunately that story will never be known now.
Lige struck out on a series of adventures on his own including being a deck hand on a cruise ship that traversed the world and then travelling with friends to other places. But in the end he always wound up back with Jack. The two of them forged an even deeper relationship through trust over their last five years together.
Then Lige took a trip from Florida to Veracruz, Mexico with a person of questionable character named George (Jack never identifies him by anything more than “George”). And as the story goes; during their border crossing from Texas to Mexico, the Mexican customs agents held them much longer and questioned them more than they should have because Lige had a copy of the manuscript he and Jack had been working on, Men’s Liberation. Also, Lige had once held a very high security clearance with the U.S. government and Jack suspected that the Mexican Federales feared that Lige was being sent into the country undercover as a CIA agitator.
Whatever the reasons, after camping out in Tampico, Mexico, not far from Veracruz, just as they had gotten back into their Pinto, several men dressed in black ran up to the car and sprayed it with automatic gunfire. Lige died almost immediately but George played dead and after a long recovery, returned to the United States.
To say Jack never fully recovered from Lige’s death is a safe assumption. His memoir, written shortly after a harrowing brush with death when he underwent a highly experimental treatment for a supposedly incurable form of cancer, is peppered with many regrets regarding things he might have done differently in his relationship with Lige.
Although his relationship with Logan lasted for years it seemed that Logan never had the depth of Lige’s soul and almost seemed to be more like “arm candy” to Jack than anything else. In the end they both separated by mutual consent and while Jack speaks highly of Logan in his memoir, there are no stated regrets like there are with Lige.
Jack abandoned his memoir project in 1994, forcing me as a writer to interview his other friends and colleagues and go through The James T. Sears/Jack Nichols Archives at Duke University to put the pieces of the last 14 years of his life back together. It’s a safe assumption that in those final months of his life as his health failed before his death on May 2, 2005, Jack’s thoughts were more than likely on Lige and missing him, wishing he had been there to help the love of his life on his journey into the great unknown.
Knowing Jack’s great love of Walt Whitman, one of the poems in Leaves of Grass that no doubt crossed Jack’s mind before his death were Uncle Walt’s thoughts on death:
O living always, always dying! O the burials of me past and present, O me while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever; O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not, I am content;) O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and look at where I cast them, To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind.
By Stephanie Donald
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