Stephanie Donald—LGBT-Today Publisher/Editor
On November 15, 2010 when LGBT-Today first premiered on the net the very first editorial I wrote was in honor of my friend and mentor, Jack Nichols. It seems that even 8 years beyond the grave he’s still teaching me.
When we would work together on GayToday and spend time talking at his condo in Cocoa Beach, it was sometimes hard for me to put some of his stories in perspective, particularly considering that Jack and I were both stoned on pot and either my brain was overloaded or he was ambling from one story in his life to the next but I tried by best to remember everything he told me. I think that he actually wanted me to remember the tales of his life--but others have told me that he always acted that way.
Jack wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill gay pioneer. With his lover and soul-mate, Lige Clarke, they were the only gay “Super-Stars” that our community could boast. Even a dyed-in-the-wool lesbian like me could appreciate the beauty and grace of Lige and classic handsome looks of Nichols made the two of them look like the perfect examples of the human species.
When my good friend (and at the time, Jack’s as well) Randy Wicker, introduced them to aspiring publisher Al Goldstein, Lige and Jack proposed doing something never before attempted: Writing a monthly homosexual column in a heterosexual pornography magazine.
For the many people whose lives were touched by Al Goldstein, friend or foe, no one could really say that he had a “conservative view of anything to do with sex and I suppose that’s what drew Jack to wanting to work for him. In the first issue of SCREW magazine in May of 1968, Jack and Lige borrowed their column from the Mattachine Review and every month the subscribers and readers of Goldstein’s magazine read The Homosexual Citizen by Lige Clarke and Jack Nichols.
It didn’t take but a few months before Lige and Jack became known as The Most Famous Gay Couple in America. For all the other gay pioneers who had worked for so many years to make the gay rights visible to possible sympathetic heterosexuals and all Jack and Lige had to do was “get in bed” with a pornographer.
The closest thing that any other gay pioneer had done was Hal Call when he founded the Adonis Adult Bookstore and the Circle J Theater in San Francisco to fund his activist publications and work.
When Lige felt the relationships between he and Jack was sliding into something ordinary, even though Lige might not have known the eventual outcome, the one thing he did know is that he would never settle for anything “ordinary” in his life, so he separated from Jack.
Jack was, at that time, of the heterosexual mimicry or “assimilationist” frame of mind, and he couldn’t understand any of it. Yes, Lige said he loved him very much and always would but he didn’t like what they had become. Jack just didn’t understand any of it. His life became a total wreck for a very long time.
He would call Lige and ask him if he could see him. “Not yet,” Lige would reply. Jack, always being a man who felt too much, spent a great deal of his time crying and talking to his friends about it. He would see Lige at the Mattachine Society meetings but Lige would usually leave at the very end, not allowing any time for them to talk. Jack would go out to the local bars afterward in hope Lige would show up but he never did.
Sometimes they would talk by phone, usually with Jack calling Lige, and it would amount to Jack crying to Lige that he didn’t understand that if Lige still loved him then why would he move out and not talk to him? Lige would try to explain but Jack’s thinking was still “inside the box.”
Finally, after more than six months, Lige agreed to dating but it usually wound up with Jack instigating a fight between them because he was still seriously hurt and unable to make that connection Lige was trying to get him to make.
They drifted apart and began dating again and one day Lige called Jack to ask how he was doing. By this time Jack had left Washington D.C. and moved to New York City. Their phone conversation lasted for nearly two hours (remembering that at the time long distance was quite costly and there were no such thing as cell phones) and no negative words were exchanged between the two of them. Lige decided it was time they should see each other again and Jack was ready to hear what he had been trying to tell him since the beginning.
Lige travelled to New York and the two went on a date and Lige explained that dating other people was a good thing. It kept their relationship fresh. They could each learn new things that could be carried into their relationship with each other and by taking the negative emotions out of their love for each other: No jealousy, no envy, and no missed opportunities to live life by the Latin adage carpe diem.
Like a light-bulb coming on over his head, Jack finally got it. He had already led an extraordinary life but by eliminating a majority of negative emotions in his life, he could concentrate on more activist issues. Jack had already overcome all personal issues with being gay through his years with the D.C. Mattachine Society. Jack had finally arrived at a peaceful place where he could practice the Yoga Lige had taught him (Lige was a Kundalini Yogi Master as well as Wiccan High Priest).
This relationship that Lige and Jack had ended tragically when Lige was murdered while travelling between Tuxpam and Veracruz Mexico in February, 1975 but not before their profound relationship birthed a revolutionary book; Men’s Liberation; A New Definition of Masculinity. Copies of the book are still available through Amazon.com and other book outlets on the internet. It’s still a book worth reading.
Jack moved onto a relationship with the famous female impersonator and actor, Robert Logan Carter, which ended with his death of HIV complications in 1988 but their relationship was just about the same as his was with Lige. They saw other people and took the experiences into their relationship with each other.
Through his entire life, Jack’s work on gay rights was hard work for full equality. Marriage equality was never even a consideration to him because he felt that getting married, at least for men (and he felt for women, too, but thought the “nesting” instinct was harder to break in the females), was taking the “sexual” out of “homosexual” and forcing gay rights into heterosexual assimilation which would destroy gay and lesbian history and culture. In the latter part of Jack’s life, history and culture became the most important things he fought for in our community and he convinced me how important this was as well so I’ve picked up that torch since he passed away.
Jack was more than just another gay pioneer on a sea of many of them over the past 63 years. His voice could calm a room full of agitated idealists who were ready to burn down city hall and his self-assuredness could back a homophobic journalist like Mike Wallace down when he was just 29-years-old. You can see the proof for yourself on YouTube by looking up “The Homosexuals 1967”. Wallace asks at several points (Nichols is called “Warren Adkins” here because of a promise he made to his father who was Jack Nichols Sr. and an active FBI agent at the time to not “sully” the family name until he retired) whether Jack is ashamed of being homosexual. Jack smiles and never bats an eye and proceeds to tell Wallace that it is in fact possible to be a happy homosexual because he is one and knows many.
Even though many of the things I’ve known about Jack for years are individual “snippets” of his life, the deeper I investigate his life, the more these snapshots make sense, like a telescope looking at Saturn but it looks like a blur of light until you turn the lens and it all comes into focus.
The one thing that hurts me deeply is that with such an amazing life, hardly anyone in our community even remembers his name now.
Jack is still teaching me from beyond the grave and I’m thankful he left behind the remnants of such an exciting life for someone to find and learn from. I’m sure that’s what he intended to do all along.
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