Stephanie Donald—Publisher, LGBT-Today
As of today, LGBT-Today enters its fourth year of internet publication and we’re still dedicated to the most amazing man who rolled through the many changes from the Golden Era of Gay Pioneers, until the teeth-gnashing frustrations of the moronic puppet, George “Dubya” Bush, when our dear Jack passed away on May 2, 2005, leaving us all much worse off and wondering where we would get our next bit of wit from concerning some overstuffed mattress of a supposed LGBT lexiconical historian who couldn’t find his ass with a roadmap, or our babbling idiot President saying something totally Hitleresque, such as “You’re either for us or against us,” that Jack would sit at his keyboard, crack his knuckles and whistle, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, as he would proceed to completely eviscerate those who crossed his path with a cosmopolitan style and wit seldom found these days.
But Jack’s talents were earned and not simply given with the wave of the Blue Fairy’s wand. Jack was a man who, while being raised on Robert Burns by his grandfather, Murdoch Finlayson, a surly Scotsman who immigrated from the “old country” and came to Chevy Chase, Maryland and had his own construction company, he had little formal education save the 8th grade and a private tutor who used to be his teacher. Jack migrated eventually to a lifelong love of Walt Whitman, mostly because he found a kindred spirit in loving men through Uncle Walt. What I always associated more with Jack in my own mind was my favorite poem:
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I gave a copy of the collections of Robert Frost to Jack and told him that I felt his life followed “The Road Not Taken”; he laughed and told me that he tended to agree that not many people had a life that paralleled his own, but he still preferred Whitman.
We’ve given a pretty complete rendition of some of the major points of Jack’s life, so let’s talk about the things that most people don’t know about him.
About the same time that his lover, Lige Clarke, was murdered in Tuxpam, Mexico, they had both just finished a manuscript unlike any other in the history of psychology and psychiatry books, called; Men’s Liberation; A New Definition of Masculinity. I suppose in hindsight (and Jack thought the same thing, too), that the title was more than a little inflammatory considering that the women’s liberation was in full swing. Many women libbers didn’t even bother to read the book before sending Jack hate mail. The book was so controversial that his first publisher, St. Martin’s Press, refused to publish his and Lige’s psychological manifesto, so the only publisher he could find was Penguin Paperbacks, normally a publisher of cheap romantic fictions one might buy in the airport news stand just before you jump on an airplane.
But Jack had a good agent at the time and booked him all over the country and even in Britain. At one point, most authors, knowing the pressure coming from the women’s libbers, might have run away, but Jack found himself booked at a meeting of the Sociologists for Women in Society in New York City, which is never known for being kind to preconceived authors to begin with.
Jack stepped confidently up to the podium with that big mustached smile and began with an invitation. “I’d like to take you with me to a window…Even if you don’t see what I see; I hope you’ll go away with a clearer vision of what we who are men’s liberationists are seeing.” Jack told me that women who had scowls on their faces to begin with, gave him a standing ovation when he finished.
What was men’s liberation? It’s difficult to summarize in just a few words or paragraphs but it has to do with how the Industrial Revolution changed the behavior of men by setting strict social guidelines for every man and therefore, every male child is indoctrinated from birth to act a certain way, like certain things, treat women a certain way and above all to be cut-throat competitive and their fathers, relatives, teachers and the community reward them for being the most competitive. They aren’t allowed to feel pain (“Walk it off, son!”), or to treat women like people, because every man knows that women are weaker of the species (“What are you? A Pussy?”).
Jack deals with the dialectics, the root antithesis of everything you never really thought of about being masculine, and he turns it over and examines it from every angle to ask the eternal question, “Is this really truth or is it societal fiction?”
While this book doesn’t deal with homosexuality per say, Jack does touch on the subject by dealing with inner homophobia; a problem that really isn’t any better now than it was 37 years ago, 50 years ago or even 100 years ago! When men deal with being gay, they aren’t just saying, “I’m Gay,” they’re also saying that they failed to become all those things that their father, their family, their coaches in high school, their community, their boss, even their girlfriend in some instances, expected them to become. Most men live their lives without ever asking the question, “What would make me happy in life?”
After I read Jack’s book, I ran across a John Lennon quote that seemed so closely intertwined with the philosophy of Men’s Liberation that it made me wonder if the former Beatle had read his book:
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”― John Lennon
But in that regard, Jack was very lucky. He had a supportive family for the most part and although he learned the hard way what societal homophobia meant at a young age, his own attitudes about his sexual orientation and although his grandparents and mother thought at first, or perhaps hoped, that it was a phase, for no other reason than the acceptance Jack would encounter in his life, they still remained loyal and accepting to him all of their and his life (his mother Mary, outlived Jack by only a few months).
I was discussing Jack with a close friend whose opinion I trust dearly just the other day. He had the opinion that Jack Nichols was at the forefront of almost every major social movement involving both the gay rights movement (remembering that prior to the age of Ronald Reagan and AIDS, “gay” meant men, women and transgender people), but because he wasn’t a “media whore” (my friend has a rather colorful way of putting things), but was in fact the first important gay journalist of the modern age. His modesty cost him the important place in history that he truly deserved.
To quantify my friend’s statement; when you’re a journalist, your job is to report the news, or write editorial essays about those who are trying to make the news or made the news. But your own life and accomplishments aren’t something you write about because how do you report on yourself in an impartial manner, or review a book you wrote and be fair about that book? You can’t and that’s why a journalist’s life, under normal circumstances, is not something they represent in their own stories. The one possible exception to this in history has been Hunter S. Thompson, the famous “Gonzo” journalist of Rolling Stone magazine fame. There are always exceptions to the rule.
When the AIDS crisis hit, Jack even greeted President Reagan’s Air Force One wearing a Grim Reaper outfit, complete with a sickle and a death mask. He had a sign around his neck that read, “Reagan = Moron & Death”. He did that on an Air Force base and no one challenged or stop him. When he moved through the crowd, everyone stepped aside as if he really was the Angel of Death, and not one bad word was spoken to him.
Jack was like that. He was somehow bullet-proof. He put off this soothing aura that reached everyone and said, “It’s alright, folks. I’m just here to educate you and I mean you no harm.” He could walk into the middle of an angry crowd of Southern Baptists who were protesting gay people, and almost as soon as he walked over with that friendly smile of his, the crowd would quiet and in a matter of a few moments he would be shaking hands with the minister and many people in the crowd and they would quietly leave. I saw him do this once with a feeling of total amazement. Jack knew that Blue Fairy intimately:
When you wish upon a star Makes no difference who you are Anything your heart desires Will come to you
My time knowing Jack was far too short, but when you’re honored with knowing a truly great person, can you ever get to the point where you truly knew them too much?
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