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Interview Transcript

by John W. Gettys

(Permission to publish or quote from hereby granted, free of charge.)

Q: It is the thirty-sixth anniversary of the publication of the first angry, gay protest novel,

which you wrote, Something You Do in the Dark? (G.P. Putnam, 1971)? And why the

thirty-sixth anniversary?

A: Because nobody paid any attention to the thirty-fifth anniversary!

Q: Is that because your novel is no longer relevant?

A: It's because Americans have no long-term memory. Baseball announcers recall old

baseball players. Muslim fundamentalists remember slights from 897 and 1267. But

American writers . . . who? What's a writer? Recently a student in a class of mine

asked me to spell a name I had mentioned in passing. The name was John Steinbeck.

And as for gay writers – forget it.

Q: Are you getting bitter in your old age?

A: I was bitter in my young age. But I'm funnier about it now. Apparently you can't

make people praise you if they don't want to. But the larger issue is that the pioneers

do the hard labor and are often forgotten, while the celebrities who come out when it’s

safe get the praise and any prizes to be had. This is common in social movements.

Q: What would you say is the lasting significance of your early gay protest novel?

A: Many men over the years have told me they read it and it helped radicalize their

thinking – from victimization to rage. Of course being gay now is hunky dory and we

are living happily ever after. We have no problems whatsoever, so who needs a gay

protest novel?! And once we can get married legally, wow, will we be HAPPY.

Q: Yes, I see your point. But hasn't a lot has changed for the better?

A: I haven’t noticed many gay pride parades in Riyadh. Not too many in Russia or

Mississippi either. Huckabilly is talking about an Amendment to ban same-sex marriage

and he's a national candidate!

Q: What has changed, if anything? For those who weren’t born when your “dark” book came out?

A: Gays are mentioned constantly, in almost anything you care to mention, usually as

something the person talking about is NOT. We are the ubiquitous I Am Not That. It's

amazing how much the straight world is obsessed with us. It's in Tiger Woods over-

reacting to Roger Federer touching his shaved face in an ad, to the Young Things on

The Real World feeling the need to approve or disapprove so passionately. Who asked

them to judge us so much?


Q: Did the Stonewall Rebellion inspire your first book?

A: When I wrote Something You Do in the Dark I had never heard of the Stonewall

Rebellion or gay liberation. People wrongly believe that one event caused all the

subsequent events. I just knew that I was a good person, but the world was saying I

was so despicable that we couldn't even discuss what “you people” do sexually. It

took me until the age of twenty-six to overcome this social disapproval and become a

sexual human being. Thanks to His Holiness and other morons.

Q: And you’re still bitter about that?

A: Let’s just say that I’ve made up for past sins of omission, even now at the grand old

age of seventy. Actually, I'm not that “bitter.” It's just that our culture does so little

honoring of its pioneers. It should be all literary prizes and blow jobs as I ride off into

the sunset. Alas, many of my first readers are now dead of AIDS, and nostalgia for

thirty-six years ago is very limited.

Q: Was there a cause-and-effect relation between AIDS and your book?

A: It’s the dilemma of most social movements. When gay men at last became sexually

liberated and got it on often, not always wisely, the consequence was the spread of a

communicable disease that we haven’t seen the end of yet. By the way, crime is much

higher in South Africa today since apartheid ended. Does that mean apartheid should

return? American black civil rights won their day – only to wind up with endless race

card playing now— to say nothing of the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in your

face all the time.

Q: So there is bad along with the good?

A: Yes, but I wouldn’t go back to the old closeted days for anything. Now I can teach a

gay book, and a book with some sex in it too, in a college classroom, and the burden

is on the other side not to seem bigoted and narrow-minded rather than what it used to

be: “How dare you promote this perverted stuff!!!!” (Oh, I forgot -- I'm in San

Francisco! People elsewhere are running to the polls to stop “them homos” from

getting married. We all know what a DISASTER for the world that would be. (The

divorce courts would be swamped!) Has that much changed, if you look at it

closely?) Don't forget -- if gays get to marry, Muslim men will want up to four wives!

Q: Besides your angry books, you also have written your fair share of comedy.

A: Thank you for noticing.

Q: Is it true you are bringing your satirical Gay Etiquette Book back into print?

A: I first did it in 1982, when gay anything was hardly “fashionable.” I thought I would

update and expand it as The Big Book of In-Your-Face Gay Etiquette. I have an agent

in London who thinks it might find a “niche” publisher. I did the BookSurge version,

but PODs sell few copies.

Q: Can you give an example of your etiquette rules?

A: They're not meant to be serious – except underneath perhaps. Here's one: “Girlie man

though he may be, in your heart of hearts you know that you don't want to get into a

fistfight with a drag queen.” Here's another: “A lady's name appears in the newspapers

only three times in her lifetime – when she is born, when she gets married, and . . .

when she turns lesbian.”

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Q: You have written a non-fiction narrative called What a Tangled Web

(BookSurge.com) about your experiences with college students and the low level of

student competence you have experienced as a college teacher of forty-plus years. But

haven’t teachers always complained about their students, even when you were a


A: No doubt they have. The difference is – and I don’t want to be an Old Fart about this –

in the Good Old Days (which never really existed) the complains were about such

things as misusing “like” for “as.” Now it’s about incredible illiteracy in college

students, who write things like this when trying to identify some lines from a

Shakespearean sonnet on a test: “These lines was written by Robert Frost in the

1600s.” “These other lines was written by Edgar Allen Pope.” And I am not making

those up!

Q: What a Tangled Web, your non-fiction narrative, likewise deals with a review website

that carried negative reviews of you and other teachers, some of them possibly

libelous. What happened with that website?

A: I lost the legal battle, but I won the moral war. The cruel, filthy, homophobic, and

lying reviews of people who did not have to identify themselves — and didn’t even

have to be real students, and often weren’t, just cyber criminals, have dried up and all

but blown away. Still, such websites should not be allowed to exist, because as they

are set up they are capable of total fraud. Nothing is done to protect teachers from

blackmail or bribery. Anyone can write “reviews” -- disgruntled failed students or

ex-boyfriends or anybody at all.

Q: But wasn’t free speech involved here?

A: Hey, believe me, as a gay writer, I value free speech, and I clearly know how hard it

has been to get, but it is not free speech to say that a female math teacher “likes it

doggy style” and that potential students should take a class from a black male teacher

because “dudes, he gave me a blowjob.” These are just two of the reviews you can

actually print in a “family” newspaper – if there. And, hey, I was hardly the only one

targeted. I just made the most noise about it — on The Today Show, on the BBC, on

Fox News, you name. I found most of my colleagues cowardly to the max . They

stuck their heads in and/or up their butts, and hoped it would all go away. The

maniacally “progressive” ACLU defended the other side in the lawsuit, the

web master. To this day I encourage gays, et al to stop contributing money to the

ACLU since it championed anonymous hate speech and fake reviews.. It was not

pretty, but I get my say, and my revenge,(he, he!) in What a Tangled Web — because,

once again, as with Something You Do in the Dark thirty-six years ago, art is the

ultimate satisfier. Especially when it’s funny and nasty!

Q: When are you going to retire from teaching? From writing?

A: I have retired from teaching, as of May, 2007. I keep my hand in with one creative

writing class one night a week. Less is more. As for writing, I don’t write as much as

I used to. Maybe it’s because books don’t seem to be part of my culture’s intellectual life

anymore. Maybe it’s because I have said what I have to say. Although –I am bringing

out Volume VIII, no less, of my Collected Plays.

— END —

— John W. Gettys has been the partner of Daniel Curzon for the past twenty-seven years.

Telephone: 415-269-8249

2 Comment count
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Great Interview

Hi Daniel

As a free speech advocate, and as someone who champions anonymity for various reasons, (and have done so in court) I was wondering if you don't see some value in anonymity in terms of protecting one's identity and yet still enabling one to engage in a dilaog?

And as far as the ACLU goes, I have sided with them in the past as well as filed an amicus brief opposing them. But even defining "hate speech" is a very slippery slope when it comes to censorship, and was hoping you might elaborate on what the ACLU's position was that so offended you.


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The ACLU would not check or verify the accuracy

of reviews or, more exactly, the "reviewers," assuming

virtue when in fact too many of the "reviewers" were

frauds: students accusing teachers of crimes, distorting

the facts, blackmailing or bribery teachers into grades;

some teachers learned to write reviews of themselves,

full of praise of course. The website was set up with links

to the college, giving the overwhelming impression that the

"reviews" were vetted and reliable, thus imperiling the integrity

of the teaching profession. Students just assumed everything

was on the up and up and that nobody was a vicious liar or a

crackpot or capable of a vendetta (by sending in multiple reviews

to destroy someone). My lawsuit at least made the college sever

any direct association with the reviews. When some teachers asked

for my help in countering reviews that were done out of spite (for a B

instead of an A, for example), I finally told them just to write up their

own reviews and to name the likely culprits and their reasons for

bad-mouthing the teachers inside the reviews. I'd go further and let

teachers "review" students the same way, by name and unpleasant

attributes, no mere letter grade.  Rivals and enemies could too easily

create a false impression which endangered people's jobs, never mind

their reputations. What if rival real estate agents can direct business away

from others and it all seems honest and coming from the Realtors

Association, or about judges from the BAR Association? I actually

paid for judgereview.org but never used it.

      The main point is that the ACLU, according to the national head of the

AFT in a telephone call, always supports students over teachers, making

teachers' jobs even more difficult to do with integrity instead of craven fear.

They assume people are good. Online anonymity allows their worst traits

to come out. You can't lie in court and call it free speech, and the same

should go for review sites that can actually destroy the vulnerable.

          I used to belong to the ACLU, but it is often blinded by its one-sided

ideology. And it wouldn't even consider the thougfht that they might be


        I don't think it matters as much if somebody is anonymous and

discussing politics or movies or something like that, where the damage

by the vindictive is minimal. But since my case (1999-2000) I do believe

some people have won judgments for online libel.