Bo Ravich, 30, a stage carpenter, is sitting on a roof outside the kitchen window of his apartment on Weehawken Street, off Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in New York, June 30, 1969. During the long, hot afternoon, Bo is talking to Belle, the producer of the play he is building sets for, who is also a friend, and he listens as she tells him her plan: she wants to get pregnant, have a baby and raise a child. The easiest and most personal way would be to find a man. They discuss the other men who have gathered around Bo during the riots at the Stonewall Inn—Bo’s partner, Andrew, a waiter and a politically progressive writer for counter-culture rags in the Village, Joseph, who has just arrived in the Village from the West Coast and a stint with the New Lafayette, the leading Black Arts Theatre in America, and an actor in the play they’re producing, and Bo’s brother Billy, up from Houston to fight the cops with his big brother. Belle knows she could get an anonymous donor to help with her desire to get pregnant, but she’d prefer something more personal. These men are attractive, and they are good men. Any one of them would make a good father. Very quickly, the conversation turns on the question of whether any of these gay men (even Billy, who is straight) would be willing to provide Belle with the donation she needs. Bo tells her that any of them would take the idea seriously. She says, “I had no idea. I have assumed—“ “That we’re gay, and so—“ “Something like that.” “But you know,” Bo says, “Billy has been having sex with Joseph the last couple of nights, don’t you?” “Yes,” Belle answers, “but they’re both so gorgeous—“ “Well, one of them is gay and the other of them is straight. They do what they want, Belle.” “Well, I thought—“ “I think, dear, I know what you thought. But you should remember this. People can do what they want. And I think that, whether they are gay or not, they’ll take the question seriously. That doesn’t mean they are going to agree to what you’re asking. But they will treat the question seriously.”
The issue for Belle turns on several things. Do gay men ever have sex with women? And if donating sperm to a friend to help her get pregnant does not violate their sense of themselves as gay men, is it something that fits the lives they are constructing for themselves at the moment? This issue of getting Belle pregnant surfaces from time to time in Adam in the Morning, down to the last pages, and remains an open question when the novel closes. Bo asks, sitting on the high stoop overlooking Sheridan Square on Wednesday night, when the last riots are over, “—Andrew and I need to talk, but I’d also like to hear what the rest of you think. You’re our gang, and I want to know what you think about gay men doing this. Are you our family? Do gay men have families? We have a lot to talk about.”
Bo assumes that his gang know what a gay man is, and yet a few minutes later Joseph brings up the question that Andrew raised that morning. “What is a gay man?” The gang around Bo don’t know—or at least are not clear. Michel Foucault said, in the first volume of The History of Sexuality (1979) that “[Before 1869] the sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.” Gay people, scientists, church people, lawyers, and politicians have spent the years since 1869 trying to discover and describe the characteristics of this new species.
In 2013, we appear to believe that we know. I wrote Ceremonies and Race Point Light, and wondered when the world view, which was reflected in those novels, was created. When, for example, did we—that is, the gay community generally—begin to think of gay and straight? When did we begin to think that if you were gay, you didn’t have sex with women? Or if you were straight, you didn’t have sex with men? When did we start thinking of the closet? When did we begin to elaborate on the identity of a man who had sex with other men? I suspected that these changes happened around Stonewall. I did preliminary research. I found that pressure which came from the political organizing after Stonewall—that is, during the last half of 1969—led to a relatively more coherent and rigid conception for a gay man. The gay activists in the first weeks after the riots needed to find ways to increase their numbers, so they made it imperative that all gay men come out. Their political treatises presumed that being out was better than being in the closet. Adam in the Morning was about a small group of men and women who had come to adulthood before Stonewall and therefore were not subject to the binary world we’ve had since Stonewall. They were more free, not subject to the confinements that gay men were subject to later, even six months later, and have been subject to ever since.
This is what makes Adam in the Morning an interesting novel. Bo and Andrew and Joseph and Gus and even Billy can have sex with a man because that was what they want, because that is what their bodies tell them they want. They don’t accept confinements either from the heterosexual world or the incipient gay world. And they are capable of fighting to defend themselves, gently against friends like Belle, who wants to impose stereotypes, and violently against the cops if necessary. They are there in Sheridan Square, every night there’s fighting against the cops. The refrain in Adam in the Morning is, over and over, They can do what they want. They create themselves in a way that very few people have the opportunity. There’s nothing else like Adam in the Morning out there.
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. (p. 43).