What Are We For?
“The balance of the time I spent in combing the annals of History attempting to find answers to the Great Questions posed by FIRST Mattachine to my attention and concern: WHO ARE WE? WHAT ARE WE FOR? HOW DO WE RELATE TO OUR PARENT SOCIETY RESPONSIBLY AND AS A GROUP?” - Harry Hay, 1975
It wasn’t until the 1970s that scholars (many working independently, outside the academy) began to exhume and explore the history of American homosexual and homophile movements before the Stonewall rebellion. All serious considerations of that history feature as a central player Harry Hay: activist, troublemaker, theorist, founder of the Mattachine Society and therefore one of the founders of what are now thought of as the American gay, queer, and LGBT movements.
The standard story of Hay’s life is thus: after an early life spent as a communist activist, Hay founded the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles in 1948, was kicked out in 1953, testified before HUAC in 1955, and spent the next ten years in a dead-end relationship doing nothing of particular interest until he met his life partner John Burnside in 1965. At that point he resumed his activism and helped found several organizations including the Radical Faeries. During the decade 1955-1965, according to this account, Hay did some research and wrote some papers, but they were mostly impenetrable, circuitous, and made few contributions to his later work, or to larger conversations about homophile rights and movements.
In an 80-odd page thesis, I gave an extensive intellectual biography of Hay during his ‘lost decade.’ This article is of smaller scope, focusing on the evolution of Hay’s ideas; I give only outlines of the biographical material. During this time, encounters with Native American cultures and individuals, and continuing study of Marxist theory, led Hay to fully elaborate his vision of the place and role of same-sex loving people and relationships.
I argue in this article that Hay’s reading of Marx’s ideas about the contours of labor in family and social institutions, and Engels’ writing about family dynamics and matriarchy in Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, are a unique, queer contribution to the history of same-sex loving people and relationships.
Placing Hay into his proper theoretical context within broader Leftist and queer struggles situates him within a pantheon of thinkers and writers of the 1960s and 1970s who expanded the contours of left-Marxist theory to include identitarian struggles.
In the excellent Sexuality and Socialism, Sherry Wolf argues that full sexual liberation requires economic liberation. Harry Hay might have argued that socialism, likewise, needs full sexual liberation; it needs to allow queers to live how they will live.
The epigraph to this article presents two essential questions: who are we (same-sex-loving people), and what are we for, societally speaking?
Marxist thought about social and family institutions further condenses those into one question: in a happy and productive society, who we are and what we are for will be one and the same. In other words, Hay was saying to queers everywhere: we have a history. We have a role to play. We are what we do, and we can do great things. All we have to lose is our chains.
We have a role to play. Powerful stuff. What, though, would that role be?
In the spring of 1953, the Mattachine Society and its original seven founders – Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Dale Jennings, Konrad Stevens, and Jim Gruber – seemed to have every reason to celebrate.
A year earlier, they had successfully defended Jennings in court against charges of lewd conduct. This was the first such acquittal in a case in which the defendant was admittedly "a homosexual." This success generated tremendous interest in the organization, which grew rapidly. New discussion groups began popping up all over Southern California. One letter even arrived from Tasmania, telling the founders that “The name Mattachine spreads hope along the wind.”
But between 1953 and 1955, Harry Hay's life fell apart. Hay later referred to this time as “my terrible years.” Worried that Hay's communist past would affect the organization, new members of the Mattachine Society staged a coup that removed the original leadership and took the organization in an assimilationist and less political direction -- (according to Hay, “a bunch of distinguished individualists going nowhere.”
In early 1955, Hay’s worst fears came true: he was called in front of HUAC. He was hung out to dry professionally, kicked out of Mattachine, and abandoned by his straight communist friends due to his queerness. He was, for example, excluded from all group defense funds. Simultaneously, Hay's lover Rudi Gernreich left him for professional opportunities in New York.
Hay met Jørn Kamgren, a Danish hat designer. Worried that he would never find anyone else, Hay moved in with Kamgren, supported him financially, and allowed Jørn to reconstruct their lives in a replica of the Danish petit-bourgeoisie. Jørn was rattled by the experience. Worried that any further notoriety on Hay’s part would affect his attempts to get clients for his hats, Jørn demanded that Hay dramatically curtail his political activities.
The trauma of having been called before HUAC, his experience of loss and abandonment by his communist and his homophile friends, his worry that any further financial hardship would leave his children utterly destitute, and Jørn’s insistence that he not involve himself too deeply with any homophile activism led him to focus on the internal, the theoretical.
Hay later remembered that after his confrontation with HUAC, he turned towards a “tremendous amount of activity inside me, and a whole different experience than I had ever gone through before.”
His extensive research notes are structured by subject, not by date. He would research a variety of topics simultaneously, typically writing or typing on half-sheet onionskins or stationary notepads he brought home from work. When he felt reasonably satisfied he had come to a conclusion worth noting, he generally wrote or typed that conclusion in short essay format. There are a couple dozen of these short essays on various topics. Then, when he had a (rare) opportunity and was allowed to present this work to small groups at ONE, he would assemble some short essays into a longer speech.
In all Hay’s discussions of the leftist nature of what he would have called primitive societies, he continually restated the principles of what must have been a text familiar to him: Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Although a review of Hay’s notes include no references to this text, and no historians considering his theory mention it as an influence, its canonical nature, some of Hay’s notions and terms, and Hay’s years of steeping in communist theory make it likely that he was influenced by it.
In Engels text he laid out a vision of a primitive, matrilineal communism. In pre-“Civilized” society, Engels wrote, “descent is…traceable on the maternal side, and thus the female line alone is recognized.” Family structures were more flexible to adapt to different individual desires and varieties of social needs. Groups collaboratively owned “the tools they made and used,” and the household “was communistic, comprising several, and often many, families.” Only with the transition from communal ownership of herds to individual ownership of them did notions of private property and male autocracy come to challenge matrilineal communism. This counter-revolution, Engels argued, led to the decline of primitive communism, the robbing of the ‘maternal right’ to social power, and the rise of class society. The book ends by confidently predicting that future society “will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes.”
If Engels’ argument was that primitive communism represented human society’s past and future and that matriarchal/matrilineal/goddess-worship practices were central to its practice, maintenance, and renewal, then Hay’s contribution was to add the berdache as a key figure in its practice, maintenance, and renewal, and to argue that homophiles should emulate the berdache as part of that tradition.
It is worth interrogating the ways in which Hay's assumptions are, fundamentally, Marxist ones. Here, it is productive to turn to Marx's arguments about the labor contours/problems of social and family institutions: “these things confront the family as so many products of its collective labor…the different kinds of labour which create these products….are already in their natural form social functions; for they are functions of the family.”
Vilfredo Pareto, Italian economist and sociologist, famously said that Marx’s words are like bats: one can see in them both birds and mice. They have meanings which are both new and inconsistent, viewing things as ever changing rather than as fixed. Hay’s view of human nature was fundamentally Marxist. Human beings, Hay thought, exist “ever in a state of becoming” - always changing their patterns of behavior both as individuals and as a society.
Hay read the archive of queer history - or rather, whatever evidence of it he could find in the margins of a queer-abrogating academia - as reflecting the different ways that societies had shaped fundamental underlying homosexual and homoromantic impulses.
Hay adopted neither a historically specific approach that it is impossible to make any comparisons between contemporary and ancient same-sex romantic social institutions nor a universalist approach that argued that homosexuality has always existed in roughly the same forms. Hay instead argued that changing cultures had created a variety of historically-specific institutional forms of ingrained and universal homosexual and homoromantic impulses.
In Hay’s view, same-sex-loving institutions had evolved out of patterns of behavior rooted in essentially similar “muscular and neurological patterns.” The common understanding of homophilia as a sexual deviancy spawned from psychiatric deficiency did not conform to historical evidence.
Social homophobia had led scholars to silence on these institutions, but one could, Hay thought, read a history of homophilia back into scholarship, launching “a candid and objective re-exhumation of History” that would liberate homophiles to continue their contribution to “constructive human development,” which had always been “in direct proportion of the opportunities afforded (or the surreptitious political expropriations of) its singular capacities.”
In one of his many sets of notes on the berdache, Hay wrote that “the West is in an anarcho-capitalistic social and ethical stagnation,” and that Homophiles, as descendants of the berdache institutions, had the responsibility of finding the way out.
Hay wrote, “Precisely because the berdache who, under the most rigorous of social restrictions discovered LORE as a supreme message of abstractive objective maturity, – so now they have the exemplary opportunity of re-establishing that abstract as a demonstrable historical guide to ever greater concrete objectives.” Lore, myth, and ritual could inspire contemporary action.
Pojoaque, New Mexico
In the summer of 1961, Hay and Jørn took one of their typical summer New Mexico excursions, this time exploring pueblos north of Santa Fe – not Taos, the well- known and well-preserved retreat, but some of the other, smaller villages, many of which had gone dormant.
In one of those villages, Pojoaque, they met, and eventually propositioned, Richard Tapia. He was 29, the same age as Jørn, and still living at home with his family. It is unclear from the documentary record how exactly they had met – perhaps the Tapias knew Hay’s old guide Enki? Hay never mentioned Richard Tapia in any reminiscences, and Hay's biographer, Stuart Timmons, gives him a minor and inaccurate biographical mention. But Tapia appears in the documentary record as one of Hay’s deepest passions, even though the relationship was mostly epistolary.
While Hay had fallen for Tapia moments after meeting him, it was likely Jørn who propositioned him. Tapia was troubled by the suggestion of a sexual encounter and abruptly broke off contact.
In the months that followed, Hay and Tapia carried on a mostly one-way epistolary relationship. Hay expressed how his time in Pojoaque - and with Tapia - had awakened in him a new consciousness about what he desired out of his own relationships. Hay discussed what new normative ideas about the relationship might mean for homophiles. He discussed how Tapia’s native consciousness might influence gay consciousness. Hay discussed his theory that the berdache were necessary to and somewhat responsible for primitive communism.
Throughout Hay’s correspondence with Tapia, he continued to return to one fundamental theme: as a Native American, Tapia had unique cultural and social qualities that made him able to stand between two worlds, “the pueblo world of his mother-tongue and of his childhood and of his tradition, and the white man’s world of cities.”
Tapia needed to be convinced, in Hay’s words, to reject “the door of the white man’s cities with glittering promises of high-paying jobs which hides the hunger to destroy utterly the Pueblo man AND his traditions.” His moving to California would destroy the things about him Hay found attractive. Tapia had, Hay thought, an “undivided” nature. He was, Hay wrote, “all of a piece, without a break or crack between the components of his being, like a peasant innocent.”
This quality of being, thought Hay, was a central reality of village life, and was reinforced and constantly made anew by the language to form a sort of Native consciousness:
when Tewa people speak of themselves and the world of nature and creatures of which they are a part…their language requires that they think in this manner also. A tree, for him, is not roots, plus trunk, plus branches; the parts are all alive with a single principle…a living being that takes its life from a mysterious entity diffused equally in all its members and which the scholars call the soul. The universe appears to him to be a vast net of correspondences agreeing among themselves in an organic fashion.
In opposition, the language and social conditions of the “20th century white man” (of which Hay saw himself as a troubled version and Jørn as the apex) was a mess of contradictions, a “battleground with many fights going on at the same time all the time. The mind fights with the heart, the soul with the body…the promises made out of love today with the problems of everyday life that will make those promises impossible tomorrow.”
These classifications are both racially essentialist and orientalist – Hay fetishized Tapia’s Native identity and constructed him as a ‘noble savage,’ an uncorrupted, unified, ‘un-civilized’ Primitive Man.
Hay’s essentialist reading of these differences meant that he constructed Tapia, and by extension his people and community, as an ideal potential representation of the kind of human consciousness necessary to create Engels’ primitive communism.
All of Hay's engagement with Native cultures and religions, and his amateur anthropology and theory, is problematic in the way it positions these cultures as potentially living examples of primitive communism and similar in all respects to a “pre-Christian” or “pre-Civilized” Europe.
At the same time, Hay's constructing these societies and their ‘consciousness’ as he did unlocked his activism. The idea that Pueblos had been until very recently the sites of a ‘pure’ primitive communism, and were ready and waiting to be rebuilt, provided Hay an ideal opportunity to see his ideas about primitive communism enacted.
From Pueblo consciousness, Hay was later able to theorize a homophile consciousness. The orientalist vision of the pueblo – and Hay’s Marxist view that human nature was mutable and arose from social conditions – meant Hay envisioned that a return to this kind of life was possible, and the homophiles would take their place in this new society as the berdache spiritual and cultural leaders.
Constructing an elaborate theory including the notion that gender-bending medieval fooling ceremonies spoofing religious authority were a form of berdache, Hay assigned radical political value to the identity-labor of these social figures.
His larger plans were to revitalize the Pueblo through a comprehensive 20-year plan entitled the “Pojoaque Pueblo Project”. Starting as a small shop (the Wild Indian Tea Company), Hay envisioned the business expanding to include a restaurant, a motel, a store, and a business selling the dry tea to restaurants and stores throughout the Southwest.
The Pueblo would also construct a small museum, to give a “LIVING” exhibit presenting Pueblo life as a current and contemporary set of social functions rather than “the usual White variety of DEAD exhibits of more-or-less-misundesrtood bits and pieces.”
This process of “cultural re-education of the Pueblo people” would then lead to storytelling demonstrations, classes and lessons in written Tewa, the preparation of a comprehensive history of the Tewa nation in the Tewa language. Hay found this proposal deeply inspiring and invigorating. To him it was "the promise of a new life, - and I do not intend to let that promise go.”
Although Hay’s “promise” was not to be lived out through Tapia, the awakening of his activism would last beyond the end of that relationship. Jørn’s lack of interest, and renewed jealousy, continued to be the major problem. Hay and Jørn fought again that summer and broke up. Hay’s dreams of moving to and revitalizing the Pueblo were smashed. Later letters from 1964 and 1965 show that Hay and his future life partner John Burnside remained friends with Tapia and even ended up living in Pojoaque for a time.
In letters to another friend, Jim Kepner (who served the community valuably as a participant in ONE magazine and the de facto archivist of the movement, and whose papers became the ONE National Lesbian and Gay Archives currently housed at USC), Hay began intellectualizing his experience with Tapia and Jørn, developing the deep wells of hurt and rage into theory about what types of relationships could and should exist between men.
Tapia had shown him that the types of roles he saw as good for homophiles could be enacted in contemporary relationships and that it was possible to reconstitute an Engelsian primitive communism. Marx had led him to devise a historical role which he thought should be embodied in the present. Now, he turned to the question of the details of the nature of contemporary homophile relationships – where could the ideal be located?
“The fact remains,” Hay wrote Kepner, “that in the hetero marriage relationship, - sexual procreation was, is, and will remain, the PRIMARY function.”
Hay classified as ‘primary’ the most socially-productive function of the relationship, and as ‘secondary’ the aspects of the relationship which supported the primary function.
First, Hay examined the Western heterosexual Christian monogamous model, arguing that “social compatibility” between the two people in a couple represented an “a priori consideration in determining assurances of marital permanence…necessary to the equally compatible fulfillment of the PRIMARY functional responsibility of the pattern.”
In other words, Hay considered the sexual habits of heterosexual married couples – long-term monogamy – to represent a series of learned behaviors best suited to human survival. For heterosexual couples the primary function is sexual reproduction, to assure the continuation of the species.
“Against this design,” Hay continued,
the Minority (or Homo) pattern is to be…seen as the inverse or perhaps the converse of the predominant model…the Homophile compulsion to mate was socially devoted to the requirement to conceive, deliver, and responsibly rear “Children of the Brain” in converse to the heterophilic responsibility for reproductive “offspring of the body.” In effect, the Homophile maximal productive capacity must be seen as reproductive of the internal life of the society, in converse to the Heterophile capacity to reproduce the components of the external life of the society…an INTELLECTUAL MATING!
In other words, straight people married based on sexual attraction to raise children. Gay people mated based on spiritual and intellectual attraction, to create and raise ideas – Hay’s awkwardly-phrased “Children of the Brain.” This model of relationship would enable homophiles to use their sexual pleasure for social good – just as Hay thought berdaches had.
“Spiritual compatibility,” Hay continued, “must be seen as a greater dimension entirely. For unless a pair are spiritually equipped to complement one another and, simultaneously, to spur one another on to ever greater levels of application and contribution, their intellectual compatibility characteristically degenerates in little more than brilliant conversation.” 
Hay saw conversation as merely a way to discuss ideas. For him, ideas had little value unless put into practice. Sex, in this conception, or what Hay referred to as “the sharing and resolution of each other’s fantasy,” deepened spiritual compatibility, developing “out of a companionate mutuality of sharing each other’s joy and delight in ‘beauty’ as it pertains in particular to Homophile values of beholding and/or of participation.” 
In straight relationships, spiritual and intellectual compatibility served the primary sexual union; in gay relationships, sexual compatibility served the primary intellectual and spiritual one.
In the remainder of the letter, he speculated on what exactly it was about the nature of the berdache that made them special. Yes, their relationships had been socially productive and they had been essential to the maintenance of primitive communism. But how, exactly?
His answer adapted the ideas about the wholeness of primitive consciousness he had expressed to Tapia: the homophile in a socially productive relationship, “seeing his relationships as such…as roles or constructs, is thus able, much more than they of the dominant group are, to seek the real person behind the role-play and to try to establish a relationship with that real self of the other.” 
As communities evolved, Hay argued, individual berdache existed but in “a solitary or isolate state.” He theorized that Berdaches seeking each other “ghosted the twilight regions” and that the process of seeking one another and of categorizing their relationships had led to an intellectual breakthrough.
The necessity of considering mutual subjectivity, the fact that the Berdache had to define their own relationships, and the performative nature of them (“the role-play”) meant that they considered one another and indeed the world with radical subjectivity, seeing through the show and establishing relationships with one another and with all else on earth on deeper spiritual levels.
Hay referred to this as the “subject-subject” or “subjective” relationship, and it represented (in final form as a keystone of the Radical Faeries) the culmination of his thinking about labor, history, performance, and the queer relationship as performed and historicized labor.
Hay’s relationship with Jim Kepner was not to last. Their sexual incompatibility proved to be too great, although they remained lifelong friends. A few months into 1964, after Hay and Jørn had stopped living together, Hay met John Burnside at ONE. Burnside left his wife, and the two men began a lifelong romance. An inventor, Burnside had several kaleidoscope patents; Hay quit his job and the two men were able to live off of their California Kaleidoscopes company for the rest of their lives.
So, to recap this dizzying array of theory: Hay's research project was a fundamentally Marxist endeavor.
Hay aimed to discover a materialist history of the various expressions of the social and sexual urges that had historically created queer sexual identities and, from that history, to define a social role for contemporary queers to inhabit.
Integrating Hay into the Marxist fold provides key context for his ideas and grounds them and him in a tradition of thought that continues until today. Questions of sociality and constructionism/essentialism remain at the center of queer-theoretical debates to this day.
Caroline Dinshaw, for example, has written about the “queer desire for history;” Connor Spencer has identified a “queer longing” that “pushes them [queer folks] into the dark, liminal spaces of queer history where tools for surviving the present and imagining a future reside.”  Hay’s contributions have been largely ignored in these illuminating discussions.
On a lighter note, the durability of Hay’s ideas about the political radicalism of gender-bending ritual and performance was entertainingly expressed in 2013 by drag queen and television personality RuPaul: “That’s what drag is. In fact, throughout the ages, the shaman, the witch doctor, the court jester, is the drag. It represents the duality of the material world and the fact that this is all illusion, it’s not to be taken seriously…so it’s political. It’s political on the most fundamental level.” 
At the heart of this project sits Hay’s influence by and implicit critique of Engels and his concept of matriarchal primitive Communism. The intersection of sexuality and American Left movements is a fascinating topic, and while Hay, as an activist prominent in both movements, features in scholarly considerations, his particular theoretical niche deserves to be better documented and placed into context with others’ work.
The time is overdue for a comprehensive study that would examine all of these independent thinkers together, advancing an argument about the diversity and multiplicity of early homophile ideas and underscoring their challenges to our current understanding of LGBTQ rights and/or queer liberation.
How, for example, might thinking of relationships as subjective and socially productive support or problematize the notion of same-sex marriage? That and other questions, for now, must wait.
 Letter from Harry Hay to Jonathan Ned Katz, February 20, 1975. Box 1, Folder 69. Harry Hay Papers, Coll2011-003, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California. (Henceforth “Harry Hay Papers, Los Angeles”)
 A note on the terms: consistent with the majority of documents from this era, I use the term ‘homophile’ to describe 1950s and 1960s activists and individuals. When I use the term ‘homosexual,’ I mean it as an adjective to describe institutions and practices involving same-sex love and desire, including contemporary “gay” identities, 1950s and 1960s “homophile” ones, and the rich set of historically and culturally specific identities and categories Hay discussed. It is a term of convenience, and an imperfect one.
 “We Are a Separate People” - Interview of Harry Hay by Mitchell Tuchman, 1981-82. Oral History Research Center. University of California, Los Angeles. (Henceforth “We Are a Separate People”). 179.
 Letter from Harry Hay to Jonathan Ned Katz, February 20, 1975. Box 1, Folder 69. Harry Hay Papers, Los Angeles.
 Letter from Harry Hay to Chuck Rowland. Box 1, Folder 8. Mattachine Society Project Collection. ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California. (Henceforth “Mattachine Society Project Collection”
 “We Are a Separate People.” 187.
 Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, in the Light of the Research of Lewis H. Morgan (New York: International Publishing, 1942), 35.
 Ibid, 131.
 Ibid. 147.
 Karl Marx, Selected Writings, Edited by Lawrence Hugh Simon (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), 238
 The End of a Dream: History Can’t Be Looked At With 20th Century Prejudices. Box 1, Folder 9. Harry Hay Papers, Los Angeles.
 The Homophile in Search of an Historical Context and Cultural Continuity. Box 6, Folder 1. Harry Hay Papers, GLC 44. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library (Henceforth “Harry Hay Papers, San Francisco”).
 Notes on the Berdache. Box 20. Harry Hay Papers, San Francisco. Hay’s Berdache Notes, split across boxes 19 and 20 of the collection, were not at time of research and still may not be divided into folders.
 The 1940 Census lists Richard as being eight years old, and living in Pojoaque. We can be reasonably sure this is the right individual given that his mother has the correct name (though it is spelled Crusita rather than Crucita here, likely the result of poor Spanish on the part of the census worker). Placing Richard’s birth in 1932 corresponds to Hay’s memory that he was about the same age as Jørn (born 1931). See U.S. Bureau of the Census. United States Census, 1940. Prepared by the Bureau of the Census. Washington, DC, 1940.
 Notes about Richard Tapia, (1962?). Box 13, Folder 14. Harry Hay Papers, San Francisco.
 Letter from Harry Hay to Richard Tapia, 1962. Box 13, Folder 14. Harry Hay Papers, San Francisco.
 Letter from Harry Hay to Richard Tapia, 1962. Box 13, Folder 14. Harry Hay Papers, San Francisco.
 Letter from Harry Hay to Jim Kepner. October 16, 1962. Box 1, Folder 70. Harry Hay Papers, Los Angeles.
 “What are Homophiles Good For?” Box 6, Folder 22. Harry Hay Papers, San Francisco.
 Connor Spencer, “Feeling (Dis)Integrated: Antisociality and Queer Longing in the Archives of David Wojnarowicz and Gary Fisher” (Unpublished thesis). New York University, New York, NY, 2014.
 Genevieve Koski. "Interview: RuPaul." The A. V. Club. January 24, 2011. Accessed April 1, 2015. http://www.avclub.com/article/rupaul-50504