By Dorothy Bryant.
Berkeley: Ata Books, 1982.
ISBN # 0-931688-10-8.
144 pages.

Comments of Bob Corbett
December 2004

It was fascinating reading this 22 year-old novel set in the Mission District in San Francisco on the day of the annual parade dominated by gays and lesbians. It is a glimpse into the mindset of society and the struggles as they existed. It was even noteworthy that at the time of Dorothy Bryant’s writing the novel the term AIDS didn’t even exist, though they did speak of Kaposi’s sarcoma.

I’m not wanting to suggest the book is dated and more of historical interest. Not in the slightest. Yet it does hard back to a time a mere 22 years ago which seems lights years away now. However, the novel is brilliantly written, moving, face paced and provocative. The central issues live on.

Fifty year old college professor Clara Lontana has returned to her home city of San Francisco to read a paper at a feminist bookstore and to see her gay son, Frank.

Clara hates San Francisco, the home of bad memories of living in a family she saw as dead-end and close-minded. Further she entered a catastrophic marriage, of which Frank is the only issue. She can’t imagine anyone wanting to live in San Francisco on purpose.

But Frank has made precisely that choice, returning “home” but not to the family life of either his grandparents or his own family. Rather, he’s returned to San Francisco to join the gay community which has virtually taken over the Mission District, and sees the city as the ground zero of a coming world-wide revolution in which gays will achieve a new place in society. He reminds his mother that others are flocking to San Francisco from all over.

This sets of a terrible mother / son clash. Clara believes she has made peace with Frank’s “gayness,” but has a model of a monogamous gay couple, living much like the heterosexual couples who might live the “standard” life. Frank isn’t interested; rejecting that monogamous world as part of his revolution. It is in the constancy of promiscuous sex that his notion of the gay world is celebrated.

Ironically as the story proceeds Frank is sick with “the gay disease,” which at that time was hepatitis, viewed as a relatively benign price one paid for the gay life in the promiscuous manner.

As we know, some of that debate was settled by the devastation caused by AIDS, and part just in the movement growing up and more and more gays preferring a life much like the ideal for heterosexual couples, even including children.

I did find disturbing an arrogant attitude assumed throughout by Clara, Frank and other friends, that they were obviously part of an intellectual elite and that other people were both intellectually inferior and THEREBY morally inferior. That’s an arrogance I’ve frequently seen in the political left and always rejected, despite the fact that I am otherwise much more sympathetic to the liberal, even the radical left.

Dorothy Bryant’s book is well conceived and executed. It’s an interesting read and one that reveals a very different world of homosexuality than that presented even by the gay community today. It’s well worth going back in time to read this fine novel.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu