More information about controversial AIDS books.


Ian Young, 'The Stonewall Experiment; A gay psychohistory' Cassell UK/USA 1995, 312 pages ISBN 0-304-33270-0.


Psychohistory is a study of human motivations. It involves the analysis of archival records and other cultural artefacts in an attempt to uncover the beliefs, fears, fantasies and desires of individual and social groups. This book is a psychohistory of gay men. As it has been written from the perspective of the 1990s, it is also, necessarily, a cultural investigation into the origins of a plague.

In the unconscious mind - the realm of dreams, trance, intuition and prophecy - certain patterns of thought and belief are shared, to varying degrees, by society at large, and by members of specific social and psychic groups. These ideas exercise a profound influence on us, and on the consequences of our actions.

The Stonewall Experiment presents evidence for some of these ideas as they have inhabited the collective psyche of gay men during the past 125 years. It examines the myths, images, texts and behaviors of the 'gay culture', and exposes their historical significance.

The mythographer James Hillman reminds us that historical events 'are not the primary fact of existence. Historical facts are secondary... senseless unless they point inward to central meanings. The historical "facts" may be but fantasies attached to and sprouting from central archetypal cores... ' The sprouts, it seems, are our image of ourselves, and our modern uneasiness with history may reflect a fear of discovering who we are, or who we have been induced to imagine we are.

Self-images, and the patterns of behavior they influence, are strongly susceptible to manipulation by symbols, pictures, suggestions and covert signals. This manipulation can come directly from itself, or from others; its effects can be positive or negative. When positive, it can achieve the personal catharsis and transformation of magical or artistic creation. When negative, it can constitute psychological programming, subliminal propaganda or black magic.

As much as possible, I have tried to document what I have to say by reference to the public record, and particularly to what I call the gay archive - the store of gay history, lore, poetry, prophecy, imagery and imagination that is the psychic inheritance of what Christopher Isherwood called 'our tribe', and of every gay man who comes to awareness of himself.

My remarks are not a history of homosexuality, the gay movement, or the health crisis; they are not meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive. They are the notes and reflections of a poet who was involved in the gay liberation movement during the years between the Stonewall rebellion in 1969 and the onset of AIDS in 1981. As a poet, I have a particular interest in images, verbal messages and the psychic undercurrents - the unconsious myths and motivations that are reflected by cultural phenomena, and that frequently determine events. The discovery and elucidation of this cultural evidence is what I mean by psychohistory.

My concern is to contribute something to our understanding of what occurred in the little more than a decade between Stonewall and AIDS and in the plague years that followed. What happened to the promise of the Stonewall revolution? Perhaps (like all revolutions, some would say) it was betrayed. If so, the nature of that betrayal was rooted both in the revolution itself and in the society that give rise to it. As one philosopher put it, 'If [people] make their own history... they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances... given and transmitted from the past.'

As I write, the plague that descended on us in 1981 is still with us. A generation of young gay men has never known life without its presence. And though there are a number of developments, both hopeful and sinister, there is no end in sight. No one yet possesses the whole picture of this crisis. But we are now able to put some pieces of the puzzle together, and to begin to discern something of its of its general outline.

What follows, then, is a poet's-eye view of the first 125 years of our visible existences -- the years when gay men began to emerge as a people. It is written with a particular reader in mind: a young gay man (or whatever term he chooses for himself) of a future generation. Whoever he is, and whatever his circumstances, if he is to survive, thrive, and make his contribution, he will need to understand his history, and learn its lessons. This book is for him (speckled and dusty though it may be by the time it reaches him). Other readers, of course, are welcome, but they should remember that they are reading over his shoulder. *