Denneny looks back ‘On Christopher Street

‘On Christopher Street’ is a collection of articles by Michael Denneny, editor and co-founder of Christopher Street Magazine, the influential periodical that chronicled GLBTQ culture and politics of the post-Stonewell years of liberation and two decades of social justice activism in response to the devastation of the AIDS epidemic.

Denneny also assembled a coterie of gay and lesbian writers who wrote essays, stories, poetry, profiles, and advocacy pieces, and also was one of the few openly gay editors at MacMillian Publishing, when he founded St. Martin’s Press and advocated for books by openly gay writers who had been routinely ignored, along with gay readership, by most houses.

His unique perspective representing gay authors was key in what emerged as a gay literary renaissance. Many of his sociopolitical essays still resonate the most in this collection. And many pieces address the fractious strategies of a visible queer community that ultimately were united in confronting homophobia by religious and right-wing politicians.

Denneny at his analytic best as he lays out strategies vis-à-vis  gay politics, culture, individual and community action. It still resonates as the right-wing culture wars rage on against GLTQ+ communities across the US,

“My attempt to survey the gay political situation at the beginning of the 80s, a decade after Stonewall and just before the epidemic was about to break over us. Being gay is a more elemental aspect. Who I am then? My profession, my class, or my race?” He provocatively wrote in his essay “Gay politics and its Premises.”

  ”It is the basic tactic are weirdly homophobic culture uses to destroy us. -first isolate, then terrorize, then make disappear by self-denial.” “If society tries to destroy us by first isolating us, it follows that what is necessary to fight back is it not only defiance, but the acknowledgement of a community and the construction of a world.”

Denneny’s polemics on strategic ideas and insights about GLTQ solidarity in the face of bigotry and hate in the 80s still inspire.

Meanwhile, he was not a publisher hiding away in an editorial ivory tower. Denneny was out and about in the gay community and was working stories-. From covering gay French philosopher Michel Foucault’s sell-out lectures in Manhattan to interviewing a ballet dancer who also worked on Broadway and made just as much money as a  go-go ballet dancer-escort in the bars.

His interview with bestselling author Felice Picano about his nonfiction novel’ The Lure’ about a serial killer in the rough trade and leather bar community of the 70s, articulating the author’s non-voyeuristic approach in the telling of this story in contrast to the release of William Friedkin’s exploitive film ‘Cruising’ which igniting street protest of its depiction of yet another psychopathic gay killer, at its specious depiction of the leather bars.

“On Christopher Street” honors the many author-activists whose work Denneny championed and he includes many of his private notes and letters with writers and activist in the first decade of the AIDS epidemic. His chronicles of writers and AIDS activists Paul Monette,  Vito Russo, John Preston, and many others, that are moving documents the historic impact of their activism.   

Denney’s revisits the power of Larry Kramer’s j’accuse tactics, first in his incendiary editorial “1,112 and Counting”, the alarming much attacked screed published in all of the gay newspapers in March 1983, was not only a battle cry to gay community action ae tactics, whose all or nothing strategies, for better or worse, led to the formation of GMHC and ACT-UP. .

One of the most moving is his ‘Eulogy for Allen Barnett’ which he delivered at St. John the Divine for the author  of writer who died at age 36 of AIDS, just after the publication of his first book “The Body and Its Dangers” with the profoundly resonate story “The Times as It Knows Us.” Denneny writes “The first time I read that story; I almost couldn’t breathe. But how much more harrowing must it have been the act of writing it.… That comes when the imagination is infused by a naked courage.”

Denneny was in the literary and social justice fight from the start. His direct-action speech on gay rights delivered at a gathering of writers at Giovanni’s Room bookstore in 1982 in Philadelphia. Reprinted here as his manifesto-  “Win or lose, it’s the fight that counts, that strengthens us, which means we win every time.” Words to live by more than ever as state legislators are banning books, legislating against GLBTQ rights and vilifying transgender and nonbinary Americans.

On Christopher Street | Life, Sex, and Death After Stonewall By Michael Denneny | University of Chicago Press  www.press.uchicago.edu