How a historian discovered he was gay by delving into gay archives

Historians in the News
tags: gay



For the second night in two weeks, Craig Loftin worked tirelessly, searching for a topic for his dissertation.

He was interested in the gay and lesbian experiences of the 1950s, when the gay rights movement first emerged. Instead of skimming through countless books or doing Internet research, the 26-year-old graduate student was cooped up in the utility room of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, located near the University of Southern California.

Loftin sifted through collections of materials related to LGBTQ history, including newspaper clippings, journal and magazine articles, photos and audiovisuals.

He came across thousands of letters stored away in unlabeled boxes stacked to the ceiling. The letters were written to ONE magazine, the first openly gay publication in the United States and provided insight into the experiences, thoughts and feelings of gay men and lesbians nationwide.

The letters Loftin came across were from the 1950s and early 1960s, years before the infamous Stonewall riots of 1969, and each one was just as candid as the next. People wrote about how they were arrested for being gay, how the family dynamics changed after they ‘came out’ and some asked if there were ways they could help the magazine.

This was exactly what Loftin had been searching for, but it wasn’t just some tremendous find for his thesis. In the long run, having access to the archive and continuing to read about gay history gradually undid the emotional baggage he carried about his own sexuality for over 10 years.

Today, Loftin is an adjunct lecturer in the American Studies Department at Cal State Fullerton. He has also taught a LGBTQ history course, called Sexual Orientations and American Culture, where he discusses the history of gay people and the debates that have existed.

“That is very meaningful to me, knowing that there will be some gay students working through some issues that they’re having,” Loftin said.

It’s not really accurate to say Loftin was closeted, he said, but rather, he was in complete denial.

One of the reasons he didn’t think he was gay was that he didn’t fit into many gay stereotypes.  Growing up, he was active in baseball and he didn’t throw the ball with a limp wrist, a characteristic commonly associated with gay men. He never liked Broadway shows, except for Tennessee Williams’s plays....




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