Martin Duberman is the recipient of the Bancroft Award, one of the highest honors of the historical profession, and numerous other prizes for his historical and creative work, including his play In White America (1963), his biography Paul Robeson (1988), his memoir Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey (1991), his history Stonewall (1993), and his novel Haymarket (2003).
At the age of 87, Duberman has published three books in the past year alone: a “novel/history,” Jews Queers Germans (Seven Stories Press); his fourth memoir, The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988 (Duke University Press); and the blazing polemic Has the Gay Movement Failed? (University of California Press).
In this panoramic interview with The Nation, Duberman examines why the left still isn’t attentive enough to queer sensibilities, argues that leading gay-rights groups aren’t meeting the needs of working-class LGBTQ people, and wonders when we will recognize our common bisexuality.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Christopher Phelps: We have Lillian Faderman’s book, The Gay Revolution. We have another recent book, Victory. Then we have your newest book: Has the Gay Movement Failed? Are you painting too dark a mood, when there have been so many advances for LGBTQ people?
Martin Duberman: I don’t deny the advances. In fact, I welcome and applaud them. The work that’s been done in civil rights is wonderful. I’m very glad that I no longer have to carry around the name of a lawyer that can get me out of jail in case a plainclothes cop arrests me on the street for cruising. It’s not that I’m still cruising. [Laughter.] But you get the point.
CP: That’s what I mean: If we take the world that you so vividly depicted in Cures and compare that to the world of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender kid growing up now, it’s entirely different. Doesn’t that mean the gay movement has succeeded?
MD: I think the gay movement has succeeded in terms of the agenda it set for itself starting roughly in the late 1970s. I don’t think it has succeeded in terms of the agenda that marked the movement in the years immediately after Stonewall. And it’s that agenda that I feel needs to be addressed.