Serving time in the gay press
by Robert Julian
An Army of Ex-Lovers by Amy Hoffman; University of Massachusetts Press, $22.95
Amy Hoffman's autobiographical history of her years at Boston's Gay Community News (GCN ) is one of the most engaging works of nonfiction recently published. An Army of Ex-Lovers documents the period from 1978-82 when Hoffman was serving as one of the weekly newspaper's editors. This tumultuous period encompasses the flagship era of Gay Liberation; the murder of Harvey Milk; the Anita Bryant crusade; and the beginning of the AIDS crisis. It was also a time of emerging lesbian activism, a subject this lesbian, Bostonian author covers with a wry sense of humor and wonderful candor.
Hoffman's tenure at GCN coincides with her coming out to her conservative Jewish family. Her early discomfort with being openly gay, and her evolving understanding of just what it means to be a lesbian, inform Hoffman's perspective throughout the narrative. Her alliances with the gay male staff at the weekly newspaper bring her into considerable conflict with some lesbian activists, forcing Hoffman to continually scrutinize her own values as well as those of her peers.
The personal and professional conflicts that arise during Hoffman's years at the paper illustrate the differing perspectives of those involved in gay activism, and the different modus operandi of women and men. The old Mars/Venus dichotomy surfaces as Hoffman details lesbian resolve to deconstruct even minor differences of opinion at the paper, with an insistence on considering all points of view before arriving at a mutually agreed-upon, politically correct stance. Meanwhile, their male peers impatiently push for a decision â€” any decision.
One of the unique characteristics of Gay Community News (which ceased publication in 1999) was its formation as a collective in political opposition to gay bar culture. The bars were viewed as oppressive, inviting alcoholism, and placing lesbian and gay patrons at the mercy of many Mafioso bar owners. Decisions at the newspaper were traditionally made by consensus. This made the Boston newspaper quite different from its early San Francisco counterparts. Those West Coast publications were more specifically targeted at gay male readers, and were often owned by gay bar proprietors who had their own issues with alcoholism and ruled capriciously, but with an iron hand.
And of course, there was the distinctly different tone of life for gay people in Boston as opposed to gay people in San Francisco. Although Hoffman dances around the subject somewhat, it is abundantly clear that she and her colleagues were adversely impacted by ingrained East Coast conservatism. Immediately after an extended 1982 visit to the gay Disneyland of San Francisco, Hoffman went back to GCN and turned in her resignation.
As someone who has written for gay weekly publications for over 21 years and served as an editor, I found myself frequently laughing out loud at some of Hoffman's stories, recalling my own years of deadlines and headlines, and many fond memories of departed colleagues. But no personal experience is necessary to appreciate An Army of Ex-Lovers; an interest in lesbian and gay history and an appreciation of good writing will suffice.