Autobiographical fragments…..

from earlier web site which was hosted from 2008 to 2012; and was closed in July 2012
“Now, in 2008, I am a retired Professor of Sociology. For the past forty years I have been teaching, thinking and writing about the stories we tell of society- and especially our queer and sexual lives. I am what I call a critical humanist – which means I like to focus on real embodied human beings living their everyday lives through pain and joy. I am interested in embodied humanly made social worlds, the interactive webs and negotiated orders we creatively weave them into, and their linkages with wider historical social patterns (structures). I believe that everything we do as humans (and sociologists) is saturated with creativity and action, language and materiality, ethics and power, ceaseless change and contingency, and multifarious plurality. Epistemologically, we can only ever have partial  perspectives, stories, accounts of this world; but we need to make them as good as they can be. Human beings are always engaged in continuous permutations of action. I worry that sociology can be driven by too much form, too much method, too much theory, too much abstraction.  And not enough precarious human social life.

So now go back forty years. To 1968.  My life.  Here is the start of an auto/ethnography. There is absolutely nothing straightforward about this, and it stands in a very odd relation to the ‘events of 1968’, most of which had no involvement with student lives, let alone ‘the student conflicts.’ I was 21 coming on 22. I was in the middle of my ‘coming out as gay’ stage of life. In the UK – and my story has to be primarily a UK story- 1968 was a year after the Sexual Offences Act which made homosexuality a little more legal than before; and 1968 was two years before the London Gay Liberation Front was formed at the LSE and where I was to be very involved. It may have been a harbinger of the Gay and Lesbian Movement, and one of the most critical moments of my life. But it did not exist in 1968. I had however, during Roy Jenkins’s significant tenure as Home Secretary, been released from being a criminal. (In 1973, I was also going to be pronounced as part of the non sick queer by the World Health Organisation! For the likes of me, it was a good time).

After graduating in 1967, I started work first a ‘Careers Officer; and then as a Community Service Volunteer in Ilkeston, Derbyshire. In October, I began my PhD (on gay life after the law change) at the LSE, teaching at Enfield College (soon to become Middlesex Polytechnic), and living at home with my mum and dad (but soon to rent a small flat in Marble Arch- where I also worked part time as an usher at the Odeon Marble Arch – home at that time of big screen blockbusters like Hello Dolly, West Side Story and the reworked Gone With the Wind!). I had come out into the gay scene and gay life in and around Soho and the trendy Carnaby Street of 1966 when I was 20.My first gay sex came through buying a porn magazine in Soho, writing to the publisher, meeting him and his friends and being taken to a gay bar – The A & B, in Wardour Street  (later I learned it was more popularly known as the Arsehole and Buggery!). I volunteered and worked at the Homosexual Law Reform Society Office – the Albany Trust- at 32 Shaftesbury Avenue, where I met Anthony Grey and the early law reformers (Indeed, I did several small scale research studies with/for them).

My intellectual mentors at that time were limited. As an undergraduate I was taught by Stan Cohen, Roy Bailey, Jeanne Gregory, Adrienne Mead, Alf Holt, Tessa Blackstone, Rachel Parry and Jock Young- a lively group of renegades newly graduated from the LSE. I met Michael Schofield, a free lance researcher who had published three key texts on gay life during the 1950’s and 1960’s as well as a popular book of the time (1966) called The Sexual Behaviour of Young People. In 1968, I started my PhD with firstly David Downes and then primarily with Paul Rock, both of whom have recently retired from the LSE. I was on the edge of the National Deviancy Conference – which in the UK was the most radical group of sociological thinkers and activists at that time. Stan, Paul and Jock were my mentors and through them I was introduced to symbolic interactionism – especially in the work of Howard S.Becker, Erving Goffman, John Gagnon and Williams Simon, and Herbert Blumer (though his book Symbolic Interactionism was not published till 1969, when it made a huge and lasting impact on me).

Theatrically, this was the year of Hair, The Boys in the Band, and Hello Dolly. The Sound of Music topped the LP charts. It was the time of the Supremes, Motown, Simon and Garfunkel and Dusty Springfield. I never liked the Rolling Stones much but I did see the Beatles. I suppose I was fashion conscious, a bit of a trendy little mover with platform shoes, wide flairs, bright colours and  very long curly hair. I guess I was a political liberal; my mates in the academic world were all members of the leftist groups, and I aspired to be one of them- but secretly I had my doubts. Marxism became my intellectual ghost in the cupboard- I have spent most of my life in fact wanting to be a Marxist, and not quite being able to make it: intellectually, politically or emotionally! Being gay made me a young engaged person and I was definitely on the side of all the liberal causes of that time with a very strong left leaning…….

Extracted from 1968: Subterranean Traditions…. Paper presented to the BSA Social Theory conference on 1968.

 

Here first is the short story of my illness in its barest outline (written mainly in July 2007):

My illness lasted roughly three years. It started somewhere in 2004 though I denied it; there were many preliminary warnings from bowel problems to sudden sickness. In early 2005 I visited Santa Barbara, California with my partner Everard and become more and more ill. By early March I was hospitalised and diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. I stopped drinking immediately and totally. I spent much of the rest of the year off work and sorting the illness out back in the UK- undergoing a series of minor crises, getting myself established at King’s Hospital London, and following the pattern of ‘good days and bad days’.  Episodes got much worse, and in April 2006 I am hospitalised first locally in April and then at King’s where I undergo tests. I am put on ‘the transplant list’ in early May, and start the process of waiting. My condition is slowly deteriorating. I retire from work in September. In February 2007, the phone call comes and I am operated upon. After about four months of recovery, I start making a gradual return to ‘normal life’.  Over the summer I can resume most aspects of my working life –even though I have retired. One year on I seem to have lived a rich and rewarding year – writing, socialising, travelling and lecturing. But I will have to be on medication for the rest of my life and make regular visits to the hospital for check-ups.  This is a very small price to pay for having my life back………..”

Extracted from A Transplanted Life – notes on illness (A Work in progress)…….