David Cornelius – Identity and Awareness

“That was the year of Stonewall.”

How do I identify myself? Well, that’s interesting. What would I list first?

I guess I’m an American male. I would probably always list academic first, as far as identity, because I end up spending my whole life in it, so that’s a very real part of my identity. But gay male is probably equal in priority, and a Democrat. [Laughs.] That’s on my mind because of the recent election, but I was raised a Democrat as well. Right now, an agnostic. I was raised a Southern Baptist, switched to the Episcopal Church, and then decided, “No, none of this is worth it.” That’s on my mind, because we’ve been having discussions with my friends lately who are all agnostics. But some go to church, and I’m trying to figure out why. So we’re talking about the importance of community in church. Anyway, I think being an agnostic is an important part of my identity—and that I’m a person who enjoys theater, opera, reading, and I like being comfortable. The closest ethnic identity was when I was younger: it was very important to be a Southerner and from Kentucky. There was a regional identity. But then, once I moved away, after I was 18, that all just completely disappeared. Of course, in the South I was white, and there was a very strong identity, but not one that I think of now.

I decided I was gay when I was in the Navy. . . . Actually, it was just a few months before I went in, and was a very interesting period. 1969 was when I went into the Navy, and that was the year of Stonewall in New York.[1] I went up to visit a friend in Chicago, who took me dancing to a gay bar. It was the first time I’d ever been to one, in 1969. They had just gone through the difficulty of having places in Chicago where men could dance with men because too often there were police coming in and arresting them. By 1969 they’d reach that point where you could [dance together]. I decided in 1969. Then I spent the time in the Navy.

[1]From follow-up correspondence: LH: What awareness did you have of Stonewall at the time? DC: The Stonewall event had an effect on the bars in Chicago, where I went to boot camp. Before the police would cause problems with same-sex dancing. After Stonewall, it was more accepted.

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Sources: Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 15 November 2012 and 6 May 2014; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman.