McDiarmid’s ‘America’ and gay liberation

In 1972, at the age of twenty, five years before his first visit to the United States, and before he identified himself publicly as an artist, McDiarmid wrote an essay for the Sydney Gay Liberation Newsletter, a journal that he, as an early member of Gay Liberation, had helped found, edit and illustrate. Entitled ‘Memoirs of an oppressed teenager’, the essay noted that it was the reading of American gay liberationist publications that had convinced him that embracing same-sex desire, rather than hiding it—regarded as a sensible self-protective option in early 1970s Melbourne—might help him open opportunities for personal and creative growth.[13] His friend and co-resident of New York, the Australian artist Sam Schönbaum, later recalled the Melbourne in which both men had grown up as ‘a closet of protestant mediocrity’.[14] Instead of the repressive tolerance that McDiarmid’s essay suggests he thought he might expect from his friends, family and the broader world, there was a world—and he saw it as America—in which a new kind of utopian gay male sociality, and the promise of an ecstatic sexuality, was there for exploration. In this, he was not alone. Mark Turner, writing about gay male street cruising in New York and London, states:

[T]here are many gay stories, but the story that touches my subject is the one about urban migration, the move of the marginalised from the country to the cities and capitals of America and Europe, many of which represented a New Gay Jerusalem or Mecca by the end of the twentieth century. San Francisco. New York. London. These cities had long established and thriving queer cultures and cultures of sexual dissidence, which have become the subject of academic and popular studies seeking to put gay urban history on the map.[15]

McDiarmid was part of this diasporic global movement of gay men into New York and other major American cities that accelerated from the late 1960s and early 1970s. These cities had their own gay male subcultural networks and underground maps of important locales that were a magnet for the oppressed and the daring until the beginning of the AIDS epidemic began to be felt in the early 1980s.

[13] McDiarmid, David 1972, ‘Memoirs of an oppressed teenager’, Sydney Gay Liberation Newsletter, vol. 1, no. 4, Sydney, (no page numbers).

[14] Sam Schönbaum, Typescript, in McDiarmid Estate Papers. State Library of New South Wales.

[15] Turner, Mark W. 2003, Backward Glances: Cruising the queer streets of New York and London, Reaktion Books, London, p. 44.