We at Beatdom would like to congratulate the people of the United States on an event of monumental importance. Today, the Supreme Court voted to make same-sex marriage a right across all states. It is truly a time for celebration. The Beat Generation was, of course, a movement concerned with love and acceptance, and as such I’m sure our readers will be delighted at this news.
Many of you will know that Allen Ginsberg, who campaigned hard to bring gay rights to public attention, was “married” to Peter Orlovsky – his lover of about forty years. Of course, back 1955 gay marriage was not only illegal, but almost unimaginable in the public consciousness. Yet in February, 1955, at Forster’s Cafeteria in San Francisco, they took an informal set of marriage vows and considered themselves married until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.
The key thing was when we decided on the terms of our marriage—I think it was in Foster’s cafeteria downtown about three in the morning. We were sitting and talking about each other, with each other, trying to figure out what we were going to do, who we were to each other, and what we wanted out of each other, how much I loved him, and how much did he love me. We arrived at what we both really desired.
We made a vow to each other that he could own me, my mind and everything I knew, and my body, and I could own him and all he knew and all his body; and that we would give each other ourselves, so that we possessed each other as property, to do everything we wanted to, sexually or intellectually, and in a sense explore each other until we reached the mystical “X” together, emerging two merged souls. We had the understanding that when our (my particularly) erotic desire was ultimately satisfied by being satiated (rather than being denied), there would be a lessening of desire, grasp. holding on, craving and attachment; and that ultimately we would both be delivered free in heaven together. And so the vow was that neither of us would go into heaven unless we could get the other one in—like a mutual Bodhisattva’s vow.
So we held hands, took a vow: I do, I do, you promise? yes, I do. At that instant we looked in each other’s eyes and there was a kind of celestial fire that crept over us and blazed up and illuminated the entire cafeteria and made it an eternal place.
I found somebody who’d accept my devotion, and he found somebody who’d accept his devotion and who was devoted to him. It was really a fulfillment of fantasy, to a point where fantasy and reality finally merged. Desire illuminated the room, because it was a fulfillment of all my fantasies since I was nine, when I began to have erotic love fantasies. And tht vow has stuck as the primary core of our relationship. That’s the mutual consciousness; it’s the celestial social contact, valid because it was an expression of the desire of that time, and it was workable. It’s really the basic human relationship—you give yourself to each other, help each other and don’t go to heaven without each other.
In the early 1960s Ginsberg listed Orlovsky as his “wife” in Who’s Who. This prompted his father to write to Ginsberg, in 1963, “What the hell is the mention of Orlovsky in [Who’s Who]?” Ginsberg replied:
“M means married Orlovsky why not? They never had nothin like that in Who’s Who it’ll set a nice precedent. World’s overpopulated anyway.”
If Ginsberg’s response seems rather flippant, it does not reflect a lack of belief in his marriage. He was truly in love with Orlovsky and, regardless of ups and downs along the way, remained that way until his death. His casual attitude, I think, reflects the huge statement that he had made. He had indeed “set a nice precedent,” because sixty years and four months after his marriage – the first gay marriage most Americans had ever heard of – the wave of freedom that he’d set in motion finally washed across the whole of America.
This essay originally appeared in Beatdom #17: “We are in the middl...
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Photo courtesy of Michael Hendrick