STEVEN F. DANSKY
THE GAY LIBERATION FRONT, THE EFFEMINISTS
Steven F. Dansky was an early member of the Gay Liberation Front, the pioneering gay activist group founded in the aftermath of the Stonewall Rebellion. During his time in The Gay Liberation Front, he is most remembered for his time with the Effeminists. The Effeminists were a consciousness-raising group that was more academic than a mass movement coalition recruiting for an anti-imperialist takedown. While they were separate from the Gay Liberation Front, they formed in response to the misogynistic views they alleged were present within the Gay Liberation Front. They challenged traditional notions of gender and masculinity and helped to pave the way for greater acceptance of LGBTQ individuals who did not conform to conventional gender roles. Before the Gay Liberation Front, gay homophile groups were separated by gender with little overlap. Men were in the Mattachine Society, and women were in the Daughters of Bilitis. While not all of the Effiminists’ postulates align with our modern understandings, the group laid the foundation for future academics to build on. Of course, Steven did not stop with the Effiminst. During the HIV/AIDS crisis, he was a professional volunteer with Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) and Body Positive. Currently, he serves as the Executive Director of Outspoken: Oral History from LGBTQ Pioneers and has interviewed more than one-hundred LGBTQ activists.
"The Effeminists Manifesto was written in 1973, and now we're in 2023. Anyone who takes on writing a manifesto better be aware that it's going to be a burden because manifestos are not just writing an email to a friend or posting something on Facebook and social media. A manifesto is declaring a position and declaring the importance of the position being taken. I don’t think I knew at the time that it was going to be alive for 50 years and that people would still be addressing it. This manifesto has followed me all my adult life. I was 27 when it was written.
Steven Dansky, self-portrait, 1979.
When you ask what the younger generation would think of it, I think they would be very puzzled because we took on issues that were not being addressed at all. Most importantly, the issue of gender. Gender was not even a term people even thought of as a political entity. When you think of the Gay Liberation Front, and certainly of the GAA, the Mattachine Society, and Daughters of Bilitis, they weren't talking about gender and formulations of gender.
So, the manifesto really took on something that hadn't been addressed previously. We made a lot of mistakes in how we looked at gender because there was no research into transgender identity. Nothing existed. The term didn't even exist. I knew Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera from Street Transvestites Activist Revolutionaries. Marsha never called me by my first name. I don't know why. She always called me Mr. Dansky. ‘Hello, Mr. Dansky.’ It was kind of odd. I think it was sort of mocking. I don't know why she said Mr. Maybe because she thought of me as having a masculine personality.
We thought in the manifesto and in feminism that we needed to question everything, whether it was cruising on the street, whether it was anonymous sex, whether it was formulations of gender, whether it was the male supremacy of the male left. We felt we needed to question everything, and in doing so, it was very controversial.
Later, I joined a practice that was only transgender, and that's when my views of transgender changed radically because I was faced with human beings trying to understand their gender identity, many of whom were transitioning. All of them were so different than any of the stereotypes that we've thought of years before about who transgender people were. I had been faced with their humanity and their struggle and how diverse they were. The transgender clients I had—my whole view shifted in terms of how I viewed transgender people. I had to do this on the side so I didn't forget.
I can't separate my political beliefs from people. I look at someone who's intellectually so compelling and who's audacious. I think I became more audacious as I grew older. I've had a very strong sense of mission in my purpose to be here on this planet. It may have motivated me in terms of being a caregiver and helping to raise my son Morgan and being a caregiver now for my husband, Barry Safran. If I don't do his home hemodialysis—thankfully, I'm not phobic about blood or needles because I'm handling blood and needles every day. When I monitor his treatment for three hours, five days a week, again, I have a very strong sense of purpose. What is my mission? My mission is to keep that man alive as much as I have the power to do that. My mission is to be a caretaker. True activism is caregiving, creativity, and love. That's activism, and that will make social change."