Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
Articles and Excerpts:You're Not A Wave
Restrictions on how data is collected, especially regarding sex and sexual minorities, can have devastating effects on health care and social service provision.
In the late 70s, my colleague and nicknamesake Harvard-trained sociologist Toby Marotta wrangled a federal contract to study gay teenagers who'd been sexually-abused at home and/or rejected by their families and who'd subsequently fled to the big cities and were likely to be involved in prostitution. A gay official at the agency that oversaw shelters for runaway and homeless youth recognized that these youth were often selected out by the shelters and denied services (mainly because the federally-mandated priority of "family reunification" was unfeasible). So the kids the agencies proclaimed their greatest concern were routinely sent back to the streets.
The hustler study, with its goal of
creating a resource manual for youth-serving agencies, was funded
through URSA, a progressive, Black-owned, San Francisco-based
consulting firm; I was Marotta's assistant. One part of the URSA team
studied sexually-active girls; Toby and I studied boys--which meant
"gay hustlers" and "trade." We did ethnographic research, i.e., we
moved into hustler hotels in the Tenderloin District and later N.Y.C.'s
Times Square and made friends and confidants among the target
population, "interviewing" the kids informally (but then recording and
coding the data formally) and learning about their actual experiences.
We also talked with service providers and youth shelter staff in
numerous cities. Hired as openly-gay researchers, we talked with the
hustlers and the social workers with the matter-of-factness,
familiarity, and non-judgment about sexuality that gay men are so good
Over nearly three years and hundreds of conversations, we gathered important and useful information about the dynamics of the underworld of teenage prostitution. With URSA's expert guidance, we created the Report with Marotta's incisive model of sex-trade zones and the Resource Manual with advice about services and suggestions for policy decisions that would include these neediest youth instead of sending them away.
By the time the contract was finished and the various documents ready to be submitted to our federal employers, the Administration had changed. Carter lost and Reagan won. The priorities at the Dept. of Health and Human Services had changed. The feds, who'd paid tens of thousands of dollars for this research and its analysis, declined to accept the report. Margaret Heckler, Reagan's Secretary of H&HS, herself is said to have declared the findings unacceptable.
The government didn't like that we'd gathered facts about sexual activity (who did what to whom and how). The finding they singled out as unacceptable was our observation of the obvious: teenage boys who hustle adult homosexual men in gay neighborhoods and sex trade zones are generally themselves homosexual and seeking entry into gay life in the only way available to minors. Sex-positive and gay-positive counseling and services were called for to help them find more wholesome and less risky entries. Apparently the new Republican administration preferred the theory that gay hustlers were innocent straight boys lured into prostitution by wicked homosexual child molesters and what they needed was to be sent back home to their parents. (That, of course, substituted one-way bus tickets for shelters and social services.)
For several years URSA marketed the Report and the Resource Manual. Mack Friedman, author of the Lammy-nominated book on gay hustling, Strapped for Cash, knew of the URSA study. I wrote a book about my adventures (In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld). But all that carefully collected and analyzed data was sacrificed to squeamishness over actual sex.
It could have informed early
AIDS-prevention strategies with intelligent rationale. But neither the
CDC nor the NIH--nor, for that matter, early gay doctors and community
AIDS programs--were interested in Marotta's findings. It may be
exaggerating to claim Toby Marotta's simple observations could have
saved countless lives. But his, and our, experience of doing
gay-sensitive and sexually frank research demonstrates the point of
Kadour's article: if you don't ask intelligent questions, you can't
arrive at intelligent conclusions; and if you can't ask about sex, you
can't find out anything intelligent about sexually-related--which,
probably, means almost all human--behavior.
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000.
His newest book is GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe.