Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

Crossing Bridges

The Gay Love Letters of Stanley Haggart to Harry Hay

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries, Edited by Rictor Norton

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.

Harry Hay (born 1912), father of the gay liberation movement and founder of the Mattachine Society, met the handsome interior decorator Stanley Mills Haggart in 1935, when the latter came backstage after a performance of Gogol's Clean Beds in which Harry played second lead, and Harry fell for him instantly, "with a chemistry the like of which had never happened before." But Stanley's formidable mother, who hung on to their position as the foremost family of Kansas even after moving to California, resented her son's friendship and did what she could to keep the men apart. After six months of growing strain, Stanley vanished, and was persuaded by his mother and brother to see a psychologist in an attempt to "cure" his homosexuality, and he succumbed to their urgings to get married. A year and a half after disappearing, Stanley, realizing his mistake, tried to salvage his real love. A short note to Harry ("Harry, you win. I have learned my lesson.") was followed by a letter written during his honeymoon, and then a flood of letters at the rate of nearly one a day, which Harry Hay's biographer calls "a testament to an ultimately tragic affair." The two men were eventually reunited in 1938, but Harry had become increasingly active in meetings of the Communist Party and the two men were politically incompatible. Hay "abandoned" Stanley, whose homely domestic ideals he regarded as unrealistic, and Stanley in due course made a new life-match.

Photograph of Harry Hay

Harry Hay


October 23, 1937

You know me well enough to know that I will go to any lengths if I feel I am right – if I feel I have something to do. A few weeks ago my latest effort was to marry Phyllis Ward. Does that shock you to know this – and that I am now crossing the Atlantic with her – married to her? My awakening has been horrible and the agony had been almost more than I can bear. To go back a bit, I got your letter 2 days before the ceremony. Your letter has struck deep down into the very depths of me – has cut through all pretenses . . . . To think it had to take a marriage with its wedding night experience to show me where my real affinity lies. Every cell in me screamed out in protest at my desecration of my body. At that time I knew that I belonged to you and you to me. . . . I need your help in straightening this mess out. And it is a mess – frightful. Phyllis loves me terribly and is such a fine girl. I told her yesterday of my feelings for you and she realizes from my behavior that a part of me which she had wanted for herself belonged to you. Our marriage was and is a perfect set-up . . . wrong in every way. The reason is that I belong with you, and you with me. Neither of us seems able to help it. Goodness knows I have done everything possible to keep us apart. Why? I don't know. But I'm trembling now over the thought of being with you soon.
          [Stanley explained that the marriage had been encouraged by a doctor in England who counselled the couple.] . . . He wanted to know whether I was homosexual through birth or if it was acquired. Phyllis (not her fault) made me decide that I could be ‘normal’ and he urged our marriage. Just because of this lack of truth, this mess has come about. [Stanley worried about his and Harry's prospects as a couple.] . . . I know the difficulties in our way if we go onwards together. I will have none of my present life to back me up – all will desert me. My life with you would have to be enough so that I would not care – would willingly abandon everything for you. But my darling I have that sweet certainty that if we were close enough together nothing else would count.


Sweetheart –
          I left [my brother] Lawrence yesterday and am halfway across Kansas – on my way to you. Society has already begun to collect its price for our love. I was forced to break with my brother and his wife and the hurt of it sends me to you with tears in my eyes. I'm crossing my bridges to you my beloved – and my eyes are steadily on you – my heart is with you.


Some of my thoughts today went into song – and lifted an untrained voice up to that level where one exists when inspired. For I love you, Harry. . . . I gasp with expectancy over the thoughts of our being together in a home – for ever. That's what I want. Every nook and cranny of the rooms will be inspired. The walls will burst and surge with the vibrations of our merging.

SOURCE: Excerpts from The Trouble with Harry Hay Founder of the Modern Gay Movement, by Stuart Timmons, copyright (C) 1990 by Stuart Timmons. Reprinted by permission of Alyson Publications, Inc.

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