Friday, December 14, 2007

This Is My Story

I saw Word Is Out for the first time at the Varsity Theater in Palo Alto in autumn 1977. After two years on Capitol Hill I had returned to the Bay Area to (as I told myself) "give heterosexuality one more chance." (Surely I'm the only person in history to return to Northern California to go straight, but that's what happens when you grow up in the Kentucky hills: you get some weird ideas.) I wept through the last third of the film. After it was over I went back to the hippie communal house in which I was living and grabbed my best friend – Haney Armstrong – and said: You have to watch this, this is my story. And thus was precipitated Haney's introduction to Peter and his work.*

I wrote Peter's obituary for the Sunday SF Examiner and I remember one quotation from my interview with Peter. I knew he was dying, and I knew I would write his obituary, so I walked over to his house in Bernal Heights and sat down with him and said, "Peter, I'm going to write your obituary and I want you to tell me what you want me to say." As you know, Peter was the kind of rare bird with whom one could have such a conversation. And, being Peter, he warmed immediately to the task. "Why did you make Word Is Out?" I asked, and he responded with something to the effect of, "I set out to create and shape a gay and lesbian consciousness."

Of course the film was a collaborative effort, and Peter knew that as well as anyone. At the same time that he was never one for false modesty and he knew perfectly well that on one's deathbed one may legitimately claim a certain...generosity of memory. And there's enough truth in his statement that I kept it and used it in the obituary.

I am so very glad that you are bringing Word Is Out to the attention of a new generation, many of whom have never seen it or heard of it. It will serve them as well as it served us.

Best of luck, many bows to all of you,
Fenton Johnson,

*Editor's note: Haney Armstrong became Peter's business partner a few years later.