Arthur Evans was born in York, Pennsylvania, on October 12, 1942. His father was a Scottish immigrant of Welsh descent. After dropping out of elementary school, the father worked most of his life on assembly-lines, the last in a chain factory. His mother, who had a high-school education, ran a small beauty shop out of a front room in the family house. The father was a violent alcoholic who routinely battered both wife and children, and smashed household furnishings. Evans' brother, Joseph, eight years older, worked as a salesman in Michigan.
Evans graduated high school in 1960, receiving a four-year scholarship from the Glatfelter Paper Company in York County to study chemistry at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. While at Brown, Evans and several friends founded the Brown Freethinkers Society, describing themselves as "militant atheists" seeking to combat the harmful effects of organized religion. The Freethinkers picketed the weekly chapel convocation at Brown, then required of all students (even though Brown is a secular institution), and urged students to stand in silent protest during the compulsory prayer. National wire services picked up the story, which appeared on the front page of a local York newspaper. As a result, the Glatfelter Paper Company informed Evans that his scholarship would be canceled. For help, Evans turned to Joseph Lewis, the octogenarian millionaire who headed the national Freethinkers Society. Lewis threatened the paper company with a highly publicized lawsuit if the scholarship were revoked. The company relented, the scholarship continued, and Evans changed his major from chemistry to political science. During a summer recess from Brown, Evans participated in his first political demonstration, a Black civil-rights march at the York County Courthouse.
Although obstreperous politically, Evans remained closeted sexually. Realizing from about the age of ten that he was gay, he felt depressed and isolated for more than a decade thereafter, not knowing any other person who was gay. Throughout both high school and college, he often thought of suicide. In 1963, after completing three lonely years at Brown, he read an article in Life magazine reporting that many "homosexuals" lived in Greenwich Village in New York City. The article prompted him to withdrew from the homophobic environment at Brown and move to the Village. He described it as the best move he ever made in his life.
In 1963 Evans discovered gay life in Greenwich Village, and in 1964 became lovers with Arthur Bell (later to become a columnist for the Village Voice). In 1966 Evans was admitted to City College of New York, which accepted all his credits from Brown University. He changed his major from political science to philosophy and became active in the anti-war movement. He participated in his first sit-in on May 13, 1966, when a group of students occupied the administration building of City College in protest against the college's involvement in the Selective Service System. (A group picture of the students, including Evans, appeared the next day on the front page of The New York Times.)
In 1967, after graduating with a B.A. degree from City College, Evans was admitted into the doctoral program in philosophy at Columbia University, where he specialized in ancient Greek philosophy. He participated in many anti-war protests during these years, including the celebrated upheaval at Columbia in the spring of 1968. In the same year he also participated in the protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. During this time, the poetry of Allen Ginsberg had a powerful influence on the formation of his values.
While at Columbia, Evans joined the Student Homophile League, founded by Nino Romano, although he was still fairly closeted. In late June of 1969, patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall unexpectedly launched a three-day street riot in response to a routine police raid, an event that marked the beginning of the modern phase of the gay liberation movement. Evans was not present at the Stonewall Riot, but some weeks later, he and his lover, Arthur Bell, joined the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), a newly-formed group that proudly proclaimed itself to be gay, countercultural, and revolutionary. Within GLF, Evans and some friends created a cell called the Radical Study Group to examine the historical roots of sexism and homophobia (however, the word "homophobia" itself was coined later, in 1972, by George Weinberg). Many of the participants in the Radical Study Group became published authors.
A number of GLF members soon became dissatisfied with the organization, complaining that it lacked a coherent, ongoing program of street activism. At the suggestion of GLF member Jim Owles, about twelve people met in Arthur Bell's Manhattan apartment on December 21, 1969, and founded The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). Besides Jim Owles, the principal architects of the new group's structure were Marty Robinson, Arthur Bell, and Evans (who wrote the statement of purposes and much of the constitution). Of the four, all but Evans are now dead. GAA, inspired by Marty Robinson's personal examples, spearheaded the practice of "zaps" in gay politics. (Zaps are militant, but non-violent, face-to-face confrontations with homophobic persons in positions of authority.) Evans was often arrested in such actions, participating in disruptions of local business offices, political headquarters, local TV shows, and the Metropolitan Opera.
In November 1970, Marty Robinson and Evans appeared as guests on the Dick Cavett Show, the first militant gay activists ever to appear on national television. Ironically, although frequently facing down police, Evans had not yet come out to his parents. Having been informed ahead of time by Evans that he would appear on the Cavett show (but not told why), his parents called all their neighbors and friends, encouraging them to watch the show. Evans later regretted his handling of the matter.
In 1971 Evans and his lover Arthur Bell, by then a columnist for the Village Voice, separated on bitter terms. During the trauma of their break-up, Bell wrote a critical account of GAA, including a personal attack on one "Paul Cliffman," a pseudonym for Evans (Dancing the Gay Lib Blues, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1971). Evans conceded that he had been self-centered and inconsiderate, but not dishonest and manipulative, as Bell contended. Despite the rancor of the break-up, Evans and Bell were later reconciled as friends. Bell, regretting the harshness of his earlier attack on Evans, dedicated his second book to him (Kings Don't Mean a Thing, William Morrow & Company, New York, 1978). Bell died from diabetic complications in 1984.
By the end of 1971, Evans had become increasingly alienated with urban life in general and the academic world in particular. In addition, he had also lost two successive election bids for president of GAA. In early 1972, he withdrew from Columbia after finishing all requirements for the Ph.D. degree in philosophy except for the dissertation. With a second lover, Jacob Schraeter, he left New York in April 1972 to seek a new, countercultural existence in the countryside. Using Seattle as a base, Evans, Schraeter, and a third gay man formed a group called the Weird Sisters Partnership, and began homesteading a small patch of forest land on a remote mountain in northeastern Washington State, a site they named New Sodom.
During the winter months in Seattle, Evans continued research that he had begun in New York on the underlying historical origins of the counterculture, particularly in regard to sex. In 1973 he began publishing some of his findings in a new New York gay journal called Out, edited by the late Ernest Cohen. (Later, after Out folded, the series was continued by Fag Rag, a radical underground gay paper.) During this period, Evans also wrote numerous pieces on the political strategy of zapping, for the Advocate, a national gay newspaper.
In 1974, Evans and Schraeter, unsuccessful in their efforts to make a permanent settlement at New Sodom, moved to San Francisco, where Evans lived the rest of his life. (Schraeter returned to New York in 1981, and died from AIDS in 1989.) In the following years, Evans had three lovers, Donald Hershman (still alive), José-Luis Moscovich (still alive), and Billy Amberg (who died of AIDS in 1992).
In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new San Francisco group, the Faery Circle. It combined neo-pagan consciousness, gay sensibility, and ritual play. In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures, entitled "Faeries," based on his research on the historical origins of the gay counterculture. These endeavors helped generate what is now known as "the Radical Faeries." Evans was also active in the early stages of Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL-San Francisco's belated version of GLF and GAA) and the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club (which later became the vehicle through which Harvey Milk was elected as San Francisco's first openly gay office-holder). In the same period, Evans and his friend Hal Offen opened a small Volkswagen-repair business, which they named "the Buggery."
In 1978 Evans published (through Fag Rag Books) his Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. The book is an exposé of the role of homophobia in the European witch hunts. In the late 70s, Evans adopted the nom de plume of "the Red Queen," distributing a series of highly controversial street leaflets in San Francisco's gay Castro District. The leaflets satirized what Evans regarded as butch conformity and the spread of bourgeois values among gay men. In his first leaflet, entitled "Afraid You're Not Butch Enough?," Evans facetiously referred to the new, butch-conforming men of the gay ghetto as clones, occasioning use of the later widely-used term "Castro clones."
In 1984 Evans directed a production at the Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco of his own new translation, from the ancient Greek, of Euripides' play Bakkhai, dealing with the Greek god Dionysos. In 1988, this translation, together with Evans' commentary on the historical significance of the play for gay people and women, was published by St. Martin's Press in New York under the name of The God of Ecstasy.
In 1986 Evans was re-admitted by the Philosophy Department of Columbia University for the purpose of completing his Ph.D. degree, but was unable to find any member of the faculty who would sponsor a dissertation having a gay perspective. As a result, he decided not to pursue the degree, working instead on a trilogy of his own which propounds a new gay philosophy of life. The trilogy's first volume, Critique of Patriarchal Reason, was published in July 1997 by White Crane Press, supported by a grant from the San Francisco Art Commission. The book is a monumental overview of Western philosophy from antiquity to the present. It shows how misogyny and homophobia have influenced the supposedly objective fields of formal logic, higher mathematics, and physical science. Evans' former doctoral advisor at Columbia University, Paul Oskar Kristeller, called the work "a major contribution to the study of philosophy and its history."
Although HIV-negative, Evans was active in AIDS politics in San Francisco. (He lost over 100 friends and acquaintances to the disease.) He was arrested twice while demonstrating against the drug-maker Burroughs-Wellcome, accusing them of price-gouging, and once against a local TV station, charging them with defamation of people with AIDS.
In recent years, Evans devoted much time to improving neighborhood safety in the Haight-Ashbury district. As part of that effort, he penned a series of scathing and funny first-hand reports entitled "What I Saw at the Supes Today," which he distributed free on the Internet. The reports recount many acts and comments of the city's Supervisors, often of an embarrassing nature, which the established media missed. The politicians were not amused, as when Evans caught Jake McGoldrick and Chris Daly each snarling "Kiss my ass!" at each other in front of the press box in the board's ornate chamber. Altogether, the reports run to over a thousand pages in length and provide a provocative look at the inner workings of local politics at the time.
In 2010, Evans was instrumental in helping pass Proposition L, the civil-sidewalks law. In addition to writing his own reports on the matter, he worked behind the scenes to get favorable coverage in various newspapers and on TV. His support for the measure provoked intense criticism from many of the city's self-styled progressives. To which, he replied: "Neighborhood safety is a progressive issue. How can we make the world a better place if we neglect improving our own neighborhoods?"
Evans died of a heart attack on September 11, 2011, at his home in San Francisco, after he had been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm in October, 2010.
(Most of this biographical sketch was written by Arthur Evans in 1997 to accompany the publication of Critique of Patriarchal Reason and published on the web site: www.webcastro.com. More recent biographical information was taken from an obituary which Evans wrote in 2010 in anticipation of his death.)
Biography Date: September, 2011
“I have a clear memory that in the two years I was active in the New York Gay Activists Alliance (1970 – 1972 when Howard Wells dragged me out of it) Arthur ran for president twice and was defeated twice by Jim Owles. With Marty Robinson, Arthur was one of our two predominant media GAA faces and was ubiquitous at all the famous GAA zaps and all the cutting-edge stuff that they did. And in addition he wanted to be the GAA president, but the members wouldn’t elect him.
And the reasoning as I heard it back then was that Arthur was “just too extreme.” And I go beyond that myself to say that there was an element of divine madness in his public performances. In a way, his ferocity was a great thing for us, but in another way he sometimes seemed mentally unbalanced. And the GAA members preferred the calm and sober and uncharismatic Jim Owles as president even while they/we were happy to follow Arthur and Marty around doing public zaps. And then Bruce Voeller and Jean O’Leary led a schism from GAA to the National Task Force and firmly rejected the unruly activist mode of performance.
Which leads us to the god Dionysius and Arthur’s affinity for him. In the 1980s after I came to San Francisco I read several books by Jungian Christians, particularly a book on Dionysius by Robert Johnson, then an Episcopal priest and Jungian therapist in San Diego. You can’t read that book and Arthur’s book about Dionysius and whatever else you can lay your hands on about that scary Greek deity and not be impressed with how appropriate an interpreter -- and maybe even priest of Dionysius -- Arthur himself was.
Since 1988 I have been living at Hayes Street & Ashbury, four blocks north and on the other side of the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, a neighborhood that is safely out of the Haight proper, but I have been buying produce and groceries in those years at a market actually on Haight Street and plowing through the global tourist and druggie crowds as they flash their cameras and post at the street corner. And I have been grateful all that time that I lived where I did, and I do actually understand why Arthur’s location really drove him over the edge – an edge to which, like a good Dionysian, he was clinging with some insecurity.
If you read books about the god Dionysius, you will read that he is the Greek god of wine and madness and his followers, the Bacchae, are crazy ladies who can sometimes eat people alive. Arthur’s curse, if you will, was that as a good Dionysian he landed an apartment at Ground Zero of Dionysiandom in the City of St. Francis, the world-famous home of drugs and sex and madness. And then he couldn’t afford to move away!!! So in his rants in letters to the editor Arthur was raging against the shadow side of the religion of which he himself was interpreter and maybe even priest! The god Dionysius is a powerful and terrible god who drives his followers insane. I fear that Arthur got his divine wish to live at Ground Zero of where all that happens and he himself was drawn to live out the myth.
In all the time I was acquainted with Arthur, both when we were young and in the 20+ years we were kind-of neighbors on the 33 Stanyan bus, I never knew Arthur to hold down a job. In New York he was a Ph.D. student for a degree he never finished and here [San Francisco] he mysteriously survived without visible means of support. For a long time after I came here I assumed he must be a trust fund baby given his attitudes toward the homeless poor. But the parental situation described in the obituary doesn’t sound like that, nor is there mention in later years of his financial patron when young. Which raises the possibility at least to me that maybe he was living on SSI disability – something that if true, he would never have wanted to admit publicly. And I mean SSI disability due to mental illness.
You may think I have gone WAY OVERBOARD mythologizing this situation, but I assure you Arthur was very much part of my own education about his deity, the city of St. Francis and its role in American LGBT life and I regard the avatar Arthur with fondness, fear and awe. When I met him in New York he was a graduate student at Columbia working on a Ph.D. degree on the theology of the theologian Dionysius the Pseudo -Areopagite. But he never finished it, because along the way he met the real Dionysius!”
– as remembered by Roy Birchard on December 2011
As a person with whom Arthur was at periods virtually obsessed (the police had to forcibly remove him from my retirement celebration from MCC San Francisco) I tried to make this statement a thoughtful, judicious summary of his life and politics. I truly believe he was gifted, as I said, and I also believe he was truly clinically and seriously mentally ill, which I did not say. But I think many people share this assessment. Is this appropriate for a tribute? By no means. But if this archive wants to be seen as a potentially credible source for historical research, I think to overlook it is a disservice.”
– as remembered by Jim Mitulski on December 2011