Born in 1947 in Savannah, Georgia, Perry Brass grew up in the 1950s and 60s in equal parts Southern, Jewish, economically impoverished, and very much gay. To escape the South’s violent homophobia, he hitchhiked at 17 from Savannah to San Francisco—an adventure, he recalls, that was “like Mark Twain with drag queens.” He has published 13 books and been a finalist six times in three categories (poetry; gay science fiction and fantasy; spirituality and religion) for national Lambda Literary Awards. One of the main themes in his writing has been the integration of sexuality and the religious or spiritual impulse, as exemplified in his novels Albert: or, The Book of Man, Angel Lust, and Substance of God. His writings have attempted to answer questions such as: Why are so many gay men religious and political conservatives? Why is the need for God so important to us? What is our own place in nature and the world?
Brass has been involved in the gay movement since 1969, when he co-edited the newspaper Come Out!, published by New York's Gay Liberation Front. His many essays and newspaper stories from this period became part of the literature of the post-Stonewall "liberation" era of the gay movement. Later, in 1972 with with two friends he started the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic, the first clinic for gay men on the East Coast, still surviving as New York’s Callen-Lourde Clinic.
During this period, Perry was involved in the publication of the celebrated lesbian/feminist and gay male issues of the Methodist motive magazine in 1972. As Perry recalls that experience:
"I became involved with the Gay Men’s Liberation issue of motive magazine through my friendship with Roy Eddey, the issue's editor. Roy, originally from New Jersey, had been living in Nashville, the headquarters of the Methodist Church, where he worked for motive as, I believe, a production assistant. A Methodist youth, he was also very involved with the peace movement, which at that time was known simply as “the Movement.” motive had started out as the Methodist “youth organ,” however as the Sixties youth culture became more synonymous with the Movement and emerging feminism, motive started to take a definite swing toward the “counter-culture,” then associated with the New Left. Every issue of motive had a theme, and the magazine’s almost fatalistic verge further Left, hit its midway point in its infamous “Women’s Liberation Issue” from early '71. As Roy recalled to me, the lead piece in this issue began: 'Here she is, Miss America. Take her off the stage and fuck her.' The magazine lost half its subscription base after this issue; and the elders of the church warned that if motive continued in this vein, its days were numbered.
"Roy, who had been somewhat out at motive, and who like many other young people decided that the Peace Movement was the issue of the period (like AIDS would be for a later generation) decided it was time for a change himself. In the summer of 1971, he left Nashville for New York, the home of the New York’s Gay Liberation Front, where Come Out!, the GLF newspaper, was being published out of my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. At this point, Roy had come from a real publishing background, and I had almost none. I’d actually become involved with Come Out! in 1969 because I was hungry to work on a publication where I could be openly gay: they really did not exist at this time. After several permutations of its “collective” staff, I became the paper’s leading coordinator. For the next several months, Roy continued to have a relationship with the feminist women who still worked on motive, while helping to staff Come Out! At one of our meetings he announced that motive’s funding from the church would allow it to bring out one final issue: a gay liberation one. Roy had pitched this idea, and the women on the staff, many of whom were lesbians, eagerly agreed. They also decided that the issue would appear in two separate parts: a lesbian issue and a gay male one. At that time, this was very much the way people thought--that women should control their own media--so there was no way of binding both editions into one. Roy very much believed in a commited Christian peace movement that authentically should embrace the gay, feminist, and lesbian movements; so he made me feel that my own work would be welcomed. I submitted several pieces and he accepted them.
"I remember him bringing a mock-up of the issue later to a meeting in my apartment. What saddened me was that this would be motive’s last issue; but what strikes me now about it is its range of voices, including John Preston, who later went on to fame writing gay erotica; Ken Pitchford, a leading “male feminist,” at the time married to Robin Morgan; members of Washington’s GLF, whom I did not know personally, but was in touch with through Come Out!; and the sheer, outrageously splendid radicalism of the voices (which I feel was lost in most gay media after that). But most wonderfully, there was Roy himself, who believed that motive’s mission, as an authentic religious voice, had to be to speak for those who could not be heard otherwise. In that, I feel he did a great job."
Among the early anthologies that included Brass's work were The Male Muse, the first anthology of openly gay poetry ever published, edited by Ian Young; The Gay Liberation Book from Rolling Stone Press, including work by John Lennon; The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse; and Gay Roots from Gay Sunshine Press. His work can be found in over 20 anthologies of poetry, short stories, essays, memoirs, and other writings. A poetry cycle called "Five Gay Jewish Prayers" was used as part of the high holiday service at New York's Beth Simchat Torah congregation. The text of this poem was accepted (in 1985) as one of the first gay Jewish documents in the YIVO Archives of Jewish history. This poem was set to choral music by Chris De Blasio, as "Five Prayers," which has been sung by several gay choruses.
In 1984, his play Night Chills, an early play dealing with the AIDS crisis, won a Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Award. Brass’s collaborations with composers include the words for "All the Way Through Evening," a five-song cycle set by DeBlasio, which was featured on the AIDS Quilt Songbook CD from Harmonia Mundi, France, and Heartbeats from Minnesota Public Radio; "The Angel Voices of Men" set by Ricky Ian Gordon and commissioned by the Dick Cable Musical Trust for the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, which has featured it on its CD Gay Century Songbook; "Three Brass Songs" with Grammy-nominated composer Fred Hersch; and "Waltzes for Men" also commissioned by the DCMT for the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus and set by Craig Carnahan.
Brass's non-fiction book, How to Survive Your Own Gay Life (Belhue Press, 1999) deals with the psychic and physical survival of gay men, with their spiritual and psychological growth, and with achieving happiness and maturity. It was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in religion and spirituality, and has been the basis for many LGBT discussion and support groups, classes, and workshops. In 2010, he published The Manly Art of Seduction. In 2015, he led a three-part series, entitled Celestial Body: BDSM, Underground Sexuality, and God, at the LGBT Community Center in New York.
(This biographical statement provided by Perry Brass. Photo by Jack Slomovitz.)
Biography Date: September, 2005