friend Arthur Evans died on September 11 in San Francisco, where had lived
since 1974. A year ago, recognizing that he was in failing health, Arthur
wisely composed his own obituary, which I reproduce below.
The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was the most vibrant and influential gay
organization to emerge in New York City from the turbulent period that followed
immediately after the Stonewall events in June of 1969,
A charismatic figure in those days, Arthur Evans was the last survivor of a
quartet of men who were most instrumental in founding and sustaining GAA. The
others were Arthur Bell, Evans’ lover, a journalist and author; Jim Owles; and
Marty Robinson. The last two are perhaps best described as community
organizers. Of the four, Arthur Evans particularly excelled in organizing
“zaps”--demonstrations in which he assembled groups of activists to confront
powerful homophobes in the media and public relations.
Arthur Evans and I got onto a wrong track when I wrote a negative review in Gay
Books Bulletin of his 1978 book “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.” Since
he lived in San Francisco and I in New York, we did not interact much. About
five years ago, though, the two of us struck up an Internet friendship. Arthur
was aggrieved, and rightly so, that the philosophy department at Columbia
University refused to grant him the Ph.D. even though he had written a
substantial monograph in the field, the last requirement for the honor (his
book “Critique of Patriarchal Reason”). Evans hoped that the degree
would allow him to assume a teaching position at a Bay Area College. This was
not to be. Arthur was a favorite student of Paul Oskar Kristeller--no mean
tribute since Kristeller was one of the great Renaissance scholars of the time.
Since I live near the university campus, I invited him to come and stay with
me. Together we would try to hold the university’s feet to the fire. For some
reason the plan fell through, and I now regret that I didn’t go to see Arthur
in his apartment in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
At all events he should be remembered now for his unwavering struggle and his
many accomplishments. Here is his own statement:
Arthur Evans: His life in his own words
“Arthur Evans was a gay activist, writer, and neighborhood activist who lived
at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco since 1974. In the
late 1960s and early 1970s, he played a pivotal role in the newly emergent gay
liberation movement in New York City.
A few weeks after the famous Stonewall Riot of June 1969 (which he missed),
Evans and his lover, Arthur Bell, joined The Gay Liberation Front (GLF),
a new group that proudly proclaimed itself to be gay, countercultural, and
Within GLF, Evans and others created a cell called The Radical Study Group
to examine the historical roots of sexism and homophobia. Many of the
participants later became published authors, including (besides Evans and Bell)
John Lauritsen, Larry Mitchell, and Steve Dansky.
A number of GLF members, including Evans, 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 and Marty Robinson, about
twelve people met in Arthur Bell's Manhattan apartment on December 21, 1969,
and founded The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). Evans wrote the group's statement
of purpose and much of its constitution.
Acting on the principle that the personal is the political, GAA held homophobes
who were in positions of authority personally accountable for the consequences
of their public policies.
Accordingly, Robinson, Evans, and Owles developed the tactic of ‘zaps.’ These
were militant (but non-violent) face-to-face confrontations with outspoken homophobes
in government, business, and the media. Evans was often arrested in such
actions, participating in disruptions of local business offices, political headquarters,
local TV shows, and the Metropolitan Opera.
In effect, GAA created a stunning new model of gay activism, highly theatrical
while also eminently practical and focused. It forced the media and the
political establishment to take gay concerns seriously as a struggle for
justice. Previously the media treated gay life as a peripheral freak show. It
also inspired gay people themselves to act unapologetically from a position of
gay pride. This new model of activism inspired other gay groups across the
county, eventually triggering revolutionary improvements in gay life that
continue to this day.
In November 1970, Robinson and Evans, along with Dick Leitsch of the Mattachine
Society, appeared on the Dick Cavett Show. They were among the first openly gay
activists to be prominently featured as guests on a national TV program.
It was a big change from Evans' earlier days in York, PA, where he was born on
October 12, 1942. His father worked most of his life on assembly-lines, the
last in a chain factory. His mother ran a small beauty shop out of a front room
in the family house.
When Evans graduated from public high school in 1960, he received a four-year
scholarship from the Glatfelter Paper Company in York County to study chemistry
at Brown University in Providence, RI. 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 group 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 in 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 elderly
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.
Although obstreperous politically, Evans remained closeted sexually and very
lonely, not knowing any other gay person. Throughout both high school and
college, he often thought of
suicide. In 1963, after completing three years at Brown, he read an article in
a national magazine reporting that many ‘homosexuals’ lived in Greenwich
Village in New York City. He promptly withdrew from Brown and moved to the
Village, a change that he later described it as the best move he ever made in
In 1963 Evans discovered gay life in Greenwich Village and in 1964 became
lovers with Arthur Bell (later a columnist for the Village Voice). In
1966 he was admitted to City College of New York, which accepted all his
credits from Brown University. 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 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, specializing
in ancient Greek philosophy. His doctoral advisor was Paul Oskar Kristeller,
then the world's leading authority on Renaissance humanist philosophy.
Kristeller had studied under Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger in Germany but fled
to Columbia University after his parents were killed in the Holocaust.
Evans 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 Robert A. Martin], although he was still
In 1971 Evans and Bell, by then a columnist for the Village Voice, separated.
Bell later died from diabetic complications in 1984.
By the end of 1971, Evans had become alienated from urban life and the academic
world. 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. They bought a 40-acre spread of
forest land on a remote mountain in northeastern Washington State, which they
named New Sodom. Evans and Schraeter lived there in tents during
During 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 its sex. In 1973 he began publishing some of his
findings in a gay journal called Out and later in Fag Rag. He
also wrote a column on the political strategy of zapping for the Advocate,
a national gay newspaper.
In 1974, Evans and Schraeter moved into an apartment at the corner of Haight
and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco, from which Evans never moved. Schraeter
returned to New York in 1981 and died from AIDS in 1989.
In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new pagan-inspired spiritual group in
San Francisco, the Faery Circle. It combined countercultural
consciousness, gay sensibility, and ceremonial
In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures, entitled ‘Faeries,’ on his
research on the historical origins of the gay counterculture. In 1978 he
published this material in his
ground-breaking book ‘Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.’ It demonstrated
that many of the people accused of ‘witchcraft’ and ‘heresy’ in the Middle Ages
and Renaissance were actually persecuted because of their sexuality and
adherence to ancient pagan practices.
At this time, Evans also was active in Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL)
and the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club, which later became the
vehicle through which Harvey Milk rose to political prominence. He and his
friend Hal Offen opened a small Volkswagen-repair business, which they named ‘The
In the late 1970s, Evans became upset at the pattern of butch conformity that
was then overtaking gay men in the Castro. Adopting the nom de plume of ‘The
Red Queen’, he distributed a series of controversial satirical leaflets on the
subject. In a leaflet of 1978, entitled ‘Afraid You're Not Butch Enough?’
he facetiously referred to the new, butch-conforming men of the Castro as
clones, initiating use of the now widely used term
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. The hero of Euripides' play is the Greek god Dionysos, the
patron of homosexuality. In 1988, this
translation, together with Evans' commentary on the historical significance of
the play, was published by St. Martin's Press in New York under the name of The
God of Ecstasy.
As AIDS began to spread in 1980s, Evans became active in several San Francisco
groups that later morphed into ACT UP/SF, although he himself was
HIV-negative. With his good friend, the late Hank Wilson, 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 1988, Evans began work on a nine-year project on philosophy.Thanks to a
grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, it was published in 1997 as ‘Critique
of Patriarchal Reason’ and included artwork by San Francisco artist Frank
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 adviser at Columbia University, Paul Oskar Kristeller,
called the work ‘a major contribution to the study of philosophy and its history.’
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?’ “
of Patriarchal Reason”
the 1970s many embraced the idea that “everything is political.” This statement
is clearly too categorical, though there may be something to be said for the
notion that many things are either tinged with politics, or are capable of such
A particular application of this notion is the idea that mathematics and formal
logic, at least as we have known them in the West, are instruments of male
supremacy. This is the central thesis of the magnum opus of the late Arthur
Evans, “Critique of Patriarchal Reason” (1997).
Evans, who did graduate work in philosophy at Columbia University, seeks to
trace the evolution of what he terms “the Parmenidean myth” from the fifth
century BCE to the present. The sole surviving writing of Parmenides is a
poem,,“On Nature.” There the Pre-Socratic thinker sets forth two views
of reality. In "the way of truth" section of the work, he
argues that reality (described as "what-is") is unitary, change is
impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, necessary, and unchanging. In
the contrasting "way of opinion," he explains the world of
appearances, in which one's sensory faculties lead to conceptions that are
false and deceitful.
Evans pays little heed to Parmenides’ eccentric, counterintuitive view that
change cannot occur. Yet he is much taken with the implications of the binary
contrast, a principle that he calls “bivalance.” This point recalls
Jacques Derrida’s postmodernist denunciations of binarism. Evans does not mention
Derrida, but it seems that the idea was in the air at the time Evans conceived
To the principle of bivalence, Evans adds to the purported Parmenidean heritage
“the universal force of logical necessity” and “the inherent
superiority of an impersonal static model of lnoledge and reality” (p. 94).
Reverberating down the centuries, as seen in such figures as Leibniz, Frege,
and Bertrand Russell, this malign triad has served as the preeminent support of
male supremacy. Why should this be so? Surely it cannot simply be that “the
Parmenidean myth” has been mainly espoused by men. This would be a rather
transparent instance of guilt by association, one that would backfire since
Evans is a man. If the adoption of a view by a man or men is sufficient to
taint it, then the “Critique of Patriarchal Reason” must be rejected,
together with the writings of all those other Western Civ icons.
Evans offers a familiar argument to the effect that absolute objectivity is
rarely, if ever achieved. Just so, but we can strive to reduce the subjective
element in accordance with striving for truth--something that does actually
exist. Much of this subjectivity derives, to be sure, from one's gender,
nationality, and social status. In this sense, all knowledge is situated
Evans points out, persuasively in my view, that the homosexuality of Ludwig
Wittgenstein affected his approach to philosophical problems. By contrast his
mentor, Bertrand Russell, thought that homosexuality was the result of bad
parenting, and was dismayed when his gay son John came out to him. How did
Russell's orientation affect his views? Evans fails to explore this
possibility. He is, however, admirably clear about the way the Wittgenstein
establishment, fearing that the truth about the Austrian thinker's sexual
orientation would damage his standing as a philosopher, attempted to squelch
any discussion of the matter.
Evans seems particularly troubled by the either-or aspect of the principle of
bivalence. It has, he believes, inflicted on us such pairs as male vs. female
and heterosexual vs. homosexual. In these contrasts one pole tends to be viewed
as superior to the other. However, if patriarchy is as pervasive as Evans
believes, surely it is wily enough to survive without such props, It can find
Moreover, a moment's reflection will show that even in ordinary thinking we are
not hobbled by any such absolute principle of bivalence. Consider the binary
“hot” vs. “cold.” Every sensible person recognizes that there is a spectrum of
such thermic states: ice cold is different from cool and warm is not the same
Still Evans labors on. He thinks that we will be able to shed the sexist
shackles of Parmenideanism if we adopt something he calls "gradient
logic." This approach (sometimes unfortunately termed Fuzzy Logic)
permits one to detect more than two points in a continuum. Yet this ploy has
always been available, even to those who have not benefited from a college
education, as the sequence cold-cool-warm-hot demonstrates.
Arthur Evans says that it took him nine years to write the book. Since it was
published in 1996, the inception would go back to 1987, an interesting point in
Let us turn first to the feminist writer Sandra Harding’s “The Science
Question in Feminism” (1986). In the following passage she begins with an
interesting observation on a type of metaphor that occurs in some authors of
the early modern period. But then she takes us on a wild ride.
“One phenomenon feminist historians have focused on is the rape and torture
metaphors in the writings of Sir Francis Bacon and others (e.g. Machiavelli)
enthusiastic about the new scientific method. Traditional historians and
philosophers have said that these metaphors are irrelevant to the real meanings
and referents of scientific concepts held by those who used them and by the
public for whom they wrote. But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine,
they have quite a different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides
the interpretations of Newton's mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to
fruitful ways to apply his theory and suggests the appropriate methods of
inquiry and the kind of metaphysics the new theory supports. But if we are to
believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the
explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender
metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that
understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was
equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature
and inquiry. Presumably these metaphors, too, had fruitful pragmatic,
methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science. In that case, why is
it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton's laws as "Newton's
rape manual" as it is to call them "Newton's mechanics"?”
Another example comes from the Belgian Francophone writer Luce Irigaray (“Parler
n’est jamais neutre”, 1985).
“Is E=mc2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the
hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other
speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the
possible sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear
weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest.”
Now that a quarter of century has passed, these effusions have come to seem
quaint. Lengthy as it is (376 double-column pages), Evans' argument emerges as
simply a gay-liberation counterpart of these extravagant feminist indictments.
POSTSCRIPT. In fairness I should note that, for a philosophy book, Evans'
"Critique" is quite well written. It also contains useful
analyses of the achievements of such figures as Gottlob Frege, Willard Van
Orman Quine, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Dare one call them seminal? Oh, well.