Walter L. Williams
Walter Lee Williams (born November 3, 1948) is an American former professor of anthropology, history, and gender studies at the University of Southern California (USC) until his retirement in 2011. With MAP ally Jim Kepner, he oversaw the merger of the International Gay and Lesbian Archives and the ONE, Inc. library holdings to form the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC, the largest repository of LGBT materials in America and one of the largest in the world. Alongside Gayle Rubin, he is one of the pioneers in the field of queer studies, and has been conferred awards for his many years in human rights activism.
Williams lived in Mexico on a retirement visa from 2011 to 2013, where he continued his earlier research among the Mayan Indians. However, in 2013, after being accused of engaging in sexual acts with two underage males in the Philippines via webcam many years before, Williams became the 500th person added to the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. At the time of his warrant, the reward value for his arrest was up to US$100,000. He was arrested the following day in a public park in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and extradited to Los Angeles, California for prosecution. In 2014, Williams pleaded guilty to illicit sexual contact with males aged 14 to 16 in the Philippines, and was sentenced to five years in prison.
He was a personal friend to many now deceased early gay liberation founders, including Dorr Legg and Frank Kameny, some of whom are well-known MAP allies / sympathetic individuals: Harry Hay, Jim Kepner and Prof. Vern Bullough whom Williams wrote an obituary for. Many of Williams' publications discuss institutionalized man-boy sex in non-western societies, including his most famous, multiple award-winning book, The Spirit and the Flesh (1986).
The Spirit and the Flesh (1986)
In his fourth, most famous and influential book, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture (1986), Williams came out as gay. Because Williams spoke openly about having sex with some of the informants of his research, arguing that this allowed him privileged access to otherwise hidden and stigmatized same-sex practices and communities, the book led to controversy at his university and he was fired. This book was the first complete study of the berdache, a term for androgynous and gender-variant people among the American Indians. After his firing, the book won the 1987 Gay Book of the Year Award from the American Library Association, the 1986 Ruth Benedict Award from the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists, and the Award for Outstanding Scholarship from the American Foundation for Gender and Genital Medicine and Science, presented at the 1987 World Congress for Sexology. After winning these prestigious awards, Williams was re-instated as a professor and promoted.
The book includes "Intergenerational relationships between men and boys" in the index, with mentions spanning pages 99-266. In chapter 12, Social Constructions / Essential Characters: A Cross-Cultural Viewpoint, Williams integrates research on non-western practices of male gender variance and societies where (often younger) males take on a feminine role as a typically domestic subject and passive sexual partner, or "boy wife". He summarizes Gilbert Herdt's research on Melanesia, New Guinea, Evans-Pritchard and other's research on Azande Boy-Wives, man-boy sex in medieval Japan among the samurai and their students, and the Mamluks in Middle Eastern history and pederasty in ancient Greece. On Azande Boy-Wives, Williams wrote:
Though other societies did not institutionalize man-boy sex to the same degree as in New Guinea, there was (and still is, in some cases) a strong man-boy sexual tradition in many cultures. Among some Australian aboriginals it was not unusual for an unmarried man to take a prepubescent boy as a "wife," with the boy fulfilling this social and sexual role until after reaching puberty. Likewise, among the Azande of East Africa a young adult warrior was expected to take a boy as a "temporary wife" before later marrying a woman. He even went through the formality of paying a bride-price to the boy's family, while the boy did domestic duties for the warrior. After reaching age twenty the boy-wife would himself take a younger boy as a sexual and affectional partner, and he would fulfill the warrior role himself. Such a practice was the major means by which boys were socialized to their later warrior role. It likely also insured a smoother heterosexual marriage later on, after the male had played both sides in the husband-wife routine.
Even for the married Azande men, boys were sometimes brought into the family as pages, to be available sexually, especially during those times (such as preparing to consult oracles) when heterosexual activity was forbidden. Though the culture set the rule of boys as only auxiliary partners for married men, a variation of individual preferences has been noted by an anthropologist who recognized that some men paid more attention to their boy partner than to their female wife.
(1992 2nd edn., p. 264)
The hypocrisy of Victoria Brownworth
After his arrest, one of Williams' most prominent critics is self-identified feminist Victoria Brownworth. Historian Amanda H. Littauer, however, has noted how Brownworth had been a lesbian mentor to an at-the-time minor by the name of Kate Day (summarized in our testimonials page). In an example of Intergenerational Lesbianism, Kate Day met the adult Brownworth when she was 15 or 16 years old. Littauer (2020, p. 103) wrote:
She first met radical feminist Victoria Brownworth when she was fifteen or sixteen, after Brownworth put up flyers at Girls’ High saying that she wanted to speak with high school feminists. Day called the number on the flyer and ended up taking the train downtown to be interviewed at Brownworth’s apartment, where she met other adult lesbians, including Brownworth’s lover. The couple began showing her the bars, helping her act tough enough to get in, and helping her learn the etiquette of working-class lesbian Philadelphia. Like Vazquez, Day said that the adults told her she was “jailbait” and that they had to be careful, but they mentored her anyway, including, ultimately, one time, in bed. They had a cot for the teen to sleep on during nights when she snuck out of her family home and joined them at the bar or house parties, and one night Brownworth’s butch lover came out of the bedroom saying that they were thinking that Kate might want to “learn the ropes” in bed. During my interview with Day, she responded to my raised eyebrows by confirming that there was, indeed, “no need to twist my arm.” She was definitely game. She had experimented sexually with peers in the past, but she welcomed the opportunity for sexual mentorship from an adult, butch lesbian. She said:
- "It was clear that it was their — both their idea"
Opponents of age-gap relationships would nowadays deem Brownworth guilty of "grooming" a minor. If this is indeed true, Brownworth is thus another example of hypocrisy among anti-MAPs who have themselves engaged in something they claim to condemn.
As a teenager in Atlanta in the 1960s, Williams was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. to get involved in the civil rights movement. In 1978 he became a gay rights activist, protesting against Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign.
Williams earned an undergraduate degree in History from Georgia State University in 1970. He did graduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he earned a Master's in History in 1972, and a Ph.D. in History, in 1974. His doctoral thesis was Black American Attitudes Toward Africa: The Missionary Movement, 1877—1900, and would form the basis of his first book.
In 1979, while Williams was an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, he and Gregory Sprague founded the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History, an affiliate of the American Historical Association.
In 1986 he published Spirit and the Flesh, discussed at the top of this article. From July 1987 to July 1988, Williams was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to lecture in American history at Gadjah Mada University, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. While there, Williams collected autobiographical interviews, 27 of which were published as Javanese Lives: Women and Men in Modern Indonesian Society in 1991.
An anthropologist, Williams has also traveled throughout North America from Alaska to Yucatán to study Native American tribes. His other areas of expertise include cultures of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, based on his years of field research in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Polynesia.
In 1986, Williams became a registered member of Soka Gakkai International. On February 27, 1996, he provided a series of lectures on Gay Marriage at Soka University. Ultimately, on March 24, 2006, Williams was awarded the Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award from Morehouse College, for his work during the civil rights and peace movements and in support of LGBT rights.
- Williams W. L. Black Americans and the Evangelization of Africa, 1877—1900. — University of Wisconsin Press, 1982. — 288 p. — ISBN 978-0299089207. Based on Ph.D. thesis.
- Williams W. L. Indian Leadership. — Sunflower University Press, 1984. — 92 p. — ISBN 978-0897450522.
- Williams W. L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. — Beacon Press, 1986, ISBN 0807046027. Second edition 1992, ISBN 978-0807046159.
- Williams W. L., Siverson Claire Javanese Lives: Women and Men in Modern Indonesian Society. — Rutgers University Press, 1991. — 264 p. — ISBN 978-0813516493.
- Cameron D. G., Williams W. L. Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice / Ed. W. Dorr Legg. — Global Publishers, 1994. — 464 p. — ISBN 978-1879194168.
- Williams W. L., Johnson T. Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo. — Lethe Press, 2005. — 332 p. — ISBN 978-1590210604.
- Williams W. L. Spirit of the Pacific. — Lethe Press, 2013. — 326 p. — ISBN 978-1590213889.
- Overcoming Heterosexism and Homophobia / Eds. James T. Sears, Walter L. Williams. — Columbia University Press, 1997. — 456 p. — ISBN 978-0231104234.
- Gay and Lesbian Rights in the United States: A Documentary History / Eds. Walter L. Williams, Yolanda Retter. — Greenwood Press, 2003. — ISBN 978-0313306969.
- Southeastern Indians Since the Removal Era / Eds. Walter L. Williams. — University of Georgia Press, 2009. — 272 p. — ISBN 978-0820332031.
Selected magazine articles
- Walter L. Williams "The United States Indian Policy and the Debate over Philippine Annexation: Implications for the Origins of American Imperialism" // The Journal of American History — 1980. — No. 66.
- Williams, Walter L. (1990). "Women and Work in the Third World: Indonesian Women's Oral Histories". Journal of Women's History. 2 (1): 183–195. doi:10.1353/jowh.2010.0296.