Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: A Beacon and a Boycott, Pt. I

profiteer, or promoter of civil rights?

In the early 1980s, the St. Marks Baths became known as the “epicenter” of a deadly disease later known as AIDS (Peters, 82).

During this time, Bruce Mailman was accused of being an exploitative, “merciless profiteer” when he “resisted shutting down the baths early in the AIDS crisis” (Peters, 82).

To Mailman, the St. Marks Baths were a “hard-won symbol of fraternity, equality, and liberty.” Author Brooks Peters explains that the “right to be a homosexual man without harassment from society was closely linked to the right to have promiscuous sex.”

Civil rights was on Mailman’s mind when he failed to close the Baths as early as critics wanted him to. Anyway, Mailman believes that more would have been done to “control the epidemic” during the virus’s germination period in 1980, but no one knew of the impending public health crisis back then (qtd. in Peters, 82).

To Mailman, accusations against him presented an argument based on hindsight bias. Critics falsely believed that Mailman should have been better able to protect his customers against a disease that only seems predictable in hindsight. In reality, AIDS descended without warning.

Additionally, the AIDS crisis was exacerbated, not only by what some consider to be the failures of individuals, but also by governmental neglect. The Reagan administration remained silent whilst AIDS devastated the gay community. Kenneth Bunch, or Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch of the order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, felt afraid that the gay community would “disappear” because of AIDS, but the government proved its ugliness through gross inaction (qtd. in La Ganga).

To what extent would Mailman, as an individual, have been able to alleviate the severity of the AIDS when the federal government itself refused to acknowledge the thousands of sick and dying men and women?

Research into AIDS was not being funded. Healthcare provisions were abysmal. The gay community was forsaken.

The government had abandoned its responsibility for its citizenry because of homophobia, ignorance, spite, and indifference.

A binary that persisted throughout the crisis described AIDS as a gay cancer. AIDS affected the gay community, not anyone else, not anyone normal. A blatant segregation of consciousness stated that AIDS has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them. The government felt no responsibility for heathens.

a conservative manipulation

Tom Steele wrote that AIDS was like a “shark attack” (qtd. in Peters, 82).

For a while, New York experienced a “dreadfully grim” period of despair in which a “sexual shutdown” created an emotional “black hole” (qtd. in Peters, 82).

Pat Buchanan and William F. Buckley, two conservative commentators at the time, began to advocate for “quarantine camps,” and “tattooing,” in response to the AIDS crisis, procedures reminiscent of the protocols of Nazi concentration camps. By condemning him and “not supporting the [St. Marks] baths,” Mailman believes the gay community was “really feeding into the hands of the right wing” (qtd. in Peters, 82).

Bruce Mailman insists that in 1983 the Baths were doing more good than harm in the gay community. His bathhouse offered counseling and distributed condoms in packages that read: “The contents of this envelope can save your life” (qtd. in Peters, 82). Still, he continued to be villainized.

To Mailman, it is clear that the media hoped to scapegoat a distinguished gay businessman in New York City in order to “appease people’s hysteria” (Peters, 82).

But is it just to fault one man for the devastation that resulted from a complex network of inaction and ignorance? Mailman wondered why members of the gay community would blame him or themselves for a disease that was unpredictable and, thus, uncontrollable.

His next business venture similarly entered a cloud of contention, just as the St. Marks Baths did.

Annotated Bibliography Two – Annotation Seven

Peters, Brooks. “The Sexual Revolution Mailman Delivered.” Out, 1994. 

Mailman’s biography

Bruce Mailman was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, a “poor industrial town outside Philadelphia” (Peters, 140).

Mailman’s parents were merchants.

When he was four years old, Bruce Mailman experienced his “first sexual experience.” A man had walked into his father’s shop wearing a “suede jacket without a shit on underneath.” Though Mailman “knew it wasn’t right, [he] didn’t know why.” However, he remembers wanting the man to “take off the jacket. [He] was consciously interested” (qtd. in Peters, 140).

Growing up, Mailman became aware of the “town queer,” Snookie, but knew he didn’t want to be like Snookie (qtd. in Peters, 140).

Alone in high school, with no gay friends, Mailman worked through his self-identity on his own. He became involved in art, theater, and music in high school, and went on to attend Temple University and the Tyler School of Fine Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the Tyler School, Mailman met other gay men, but still “had to hide” who he truly was. He pronounces that being gay was “mysterious, like being part of a private society. […] There was no openness.” Yet to Mailman, being gay was “as dangerous as it was interesting” (qtd. in Peters, 140).

After Bruce Mailman moved to New York to attend graduate school at New York University, he graduated with a master’s degree in the early 1960s. Mailman began working as a caseworker after graduation, and soon met his long time partner, John, a cardiologist. Together, John and Mailman began to invest in real estate, whilst Mailman began producing his own creative works and plays.

Mailman’s first production of a play took place in 1970.

The play was entitled The Dirtiest Show in Town, and was written by Tom Eyen. Starring a cast that was mostly naked for the entire production, the play nevertheless required costumes, which Mailman designed. Mailman also designed the set of The Dirtiest Show in Town.

The first production enjoyed over 500 performances, attracting a memorable review from critic Clive Barnes who stated that another controversially nude play of the time Oh! Calcutta! was practically “Little Women” in comparison (Peters, 140).

Bruce Mailman soon opened the Fortune Theatre with collaborator Andy Warhol, which Mailman claims to be the first place in New York City to showcase gay porn “commercially” (Peters, 140). Mailman also co-wrote a textbook, and became the manager of another theater. After Mailman created his infamous bathhouse, he became invested in the gay disco scene and excelled in similar fashion there with his creation of the Saint disco club of New York City.

a trip in the saint

In the article, Michael Fierman, an esteemed DJ of the Saint, explains that DJs had a responsibility to “make a musical statement.” At the Saint, evenings were given structure because of the DJ’s desire to “take the crowd someplace” (qtd. in Peters, 140). Fierman describes the Saint as a “decadent place” in a “non-negative way” (qtd. in Peters, 141). Yet of all the liberation the Saint appeared to have stirred in its gay members who reveled in the club’s hot parties, not everyone was welcome.

John Preston recounts that at the Saint there was “a sense of exclusion of those [individuals] who weren’t pretty enough” (qtd. in Peters, 141). Author Brooks Peters states that black people “complained” that they were discriminated against at the Saint, given that they did not fit the culturally-imposed ideal gay male figure. Peters continues on to say that “Drag queens were definitely not welcome” and that “lesbians were not included.”

Others steered clear of the Saint by their own volition. The sexual nature of the Saint was off-putting to them. Critics of the Saint believed that promiscuous and anonymous sex should not be equated with gay liberation, however, others feel that their physical excursions in disco clubs like the Saint were freeing and necessary. The sexual liberation of the Saint was rooted in Mailman’s precursor business, the St. Marks Baths, whose origination inspired a generation to be “honest,” according to Mailman (qtd. in Peters).

a sexual revolution

Andrew Holleran, a prominent novelist, describes Bruce Mailman in the following way:

“‘The thing about Bruce Mailman is that he is the eminence grise, the Cardinal Richelieu behind the scenes in the gay world. He culminated and codified and realized physically the climax of the 70s. He provided the settings, literally the theater, for all of these fantasies'” (qtd. in Peters, 80).

Given that he rarely grants interviews, Bruce Mailman’s reputation generally proceeds his name in any conversation, however in this article published in the July/August 1994 issue of Out magazine, author Brooks Peter hoped he would finally “set the record straight” (Peters, 80).

Following the 1969 Stonewall riot, “more and more gay men and lesbians were organizing support groups and demanding equal rights. And businesses-bars and bathhouses in particular- began to cater openly” to the gay community (Peters, 80). At the time there were several bathhouses that Mailman remembers vividly offering a range of experiences such as steam baths, massages, and rooms where one could get hit with “birch branches” (Peters, 80). The Russian Baths, the Penn Post baths, and the Continental Baths are all famous bathhouses that Mailman remembers from his youth.

However, Bruce Mailman presents some criticisms of the gay bathhouses and community fixtures of the his time. To Mailman, the “whole gay scene was unattractive [and] freaky.” People did not seek familiarity from one another, nor did they want to even meet people. Mailman noticed that at gay bars, “people wouldn’t sign their own names. They were very embarrassed to see someone they knew on the street.” Mailman’s hope was to create a community in which people could be open and “honest” with each other and with themselves (qtd. in Peters).

Mailman also argues that “camp” gay men were “buying into the typical, straight-imposed ‘nellie’ stereotypes” that were self-deprecating and demeaning. He recalls being “outraged” when a young man called him “hon.” Mailman felt that campness demeaned the gay community, and sought to create spaces that manifested masculinity.

Mailman eventually charmed his way into ownership of the existing St. Marks Baths by convincing his backers that they were investing in a “viable proposition” (qtd. in Peters). When he remodeled the St. Marks Baths, Bruce Mailman invited a younger generation of gay men to his establishment, and they lost themselves to the liberation of New York’s sexual revolution. The bathhouse had five floors, a video room, and a luncheonette. It was magnificent.

Larry Kramer, a prominent activist, playwright, and author acknowledges that Mailman “succeeded” in giving the gay community the “nicest baths” (qtd. in Peters).

Attracting millions of dollars each year, the St. Marks Baths became synonymous with gay and queer culture.

One visitor states that “if you didn’t like the baths, you had to examine yourself. Maybe you had a serious case of self-loathing, or maybe you hadn’t gotten the message. It was part of the culture to have a lot of anonymous sex.” Attending the Baths affirmed one’s identity and increased the fraternity and camaraderie among the young men who were there (qtd. in Peters). The baths were a “sexual” gathering where men could meet celebrities, plumbers, even nuclear physicists. Anyone and everyone seemed to belong (qtd. in Peters).

the disease, his controversy

The St. Marks Baths were “always spotless” (Peters, 82).

Inspections were conducted every 15 minutes in the bathhouse to ensure everyone’s safety and to guarantee that there was no injury. Sadly, a member drowned in a hot tub at the St. Marks Baths, however, this is the only time that things went “wrong” (Peters, 82).

Staff members of the Baths were fired “on the spot” if they were caught having sexual relations with guests or members of the Baths, though such relations continued on anyways.

To Mailman’s staff, Bruce was “not easy to work for” because he “had more respect for the clientele than he did for his employees” (qtd. in Peters, 82). Yet Mailman does not see himself as “tough or ruthless;” he is “goal-oriented.” Mailman cares about how he presents his work and simply wants things “done the way [he] want[s] it done” (qtd. in Peters, 82).

However, soon the St. Marks Baths (and later on, the Saint) became known as the “epicenter” of a deadly disease: AIDS (Peters, 82).

merciless or innocent?

Bruce Mailman was accused of being an exploitative, “merciless profiteer” when he “resisted shutting down the baths early in the AIDS crisis” (Peters, 82). Many people, including Larry Kramer and other vocal writers and leaders in the gay community believed that Mailman took too long to close the Saint in the wake of the mounting evidence that AIDS was a sexually transmitted disease. Larry Kramer advised young gay people to avoid sex clubs and reduce their number of sexual partners, even to try abstinence. Yet Mailman did not want to “give up the freedom he had fought for so many years to establish” (Peters).

To Mailman, the Baths was a “hard-won symbol of fraternity, equality, and liberty.” Author Brooks Peters explains that the “right to be a homosexual man without harrassment from society was closely linked to the right to have promiscuous sex.”

Civil rights was on Mailman’s mind when he failed to close the Baths as early as critics wanted him to. Anyway, Mailman believes that more would have been done to “control the epidemic” during the virus’s germination period in 1980, but no one knew of the public health crisis to come back then (qtd. in Peters, 82). To Mailman, the accusations against him promote an argument based on hindsight bias.

Tom Steele wrote that AIDS was like a “shark attack” (qtd. in Peters, 82). For a while, New York experienced a “dreadfully grim” period of despair in which a “sexual shutdown” created a sort of emotional “black hole” (qtd. in Peters, 82).

Two conservative commentators at the time, Pat Buchanan and William F. Buckley, began to advocate for “quarantine camps,” and “tattooing,” in response to the AIDS crisis, procedures reminiscent of the protocols of Nazi concentration camps. By condemning him and “not supporting the baths,” Mailman believes the gay community was “really feeding into the hands of the right wing” (qtd. in Peters, 82).

Bruce Mailman insists that in 1983 the Baths were doing more good than harm in the gay community. His bathhouse offered counseling and distributed condoms in packages that read: “The contents of this envelope can save your life” (qtd. in Peters, 82). Yet, he continued to be villainized.

To Mailman, it is clear that the media hoped to villainize a distinguished gay business-owner in New York City in order to “appease people’s hysteria.”

In 1985, Mailman was forced to close the St. Marks Baths due to increased political and legal pressure.

Mailman states that he spent $300,000 U.S. dollars defending his right to keep the St. Marks Baths open. He lost.

Some writers in the gay community did defend Mailman’s desire to keep the St. Marks Baths open. Bruce Mailman never “sat there with a shotgun and forced people to have sex” says Marc Berkeley, a club promoter in New York who later worked at the Saint during its closing years (qtd. in Peters, 82).

Marisa Cardinale, the executive director of Community Research Initiative on AIDS (CRIA) in 1994, believes the following:

“Our right to privacy and our right to gather are two of the most important things, as gay people, we have. And I don’t think anything, [not] even AIDS, is worse than voluntarily giving up those rights” (qtd. in Peters, 82).

ABANDONed

Things got worse.

The Saint disco lost club members, employees, and DJs to AIDS. The club eventually closed, a mere reflection of its former glory.

In 1991, drug and tax evasion charges were brought against Mailman.

An unjust investigation led by federal prosecutor James J. McGuire. McGuire and a team of IRS agents attempted to unravel the drug scene at Fire Island by targeting Bruce Mailman. Mailman eventually pleaded guilt to the charges of tax evasion, but he “vigorously” denied the raised drug charges (qtd. in Peters, 143).

No one in the gay community defended Mailman during his legal troubles, a fact that severely disappointed Mailman. The community’s easy abandonment of him hurt.

In 1992, Mailman’s case was thrown out of the court of law.

The Justice Department determined that fabricated evidence and homophobic motivations had significantly corrupted the investigation against Bruce Mailman. All charges against him were dropped, including those he pleaded guilty to.

Sadly, Mailman describes the entire experience as “being struck by a car” (qtd.in Peters, 143). What began with the closing of the St. Marks Baths swiftly “escalated” (qtd. in Peters, 143).

He experienced a lot of grief.

ghosts of the saint mystique

in 1994, Bruce Mailman decided to start cleaning out, stating that he was “slowly getting rid of most of what [he] owned” (qtd. in Peters, 143). He was in the middle of “downsizing his operations,” and was already selling his house in the Pines.

Author Brooks Peters believes that Mailman’s decluttering is a physical embodiment of Mailman’s “disenchantment with New York’s gay scene.”

Andrew Holleran, the novelist, had recently visited Fire Island at the time of this article’s writing; once there, Holleran states that he “felt like a ghost.” He believes that Mailman is in a transition, just as he is. Holleran proclaims the following:

“You have to start seeing yourself in a different way. It’s like molting and growing a new skin. One’s ship is changing course, reorienting and using a different compass” (qtd. in Peters, 143).

Bruce Mailman knows that his generation was dramatically affected by the onslaught of AIDS.

To Mailman, being gay “today is to walk around with a burden which certainly wasn’t the case in the 70s” (qtd. in Peters, 143). Mailman hopes that future gay generations will find the “same freedom [his generation] once had.”

Another mournful result of AIDS is the disconnect which resulted from it. Mailman feels that his generation did not get to share its “collective wisdom” with the next generation of queer youth because of the disease. He feels that “There is no continuity in the gay population.” The sense that the “young [gay population] arrived newly born and can’t benefit from anything that went before them” is upsetting to Mailman (qtd. in Peters, 143).

By 1994, Mailman owned the restaurant 103, was a silent partner in HX, a gay guide to sex clubs, discos, and bars in New York City, as well as the owner of several other real estate and theater investments.

Of course, Mailman still was involved in hosting for the Saint-at-Large, which for those old enough to remember the original parties at the old Saint, were only “shadows” of what they used to be. However, the Saint-at-Large parties remained a spectacle of “go-go dancers [and] horny bubble-butt boy-toys.” The “young, affluent men” who were allured by the Saint-at-Large in the 1990s were described as the “gay-geoisie” (Peters, 142).

discussion of Brooks Peters’ Article

Author Brooks Peters goes on to describe the lasting influence of the Saint in the nation’s queer community in the 1990s even after the club’s closing. Bruce Mailman’s presentation of erotic, masculine images in his establishment’s marketing during the 70s and 80s guided the creation of posters, ads, and book covers in the 1990s as they pay homage to the “scintillating spectacles and libertine sprawl of the Saint” (Peters, 141).

Party Promoter Dallas Boesendahl declares the following:

“Bruce was the king of New York night life. There is a mystique around the Saint that still exists today. It was a truly brilliant entertainment complex. A wonderful playground for gay men.”

This source does well to expand upon the argument mentioned at the end of Carol Cooper’s article, Disco Knights: Hidden Heroes of the New York Dance Underground. If one has not experienced a disco like the Saint for oneself, then the true impact and emotion of the club can never be felt. In other words, you had to be there.

The Saint-at-Large’s revival of the Saint’s parties seem like mere “shadows” of their original forms to the older men who remember the original Saint in its heyday. Their perception of shadowed, or weakened versions of the experience spun by the Saint through the Saint-at-Large’s party revivals, further emphasize the permanent loss of their youth’s pure euphoric freedom. Their memories can never be replicated.

This source also helpfully provides details about Mailman’s childhood, which I was unaware of beforehand.

Peters’ article addresses the history of the St. Marks Baths with extreme clarity, and provides needed information about his legal troubles, investments, and emotional response to the highs and lows of his life.

Peters’ portrayal of Bruce Mailman is also well-rounded. There were statements of Mailman’s that I disagreed with, yet by the end of the article I do not dislike him. I simply feel like I understand him more.

Some of the drawbacks to the source are its frayed edges. This is a physical copy of the 1994 article that appears to have been torn out of the magazine itself. Some words are missing from the text because of the uneven ripping, however, I do not believe those missing words significantly alter the narrative.

The source also quotes other opinions often, which helps to provide further context and thoughts on the particular subject being dressed.

Annotated Bibliography Two – Annotation Two

Rist, Darrell Yates. “A Scaffold To the Sky And No Regrets.” New York Native, 2 May 1988, pp. 17-18. 

controversy at the new york native

The New York Native is responsible for publishing the first public report on AIDS, with an article headlined “Disease Rumors Largely Unfounded.” In this May 1981 article, the Native’s medical correspondent, Lawrence D. Mass, wrote that the rare cancer that had struck some gay men was “ubiquitous.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had denied the rumors of a “gay cancer” on a phone call with Mass, after which Mass wrote that most people have an immunity to the viral subject of the rumors. How wrong Lawrence D. Mass was proven to be later on. Nevertheless, the Native’s article, which dismissed the severity of HIV and AIDS, stands as the first published report on what became a horrific epidemic.

However, Larry Kramer, a playwright and distinguished activist during the AIDS epidemic and onward, wrote in the New York Native in March 1983. His piece, entitled “1, 112, and Counting,” was a fierce criticism of the contemptible inaction of healthcare organizations in the United States in response to AIDS. Thus, the Native once expressed rally cries for the queer community being afflicted by the violent, deadly disease. The newspaper was historic in its coverage of AIDS, and possessed a circulation of 20,000 in the early 1980’s, meaning that the Native distributed 20,000 copies on an average day. However, the newspaper’s circulation dropped to 8,000 as time went on.

Though the newspaper once hoped to increase awareness of the AIDS epidemic by writing on the injustice of the government and national media’s silence on the public health crisis, the New York Native later descended into an ugly mire of controversial theories. Hosting conspiracy theories about the real cause of AIDS, which was apparently not HIV but the African Swine Fever Virus (or was it Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?), the newspaper officially closed in 1997 due to “financial difficulties” (Pogrebin). Founder Charles Orteb oversaw the newspaper as a publisher and editor for over sixteen years, yet even he could not deny that the paper’s controversy contributed to its financial decline. The paper’s “insane tangent” even denied that AIDS existed (Pogrebin). ACT UP, the now international action advocacy group that serves and advocates for people living with HIV and AIDS, boycotted the New York Native in the mid-1980’s.

goodbye to the saint

Written in 1988, the following article by Darrell Yates Rist belonged to a newspaper that had by then descended into troubling, controversial conspiracies surrounding AIDS. While this article deals directly with the founder of The Saint dance club and the St. Mark’s Baths, Bruce Mailman, it is important to note the controversy surrounding not only the article’s subject, but also the article’s place of publication. However, this article is still valuable despite its controversial container paper. The article was written on May 2nd, 1988, a mere two days after The Saint officially closed. May 2nd, however, is also the day that the Saint’s last celebration ended, during that Monday’s “early afternoon” (Dunlap). The interview is a primary source given right at the moment of The Saint’s closing, when Mailman’s emotions were fresh.

Issue 263 of the New York Native, which Rist’s article is a part of, features an extended spread of articles categorized by the header GOODBYE TO THE SAINT. Darrell Yates Rist wrote about an interview with The Saint’s founder, Bruce Mailman. Other “remembrances” were written by Andrew Holleran, Jan Carl Park, R.J. Markson, and J.P.David.

In all caps, the words GOODBYE TO THE SAINT have been printed in a non-serif white font over a 9.75 inch (24.8 centimeter) narrow black strip. Underneath this header is a blueprint of The Saint dance club, which has the article’s title in white serif font in the top row of the map.  At the bottom, the words An Interview With Bruce Mailman On the Occasion of the Closing of the Saint appear in smaller, italicized font similar to the font of the article’s title.

The blueprint of The Saint is dominated by a plan for its central sky-like dome and light platform, beneath which is the dance floor. The Saint itself contained a “4800 square-foot oak surface” as a dance floor, and “a lighting tower with about 1,500 fixtures, topped by a planetarium-style star projector.” A mirror ball could be lowered from the ceiling, and The Saint’s dome acted as a “theatrical scrim” (Dunlap).

a dreamer’s beginning

Around 1980, Bruce Mailman decided that he no longer wanted to spend money on his vices. Mailman “loved dancing,” and would often haunt the Flamingo dance club to do so. To Mailman, Flamingo represented the “zenith” of dance’s physicality. The club’s “hard-driving, sexual” beat fueled Mailman’s romance with his disco dancing vice.

Studio 54, a famous nightclub and discotheque, possessed “imagination and theatricality.” Together, these combined elements provided a formative experience to Mailman and prompted him to create his own haven of vices that he could go to for free. Mailman wanted to build a home for his vices so he could indulge them “for nothing.” He says that the urge to create his own space always occurs if he has a particular vice or desire; he never wants to continue paying money for something he could design or engineer himself.

Bruce Mailman’s desires were elevated by his intention to add a new dimension to the disco scene.

Mimicry was unacceptable; Mailman wanted to devise something new, but, at first, he could not figure out what to do. One night, Mailman went to sleep pondering ideas for his new club of vices. The next morning, Mailman awoke with the image of a planetarium in his mind.

The club he envisioned wouldn’t be “limited to a stage.” What would become The Saint would be “completely round,” with a large dome sky. To Mailman, this feature would make it seem like club-goers were dancing outside. Mailman immediately began calling planetarium companies to see if his fantasy could become a practical and affordable reality. Was there any place big enough to hold a starry dome?

Fortunately, there was. Mailman revolutionized the Loew’s Commodore Theater for nearly $5,000,000 US dollars in 1980. Located on Second Avenue and East Sixth Street, the Commodore Theater underwent a truly heavenly transformation for The Saint’s opening. A modeled hemisphere of earth and the Milky Way contributed to the The Saint’s otherworldly allure, whilst sophisticated lighting platforms and hydraulic floors advanced the club experience to an enlightened level.

The Saint’s eventual opening is an unforgettable story. In order to spread awareness about his new club, Bruce Mailman asked ten people he knew went out regularly to ask ten people they knew who went out regularly to come to the Saint. Open only to gays, The Saint attracted many gorgeous gay men on its opening night who all shared a love for dancing and having a good time. At midnight on a 1980 September morning, nearly 3500 men lined almost an entire square block hoping to get into The Saint. The fire lieutenant came to shut down the commotion, but Mailman’s lawyer defended his club by stating that it cost a lot of money and would surely “be around [for] eight seasons.”

So The Saint was born. Mailman stated that the appeal of The Saint was that “it was a place where you were special if you came.” Other discotheques attracted the stars and celebrities as famed, esteemed guests. Yet at The Saint, “no one looked at other people.” The people themselves “were the stars,” and their “anonymity” made their experience all the more exciting. The Saint was a place of drugs, sex, and “decadent” sin. Darrell Yates Rist, this article’s author, remembers “a perpetually euphoric storm of orgies in the balcony above the planetarium dome” as well as the “endless fountain of drugs from […] men who themselves were intoxicating.” Yet soon controversy began to swirl around the Saint’s owner, Bruce Mailman.

accusations against mailman

People began to accuse Mailman of condoning the transmission of HIV and AIDS. Some said Mailman was liable for his inaction. Others called him a “killer” because of the known sexual acts that took place in the balcony of his club’s haven. No one was safe once the “Saint’s disease” struck; people accused Mailman of not doing enough to stop HIV and AIDS from devastating the community of clubgoers and other persons associated with the Saint (Dunlap).

In his interview with Rist, Mailman insists that the balcony was never intended to be used for sex. He swears that he tried time and time again to get people to stop using the balcony for sex by writing to members; however, Mailman certainly did not desire to police people’s behavior by metaphorically “hosing [them] down.”

Mailman is “not happy” if “someone was harmed” in his club by contracting HIV, but he has “no regrets.” Mailman does not believe that people should look back and say that they shouldn’t have engaged in sexual activity in the clubs or elsewhere; he feels that gay men “fought hard to be at that level of liberalization,” and that such free expression was not inappropriate or foolish, but delivering.

Mailman does not feel that gay men should be sorry for what they did when they engaged in sex at clubs like The Saint. He states that “we [gay people] needed to be there,” declaring that he does not think that “we can look at [our behavior] with what’s happened to us, with this thing that’s marched into our lives and say, ‘Well, we shouldn’t have done that. We were what we were for very good reasons, and we’ve changed – for equally good reasons.'”

the saint was revered

There is no denying that Bruce Mailman created a phenomenal institution.

According to author Darrell Yates Rist, the club’s “divine” DJs “transformed” the souls of dancers. Bruce Mailman notes that the DJs at the Saint all had a unique style and flavor, and often were allowed to “experiment with the crowd.” The DJs “had something special that was their own.” The way they dealt with different currents of music was electric. Some of the DJs Mailman lists as “big DJs” are Terry Sherman, Robbie Leslie, and Michael Fierman. Shawn Buchanan is another DJ from the club, who “to some extent,” was also a big-name act. Buchanan has been memorialized on the AIDS Quilt on Block 1087. Read a description of this panel here.

To Mailman, music at The Saint was “much more important than at the other places.” People came to The Saint to dance, and would remain there for six to eight hours. Unlike Studio 54, where people “had a drink,” or Palladium, where people “danced two dances and talked,” The Saint was where people came to dance. There was a “group energy” that connected people to each other and to the lights and to the sound. There was a “euphoric” atmosphere in The Saint when things were “really connecting.” Though euphoric escapades did not embrace The Saint’s dancers every night, the rapture of the club’s energy happened often enough for people to continue coming back. Yet rapidly, the excitement of clubbing turned to a dreadful misery.

fear

With the sudden onslaught of HIV and AIDS, many people who went to The Saint, began dying in mass numbers. Many others had friends who had fallen ill or worse to the disease, including author Darrell Yates Rist.

The “ghosts of friends” haunted the lives of many people in the gay community of New York City. People stopped coming to the Saint because of the fear of AIDS. Most of the crowd that had frequented the Saint were older gay men who had either died from AIDS or were grappling with the devastating grief of knowing those who had died from AIDS.

Though a younger crowd began to populate the Saint, they didn’t come as often to the club as older members once did because they didn’t have as much money. Financial troubles began to appear on the horizon. Bruce Mailman began to feel that he could only own the club “for so long.” The stigma attached to The Saint did not help its case either, which repelled people away from The Saint with the knowledge that the members who had “made such an impression” on the club were now dead because of AIDS.

In the article, Mailman acknowledges that he no longer has “[his] finger on the pulse of what [the] market is” for the disco lovers now dispirited and demoralized by the ruins AIDS spread across the country. Both with his raunchy bathhouse, St. Mark’s Baths, and his discotheque, the Saint, Bruce Mailman has been wrapped in the controversy of whether or not he acted morally as the descent of AIDS began to devastate his establishments. In response to his known controversy, Mailman states the following:

“Revision [..] is a big problem in gay life. People want to say ‘Oh, it shouldn’t have been this way.’ I think they should say, ‘What we had was wonderful. Then something walked in and disrupted it and we’re building something else. And we’re going to make that wonderful, too. No one asked for this. […] Of all the things that happened in the Saint, maybe the number of membership letters that came back stamped ‘deceased’ got to me. I mean, maybe that is responsible for my overload or for the fact I’m so fed up, and maybe if that hadn’t happened, I would have gone on and on doing it-and loved it.”

And you do get tired of being in the center of all the controversy with it, too. I mean, you know-the baths and whether or not my positions were right or wrong. There’s that whole things that’s disheartening and eventually wears you away and eventually, you just…you don’t want to do it any more. It’s not that you don’t believe in it or you don’t believe it was good. You just know it’s over.”

See photos of The Saint

These are other photographs from the newspaper that date it to the 80s (aged paper, dated photographic quality) as well as inform the observer that the New York Native is a gay newspaper (it features many ads of hot hunks waiting for a call).