TOPMAN ¶ Online Writings by and about John Preston

Topman's Timeline

A Documentary Biography of John Preston

Edited by Dusk Peterson

Sections below:

* About This Biography
* Boyhood (Medfield, Massachusetts, 1945-1963)
* History Student and College Graduate (Chicago and Boston, 1963-1969)
* Christian Activist and Health Consultant (Minneapolis, 1969-1973)

> Background: Gay Life in Minneapolis During This Period
* Sex Education Editor (Philadelphia and New York City, 1974)
* News Editor and Hustler (Los Angeles and San Francisco, 1975-1978?)
* Erotica Editor, Author, and Photographer (New York City, 1978?-1979)
> Background: John Preston vs. Canada Customs
* Regional Journalist (Portland, Maine, 1979-1984)
* AIDS Activist (1985-1989)
* Anthologist (Portland, 1990-1994)
* Death and Obituaries (Portland and Around the World, April 28, 1994)
* Afterword (The World, 1994- )


Visitors are cautioned that this is a work in progress; therefore errors are not only likely but inevitable. Likewise, nearly of the remembrances linked here recall events that are at least ten years old; some of the recollections are of events several decades old. The period documents are often written by people who did not know Preston well. As a result, slips of memory or errors will occasionally creep into the accounts.

Some of the information below is currently provided only by Preston's own statements. In cases where I have been able to confirm or amend this information, I have cited or linked to the source. In cases where Preston or other sources have not indicated the exact dates at which the event occurred, I've made my best guess, which is indicated by a question mark. A few of the dates of publication for his books may not be accurate.

A few of the links below (which are specially marked) lead to PDF files, which can be read through the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you prefer, you may be able to translate the files into HTML through the Adobe PDF Conversion. If any of the links below are broken, you can try locating them through the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.

BOYHOOD (Medfield, Massachusetts, 1945-1963)

"When I was young, I used to walk the bounds of Medfield with the selectmen. . . . I was in love with the stones we found with their antiquated signs and the aged oak and maple trees that appeared on the town records as markers between Medfield and Dover, Walpole, Norfolk, and other neighbors. The living history wasn't all I got from these walks. The perambulations gave firm evidence to just what was my hometown. I was also being told that everything on this side of the boundaries was Medfield. Everything on this side of the border was mine."

["The Importance of Telling Our Stories," Winter's Light: Reflections of a Yankee Queer]

1945, December 11: John Leslie Preston Jr. is born to Jack and Nancy Preston. He becomes the eldest of five children.

1959: Preston enters high school. According to his later account, he worked for civil rights for blacks during this period.

1960?: Preston goes to Boston in search of a male bed partner. He finds one in the form of a travelling salesman from Hartford, Connecticut.

1960: Preston discovers Provincetown. The popular gay resort on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, becomes his favorite vacation spot for the remainder of his life.

1963: Preston graduates from Medfield High School.

HISTORY STUDENT AND COLLEGE GRADUATE (Chicago and Boston, 1963-1969)

"The same distance from Lake Forest as Chicago, in the other direction, was Kenosha, Wisconsin, a small industrial city where there were also gay bars. I had moved a thousand miles away from home to be close to the gay life of Chicago, but I found myself increasingly going out in Kenosha instead. I'd get to the freeway and assume I was going south to the big city, but I'd turn north, often amazing myself by the choice. The simple truth was that I was more comfortable with the blue-collar, small-city men in Wisconsin. The workers from the American Motors plant which dominated the Kenosha economy . . . were the kind of working-class men I had grown up with, the ones I always wanted to be close to. The Kenoshans and I talked the same talk, albeit with different accents."

["Portland, Maine: Life is Good Here," Winter's Light]

1963, September?: Preston begins attending Lake Forest College in Chicago's northern suburbs. He becomes a history major at this college in Lake Forest, Illinois.

1965, May?: Preston drops out of Lake Forest College.

1966, September?: Preston re-enrolls at Lake Forest.

1966, September?: A History Teacher Gets to Know His "Preppy" Student. By Arthur Zilversmit.

1967, December 22: Preston attends a debutante ball. He takes part in the 19th annual Passavant Hospital Cotillion in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune quotes him as saying, "This ball is larger and more elegant than the five in Boston." (Eleanor Page, "Smiling Debs Highlight Festivities, Lights Flicker on Swirling Snowflakes: Passavant Cotillion," Chicago Tribune [Dec. 23, 1967], page 7-8.)

1968, August?: Preston graduates from college. He takes a job in the Lake Forest College administration. (Eleanor Page, "Clare Jets in to Toast Our Tish," Chicago Tribune [November 4, 1968], page B8.)

1968, November 3: Preston's wedding engagement is announced. By Eleanor Page. [Topman]

1969?: Preston moves to Boston. He hopes to find a gay lover with whom he can settle down.

1969?: Preston's Boston lover commits suicides. He told Preston that "being queer was just too difficult." (Preston, "The Importance of Telling Our Stories," Winter's Light.)


"I chose [Minneapolis] because it had one of the earliest and strongest gay communities in the country. Most recent histories are about the early movement in New York or San Francisco, assuming that those hearts of hedonism and escape were the birthplace of the political and cultural efforts for gay identity that seem to be taken for granted today. In fact, Minnesota was another of the centers of gay liberation, and much of the community building and social action that took place there was more sophisticated than what was happening on the coasts."

[Introduction, A Member of the Family: Gay Men Write About Their Families]

1969?: Preston Joins an Organization of Gay Students. By Robert Halfhill.

1970, March 1: Preston co-founds a gay community center. Gay House was one of the first gay and lesbian community centers in the United States.

1970, March: Preston tries to enroll in a class at a Lutheran seminary but is turned down because of his connection with Gay House. The Advocate reported on April 28 that Preston's attempt to enroll at Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota (now Luther Seminary), sparked an open debate at the seminary's daily convocation on March 31. Preston took the class anyway, counting it as independent study at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minnesota, where he was enrolled part-time.

1970, October 10: Preston attends a regional gay liberation convention held in Minneapolis. By Ken Bronson. No reference to Preston in the above link, but he is mentioned briefly in Jim Chesebro's "The First National Gay Lib Convention: One View from Minneapolis," which appears as an appendix in the PDF version of Bronson's book. (The PDF file is 1.4 MB.) The full passage is as follows: "With the mention of Marxist-Lenin group, and briefly the old Left, John Preston (1628 Elliot Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404) mentioned that he had attended an informal meeting of the Gay People of the Parti Quebecois in Quebec and that the Gay People were seriously considering mass genocide and then suicide of Gay People. The feeling being that such actions would help the Parti Quebecois achieve revolution. It was strongly noted that the existence of Gay Liberation groups would preclude such actions. John's whole description left a very real and serious impact on the group." [A Quest for Full Equality]

1971, September: Preston works to save the job of a Methodist minister. By Ken Bronson. The Rev. Roger Lynn was in danger of losing a job after he married Minnesota activists Jack Baker and Michael McConnell. Bronson says that McConnell was the other founder of Gay House. [A Quest for Full Equality]

1971, November: Preston attends a national gay liberation conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference was sponsored by Madison's Gay Liberation Front. (See the June 1973 entry for the source of this information.)

1971, November 29: Preston is hired by two Episcopal groups to expand communications with gays, anti-war veterans, and other minorities. In January 1972, The Advocate reported that Preston had been hired by the University Episcopal Center and the Cathedral Church of St. Mark.

1972, January: Preston helps to start Gay Community Services. By Gary Schoener. A Minneapolis counselor who interacted with Preston during his time there comments on the accuracy of a January 1972 report in The Advocate that Preston had co-founded an organization aiming to provide health services for gays and lesbians. [Topman]

1972, March 23: Preston attacks a Unitarian sex ed course as anti-gay. A sex education program of the Unitarian Universalist Church, which had been praised by some gays for its "comparatively enlightened approach," was criticized by Preston as biased toward heterosexuality, The Advocate reported in April 1972.

1972, May 11: Preston attends two denominational conventions in Denver and is thrown out of a hotel nightclub for dancing with another man. Preston was in town to participate in the American Baptist Convention and the United Presbyterian General Assembly, which were held back-to-back at a Denver hotel. The Advocate covered the incident in two June 1972 articles, as well as the hotel manager's public apology (written by Preston himself). Preston recounted the story in his essay, "A Eulogy for George," which was published in his anthology Friends and Lovers (1995).

1972, June 9-11: Preston helps convince his fellow political delegates to support gay rights. By Ken Bronson. Preston was part of the DFL Gay Rights Caucus attending the Minnesota state convention of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. [A Quest for Full Equality]

1972, August 28: Gay Community Services becomes a non-profit corporation. The corporation had five directors, including John Preston of 120 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis. This was also listed as the address for Gay Community Services. ("Articles of Incorporation of Gay Community Services, Incorporated," Tretter Collection, University of Minnesota.)

1972: A book on gay America mentions Preston. "Gay House offers something new and exciting in Minneapolis," an out-of-town activist is quoted as saying in the Minneapolis section of John Francis Hunter's The Gay Insider: USA. "John Preston is the guiding light." The book also lists Gay House in its guide to American gay liberation groups, and lists the Minnesota Council for the Church and the Homophile (founded by Preston) in its guide to American gay religious organizations.

1973, February: The National Council of Churches of Christ is invaded by gay activists during a meeting in Pittsburgh. Determining that none of the activists belong to churches, some of the members of this interdenominational council invite prominent gay Christians from around the country to form a group for dialogue with the NCC. Preston is one of the persons invited to join the group. He later comments about the disruptive activists, "I have not met the people involved, but I can understand and empathize with the anger and hurt, which they were directing toward the institutional church." (Various documents, Graduate Theological Union Archives; Preston, article for the June 1974 issue of Share, the publication of the United Methodist Council on Youth Ministry.)

1973, June: Preston asks others to take over his Minneapolis projects. By John Yoakam. [Topman]

1973, June 6-7: Preston and four others from the NCC-inspired group attend a weekend seminar at the American Baptist Church headquarters, entitled "Homosexuality and the ABC." The May 1973 issue of The American Baptist quotes Preston as telling a reporter, "You expect a perverted, evil effeminate person with unnatural lusts. But, believe me, most homosexuals are incredibly normal people." (Photocopy courtesy of the Graduate Theological Union Archives.)

1973, September 11-12: The Conference on the Church and the Gay Community is held in Kansas City, Missouri. The decision is made to form a Task Force on Gay People in the Church. Preston is one of six members of the task force. He comments later, "Faith is a part of our process; naivete is not." (Various documents, Graduate Theological Union Archives; Preston, article for the June 1974 issue of Share, the publication of the United Methodist Council on Youth Ministry.)

1973, October 11-12: The Governing Board of the National Council of Churches gives its approval to the new task force. Preston is among the six who present the proposal and do "consciousness-raising" among members of the Goerning Board. A member of the task foce reports later that "the recommendation was adopted on a strong voice vote which included audible opposition." (Various documents, Graduate Theological Union Archives.)

Gay Life in Minneapolis During This Period

A Quest for Full Equality. By Ken Bronson. A history of two of Minneapolis's most prominent gay activists during this time, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell. Specific references to Preston in this book are linked above.

I Have More Fun with You Than with Anybody. By Thomas Kraemer. A book review. The reviewer describes in the second half of the article what gay life was like in Minneapolis in the early 1970s, when he was a young man. He makes a brief reference to meeting John Preston. [GayToday]

Jack Baker and Michael McConnell: Lunatics of Geniuses? By Thomas Kraemer. Kraemer supplements Bronson's account of gay Minneapolis with his own recollections. [GayToday]

"What Are You After?" A History of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, and Transgender People at the Twin Cities Campus of the University of Minnesota, 1969-1994 (PDF file, 461 KB; skip to page 54). By John D. Wrathall. Part of a report issued by a committee at the University of Minnesota, Breaking the Silence. Wrathall's article describes the founding of the student group Fight Repression of Erotic Expression (FREE, of which Preston was a member), Gay House, and the University of Minnesota Medical School Program in Human Sexuality (which Preston took part in). Note that the history jumps around chronologically. [University of Minnesota: Stand with Us, A Coalition for a Respectful U]

My Own Early Gay History. By Dennis Brumm. No references are made to Preston, but this memoir describes in detail what Gay House was like for a lonely young man who visited there in 1971. [Iowa State University/Ames Gay History]

How the Twin Cities Pride Fest Helped Turn Minneapolis into the San Francisco of the Wheat Belt: An Anecdotal History. By Dylan Hicks. Includes interviews with Minneapolis gay activists from the late sixties and early seventies. Twin Cities Pride Celebration originated from a 1972 gay march that Preston later said he helped organize. [City Pages]

FREE leaflet, 1969 (image, 269 KB). From the Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota. FREE was one of the earliest gay student groups. [University of Minnesota: Steven J. Schochet Center for GLBT Studies]

Dignity Twin Cities matchbox, 1974 (caption, with link to image). Dignity is an organization for gay Catholics. See the June 1973 entry above for an account of how Preston's work indirectly assisted in the formation of Dignity Twin Cities. [Minnesota Historical Society]

SEX EDUCATION EDITOR (Philadelphia and New York City, 1974)

"I was very consciously doing the dance of the big major gay cities. I call those ten years of my life the 'great gay tour.'"

[Interview by Philip Gambone, Something Inside]

1974, February 24: The Task Force on Gay People in the Church arranges a meeting with the National Council of Churches of Christ . . . but the NCC doesn't show up. Preston, now living in Philadelphia, is quoted in the April 24 Advocate as saying that the NCC offered "all kinds of rational reasons, from staff changes to staff restructuring. But the primary reason was that we were not a priority." (Photocopy courtesy of the Graduate Theological Union Archives.)

1974: Preston becomes managing editor of the SIECUS Report (PDF file, 2.6 MB). The newsletter was published by the Sex Information and Education Council of the U.S., in New York City. The above link leads to the first issue he helped to edit (July 1974), which includes a short biography of Preston on the final page. The biography may have been a press release by Preston, as it also appeared, in a somewhat different form, in The Advocate. [SIECUS]

1974: Preston briefly congratulates a new organization for gay Episcopalians, Integrity (skip down). From the November 1974 edition of Integrity's Gay Episcopal Forum. [Integrity]

NEWS EDITOR AND HUSTLER (Los Angeles and San Francisco, 1975-1978?)

"[The aim of] my life really was to become the ultimate gay man. I'm smirking because you skipped a chapter in my life – after I left the Advocate, I became a hustler and stayed in San Francisco for another couple of years. That's certainly an example of ultimate urban gay male experience."

[Interview by Philip Gambone, Something Inside]

1975, January 29: A gay newspaper in Los Angeles announces that Preston is its new editor. Preston's opening line to his first editorial is: "What an exciting time to become Editor of the Advocate!" He ends by saying, "I am taking this space . . . to introduce [the Advocate staff] to you. You have a right to know who is working for you. And why."

1975, January: An author learns that a new regime has begun at The Advocate. Arthur Evans, who had been a columnist at The Advocate for two years, received in the mail a stack of his unpublished articles, accompanied by a two-sentence letter from Preston: "Your column duplicates material planned for future editions of the Advocate. I'm returning the enclosed manuscripts, which I take to be submissions under the previous editorship." (Quoted by Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney in Out for Good, page 247.)

1975: Preston helps to revamp The Advocate's image. He said years later, "May I burn in hell for approving a new advertising and promotional theme: 'Touching Your Lifestyle.' It came complete with T-shirts and posters." ("Family Matters," in Long Road to Freedom, edited by Mark Thompson.)

1975: Preston offers advice to a fellow Episcopalian, Louie Crew (skip down). From the March 1975 edition of Gay Episcopal Forum. Louie Crew was the founder of Integrity. [Integrity]

1975: Preston moves to San Francisco. The Advocate had changed its office location.

1975, October 20: A national newsmagazine mentions Preston. "There seems no question that the media has grown hipper in its coverage of gays," Newsweek announced in an article entitled, "'Gays' and the Press." "John Preston, editor of the country's largest gay newspaper, the Advocate, acknowledges there have been huge strides from the squeamishness of a few years ago."

1975, December 3: The Advocate announces that Preston has quit as editor. "John Preston resigned in order to deal with projects the pressures of the job did not permit," the newspaper announced. Preston put it more succinctly in a 1993 interview with Philip Gambone (published in Gambone's book Something Inside): "It was hell. It was the worst year of my life."

1976: Preston's new San Francisco home is blessed by several Episcopal priests (skip down). From the February 1976 edition of Gay Episcopal Forum. [Integrity]

1970s?: Preston decides to abandon work within the Episcopal Church. By Louie Crew. As recalled late in life to the founder of Intergrity. [Topman]

1976: Preston becomes a hustler. He was unemployed and needed the money, he said years later. He continued this work when he moved back to New York City.


"The real power of the erotic literature that was being developed came from the fact that we, the authors, were participant/observers in the sexual life that was developing. We were going to The Mineshaft in New York or The Slot in San Francisco – notorious sex clubs of the time – and we were doing what we were writing about. I may not have been Mr. Benson, but I knew where he hung out, I shared some of his fantasies of power and domination. So did my readers and Witomski's and Saylor's and Townsend's. We were giving form to the ideas and images that were part of our lives. We were articulating a moment of freedom and revolution that we were sharing with our readers."

["My Life as a Pornographer," My Life as a Pornographer and Other Indecent Acts]

1978: The short story "Mr. Benson" is accepted for publication by Drummer. Publisher John Embry asked Preston to turn the short story into a novel that the leather magazine could serialize. Preston said later that he prepared the novel manuscript on typewriters at the national offices of Church Women United, where he worked as a typist.

1978: Preston's Mr. Benson undergoes a makeover before it is published. By Jack Fritscher. As recalled by his editor at Drummer. (Caution: The page includes erotic images.) [Jack Fritscher]

1979?: An illustrator is chosen for Mr. Benson. By Len Paoletti. Skip down to the paragraph beginning "Stompers was a boot store". (Caution: The page includes erotic images.) [The Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation]

1979: The first installment of Mr. Benson hits the news-stands (image). The cover of issue #29 of Drummer. The novel ran under the byline of Jack Prescott.

1979: Preston learns the benefits of writing Mr. Benson. As recalled by the author in later years. [Newsgroup]

1979?: Preston becomes editor of Mandate. Preston described the magazine in his Big Gay Book (1991) in the following manner: "Its glossy pictures of male nudes and often sexual fiction puts it squarely into the realm of sex magazines, but it's always had a greater intent than to just turn on its readers. Book reviews, frequent nonfiction essays on politics and travel, and often humorous articles on the fads and fashions of the moment make it a favorite read for many gay men."

John Preston vs. Canada Customs

List of Materials Stopped by Canada Customs. Mr. Benson is one of nine titles by Preston that are listed. [The Newsletter on Civil Liberties]

Little Sister's Battle Goes Beyond Censorship. By Thomas Brasseur. The article mentions Preston's desire to participate in the court battle of a gay and lesbian bookstore against Canada Customs. [Simon Fraser University: The Peak]

Censorship in British Columbia: Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium. (skip down to the paragraph beginning "little"). Summarizes the history of the case, with one of Preston's titles cited as an example of books seized on their way to the bookstore. [Censorship in British Columbia: A History]

Little Sister's vs Canada Customs (Javascript required). General background about the case. [Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium]

Forbidden Passages: Writings Banned in Canada (Javascript required; click on the link "Xtra West, November 2, 1995"). A news article about the troubles faced by an anthology edited by Pat Califia and Janine Fuller. The anthology collected excerpts from writings that were stopped by Canada Customs, including Preston's essay "On Writing Pornography," which originally appeared in his banned book I Once Had a Master and Other Tales of Erotic Love. Forbidden Passages went on to win a Lambda Literary Award. [Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium]

Excerpts from J. Fuller's Restricted Entry: Censorship on Trail. Image files are available of pages that describe the role of Preston's books in the court battle, along with testimony offered about them at one of the trials. The primary reference begins at page 87. To locate the pages, go to the "search inside this book" box and do a keyword search on "preston" in order to locate the page numbers. Then click on the page numbers to bring up the files. In some cases, you may need to follow the link labelled "next page" on the previous page. You must be a regular customer, or be willing to sign up as one, in order to access the images. []

Little Sisters in the Supreme Court of Canada. The case put forward by the lawyers for Little Sister's in the Supreme Court. One of Preston's books is presented as evidence in the section devoted to homosexual sadomasochism. [British Columbia Civil Liberties Association]

The Supreme Court Decision (Javascript required). John Preston is mentioned in two sections of the decision, which partially upheld the complaint by Little Sister's. The judge quotes a witness discussing Canada Customs' difficulty in understanding "the mixed messages and mixed codes in, for example, the work of John Preston." The judge also quotes a witness who defended Preston's I Once Had a Master as having artistic and literary merit. The judge concludes that "a society committed to the values underlying freedom of expression, as our society is, cannot defend the automatic prohibition of descriptions and depictions of homosexual sado-masochism." [Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium]

REGIONAL JOURNALIST (Portland, 1979-1984)

"I began to move with the waves of gay men across the country. I moved to Boston, to Minneapolis, to Philadelphia, to New York to San Francisco, to Los Angeles . . . I could not be satisfied with the gay life in the cities. I had to find a place where I could live with the new culture and still have a way to be a Yankee. I moved to Portland."

["A New England Chorus," Winter's Light]

1979, December?: A book edition of Mr. Benson is advertised by Drummer. The novel's subject matter causes it to be rejected by several printers. It won't be published in book form until 1983.

1980: Mr. Preston Advertises. By John Preston. Three classified ads from leather periodicals. [Topman]

1980: "Looking for Mr. Benson" Tee-Shirts are Sold. An advertisement from Drummer. [Topman]

1980: Preston's first cover photo for Drummer is published (image). The cover of issue #38 of Drummer. Like many of the photos he took for Drummer, it was published under the byline of Yank. It shows a New England leatherman. This issue also includes the final installment of Mr. Benson, Preston's short story "I Once Had a Master," and two news articles by Preston, with accompanying photographs by him.

1980s?: Preston's presence at a talk helps to change a gay man's life. As recounted at the time of Preston's death. [Newsgroup]

1981, July 12: Preston's name appears in The New York Times for the first (but not last) time. The newspaper printed a letter from Preston protesting the statement of a Times book reviewer that homosexuals could usually save themselves from being sent by the Nazis to concentration camps if they stayed in the closet. Said Preston, "There is no justification [for the reviewer's] trivialization of the homosexual experience through the truly reprehensible intimation that those people in the camps could have escaped their fate."

1981: Preston learns of the death of his lover, Jason Klein. By John W. Rowberry, Jason Klein, and John Preston. Three excerpts from Drummer. (Caution: The page includes sexual descriptions.) [Topman]

1982, December 11: Preston's leather photographs are displayed under his real name for the first time. Drummer #59 announced the revelation of Preston's "semi-secret life as a photographer" in an article entitled "John Preston Comes Out." The article revealed to Drummer readers for the first time that John Preston, Jack Prescott, and photographer Yank were all the same person. The art show, entitled Men by John Preston, inaugurated the first leather bar in Portland, Maine: Cycles, founded by Tom Corbett and Tom St. John, who were fired from their real estate jobs after they were mentioned in an article by Preston for Torso magazine. Preston's article about their firing, "Trouble in Paradise" was reprinted in his essay collection Winter's Light.

1984: R. R. Donnelly & Sons, a printer, refuses to print Preston's I Once Had a Master because of its gay content. In 1992, Donnelly would print Madonna's Sex. (Ester B. Fein, "Printer Says No to Sex but Yes to Madonna, and Explains the Difference," New York Times [October 28, 1992], page C19.)

Books Published in 1983: Franny, the Queen of Provincetown. – Mr. Benson.

Books Published in 1984: I Once Had a Master, and Other Tales of Erotic Love. – Sweet Dreams (The Mission of Alex Kane). – Golden Years (The Mission of Alex Kane). – Deadly Reunion (Black Berets). – Cold Vengeance (Black Berets). – The Black Palm (Black Berets).

AIDS ACTIVIST (Portland, Maine, 1985-1989)

"By 1986, any gay man who had lived during the 1970s in New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles knew too many people with AIDS. And I had lived in all three cities during that decade. I had visited too many hospitals, had received too many late-night panicked phone calls, had read too many obituaries of too many friends. . . . As I sat alone that night, I wondered how I could possibly endure this."

[Introduction, Personal Dispatches: Writers Confront AIDS]

Books Published in 1985: Hot Living: Erotic Stories About Safe Sex. – Deadly Lies (The Mission of Alex Kane). – Stolen Moments (The Mission of Alex Kane). – African Assignment (Michael Sheriff, the Shield). – Arabian Assault (Michael Sheriff, the Shield). – Island Intrigue (Michael Sheriff, the Shield). – Louisiana Firestorm (Black Berets). – The Red Man Contract (Black Berets). – The Death Machine Contract (Black Berets).

1985: Preston and other volunteers join forces with a grandmother to fight AIDS (PDF file, 459 KB). Preston isn't mentioned in the article, but he became president of the AIDS Project of Southern Maine (now the Frannie Peabody Center). Preston's essay about Frannie Peabody, "A Woman of a Certain Age," appears in his essay collection Winter's Light. [Maine State Bureau of Health: Healthy Maine 2010]

Books Published in 1986: The Heir. – Safe Sex: The Ultimate Erotic Guide. – Entertainment for a Master. – Secret Dangers (The Mission of Alex Kane). – The Night of the Jaguar (Black Berets). – Contract: Terror Summit (Black Berets).

1986: Preston learns that one of his first loves has died of AIDS. He made this discovery by reading about the death in an essay by Edmund White. "My relationship with Kris [Johnson], nearly twenty years earlier, had never seemed to resolve itself," Preston wrote later in Personal Dispatches. He added, "Now he was gone, and it wasn't just that he was gone, but that all these men I had loved were dead and their connection with me was left hanging in the air, their spirits unresolved, the possibilities left unrealized."

Books Published in 1987: Love of a Master. – The Samurai Contract (Black Berets). – Blue Water Contract (Black Berets). – The Akbar Contract (Black Berets).

1987, October: Preston visits the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights.

1987: Preston learns that he is HIV positive. He reported later that he found himself so paralyzed that he was unable to write more than a few journalism articles for over a year.

Books Published in 1988: Lethal Silence (The Mission of Alex Kane). – The Barrabas Creed: Death Hunt in the Jungles (Sons of Barrabas). – Barabbas Raid: Journey to Red Square (Sons of Barrabas). – Pacific Payload (Sons of Barrabas).

1988: Preston goes in search of an author's lost manuscript. By Lars Eighner. [Topman]

Books Published in 1989: Personal Dispatches: Writers Confront AIDS. – In Search of a Master.

ANTHOLOGIST (1990-1994)

"I'm doing a third volume in the Flesh and the Word [erotica] series. . . . I've got this really good, hot story [set at Harvard University], and when I reached the end, I found that the author had footnoted it! Oh, I thought, I've got to go back and get out the MLA manual and check the footnoting to see if the attributions are done correctly."

[Interview by Felice Picano, in Looking for Mr. Preston, edited by Laura Antoniou]

Books Published in 1991: The Big Gay Book: A Man's Survival Guide for the Nineties. – Classified Affairs: A Gay Man's Guide to the Personal Ads. – Hometowns: Gay Men Write About Where They Belong.

Books Published in 1992: Flesh and the Word: An Anthology of Erotic Writings. – The King. – A Member of the Family: Gay Men Write About Their Families. – Tales from the Dark Lord.

1992, March: A young journalist meets the author who will become his mentor. By Michael Rowe. Also linked from the "Looking for Mr. Preston" section of this site. [Topman]

1992, Summer: Preston donates his papers to Brown University.

1992, Summer?: Preston anxiously awaits the reaction of the Brown University archivists to the news that he has written pornography. As told later to a visitor. [Newsgroup]

1992, November 13: A brief comment by Preston about volunteering (skip down). From an informal account of the Creating Change conference, sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. [Newsgroup]

1992, December: Preston adopts three protégés. Preston asked and received permission to be a literary mentor to three young authors: Owen Keehnen, Michael Lowenthal, and Michael Rowe.

Books Published in 1993: The Arena. – Flesh and the Word 2: An Anthology of Erotic Writings. – My Life as a Pornographer and Other Indecent Acts.

1993?: Preston tells an interviewer that he doesn't wear his leather any more (skip down). A recounting of an interview by Marcus Hernandez. [Leather Archives & Museum]

Books Published in 1994: Hustling: A Gentleman's Guide to the Fine Art of Homosexual Prostitution. – Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Write About Their Lives. – Tales from the Dark Lord II.

1994: Preston speaks to his co-editor of his final struggle (skip down). By Joan Nestle. From the introduction to Nestle's book, A Fragile Union. [At-Home with Joan]

1994: Anne Rice sends lilies to Preston (skip down to the paragraph beginning "There are white lilies in the room."). [Salon]

1994, April: Preston sets his priorities. By Susie Bright. [Topman]

1994, April: Preston works on his last revision. By David Streitfield. As recounted to a journalist by Preston's editor, Michael Denneny. [The Washington Post / Topman]

DEATH AND OBITUARIES (Portland and Around the World, 1994)

"Pam stood there and held [her baby] Benjamin in her arms while I explained how I felt, even with my lowering T4 cells. As always, she was clear and concise. 'Everyone with a chronic disease like an HIV infection has to make choices between quantity and quality all the time. That's what you're doing. . . . The big thing is for you to choose the best quality of life. That's what you've done and I can support that in every way.' Benjamin smiled his agreement, his small fists reaching out of his blanket and punching the air with innocent enthusiasm. We all said good night to one another. Then we parted and I came home and went to sleep, thinking about how I was going to complete this book. . . ."

[Prologue, Personal Dispatches: Writers Confront AIDS]

1994, April 28: Preston's Protégés Learn of His Death. By Michael Rowe. A passage cut from the published version of Rowe's essay, "Walking with the Ghost of John Preston." [Topman]

1994, April 28: John Preston. The Associated Press obituary, prefaced by a remembrance of Preston by a fan who heard him give a talk. [Newsgroup]

1994, April 29: John Preston, 48, Author, Editor, and Advocate in AIDS Causes. By Wolfgang Saxon. From The New York Times. [Newsgroup]

1994, April 29: John Preston, Writer and AIDS Activist, Dies at 48. By Greg Gadberry. Locals offer their memories in this Portland Press Herald article. [Access World News]

1994, undated: John Preston, 48, Gay Author, Falls to AIDS. By Bob B. Chatelle. From a fellow member of the National Union Writers. [Newsgroup]

1994, May 5: John Preston's Funeral. A call for leatherfolk to attend Preston's funeral. [Newsgroup]

1994, May 6: In Memoriam: John Preston. By Anne Rice. A reprint of the advertisement that appeared in The New York Times. [Newsgroup]

1994, May 7: A participant's view of John Preston's memorial service. Posted on May 11, this is an informal account of the service by a leatherwoman who attended. [Newsgroup]

1994, May 8: Service Celebrates the Life of John Preston. By Abby Zimet. An account in the Maine Sunday Telegram of Preston's funeral. Preston chose the scripture readings. [Access World News]

AFTERWORD (The World, 1994- )

"This summer I watched students unload 25 cartons of paper from my car [and] take them in to the John Hay Library at Brown University, where they're going to become part of the collection of lesbian and gay writing. Most of my early writing was published in magazines like Drummer, and I really did wonder what the librarians were going to think while they pored over the photo spreads to find my stories and essays. More seriously, I realized I was much more impressed by all this than I had imagined I would be. To have one's papers collected means someone has decided that what you're doing is interesting enough that someone will care about it in the future."

["Preston on Publishing: Getting Archived," Lambda Book Report, September 1992]

Books Published in 1995: Flesh and the Word 3: An Anthology of Gay Erotic Writings. – Friends and Lovers: Gay Men Write About the Families They Create. – Winter's Light: Reflections of a Yankee Queer.

1994, June 17: Portland dedicates its Gay and Lesbian Pride event to the memory of John Preston. From the Portland Press Herald. [Access World News]

1995, July: A tribute anthology on Preston is published. Looking for Mr. Preston was edited by Laura Antoniou and features reminiscences from Preston's friends and colleagues, as well as fiction written in his honor.

1995, July: Brown University announces a gathering in honor of John Preston. [Newsgroup]

1995, October 6-8: "Flesh and the Word: A John Preston Gathering" takes place (skip down). By John DeSantis and Martha Stone. An account of the Brown University conference that appeared in the November 1995 issue of HQ76.3/New England News. [HQ76.3/New England]

1995, October 6-8: A fellow author remembers Preston at the conference (after the opening paragraph, skip down to "Ties to John Preston"). By Brendan Camp. An interview with author Dorothy Allison during the conference. [Brown University: Issues]

2001, March 19: A fan visits the Preston Archive, to the entertainment of the librarians. [Home Page]

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Creative Commons License: Some Rights ReservedThis text, or a variation on it, was originally published at as part of Topman: Online Writings by and about John Preston. Copyright © 2004-2005, 2009 Dusk Peterson. Some rights reserved. The text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License ( You may freely print, post, e-mail, share, or otherwise distribute the text for noncommercial purposes, provided that you include this paragraph. The author's policies on derivative works and fan works are available online (