William A. Percy – In Memoriam

William A Percy 2017
William A. Percy in Franklin Square Park, in Boston’s South End, 2017

In this annus horribilis after the passing of so many friends of Bill Percy and the Foundation, it is the culmination of our sadness to announce Bill’s own glide into perpetual sleep at some point in the early morning of Sunday, October 30, 2022. The Foundation’s vice president visited him the previous day and put the phone on speaker so that he and I could talk together with Bill. Bill was resolved that he was ready to die and would not be talked out of it, and without further delay his wish was fulfilled. He had already survived much against the odds: HIV, COPD, prostate cancer, a stroke. He now felt he had no more to give us.

‘A contrarian with joie de vivre’ 
Andrew Lear 

A Generous Curmudgeon with a Twinkle in His Eye
Richard Yuill

‘A ready wit and a dark sense of humor’
James Dubro

Friend, Colleague, Confidante, and Sometimes Scold 
Avi Eindorot 

My Memories of William Armstrong Percy III 
Beert Verstraete 

I first became acquainted with him in the fall of 2002, when I was on the East Coast as a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and had been invited to lecture at Boston University. I had reviewed one of his books and Bill had reviewed one of my books for the Gay & Lesbian Review. Through a mutual friend (the foundation’s vice president), Bill invited me to a party in my honor at his antique-stuffed South End townhouse. The following spring, when I was a Humboldt fellow in Berlin, Bill somehow showed up in Berlin, where he and I spent more time together, getting to know personalities as diverse as Erwin Haeberle, Arno Schmitt, and Egmont Fassbinder. Unlike me, Bill was a shameless extrovert. We quickly became friends and visited each other at least once or twice a year until the dismal days of COVID.

William A. Percy as a young man
William A. Percy as a young man

What impressed me about Bill was his willingness to defy political correctness and popular Zeitgeist. Opposed to a gay movement that had become corporatized and obsessed with respectability, Bill sought to reclaim the discarded and more frankly sexual elements of historical gay liberation struggles, what he called “the five P’s”: prostitution, pornography, promiscuity, pederasty, and “paraphernalia” (i.e., sex toys, poppers, other sex aids). I suggested and he readily agreed to a sixth P, which was public sex. Bill himself admitted to personal investment in only one (or maybe two) of the P’s, but what he recognized in all of them were historical aspects of gay life that had come to be swept under the rug and denied by mainstream gay media and organizations, even though they continued to play a prominent part in the lives of many gay men. With this insight was born my proposal that we form the Percy Foundation as an effort to pool the resources of the many gay men who wish to see the gay movement return to the heady liberationist goals of the 1970s, before the reactionary assimilationism and political correctness of later decades advanced limited officially recognized rights at the expense of the very qualities that made gay sex genuinely subversive and revolutionary in previous eras.

– Thomas K. Hubbard


2 thoughts on “William A. Percy – In Memoriam”

  1. I just learned today that Professor Percy, whom I had the honor of taking classes under in 2003 and 2004, passed away last year. Twenty years later, he is still the professor I remember most from my Bachelor’s degree at UMass Boston. I only wish I had taken his advice and gone to law school instead of attempting to pursue a doctorate in history. Rest in peace, Professor Percy. I remember you joking that you wanted to die “in the saddle.” I hope you had that honor.

  2. Professor Percy had a an enormous impact on my life as my undergraduate advisor at UMass Boston, from which I graduated in 1989. Because of him I dreamed of being a medieval scholar and he did indeed help me get into Columbia’s PhD program. I ended nevertheless a happy high school history teacher for 31 years. I recently read Strayer’s History of the Middle Ages , and it really took me back to our conversations about medieval history, Princeton, and Professor Percy’s past. He truly educated me. I’ll never forget him.

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