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What People Say About Us

The Ninth Street Center
by Doug Feldman

Every Saturday night in our big town a full-course dinner complete with entree, appetizer, vegetable, bread, rolls, butter, coffee, tea, soda, and an endless array of deep, full cakes are served up in generous portions free of charge. No, it's not the Salvation Army or the American Red Cross. As a matter of fact, those who come are usually well-dressed and can frequently afford dinners at New York's finest restaurants.

What is it? It's the social night at the Ninth Street Center! There is a contribution jar, but no one is coerced to give anything (though few leave without dropping in at least a dollar or two). The food is genuinely homemade by someone who spent years as a professional cook. It's absolutely delicious -- and given away with a smile.

Obviously, the Ninth Street Center is not your typical gay community organization. It's a new organization and one of the fastest growing. The Center opened just this past March, 1973 and already its two small basement rooms are packed every night with a wide variety of activities and an increasing number of gay people.

Actually, the idea of having a Ninth Street Center first struck in the minds of Dean Hannotte, the President of the Center, and his lover -- Dr. Paul Rosenfels -- back in early 1972. Dr. Rosenfels, author of (among other books) Homosexuality: the Psychology of the Creative Process, is a psychotherapist. His clients, all homosexuals, are called "students" instead of "patients."

The doctor started out as a Freudian psychoanalyst many years ago, but dropped out because it wasn't humanistic enough. It didn't allow for individual growth among gay people on an interpersonal level. He became a cook. Eventually, he developed a following of homosexual "students" who came for personal development as gay people, rather than a cure for their sexual orientation.

Dean Hannotte, meanwhile, had been involved with the Gay Activists Alliance, the now-defunct Liberation House, and the still-going-strong Identity House. But the GAA sort of turned him off. There was too much sloganeering with too little emphasis on individual human growth. They were concerned with people and not the person.

Life-loving Dean swiveled toward the left in his orange folding chair. His hands were clasped comfortably in front of him. His eyes sparkled with interest, while his face revealed dynamic shifts in mood. His long, silky black hair concealed the fact that he works in a bank as a computer programmer. "Gay is not always good," he said.

He rose forward in his chair. "Gay is not simply good." He went on. "Why have political freedoms unless you have the ability to lead a happy life." GAA is important, it's necessary, but it's clearly not enough.

What was needed he thought, was an organization that can spread gay pride and dignity on an individual level. What was needed was an organization that could carry across the philosophy of personal growth and development among gay people as originally inspired by his lover and as ardently followed by himself and the doctor's devoted "students."

The idea is a simple one. There is something about gay life that makes most gay people capable of growing more fully on a personal level than most straight people could. For homosexuals to fail, and to grow to develop themselves as individuals in a loving and constructive manner, it is that much more of a waste.

It may sound like rather heavy stuff. But then, don't the various lifestyles attached to homosexuality tend to free the individual from the limitations of social conformity and general societal constraints? True, not always. Yet, it's hard to try to deny that the gay experience permits us to see things from more than one angle.

After Dr. Rosenfels threw a Christmas party for his "students" last December, Dean decided to go ahead with the Ninth Street Center. He picked out a place on East Ninth Street (at 319 East Ninth Street between First and Second Avenues), since it was close to his and Paul's apartment on East Sixth Street.

The first open house and buffet dinner was last March 24th. Since then Paul and Dean have not been quite the same. While Dean has continued with his job and Paul with his practice during the daytime, their nights have been heavily devoted to the activities of the Center.

The current schedule of events is close to staggering. The two rooms are in constant use every evening from 6 pm to at least 10 pm. There's one-to-one private counselling by experienced counsellors every Monday, Tuesday and Friday evening from 6 to 10, and every Wednesday and Thursday from 6 to 8 pm. They'll help you come out, learn to make love work, and develop interpersonal power. They will even help you to live with another person. You say it's impossible? Don't give up! Give them a try. Phone them at 228-5153 for info or to set up an appointment.

Sunday is game night. Quiet games. Cards, scrabble, chess, and it starts at six. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8 pm are the nights for their open talk groups. There are two groups on Wednesday, with one in each of the two rooms. They are entirely free-form with minimal direction. There are no planned topics. The thrust of the talk groups are for interpersonal growth. And, yes -- they work!

There's a drawing class with a live male nude on Tuesday at 7:30 pm. It's led by David Tesdell. Bring a sketch pad, a flair for artistic creativity, and $1.50 for the model. Writers are invited to submit material for their new publication.

They've also got a photography class and an acting class which both meet at 8 pm on Thursdays. The photo class is being led by Arthur Tress, winner of the New York Magazine Photo Competition. The acting class is a special six-week course for $12 that began last week (October 18th). It sounds like it's more than worth it. Neil Elliott, a gay professional actor with lots of experience, is the instructor.

Saturday, of course, is the buffet supper and social. The action starts at 6 pm. Dean and Paul don't make a profit from giving away free food. They lose money every Saturday night, even with the generosity of those who donate to the upkeep of the Center. Everyone has a fantastic time, though, and the benefits derived for everyone concerned aren't the kind that can be tabulated on paper.

Love. Compassion. Interpersonal growth. Friendliness. Human involvement. Personal improvement. A new way of being gay. The emphasis is clearly on the very positive values. Cynics may scoff. They may say that it is too idealistic, that it can't really come off. But it is actually working! It is happening. It's going on right this moment over on East Ninth Street.

-- reprinted from Where It's At Magazine, October 29, 1973


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