Interesting and provocative thoughts on gay history, gay sexual history, gay porn, and gay popular culture.
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I'll start with a cliché: a picture is worth a thousand words:
The history of the United States has been a struggle to come to grips with pluralism, accepting religious, racial, and now sexual diversity.
The first immigrants came to the United States in the seventeenth century fleeing genuine religious persecution on a continent reeling under bloody wars of religion, culminating in the devastation of the Thirty Years' War. Unfortunately, religious divisions continued to plague America until the Founding Fathers declared that church and state should be separate.
Our African-American brothers and sisters were forced to come here to work as slaves because they were deemed racially inferior. Even after their emancipation, they had to fight, as recently as sixty years ago, to be integrated into our social fabric after decades of segregation.
Women, long deemed the legal chattels of men, had to fight, often under brutal conditions, for the right to vote, to be treated as equal parties with a say in the running of our country.
And now, LGBT citizens, whose only “crime” is to love differently, have emerged after millenia of unjust discrimination, persecution and even death, to claim the right to participate equally in a culture that values liberty and justice for all.
Do you see a pattern in the above history? I'm cautiously optimistic that our justice system sees this too and will eventually approve of same-sex marriage and the rights thereof. If we can overcome this last acceptable prejudice, maybe, must maybe, as the prophet Isaiah said, we shall truly be “a light to the nations.”
Little David, a small regional magazine, served as a kind of gay news-magazine/travel guide (and including some nudies too) for the burgeoning, newly open gay community in Florida outside of Key West in the 1970s. These new worlds offered activities and places where gay men could vacation and joy themselves were now openly advertising, where one gets a sense of richness, diversity and just plain fun in that color-crazy disco fever party time after Stonewall and before AIDS.
Places like Fort Lauderdale and Provincetown quickly became gay meccas, and magazines like Little David offered detailed coverage in its feature like "Looking Around" (the title hinting at 1970s gay cruising activities perhaps?) that reported on practically every gay activity going on cross-country as well as in there neck of the woods.
Most gays at that time socialized in bars, gay discotheques, bookstores, porn theaters and bathhouses in gay "ghetto" sections of large cities, and one notes a plethora of drag contests (perhaps throwbacks to the days in the closet?), cabaret acts, buffets, tea dances, as well as, on a smaller scale, meetings by what were then new gay activist groups.
One of the overall impressions that era presented was a very open, let it all hang out (literally, you couldn't keep a good cock down, many were hanging out or bulging out of one's short shorts or tight Levis). Yes, this was a fun time, the gay world was dancing, and in hindsight, the dance was tragically cut short.
Vol. 1, No. 5 of Little David, the May/June 1974 reveals a snapshot of Chicago's gay world during this period. Dugan's Bistro and Carol's Coming Out Pub were only one year old at the time, and they both celebrated their birthdays with food and live entertainment. At Dugan's, then a major "mixed" discotheque, the "Bearded Lady" provided "her usual hilarious antics," while Frannie "made the words and music dance" in the air with torchy classics like "I Didn't Get Enough of You" and "Dead Eye Dan." She also appeared at Man's Country bathhouse, then located on Clark Street, when bathhouses offered a variety of social activities in addition to the "naughty stuff" occurring in the rooms. The bathhouse Gay Broadway was at that time in its heyday, and this issue notes its groovy décor and close circuit television. Gay Broadway even presented a Women's Night that was advertised in this issue, and according to the former owner of this establishment, Steven Toushin, Womens' Night sank "like a lead balloon."
Chicago's fifth annual gay pride parade (it's hard to believe there's been so many gay pride parades since then) did not go down like that proverbial lead balloon, according to the report in Vol. 1, No. 6 of Little David, the parade was fabulous. I'm going to list a few of the bars and community organizations that were represented in that parade: M's Lounge (a lesbian bar); Broadway Sams; Dugan's Bistro; Gay Broadway; The Snake Pit; Club Baths; Man's Country; Beckman House; G.P.U.; Gay Horizons Unity; Mattachine; and Good Shepherd Parish. What a variety of organizations!
These were the days when Old Town, yes Old Town, before expensive gentrification, before Cobbler Square Apartments and the spoiled frat boys and young socialite cheerleaders texting away and the nosy tourists invaded, was the gay bar district, in fact, a veritable gay colony. Bob Hugel, owner of Glory Hole (the report claims he brought gayness back to Old Town; I would argue he more like maintained in that part of town), opened The Wild Onion. Our Den was another gay bar in the area that just opened during this time period, and the Bijou Theater with its "fucktabulous" summer backyard. Sounds like what is going on these days in Andersonville, Uptown, and Rogers Park: gay colonization. What happened to the neighborhood? What will happen in many neighborhoods gays colonize?
What did happen in those wild carefree days was a pot-luck dinner and Ann Landers look-a-like contest at Liberty Hall, 2440 Lincoln Avenue. One can just imagine ...
But could anyone in the gay culture of cybersex and Grinder really pull off an event like that today, where face to face encounters like many gay men enjoyed in the bathhouses aren't necessarily a component of social encounters? In the 1970s, face to face interaction was essential, mostly because for the first time, many gay guys could experience it more openly, at least in gay-friendly spots, without a constant fear of arrest and subsequent public humiliation, which could include job loss. It's funny, now, when gays don't have to hide, they end up hiding behind a technology of social media that is supposed to expand their socialization possibilities.
On a parting note, by reading about the events Little David reports, one can also remember a time when camp wasn't over analyzed as a "byproduct of patriarchal heterosexual oppression," and gay men and their friends danced. All night. With each other. Because they finally could!
It's always hard to believe when you start thinking about dates and chronologies and discover that 1979 was more than 30 years ago. Stonewall was more than 40 years ago! For me, I remember those years well. From the beginning of video, to all those bar contests, now there is the Internet with its fetish sites, and even Grinder. But International Mr. Leather, which is also known as IML, is still here; it's an event where you still meet like-minded people face to face.
International Mr. Leather is the world's oldest international leather and fetish event on record. Started in the 1970s as a contest, "Mr. Gold Coast Leather," at a Chicago gay leather bar called the Gold Coast, under the aegis of its owner, Chuck Renslow, who still presides over this great event known as IML. In 1979, the event moved to a larger venue, and became International Mr. Leather, held at the Chicago Radisson Hotel. The first International Mr. Leather was David Kloss, one of twelve contestants.
Since that time period, the contest has mushroomed into an event of massive proportions. IML features a leather/fetish vendor market, the International Mister Bootblack Contest, and a multitude of sex/fetish parties hosted by various organizations, dances and socials, and related sexual, fetish, leather events. The contest reportedly brings in an estimated $10 million dollars to the city of Chicago in tourism revenue. In today's world gay culture has become more accepted and integrated into the larger society, this fetish event in itself has become more diverse with hardcore gay leathermen mix with "bicurious hipsters" and tourists.
But what really makes this year's event historic is the President's pronouncement on gay marriage. Related to this context, given that gay marriage is legal in several states, two of the contestants are married. Even more significantly, according to one source, two civil unions will occur this year at the event. This is exciting!
Bijou Video and Theater this year once again will have a booth at the Vendor Mart. Stop by and check out our unique collection of vintage gay porn, some of which dates back to the 1960s, as well as to the origins of IML. As part of your Bijou IML experience, take a picture of yourself as a pornstar in one of our four porn scenes. To everyone this IML Memorial Day weekend, be safe and enjoy the party.
It's not porn (not really a strange addiction), and it's not my strange addiction. What is it? The series My Strange Addiction on the The Learning Channel. Everyone seems to be baring privates, or in this case, mostly eating publicly what they are doing privately, on TV these days, but what I find most fascinating is the eating. Yes, people addicted to eating objects one would not consider to be food. And we aren't talking about the sexual fetishes of eating/drinking piss/cum and the like that often appear in porn movies, though, recently, the show featured a woman addicted to drinking her own urine, which sometimes tasted "lemony" (she claimed it was a type of holistic therapy for cancer).
Here's the rundown on the eating strange objects episodes, and of course you can obtain more information about these episodes on-line (http://.howstuffworks.com/tv/my-strange-addiction) : eating toilet paper; eating chalk; eating the insides of couch cushions; eating laundry detergent; eating household cleanser; eating glass; and eating cigarette ashes. Sounds gross, revolting, and other adjectives that mean approximately the same? Perhaps so, but perhaps not that unusual, in many cases.
What's disturbing, in my view, is that many of these addicts are socially, psychologically, and economically marginalized, such as minority women or gay men, many of whom have suffered serious traumas. For example, Crystal has been eating household cleanser everyday since she was twelve; her shame, embarrassment and concern for her health have caused her to keep this a secret. She said in a later interview that she thought she was "cleaning herself out" after suffering physical and sexual abuse as a child. Adele, an African-American woman, suffers from Pica, a disorder found most commonly in toddlers and pregnant women who lack certain nutrients, causing them to crave non-nutritive substances like chalk, coins, batteries and even dirt. Sometimes this addiction is caused by stress, and Adele admits her first time happened during a very emotional period in her life, when her parents were on the brink of divorce.
Not that these addictions are solely, or ultimately, class-based cause or effect, but where are the wealthy white upper middle-class men in this scenario (the ones who still hold the power)? Perhaps they can't come out with these types of issues because of their position in the society, or they have recourse to private (and expensive) psychological assistance, or they haven't experienced the level of trauma these women have suffered (including never having experienced hunger, forgive my self-righteousness). There's also perhaps the stigma, at least in certain social strata, of divulging such private matters in any public media, much less the specific "trashy" association of appearing on reality TV.
Or, more significantly, perhaps the powerful suffer from an addiction based on power (harming others), rather than powerlessness (harming one's self). I'm thinking of Larry Craig and his bathroom escapades, or, more overtly, Bernie Madoff and his colossal ponzi scheme. Note that Craig and Madoff were involuntarily outed; Adele and the others like her voluntarily submitted their addictive behaviors to the scrutiny of the public.
The key to a possible cure in many cases of addiction that are ultimately psychological (rather than organic) is moderation, founded on a respect for the self, integrated with a respect for others, a concept that proves elusive in a culture of narcissism. Everyone wants to be a celebrity; everyone wants, and attempts to imitate, the power and fame associated with such celebrity. And it's so easy to do so.
I'm concerned that someone on youtube is already eating poisonous couch cushions for their celebrity moment. I'm even more concerned that Madoff-like schemes, like the recent "Diamond Bar PTA mom" ponzi scheme in California, continue to devastate the livelihoods, and hopes, of many Americans.
Great advancements in modernization came about because of beer. Just listen to this, some German immigrants (think they were Miller & Coors) brought a new type of beer to America, lager beer which is cold brewed. Well to keep it cold they needed some form of refrigeration. So the first refrigeration was developed not to keep your milk cold, but to keep your brew beer perfect for drinking. Did you know that beer produced the first manufacturing plants. That's right and everyone thinks is was Ford who modernized manufacturing to built the Model T car. Not so, modern mass manufacturing plants were built to make bottles to hold all that beer.
Even advances in medicine comes from beer. The concept of germs and bacteria came from beer. Distillers showed how the heating process in the brewing killed the crap in water that was making people sick. I learned in that wonderful Discovery Channel show that distillers took water from a duck pond and brewed beer from an old recipe, while the water was foul from the fowl, the beer was not. All because of the technique of distilling with boiling water. Need I say more, even the very idea of washing your hands came about because of beer.
Scientists in the 20th century discovered Tetracycline in Egyptian mummies which was long before the discover of this antibiotic in the 1940's. How was this possible? That's right, the brewing of beer from an ancient Egyptian recipe.
There was a lot more to this show and everything they presented about the evolution of mankind was based on the discovery, the production and consumption of BEER. All the way back to mankind settling down.
Now what they didn't show was how beer brought us porn, so let's just run with that idea for a moment. Because of beer we can relax in cool comfort on hot days (or cold days), grab a little something to eat (or not) and a beer from the fridge. We have our TVs for entertainment where we watch ball games and all those beer commercials and low and behold came the VCR, and "whala!" here comes porn right on my TV. So here I am with a bottle of beer in one hand and my joint in the other. So because of beer there is a lot of one handed entertainment.
Didn't I tell you that the educational valve of the Discovery Channel will give you a whole new perspective on beer?
Speaking of beer, we have plenty of freshly brewed beer on hand at Touché everyday and every night.
Touche's since 1978, 6412 N. Clark Street Chicago, 773-465-7400. M-F 5 pm - 4 am SAT 3 pm - 5 am SUN noon - 4 am)
Bijou/bijouworld.com the only name for Vintage/Classic gay porn films and magazines. 800.932-7111
Keep it hot,
I recently saw a show on the Discovery channel the other night that informed me about one thing that we all should be thankful for, and that is Beer.
Beer truly makes the world go round. Yes I learned that beer is the basis for everything in this world (I shit you not). The show was simply amazing, so grab a bottle and learn a little something from the Chicago's night life sexual underground. Early man was a hunter-gatherer, each day he wandered around for a couple of hours hunting looking for something to eat. May it be animal or vegetable it didn't matter the routine until around 9,000 B.C. Of course early man did a lot of fucking also or we won't be here (to enjoy a good beer).
One of the things they gathered was barley. Well one day just by accident a container of barley was left outside and it rained, so guess what happened? The barley naturally fermented and some brave cavemen dared to drink that fomented, frothing mixture and boy did he yell, THIS TASTE GREAT, and it also made him feel really good 15 minutes later.
The caveman motto for beer became: Taste great and makes you fly like a bird. This caveman go so excited that he called all his cave buddies over to his cave to try out this great tasting brew; and what do you know, by the next full moon, they all moved into caves next to this great and wonderful party animal. This my dear reader is the true history of how communities and villages were first formed, all because of beer. (Ok, I made this last part up.)
So let's continue this wonderful story. It was because of beer that man settled down, to plant and raise the crops that made beer (I shit you not). And as it turned out this drink was certainly was better than water. With this new discover mankind developed the mathematical designs to plot land and so we could keep track of the barley beer harvest. To be near beer people gathered together and towns sprung up. Did you know that the pyramids of Egypt were built by workers who were paid – that's right, in beer!
Lets jump ahead a bit to medieval times. I learned that the water ways rivers, brooks, streams, reservoirs weren't keep clean for there was a lot of shit and piss floating around. So the drink of choice, you guessed it was beer because the water was boiled first and the bad shit was boiled out (the makers of bear didn't know this, they felt the boiling of the water made a better beer).
Colonists coming to the new world drank beer on the ships because it would keep. A famous event that took place before our revolution (and which a political group today is named after) came about when a group of colonists gathered at a tavern in Boston and decided to dump some tea in the harbor. Of course they were drinking only the best beer when they made that historic decision.
Find out more about beer and porn in part two of Beer, Instrumental in the Creation of the World.
So what? What else is new? Many have heard about the lavender seminaries and the ephebophile (NOT pedophile; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephebophilia) priests, yes, all those scandals, scurrying out of a musty closet like a swarm of moths in the latter part of the last century (and still today).
But in the early 1960s, right before Vatican II and the sexual revolution and all those massive societal changes, a Catholic priest, of course maintaining anonymity, published an article in the homoerotic publication Grecian Guild Pictorial.
The article is entitled "The Human Body - God's Work of Art." In some ways, the article is pretty much in line with the magazine's mission statement, "I seek a sound mind in a sound body." Yet the word "Grecian," however, could easily be read as an underground code for "gay." Grecian became a coded word for gay during the time period of this magazine: those who like the male body, the "body beautiful," resembling the "Grecian ideal ideal in its muscularity, symmetry, and grace." The association with the more openly homoerotic and bisexual culture of ancient Greece (and not just the physical aspects, but the emphasis on art and health as well as physical strength) was intentional.
Yet the magazine espoused lofty ideals that were in tune with the Cold War patriotism of that era: "Our goal is the development of a sound mind in a sound body that we may best service our God, our fellow man and our country." The divine in this magazine was usually approached through the principles of the New Thought,"power of positive thinking" movement that began in the nineteenth century: a healthy body can be gained by a sound mind; the right prayer-energy can heal. The editor does make a note before Father Ed's article that "the Guild, embracing as it does members of all religious faiths, has often presented the Protestant viewpoint of the human body and its relationship to God." One might wonder what the Protestant viewpoint was or is; perhaps a more liberal Protestant viewpoint (think United Church of Christ or even Unitarian) that abandoned a puritanical version of Calvinism and emphasized a view of the human body as essentially optimistic and progressive. That is, kind of a feel good, God loves you and everything about you type of attitude, or as William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience put it, "healthy-minded."
Is Father Ed, with his "Catholic point of view," in sync with any of the above ideas? He is aware that many readers will disagree with his article "in some of its aspects." Where does he fit in in this context, which leads to another, more interesting and ultimately speculative question: why did he join the Guild and submit an article for publication?
After acknowledging, respectfully, that others may not agree with him (more on that later), Father Ed proclaims that the "human body is undoubtedly God's most beautiful creation in the physical order." A "Protestant or New Thought" Grecian would certainly agree with him. And he's completely orthodox. God's creation is good. God became incarnate in a human body, and therefore there's nothing evil about our bodies. In fact, he implies that the body is even "further glorified" (but in what way?) because of the Incarnation. St. Augustine, despite his reputation of being "Mr. Sex Is Evil," would agree with him. The physical body itself is not evil; it's what you do with it that can cause problems. (Which problems supposedly started in the Garden of Eden, but we won't go there ... yet.)
Father Ed then makes the move I anticipated above, given his orthodox theology: the Catholic Church does not "consider the human body as something evil." He gives as evidence all those nude Renaissance pictures in the Vatican, both pagan (again, he's in sync with the Grecian ideals here) and Christian (forgetting that prudish Counter-Reformation popes covered them up) and the Church's condemnation of the "Arian heresy." Sorry, Father Ed, your facts are off here. The Docetic heresy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docetism) denied Christ's physicality; the Manicheans and some of the Gnostic sects also tended toward a flesh/spirit dualism, some more extreme sects even claiming that the Old Testament God, the Demiurge, was evil because he created the physical world.
So far, so good, That is, the body. But sex? Here's where Father Ed, despite joining and contributing the Grecian guild, proclaims the usual position of the Catholic Church. No extramarital heterosexual sex, no masturbation, and no homosexuality. The Fall of Adam has somehow corrupted our passions in these directions. Stay away from temptations and don't expose irrationally passionate youth to them (including those dirty movies).
Father Ed asserts:
Thus, just as fire is kept away from gasoline, so the senses of the young must be kept away from those suggestions which will inflame their passions.
Not much different from the sexuality espoused in Protestant tracts (despite the author's and editor's claim about a unique Catholic perspective) like evangelist Oscar Lowry's The Way of a Man with A Maid:
I would impress upon the mind of the young man, as well as that of the young woman, the necessity of self-control and chastity as the only way to secure those strong mental and physical qualities so necessary for worth-while success in life as well as for future paternal and maternal happiness.
Where does all this theology leave the Grecian reader? Worshipping a body as a sacred work of art, but leaving sex out of the picture, literally? The tension seems too strong to bear. And thus, it's left unresolved in the article. As a conclusion, Father Ed rather lamely opens himself to "further correspondence on this matter" addressed to him "in care of the guild." One wonders what further conversation, if any, occurred as a result of this article.
And thus, one might wonder if Quaintance's picture of a stunning nude with six-pack abs (not full-frontal, but the guy is definitely nude) holding a sword which is also a crucifix (look closely!), the ultimate sacred body, at the top of the article, really works here. The image can be interpreted chastely (or was it intended to be a chaste image in line with Father Ed's argument?), but really, that homoerotic image seems more like a "dangerous gasoline" inflaming the passions of those gay Grecians. He isn't doing anything overtly sexual in the picture, but is the naked Crusader really gazing at that crucifix? Is his head bowed in prayer? Something's really mixed up here. And that something could point to the eternal tension between the religious and the erotic. An either/or dichotomy tries to become a both/and. Still an impasse.
Another impasse, that ultimately speculative question I asked earlier: Did Father Ed like guys? Is it even a relevant question? I might argue it is relevant, because he did write the article for the Guild, which brings up other questions: Why did he join the Guild, with its publications containing a plethora of homoerotic beefcake pictures? In this article, was he trying to honestly sway some the readers to his point of view, even implying he was gay and was managing to keep it under wraps? And thus, as he ultimately a hypocrite, inflaming his passions with "dangerous gasoline" while preaching against said passions? Perhaps he might have found the Church's post-Vatican II, pre-Ratzinger position (before homosexuality was defined as an "objective disorder") on homosexuality with its ambiguous, relentlessly illogical position more to his liking: your nature is good, but if you act on what that nature causes you to do, you end up, somehow, doing something not good.
I would like to think Father Ed ended up coming out after Vatican II, even leaving the priesthood like may did, but I doubt it. Maybe he really lived chastely in accordance with Church teaching, maybe not. Still, he did pen an article that, in hindsight, given what we know now about its context, revealed a revolutionary juxtaposition: "Father Ed, A Catholic Priest and Member of the Grecian Guild."
I remember reading the book by David Leavitt, The Lost Language of Cranes, published in 1997. The closeted father of the gay main character has spent much of his adult life expressing his sexual desires in gay oorn movie theaters. In one strange scene, he evens runs into his wife on a Sunday while walking to one of the gay theaters in New York City. His wife never questions what her husband does every Sunday afternoon.
By the publication date of this book, 1997, the Internet was taking off as a means to hook up, most gay guys owned a VHS player which enabled them to watch porn by themselves, and AIDS had decimated much of the gay population that had experienced sexual encounters in such theaters: was the porn movie theater soon to become an icon of the past? How many guys, married or not, spend Sunday afternoons in gay porn theaters? Recently, in Chicago, the forest preserve has replaced the movie theater as spot of gay sex. Bathrooms are still popular trysting spots (perhaps because they are free, despite the obvious danger). Unlike many of the bathhouses, any of which which closed because of AIDS, the theaters continued their business, perhaps more fitfully, but all these factors seemed to signal an end to that world of endlessly available sex, a world depicted vividly in the classic gay porn film A Night at the Adonis.
The Adonis was New York City's famous gay porn theaters in the 1970s. Other theaters included the Eros, Gaiety, Bijoux, and Elgin. 42nd Street was the spot for XXX activity, both gay and straight. In fact, Any movie theater could end up being a space for gay sex, as depicted so brutally in the film Midnight Cowboy in the scene where the cowboy hustler played by Jon Voigt picks up a young kid who can't pay him for the sex. Even the New York Times accepted ads for gay porn films!
Jack Wrangler and Malo star in A Night at the Adonis, directed by Jack Deveau for Hand-in-Hand Films.
Jack stars as a store owner who has designs on his husky employee, Malo (a.k.a.Roger). Malo turns down a date with his boss and goes to his hairdresser, who promptly fucks him hard on the barber chair. But Jack and Malo do meet later because, as this film demonstrates, throughout the 1970's everybody in New York City wound up at the Adonis Theatre sooner or later.
From the balcony to the boiler room, director Jack Deveau does a good job of showing the wide range of customers (from young to mature, from leather to clean-cut) engaging in all sort of sexual enjoyment.
In a restroom of the theatre, the manager and a leatherman share blowjobs with one another, the latter blowing onto the sucker's face. Meanwhile, as different Hand-in-Hand films are playing on the screen, Jack and the barber have met up with one another and are busy beating each other off, but disturbed by the constant intrusions.
Into another men's room, three men begin to get into one another. Roger is there and has one of the guy's mouth with his big cock while the other watches. The barber goes down on Jack's boner and Roger is shown plowing ass in the bathroom over the sink. Roger soon glides Geraldo's cock into an ass he was sucking, the film here becoming a full-scale orgy. Highlighting this orgy is a dual jackoff session by "two" Big Bill Elds.
The Adonis was a place where, as the title of Brad Gooch's book reads, the “Golden Age of Promiscuity” played out, behind those marquees which are now dimmed. But new kinds of lights flash these days, but on cellphones, as the new generation hooks up via Grinder.
Slate Magazine recently published a six-part series of insightful and well-researched pieces by June Thomas, “The Gay Bar: Is It Dying?” (http://www.slate.com/id/2297608). The summation statement in part V, entitled “The New Competition,” intrigued me, “so maybe gay bars aren't doomed; instead they're moving into our phones.” I do wonder how that “netherworld” of gay culture, the leather/BDSM/fetish community, long a leader in on-line networking technology (starting with the beginnings of the Internet, before today's complex cellphones with Internet capabilities) because of its very specific and unusual content and audience, has been affected by this trend.
One leatherman, who identifies himself as “Middle Guard,” having been trained by the “Old Guard” leather of the late 60s and 70s, made this observation:
“Yeah, the younger generations socialize w/o the bars etc. The consequence of going mainstream w/c was our stated goal all along; not realizing the consequence of that, and the Internet Age. Specialty bookstores have long not been needed, that was the herald of things to come: now one can go to any Barnes and Noble or Borders Books, etc. All have large LGBT sections. “
And one can, if one doesn't even “do” hard physical copies of text (Borders is now closed, like many large bookstore chains), one can of course use one's computer and one's phone to essentially shop for a variety of like-minded partners and thus not be restricted to entrance into the backroom of a specifically leather bar or undergo initiation into a traditional leather club. Even those who still interact in a traditional leather or leather club setting assume one has a World Leathermen Recon profile.
Yet, despite the supposed diversity and seemingly endless flexibility in this new way of hooking up, what's interesting about this observation is the emphasis on homogeneity, which Mark Stoner, owner of Pony's in Seattle, quoted in the Slate article, claims is a growing trend in gay bars. Everyone mixed together. No separate backrooms with dress codes. Straights are welcome. Even ostensibly straight bars, like urban hipster ones, supposedly embrace sexual differentiation or “alternative” identities. Diversity is a virtue. But, also, could one argue that possibly the diversity is taking away some of the uniqueness of the BDSM presence in gay culture? Pluralism does not necessarily imply diffusiveness. According to the article in Slate, Part IV, “Can Gay Bars Make Money?”:
“[Pony's manager,] Marcus Wilson, explained why Pony has chosen to so clearly ward off uptight straights. He noted that 'gays and lesbians have gained politically in the last 20 years. The majority feel that the key is to be as inoffensive as possible. They want to trim off the edges, look or sound inoffensive. When gays were outsiders, gay bars could have more color and characters—the leather daddy, transpeople. Gay bars have discouraged that. Now they're going for homogeneity in the look of the place and in the music. They want to be innocuous. Some gay bars look and feel like airport lounges, with nothing to offend—or to stimulate. Pony wants to challenge that.'”
Pony is not a leather bar, per se, but what Pony is trying to do made me think of what happened to the Cellblock in Chicago. (By the way, according to Yelp, Pony is now closed.) In the Cellblock, now the décor is “light” leather, but the sensibility, the activity, is far from leather/BDSM in the traditional sense. The place even auctioned off the BDSM equipment (such as a cross) in its once notorious backroom! In essence, the place essentially gentrified in line with its surrounding “gayborhood,” now populated by strollers pushed by both gay and straight couples.
But is the gay leather bar (and club) uniformly doomed? Jesse Monteagudo argues in his column celebrating International Mr. Leather (http://www.gaytoday.com/penpoints/050304pp.asp) that leather bars and clubs are far from dead, again, because of the very specific interests of its clientele, but he also argues that the what he calls “traditional patch” clubs that date as far back as the 1960s motorcycle clubs are in trouble, because “young leathermen” find their rules and admission criteria restrictive and outdated. Given the diversity of leather culture (and I would also argue diffusiveness), that may be true, but, as he does claim, some have evolved with the time, some provide unique services, and some may be the only outlet in areas far removed from the traditional gay urban centers.
The above is true, to some extent, but what seems to be lacking in the “new” culture is a sense of having to “earn one's leather,” and by undergoing what it takes to earn, one grows, into the leather life. It's easy to be leather-curious these days, and I applaud that fact, but doesn't the leather/fetish/BDSM embody elements of pain, fear, taboo, self-scouring, psychological submission to another, in fact, many of the components of a religious journey that requires a life-changing commitment? And what about the value learning from the past clubs and their own individual historical journeys, not just judging a club on how it has evolved with the times (which, in most cases, seems to be technological advancement?
Monteagudo mentions the passing of “leather elders,” which has created some difficulties for bars and clubs to continue, but doesn't seem to be aware that the techniques and philosophy of these elders are the foundation of what many leathermen today practice. I'm concerned that in the new diffusiveness of interactions that is occurring in the leather community this foundation, with its rough and ready, on the edge, unique personalism, will be lost.
But that dangerous edge in leather/BDSM/fetish still scares many (well, it's supposed to be scary!). Though many younger people, both gay and straight, subscribe to the new openness about sexual diversity where cable channels can air shows like “Strange Sex,” some still tend to view BDSM activity physically and psychologically harmful and dangerous, and the confuse it with situations like domestic abuse and slavery. Even that extremely open-minded nurse Sue on her show “Talk Sex with Sue” seemed ambivalent about BDSM practices; she, in one case, advocated the use of a flogger on the skin for a blind person, was clear that no pain should be involved. I do wonder if this attitude has affected the social interactions of gay leathermen and thus the leather bar/club as well, in addition to the other factors above, and will continue to do so.
In 2004, I found out via the gay press that one of the men's bathroom in a building where I teach at was one of those "T-rooms," complete with a glory hole. Apparently the cops raided the bathroom, which by then had developed a reputation for clandestine sexual activity. The gloryhole was sealed and a sign placed in the room announcing that the area was now under surveillance by campus police. The publicity garnered by the raid earned the bathroom this nickname: "Brokeback Bathroom."
I never knew this activity was going on. Honestly. But one question really prompted further inquiry: in an age of wide-range tolerance for gay sexuality (ironically, the movie Brokeback Mountain indicative of this development), why the secret sex in unsanitary bathrooms? Only an "outlet" for married guys or guys in the closet? And even if a guy wasn't in that situation, why the appeal of sticking your dick in a hole and letting someone unknown person suck it? I enjoy oral sex immensely, but I like to see the person who is going down on me and play with others parts of his body. Apparently many others aren't necessarily interested in seeing what the cock is attached to!
WHAT IS A GLORY HOLE? WHAT'S IN THE NAME?
What is a glory hole, exactly? Why is the hole modified by the word glory, with all its complex connotations, including Biblical/religious ones (the word for glory in Hebrew is kavod, in Greek doxa)? It's interesting and perhaps significant, given the often blurry distinctions between the experience of sexual orgasm and religious mystical experience (think of the famous statue by Bernini, "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa"), that the word glory is an English translation of the Hebrew word which really means weight and could imply destruction related to powerful physical phenomena like thunder and lightning.
And according to W.R.F. Browning's Dictionary of the Bible, in certain sections of the Torah or Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), the "cloud" is a kind of covering through which the glory shines (Exod. 24:16-17). There appears to be strong associations with a supernatural power pulsing through the natural (thus both transcendent and immanent), which include sexual power, and also a kind of need to somehow "cover" or "conceal" that power (like the walls between the bathroom stalls) because of its physical (and spiritual) immensity.
POSSIBLE PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE NAME
This context could give some weight (pun intended) to the rather florid and fanciful "etymology" from the unknown author of an article published in the late 1960s or early 1970s, "The Other Side of the Story: Defending Glory Holes."
Why are they named glory-holes? Possibly because of the glorious sexual release of being blown, standing with your erect prick stuck through it and being sucked off by a warm, hot mouth on the other side. Possibly, on the other hand, the "glory" belongs to the person doing the "job" on the other side of the wall, sucking on a fat, throbbing piece of meat, and receiving the thrill of a convulsive stream of jetting cum into his mouth as reward for a job well done.
Regardless of the hammy, cliched language, the unknown author touches on some of the motivations for such activity, including the anonymity (only seeing a mouth, for example), and even, despite the anonymity, an objective sense of accomplishment or reward without the context of a potentially complicated interpersonal relationship. Also, the anonymity can encourage a fetish, not only for say, an uncut cock or a thick one, but also perhaps attaching whatever face or body shape to that appendage, as argued by that same unknown author:
There is also the fantasizing of sucking on an organ which you can mentally attach to anyone you wish - an unobtainable "straight" friend, a movie star hero, a famous athlete; indeed, anyone at all! It's simply PRICK! And prick alone, in its raw, unadulterated state!
A private fantasy becomes public in a way one can't express publicly.
BRIEF HISTORY OF GLORY HOLES
Whatever the psychological and social ramifications, as well as possible etymologies and connotations of the glory hole, it can be still found in public bathrooms throughout the United States located in movie theaters, truck stops, adult bookstores, gay bars, and as I stated in the introduction, university rest rooms. Glory holes are most often located in Tea Rooms or T-Rooms, which evolved from the nickname "toilet room." These tea rooms were public toilet areas where secretive homosexual activity occurred, as early as the eighteenth century. Of course getting caught (as is still the case) would mean some form of criminal punishment, which in the past included the pillory and the gallows.
In the repressive environment of the 1950s, the T-room with its omnipresent glory hole was a significant place where gay men could at least obtain some sexual, if not interpersonal, contact. Before Newton Arvin, the famous "scarlet professor," was arrested in 1960 for possession of obscene materials (those vintage physique magazines and 16mm movies) and "lewd" behavior, he used to routinely cruise public bathrooms and bus stations. He had been married, but much later in life he admitted to himself and a few select others his homosexuality and began to act on it in the only possible situations available to gays during this period.
Professor Arvin's, and others like him, position was given a particularly impersonal ambience, bleak as a typical bus station, by David Reuben in his 1970s book Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex - But Were Afraid to Ask:
Most homosexuals will quickly tell you that they cruise public restrooms because they are there, because certain of such places are well known for such activity, because there are few other places a person can go in the daytime for sex, and a myriad of other reasons. For some, a t-room is quick and convenient. These are the people who dig impersonal sex, people who live with their families and can't bring a trick home, or people fearing to get involved.
GLORY HOLES AND THE GAY CLOSET
The book Glory Hole: A Study of Homosexual Activity in Public Places (no date, no publication information; looks to be early 1970s), a pornographic book touted as educational material with some interesting articles (including the one cited above defending glory holes), uses the above book as a source and corroborates this rather bleak view to some extent. Yet this view, as the text says, of the "sordid squalor of the nation's public toilets" seems to fight against the graphic pictures and jerk-off stories of glory hole sex in the book. Or is there really a conflict there?
This text quotes from a source called Psychopathia Sexualis, which connects glory hole behavior with masochism, the thrill of getting caught and the public humiliation that ensues (different from the consensual S/M which often involves public humiliation in a space with other S/M participants and in the context of a scene). Perhaps this supposed masochism is also linked to the thrill of breaking a taboo ... even the thrill of looking at pictures (as in the book Glory Hole) and viewing movies of glory hole sex when one knows the actual situation could be fraught with danger.
Glory Hole also attempts to formulate a solution for its time period, claiming that such sex can be addictive and also implying that such sex is ultimately harmful. Yet, the article argues, if the states eliminated laws against sodomy in private, perhaps homosexuals wouldn't be forced to have sex in bathrooms. Obviously the situation isn't that simple, but it does connect on a deeper level to the whole issue of being in the closet.
The closet connection is something of a knotty contradiction. If a guy is prohibited from having sex in his own home across the board, legally forcing him to live in the closet, why does having sex in public (the bathroom) constitute a release from that closet? And practically speaking in this situation, wouldn't it be safer to do it in your own home rather than risk arrest by doing it in public, even it is illegal to do it anywhere? Yet, if he can do it legally in the bedroom of one's own home, then perhaps, just perhaps, he wouldn't indulge in sexually addictive bathroom behavior. Unless, as is often the case, he finds bathroom sex to be a big turn on, closet or no closet.
One other source the book uses, at that time the most detailed study of glory holes, Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places by Laud Humphreys, pretty much assumes the situation is hopeless for those who do glory hole sex. The 1960s and 70s were a time when "interpersonal" relations that built self-esteem and self-actualization were emphasized, as in the psychology of Abraham Maslow; perhaps Humphreys is working in this context, finding the impersonality of tearoom sex (such as no conversation between the participants) to be psychologically damaging.
Humphreys does give some interesting detail on the actual physical dynamic going in the T-room, using anecdotal evidence and perhaps making some stereotypical assumptions about glory hole patrons, argues that the "patrons" are mostly "closet queens:"
The so-called "closet queens" are the persons most attracted to tearoom sex. Tearooms are popular because they serve as gathering places for homosexuals, but because they attract a variety of men, a minority of whom are active in the homosexual subculture and a large group of whom have homosexual self-identity.
In addition to the closet queen participants, Humphreys notes, some act as voyeurs, and also serve as a lookout for the police, a "watchqueen." The situation Humphreys describes may stem from a closeted gay subculture, but even in that specific situation, many devotees of glory hole sex may have indulged in bathroom sex for a many other reasons, such as raw sexual excitement, the anonymity (as mentioned above), or a fetish for the ubiquitous hole, and they may have come from a variety of social situations, not just the gay closet.
GLORY HOLES, THE LAW, AND POLITICS
Yet again, despite attempts to investigate and analyze the behavior from a psychosocial perspective, the issue is also a legal one that that straddles the issues of private and public social norms. Glory Hole also contains an article, "Public Homosexual Activity and the Law," which ends up being a critique of the sodomy laws, which outlaw private homosexual sex and ironically force gays in to the public bathrooms, during the period and also the methods of enforcing public decency. This article really attacks the use of the police officer decoy (still a threatening presence today), claiming the practice is hypocritical:
This "decoy" method of law enforcement has lately come under a lot of scrutiny by the courts which would violate the individual's constitutional rights. It would seem that society's interest in protecting the public against lewd solicitation is endangered just as much if the solicitation is made by a private citizen or a vice squad cop.
The article also describes a scenario which could resemble the recent Senator Larry Craig bathroom scandal, except the "closet queen" Craig was doing the foot tapping:
The undercover police officer seeks to provide an opportunity for a homosexual to either commit a lewd act or to make a solicitation for such act. In order to invite such solicitation, the undercover cop may sometimes spend lengthy periods of time at the urinals or sinks of a public toilet; he may sit in a stall and tap his foot or clear his throat to attract the unsuspecting homosexual's attention.
Larry Craig is definitely a throwback to this era, a conservative married guy whose only outlet for his sexuality was the bathroom. In Craig's case, the hypocrisy (given his public persona and anti-gay voting record) was obviously more on his part rather than on the part of the arresting officer.
GLORY HOLES OUT OF THE CLOSET AND INTO GAY PORN
One wonders if the sexual revolution of the 1960s and post-Stonewall 1970s, and the ensuing AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, really made any change in the glory hole dynamic describe above. Gay bathhouses (and bookstores today) in the 1970s often contained glory holes, but they were more a sexual fetish tool, for those who are turned on by that type of sex, located in an environment that was not really public like an actual bathroom.
What the 1970s and 1980s did contribute to the now-iconic glory hole was a slew of porn movies that showed really hot, enticing glory sex. Yes, the sex in these films was obviously staged and thus lacked the danger and anonymity of the real event, but art can often improve on its imitation of life.
These are some of films available from Bijou Video that contain glory hole/ T-room sex:
Twelve at Noon The Bigger the Better Oversize Load
Club Mandom 1 and 2 Dangerous
Bijou Video offers some enticing descriptions of bathroom stall action in its reviews of these films.
Check out the blog section of our Web site for more articles about gay sexuality and culture.
I remember some kind of rumor or urban legend circulating that Lady Gaga is/was really a man. No, she is a woman, not a drag queen, but her extravagant dress and overwhelming public persona (all in the interests of self-expression of course, the byword among her young fan base) can honestly lead one to come to that conclusion.
Drag queens of course always adopt another name, as did Lady Gaga, who is really Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, as did gay porn director/star Christopher Rage (The infamous sex pig, who plays Mary Jim Stunning in drag) mildly camping (I emphasize mildly) it up as the evil Arachne, a “brilliant, evil madwoman on a crusade to rid the planet of sex” in the early 1970s porn flick Drive. In Drive Ms. Stunning kidnaps scientist Mark Woodward, who developed a drug that can control the human sex drive. Do you the reader knows what that means? It means that evil super villain Arachnein would have the power to control the whole world! In fact, as our porn reviewer argues, cause “the complete castration of humanity.” Oh No!!!.
Is this shades of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Queen of Outer Space, who hates all men? Or, a closer analogy, Faye Dunaway, essentially the drag version of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, taking over the town in that dreadful film Supergirl. The B-movie connection between Ms. Stunning, Zsa Zsa and Dunaway is quite obvious. What's different in Drive as to the other films is the sense of story, a grand outrageous narrative (and not just the big orgies with 50-plus people which the other films don't have). For there's something at stake in Drive: sex, sexual interaction, sexual closeness, sexual outrageousness the celebratory feeling in gay sex before the AIDS crisis and Ms. Stunning.
Back to Lady Gaga and Ms. Stunning. Lady Gaga is very talented who showcases diverse talents (yes, she does a drag routine playing a man) in a very entertaining flamboyant style. But I think one needs to understand that she is indebted to an exciting history of gender-bending that the gay community, one of her biggest fans, started long before the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Her style without question acknowledges the similarities of the Christopher Rage's aka Mary Jim Stunning's of the world.
In 1985, readers of FirstHand Magazine began to request "harder, rougher, kinkier" stories and reader letters. In response, Jackie Lewis, the publisher, began Manscape. But according to Lewis, the readers wanted even more. Thus, Manscape 2 emerged, essentially, Manscape plus photos. The premiere issue, billed as a "Collector's Edition," claims to present "all aspects of sex."
What could be significant in exploring the purpose, audience, and content of this magazine is the AIDS crisis? In 1985, AIDS was decimating gays, especially in urban areas. Rock Hudson died in October 25 of that year. AIDS was no longer a gay disease, a disease suffered only by outcasts and sinners, but something that could kill an ostensibly heterosexual celebrity. Elizabeth Taylor attended an AIDS Foundation fundraiser that year with Ronald Reagan. Finally, the federal government, so criminally negligent in its previous response to the crisis, was getting involved. AIDS had become the preeminent health issue that year.
Manscape 2 offers fantasy material that seems to exist in a world without AIDS. But in a world where AIDS was now a life-and-death matter for gay men, other aspects of sexuality such as S & M activities and bondage that did not involve risky behavior like rimming or fucking without condoms were perhaps becoming a viable alternative for many gay men. For example, phone sex was becoming more popular and safe way to express oneself sexually.
In the premier issue of Manscape 2, Fred Bercovitz contributes a poem, "Pig in Training," essentially a transcript of a phone sex session written in rhyming couplets a la the eighteenth century poets Pope and Addison:
Ask for it first, and ask for it nice
Please Sir's the way, pig, and then say it twice
You're getting me hot now, my dicks got pre-cum
I'll choke you then listen to how well you hum
Pinch on your tits 'til they're red and they're sore
Pull on them harder than ever before You ready to cum?
Are your balls stretched enough?
Are you beating your meat 'till it's raw and rough?
The choice of the rhymed couplets is interesting (not that this piece is great literature), but the author using a tight, fixed form for a sexually charged subject which is also a structured, highly verbal, artificial situation itself (phone sex), ends up conveying to the reader a complex tension.
As mentioned above, "non-vanilla" sexual practices abound in this magazine, in reality (reader's letters) and in fantasy (the stories). For example, many of the letters and stories in this issue revolve around watersports (at that time the verdict was not out on the safety of such a practice in regards to AIDS transmission).
One reader compliments the magazine for its watersports stories, harking back to the famous piss trough at the Mineshaft. A reader letter in this issue is entitled "Pissed In His Brother's Mouth." Another story, related to watersports, is entitled "Erotic Enema."
Another piece, the "fiction special" entitled "Dr. Sex," involves "catheter-like" sex acts. The magazine is emphasizing what for many gay men were quite exotic fetishes, but which also, as time would tell, would prove to be safer than the conventional cock in the ass.
Even the centerfold, besides exemplifying the leather macho guy type, is posing in a way that could perhaps suggest, beneath the fetishes, a reining in of the sexual plethora of the pre-AIDS gay culture. He holds his cock with tight leather gloves, pulling it out of a tight jockstrap, the bottom of his cock shaft bound in straps.
In another story, a leathermaster becomes a slave-daddy, deliberately reversing the "Old Guard" dynamic. The story involves lots of bondage, whippings, bootlicking, slappings, cum control (including a threat of castration, telling in a time when sex really equaled death) and verbal abuse, ending in a condomless fucking, but the majority of the story is psychological. The fucking does conclude the story, but it is not necessarily the most significant interaction. The willingness of the slave-daddy to be fucked by a boy who would normally be his slave boy is the point, not the details of penetration.
And the story's context, the world of bars and bathhouse leather orgy pick-ups that was being swept away by the AIDS epidemic, is also not a significant setting after the initial encounter.
In sum, the story is really about role reversal, significant in a time when gay sexual interactions were increasingly rethought and reevaluated by gay men in a time when sex was in the most literal way a matter of life and death.
On the Television Without Pity online forum, comments about the A & E candid reality show Hoarders have reached page 941. Comic Kathy Lee Griffin was upset that someone tweeted, in her name, her love for Hoarders. She does like the show. But she also supposedly was accused of making fun of the hoarders and thus the mentally ill in one of her comedy routines. What's all this hype about Hoarders/hoaders? Or, rather, why are we obsessed with seeing others who are pathologically obsessed with stuff?
I don't want to blame this hype, nor the mental illness which is now, if I may be cynical, the current mental illness in vogue, on the easy access to material goods, resulting in rampant consumerism, which easily feeds into the disorder. That's too easy an explanation, but some of the hoarders on the show seem to spend much of their time watching and ordering from QVC or hanging about thrift stores, garage sales, or Dollar General. One woman on the show showed her unopened boxes of items bought from practically every home shopping network on the planet. Scary.
Is the explanation for the hoarders' behavior thus more psychological? The presence of “licensed clinical psychologists” to help the hoarders on the show would thus seems to be a given. For example, in many of the show's cases, the hoarding seems to be the byproduct of some kind of unresolved post-traumatic stress disorder. I remember one specifically hat involved unresolved issues about 9/11. In another really sad case, the hoarder, who specialized in food hoarding, had been physically, psychologically, and sexually abused by her now dead ex-husband. She also fed her daughter bizarre dishes like mealworm cookies and chicken hearts pie. Shades of Baby Jane and her infamous fried rat?
Some of the more extreme cases seem to go beyond the frightening colossal disorganization or mounds of clutter (which one might see on shows like Clean House), but to those types of “garbage” houses that occasionally appear as human interest stories on the news, dwellings filled with adult diapers, dead cats, and refrigerators filled with rotting food. In one case in Louisiana, the amount of waste took on apocalyptic proportions. Think decaying heaps of what's left of civilization in a dystopian Mad Max scenario. A follow-up visit showed no improvement. The woman could not explain why she couldn't throw anything out. Literally, anything.
I've given you but a taste of a couple of the more horrific cases. I'll spare you the frankly unwatchable and exploitative animal hoarding cases. But I haven't really answered my most significant question. Why do we watch, other than the usual pull many audiences feel toward reality TV show drama, with its own scripted or semi-scripted climactic and anti-climactic moves, such as “here comes the meltdown”? What is the fascination with Hoarders' often indescribable decay and horror? Is the fascination akin to watching some type of horror movie, except the horror is real, in fact, mundane, which makes it more horrific? The horror of heaps of adult diapers swarming with mouse droppings. The horror of three rooms filled with nothing but the heads of dolls.
Possibly, but I do wonder if this fascination with heaps of stuff has something to do with our fascination with multiplicity in all its forms and functions. I'm not just talking, literally, about our easy access to tons of stuff and our equally easy generation of tons of garbage. Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power proposes a type of crowd that he claims “modern society” no longer believes in: the invisible crowd. According to Canetti, cultures such as the Greeks, the Norse, and the medieval Christians believed in supernatural invisible crowds such as crowds of ghosts, demons, dead warriors, and saints. The invisible world was densely populated. A multitude of angels could dance on the head of a pin. Once people cease to literally believe in such crowds, scientists discovered other invisible, but natural, crowds through the microscope, such as atoms, bacteria, and all those multitudes of sperm that come out in cum (hence the connection with gay porn). In the case of the hoards, which also resemble Canetti's key images of heaps of the war dead (like the waste heaps of the hoarders) and also heaps of abundant crops, do we once again see something like the more hellish invisible crowds made visible?
And one could even argue that invisible crowds have resurfaced in the flash mobs of the Internet, friends made on social networking sites, all those infinite bytes and kilobytes and megabytes, and their visible manifestation in another type of hoarding, digital hoarding. On Hoarders, Beverly tapes every show she ever watched on television. When VHS became obsolete, she switched to DVD. Her granddaughter is now convincing her to start digitizing all those, as her grandson sarcastically said, Phil Donahue Shows from 1982.
I'm not going to end with the “go clean out your closet” directive, which on boards discussing the show, seems to be the usual reaction to the show. Rather, the show makes me think about how it's remarkably easy to become overwhelmed on all psychosocial fronts, paradoxically, in a society that prides itself on material ease and technical efficiency. Hoarders and hoarding seems to be a most disturbing and visible manifestation of an extreme disorder which can so easily destroy our order like the invisible bacilli of the plague.
It's as if the invisible crowds of Canetti have turned on us. And now we can see the visible results in those hoards.
The Advocate in its March 29, 1972 issue publicizes a "gay wedding" in Canada, yes, in 1972. According to the feature story, Michael Girouard, a radio-television personality, and Rejean Tremblay were married, publicly, in Toronto on September 11 (?!) by a bishop of the "Order of Independent Old Catholics." (definitely not the Roman Catholic Church!). Now, of course, gay marriage is legal in Canada, and has been since 2005, but 1972, that's pretty cool.
Yet another article about this topic foreshadows the current dispute about gay marriage: that gays should not mimic heterosexual marriage "demeans what they views an emerging gay lifestyle." Though, at this time, the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church was marrying many couples, though of course they could not possess any practical legal benefits. Remember again this is 1972, no protest's, no church and crazy right wingers, no congress, no politicking, not a big issue.
What is also fascinating is the argument back in 1972 about why gays would even want to partake in marriage with its heterosexual "cultural" history, whatever the legal benefits, still a related issue in the ongoing debate.
On a final note, I also wonder whether Tremblay and Girouard are still married, survived the AIDS epidemic, and if they were able to really "get married" in Canada. If that is the case, faith, hope, and love have triumphed.
The National Geographic Channel has recently been airing a series called Taboo, focusing on topics ranging from religious practices that involve extreme bodily pain (of course, having been taught by pre-Vatican II Catholics who often focused on graphic details in the passion of Jesus, not really that strange, at least to me?!) to obesity (why is fatness taboo?), to “strange love.” The one episode focusing focusing on “strange love” that has garnered some media attention is the real-life "Lars and the Real Girl" relationship, when a man in the United States falls in love with a sex doll (see http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/taboo/4599/Overview).
But I do wonder if, in this culture of sexual differentiation, we need to even rethink the words “strange” and/or “taboo” in attempting to define sexuality and sexual practices. Taboo basically means a prohibition; if one violates the taboo, one somehow disrupts the moral order of the specific society. In most traditional cultures, the social and moral basis for sexuality is procreation in the structure of heterosexual marriage. Anything that diverges from that norm is taboo unless, and I thinking of Catholic and also Buddhist monasticism, physical sex is denied in a quest for some form of religious goal. Thus, most taboos seem to focus on sex, obviously, as sex is a fundamental human dynamic, and the basis for human relationships. Even relationships that deny physical sex (I am thinking, as above, of a celibate monk and his relationship with God), are often defined by such denial and then often develop practices, such as flogging oneself, that can be interpreted as as a sublimation of (or, one might argue), an attempt to transcend sexual desires.
Given that in many Western societies, traditional sexual taboos, such as the one against homosexuality, seem to be gradually fading, how does on determine what is a sexual taboo in this pluralistic dynamic? A person taking the broad utilitarian view would say, “As long as what I am doing doesn't hurt anyone,” or a more libertarian one, “It's private and between consenting adults. Mind your own business.” Yet what used to be a private act (even that other sexual bugaboo, masturbation) is obviously now quite public, as anyone can post a video of a cowboy boot stomping a can for a specific sexual audience that shares this "stomping" fetish on youtube. (Basically a free-for-all!) How could one, even try to rank, in this situation, which one is perhaps “better” for or less “harmful” and to either the private psyche or the public good?
But perhaps one can posit something of a ranking or norm based even in a pluralistic potpourri. In this culture, we place a primary value on our sex/love relationships with another person; in fact, many of us define ourselves by that specific relationship. We don't usually tend to define that relationship in the context of a broader, ideological framework. Thus, today, a couple can live together and not feel compelled to marry (in fact, they tend to do so more and more in the West, and often even produce children, before marriage). As a result, it becomes more difficult to us to understand, as in the case of the man in love with the sex doll (or, on that other show, Strange Addiction, the woman in love with the Berlin Wall), that an object can become the focus of a sexual relationship, or that one can claim that their primary love relationship is with Jesus or God or Buddha or Mother Earth. These taboo relationships, interestingly, seem to be based more on a conscious ideology. Something of a reversal, perhaps, from the more traditional taboo dynamic?
In 1957, Barton Horvath's published his own muscle magazine. Horvath started appearing in Joe Weider's magazines, both posing in photos and writing article, but then began publishing his own magazine. Born in New York City, Barton personified the Greek ideal of "a sound mind in a sound body" by studying opera and fine painting, while building his body (and apparently he wasn't that prominent on the contest circuit). And he was heterosexual (not Greek, that term being a coded word for homosexual), quite ironic given the controversy that arose when he began publishing Muscle Sculpture.
By the middle of the 1950s, the Strength and Health bodybuilding empire, which includes the muscle magazine by that name, had severed ties (partly due to censorship issues) with the overtly homoerotic physical culture publications like Physique Pictorial (Bob Mizer) and Grecian Guild (which avowed the same "Greek" ideal lauded in earlier "straight" physical culture publications). Joe Weider, who had branched out into more homoerotic publications like Body Beautiful, and who would, even more overtly, with Demigods in the early 1960s, was a particular target of homophobic scorn, as indicated by this letter to the editor published in Strength and Health, October 1957, page 61:
"Weedy and Obscenity... The case against Wonderful Weedy's Body Beautiful publications for conspiracy to distribute indecent literature has not yet come to trial. They were indicted by the Union County (NJ) Grand Jury late in April. However we are happy to report that Strength & Health has been taken off the list of objectionable magazines by The National Office for Decent Literature, and is available on newsstands in Weedy's home county. All other muscle mags, and all the tiny slimy homo books are still barred. Barton Horvath, Weedy's chief hatchet man for years, has deserted Mr. Wonderful and now is putting out his own homo-pornographic booklet, Muscle Sculpture. This bird was hauled in some years ago on a rap of selling nude photos. His new classic, featuring pretty boys in and out of G-strings, is made to order for the swish trade. We gently warn unwary bodybuilders about sending photos to such publications, because you, too, may wind up in court . . . and you will be barred from competing in any sanctioned AAU physique contest, such as the Mr. America competition. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose."
Weedy? Joe Weider, of course (not the drug, but the reference does tell in a derogatory way in a time when cannabis was called weed, boo, and grass). What's interesting here is that the "straight" Strength and Health bodybuilding empire had been posing guys in skimpy attire (and perhaps nothing, given some of the more clever poses) for years. They just didn't consciously (maybe ... ) market such images to homosexuals. Mizer and other like him started doing so, though, at first in heavily coded language and photos not much different from those in Weider's publications.
This issue is pretty tame compared to what Physique Pictorial was putting out during this time period. Many of the features advertise Barton himself and his health products. There are the usual how-to and inspirational physical culture articles, plus some covering up of nude physiques with towels and some enticing shots of bare asses, but no more, in fact, less, than what Vim and Tomorrow's Man were showing at this time. The ad for slides and photos of one hot little number with a high, tight ass, Jack Mercury, shown right after a shower (doesn't that name resemble a porn name?), resemble more of the homoerotic materials Bob Mizer and the like were producing and advertising at this time, those pornographic male nudies. Bob Delmonteque and Jack Sidney took many of the photos in this issue.
In the first issue, the heterosexual Bob Delmonteque offers a stunning self-portrait on the inside front cover (and he is still going strong, literally, in his eighties, though he withdrew from the physique photography business in the late fifties when he realized it wasn't that ... er ... wholesome). Bijou Video carries many of these historically significant magazines. New ones are added to our web site daily.
I watched my new DVD copy of the controversial movie Cruising with Al Pacino last week. I am not going to get into the past (and perhaps present and future) controversy surrounding this film about serial murders in the New York gay leather/BDSM community of the early 80s. As a friend of mine recently claimed, the movie is not for "white picket fence homosexuals," or, for that matter, anyone with that sensibility (unless he wants to be fucked, flogged, or fisted over said fence, literally).
That said, what struck me the most about the film was the absence of cellphones. Pretty obvious, as they weren't available at that time, but a couple of the scenes really made me aware of how omnipresent these devices have become, and how they are a major part of the sweeping social changes that have occurred since the movie was made.
In one scene, undercover cop Al Pacino (posing as a gay leatherman) is hanging around near a pier (and the supposed serial killer as well cruises his way through the crowd). A crowd of hot leather guys cruising. An enticing, exciting danger about to burst into a overpowering sexual boldness lurks in the stifling summer humidity. Let's fast forward the scene thirty years later to 2011. These guys would be on their phones, texting away. The screens from the phones would glow in the dark. Instant updates to Facebook and Twitter about who he or she saw or what he or she is doing would be occurring. Kind of ruins that ambient danger, don't you think?
Another scene, again sans cellphone, reveals even more the sweeping social changes that have occurred since that time. Al Pacino's new neighbor introduces himself in the stairwell as Pacino, under a fake identity, throws away a stack of Honcho, Blueboy, and Mandate magazines. Magazines? Who reads them anymore, given devices like Kindle ? And neighbors? Who knows them anymore, especially in large urban apartment buildings? Fast forward thirty years, and these two would have been texting away on their phones. And even if they did hook up (not sexually), as they do in the movie, their impromptu lunch at the diner for sandwiches and coffee (a good old-fashioned neighborhood diner, not a chain like Starbucks) would have been interrupted by cellphones going off, and at least one of these two would have been texting at some point. I also wonder if the Pacino character would have been able to maintain his alias in a high-tech situation, but then, it's so easy to create identities on the Internet, so perhaps it's a question of changes in how to do so. But then, given our "wired" environment, one might also wonder if the killer (or killers) would have been able to get away with so many murders if cellphones (especially ones with cameras) and other high-tech surveillance devices had been present.
Gays have gained much more power in the social and economic spheres since the time Cruising was made, despite the devastation of the AIDS epidemic (which, some might argue, was the effect of much of the over-confident sexual activity depicted in the movie). In conjunction with this newfound power, gays have been at the forefront of high-tech social networking since the beginnings of the Internet in the late 1980s. Perhaps the lesson, and maybe the lesson of the darkly ambiguous film, is to not put your trust in strangers.
But what's really scary is that the dangerous stranger now is not necessarily a flesh and blood person wielding a knife, but a facebook "friend."
Have you noticed that the typical gay celebrity on television dispenses advice on weddings, hair styles, fashion, desserts, and home décor. What if gays instead dispensed advice on fishing, truck driving, auto repair, hunting, American football, home repair (not decorating), and tool and die techniques (and I'm not in anyway referring to the classic gay porn flick L.A. Tool and Die)? Would anyone listen, much believe that the above is even possible? That gay men do men things? Or would the straight experts in those fields allow a gay guy infringe on their traditionally masculine territory? But then, there are straight male hair stylists, fashion designers, and wedding planners. Or are there, or are they hiding in the closet, pun intended?
I'm not calling for an all-out war on gay stereotypes, but I do wonder if the prototype of this gay advice genre, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, only served to perpetuate, if not emphasize the stereotypes. Not that all the guys on that show were as “flamboyant” as Carson Kressley, but several Carson Kressley types have popped up on such reality TV/advice show fare such as My Fair Wedding and Clean House. These gay “fairy godfathers” usually help straights clean up their messes, but what do they get out of it after they work their magic? I would love to know if there is any dick involved as gratitude for a makeover well done, but nobody's telling. The straight couple gets married, their house gets decluttered and redecorated, and the gay fairy godfather returns to his lover that he can't marry in most states or countries or to his beautifully decorated empty house and a cat (more stereotypes, perhaps?).