Thursday, December 24, 2009

Homos In Paperback


NOTE: I hope to get back to a weekly schedule in the New Year. Thanks for reading! For now here's a piece I wrote on gay characters in popular fiction way, way back in the eighties for the gay magazine Mandate. See if you remember any of these books -- I'd forgotten a lot of them. My updates are in bold print.

If we want to read positive stories about gays who are more or less like ourselves, we have plenty of gay books to choose from, books which focus solely or prominently on gay characters and are usually written by gay authors. Not only do major publishing houses occasionally take a risk on a gay novel (though none of these books has ever achieved notable mainstream success), there are also small gay presses that regularly release a wide variety of more esoteric gay titles.

Even before the so-called gay books of the past few years, gay characters had been appearing in other types of novels for decades: popular or pulp novels such as mysteries, detective stories, occult/horror, and suspense works, and even splashy bestsellers. The way these gay characters have been portrayed over the years in books that are not gay oriented, but which appeal to the broadest possible readership, provides an interesting parallel to how gays have been perceived in society in general.

Back in the thirties and forties, the heyday of the hardboiled detective novel, there was no organized gay movement in this country. Gays were just fruits, freaks, pitiful outcasts, and pathetic weirdos. Any halfway sensitive approach to the subject of homosexuality—usually to be found in paperback novels about lesbian lovers -- was masked by lurid cover copy that shouted "Perversion!" with every sentence. In such private eye novels as Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, homosexuals were much in evidence— but they were always slimy, villainous creatures who elicited the disgust and loathing of the macho detective heroes.

Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlow was certainly a homophobe—also a racist, it would seem—although Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer was a bit more sympathetic. Perhaps we can forgive these early writers their transgressions, though. The Forties was not a liberal period, after all, and their attitudes were typical of the time. Unfortunately, there are some modern-day hardboiled writers who still seem to be fighting World War II. What's worse, their prose lacks the lean, poetic craftsmanship of a Chandler, the compassion and insight of a Ross Macdonald. Modern-day hardboiled writers have not learned that it takes more than a cigar-smoking hero and a gum-chewing dame to make a good detective story.

My favorite detective writer, the late Ross Macdonald — not to be confused with John D. MacDonald (the Travis McGee series) or, heaven help us, Gregory Mcdonald (the silly Fletch series) — started out by writing quite a few savagely homophobic novels. In his Blue City, the virile hero is up against a nasty faggot criminal. In The Dark Tunnel (recently reissued), a novel that in some ways was ahead of its time, the hero battles a Nazi homosexual psychopath, and also discovers that the reason his girlfriend has been acting so strangely is that her homosexual brother has put on wig and make up and taken her place! At one point early in the novel, the protagonist sees the Nazi in a long, lascivious clinch with someone he assumes is his stolen girlfriend. What a shock it must have been for Forties readers when they realized at the book's conclusion that it had actually been a man kissing another man in drag. Although The Dark Tunnel does contain some clever, suspenseful plotting, its attitude toward homosexuals is strictly antediluvian. [In 1950 Mickey Spillane published Vengeance is Mine, in which one of the women who comes on to hero Mike Hammer -- and whom he resists in spite of finding her attractive -- turns out at the end to be a man in drag. Mike also takes a female date to a gay steakhouse -- and he's been there more than once!]

One suspects that Macdonald was writing more out of ignorance than hatred. He was one of the first mystery writers to attempt to expose the antiquated attitudes toward blacks in this country, and his later novels lacked the viciously anti-gay sentiments of The Dark Tunnel. In The Drowning Pool, his second Lew Archer novel. there is no pretense about the fact that a certain husband is homosexual and that his playwright friend is his lover. Though the book is hardly a gay lib novel, it's interesting that at its conclusion the two men (who are not the villains of the piece), are left alone to carry on. while everyone else has been rather shattered by events. (In the lousy film version with Paul Newman, as Lew Harper, the gay relationship is glossed over.)

A few evil gay characters popped up in subsequent Archer novels, but none so bad as the Nazi in The Dark Tunnel. And in Macdonald's last book, The Blue Hammer, bisexuality figures prominently in an overcomplicated plot. Macdonald, and his hero Lew Archer, seem more uninterested than homophobic, and both have always had a soft spot for the underdog.

Whenever homosexuals showed up in most early crime novels, it was as victims or villains, never anything in between (and certainly never as the protagonist). Since merely to be homosexual was considered a crime, homosexuals were invariably involved in the shady goings-on of the underworld. Like women, the authors seemed to feel, they could not be trusted. They were either weak, effeminate stereotypes, or brutal, overcompensatory muscle men with sociopathic traits. Sometimes gay characters were drawn from more respectable environs, in which case they were tormented husbands and fathers subject to blackmail, evil civil servants, or flamboyant, immoral millionaires dabbling in crime for the fun of it. It would be some time before more positive portrayals would begin to appear.

There has been a continuing debate in the gay community as to what constitutes a "positive portrayal." For our purposes, a positive gay character—regardless of sex, mannerisms, personality, occupation or sexual habits—is simply someone who feels good about himself or herself and about his or her lifestyle. (With the exception, of course, of murderers and villains who feel good because of lack of guilt over their actions.) Unfortunately, finding these positive characters is frequently like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

In the detective/mystery genre there have been some encouraging signs, however. Joseph Hansen has written a whole series of popular mysteries featuring an insurance investigator who solves crimes. The new wrinkle is that the hero enjoys being absolutely, openly and resolutely homosexual. I could quibble about some aspects of the series—some people claim that the novels have been accepted for public consumption and by critics because Dave Brandstetter, the gay man, is so bland a character—but the fact that the series has seen published at all by a major publishing house is certainly a good omen. A few of the books in the series have left me cold, but I heartily recommend Gravedigger. It's a good, solid mystery, with an interesting plot line, polished prose, and several poignant sequences. Brandstetter's gay orientation is always presented without apology—or fanfare.

Robert B. Parker (A Savage Place, etc.) has received much acclaim for his Spenser series, much of it undeserved. I find his work, for the most part, boring and derivative without adding anything new to the genre. The characters are one-dimensional and the plotting dull. With one exception: Looking for Rachel Wallace. The premise in this book is excellent: Spenser is hired to act as bodyguard for a famous lesbian/feminist author, then must track her down after she is kidnapped. The interplay between the very different lead characters is the book's raison d'etre; otherwise, it would be a pretty routine story. I have no knowledge of Parker's personal life. But I remember being amused years ago that Parker, who had a kind of grizzled, "macho" appearance, saying that he was scared to go into Boston's "Combat Zone" [where the strip clubs were]. What a wuss!

Then we have the Daniel Valentine/Clarisse Lovelace mysteries, written by one Nathan Aldyne (who is actually top horror specialist Michael McDowell writing with a collaborator). Valentine is a gay bartender, Lovelace is his straight female friend, and the mysteries are set smack in the middle of various gay milieu. Vermillion takes place in Boston, and centers on the murder of a young male prostitute. In the second book, when yet another hustler with Cobalt blue eyes is found dead in Provincetown, Lovelace investigates—while Valentine suns himself and cruises. The books are undeniably fun to read. The problem, at least for me, is that they're too campy and silly, and therefore not especially effective as mysteries. Valentine is just another bubble-headed clone who lets Lovelace do all the work. A gay book without a strong lead gay character is not really a gay book at all.

Gay characters in mystery/detective books run the gamut from psychopathic "faggots" to attractive, well-adjusted protagonists and supporting characters. A positive, continuing lesbian character appears in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series by Lawrence Block (The Burglar Who Liked To Quote Kipling, among others). On the other hand, The Dancer's Death by Phil Davis (which was often placed in the gay sections of local bookstores) deals with yet another psychotic fairy who happens to be a police lieutenant. Is the book supposed to expose police hypocrisy? No. It simply reiterates every possible cliche about gays. Simply wretched, incredibly homophobic stuff—how it ever got published is beyond me. Barbara Paul's The Fourth Wall, an absorbing mystery set in the theatre world, features a homosexual villain, but at least Paul has the good sense to also include a much more positive gay character in the story. Final Cut is a forgettable roman a clef about the controversy over the filming of the movie Cruising. And Vincent Virga's Gaywyck is a surprisingly good homosexual gothic that kept me happily enthralled.

There's a whole slew of male action paperback series, featuring characters with names like Penetrator, Death Merchant, Nick Carter (Killmaster), and Mack Bolan. Male homosexuals are often used as villains in these stories. But Fool's Flight (#2 in The Digger series by Warren Murphy) employs a pair of killer lesbians who, like most gay women (according to the hero), wear color-coded handkerchiefs!! (Poor Mr. Murphy seems a little confused.) Let's hope some of these authors have learned something in the past twenty years!

The ultimate men's adventure series is, of course, James Bond. Bond is now featured in a new series of books by John Gardner, who has taken over where the late Ian Fleming left off. Gardner's second attempt, For Special Services, seems more like something out of the Fifties than the Eighties. In it, Bond and a young woman staying at the mansion of a suspected villain, joke about what "queers" the host and his associate are. Bad show, 007. Otherwise, it was a very entertaining and suspenseful book.

Homosexuals often figure prominently in horror and occult novels. In many of these books, the Catholic Church, or representatives thereof, protect the world from the evil messengers of Satan or the Anti-Christ. (So far none of these books has suggested how the world can be protected from the Catholic Church.) Since homosexuals are not looked upon with great favor by the Pope, can you guess which side they would be on in the Catholic version of the epic battle of Good versus Evil? In The Guardian, Jeffrey Konvitz's sequel to The Sentinel, the answer is quite clear. We learn near the end that the typical urban couple who have been the book's protagonists are not quite what they seemed to be. The "wife" had once been a male homosexual named Jack. Therefore Jack/Faye and husband Ben are a condemned couple, their souls doomed to burn forever in hellfire. Apparently Konvitz didn't understand the difference between homosexuality and transsexuality. And in John Coyne's The Piercing, the hero-priest is constantly being tempted with, and tortured by, reminders of a homosexual incident in his youth. In most of these devil/demon books, gay characters do not fare well and homosexuality is more often a perversion than an alternate lifestyle.

In horror novels, homosexuals and other sexual minorities are dragged in to add some kinky spice to the whole gruesome stew. Whitley Strieber's abysmal The Hunger (filmed with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve) features a bisexual she-vampire who sets out to win the heart of another woman without any regard for the lady's feelings in the matter. In Russell Martin's execrable The Desecration of Susan Browning, a woman loses her husband to a wealthy rival who turns out to be a transsexual (and in league with the devil, natch.) Thomas H. Cook's well-written Blood Innocents features two lesbians who are hacked to pieces by the son of one of their clients; they raised extra money by letting people watch them make love to each other). Despite the sensational aspects to the story, Cook is fairly charitable to the gay characters.

James Herbert, one of the most popular writers in the horror field today, always has one or two gay characters in his novels. Herbert is an enigma; one can never quite say his characters are "positive," yet one often senses he holds a strange compassion for them, as he does for all the other people he bashes, smashes, bloodies, and mutilates in his gruesomely descriptive prose. In The Rats (which, along with its sequel, Lair, is probably the best of the nature-gone-amok novels), the first victim of the mutated rodents is a middle-aged male homosexual who, unhinged when he is found out, becomes a pitiful drunkard. Not long afterwards, he wanders into a dilapidated house in a slum by the docks of London and dies. The rats had tasted their first human blood, writes Herbert. In the two or three pages that Herbert uses to give us a biographical sketch of Henry Guilfoyle, he works up surprising sympathy for the man, whose life has been ruined by antiquated attitudes and by his own failure to fight back.

In The Survivor, Herbert creates a grotesque duo in Cyril and Emily Platt. Cyril is a closet homosexual and a transvestite. The section featuring this couple is told entirely from his wife's point of view. Emily feels that Cyril is possessed of an "aberration" and slowly poisons him to death. She gets her comeuppance, however, when Cyril's corpse rises from the bed, pursues the terror-stricken woman, and pushes her out of a second story window to splatter onto the concrete below. The Survivor is one of the scariest horror novels of the past decade, and if you love grisly stuff with eerie atmospherics, I recommend it highly.

In Herbert's The Fog (not to be confused with the John Carpenter film), two of Herbert's most incredible sequences are seen from the eyes of gay characters. In the book, a strange mist creeps from a crack in the earth, driving mad all the humans and animals it touches. Summers is the Deputy Headmaster (they just can't resist making us counselors, teachers, prison guards, and headmasters, can they?) of a private boys' school. Hodges, the bus driver, knows about Summer's homosexual tomfoolery in the army, and is contemptuous of him. After the fog overtakes the school bus, the boys go berserk during a physical education period, and are thrown into a violent sexual frenzy. Hodges walks in with a pair of shears, and as Summers writhes in fog-induced ecstasy, cuts off the Deputy Headmaster's penis. Later on, a young lesbian named Mavis Evers, in despair over losing her lover to a man, decides to walk into the sea—the old suicide chestnut again, with a difference. At the last minute, she decides not to do away with herself, but a fog-crazed crowd of thousands of seaside residents have come out of their houses to commit mass suicide and they push her unwillingly back into the sea and to her death.

In Herbert's The Spear, about a Nazi cult in England which uses demonic forces, the heterosexual hero is almost tempted into making love with a hermaphrodite [today we would say "intersexed" ]who resembles a sexy woman. The hero pulls himself away before he can be "tainted."(Surely one of the corniest bits in Herbert's otherwise fine repertoire of horror.) In his more recent epic The Dark (A Fog reversal; this time humans are driven mad not by a white mist, but by an inky blackness that covers London in its evil grasp), a bunch of hoodlums—one of whom is struggling with his own homosexual feelings—set out to beat up queers at a midnight trysting place, and fall victim to the dark just as the gays fall victim to them.

Herbert has never exhibited any particularly liberated attitudes toward gays, but neither does he seem to detest them. Everyone dies horribly in Herbert's books, except for the hero and heroine, who are generally the same two people with different names. Until such time as he chooses to address the subject in interviews, we'll have to be kept in—pardon me —the dark as to Mr. Herbert's feelings toward gays.

Anne Rivers Siddon's The House Next Door is a spooky potboiler about a house that brings out the worst in the people who live there. In the hilarious first section, a young couple's lives are destroyed when the husband is found in the bedroom having sex with a male business associate during the house-warming party! The inference that one's repressed homosexual instincts are the worst part of one's character is rather odious, though Siddon could conceivably argue that the house alters lives regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The homosexual interlude does serve to break up the couple's relationship and change the future of both husband and wife. The segment is, for the hip reader, an amusing joke on hetero suburbia; although the female narrator of the story finds the incident shocking, we can only smile at the irony of it. We know that what a lot of married men do behind locked doors has nothing to do with the opposite sex. Siddon lacks the wit and sophistication to do the scene for all it's worth, so instead of a comment on suburban socio-sexual hypocrisy, all we get is an illustration of so-called evil influences at work.

Two positive notes on horror novels: Michael McDowell's six-part epic Blackwater (about the effect a strange young woman has on a wealthy Southern family) features a couple of interesting lesbian characters. McDowell, incidentally, has written some splendid horror novels, among them Katie and The Amulet. And Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker by Joseph Burgo and Richard Natale is about a psychotic woman who murders a gay repairman. The book is distinguished by the authors' sensitive and sympathetic treatment of the murdered man's gay lover. The film version with Jimmy McNichol has received only limited release so far.

You can find gay characters in those super-hyped novels on the bestseller list, too. Sidney Sheldon's The Naked Face and Rage of Angels both feature unhappy male homosexuals as supporting characters. Sheldon admirably opposes the moral majority's attempts to censor books; if only he'd wise up when it comes to homosexuals. [Sheldon had another nasty gay villain about a decade or so after this was originally published.] Jackie Collins' trashy book Hollywood Wives is full of bitchy queens and child molesters. The only comparatively positive gay character is a ridiculously caricatured hairdresser.

Lawrence Sanders often deals peripherally with the subject of homosexuality. The Case of Lucy Bending, about an 8-year-old nymphomaniac, features a fairly intelligent and sympathetic study of a young boy, Lucy's next door neighbor, who is coping with his emerging homosexuality. The Seduction of Peter S. is. about a man who opens a male brothel— for women only—but at least one of the hustlers is really AC/DC. Sanders is sharp and often perceptive, but not enough of an artist to take his controversial themes as far as they could go.

Robin Cook's Godplayer is about a series of murders at a hospital, where several of the victims are suffering from AIDS. Howver, the killer's motive turns out to have nothing to do with homosexuality. Stuart Wood's Chiefs, turned into an NBC mini-series, is about a small town beset by a series of murders -- young men killed by a sadistic homosexual -- over a period of decades. And Robert Bloch's Psycho Two (which made clear what we've always known, that Norman Bates wasn't gay) featurs a wild sequence set in a gay Hollywood brothel where the male hustlers are all lookalikes for famous macho movie stars. [I worked there for awhile as the Tyrone Power lookalike -- just kidding!]

It is my belief that authors of popular fiction should be encouraged to deal more positively with the subject of homosexuality. Bari Wood, co-author of Twins [one of whom was homosexual], once wrote to me: I don't think we are, or should be, solely concerned with the social or political implications of the fiction we write. For us to have changed the book to suit the ends of any special interest group would have made us poorer writers. But writers should nonetheless be aware of alternatives to the old gay cliches and stereotypes that have littered the pages of so many books for such a long time.

For instance, writer Herbert Lieberman (City of the Dead) responded to a letter from me as follows: You have helped me to see a side of this issue that I might well have remained unaware of had you not written. All a writer can do is reflect what he sees about him each day. I think I have tried to give a balanced picture. I am grateful that you took the trouble to point out to me those instances where my scales went out of whack. In other words, if we don't let our favorite popular authors know when they're out of whack, who will?

How does our most popular author of popular fiction, Stephen King, feel about the subject of homosexuality? I have no feelings on the subject one way or another, he wrote a few years ago in response to a letter of mine in which I mentioned the inordinate amount of homophobia on the part of the townspeople in his novel Salem's Lot. He continued: I do think gays have a right to live their own lives and work out their problems in their own way—with or without what Ann Landers so coyly refers to as 'professional help'—and we have stopped buying Florida orange juice since that woman went crazy down there. Apparently King became more "Republican" as he got older. His novel Needful Things featured a gay male couple who were also, believe it or not, child molestors! Awful stuff. When you think how many people pick up attitudes toward and supposed knowledge of gays via popular fiction!

Regardless of how many gay novels there may be, more people (both gays and straights) read popular fiction. Like it or not, the books I have mentioned in this article reach and influence more readers than Holleran, White, and all other trendy gay writers combined. If you read something that pleases or offends you in a popular novel, why not take the time to write to the author? It's time we started taking our image in these books more seriously than we have in the past.
Now that we're through with this Blast from the Past, I'll be looking next at Rick Warren -- and some gay activists' surprising attitudes toward him -- and sound off at last about the whole priest/altar boy scandal and -- again -- how some gay activists are still getting it all wrong.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thanksgiving Horror Stories


Turkey Day reminded me of thanksgiving dinner parties I went to quite a few years ago that were hosted by a man I'll call Horatio.

Horatio was as gay as a goose -- he was basically what is known as a "brittle queen" -- but when he was in his forties he got married to an 80-year-old woman - I'll call her Betty -- who had been a close friend of his late mother's. Horatio wasn't trying to fool anybody or become an ex-gay -- although I can't say he ever had much of a gay identity -- the marriage was simply an exchange of favors. Horatio would take care and look after, be a companion to, his aging wife with the understanding that he would inherit her 12 room apartment and her money.

I missed the first Thanksgiving day dinner Horatio threw after the marriage. I was told it was a disaster. Despite the fact that his wife was loaded, Horatio had an old friend, Hedy, who had fallen on hard times, use her food stamps to get the turkey and trimmings. I am not kidding! An altercation broke out in the kitchen when Betty wondered why Hedy was packing away all of the leftovers in her bag. "I paid for the fucking food!" Hedy was said to remark.

Well, you would think that I might have known better, but I decided to go to the dinner party the following Thanksgiving, primarily because certain friends and other interested parties had also been invited. I thought it might be a hoot. I might even get dinner.

Horatio was a lousy host, mostly because he didn't give a damn. You were given a drink -- yes a drink -- and then had to hunt all over the place for the liquor bottles (on a table in the kitchen) so you could pour yourself another (even if you had brought your own booze). The turkey was bone dry, and served sans gravy or wine to wash it down with. The stuffing was the cheap stuff out of a box. There were never any hors d'ouevres to nibble on as you waited for dinner, something to nosh on so you weren't drinking on an empty stomach. It was as if Horatio essentially had contempt for everyone there and wasn't going to put himself out for us peons. You had to eat fast and get the fuck out!

You see Horatio apparently came from money, or at least wanted people to think he did. His "marriage" was an act of sheer desperation. No one on the planet would have ever thought the man was heterosexual. He had a superior air that was really the product of a deep, deep and overwhelming inferiority complex, relating to his sexuality, his "obviousness," his status in life versus where he'd hoped to be, and probably many other factors.

But that's not the strangest part. The really weird thing was that Horatio had an obsession with stuffed animals. No, not cuddly toys stuffed with cotton, but animals hunted, killed and stuffed by taxidermists. Horatio was not a hunter himself, but he filled the entire apartment with dead animals, covering the walls with them, every single bit of counter space, every table top -- everywhere you looked there were glassy-eyed critters to give you the heebie jeebies. I turned my shoulder at the dinner table and found myself staring a moose in the face. Out in the living room there was a rattle snake beside my cocktail. Little furry things literally took up every spot imaginable. Right inside the front door was a life-size grizzly bear! [I am not making this up!]

And the place stunk to high heaven.

I swear, when you got off the elevator all you could smell was a stench like boiled cabbage.

I went to these parties two years in a row mostly because I enjoyed some of the other guests, and especially the comments they made on the way out of the lobby. They were hands down the worst dinner parties I ever attended -- with the worst food, the cheapest booze, and the least warm and welcoming host I have ever encountered.

Still, when he got a little drunk Horatio could be fun, and I think he was forgiven a lot because of that.

He got Betty into a nursing home as soon as possible, but after her death, while he stayed in the huge apartment, he did not act like a wealthy man. I think Betty had left him rather cash-poor. There was something strangely pitiable about the fellow. But he was a character.

And that's better than nothing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

JATGAB in the Top 25



I'm very pleased and honored that this blog was recently listed among the top 25 gay rights and activism blogs along with Gay Rights Watch, Joe.My.God., Good as You, Queers United, and many others.

I'm very grateful to the compilers of the list for including me, and also glad that they are helping to bring attention to many worthwhile gay-and-activist oriented blogs.

Here's the link to the list. These blogs certainly deserve our support!

The Young and the Gayless -- and More


A round up of gay images on television and my reactions to same:

Apparently reacting to negative, homophobic outcries on various message boards The Young and the Restless has been virtually de-gayed.

First the character of Adam (Michael Muhney, left), who seemed to be shaping up as a closeted gay or bisexual character, has been [supposedly] turned completely straight. Listing his assorted sins, Adam told Sharon [his former sister-in-law, sort of] that he "seduced a gay man." [That would be the handsome Hispanic lawyer, Rafe. ] Now you can imagine my reaction if he said that to me, but poor, clueless Sharon accepted his words at face value, never wondering what on earth could drive any allegedly "straight" guy to have full-on sex -- in a bed, no less -- with another man. True, Adam felt he needed to have Rafe under his control, but surely there were other ways his devious mind could have come up with to do so. I don't expect soap opera writers, be they gay or straight, to think like a gay activist, but this is too much to swallow.

It is hardly coincidental that the "straightening" of Adam occurs at the same time more or less as the departure of what was supposed to be a major gay supporting character. That would be Phillip, played by openly gay actor Thomas Bierdz. Despite talk of a relationship developing between Phillip and Adam or Rafe, no such relationship ever materialized. Adam was straightened out, Phillip left Genoa City (where the soap takes place), and Rafe hasn't even been seen on the show in weeks. What's going on here? Does anybody need to ask?

What on earth was the point of bringing Phillip back from the dead after twenty years to have his storyline go nowhere? He managed to bond a bit with the son he hadn't seen for most of his life, but he had no romance, no particular gay identity, and no real storyline to speak of. Talk about a complete waste of time!

I've no doubt the powers-that-be at Y&A will claim that Adam was made totally straight because he is perceived as being quite evil, and could be perceived as a negative gay character. But with Rafe and Phillip to balance things out, it would not have been a serious problem. Y&A dropped the gay stuff because of complaints from some loud homophobic viewers. Frankly I think more of the fans of the show will stop watching not because of any gay carryings-on, but because the show offered star Eric Braden (who plays Adam's father, Victor Newman) such a lousy contract that he quit the show.

At least the young gay couple on As the World Turns are still being treated in a competent and positive fashion. They have their troubles, but in that way they're no different from any other couple on the program. On the other hand, The Young and the Restless is typical of a program that simply uses homosexuality for plot reasons without having the smarts or courage to really deal with the subject.

In the meantime, I can't quite figure what the hell was going on in AMC's mini-series The Prisoner, which was an update of a sixties British TV program. In this a man wakes up in a place called The Village which everyone claims is the be-all and end-all of the universe, even though he and other characters remember a former life and many other places in the big wide world. Openly gay actor Ian McKellen plays No. 2, the head of the Village. When gay characters were introduced in part two of the series, I thought it was a good sign that the program -- unlike so many others -- wasn't ignoring the existence of gays. I wasn't so much disturbed by the age difference between the two gay lovers but that the younger of the two was so young. Although the baby-faced actor playing the role is twenty in real life, I wasn't certain how old he was supposed to be in the series.

After awhile, this sub-plot turned into the Same Old Story. After the hero threatens the older man with blackmail unless he gives him key information, the younger man stabs his older lover to death. [In part three he suffocates his own mother].

But there's no sense complaining about the gay material, as the mini-series -- after a promising start -- turned into a deadly bore that no amount of sex, hetero or homo, or violence could save. After awhile I couldn't care less who was gay, who was dead, where the village was, or anything else about the story.

Moving on, I keep noticing odd remarks on the show Desperate Housewives, whose creator is openly gay. On one episode a big bearded character confronted a gay employee who was staring at one woman's rather flamboyant breasts. "I thought you were gay?" he asks the employee, who then proceeds to turn into a nervous nellie sissy boy so scared of the big butch man that he practically lisps "Totally gay -- Streisand, Garland gay" -- or words to that effect. In a later episode when the big-boobed gal is wearing a mannish suit, the same boss tells her she ought to watch what she's wearing because some other female employee [presumably a lesbian] wants to go bowling with her.
May I interject here that I have little respect for gay men who make "dyke" jokes. Have they fogotten that lesbians are gay people just like they are.

Now sometimes stereotypical humor -- told by gays to gays -- can be funny -- but while Desperate Housewives may have its gay fans, it's not exactly what I would call gay programming, being aired by ABC, not Logo. The "gay" humor on the show often comes off like fag jokes. It's not necessarily that the straight characters wouldn't make these remarks, but they're clearly meant to make the audience -- which is largely straight -- laugh at gays. The program added a gay couple last year, but they are rarely seen, have no major storyline, and will not add to anyone's knowledge of gay men or gay life.

But then, what can you expect from a show called Desperate Housewives?

Monday, November 2, 2009

FIREFLAG -- and Cheap Gay Men


The second Tuesday of each month the local chapter of the gay firefighters, FIREFLAG, meet and have a party at my favorite bar, Ty's, on Christopher Street. There is a buffet with wonderful food made by Larry, and a raffle in which the top prize can be a couple of hundred dollars. You can go up to the buffet more than once; all that the guys from FIREFLAG ask is that you buy a few raffle tickets for a measly five bucks. [You would think that they wouldn't have to ask, but they do.]

Some guys go up, stuff their faces with three or more plates of food, buy one lousy drink (without leaving a tip) and never buy any raffle tickets.

Talk about cheap! Talk about not supporting our gay firefighters!

Some guys will give the excuse that they won't be around at 11 PM or later when the raffle takes place. Bug fucking deal! The tickets are only five dollars, and the food (especially if you have three to-the-brim platefuls!) is worth a lot more than that. [And whether it's hot dogs with potato salad or something fancier it's always delicious.] These guys could certainly support FIREFLAG and help pay for the food with a $5 donation. Most of these guys know one or two people who will stay for the raffle, so they could always hand them their tickets and say "tell me if I win anything." Or they could just give the tickets away [as many who can't stay late do] and say "if you win, you win." [Which is what I would do if I couldn't stay for the raffle.]

I have a friend who talks about "cheap gay men." He's not saying that all or most gay men are cheap; he's referring to friends and acquaintances of his whom he knows have plenty of income but are tight-fisted with the cash -- I mean five dollars to support a gay outfit and get several plates of food! Even if you didn't have something to eat most people could spare five dollars.

Some of these guys may be senior citizens on a fixed income [but it's still only five dollars and free food!] Yet some of them worked hard all their lives, have plenty of savings, no children or grand-children to support or spoil, and no serious financial worries. So what's up with them?

I mean we're talking five dollars!

And supporting a gay organization made up of fuckin' heroes.

Okay, Freudian slip. Some of these gay firefighters are quite attractive. [There's one cutie pie I've been after for two years; not that it's likely I'll ever get him. When he tells me to hold out my arm so he can measure off the raffle tickets I get a tingle. Sue me.] I'm not a firefighter groupie, believe me, but firemen have to be in good shape, after all.

It's unfortunate that one of the raffle prices isn't a date with a firefighter. They'd collect even more money than they do. [One of the prizes is $20 towards your bar tab. That would last me about an hour.]

But, as usual, I digress.

Anyway, if per chance you head over to Ty's to support our gay firefighters, buy some raffle tickets, have some food, enjoy some inexpensively priced cocktails, and generously tip Gary, Donnie, Jesse and the other wonderful bartenders.

And no, they're not paying me to say this!

Ciao. Or rather, Chow!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Out Biographer William J. Mann


This interview I conducted with William J. Mann [left] was originally assigned by The [now defunct] New York Blade and was to have appeared in their October 2008 issue. It was pushed out by "breaking news" and the like, but I decided Mann has interesting things to say so I'm running it here. His new book on Liz Taylor will be in bookstores any minute. It promises to be a great read!


A GAY MANN AND HIS GAY BIOS

Biographer William Schoell interviews biographer William Mann about writing about gay subjects and the importance of telling the truth.

William J. Mann is the out author of several gay-themed novels and biographies of famous queer celebrities, including Wisecracker (about gay silent star William Haines), Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger; and Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. His controversial book Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn looked frankly at the complex sexuality of the actress and peeled away the layers of exaggeration and fabrication over the legendary Hepburn-Tracy “romance.” The New York Times chose Kate as one of the 100 notable books of 2006. Mann’s next book, out in fall 2009, will be about Elizabeth Taylor.

Blade: When you were writing Wisecracker and Behind the Screen, not to mention the Hepburn book, how difficult was it to get old-timers, especially gay ones, to open up about homosexual matters?

Mann: I had been told that most of that era’s survivors would be reluctant to talk about gay issues, and in the beginning there was reluctance. But it was about getting to know them and gaining their trust. When I look back on the experience it was the most wonderful part of doing these books. These people understood that their stories mattered, and that they had been an important part of history.

Blade: Did you find that some people you interviewed tried to cover up someone’s homosexuality even if the person, say Schlesinger, had been more or less out of the closet?

Mann: Not really. We’re finally in a time when sexuality is considered part of the entirety of human experience. With John Schlesinger it was easy because as [actor] Michael York put it, John and his partner [photographer] Michael Childers were the poster children for Out Gay People in Hollywood.

Blade: Interviewing people for your various books, do you still find that many people think of homosexuality in a pre-Stonewall way, like some “dirty little secret?”

Mann: Certainly there are people who still hold that view but they are increasingly becoming the minority. There are definitely these people who haven’t moved with the times, however. One gentleman told me that he wouldn’t discuss sexuality with me. Then in the next issue of Vanity Fair he’s talking all about the sex lives of famous heterosexuals. Obviously, the sexuality he didn’t want to discuss was gay

Blade: Your books are scrupulously researched and well-documented. How do you feel about books in which people are revealed to be gay or bisexual without any sources, interviews or substantiation? Do you think this ultimately hurts all biographers of closeted gay subjects?

Mann: In the seventies, a lot of books said this person or that person was gay but there were no sources or footnotes. I believe this caused a back lash. But now the pendulum is swinging the other way. Anyway, it’s really about seeing your subjects in context.

Blade: Do you find, especially with Hepburn, that even some of her gay and lesbian fans argue that she’s totally straight or that you were wrong to “out” her? If so, what’s up with that?

Mann: Hepburn’s legend was so strong, so heavily imprinted on our culture, some people feel that the way she laid it down shouldn’t even be challenged – if she didn’t want to talk about it, why should we? More than just an actress, she was a symbol of the American character. But it does her a disservice to cover up the truth. I was very scrupulous in not using labels which might have given the wrong impression.

Blade: During Gay Pride week Gay City News [New York] ran a piece on Hepburn’s niece in which she asserted that Kate and Tracy were “rampantly heterosexual,” that anyone who suggested otherwise was wrong, and left it at that. Were you flabbergasted?

Mann: I was surprised and yet I wasn’t. There are people who were close to Hepburn for whom the legend has personal value, who have vested interests in maintaining the Hepburn image. How is someone ‘rampantly heterosexual’ anyway? How could Katharine Houghton [Hepburn’s niece] really know about the sexuality of Hepburn or Tracy? Sometimes the people who are closest to us know us the least. There probably wasn’t space left in the article to present another point of view.

Blade: Do you agree that homosexuals who are publicly homophobic should be outed, but that others have to make that journey themselves? How do you feel about Perez Hilton outing various celebrities?

Mann: I’m a journalist and I believe in telling the truth. Every situation is individual and needs to be weighed on its own merit. There are times it’s absolutely relevant to talk about it. It’s an easier call to make if they’re hypocritical and hurt the community. Used respectfully, the truth is never inappropriate.

Blade: Your next book is on Elizabeth Taylor. What can you tell us about it? Some people were shocked when Richard Burton once told an interviewer that he’d had homosexual relations. I suppose you’ll delve into that.

Mann: The more I research Burton, the more I admire him. Although Burton was not gay, he was completely free in his sexuality. He may have once fooled around with a mentor, maybe Laurence Olivier; he had no shame about it. This is my first biography on a heterosexual subject, but there are quite a lot of gay men in Liz Taylor’s story, a lot of gay Hollywood.

Blade: With celebrities and icons being so influential these days, how harmful is it that the truth about people’s sexuality is not taught in schools and is kept from the public?

Mann: A person’s sexuality should never be so central that it obliterates everything else, but it’s very important to tell the full story of a person’s life. For instance, students who were studying Walt Whitman understood what they were reading more fully when they knew about all the facets of his life.

William Schoell is the author of biographies of The Rat Pack, Dean Martin, Joan Crawford, Giuseppe Verdi, Robert Redford, Edgar Allan Poe and many others.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gay Teens Coming Out in the New York Times



The September 27th 2009 New York Times Magazine section had an interesting article entitled "Coming Out in Middle School" by Benoit Denizet-Lewis. [I believe he's the same guy who wrote the piece about young gay couples a few months ago, the one with the weird photos that made the guys sort of look like Stepford Wives.]

According to this piece young people are coming out earlier and earlier these days, at 13, 14 or 15. These are not even high schoolers, but junior high schoolers. Most of the boys at that age identify as gay; many of the girls as bisexual. [Are there no lesbians anymore? Of course there are!]

A good point is made that it's offensive to ask a gay kid if he's sure he's gay when nobody ever asks a young person who identifies as straight if they're sure they're straight. No one tells straight-identified kids that they're just going through a phase, so why should anyone say it to gay kids?

Now it was awhile ago -- don't laugh, and you know who you are! -- but I recall having an attraction to men not long after reaching puberty, although by no means did I identify as gay. That didn't happen until I was in my early twenties.

I rigidly repressed my attraction to men all through high school and through most of college. I did not have sexual fantasies about any of my college roommates. It wasn't until I was 19 or 20 that I got a full-fledged "crush" on another male classmate. [Joey, what ever became of ye? He was a hot little guy. What is there about hot little guys?]

If these kids can avoid all the angst and drama and have a secure sexual identity when they're younger, so much the better. And for those who ask if they're "boxing themselves in" with a gay identity, what's the problem if they are? What's wrong with a gay identity? What's wrong with being gay? [Frankly I've had enough of this "sexual fluidity" bullshit.]

According to this article, some of these kids knew they were attracted to their own sex as early as age ten! Now I have on occasion met gay men who say they knew they had homosexual feelings as early as nine or ten, but it does seem a little remarkable as most people don't reach puberty until 12 or 13. Perhaps the "attraction" they felt wasn't exactly sexual in nature -- until the hormones kicked in. As for me, who remembers that far back?

As for the "how do you know you're really gay if you don't try it with women?" -- well, just try saying that in reverse. I tried it with women, and it was no big deal. Definitely not my cup of java. And please don't send me emails insisting I'm really bisexual just because I fucked a few women in my younger days. It certainly doesn't make me more of a man than gay guys who've never slept with a gal. But in our macho American society if you don't fuck women you ain't a stud, which is why so many guys who are -- if they're honest with themselves -- gay keep insisting that they're bi. Get real!

The article was hopeful in many ways. For instance: "Many parents just don't assume anymore that their kids will have a sad, difficult life just because they're gay."

And: "This is the first generation of gay kids who have the great joy of being able to argue with their parents about dating, just like their straight peers do."

Now, more than ever, self-hating homos just seem so ludicrously out of date.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Images Behind the Scenes


There will be plenty on the blogosphere about the March on Washington, Obama's speech. and so on. I have to say right off the bat that I disagree with Barney Frank that the "only thing the marchers are putting pressure on is the grass." Anything that helps to focus attention on Gay Rights, Gay Marriage, and other gay-related issues is all to the good.

As I've often said, many [straight and gay] people learn -- or at least think they learn -- about gay people and homosexuality not only from the news, but even more from our images in the media, in films, theater, and TV shows. Crap like The Producers [see photo] does little to help the cause of equal rights.

Okay, it's been a busy weekend and I'm a bit lazy today. So I'm linking to a page at High and Low New York where I have write-ups of various gay-related books, movies, and television programs.

You can read a review of Lance Bass' autobiography. You can see what I thought of the TV show Gay, Straight or Taken, the telefilm Wedding Wars, and the British mini-series Bob and Rose.

Not to mention the films Notes on a Scandal, The Night Listener with Robin Williams, Kinsey, The Groomsmen, and of course The Producers (don't get me started!).

Next time: A look at the recent New York Times magazine piece on gay teens coming out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Too Stupid for Words


So this week New York magazine has done a cover story on Neil Patrick Harris, whom they dub the first (openly) gay break out TV star.

So what do they have him doing on the cover?

That's right -- putting on lipstick.

Do you think they would have asked a straight actor to do that?

Yeah, that's what so many gay men do (especially in the bear community) -- put on their shirt, their tie -- and then slap on some bright red lipstick.

I was gratified to see that on the magazine's web site plenty of people were put off, a bit appalled, and even angry about the dumb cover.

Of course, some people just don't get it.

One commenter said that actors wear make up and that it would be funny if a straight actor put on lipstick, so what's wrong with a gay actor doing it etc. etc. etc. Another posted that it was part of a "theatrical" scene not a "gay" scene. Surrrrre. C'mon, did they have to tout this openly gay actor with a shot of him putting on lipstick!? [Besides, Harris is not wearing drag but what appears to be a typical business outfit, so why would he fucking need lipstick?]

The point is that straight men and gay men are perceived differently in our society. Gay men have been struggling for decades to be accepted as men.

Why did Harris even agree to pose for this shot? In the reasonably well put together article by Emily Nussbaum he says, in reference to his boyfriend, "if I say something like 'He didn’t wave flags,’ it sounds like I’m disrespecting people that do, who I think are tremendously important, but there’s more than one way to get into people’s psyches."

That's always been one of the big problems for the gay community. Celebrities always get more attention than activists from the media and general public (and the gay community) but celebrities don't always have a strong gay identity or feel any need to "wave a flag" or think responsibly about the gay image.

Later in the article, which looks at other Out actors and their chances for becoming stars or leading men, Nussbaum writes: "When Grey’s Anatomy’s T. R. Knight came out, it underlined his lack of chemistry with his female co-stars."

I never watched Grey's Anatomy but I always bristle at the suggestion that a gay actor can't do convincing love scenes with women . I mean, Rock Hudson certainly did and he was by no means a particularly great actor. Suggesting that gay men can't be convincing leading men in hetero romantic dramas or comedies is forgetting that it's all about acting. [In any case, Harris has just been cast in a leading "straight" role in a romantic comedy.]

Back to Harris and his lipstick. I don't know if it was a straight person who came up with this idea (or Harris?) or a really dizzy queen who thought it would be cute -- oy vey! -- but combining "gay" with make up is so old hat and tiresome, so indicative of the narrow perception in which the very diverse gay male community is held, that it really makes you think that even forty years after Stonewall it's "three steps forward and two steps backward."

And I think of all the homosexual men who stay in the closet or won't identity as gay because they think (rightly, I'm afraid) that the dominant gay male image in most people's minds is that of a silly "queen" who wears make up and pliably swishes about on the command of some dumbnut photographer.

New York will probably justify the cover by saying that it's edgier and more attention-getting than a more standard shot of Harris would have been. But where is their imagination? Is Harris putting on lipstick really the best they can come up with?

Not inventive. Not imagination. Not clever.

Just stupid, disrespectful -- and debasing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Questioning?



A newspaper in Portland, Oregon reported:

"Sharing a meal at a Loaves & Fishes Center gives senior citizens the opportunity to save money, get out of the house, catch up with old friends and make new ones. Now GLBT seniors can enjoy these activities at a new Loaves & Fishes site designed as a safe, welcoming space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex seniors. This is the first program of its kind in the Northwest."
Don't get me wrong. I think there should be special spaces and programs for LGBT seniors, but what made me laugh is the inclusion in the news story of the word "questioning." [The inclusion of "intersex" also gave me pause, as I doubt if there's any -- or many -- intersexed individuals in Portland or anywhere else. Not putting anyone down, here, just being factual. At least they didn't include "asexual!"]
I mean, imagine being a senior citizen and you're still "questioning" your sexuality!
Of course, this probably isn't as bizarre as it sounds, as there are many repressed and closeted individuals-in-denial of all ages within the fringes of the gay community. Larry Craig, anyone? And all those "straight" guys seeking regular sex with men that gay therapist Joe Kort thinks are really heterosexual. Give me a break!
Still, imagine that you're pushing eighty and you're still confused about your sexual orientation!
Confusion is understandable in youth. You don't fit the stereotypes, you have some (minor) interest in the opposite sex, you're dealing with internalized homophobia and so on. But after awhile one has to face the facts.
In other words, if you're questioning whether or not you're gay, you're probably gay.
And as I've said many times, it's okay to be gay.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A HOST OF GAY IMAGES


OF SOAPS AND COMICS

When I first mentioned the new lesbian Batwoman in Detective Comics, I mentioned how there had been a very sympathetic lesbian character, a cop, in Superman some years back. Well her name was Maggie Sawyer and she's now captain of the Major Crimes Unit. Guess who shows up in only the third installment of the new Batwoman series (Detective 856)? Our gal Batwoman, dressed in a tuxedo and with an odd make up job [definitely a "lipstick lesbian"] runs into Maggie at a fundraising gala in Gotham -- or is it Metropolis? Anyway, Maggie, too, is dressed in a tuxedo. Somehow Maggie [who used to have a lover] immediately surmises that Kate/Batwoman is a lesbian and asks her for a dance [see photo].

Frankly, I find this all just a little too precious -- and self-conscious, for lack of a better word. I don't think a tuxedo on a woman is necessarily a code for "lesbian." [Generally whenever I see woman in tuxes they tend to be orchestra conductors, but that doesn't mean they're gay.] The whole business with Kate and Maggie is just a little too cute.

I have no idea of the orientation of the writer Greg Rucka. Rucka writes in today's typical comics style, meaning he takes up right where the last installment left off, there's no synopsis to remind you of who the various players are, and you're left to fend for yourself. Rucka does try to maintain a certain level of characterization, but I'm not certain he has any real idea of how to deal with Batwoman's lesbianism.

But then I confess that I had no idea that the new female Question -- who has a back up strip in Detective -- was also a lesbian and had just broken up with Batwoman. [We saw the break up in the Batwoman strip.] I was told this by a comics fan at my favorite bar. This back story about The Question may have been revealed in another comic at some point, but it certainly wasn't made known in the story itself.

Moving from the comics to the soaps:

I wrote a while back about the actor who quit The Young and the Restless in a huff because he didn't want to play a gay role ["Adam"] and kiss another actor. Big mistake. The "kiss" -- when it came -- was off-camera so we never got to see anyone lock lips. There was no actual softcore or after-glow sex scene, either. We just saw the two men buttoning up their shirts when it was over. Adam insists that it was a one time thing, but neither Rafe, the man he slept with [basically to use him, but still ...], or Adam's girlfriend, are convinced -- in fact, she broke up with Adam when she found out. Adam's father, Victor, told him he was okay with his being gay and Adam really didn't say anything, although he probably still identifies as straight. Adam is a fairly loathsome character, being nasty and under-handed to his father's new wife, Ashley, who has done nothing but be kind to him. Rafe, on the other hand, is a much more positive character, and is openly gay.

The Young and the Restless also introduced another gay character named Phillip Chancellor. Actually the character -- and the actor -- were on the show twenty years ago when Philip was killed off. Now the story is -- and this could only happen in the soaps -- that Phillip faked his death because he couldn't deal with being a Chancellor [with all the expectations that went with it] and with being gay. I've heard of some weird reactions to being in the closet, but faking your own death! Phillip is played by an openly gay actor, Thom Bierdz -- who played the role twenty years ago as well -- but he seems to do little else but wander around trying to bond with his son and ex-wife and apologize to the family members who were shocked that he never gave them a chance to accept him for who he is. A nice-looking man, he seems never to have had a long-time relationship, doesn't seem that happy being gay, and certainly has zero gay identity. If this is Y&R's idea of a positive gay character, all I can say is that they've got to be kidding. Hopefully Phillip will lose that hang dog expression and be given an actual storyline or two. It would also be interesting if Adam comes to accept that he's attracted to men.

The gay characters are much better handled on As the World Turns, as I wrote about a while back. Luke and Noah remain a positive and interesting gay couple, but it's obvious -- this being a soap opera, after all -- that their commitment will be tested in future episodes. The show has introduced a cute professor who is helping Noah work on his screenplay. [In a completely absurd development, Noah had to fly to Hollywood on the day of Luke's father's funeral to meet with -- get this! -- Jude Law about his screenplay. Right. A college kid with no agent and Jude Law. Law himself did not appear on the show, but of course no one expected he would.] Luke seems to be getting a bit jealous of all the time Noah spends with the professor.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson: No Gay Icon


I find it a little disturbing that on the gay blogosphere I've come across this attitude that if you don't love and admire Michael Jackson that makes you both racist and homophobic.

Let's make one thing clear. Michael Jackson was no gay hero. Biographers are now coming out with alleged details about his sexual involvements with men, but he certainly did his best to hide this from the public. Out and Proud he was not.

Yes, yes, he and Liz Taylor were AIDs activists of a type, but please let's remember that AIDS IS NOT A "GAY" DISEASE and I'm sick of the way so many people seem to forget that. Fighting for AIDS patients does not necessarily means someone is pro-gay. To my knowledge Jackson never spoke out in favor of gay rights.

Jackson was not just dealing with self-hate issues as a possible homosexual, but also as a black man. His bleaching of his skin says a lot. Some people feel that Jackson may actually have been an unacknowledged transsexual, transforming himself into Diana Ross -- or possibly a Caucasian version of Diana Ross. In any case, he did not speak out in favor of transgender rights, either.

Not being a fan of Jackson's hardly makes one a racist, as some have charged. Just sticking to the African-American community, I can think of dozens of entertainers who put Jackson in the shade. Sammy Davis Jr., just to name one, was about a hundred times as talented as Jackson. It wouldn't be fair to compare Jackson's "moonwalking" to ballet, but even the average Broadway dancer probably had more skill than Jackson. And he was certainly no Fred Astaire.

And many people have felt uncomfortable with Jackson being held up as some great American figure, what with all the questions about him and children. True, he may not have been a pedophile, but what does it say about him that he would actually sleep in the same bed with other people's children. I mean it's not even appropriate to share a bed with young nieces and nephews, but other people's children?

Jackson may have had his good points, and I would certainly never say that he was untalented. Of course it's terrible that he died at fifty when he might have had many, many years ahead.

But it's ridiculous to think of the man as a gay icon or hero, when he was neither.

I'm sorry if this will piss some people off, but it's my opinion and I'm sticking with it.

Batwoman is a Lesbian


Okay. There's been a shake-up in the wonderful world of Batman. Dick Grayson, the first boy partner known as Robin (who became known as Nightwing when he grew up) has taken over the role and costume of Batman, while Bruce Wayne, the original Batman, is either dead or missing. The new Robin is a snot-nosed ten-year-old with attitude. [Of course Batman could have been charged with endangering a minor were it not for dramatic license.]

But for our purposes, the more interesting news from the comic front is that the new Batwoman is an Out and Proud Lesbian.

This new take on Batwoman [there was another character by that name way back in the sixties] was introduced some time ago in a DC Comics maxi-series called 52. She was revealed as a lesbian when she was caught checking out a woman. [I thought it was kind of a tacky debut myself.] Now she's been given her own series in the front of Detective Comics, beginning with issue # 854. [This is the same Detective Comics in which Batman debuted way back in the 1930's. No wonder he retired. He's really old! By the way DC Comics takes its name from Detective Comics, not from AC-DC.]

In her real identity, Batwoman, Kate, is wealthy (like Bruce Wayne) and has a girlfriend, a lawyer named Anna, who is very jealous. She doesn't know her gal pal is Batwoman, so she thinks all those late nights out are spent in the beds of other women. She wants a serious relationship and thought that Kate wanted the same. "The thing that kills me is that I like you, Kate, I really do. You're smart, you're sexy, you've got a sense of humor, and you don't think fabrics begin and end with flannel." [Oops! Stereotyping alert anyone?]

The Batwoman series has interesting art by J. H. Williams III. The strip is written by Greg Rucka, about whom I know nothing. He's been quoted as saying that Batwoman is "Out and Proud" and will stay that way. I hope he resists making her bi and getting her involved in a straight relationship. There are so few gay characters in comics as it is. The lesbian community is as diverse as the gay male community, but will Rucka make her a realistic gay person? But how can anyone who dresses up in a bat outfit and fights crime be realistic? In other words, he'll have to be granted some leeway, but still ... At least she's not a super-butch caricature.

One of the most interesting lesbian characters in comic books was a female cop who appeared in Superman stories around ten or so years ago. The Man of Steel was definitely sympathetic and pro-gay in those tales. She was in a committed relationship and had a daughter from an earlier life. Don't know if she's still around.

Is Batwoman perhaps a leather lesbian? Maybe in one issue she can join the Lesbian Sex Mafia [this is a real group of lesbians into the leather/kink/s&m/fetish scene]. But that's too obvious a way to go.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Gay Pride 2009

HAPPY GAY PRIDE 2009

HAVE A GREAT DAY, A GREAT MARCH AND PARTY 'TIL THE WEE HOURS!

BILL

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Leather Life -- Gay and Not Gay



I'm not into the leather scene as such -- although I enjoy the macho atmosphere of most leather bars -- but in honor of this weekend's Folsom East Leather Pride fair in New York, I'm posting an article I did last summer for The New York Blade [it's no longer available in the paper's archives, unfortunately]:


LEATHER SCENE NOT AS GAY AS IMAGINED


by Bill Schoell

Last June 22nd 2008 a Leather Pride Fair took over the far west end of 11th avenue and was well-attended despite the afternoon downpour. This coming August 15th t0 17th the New Jersey Convention Center in Edison, New Jersey will play host to Floating World, a leather/S&M/ kink/ alternative-sexuality gathering hosted by over 32 groups who expect nearly 1000 attendees. There will be a host of classes, workshops, and parties dedicated to everything from “pony play” to “whips” to the old reliable bondage and discipline. [Registration for the event is now closed.]

How many of the Floating World attendees will be gay or lesbian? “Hard to say,” Dan, one of the organizers of the event, told The Blade, “as we don't ask and many people come for many reasons. Someone may be here for Pony Play and we would never know if they're gay or straight, just Pony - Or M/s [Master/slave] or bondage. And we really don't care. Still, I would guess about 20% or so. But then, how do you measure transpersons? Or bi people, or poly? We just take everyone as they come and try to make them as comfortable as possible.” [For the record, “Pony Play” does not refer to bestiality, but to role-playing where one participant pretends to be a horse or pony and another pretends to be a trainer or rider etc.]

Still, events like Floating World make it clear that the leather/s&m/fetish scene – which many people have always seen as being somehow exclusively or predominantly gay – is something separate and distinct, pansexual in nature. Likewise, gay people, traditionally looked upon as strange sexual outlaws, have been seen by straights (and many gays) as somehow “kinkier” than heterosexuals. Or at least more open-minded about outre sexual practices. But some erotic activities practiced by alternative sex groups may make standard gay sex seem blase in comparison, as well as raise the eyebrows even of the most sophisticated members of the LGBT community.

Why has the leather scene long been considered a sub-culture of the gay community? In every large city gay men in their leather regalia can be seen heading towards the local Eagle or Ramrod. Because there are no equivalent heterosexual leather bars (although there have been underground s&m clubs), people have come to the erroneous conclusion that the leather/s&m/kink scene is strictly a gay phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth. For instance, The Eulenspiegal Society is a New York-based S&M group that caters largely to straights.

“Since there are other groups in NYC dedicated to gay-males and lesbians, TES tends to get bisexuals and heterosexuals as members,” Susan Wright of TES told The Blade. (Wright is also a spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.) According to Wright, “It's true that there are more gay leather bars - there aren't any het BDSM bars because you can't play in the same space as liquor is sold. BDSM clubs that allow playing are non-alcoholic, and these clubs cater to gays as well as hets and bi's on different nights under different promoters. Gay men don't play in the leather bars - they go there to meet other gay men. Very similar are the many swing clubs around the U.S. that meet at bars where the members socialize, and then if they want to play they leave to go to another location.”

She adds that “The large majority of the 500 BDSM social and educational groups in America are pansexual and tend to have bisexuals and heterosexuals as members.” Gays and Lesbians account for only 20% of the scene.

It’s also true that many homosexual leather people identify more with the leather scene – or the particular fetish scene they belong to – than they do with the gay community. Asked if leather people resented the fact that leather/s&m was not included in “LGBT,” Tip, the President of New York’s Iron Guard BC [Brotherhood Club] felt the need to deny the very premise. He told The Blade: “As one of the many fetish groups, the Leather community feels more comfortable with Leather Men and Women – we all share a similar code of behavior, tradition, kink, and protocols [that is] not shared by the entire LGBT community.” As for the misapprehension that all leather men are gay he said “Don’t let the Hell’s Angels hear you speculating they are mostly gay ” (But one could certainly speculate if there are gay Hell’s Angels )

Being part of the leather scene can simply mean one has a fetish for leather outfits or “it can signal a vast ocean of sensual opportunities,” according to Tip. These not only include BDSM but puppy-play, water sports and fist-fucking, which “was practiced in India long before there was any s/m associations.” Tip feels that “‘real’ leather bars no longer exist in NYC. ..While I can never get my fill of leathered eye candy,” he says, “leather men aren’t known for their trimmed, svelte and/or buffed bodies. Today it seems there’s more of a leather-for-fashion fetish than leather men.” (It should be noted that while some leather men are non-svelte bears, most bears are not into the leather scene.)

When it comes to women in the leather scene, what comes to most people’s minds are stereotypical whip-wielding dominatrixes who are straight and have a male heterosexual clientele. In fact, there are many lesbians who are into leather, s&m and fetish play. New York’s Lesbian Sex Mafia is only one of several groups for gay and other women who are into the scene. Others are Tribe/New Jersey Leatherdykes and Dyke Uniform Corps.

Fearful of discrimination for practices that others outside the scene might find childish at best or repellant at worst, Leather people – regardless of orientation – seem to be more closeted and secretive than gays. [Neither the board of Lesbian Sex Mafia nor Gay Male S/M Activists, also based in New York, responded to The Blade’s request for an interview.] Perhaps the secrecy is part of the appeal of the scene.

Tip of the Iron Guard says “I believe Lucille Ball is credited with saying ‘There are some doors better left unopened.’ Leather men have opened them. [They] see the world, even the ‘regular’ gay community, through a different pair of glasses.

“We know things, play with sensations, excite eroticism that vanilla sex doesn’t even dream of.”

Originally published in The New York Blade 2008.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Coming Out with Codicils


Okay, so I was at my favorite watering hole one night when American Idol came on. [I'm not a fan of the show.] I'd heard one of the front runners was gay and I asked someone to point him out to me when he came on. Naturally, he turned out to be the one male contestant I would never fuck [and I'm sure he'd feel the same way]. Adam Lambert is nice looking in that "queeny" sort of way --not that there's anything wrong with that -- but why is it when celebrities or pseudo-celebrities or people famous for five minutes come out a.) you can sort of already tell that they're gay because they ring all the stereotype buttons and b.) if they're guys they have to have the whole teased hair, lip gloss kind of thing going on. If you knew how many gay men I know who are nothing like that ...

Of course the teased hair/lip gloss business is as much -- if not more -- theatrical than it is gay. I mean, we have to remember Gene Simmons of the rock group Kiss in his outrageous make up and he, presumably, is straight. [Why is it that so many hetero lover boys are well, repulsive -- you know, Charlie Sheen almost turns my stomach. It's not even their looks so much as a certain oily factor ... anyway, I digress.]

Some things never change. Lambert was interviewed on 20/20 -- not exactly a hard news program -- and they made a big fuckin' deal out of something he said late in the program. They even announced that Lambert was going to say something surprising. The presumably straight and nerdy male interviewer was practically smacking his lips over this announcement.

No, it wasn't that Lambert was gay, which he confirmed to 20/20 as he had to Rolling Stone in his interview there. No it was that Lambert, although not bisexual, wasn't opposed to -- gosh -- a little pussy. He claimed he made out with women when he'd had a few drinks [no surprise there] and that someday he might go all the way. "Who will be the lucky woman?" he wondered.

Give me a break! Lambert seems like a nice guy, but when he goes to bed with a woman it will be an act of lesbianism. I could be wrong, but I suspect he's a bottom -- nothing wrong with that -- so if he isn't interested in fucking guys he's going to be a big disappointment with whatever starstruck can-I-borrow-your-lip gloss gal he decides to hit the sheets with.

But there's a bigger question here. Who put Lambert up to this business and why did 20/20 have to make such a big deal of it. It was as if they were saying "Sure, he's a fag, but he's part normal, he might fuck a woman someday." What is this shit?

If Lambert made his remarks on his own it's due to his need to seem like a "regular guy," after all, to America. [Hint, Adam: Lose the shiny lip gloss.] But I suspect it may have been his advisers or business manager or agent. After all, many of his fans are young straight women. They might not buy his records or stay fans of his if they come to the conclusion that he's a hopeless, total fag. [To be fair, Lambert may have had nothing to do with the assholes at 20/20 playing up this part of the interview as if it were the most important thing Lambert had to say. Still ... ]

So again we have someone coming out, saying they're comfortable with their sexuality.

But if they're so comfortable -- why the hetero codicil?

You sometimes wish some people would just stay in the closet.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Playing Gay


A while ago I wrote about the gay characters on the CBS soap As The World Turns. While there are lesbian couples on two other soap operas, this was the only show to have a gay male couple, although there are rumors that The Young and the Restless, the highest-rated CBS soap, is planning to introduce same.

It's interesting how different actors react to learning that their characters are going to be -- or turn out to be -- gay.

Yani Gellman, who plays Hispanic -- and openly gay -- lawyer Rafe Torres on the show, just seemed pleased to have an interesting part that might be beefed up in the future.

On the other hand, Chris Engen (pictured), who plays Adam on the same show, threw a hissy fit when he found out what was in his character's future and walked off the set.

And the show.

What makes it really crazy is that it has been suggested that Adam isn't really going to turn out to be gay or bi, but that he comes on to and/or smooches Rafe Torres as a way of manipulating him.

Now this creates problems already, but before we get to that, one has to ask, did Engen, a 29-year-old actor on a popular show, throw away a gig like that (when, let's face it, most "actors" are waiting on tables) just because he didn't want to kiss a guy on camera for an acting job?

Maybe it was more than that. Maybe the rather sociopathic Adam would go so far as to sleep with the guy. [Which would suggest he was at least bi and in denial, if not gay].

I'm not crazy with the idea of Adam, who has turned out to be a very nasty, almost psychotic character -- I mean, trying to "gas light" [drive crazy] a pregnant woman who has been nothing but kind to him -- turning out to be gay. But at least Rafe seems like a decent fellow, although again I'm not crazy about him being treated like an easily manipulated weakling. The rumor mill has it that Rafe will actually be caught between evil Adam and a more likable and rational gay male character.

Interesting.

But as for Chris Engen. Some fans have come to his defense, saying perhaps he just didn't want to play a "stereotypically evil bisexual," but that does not appear to be the case. Engen made a statement on his MySpace page, which makes it clear -- reading between the lines or not -- that it is his distaste with the whole gay thing -- kissing a guy and all -- that had him stupidly ripping up his contract. Many straight fans left messages of support, lauding him for his bravery and convictions [i.e. homophobic attitudes].

As expected, Engen denies that he is homophobic, stating that he has "homosexual friends."

"Homosexual" friends instead of "gay friends." Isn't that sort of like saying he has "colored friends" instead of "black friends." When straight [or at least straight-identified] people use homosexual in that way, it usually doesn't mean that they're very gay-friendly.

Engen also mentions that his leaving the show has a lot to do with the fact that he is the single father of a young son.

What? Does he think the boy will somehow be corrupted if his father plays a gay (or ersatz-gay) role?

Not homophobic, sure.

Of course Engen claims he hadn't liked the direction the character was going in for quite some time, even though -- as others have noted -- most actors chomp at the bit for a chance to play an evil, attention-getting role on a popular show. He only walked off the soap when he found out Adam would be kissing Rafe.

Engen was not bad as Adam, but it was not hard to replace him, either. Two hours after he walked off the show the producers had signed another actor for the role.

I can understand how some straight actors might be a bit uncomfortable playing a gay role, and can understand they'd rather do love scenes with women. And all the inevitable questions about their sexuality might get tiresome. And they don't want to be thought of as closet cases and so on and so on. But for Pete's sake it's still just a role. It's not as if they're working in a gay bar.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but one thing's for sure.

When you go out to dinner in a few months Chris Engen may be your waiter.

Or he might wind up a bartender.

In a gay bar. [You know how straight guys always think gay men are great tippers.]
UPDATE [6/18/09]: Last week the show had Adam dressing up in drag a la Psycho and trying to scare the shit out of the pregnant Ashley, who fell down the stairs and had a miscarriage. I'm so hoping they don't make this character gay.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Beyond the Yellow Brick Road


I went on Friday night to the midnight show of a new play being presented by Wings, a gay theater company on Christopher Street in Manhattan.

This is the plot, as recounted on the show's web site:

"Possible Nobel-Prize-winning head of the Department of Hydraulic Engineering at M.I.T. runs away from it all to build a shrine to Judy Garland because she 'knew life'. His mother, the world most renowned Freudian psychoanalyst, hunts him down pleading for him to return: 'to give up the eyelashes and go back into analysis'. Meanwhile, a religious fanatic bursts in and tries to convert them both but is set upon by the mother who uses her 'industrial strength sensitivity training' developed in her book 'Secularization for Dummies' and literally rebirths the Bible thumper on stage turning him into the 'perfectly analyzed man'. The show is best described as an outrageous Joe Orton dark satirical comedy with the Marx Brothers mixed in."

Well ... I think that's the show I saw, but I'm not certain. More on that in a moment.

I was told about this show by a friend of mine who's absolutely queer for Judy Garland. JG is a supposed gay icon -- there was even some ridiculous story about how gays rioted during the Stonewall rebellion because of Garland's death or some nonsense -- but as I told my friend, the first time I ever had a conversation abut Garland in a gay bar was when I met him about two years ago. [Actually the first time I had a conversation about the lady in a gay bar was with the straight-identified bartender at Boots and Saddle, whom I later came to refer to [with some affection] as "the malevolent munchkin". A subconscious connection I suppose. Anyway I used to enjoy the plays at the Ridiculous Theater company and thought this might be along those lines so I said "let's go!"

I don't know if my friend was hoping to see a play about Garland. This is really a play about a drag queen obsessed with Garland -- it has fun with stereotypes. The play was written by the two lead actors, Michael L Natale [pictured], who plays the drag queen, and John L. Wood, who plays his mother. [John O'Neil played the religious zealot.] I always love it when drag queens are, or at least are played by, guys who are kind of butch even when they're in drag; it's an amusing gender-bender.

We waited almost fifteen minutes for the play to start, and at first I thought that it was some kind of guerrilla theater. This is the play, I told my friend as I looked at the empty stage. Someone in front of me pointed out a table with a cocktail glass and several prescription bottles on it and said, "Look -- her last meal" a bit of black humor that I found funny but my friend did not.

Now let me confess right here that I had one cocktail and two glasses of wine with dinner. I also had another drink at the Ramrod across the street, and frankly I think if New York Times reviewers made a full disclosure of how much they imbibed before they went to the preview it might explain their opinions more fully. So take this with a grain of salt -- or a glass or two.

Now I'm not certain if this was really part of the show or not, but apparently the actor playing the mother -- with huge false boobs and a fright wig, making him resemble Mammy Yokum of Li'l Abner -- kept going off script or ad libbing. He even apologized at the end of the play, although the ad libs were always funny and added to the amusement. So, as I said, I'm not even certain if I actually saw the play as scripted, but I had fun anyway. Besides this is a farce and ad libbing is always part of the action. [Although the real drama may have occured in the dressing room after the play was over, LOL!]

At one point Natale turned to the audience and said: "So you wanna be in show business, eh? This is what always fucking happens!" Then he turned to his co-star and said "You wrote the fucking thing. Just pick out a part in the script. Any part!"

Before long the religious zealot came on and Mother made her moves on him, boobs and all, which wound up with them sort of wrestling across the floor of the stage. "No wonder I'm gay!" screamed Natale.

Okay, you've got the idea that this is not a gay version of Long Day's Journey Into Night, but it is a lot of fun, and frankly, you never know what you're gonna get. You might even see the actual play! It has one more performance at Wings [154 Christopher Street] this coming Friday, May 29th at Midnight [okay technically that's May 30th, but it's Friday night, okay?] and then Natale and company hope to take it on the road or find another home for it.

I like Natale very much as a performer. He has a natural born flair for comedy. I also got a kick out of Wood and O'Neil. The tickets are only $15 for over an hour of fun. If you wear a costume you'll get in for a measly $12 and you might even be asked to play a role in the show.

For more info and to order tickets you can go to the Wings website or the play's website.

Here's my suggestion. Have dinner at Fedora's Italian restaurant at 239 W 4th Street [212-242-9691]. They take reservations up until 9:30 PM.I recommend the chicken parmigiana, which is very tasty. They also have the best Roquefort dressing I've ever had. Very gay-friendly, nice waiters, and owner Fedora is a sweetheart. Inexpensive, too.

You'll have time to kill after dinner, so walk down toward the theater and have a drink across the street at the Ramrod, which used to be called the Dug Out (but which was originally called the Ramrod). The new manager there is handsome Robert, who is also manager of Boots and Saddle and used to be a waiter at Fedora's.

And of course you can also stop at Ty's bar on Christopher Street if you can get in -- as it tends to be packed on the weekends [and full of hot guys!]

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

LGBT and NPD



Nowadays it seems as if everybody is mad about something.

Anger can be a good thing, but it can also be counter-productive. Anger can also be a product of self-absorption.

Angry self-absorption can afflict anyone in any community, but let's talk about the GLBT community while we're at it.

In recent weeks I've had a few angry asexuals, bitter bisexuals and others sending me hate emails, saying they're "watching out for me" and making veiled, vague threats of one kind or another because here and there I write or say things that they don't agree with. Let me make it clear that I do not believe that these people speak for nor represent the intelligent and rational members of their respective communities.

Rather these are people who are so insecure, whose sense of self is so tenuous, that they feel a need to bully -- or at least try to bully -- everyone into agreeing with their every pin-headed opinion, whether it makes sense or not.

I try to keep abreast of new developments in, new thoughts on, and new studies of, sexuality. I have a problem with studies that I feel are unscientific, too small or vague, or which are not objective. I don't trust people who have an agenda, whatever it may be. And I have never trusted bullies.

Today studies and surveys on sexuality are often done by those who have a vested interest in the studies saying what they want them to say. By their very nature they are suspect. Studies are rarely done by the impartial.

But getting back to the angry folk. Some of these people may at least feel they have legitimate complaints but why do I think that so much of it really has to do with me-ism? Meaning, it's all about me, me, me. Much of the anger is not due to any real or even perceived discrimination, but to an almost overwhelming self-centeredness that prevents these people from seeing an inch beyond their own noses. They are incapable of understanding -- or even listening to -- another person's viewpoint. You either agree with them totally or you get a hate email. Pathetic.

LGBT people are just as subject to NPD -- Narcissistic Personality Disorder -- as non-LGBT people. These howling, mad-as-a-hornet-types desperately want attention, which makes you wonder why they also prefer to be anonymous -- but there's nothing rational about them. They desperately want you to think of them as victims, they accuse you of victimizing them just because you disagree on certain aspects of certain issues. They want you to feel their pain, even if they could care less about yours. I suppose in their real lives off the Internet nobody pays these people attention -- assuming they even have a life off the Internet.

Most of these people aren't comfortable in their own skin. And certainly not with their sexuality, whatever it may be. They need to take it out on somebody. Let's get this Out and Proud Gay Guy who's stupid enough to use his real name and photo (they never use theirs; too ashamed, I suppose).

I don't know what these people have been doing but I've spent decades fighting for gay rights in one way or another. I hardly need these immature, emotionally stunted pissants threatening me or giving me a lecture cobbled together from trendy reports by people just as dumb and inconsequential as they are.

Often these people are very young, but not always. NPD can affect all sorts of people. I recently got a rather nasty email from a guy who objected to my criticisms of a certain historic bar. He made insulting and wrong speculations about me. After a couple of rounds of emails I realized that this guy didn't really give a shit about the bar. You see, it was his hang-out, "his" bar, and if I "attacked" the bar that meant I was attacking him. A regular person, of course, wouldn't feel this way. They'd think: okay, I like the bar; you don't -- big deal. But a self-absorbed person is a different story. It's all about them.

I'm sure there are various members of the LGBT community who have legitimate gripes and grievances, and can talk about them -- rationally, honestly -- without getting hysterical or stupid.

But the ones with NPD?

I'm not interested in a damn thing they have to say. Because it's never really about a cause, about biphobia or whatever, or this or that or what-have-you.

It's always about them.

And they're a bore.