Jul 13, 2013

Fall 1982: Dancer from the Dance: Gay Ghetto by Andrew Holleran

When I started grad school in Bloomington, Indiana in 1982, I had no trouble finding gay books.  There were no gay sections in the campus bookstore or the White Rabbit downtown, but you could just scan the shelves for titles that were dark and sinister, about secrets and lies and despair, like Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask or Tennessee Williams' A Thirsty Evil.

But one day I stumbled upon one that didn't use code: Dancer from the Dance (1978), by Andrew Holleran, with a shirtless guy wrapped in a yuppie sweater on the cover (he looked like Perry King, bottom photo).  The blurb that yelled: "A haunting novel of romance and decadence in the fast lanes of gay society!"

Wow, no secrets, no lies, no despair!  Maybe even a gay man who experiences a moment or two of happiness, and doesn't die at the end.

No such luck.

The gay men in Dancer from the Dance are all young, beautiful, wealthy, and cursed. They trudge from gym to bar to after-hours club to bathhouse, dancing, taking drugs, having sex, seeing the same faces year after year, but knowing nothing about them except their penis size. They have dozens of lovers but no friends.  They are unable to find any meaning in life, or any happiness.

Every summer they are bussed from the Village to Fire Island, from one prison to another, and they peer out the windows at Sayville, with its husbands and wives sitting contented on porches while kids frolick in front yards, and they think "That's happiness!  But we can never experience it, because we're gay, and therefore doomed."

As one of the characters explains: "The world demands that gay life be ultimately sad, for everyone in this country believes. . .that to be happy you must have a two-story house in the suburbs and a FAMILY."  Andrew Holleran not excluded.

The main character, Malone, vanishes at the end of the novel.  Sex/dance partners are always vanishing.   Some escape, like the character who moves to the Deep South and finds infinite joy in helping a friend install a septic tank.  Others die.  The rest keep on dancing.

Very depressing take on the gay world.  Yet I wasn't depressed, because I knew something that Malone and his coterie didn't: the men they saw day after day, year after year were, in fact, a FAMILY, an adhesive brotherhood that could change the world.

See also: The Violet Quill