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

Jul 12, 2013

Coy and Vance: Good Ol Boy Bromance

In 1978 John Schneider and his life-long friend, fellow Georgia boy Byron Cherry, both auditioned for the role of Bo Duke in the good-old-boy dramedy Dukes of Hazard.  John got the part, and Byron had to keep his day job as a flight attendant.  

In 1982, John Schneider and Tom  Wopat walked out of Dukes, and Byron and Christopher "Chip" Meyer, a New Yorker feigning a good-ol-boy accent, came in to replace them as cousins Coy and Vance Duke.

The duo had the muscles of the original Dukes, and Chip had the patented John Schneider bulge.  Teen magazines were ecstatic.  

They were close friends, "like brothers," and the press fully played up the bromance angle.  But were they gay?  Chip Mayer was actually married three times.  Byron never married, and was often seen in the company of Hollywood hunks like Michael Damian, Jimmy McNichol, and Kristy McNichol (ok, she's a girl, but they were at a lesbian bar). I saw him at an AIDS Walk in 1989. So he's at least gay-friendly.
In spite of the press, Coy and Vance didn't sit well with viewers, and by the end of the 1982-83 season Bo and Luke were back, and Coy and Vance gone (although they did star in the cartoon series).




Byron Cherry has had a few more roles here and there, but he has mostly retired to run a bartending business.  But he still attends fan events regularly.

Chip Mayer played a soap hunk in Glitter and Santa Barbara, and starred in some actioners.  Her died in 2011.

See also: Dukes of Hazzard.


Fifty Ways of Saying Fabulous: A Gay Kiwi Boyhood

The gay-themed New Zealand movie Kawa (2010) was terrible, all about closets and angst and parents who fall to the ground screaming when they discover that their kid is gay.  But Fifty Ways of Saying Fabulous (2005), based on the novel by Graeme Aitkin, gets it nearly right.  It won't make my list of 10 Gay Movies I Loved, but it was pleasant.






The summer of 1975, in a small farming community on the vast plains of Otago, South Island, a place isolated from the rest of the world yet immersed in global pop culture.  Billy (Andrew Patterson, right) is 12-years old, overweight, feminine.

He hates farming and rugby, the two passions of everybody else in town, but he loves teen idol music and sci-fi tv, especially the glamorous space-explorer Lana (Judy from Lost in Space in the original novel).  So naturally he dons a black wig to become Lana, and his tomboy cousin Lou becomes her partner Brad, to act out interstellar adventures.

Billy's parents are nonchalant about his forays into drag, but at school it's downright savage, with bullying, bashing, and cries of "poof!"


He knows what a "poof" is: a man who wears dresses and knows "fifty ways of saying fabulous."  But he doesn't know what "gay" means.  Never once, in his twelve years of homophobic harassment, has anyone told him that same-sex desire or romance exist.  And maybe they don't know.  That was possible in Otago, New Zealand in 1975.  It was possible in my home town of Rock Island, Illinois; I didn't find out until 1976.

Then, as is the custom in movies, two things happen that change Billy's life forever.

1. Golden boy farm hand Jamie (Michael Dorman) arrives and begins strutting around with his shirt off or taking showers in the shed (in the book he bears a striking resemblance to David Cassidy).  Billy gets an intense, obsessive, undeniably homoerotic crush.  Same-sex desire most definitely exists.

2. Skinny, unpopular class nerd Roy (Jay Collins) starts putting the moves on Billy, who is surprised and hesitant ("Why do you like me?"), but soon warms up to his first boyfriend, complete with kisses and hugs and  theatrics.

Under Roy's tutelage, Billy come to understand what "gay" means.  His epiphany is not the least angst-ridden, and the reactions of the heterosexuals are not as homophobic as they would be in Kawa, set thirty years in the future.


Jul 10, 2013

The New People: Gay Hippies After Stonewall

Another attempt to cash in on the hippies, The New People premiered on September 29, 1969,  three months after the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement.  It was heavily promoted, with gushing accolades in teen magazines, but it didn't get many viewers, because it came on at 7:15!  That's right, they figured that after The Music Scene, another 45-minute program, you'd have no other choice.

Except by 7:15, all of the kids were watching Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.



The premise was Lord of the Flies meets Lost, "boys alone" with some girls.  A group of college students crash-lands on a desert island.  With no adults around, they must depend on each other to survive. George Baker (Peter Ratray, rather long-in-the-tooth at age 28) becomes the leader, though there are frequent schisms.   Plots involved issues of law and order, women's rights, racial prejudice, and hippie gurus, plus an ongoing mystery: people kept disappearing, and there were mysterious Others on the island.

Unfortunately, the mystery was never resolved. The New People tanked after 17 episodes, in spite of the full-page semi-nude spreads in teen magazines.  It's never been out on DVD, though you can see this promo on youtube.

Three of the actors have gay connections.

The summer after The New People, Peter Ratray (left) starred in the West Coast premiere of the gay-themed Boys in the Band.  In 1983-84 he played Ed in Torch Song Trilogy, and in 1995 he played Burt, the leader of the Mattachine Society, an early gay-rights organization, in Stonewall.  Otherwise he has appeared mostly on soap operas.

Davis Olivieri starred in The Naked Ape (1973), with Johnny Crawford.

Zooey Hall played Rocky, the rough Alpha Male rapist in the movie version of Fortune and Men's Eyes (1971), about homoerotic relationships in prison.  Otherwise he has played mostly heterosexual crazies.  Sal Mineo starred in the original.




50 Ways of Saying "Fabulous"

Speaking of Unfabulous, it evoked gay potential because the word "fabulous" has been gay-coded since the 1990s, keying in to the stereotype of gay men as overly-enthusiastic and overly-emotional.

On Seinfeld, George compliments Jerry's jacket: "I say this with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality -- it's fabulous."

50 Ways of Saying Fabulous (2006) is about a boy learning to handle same-sex romance in 1970s New Zealand. 







The children's picture book, The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, by Leslea Newman, is about a boy who is delighted by everything around him:
What a fabulous coat, is it silk or wool?
What a fabulous bell, can I give it a pull?
What a fabulous door, does it open wide?
What a fabulous store, can I come inside?
The adults try to squash his enthusiasm as overly feminine, but finally he shows them how fabulous the world is.






There are many gay subtexts in the popular Disney Channel animated series Phineas and Ferb (2008-) about brothers in a blended family: the endlessly inventive American Phineas (voiced by Vincent Martella of Everybody Hates Chris, left, with his brother Alexander), and taciturn Brit Ferb (voiced by bisexual actor Thomas Sangster, top photo).

The relationship between the stepbrothers, for one.
And their dad, voiced by Richard O'Brian, Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  

Reformed bully Buford and former victim Sanjeet are now inseparable partners, endlessly shipped in fan fiction, a throwback to the white-Indian couples of the 1960s, like Jonny Quest and Hadji.

Secret agent Perry the Platypus constantly tries to prevent mad scientist Dr. Doofenschmertz of Evil, Incorporated from taking over the world, or at least the "tri-state area."  The villain-nemesis bond is overtly portrayed as a romance, complete with love song.  When Dr. Doofenschmertz finds another nemesis, he "breaks up" with Perry, explaining "I didn't plan on it.  It just happened."

They've been subject to intense shipping too, usually with a teenage human Perry and Doof.  Here are some images on Deviant Art.

But the most obvious gay subtext comes when Phineas and Ferb set out to reunite Love Handelz, a pop group from the 1990s.  Former lead guitarist Bobbi Fabulous is now a hairdresser.  He believes that he is too old and "unfabulous" to perform again, but they convince him (in rap) that he's still attractive:

Phineas: The other guys play their instruments fine, but next to you, their looks are a crime!

Bobbi: Well, they say true beauty, it comes from within, but you have to be comfortable in your own skin!  So I exfoliate with this exotic cream. Just look at me: I look like a dream!

Phineas: You have to admit, he looks pretty darn good.

Bobbi: I'm fabulous!

See also: The Boy Who Cried Fabulous.

Beefcake and Bonding Under the Dome

I don't watch a lot of prime-time tv, due to its incessant heterosexualization, but I have made an exception for the first three episodes of Under the Dome (2013), because I found the premise intriguing: an invisible dome lands on the small town of Carter's Mill, trapping the townsfolk and whoever happened to be passing through.  It lets in light and some air and water, but no sound or radio waves, so they can't communicate with the outside world.

The producers changed the premise of the original Stephen King novel, to allow for an ongoing storyline.  Maybe they would also add some gay characters (other than the bisexual bad-girl).  Or some gay subtexts.

It started badly out, like Fringe, White Collar, Dexter, and practically every other drama, with a plaint of universal heterosexuality, a boy and a girl smooching it up. Nor were there any "teases," characters who could be identified as gay because the producers forgot to establish their heterosexuality. By the end of the first two episodes, all of the main characters had lost a heterosexual partner, discussed one, or flirted with one, with the exception of Caroline (#4, below).


Over 1000 people are trapped under the dome, but the main cast consists of:

1. Barbie (Mike Vogel, left), a hitman or mob enforcer trapped in town after he finished murdering the husband of 2. Journalist Julia, who invites him to stay with her (thinking her husband is on the other side of the dome) and begins a serious flirtation.

3. Deputy Linda Esquivel, who lost her husband on the other side of the dome, and becomes the town's sole police force.


4. Caroline, an African-American lesbian attorney, a new character, not in the book.  On tv, small towns are always gay-free, so they had to make her trapped while "passing through town" with her partner and 5. juvenile delinquent daughter Norrie, who hooks up with 6. teen nerd Joe (Colin Ford, top photo).

7. Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris, left), a used car salesman and city councilman who flirts with the waitress in the diner and is maneuvering to take over the town.

8. Junior (Alexander Koch, bottom photo), Big Jim's disturbed son, who has kidnapped 9. His ex-girlfriend Angie.


So is there anything of gay interest?

1. Caroline and her partner responding to people who are not aware that lesbians exist. ("Two moms?  What do you mean?  I don't understand?)

2. A lot of beefcake. A lot of shirts off, showers, and bedroom scenes. Carter's Mill is quite warm for Maine in October.

3. After the requisite opening scene, there haven't been many shots of men and women smooching it up.  I guess all of their partners are trapped on the other side of the dome.

4. Barbie has been buddy-bonding with both Joe (on the good side) and Big Jim (on the evil side).  I wonder where he will stand in the coming cosmic battle.

Nickelodeon's Gay Programming Blocks

Like the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon's teencoms and animated series are usually broadcast in programming blocks, with introductions, game shows, interviews, and interstitial comments by teen hosts, some hunks in their own right, some gay, all providing first crushes to kids tuning in.

Wild and Crazy Kids (1990-1992) was hosted by Donnie Jeffcoat (left), who is rumored to be gay, and Omar Gooding.











Slime Time Live (2000-2003) was hosted by the muscular and bulgeworthy Dave Aizer (left), Jonah Travick, and Jessica Holmes.







Nick Studio 10 (2013-3026)  is hosted by Troy Doherty (left), who appeared in the teen spy movie Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice (2011), plus Noah Grossman and Malika Samuels.















U-Pick Live (2002-2005) was the most ambitious, hosted by the rather flamboyant Brent Popolizio and Candace Bailey.  It had comedy sketches, surreal humor, and new characters.

I don't know what they were thinking with the superhero parody Pickboy (Boomer Sutphen), who helped kids pick what shows to watch and became a pop culture icon.  His costume, with the underwear on the outside, revealed the biggest bulge since Burt Ward tried to cram his superheroic endowment into a leotard on Batman.  Didn't anyone notice?

Jrgg Sutphen, by the way, is a Nickelodeon regular, host of a number of game shows.









Jul 9, 2013

The Mostly Unfabulous Adventures of a Middle School Heterosexual

In 2006, researching an article on gay subtexts in children's media, I watched several episodes of every program airing in the early evening hours on Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, and the Cartoon network. I found the most on Fairly Oddparents, Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Drake and Josh, and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.  Some of them were so well-written, witty, and gay-positive, that I became a fan, watching them after my project ended.

I found the least on Nickelodeon's Unfabulous (2004-2007) which sounds like it was named after the gay comic strip The Mostly Unfabulous Adventures of Ethan Green, and keyed into the use of the word "fabulous" as code for "gay," but actually was entirely heterosexist.  It starred future superstar Emma Roberts as Addie Fischer, an unpopular middle-school student who liked Randy but ended up with Jake (Raja Fenske, left).

Raja Fenske made my list of 12 Unexpected Nickelodeon Teen Hunks, but his fabulous physique never appeared on Unfabulous.






She had two best friends, Geena and Zack (Jordan Calloway, left), who began dating each other, plus an older brother, Ben, who had a girlfriend, and a coterie of geeks, nerds, mean girls, and popular kids.

Sounds bad on paper.  When I watched four episodes, the minimum necessary to conduct the research, it got worse.

Addie tries to get Duane back together with his girlfriend.
Addie doubts that Randy is the right guy for her; meanwhile Zack tries to date an eighth grade girl.
Addie tries to reveal her feelings for Jake; meanwhile, Geena falls for a boy, and Ben tries to get back with his girlfriend.


In order to get on a list of girls who have been kissed by boys, Addie tries to get Eli to kiss her.

I missed this episode with a homoerotic arm wrestling scene.








Oddly enough, many of the stars of this heterosexist mess are gay-friendly.  Emma Roberts supports gay marriage.  Jordan Calloway has played a gay character.  Dustin Ingram (Duane) and Carter Jenkins, left (Eli) are both rumored to be gay in real life.

Love, Sidney: Tony Randall Plays...Um...You Know

In a 1972 interview in the gay-vague After Dark magazine, Tony Randall said that he'd recently seen some gay porn.  "Just terrible!  Just disgusting!  There's nothing to watch in that. It confirms something I've always suspected -- they don't like it."  Later he said "There is no such thing as homosexuality -- it's just something invented by a bunch of fags."












Rather an odd statement from someone who had played the gay-vague friend to gay actor Rock Hudson in several movies, including Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957), Pillow Talk (1959), and Send Me No Flowers (1964).  But at the time he didn't believe the rumors -- "6'5, built like Tarzan, very virile. A man's man. I didn't believe it for a moment."





Apparently he spent his life believing that all gay men swished.

Still, he kept trying to incorporate gay plotlines into The Odd Couple (1970-75), about two divorced men sharing an apartment, the prissy, gay-coded Felix (Tony) and the boorish slob Oscar (Jack Klugman).  Every other hip urban sitcom had a gay episode -- why not his?  Maybe Felix could find an article Oscar was writing on gays in sports, and assume that he was gay.  Or they could accidentally get booked onto a gay cruise.  The network censors nixed every idea, so Tony and Jack started baiting the censors by hugging and kissing.  Here's a clip of outtakes.

In 1981, Tony Randall starred in the tv movie Sidney Shorr: A Girl's Best Friend, about a depressed gay artist living in Manhattan who takes in a single mom and her daughter. The gayness was gingerly tiptoed around, conveyed through hints and innuendos.  Oddly, he didn't swish.

The tv version, Love Sidney (1981-83) faced howls of outrage long before it aired.  Right-wing nutjobs hated the fact that a gay man would be openly portrayed on tv (also a woman who had sex without being married).  So Sidney was de-gayed as much as possible, and Laurie (Swoozie Kurtz) became merely divorced, not "loose."

How de-gayed was Sidney?  He never says anything, but there is a photo of his long-dead lover placed tactfully in the background in the apartment. He doesn't know any other gay people, although he rescues a suicidal one in the penultimate episode.  Actually, he doesn't have any friends of his own, although he is quite obsessed with his mother.

He doesn't date any women, except in the 1983 two-parter "Allison."  It doesn't work out, because he's still pining "for someone he lost."  "I really hate her!" Allison exclaims.  Sidney cautions: "Don't hate...er, that person."

That's as gay as tv got in 1983.

That's as gay-friendly as Tony Randall got.


Jul 8, 2013

Johnny Depp's Lone Ranger: For Heterosexuals Only

Johnny Depp makes movies by heterosexuals for heterosexuals, positing a gloriously gay-free world of oddball outcasts who both swish and leer at the ladies: Edward Scissorhands, Benny and Joon, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Don Juan Demarco, The Ninth Gate, Sleepy Hollow, Blow, From Hell, Pirates of the Caribbean, Public Enemies, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and even Rango all begin and end with The Girl.  He says "all of my characters are gay," by which he means they all have gender-atypical mannerisms. None are gay.  Not even Ed Wood, who wears angora sweaters but falls for The Girl.  Not even The Libertine, who claims to like both men and women, but is shown with only women.

What about the Lone Ranger and Tonto,  the masked vigilante of "yesteryear" and his faithful Indian sidekick, a  classic gay-subtext couple, who roamed the West through twenty years of radio, tv, comic books, and movies without ever glancing at a lady?  In The Best Little Boy in the World, a classic gay Boomer autobiography, John Reid states that he first figured "it" out through his fantasies of the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding into the sunset together.

Nearly 60 years after the tv series ended and 30 years after the last of the cartoons, cameos, and spoofs faded away, Johnny Depp has re-invented the franchise with an origin story that has conservative stick-in-the-mud lawyer John Reid, aka the Lone Ranger(Armie Hammer), and outcast oddball Tonto (Johnny Depp) working together to capture the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fitchtner).  Along the way, they will discover that they can't trust anyone, neither the Indians nor the representatives of white government and big business.

To be blunt, the story stinks.  Butch Cavendish is both a spooky paranormal villain who eats the body parts of his victims, and a mercenary who teams up with an evil industrialist to steal silver from Comanche country.

 Tonto is insane, constantly feeding the dead crow perched on his head.

 John Reid is absurdly square, a Dudley Do-Right in a white hat (this beefcake shot is not from the movie).

There are three -- three! -- train-fight scenes, with leaps onto or off moving trains, fistfights atop boxcars, crashes into bandstands or bridges, shooting through walls, and rescues. I don't know why -- by the third, I wasn't paying attention to the plot anymore.

And Johnny Depp has once again heterosexualized everything he touches.  John Reid is in love with his brother's widow; he rescues her; they kiss.  Tonto's heterosexuality is established when he turns out to be a regular at a brothel. Butch drools and slavers over his female hostage.

There is a gay crossdresser: Frank, a member of Butch Cavendish's gang, likes to wear ladies' clothes, and implies that he wants to be "violated" by Tonto. (Played by Harry Treadaway, top photo, with his brother Luke in Over There).

So everyone is heterosexual except for a probably-gay crossdressing villain. Way to reinforce outdated homophobic stereotypes, Johnny!

Ross Lynch and His Brothers: Gay Positive or Homophobic?

You may think of Ross Lynch as just a voiceover artist and the star of the Disney Channel's Teen Beach Movie, or the gay-subtext Austin & Allie, along with Calum Worthy (middle), who stars in this satiric anti-straight marriage PSA.










Both appear on my list of 12 Unexpected Disney Channel Teen Hunks.

But the talented actor and singer, born in Colorado in 1995,  is just one of a whole family of performers.  He is in the group R5, along with brothers, sister, and friend.

I've had approximately 100 of their close friends and girlfriends informing me that they're heterosexual.  What I can't figure out is whether they're gay-positive, heterosexist, or homophobic.






Riker, born in 1991, appears on the gay-positive Glee as Jeff, a student at rival Dalton Academy and  member of the Warblers singing group.  His character is often assumed gay and is shipped with Nick (Curt Mega).

But both Riker and Rydel, the female member of R5, retweeted a tweet that complained that Glee was  "gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay."  Sounds like they're a bit homophobic.  But then...he stars in Glee. Maybe it's commenting on the homophobia?


Rocky, born in 1994, is deeply invested in the band, but he has also appeared on screen a few times, notably in The Wedding Band, about four slackers who sing at weddings, including gay weddings.












Ellington Ratliffe, the drummer of the band, has appeared in Victorious, Red Scare, Raising Hope, and All You Need. 

 He tweeted to Riker that he was the "King of Swag," whereupon Riker told him that "Swag" means gay ("At least now you come out.")  Ratliffe responded: "Swag is still cool."  Homophobic or not?

So, how heterosexist are their songs?  "Can't Get Enough of You" and "I Want You Bad" are loaded-down with "girl! girl! girl!", but "Without You" and "Look at Us Now" omit pronouns.  And in "Never," the singer feels cold, so he gets his sweetheart's jacket wrapped around his shoulders.  That sounds like a male sweetheart.



To be complete, I should include Ryland (born 1997).  He's not in R5, but he stars in the Nickelodeon sitcom The Fresh Beat Band (2009-) as Mini Twist, leader of a group that hero-worships the older Twist (Jon Beavers, who played a homophobic jock in A Gaggle of Saints ).

Homophobic, heterosexist, or gay-positive?