Dec 11, 2013

10 Reasons Why Playboy was a Gay Boy's Best Friend

  That's right, Playboy, the first mainstream magazine featuring female nudes, launched in 1953.  It reaching its height of popularity in the early 1970s, when 7.1 million hetero men bought it every month and millions of boys borrowed or stole copies from their fathers, uncles, older brothers, and next-door-neighbors.  Including many gay boys.  What did gay boys of the Boomer generation see in Playboy?  1. Stealing or borrowing copies to ogle was a rite of passage for boys in their early teens -- a requirement for "growing up."  So looking at the pictures, thinking "Gross!"  while your friends were moaning in ecstasy gave you a clue that you were different.      2. After you realized that you were gay, you still had to pretend to be heterosexual  -- if the wrong person found out, you could lose your friends, be expelled from your college, be kicked out of your parents' house.  And what better way to maintain a heterosexual facade than to "accidentally" leave a Playboy lying around?  3. When you got old enough to buy your own copy (if the cashier was male), you got to experience a moment of absolute, unconditional acceptance, something very rare for gay people who usually get surprise, hesitation, confusion, embarrassment, or outrage.  4. Speaking of absolute, unconditional acceptance, sharing the magazine with your heterosexual friends led to wonderful warmth and camaraderie.  5. And you could sometimes convince them to do the things heterosexual men do when there are no women around.  In your dorm room.  Right in front of you.     6. If you could ignore the gross pictures of naked women, there were stories by some of the greatest writers of the century, everyone from Kurt Vonnegut to Gore Vidal, and lots of great interviews with actors, sports figures, politicians..even Jimmy Carter.  7. Also "lifestyle" articles on grooming, fashion, cars, politics, things that teenage boys might find useful regardless of sexual orientation.   8. And some of the only positive references to gay people in all of 1970s mass media, such as an article on Steven Ostrow, owner of the Continental Baths, an early gay meeting place (1972).   9. The Playboy Forum regularly printed letters from gay men, discussing masculinity, homophobia, and harassment.  10. Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, was an advocate of sexual freedom, even if it meant non-heterosexual activity.  As early as 1964, his Playboy Philosophy included "tolerance for those whose sexual inclinations are different from our own."  In 2012, he came out in favor of gay marriage, calling it "a fight for all our rights."  See also: A Porn Film for Halloween  

Dec 10, 2013

Fall 1976: A Kiss from the Italian Exchange Student

See the post on "Tales of West Hollywood."

Cliff Richard: The Britsh Elvis Presley Supports Gay Marriage

  The "British Elvis Presley," Cliff Richard hit #1 on the British charts quite often in the late 1950s and 1960s, with songs and albums like "The Young Ones," "21 Today," "Summer Holiday."   He didn't take to fame well; being a conservative evangelical Christian, he disapproved of the sordid, sexually lascivious lyrics of other performers of the day, and devoted himself increasingly to the Christian music scene.              He appeared in a string of showcase vehicles, some with  gay subtexts.  Expresso Bongo (1959): Sleazy agent manages -- and corrupts-- innocent drummer.  Wonderful to Be Young (1961): Nicky becomes a radio star to save his friends' youth club.  Summer Holiday (1963): Don and his friends drive a double-decker bus across Europe, and he falls in love with a girl disguised as a boy.  He has also had several tv series of his own, and appeared on himself on everything from The Liberace Show to The Nation's Favourite Christmas Song.      Long a conservative opponent of "permissive" and "immoral" British society, He always denied the "accusations" of gayness, and claimed that there was "nothing weird" about his long-term roommate, John McElynn.  But in 2008 he came out in favor of gay marriage.

Summer 1983: Viju Visits Rock Island

See the post on Tales of West Hollywood

Dec 9, 2013

Escaping to West Hollywood 2: On the Road

See the post on "Tales of West Hollywood"

Ted Wass: Bare-Chested Comedy

    Why was Ted Wass never a teen idol?  Soap (1977-1981) was an iconic 1970s soap opera spoof about a dysfunctional extended family -- including Jodie (Billy Crystal), the first gay character in a starring role on tv (also bisexual and transgender, depending on the plot arc).  Jimmy Baio, who played Jodie's "normal" cousin, became a teen idol.  But not 25-year old Ted Wass, who played Jodie's brother Danny, a lovable but dimwitted hunk: "How can a woman be gay?  They would cancel each other out."   His centric plot arcs included a mob connection and an interracial marriage.       In the 1980s Ted made use of his hunkiness and his comedic talent to star in a series of sex comedies, including I Was a Mail Order Bride (1982), Baby Sister (1983), and Sheena, a remake of the jungle girl serial (1984).  He also appeared in "straight" comedies, such as Oh God, You Devil (1984)  and The Longshot (1986), before landing his second iconic role on Blossom (1991-1995).          He played Nick Russo, dad of the unconventional teenager (Mayim Bialik) and her dimwitted brother Joey (future heartthrob and gay ally  Joey Lawrence).  As the stable center of the lunacy, he didn't have much of an opportunity to show off his comedic talent -- or his chest.  After Blossom, Ted retired from acting to become a director, including some gay-friendly movies and tv series such as Crumbs, with Fred Savage as a gay writer.          Ted posed nude in Playgirl in 1979.  No frontal shots, but these white rubber jeans leave little to the imagination.             

Escaping to West Hollywood 1: Is It Still There?

See the post on "Tales of West Hollywood"

Summer 1985: Desperately Seeking Giovanni

I spent my year at Hell-fer-Sartain State College (1984-85) studying Italian and reading books on Italy, so naturally before escaping to West Hollywood, I had to visit.

I had been to Europe three times before, plus to Colombia and India, but this was the first time I traveled on my own, not part of a group or with a friend.  It was daunting -- and expensive, leaving little left in my checking account to pay for my move to West Hollywood.

I wanted to practice my Italian, check out the gay scene, and visit important Renaissance sites, like Michelangelo's David in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence (which looks much different in real life.)

But mostly I wanted to look up Giovanni, a foreign exchange student from Bergamo whom I crushed on at Rocky High.  We even kissed, sort of.  He told me to call him when I got to Switzerland for the Nazarene Youth Conference in the summer of 1977, but the phone number didn't work.

Assuming it was my fault for writing it down wrong, I had been kicking myself for seven years, and imagining a tearful and sexy reunion.  Maybe we would sit in a sidewalk cafe, and Giovanni would give me a rose and say "Those girls meant nothing to me!  It was you, only you!"

So my itinerary looked like this:
May 18-20:  Rome
May 21-22: Florence
May 23-25: Tearful and sexy reunion
May 26: San Marino
May 27: Back to Rome

My friend Craig didn't have a current address or phone number, but he thought that Giovanni was working at a bank in Bergamo, about 3 hours north of Florence.

Easy -- how many banks could there be in Bergamo?

I soon found out: 83.

I spent the afternoon and evening of May 23rd calling the Giovannis with his last name in the telephone directory.  Luckily, #3 went to school with "my" Giovanni's brother.  So I called him:

"No, no, the bank was long ago," he told me.  "Giovanni quit there.  Now he manages a hotel in Viarregio."  Go back to Florence, and turn right!

I went down on May 24th.  Giovanni lived and worked in a hotel that catered mostly to French tourists. Except he wasn't there!

The desk manager told me that he was spending the weekend with his friend Luca. In Livorno, about an hour south.  Yes, he had the number.

I called, and got Luca's answering machine.  I took a day trip over to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, and returned to find a message -- Giovanni had called me back!

On May 25th, I caught the train to Livorno.  Giovanni and Luca met me at the station.  He was still cute, more muscular, and pale from his desk job.  Luca was thin and tanned, with black curly hair and obvious beneath-the-belt gifts.

We went boating, had dinner at the Cafe del Borgo, and in the evening we danced together at a disco.  On May 26th they dropped me off at the train station with full-body goodbye hugs.

After all that wild-goose chasing up and down Italy, Giovanni turned out to be straight!  Luca, too.  I guess sometimes high-school crushes are one-sided.

But there were other gay guys in Italy.


Ivo the Bulgarian Bodybuilder

I arrived in Los Angeles on July 3rd, 1985, and stayed with my friend Tom in Van Nuys while looking for an apartment.  Things fell into place very quickly: by July 10th, I was working two days a week a "contributing editor" at Muscle and Fitness.  And I met Ivo my first day on the job.

Ivo was a "stringer" for the magazine, reporting on minor and amateur competitions all over the state.  About 30 years old, with short brown hair, a boyish open face, massive shoulders, and slates for abs.

He invited me to lunch at a place near work, and told me his story.  In retrospect, it didn't add up -- like that of the Norwegian hustler who stole my boyfriend a few months later -- but I was new in town, and I believed everything.

1.  His family fled Communist Bulgaria when he was a kid.
2. His father was a professor of economics in Harvard.
3. He graduated from Yale in 1976 and went to work for The Wall Street Journal.
4. In 1982 he returned to Bulgaria to help his cousin get out.
5. He won a Turkish oil wrestling contest (it's a real sport).
6. He was arrested and imprisoned for six months.
7. His book on the subject was coming out from Random House.

The full story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Redboy 13: Heterosexist Preteen Spy

Redboy 13 appeared in theaters in 1997.  I'd never heard of the director, or the star, Devon Roy-Brown.  But I thought "A teenage spy? There must be lots of gay subtexts!"

So I bought a ticket and went in.  And left after about three minutes.

I have since watched it on Netflix.  Sort of.  I keep whispering "WTF?" and fast-forwarding.

Sean (Devon Roy-Brown) is a retired superspy trying to live a "normal" life.  Then he is called back into action and teams up with adult superspy Tanya 12 to fight the wheelchair bond Nazi Dr., I mean Dr. Heimlich Manure.

Did I mention that this isn't a comedy?

The actor went through puberty during filming, so he looks completely different in sequential scenes.  During the climactic battle, he draws a sword, looking like this.

Then goes into the next room, looking like this.

I had a big  "WTF?" with the nudity.  Redboy 13 wasn't aimed at an audience of kids -- they wouldn't catch the James Bond, Dr. Strangelove, and Sheena references -- so who did the director, Marcus Van Bavel, think would be interested in seeing a preteen or early teen bouncing around in a Rambo suit?  

But my biggest "WTF" was with the heterosexism. Sean vanquishes the villain and saves Tanya 12, who ludicrously falls for him.  There's also Sheena of the, I mean a Jungle Girl --  who falls for him.

Did I mention that this isn't a comedy?

Devon Roy-Brown has not appeared on screen since. Marcus Van Bavel has not directed anything since, but he got a "special thanks" in the gay-themed Circuit (2001).

Dec 8, 2013

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

My partner is making me watch the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) on DVD, in order, for the second time. And I already saw many episodes when it originally aired, so the third time. That's a record broken only by Seinfeld and maybe Gilligan's Island when I was a kid.

The premise: Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an ordinary teenager at Sunnydale High, discovers that she is The Slayer, one girl out of all the world given the super powers necessary to kill vampires and other demonic beings.  She and her allies make wisecracks and discuss trivial home-and-school issues as they fight the monster of the week.

Every season has a story arc with an Apocalyptic threat by the "the worst enemy we have ever encountered" (by the later seasons, the hyperbole becomes tedious).  Also lots of romantic entanglements.

Her team, facetiously called the Scooby Gang, includes (not all at the same time):
1.-3. "Regular guy" Xander (Nicholas Brendon, top photo), who dates snobbish Cordelia, and then Anya, a 1000-year old vengeance demon
4.-6.  Computer whiz/witch Willow, who dates the sardonic werewolf Oz (Seth Green), and then the mousy Wiccan Tara.
7.-8. Watchers (professional Slayer mentors) Giles and Wesley
9-11. Buffy's boyfriends, reformed vampires Angel and Spike and military vampire-hunter Riley (Marc Blucas, below)
12,  Her sister Dawn.

Beefcake: Quite a lot.  The boyfriend characters don't seem to own shirts, Oz is always naked when he finishes "wolfing out," and Xander displays a respectable physique.

Male bonding: Not much.  The primarily relationships are always male-female or female-female.  The male Scoobies treat each other as cordial coworkers.

Gay characters: Two minor gay male:
1. Larry, a football star, originally accused of being a werewolf in Season 2.  Xander discovers his "real" secret, and freaks out.  He reappears several times, out and proud, during Season 3.

2. Andrew, the only survivor of a trio of nerd-villains in the last season, becomes the gang's gay-vague hostage-mascot.  No one ever says that he's gay, but it seems obvious that that's how Tom Lenk is playing the character.

He appears in the spinoff Angel with a blatant crush on reformed vampire Spike (James Marsters, left).  But later, he appears surrounded by beautiful women and comments: "People change." Creator Joss Whedon explains that Andrew wasn't supposed to say the line -- it was to go to a female character, who was supposed to be surrounded by beautiful people.

Three major lesbian:

1.-3. Willow (Allison Hannigan, left) spent three seasons hot for guys, notably her werewolf-boyfriend Oz.  Then at the beginning of Season 4, she meets Tara, something clicks, and she's a lesbian.  But she hasn't discovered her true sexual identity; she states repeatedly that she has "turned" lesbian.  They're a couple through Season 6, when Tara is killed (I know, the gay person always dies).

In Season 7, Willow gets a new girlfriend, streetwise Slayer-in-training Kennedy.

See also: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters; and MyMusic, a webseries starring Adam Busch (who played a villainous nerd).

Fall 1971: Cousin George: Only Fools Wear Pajamas

My Cousin George, son of my father's older brother, was just my age, tall and blond, with a hard chest, a thin belly, and a Southern drawl.  He lived in Walterboro, South Carolina, a thousand miles from Rock Island, so I only saw him twice during my childhood:

1. We drove out to visit in the summer of 1967, when I was six years old.
2. Grandma Davis took me down on the train in the summer of 1971, when I was ten.

And once as a teenager, when he drove up for my Grandma Davis's funeral in October 1975.

What I remember most about my visits was the sizzling heat, the humidity,
and the beefcake.  No one in South Carolina owned a shirt. I had never seen so many sleek muscular bodies.

We went swimming in the warm salty Atlantic Ocean.

At night Cousin George and I took our baths together together in scalding-hot water, and then slept naked together under thin sheets -- "only fools wear pajamas," he insisted.

 It was not erotic, like seeing my older Cousin Joe naked.  It was warm and soft and sensual, like falling asleep in the arms of my boyfriend Bill, back home in Rock Island.

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Fall 1984: Bruce Figures It Out

You remember Bruce from Augustana, the English/drama major who was pro-gay rights, but flew into a rage when anyone insinuated that he was personally gay?

When we graduated in 1982, he spent a year in grad school at Southern Illinois University, then dropped out and by the fall of 1984, he had somehow ended up in College Station, Texas, working as a cameraman at KBTX.

It was only 100 miles from Houston, where I was teaching at Hell-fer-Sartain State, I mean Lone Star College.  2-3 hours, depending on the traffic.  "We should get together," I suggested.

"Great -- we'll come down for a visit next weekend!  Do you have a spare bed?"


"Um...not really.  Two rooms, with only one bed.  Maybe I could come there..."

"College Station is the pits! We're dying to see Houston! We'll bring sleeping bags.  See you Friday."


Turns out that Bruce had a girlfriend, and they were both descending upon me next Friday! I had visions of Tampax in the waste basket, pantyhose on the shower rod,  and the sounds -- and maybe the sights -- of incessant heterosexual sex!

Besides, I wasn't out to him, so I would have to take down pictures, hide magazines, and censor my conversations.

But maybe I could have some fun with it.  I left the pictures and magazines up, including this issue of In Touch for Men, to see if he could figure it out.

They arrived around 7:00 pm on Friday, in time for Chinese food and tv.  The girlfriend, Gladys (I don't remember her real name) was short and round and somewhat jealous, seething in front The Dukes of Hazzard while I told Bruce all about my visit to India and Chad, the hot Australian jock who took off his clothes in my class.  He never figured it out!

Brunch at Baba Yega
I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of heterosexual sex from the sleeping bags on the living room floor, and the next morning there was damp pantyhose hanging from the shower rod in the bathroom.

On Saturday we drove into Houston for brunch at Baba Yega, my favorite restaurant in the Montrose.  Wall-to-wall gay men in couples and groups. I pointed out how attractive some were.

Bruce still didn't figure it out.

We spent the afternoon in the Museum District.  Suzanne, one of Gladys' college friends, joined us, making us look uncomfortably like two heterosexual couples.

And uncomfortably like a heterosexual hookup.  I kept trying to maneuver to walk next to Bruce, leaving Suzanne and Gladys to take up the rear, but they kept renegotiating to shove us together.

Not once in the six years I'd known Bruce had I mentioned liking girls.  They just assumed.

 It was time for vengeance!  I chose a tactic similar to the one I used on the homophobe Tad a year before.

The former Babylon
After dinner at The Hobbit Cafe, which in spite of its name, served Mexican food, I suggested "a show."  They thought I meant the Alley Theater or the Houston Ballet.  No, I drove them to Babylon:

The hottest gay dance club in Houston (now apparently some place called #2).  Wall-to-wall gyrating muscleboys and lasers.

To my surprise, Gladys and Suzanne were both cool, but Bruce's eyes got as big as dinner plates. "Um...I think this is a gay bar,"  he whispered.

"Of course.  All the best clubs in Houston are gay.  And there's a great drag show at 10:00."

"But...but...what if someone thinks we're gay?"

"They'll be gay, too, so what's the difference?"

"The difference is, they know, grab us!"

"I wish it was that easy!"  I took him by the arm.  ""Don't worry, we'll form a protective shield around your heterosexual maidenhood.  Come on, ladies, let's dance!"

We dragged Bruce out onto the dance floor, and when no crowd of gay men assaulted him, he began to relax.  I wandered away to cruise, and by the time the drag show began, I had invited a muscular Detroit transplant named Tim to join us.

We sat at our table, Tim stroking my knee, watching a drag queen perform "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."  Bruce leaned over and asked "Is there anything you want to tell me?"

"Yeah...there might be four of us for breakfast tomorrow."

"Why didn't you just tell me you were gay?"

"When did I ever tell you I wasn't?"

They ended up spending the night with Suzanne, and I stayed over with Tim, and we all reconnected for brunch and goodbye Sunday morning.  Bruce might be pro-gay, but he didn't feel comfortable sleeping in the next room with that sort of thing going on.

And, by the way, he stopped writing to me after that.  I think he was more homophobic than he let on.

See also: The Cowboy Cop in my Bedroom; Straight Guys Never Figure It Out