Jan 25, 2014

Doc Savage: The First Gay Superhero

When I was a kid, I never cared much for Marvel comics, other than the gay-subtext heavy Werewolf by Night, but in the summer of 1972, my eyes were drawn to the gleaming hard-muscle physique on the cover of Doc Savage #1, "the first superhero of them all!"

How was that possible?  We already had Superman, Batman, Spiderman....

Turns out that Doc Savage got his start as a pulp hero, first created by Lester Dent in 1933 (5 years before Superman). His adventures have been reprinted in paperback form from the 1960s through the 1990s.  There have been comic books, two radio series, and a 1975 movie starring Ron Ely of Tarzan fame.

Like Batman, Doc has no superpowers; he relies on his superb physique, scientific gadgets, and medical training to fight evil (when he catches villains, he gives them brain operations to cure them of their criminal tendencies).

Unlike Batman and every other superhero, he doesn't wear a spandex costume; he appears shirtless and bronze and gleaming.

He lives and works on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building in New York City, accompanied by his team, "The Fabulous Five."
1.-2. Chemist Monk (who has the build of a gorilla) and attorney Ham, who feud with each other.
3. Renny, an engineer with a massive physique of his own.
4. Long Tom, a long, thin engineer.
5. The egghead archaeologist Johnny.

The only regular female character was Doc's cousin Pat, who tagged along on adventures in spite of being told to "wait here where it's safe."

Here are some of the plotlines:

Johnny finds a prehistoric egg that may have hatched into a dinosaur.
Monk runs afoul of the mind-controlling Lucky Napoleon.
Ham witnesses "the rustling death" that drops men out of airplanes.
A naked man is fished out of the Atlantic and hailed as a prophet.

Quite a lot of captures and nick-of-time rescues going on, and not a lot of hetero-romance.

Other members of the team occasionally get girlfriends, but as Monk explains, "There won't be any women in Doc's life."  He has a female companion in the 1975 movie, but doesn't kiss her.  Many rescued damsels-in-distress have tried to snare him, but he tactfully rebuffs their advances.  He has, you see, "no time for women."

Yeah, right, no time.

Philip Jose Farmer's A Feast Unknown (1969) gives Doc Savage and Tarzan an abusive sexual relationship.

Heterosexual fans have faced the "accusation" of Doc's gayness for many years, usually with shrieks of "No way is Doc gay!"  But a surprising number of gay kids found a role model in the Doc


Jan 24, 2014

Spring 1983: Thad and the Chippendale Dancers

During my first year at Indiana University (1982-83), I lived in Eigenmann Hall, the graduate student dorm, and met five gay guys on my floor.  I thought that Thad (not his real name), from two floors below, was gay, too. 

He was studying for his M.A. in International Affairs, and his father was some kind of ambassadorial aid, so he had been everywhere, from India to Zimbabwe.  He liked to play Dungeons and Dragons and write science fiction.  And he was hot, shorter than me, with a nicely muscled physique  (two of the five traits that I find attractive in men, and one day when I saw him in the shower, a third).

Sounds like a match made in heaven.

I figured that he was gay because he wasn't into sports, and he never dated girls or mentioned girls. But gradually he revealed a strong streak of homophobia:
1. We were writing a science fiction story, and he said, "Let's make them land on a planet run by gays.  Their flag can be a limp wrist.  It will be hilarious!"
2. He made up a parody song based on "Home on the Range," with a line: "Where the fags and the fairies all play."
3. One night we were watching a tv program starring my future celebrity boyfriend, and Thad said "I hear he's such a fag that he had to be taken to the emergency room to have his stomach pumped after having sex with 300 men!"
4. He saw me talking to Terry, the flamboyant M.F.A. student (who was actually straight), and cautioned "I don't know how to tell you this, but be very careful around him.  I think he might be gay."
5. He had an interview for a job with Foreign Service, and came storming back, furious.  "He had the nerve to ask if I was a fag!  I almost punched him in the face!"

By this point, I was trying to disassociate myself from Thad, but he kept sitting with me in the cafeteria, joining me in the tv lounge, knocking on my door.  It was time to take a stand.

Unfortunately, I was closeted, so I couldn't just come out to him.

So I used the same tactic I would use on my friend Bruce a year and a half later:  "It's time you got laid.  My friend Viju and I are taking you into Indianapolis, to some bars where you're sure to score."

We drove into Indianapolis, playing it cool, until we got to the Varsity Club, a mixed gay/lesbian bar with lots of "straight acting" older guys.  Thad ogled some of the women, and didn't seem to notice that they were dancing together.  He didn't notice the gay men cruising each other, either.  And no one was cruising him.

Viju started working the room, and soon was on the dance floor.

Thad noticed that.

"Hey, you'd better go talk to your friend.  It almost looks like he's dancing with a guy.  People might think he's gay!"

"So what if they do?"

"So what if they do?" he repeated in shock.  "Well, for starters, he'll get kicked out of the club!  And people will think we're gay too!"

"I don't think that will be a problem.  There are other gays here."

His eyes widened.  "Where?"

"I'm guessing those guys kissing over there."

Thad stood up, his face pale with shock.  "You brought me to a gay bar!" he shouted.  "A gay bar!"  He ran out into the street.

Since we were 40 miles from Bloomington, he couldn't go far: he was waiting for us outside.

All the way home he muttered "You took me to a gay bar!  You took me to a gay bar!"

"Relax.  Nobody assaulted you. did they? As far as I could tell, everyone was giving you Attitude."

"If anyone finds out, my parents will freak!  And I'll never get a job in the government.  They don't allow..."

"Why, are you planning to tell them?"

"It was a gay bar!"

Strangely enough, the traumatic "prank" didn't keep Thad from coming around.  So the next weekend, I told him, "Viju and I are going out again, this time to Bullwinkle's, here in Bloomington.  Would you like to come with is?"

"It's not another gay bar, is it?" Thad asked.

"I believe it gets a mostly gay clientele."

He stared at me for a long time.  Then, in a low voice, almost a whisper: "Sure, ok.  What time?"

A few months later, Thad was performing at Bullwinkle's Chippendales Night

See also: 14 Simple Steps to Turning a Straight Guy Gay.

The Pearl Fishers: Two Guys in Love in Sri Lanka

I hate opera.  Long, boring songs, hackneyed, cliched plots, and nothing but hetero-romance as far as the eye can see.

Sometimes there's a gay subtext, as in The Spanish Hour  or Porgy and Bess, but usually you're listening to some guy singing endlessly in Italian about "Women are great, aren't women great?  Men don't like men, they just like women, because women are great!"

But The Pearl Fishers (Les pecheurs de perles, 1863), by Georges Bizet, is about men in love.

Based on a long tradition of stories about intense, passionate friendships set in "exotic" locations, it features Zurga, the leader of a group of Sri Lankan pearl fishermen, and Nadir, his bosom buddy.  They are usually portrayed bare-chested and muscular, and in love with each other.

When the other pearl fishermen sentence Nadir to die for offending the gods, Zurga argues for clemency.  Then he discovers that Nadir is in love with his ex-lover, and angrily calls for them both to be executed.  At the last minute he changes his mind and allows the two to escape, and his enraged coworkers stab him to death.

It's not exactly Brokeback Mountain, but for an opera, it has enormous gay subtext potential.  Listen to this song:

Oh yes, let us swear to remain friends!
Yes, it is her, the goddess, who comes to unite us this day.
And, faithful to my promise, I wish to cherish you like a brother!
It is her, the goddess, who comes to unite us this day!
Yes, let us share the same fate,let us be united until death!

It has been performed often in Europe and the United States, and recently for the first time in Sri Lanka.  You can also several different recordings.

And it's a lot more interesting than John Steinbeck's "The Pearl"

10 Gay Surprises of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasss Song

In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles had had enough of the Man, and set out to bring the Black Community together with a movie about a hero who triumphs over white oppression.  He had no money, so he shot a lot of scenes with a hand-held camera, used leftover footage from other projects, and did a lot of trippy montages and visual gymnastics.

I expected an angry Black Power movie, with lots of violence and heterosexual sex.  But I was not expecting so much gay content.  Here are the 10 Gay Surprises of Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song:

1. In the first scene, a group of prostitutes gaze lustfully at a young boy (Melvin's son, Mario Van Peebles).  One takes him to her room, strips him, and initiates sex.  We see a glimpse of his penis and a lot of his bare butt as he thrusts, thrusts, thrusts. (Don't worry, this photo shows neither.)

2. The boy grows up to be Sweetback, after a slang term for a gigantic penis, and we see it, gigantic and aroused, on camera, as Melvin Van Peebles prepares for sex with a woman.  We see it again several times, and quite a lot of his bare butt as he thrusts, thrusts, thrusts in unsimulated sex scenes.

3. Sweetback works as a performance artist in a gender-bending sex show: a woman is seduced by an elderly man who becomes a woman, and then becomes the naked, aroused Sweetback, all thanks to the efforts of a drag queen Fairy Godmother.

4. Two white police officers appear, wanting to arrest a black man, so Sweetback volunteers.  On the way back to the station, they break up a Black Power rally and arrest the teenage Mu-Mu (Hubert Scales).  They beat him severely, and Sweetback rushes to the rescue, injuring the cops. Gay-subtext rescue!

5. Now the cops want him dead.  Sweetback hopes to take refuge in the home of Beetle (Simon Chuckster), the owner of the brothel, an extremely feminine, gay-coded man, naked except for a towel and a shower cap.  Beetle sympathizes with Sweetback, but he can't stay there; it's too risky.  Later, still shirtless, Beetle is beaten, deafened, and killed by the police.

6. Sweetback tries to take refuge in a church, but the pastor tells him that Mu-Mu has been captured again, so he rushes out.  More gay-coded emotional intensity.  The "damsel in distress" is a guy.

7. Sweetback rescues Mu-Mu, and they seek refuge in a deserted house.  Presumably they're about to have sex when the police break in.

8. Mu-Mu is injured in the ensuing fight.  A black biker (John Amos) offers to take Sweetback to Mexico and escape, but instead he insists that Mu-Mu be taken into town for medical care.  Sacrificing his safety for Mu-Mu.

9. By now Sweetback is a folk hero, so as he runs toward Mexico, dozens of random people, presumably being interrogated by the police, claim that "I ain't seen Sweetback."

Including three lisping, mincing gay stereotypes. Who nevertheless participate in the struggle, try to discomfort the police officers by flirting with them, and key into the Gay Liberation movement by identifying themselves as  "militant queens."

9. One doesn't expect Melvin Van Peebles (who still has a physique) to be gay-friendly.  After all, in the shooting script, the three militant queens are identified as "fags."  Yet he has appeared in several gay-positive movies, such as Love Kills (1999).

10. His son Mario is rumored to be gay, and played a gay character in Multiple Sarcasms (2010).

Jan 23, 2014

The High Chaparral: Billy Blue and the Bulging Manolito

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my friends and i wouldn't be caught dead watching a Western -- we were all about superheroes and outer space.  So I never saw a single episode of High Chapparal (1967-71).  But I remember being curious -- what the heck was a "chapparal" anyway, and who was this Blue Boy, who appeared in all of the teen magazines?

1. A chapparal is a shrub found in the Arizona desert.

2. Blue Boy, aka Billy Blue (Mark Slade) was the teenage son of Big John (Leif Erickson), who ran a ranch in Arizona.

Billy (left) is mentored by his Uncle Buck (Cameron Mitchel, middle).

 Early in the series, Big John marries Victoria (Linda Crystal), daughter of the rancher next door.  She arrives accompanied by her brother Manolito (Henry Darrow, right, the one with the beneath-the-belt potential).

Sounds like a testosterone-intensive ranch.  I wonder if there was some buddy-bonding?  From what I can tell from the very extensive episode guide, Buck and Manolito form a nice homoerotic bond, while Billy Blue is a surly teenager who digs the ladies.

The episode guide gives photos of each episode, and there appears to have been significant shirtless scenes.

Mark Slade, although almost thirty years when he played the "surly" teenager, received some teen idol attention. He got his start on Broadway, and starred in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Gomer Pyle before High Chapparal.  Later he left acting to become an artist.

Henry Darrow, who was born Enrique Thomas Delgado, made hundreds of movie and tv appearances, including the Hispanic hero Zorro (in the series Zorro and Son).  

The Running of the Nudes

If you've been to a bullfight, you know that it's a bloody, gruesome spectacle, in spite of the gay symbolism and massive bulging of the matadors.  It's been outlawed in many provinces, and activists all over the world are trying to raise awareness of the inhumane treatment of the bulls.

What better way to protest than to take off your clothes?

Anti-bullfighting activists from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and other organizations have been protesting nude or in their underwear for several years.  They appear at embassies, arenas, and public squares in Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and even places without bullfighting, like Prague and Amsterdam.

Both men and women participate, but you can easily overlook that little detail.

Why protest nude?

1. They want to "become" animals, and animals are naked.

2. They sometimes get covered with blood and "die" to symbolize the cruelty to the bulls.

3. You try standing in the hot sun all day without taking something off.

4. It draws a lot more attention than protesting while wearing clothes.

Every July since 2002, before the famous Encierro (Running of the Bulls) in Pamplona, Spain, PETA stages a Running of the Nudes.  Activists run naked or in their underwear through the streets, both to publicize the cause and to give tourists a fun, humane alternative to watching animal torture.

Anyone over age 18 can participate.  It's a lot safer than the Encierro.

Afterwards you should go north to San Sebastian, about an a hour and a half by train, to look at the world's largest penises.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Homoerotic Heterosexism

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) is one of the few 1950s musical films that wasn't based on a Broadway play.  It's based on a short story, "The Sobbin' Women," by poet Stephen Vincent Benet.

It is one of the more homoerotic spectacles in the history of musical theater:

On the surface, it seems heterosexist: Adam (Howard Keel), who is married to Milly (Jane Powell), has six rowdy, unkempt, uncivilized brothers.  He thinks that getting married would civilize them, so they abduct six women from the village and cause an avalanche so they can't be rescued.  Unfortunately, they forgot to abduct a preacher, so they can't get married.  They'll have to wait out the winter with surly, angry women trying to get revenge.

In the end they get civilized after all, and the women fall in love with them and want to get married.

But not until a movie-worth of pranks, hijinks, and guys who see women as an intrusion into their masculine preserve.

The six abducted women are off stage most of the time, while the brothers -- all muscular, acrobatic dancers -- frolic amongst themselves.

Several of them -- Matt Mattox, Tommy Rail, Russ Tamblyn -- were gay or at least the subject of gay rumors.

There was a brief tv version in 1982, with the six brothers all kids, and no brides.  It is notable for starring River Phoenix as Guthrie.

Seven Brides  became a musical in 1982, and has been revived several times, most recently in Britain in 2013-2014.

The choreography is big, bold, innovative, and tough, but a number of high schools and colleges have tried, giving young drama majors a chance to strut their stuff shirtless.

Jan 22, 2014

Spring 1988: Fred and the Cute Young Thing

Derek in the Shower
If you sit at one of the tables outside the French Quarter on Santa Monica Boulevard long enough, every gay person you know will walk by.

David Johnson, son of the Professor on Gilligan's Island.  

David Cameron, whose mother starred him in the classic novel The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.

And, in the spring of 1988, my first live-in boyfriend, Fred.

We met during my sophomore year in college, when he was a ministerial student.  When he got a job at a church in small-town Nebraska.  I moved with him, but it was a disaster -- he cheated on me with the teenager downstairs -- so I returned Rock Island.

We kept in contact, mostly through mutual friends.  He stayed in horrible small-town Nebraska until 1982, then moved to horrible small-town Kansas, and in 1985 left the ministry for a job as a mental health counselor in Kansas City.

One morning in February 1988, my roommate Derek, my ex-boyfriend Raul, and some other people were having brunch at the French Quarter, when suddenly Fred strolled by on the sidewalk outside, accompanied by a Cute Young Thing.

The French Quarter

I did a few double takes, then rushed out and grabbed him by the shoulder.

"Boomer!"  He gave me a friendly hug.  "I heard you were living here now.  I didn't have your number, or I would have called."

I dragged him and the Cute Young Thing back to our table to join us.  "What are you doing in town?"

He was visiting seminaries, planning to enroll in a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry) program to hopefully land a church in a decent town.  He had already interviewed at Yale and Vanderbilt, and now Claremont School of Theology, out in the San Gabriel Valley.

The Cute Young Thing (CYT), was barely out of his teens, slim with dirty-blond hair, an ostentatious diamond earring, a blue t-shirt, and tight blue shorts with a bulge that caused heads to turn even in bulge-heavy West Hollywood. I don't know where Fred found him.

He looked askance at our Crabcakes Benedict, Mardi Gras Omelette, and Strawberry Crepes, called us all "fatties," and ordered the Diet Plate.  Then he criticized the French Quarter as "bourgeois."

You don't often see such an annoying combination of hotness and snark.

We went sightseeing, and then to dinner and to the clubs, while the CYT kept up a constant stream of criticism:

West Hollywood was "tacky," the Pacific Design Center "tired," Beverly Hills "bourgeois."

I had a job at Muscle and Fitness as "a glorified file clerk for narcissists," I was getting a "worthless degree" at a "second rate school," my car was "tacky," and my clothing was "hayseed."

To add insult to injury, the Cute Young Thing kept cruising me.

The next day Fred had to do a sample sermon and have lunch with the committee, and somehow he talked me into taking the CYT out for more sightseeing.  I dragged Raul along to share the pain.

The criticism continued:  I was from the Midwest, "nothing but hayseeds and cows," and a "geezer" at age 27.  Raul was "fat," wore a "glorified pimp" outfit, and should "learn to speak English."

The cruising also continued, and the CYT had the nerve to suggest that we come back to his hotel. Behind Fred's back!

Something had to be done about this menace!

Fortunately, we had a plan.

We went back to the hotel, kissed and fondled a bit, and stripped the CYT out of his clothes.  Then we broke away.

"Whew!  That's some gut you got!"  Raul exclaimed, pointing at his six-pack abs. "How did you hide it? Sorry, man, I'm not into fatties."

"What?  I....um..." the Cute Young Thing stammered.

"And what do you call that?" I said, pointing at his enormous package.  "I never saw one so small before."

"Maybe Fred likes them tiny?" Raul suggested.

"How does he even know it's there?  Sorry, buddy, I'm not into pencil stubs."

We got up and left the CYT speechless and staring on the bed.

Later that evening Fred called.  "What did you say to the CYT?  He insisted that I turn Claremont down!  He said the guys in West Hollywood are too fat and ugly!"

"I don't know," I said.  "I guess he found out what we're made of."

Next: Fred and the CYT meet Alan, the ex-porn star.

Spring 1988: Alan "Turns" Gay in Pattaya

In August 1987, Alan the ex-porn star moved to Thailand to start a gay Pentecostal church in the Buddhist country.  His first attempt to become a missionary to hot Asian guys, in Japan, lasted only a few months, but this time he seemed successful  -- he sent several letters about "his church."  And in the spring of 1988, he invited me to fly out for a visit.

I couldn't really afford it.  Three part-time jobs weren't covering my tuition at USC, brunch at the French Quarter, celebrity-studded fundraisers, and trips back to Rock Island twice a year, so my bank account was low and my credit cards were sagging.

But how could I refuse?   

So I flew from LAX to Taipei, and then to Bangkok, arriving early Sunday morning.  Alan met me at the airport, beaming.  "Boomer, my brother!"

I was suspicious -- he had never once called me "my brother" -- but too jetlagged to say anything.

We dropped my bag off at his apartment, grabbed breakfast -- a disappointing bagel with bacon and cheese -- and then went to "his church."

The "Evangelical Church of Bangkok" met in a small square building on Sukhumvit Road.  There were around thirty people, mostly Westerners.  Male and female. Heterosexual couples with children.

Wait -- something was wrong here.

Alan and I sat on folding chairs with the others.  The hymns were in English, contemporary Gospel like"When We All Get to Heaven."

The preacher, an elderly American man, delivered a fiery, screaming sermon.  People prayed, raised their hands, got convicted, went to the altar, just like in my childhood fundamentalist church.

What was going on?

"Oh, I didn't start a church, my brother.  I didn't need to -- there's already a powerful ministry going on here in Bangkok.  God is doing great things."

"But...they're fundamentalists.  Are they gay-friendly?"

He laughed and patted my shoulder.  "Of course.  They love gays.  They'll work hard to help you find your way back to God."

"There's...there's nothing wrong with being gay," I said, utterly shocked.

"I used to believe that lie.  But when I was a stranger in a strange land, God helped me see the light."

Now I understood: in a strange country, with no friends, not speaking the language well, Alan was vulnerable, and fell prey to the homophobic rants of a "God hates gays!" church.

How could I restore him to sanity?  Theological arguments?  Biblical analysis?  Or beefcake?

"It's good that you found a church home, but you're ignoring your call," I said.  "God called you to bring homosexuals to repentance, so you should be out there among them, preaching in the bars and bathhouses, wherever they congregate to pursue their sinful lusts."

"Well...yes, God placed that burden on my heart, but I'm afraid the temptation would be too great."

"Nonsense -- you're a spiritual warrior!  We're going to Pattaya!"

Pattaya was the Amsterdam of Asia, overbrimming with gay dance clubs, saunas, bars, and clothing-optional beaches.  We went to the beefcake show at Boyz! Boyz! Boyz!, while Alan dutifully tried to start conversations about God's hatred of male beauty with hunky locals and tourists.

Since he was infinitely attractive to Asian guys and sundry Cute Young Things, they pretended to listen, while touching his shoulder, fondling his knee, pushing his hand against their baskets.

He pushed away one Cute Young Thing, muttering "Get thee behind me, Satan."

He tried to push away another, but finally let him fondle while he stammered "You can...um...escape this..um...life of loneliness...and pain."

By the end of the evening, he was kissing his new boyfriend, a college student from Paris. And planning, yet again, to start a pro-gay Pentecostal church.

In France.

Next: Alan meets my ex-boyfriend Fred and his Cute Young Thing.

Jan 19, 2014

Equus: Nudity, Gay Symbolism, and a Religion of Maleness

Daniel Radcliffe made headlines when he moved from the sexless heterosexual wizard-in-training Harry Potter to the overtly sexual, gay-coded -- and fully nude -- Alan Strang in Equus.

We shouldn't have been surprised.  Hunky guys have been displaying their penises on stage since the play (by gay playwright Peter Shaffer) first opened in 1973.

But in a scene that's so breathtaking in its intensity that you forget to gawk at the beefcake. 

Equus is about Alan Strang, a British stableboy who sublimates his homoerotic desires into worshipping the hard muscles of horses (always portrayed on stage as hot guys in masks or headgear).

He develops an entire religion around the horse-god Equus, devotion to muscle, and power, and maleness.

Then a girl seduces him, in the stables while horses are watching.  Alan feels intense guilt over his sin -- choosing the feminine over the masculine, sex over passion.  He believes that the horses are judging him, and in a fit of despair he blinds them.

The gay but closeted psychiatrist Martin Dysart is assigned to cure him, draw him away from his homoerotic religion to heterosexual "normalcy":

"I'll give him the good Normal world...give him Normal places for his ecstasy...with any luck his private parts will come to feel as plastic to him as the products of the factory to which he will certainly be sent...hopefully he'll feel nothing on his fork but Approved Flesh...I doubt, however, with much passion."

Equus is staged quite often, perhaps because it allows the actor playing Alan a tour de force performance.

It was filmed in 1977, with Peter Firth as Alan and Richard Burton as Martin Dysart.  But they used real horses, which minimized the gay symbolism.