Aug 23, 2014

Walt Whitman, The Good Gay Poet

When I was in high school and college it was customary to closet gay writers.  The professor might have known, but it was assumed unseemly (at best) to tell a class full of "impressionable youth" that gay people exist  So Oscar Wilde was arrested on "scandalous charges," and Shakespeare's rhapsodies over the "fair youth" of the Sonnets was a "poetic convention of the day."

And Walt Whitman (1819-1892), whose Leaves of Grass includes exceptionally open lines like "we boys together clinging, one the other never leaving"?

"Oh...um...he's talking about his brother."

In my junior year, my American Renaissance professor, Dr. Ames, brought Whitman a little farther out of the closet: "He loved women -- he scattered illegitimate children up and down the Eastern Seaboard -- but he also had a bit of the fruit in him."



Thirty years later, Walt Whitman the "good gay poet," and his magnum opus, Leaves of Grass, are still usually closeted by English professors.  I often give my students this list of famous writers, and ask them to guess which ones were gay or bisexual:

1. Herman Melville (Moby Dick)
2. Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities)
3. Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass)
4. William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet)
5. Emily Dickinson (Final Harvest)
6. Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)
7. Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest)
8. F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)
9. Edgar Allen Poe (The Raven)
10. Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows)

Answers: #1, #3, #4, #5, #7, #10.
They're always the most surprised to find out that Whitman was gay, and Dickens was not.

So let's make things clear:  Walt Whitman, the greatest poet in American history, was definitely, undeniably gay.

There is no evidence that he had any erotic interest in women: the illegitimate children story was a screen, made up during the 1920s to "save" the poet's image.

Before there was a vocabulary for same-sex desire, Whitman was all about inventing one:
"the manly love of comrades" and "adhesive friendships."

Near the end of his life, when the word "homosexual" was coined, and same-sex desire defined as a symptom of a dangerous psychosis, he backtracked a bit, claiming that he meant only spiritual comrades, nothing physical.

But he had many "physical" comrades through his life, and his journals describes cruising in detail.  He picked up men on streetcars, at the docks, in the park.

Jerry Taylor, slept with me last night, heavenly.

Traverce Hedgeman, young, slight, fair, feminine, conductor.

Howard Atkinson, tall, sandy, country-fied.

Thin, smooth, and slightly feminine were his favorite traits. In West Hollywood, we called them Cute Young Things.

His long-term lover, Peter Doyle, went against type.

He also spent time with early gay rights pioneer Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), and, perhaps, artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), who painted a famous portrait of him, and may have photographed him nude.












Labeled only "Old Man, Seven Photographs," they are today housed in the Getty Museum,

But not on exhibit; you have to ask for them.

Even today, Walt Whitman is closeted.

See also: Gay American Renaissance

Field of Lost Shoes: Buddy-Bonding in the Civil War

I hate movies about war -- actually, I'm not a fan of movies about people dying in general -- so I'm not going to see Field of Lost Shoes (2014).  But if you have the stomach for it, it looks like there will be some gay subtexts.

It's based on a true story of the Civil War: In May 1864, as Union troops led by General Ulysses Grant pushed into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Confederacy scrambled for a final defense.







274 teenage cadets from the Virginia Military Institute were called into service, and marched 80 miles to New Market. They never expected to fight.  But General Breckenridge put them on the front line, where 47 were wounded and 10 were killed (mostly freshmen).

Several of the main cast members play cadets on the casualty list, including Zach Roering (Vampire Diaries), Parker Croft (Once Upon a Time), and Max Lloyd Jones (The Sandlot 2).  I assume that Nolan Gould (Modern Family), who plays a composite character, is also a goner.



That basically leaves Luke Benward (How to Eat Fried Worms) still alive at the end.

But this is a good lineup of hunky actors, who apparently deliver a number of shirtless scenes.

I'm sure there won't be any gay characters -- Hollywood thinks that there were no gay people in the past -- but several of the actors, including Nolan Gould, Zach Roering, and Parker Croft, have played gay characters or performed in gay-positive venues.








And there's bound to be significant gay subtexts in the buddy-bonding among the doomed cadets.

Aug 21, 2014

Suddenly Susan: Biceps, Brooke Shields, and Pete the Gay Mail Boy

In the fall of 1997, when I moved to New York to work on my doctorate in sociology, you had four main tv choices on Monday nights: America's Funniest Home Videos, the hundredth series starring Bill Cosby, the uber-religious Seventh Heaven, and Suddenly Susan (1996-2000).  Guess which won?

It was one of many workplace sitcoms about Young Female Journalists with Big Ideas who butt heads with stick-in-the-mud magazine or newspaper editors, in this case Susan (Brooke Shields, best known for Blue Lagoon nearly twenty years before) and Jack (Judd Nelson, the homophobic bigot best known from the execrable Breakfast Club nearly twenty years before).

Suddenly single after a long engagement, Susan is assigned to write a column about what it's like to be...um...single in contemporary San Francisco.  But she, naturally, wants to do more.  And, of course, she and Jack have a "You're so arrogant!" Sam-and-Diane romance going on.

Her main coworkers included:
1. Photographer Luis (Nestor Carbonell, top photo), a Latino hunk ("Today is the day I work on my biceps.")
2. Sardonic restaurant critic Vickie (gay-positive comedian Kathy Griffin, right)
3. Susan's arch-nemesis, tough-as-nails reporter Maddy (Andrea Bendewald).
4. Pete (Billy Stevenson), the mail boy.





5. Hip music reporter Todd (David Strickland, left).

Two things made Suddenly Susan memorable (excluding Nestor Carbonell's biceps).

1. On March 22, 1999, David Strickland committed suicide.  Instead of replacing him without comment, the producers decided to incorporate his death into the series.

When Todd fails to report for work and doesn't respond to his pager, his coworkers spend the day searching for him and worrying.  Finally they congregate in his apartment.  The episode ends with the telephone ringing.  Everyone looks around, afraid to answer, knowing what news is coming.  It gave me goosebumps. Very effective.



2. Pete the Mail Boy.  Although he appeared in only 15 of the 93 episodes, he was still memorable as just about the only gay character on television who wasn't portrayed as a swishy stereotype.  In fact, he was dimwitted and rather a nerd.

When he married his boyfriend, the equally nerdish Hank (Fred Stoller, left), he talked the homophobic Jack into participating -- quite a memorable accomplishment for the 1990s.

See also: Just Shoot Me



The Top 10 Public Penises of Chicago

When I was growing up in Rock Island, Chicago was the nearest big city, a three hour's drive across the prairie, so we went quite often.  My Spanish class drove there to see La Casa de Bernarda Alba, the Garcia Lorca play.  My parents took me to the Museum of Science and Industry for my birthday trip one year.  In college I drove out for my brief modeling career, and later to apply for jobs on Michigan Avenue.  After Los Angeles, it's the city where I feel most at home.

And, surprising for the Midwest, there's a lot of beefcake art.  Here are the top 10 public penises:

1. The Goethe Memorial in Lincoln Park, showing a muscular, naked poet with an eagle on his knee.  Almost makes you want to read Faust.  There's also a Goethe-Institut with German classes, art exhibitions, and theater performances.













2.-3. The Bowman and the Spearman, two naked Indians guarding the entrance to Congress Plaza. Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović didn't draw upon Native American cultures; he envisioned neoclassical Graeco-Roman muscles.










4. Speaking of Native Americans, the naked "Signal of Peace" stands in Lincoln Park.  It's part of a four-statue series called "Epic of the Indian" by gay sculptor Cyrus Edwin Dallin (who, oddly enough, also sculpted the statue of Moroni atop the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City).












5. John Boyle's The Alarm, a memorial to the Ottawa Indians, is also in Lincoln Park.  The muscular "brave" stands at attention with a woman at his feet, a precursor to Boris Vallejo's depictions of Conan with his legs being hugged by naked ladies.


More after the break.










Aug 20, 2014

Fall 1999: The Gay Monk and the Homophobic Demon

This is my weirdest paranormal experience:

I spent the summer of 1999 in Paris, ostensibly researching French social thought, but really just...well, being in Paris.  I had a small but cozy apartment on the Rue de Plâtre, in the heart of Le Marais, the gay neighborhood, about a 10 minute walk from Notre Dame.  Every day I took the metro to the National Library to do research for a few hours.  In the afternoon I went to the Luxembourg Gardens or the Musée d'Orsay or the Louvre; and in the evenings, Gay Paris.

There was only one problem: My apartment looked down on a store called Edemonium, which sold Goth- and -demon themed clothing, jewelry, human skulls, and statues of Satan.  I'm interested in the paranormal, but this was too much.  It freaked me out.  I kept the blinds closed at night, but the lurid red light still filtered into my bedroom.

My friend Andre didn't like it, either (not the same Andre as in The Worst Date in Florida History).  He was a Long Island grad student in history,originally from Belgium, in his 30s, short, husky, sort of muscular.

He claimed to be straight but celibate: he lived in a "Traditional Catholic" spiritual community with some other "straight but celibate" guys who disapproved of Pope John Paul and thought that only Latin Masses were valid. But he supported female priests, birth control, and gay rights.


A few days after I got back from Paris, Andre and I had lunch on campus.  I told him about Edemonium, and he said "That figures.  I was wondering why you were being oppressed by a demon."

"Possessed?"

"Not possessed.  He's oppressing you, sort of piggy-backing.  It's no big deal -- happens to a lot of people.  Have you felt tired and depressed lately?"

"Well, yeah, but I just had to leave Paris.  Who wouldn't be depressed?"

"Spells of bad luck?"

"Well, now that you mention it."


"Demon oppression. Come out to the Cloisters tonight, and we'll take care of it for you."

I frowned.  "This isn't some sort of ex-gay thing, is it?"

"Oh, no, not at all.  Demons are equal-opportunity oppressors."

So that evening after class Andre drove me, plus Yuri and Jaan for gay support, to "The Cloisters," which turned out to be a three-bedroom house in Sayville.  Andre introduced us as his "gay friends" to his four "straight but celibate" housemates, plus a potential member named Barry, a short, blondish guy in his 20s with a round Eastern European face.

The ceremony wasn't what I expected from The Exorcist.  Andre read some Bible passages in Latin, then drew a cross on my forehead with sacred oil, and we all recited the Lord's Prayer.  I actually felt better, more energetic.  Time to break for soda and cookies.

But then Barry started laughing, a weird maniacal laugh like the Joker on Batman.  "West Hollywood!  West Hollywood!  West Hollywood!" he grunted.  "Corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente."

"Looks like the demon jumped into a weak host!" Andre exclaimed.

"Smells bad in here!" Barry  -- or the demon -- complained.  "Too many homos!  Lots and lots of homos! Eu, mulieres times?  Infantes, timere loqui ad mulieres!" Afraid of women?  Babies, afraid to talk to women? (Latin; we translated from the tape recording later.)

Andre yelled "Depart from him!"

Barry -- or the demon -- switched to Flemish: " Ik denk dat allemaal zijn homos! Ben je een man, of een meisje?" I think you're all homos.  Are you a boy or a girl?"

"The power of Christ compels you..."

"Put down that Bible, homo!" Barry began to sashay around the room like a drag queen.  "Ma tahan olla naine" he sang, to the tune of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina." "Mul on väike vorst!"  I want to be a woman, I have a tiny sausage (Estonian).

"You have no power here!"


Barry dropped his pants and shoved his butt in the air.  "Ce n'est pas un vagin, idiot!" This is not a vagina! (French)

"In Christ there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew, gay nor straight."

What version of the Bible was Andre reading from?"

"Bog chochet , stoby ubit vas vesekh," Barry said, this time in a mournful plaint.  God wants to kill you (Russian).

"Do not call something unclean that God has made clean!"

Now in a slow, soft voice, almost a whisper. "Tes mère est pleurer!  Tes grand-mère est pleurer!" Your mother is crying...your grandmother is crying (French).

Barry's head slumped against his chest, as if he was asleep.  A moment later, he looked up.  "What happened?"

"Are you gay?"  Andre asked, coming right to the point.

Barry blanched.  "Um...well, yeah, I guess.  I should have told you before, but I thought you wouldn't let me  into the community"

Andre put his hand on his shoulder.  "That's why you were open to possession -- your fear.  But it's ok now. We don't care about trivial things like sexual orientation here."

I still don't know what happened that night.  Was there really a demon?  If not, how could Barry speak Latin, French, Flemish, Russian, Estonian, and German?  They were all languages that someone in the room could understand.

But it's kind of nice to know that demons -- emissaries of Satan -- are homophobic.

See also: The Gay Psychic Angel; Cruised by a Man in Black; and My Date with the Vampire

Aug 19, 2014

The Top 10 Hunks of "Malcolm in the Middle"

We're in the midst of a Malcolm in the Middle marathon, and I must admit that the dysfunctional family sitcom (2000-2006) was not particularly gay-positive.  There were some gay references here and there; Francis, the bad boy sent to military school, pretends to be gay to get girls; Reese tells a girl "Sorry, I'm gay" to dissuade her.  But overall, this was an aggressively heterosexist world.

But what it lost in gay potential, it made up for in beefcake.

1. Over the course of the series, Reese (Justin Berfield, left) bulked up, becoming a veritable muscleman.
















2. Gifted child Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) was a little scrawny, but a few years later, in Extreme Movie, he displayed biceps and a bulge while being tormented by a S&M dominatrix.















3. Francis (Christopher Masterson) had a respectable physique which he displayed a few times.

4. He was in military school, surrounded by muscular cadets, such as Eric (Eric Nenninger, top photo)

5. Drew (Drew Powell, left)

6. And Stanley (Karim Prince), who didn't own a shirt.








7. Dewey, the youngest boy, had a never-ending procession of weirdo boy friends, some of whom grew up to become teen hunks, like Chad (Cameron Monaghan), star of Shameless.








8. But the real revelation was in Frankie's gifted-student classmates, the Krelboynes.  According to Hollywood myth, high intelligence goes hand-in-hand with social phobia, lack of fashion sense, glasses, buck teeth, and multiple allergies, so they were drawn as unattractive as possible.  As if to make up for the stereotyping, they have blossomed.

Remember Lloyd, aka Evan Matthew Cohen?  Unfortunately, he's retired from acting, but not from modeling. (Be careful -- there's another Mathew Cohen wandering around the internet, and Google Image Search may have mixed them up.)

9. Eraserhead, aka Will Jennings, is now a tall, imposing ginger giant.



10. And Stevie, Malcolm's wheezing, wheelchair-bound bff?  Craig Lamar Traylor spent his childhood explaining to people that he wasn't really disabled.  His acting career hasn't been doing too well, but he certainly presents a striking figure.


See also: Christopher Masterson in the Middle; Frankie and Erik in the Middle: Justin Berfield's Very Special Episode.

My Top 10 Gay Experiences in West Hollywood

I tell people that I lived in West Hollywood for 13 years, but actually, it was a little over 10 years, from June 1985 to August 1995, and even that was broken up by a summer in Japan and semesters in Nashville and Turkey.  Still, there was plenty of time for gay experiences.  Here are my top 10 favorites:

1. The move to West Hollywood, from Kansas to Oz.

2. The night that I invited Raul to dinner with my housemate, Alan, who tried to steal all of my boyfriends.  But Raul turned the tables on him. 







3. Raul and I star in a porn film, briefly, and end up bankrupting the porn industry.




4. My celebrity boyfriend. Everybody in West Hollywood has one good "dating a celebrity" story.  This is mine.

5. My date with Richard Dreyfuss.  Ok, I have two good "dating a celebrity" stories.

More after the break.











Aug 18, 2014

Peter Barton's Powers


When I met Peter Barton, he was guest starring in some tv shows, doing live theater, and calling his agent every day, trying to transition to a macho 1980s leading man.  But just a few years before, he had been a soft, androgynous teen idol.

Born in 1956, the former medical student started his acting career in 1979, as the teenage son on the short-lived sitcom Shirley!  Only 13 episodes were filmed, but that was enough for the teen magazines to adulate Peter as the Next Big Thing.  He was handsome, muscular but not a bodybuilder, and just androgynous enough to meet the gender-bending expectations of the era of Culture Club and ABBA.


Dozens of shirtless, speedo, and semi-nude shots followed, plus a starring role in Hell Night (1981) with Vincent Van Patten, in Leadfoot with Philip Mckeon, and in a movie-of-the-week, The First Time (1982).  Peter also appeared in a tight swimsuit in an episode of Battle of the Network Stars.  Many gay boys found in him a kindred spirit, gazing at his movies or swimsuit spreads and thinking "He's one of us."











Then his big break came: The Powers of Matthew Star, one of the many kid-friendly sci-fi series in the 1982-83 season (others included  Voyagers!, The Greatest American Hero, and Knight Rider).  Strangely, it aired just before the drag queen-friendly Madame's Place.

The plot was similar to Shazam!, which aired on Saturday mornings a few years before: teenager with superpowers lives with an older man.  In this case, Matthew, or E'Hawke (Peter Barton) was a prince from a planet orbiting Tau Ceti, hiding out on Earth from enemies who wanted him dead.  He went to Crestridge High School and lived with his guardian, Walter, or D'hai (Louis Gossett Jr.), who was working undercover as a science teacher.

I watched occasionally, but it was a little too "Saturday morning tv" to draw a big audience.  Besides, Matthew had a girlfriend, there was no homoerotic buddy-bonding, and there was not enough beefcake.  Most gay kids quickly changed the channel to The Dukes of Hazzard on CBS.  Powers was cancelled after only 22 episodes.

Peter's teen idol fame ended shortly thereafter, as more muscular actors like Willie Aames and Scott Baio rose to the limelight.




In 1988, he got his big break, a starring role on The Young and the Restless.  Other soaps followed, plus the detective series Burke's Law.

Today Peter lives in upstate New York with his 6-year old daughter.  He has never married.

Aug 17, 2014

The Three Jacksons

During the late 1990s,  there were three teen idols named Jackson vying for a place in the hearts of gay boys and heterosexual girls.  All three had the wholesome, innocent quality that preteens and tweens find dreamy, and all three played in some movies with gay characters.

Before you start making homophobic comments: I am not stating that they are personally gay, or that they personally played gay characters.  I am merely stating that they appeared in movies or tv series which contained gay characters.

At the time even teen magazines sometimes got them mixed up.  

1. Joshua Jackson (born 1978).  Starred in Dawson's Creek (1998-2003) with John Wesley Shipp, plus:
 Apt Pupil (1998): Brad Renfro has a homoerotic subtext.
Cruel Intentions (1999): Joshua plays a gay stereotype.
The Skulls (2000): homoerotic buddy bonding.
The Laramie Project (2002): gay themed
Lone Star State of Mind (2003):  a movie with gay characters in it.
Cursed (2005): a movie with gay characters in it.








Distinguishing characteristics:not photographed shirtless very often; not particularly buffed or tanned, but still quite attractive. Still popular, star of the heterosexist paranormal sci-fi series Fringe.  Strong gay ally.  Appeared in the GLAAD Media Awards.

2. Jeremy Jackson (born 1980). Played on Baywatch (1991-1999) as Hobie, son of head lifeguard David Hasselhoff, plus:
Ring of Darkness (2004):  gay character.
DTLA (2012): tv series about gay men.













Distinguishing characteristics: always shirtless, always tanned.  Bodybuilder's physique. Doesn't mind semi-nude shots; guest Chippendale dancer. Conservative Evangelical Christian who is pro-gay.

3. Jonathan Jackson (born 1982). Starred as Lucky on General Hospital (1993-1999), plus:
The Deep End of the Ocean (1999): gay character
Trapped in a Purple Haze (2000); gay character


Raised Seventh-Day Adventist, converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  Doesn't like gay people. ( I got this from an interview in which he stated that he wouldn't work with gay people. )