Oct 4, 2014

The Secret Message at Washington Junior High

One Saturday in the summer of 1974, just after eighth grade, the sky was clear and bright, the air smelled like new lilacs, and the grass was sprinkled with dandelions. Darry had the flu and was too sick to work on our fantasy novel, so I invited my friend Craig (from the famous streaking incident) to ride bikes.

As we passed the back of Washington Junior High, we saw a small, strawheaded seventh-grader in a blue windbreaker standing against the red brick wall, near the windows of the gym. When we drew closer, we saw that he had a sponge and a yellow bucket sloshing with soapy water. He was scrubbing furiously at a piece of graffiti.

I recognized him as Brian, the boy my parents used to babysit.  They stopped because he had a smart mouth.  Once when we were playing in the back yard, he offered to tell us “a dirty joke,” right in front of my Mom! It didn’t matter to her that the joke was “The boy fell in the mud!”

“Hey, Brian!” I yelled. “You’re not supposed to be writing on school property.”

“You gonna call the fuzz, big guy?” Except for the belligerent smirk, he was cute, with a tanned face, sandy blond hair, pale blue eyes with eyelashes so blond we were almost white, and thin, pinkish lips.

His hands were raw from scrubbing at a line of graffiti: Brian gives free LBJs in letters nearly a foot high.

“What’s a LBJ?” Craig asked.

“It’s the president, Gomer!  I mean the old president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” Craig said.  "You can't give away presidents!"

“So what do you give?” I asked. “Can I have one?”

“I didn’t write it, ok?  It was a Mean Boy. Now can it, before I pound you.”

I tried to restrain a laugh at the thought of this slim, slight boy trying to pound me, after years of wrestling and judo. The posturing seemed to be hiding something scared, something wounded. I thought of Bill, who also threatened to pound me, long ago.

What kind of insult did giving LBJs signify?  Brian's feverish attempt to destroy the evidence made me suspect Acting like a Girl -- but graffiti was an unlikely Mean Boy punishment.

“You can’t erase paint with soap and water.  Why don’t you just mark it out?”

“Sometimes you can  And the paint’s in the garage, and if I go through there, Emmitt will see me. Ok, Mr. Know-it-All?”  Emmitt was his Dad.

“Why would Emmitt care what a Mean Boy says about you?”

Then we heard a clumping noise inside the building: a teacher or custodian, insanely working on the weekend, coming to the window to accuse us of disfiguring the school!  Brian kicked the bucket over and started to run away, but I knew he'd never find a hiding space by running east: the schoolyard in that direction was empty scrub for hundreds of miles. So I yelled “Get on my bike!”

Brian jumped on without protest and wrapped his arms tightly around my waist, and we sped away past the back of the school. We hid in the alley for awhile, panting and laughing. Then we went back to pick Brian’s bucket and sponge, and rode him home.

We became friends, of a sort, after that, but Brian didn't tell me what LBJ meant, or who wrote it, until many years later, when we were both in college.  By that time, I had already figured it out (You probably think it has something to do with sex, but it doesn't.  I reveal the meaning in this post)

Season after season, year after year, Brian gives free LBJs remained on the wall, faded but still faintly legible, stubbornly resistant to the generations of custodians who attempted to erase it.  It was the biggest riddle of my childhood, and not mine alone.  Generations of junior high students have wondered who this Brian is, and what LBJs are, and if they find out, how such things can exist on 20th Avenue in Rock Island, Illinois, in the world of everyday experience.

As far as I know, it's still there today.

The uncensored version of this story is on Tales of West Hollywood.

The Heterosexual Gay Kid of "Ugly Betty"

Feminine boys on tv are usually ridiculed, made objects of jokes ("He's into fashion!  He's not a real man! Isn't that hilarious?"), and in the end heterosexualized ("You were worried for a moment, but he's not gay after all!  Isn't that hilarious?").

Justin (Mark Indelicato) on Ugly Betty (2006-2010) was an exception.  After a few years of dissimulating.

Based on the Colombian telenovela Betty la fea, Ugly Betty features a fashion-deprived journalism student (America Ferrara) who lands a job as an assistant to the editor at a high-profile fashion magazine.

 She draws the ardor of a huge number of men who have never seen anyone so attractive in all their years of working with supermodels, such as buffed staff accountant Henry (Christopher Gorham, left).

And the ire of some of the magazine's glitterati, including Marc St. James (Michael Urie), the stereotyped-gay assistant to big boss Wilhemina Slater (Vanessa Williams).

Back home in Brooklyn, Betty lives with her father, sister, and nephew, Justin, who is 12 years old and already a fashion-and-show-tune maven.

What do good moms say to their feminine sons?
"Of course you can wear that ascot to school!"
"For your birthday, I got you tickets to a Broadway musical!"
"No, you can't have those shoes.  36 pairs are enough for you to accessorize to!"

Grandpa and Aunt Betty are equally nonchalant about Justin's femininity.  Plus Mom has a series of boyfriends who try to score points with the boy by promoting his feminine interests ("Let's go shopping!").

Is the show-tune maven gay?  Mom is ready for that possibility: over and over again, she says, "I will love you no matter what happens..." (by which she means "If you happen to be gay.")

Other than the tip-toeing around the word gay, and the implication that being gay is bad enough to make Mom's continuing love a noble thing, this is all perfectly sensible.  Feminine boys aren't necessarily gay, and masculine boys aren't necessarily heterosexual, so no one will have any idea about Justin's sexual orientation until he starts expressing an interest in someone.

And he does: heterosexual interest.

1. In the second season, he becomes a juvenile delinquent and kisses girls.
2. In the fourth season, he insists "I'm not gay!"

Then he starts dating boys, but he's conflicted about it, and really worried that his family will turn out to be homophobic.

1.When someone seems him in a same-sex lip-lock, he begs, "Don't tell Mom!"
2. He postpones announcing that he is gay until the final episode of the series, whereupon everyone tries to look surprised and supportive.

Wait -- parents who accept feminine boys usually have no trouble accepting gay boys.  Besides,  the family obviously has gay friends, and Mom asks Marc to hang out with Justin to provide a gay role model.

What is Justin's problem?

Part of the hesitation may be due to actor Mark Indelicato's horrifying experiences on the show.  He received constant hate mail, including death threats, quite a lot for a 13-year old to deal with along with the stress of his first major acting role.

Maybe the writers hung back on his character's gayness to give him a reprise from all the hate.  Maybe, in the second season, they actually intended for him to be heterosexual.

Mark is now 20, in college, but still acting occasionally.  He is apparently as feminine as Justin in real life, but heterosexual or bisexual, with a long-term girlfriend.

Oct 3, 2014

Goetz George: A Gay Dad with a Chest

This Chest belongs to Goetz George, playing a rancher trying to find his father's killer in Treasure of the Silver Lake (1962), a German Western that tried to introduce famous boys' book characters Winnetou and Shatterhand to America.   Unfortunately, it didn't sell well outside of Germany, even though Shatterhand was played by muscleman Lex Barker of Tarzan fame.

In this scene The Chest about to be rescued by Winnetou and Shatterhand.

 Here's a shot of his shoulders and biceps.

Perhaps you're wondering what else the Chest has been in?

According to the IMDB, 123 movies and tv shows, beginning in 1953, at age 15, and extending through 2013.  But mostly small roles in his young adulthood; he is most famous for his starring role in the police procedural Tatort (1981-1991).

Ok, but what about movies where he displays his Chest?

Surprisingly, not a lot.  An internet search revealed this photo from, apparently, a boxing movie.

This daddy shot of Goetz fully nude, approaching a bed containing a lady wearing black fishnet stockings.

And this candid shot of The Chest peeking out from behind a child, no doubt his daughter.

There's also some gay content in his career: in The Trio (1999), he plays Zobel,  a gay thief in a gang with his lover and his daughter.  When the lover dies, he recruits the bisexual Rudolf (Felix Eitner), and Dad and daughter end up competing for his affections.

See also: Winnetou: German Gay Western.

Oct 2, 2014

Jack London and the Gay Surfers

In 1907, adventure writer Jack London and his wife Charmian sailed their yacht, The Snark, to Hawaii, where they went swimming, gave book readings, and got taken around by the Honolulu elite.

One night they were sitting on the veranda of their hotel when a small, slight man appeared, introduced himself as a fellow journalist, and told them about a native Hawaiian sport: surfing.

He turned out to be Alexander Hume Ford, aka Hume, a globetrotting journalist who had published books and articles on Eastern Europe, Russia, Siberia, and China.  He had recently arrived in Hawaii for a brief visit, and fell in love with the surfers on the beach

Particularly 23-year old George Freeth (1883-1918).

Jack, Charmian, Hume, and George spent a riotous vacation together, two couples hitting all of the Honolulu hotspots.

They tried out surfing, and Jack liked it so much that he wouldn't take a break from the sun, and got the sunburn of his life.  He and Charmian returned to America devotees of the newly discovered sport.

Enraptured by surfing -- and by Hawaii's cultural and natural wonders -- Hume extended his visit indefinitely.  He and George became inseparable companions..  Later in 1907, when a Congressional delegation toured the islands to determine if Hawaii was ready for statehood, they acted as their guides.

When industrialist Henry Huntington read about George's surfing exploits, he invited him to come to California to give a demonstration.  George stayed on, living in the Huntington mansion, introducing surfing to the beaches of Southern California, and inventing new lifeguarding techniques.  He died suddenly in 1919.

Hume soon found a new protege, 17-year old Duke Kahanamoku, and began promoting him as Hawaii's "Champion Surf Rider." Kahanamoku went on to become an Olympic Gold Medalist and actor, and to befriend such beefcake legends as Johnny Weissmuller.

Hume stayed in Hawaii permanently, promoting the sport of surfing in books and articles, joining surf clubs, founding the famous Outrigger Canoe Club, writing and editing Mid-Pacific Magazine, and photographing muscular young men standing next to their surfboards.

He died in 1945, and is still remembered today for his undaunted enthusiasm for the sport of surfing, and for his adopted home.

Of course, it's possible that Hume and George weren't partners, that they weren't even gay.  But they never married, they sought out the company of men throughout their lives, and they rhapsodized about the lean, muscular bodies of surfers gleaming in the sun.

See also: Duke Kahanamoku

Oct 1, 2014

Twin Peaks: The Owls Are Not What They Seem

In the spring of 1990, many tv viewers were persuaded to turn away from the Thursday night juggernaut of The Cosby Show -- A Different World -- Cheers -- and Wings to watch Twin Peaks, a tv series created by surrealist director David Lynch, to learn "Who killed Laura Palmer?"

No one knew that the answer would become so darn convoluted.

The premise: popular high schooler Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks, Washington, is found murdered.

FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, best known for Lynch's homophobic Blue Velvet) is called in to investigate, and works with local sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean, best known then as the gay guy from Making Love).

Gradually they discover that everyone in town has multiple dark secrets.  There are weird alliances and interconnections.  A middle-aged woman regresses to a teenager.  Laura's psychiatrist commits suicide.

Cooper has a dream of a backward-talking dwarf who is From Another Place, who makes cryptic utterances like "when you see me again, I won't be me" and "everybody is full of secrets."

Laura had several secrets of her own.  One wonders how she found time to hang out with her boyfriend  (played by Dana Ashbrook, left), when she was having affairs with several older men, as well as working as a prostitute to support her drug habit.  (In David Lynch's world, prostitution is the Ultimate Evil).

After seven episodes, the first season ended, with lots of clues but no answers.

During the summer of 1990, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was published, and became a must-read.  It offered no new clues.

You could also get Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town, with tourist information about the town, including the cafe where Cooper got his "damn fine coffee!" and cherry pie.

In September 1990, the second season began, on Saturday nights.

A giant who may be an alien warns Cooper that "The owls are not what they seem."

Whatever that means.

Laura appears in a vision and says "Sometimes my arms bend back."

Whatever that means.

Cooper learns of Black Lodge, which can manipulate world events.

There was no way to unite all of the plot threads into a coherent whole, so in December they threw in a lame explanation -- Laura was murdered by her father, who was being possessed by a being named BOB, who was working for the Black Lodge, who...or something like that.  And everyone scratched their head and said WTF?  All this to murder a teenager?

This was the homophobic David Lynch, so of course there were no gay characters, other than some leering effeminate villains, and some unintentional gay subtexts in the interaction between Truman and Cooper.

No beefcake to speak of.

So why did Twin Peaks gain so many gay fans?

Maybe it's the sinister small towns.  In West Hollywood many of us came from small towns, and remembered them as prisons where everyone had lots of secrets.

Maybe it was wishful thinking.  We were waiting for one of the "secrets" to be about being gay.

Or maybe it was our own hidden knowledge.  Before the 1980s, and often after, kids grew up unaware that gay people exist.  There was a conspiracy of silence that could be overcome only through seeking out subtexts, euphemisms, things left out, clues hidden from view.  We knew more than anyone that "the owls are not what they seem."

See also: Lost: Charlie's Three Boyfriends.

Scott Baio's Gay Fans

After a few failed tv series and execrable movies Scott Baio burst onto the teen idol scene in 1977, when he was hired to play "Cousin Chachi" on Happy Days (1977-84) and the execrable spin-off, Joannie Loves Chachi (1982-83).  He immediately pushed on with his long-runnng "boy nanny" vehicle, Charles in Charge (1984-90).

There's no doubt that Scott was dreamy (though many fans preferred his cousin Jimmy).  He was pleasantly muscular, though no bodybuilder. And he knew how to work a shirtless shot.

But the beefcake shots were aimed entirely at a female audience.  Scott gave no indication, on or off camera, that he was aware that he had male fans, or that he knew that it was even possible for a teenage boy to like him.  Or that he knew that gay people existed at all.

No gay characters appear in any of his movie vehicles, except for the 1986 Truth about Alex, in which a teenage boy discovers that his best friend is gay.
And there is no bonding.  Only two significant same-sex relationships occurred his entire film and tv career: with Lance Kerwin in The Boy Who Drank Too Much (1980), and with  Willie Aames  in Zapped! (1982), which was remade into a Disney Channel movie in 2014. 

Over the years, Scott has made only one statement acknowledging the existence of gay people.  In 2010, his wife Renee got in trouble for tweeting that the editors of the website Jezebel were "lesbos," and explained that women become lesbians because they can't get a man.  Scott defended her statement as "freedom of speech" and "the right to disagree."

He disagrees with lesbians having the right to exist?

Scott Baio's fans have had happier days.

There are gay rumors about Scott on Tales of West Hollywood.