Mar 21, 2015

Ryan Pinkston and Sterling Knight: BFFs or Power Couple?

No relation to Rob Pinkston of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Ryan Pinkston got his start in martial arts: he received his black belt in Wushu Kung Fu at age nine and has won championships in karate, kung fu, and tae kwan do.

An interview on the Jenny Jones talk show landed him an agent, and within a month he had roles in Spy Kids: 3D (2003) with Bobby Edner, and Bad Santa (2003), and he was helping Austin Kutcher play celebrity pranks on Punked.

But there was a problem.  Although handsome and muscular, Ryan was somewhat too short to play heartthrobs, and he had already been typecast as an aggressive wise guy, basically a jerk.  So that's the sort of role he received:

In 2004, the 16-year old got his own tv series, Quintuplets, about teenage quintuplets with conflicting personalities.  His Patton was pushy and aggressive; brother Parker (Jake McDorman, left) was the athlete

Next came the boorish Felch in Revenge of the Nerds (2006), chronic liar Sam Leonard in Full of It (2007), and Fletcher in the execrably homophobic College (2008), with Drake Bell

(which paradoxically offered an extensive homoerotic subtext).
His guest spots on the teencoms Out of Jimmy's Head and Hannah Montana were a little better, jerks with a soft, sensitive side.

But then he hit the bottom of the barrel: teen sex comedies. Foreign Exchange (2008), Extreme Movie (2008) with Frankie MunizAdventures in Online Dating (2009).

At least he had no problem with shirtless, shower, swimsuit, and semi-nude shots, including rear nudity.  And with rolling around with other guys naked.  Teens could sigh over the homoerotic subtexts even if they didn't like his characters.

But then, in 2010, something remarkable happened: a complete turnaround.  Ryan's characters changed from jerks to nice guys, and coincidentally some buddy-bonding was added to the girl-crazy schtick.

Boy Band (2010): in 1982, his Greg buddy-bonds with Brad (Michael Copon) to form the first boy band in history.

Tower Prep (2010), about a school for kids with paranormal powers: his Gabe has a crush on Ian Archer (Drew Van Acker).

Cougars, Inc. (2011): his Jimmy and best friend Sam (Kyle Gallner, left, with his foot pressing against Ryan's penis) start an escort service pairing older women with teenagers.

Since Ryan is living with a man, fellow actor Sterling Knight, he's been the subject of gay speculation.  But he hasn't made any public pro-gay or anti-gay statements.

Mar 20, 2015

December 1979: Fred, Gay Liberation, and "All That Jazz"

December 1979, about a month after my 19th birthday.

 I'm having a very busy Holiday Season.  Back from a semester abroad in Germany, my last date with a girl, the Chinese Restaurant Incident ("Don't call Bruce gay!"), meeting Fred the Ministerial Student.  Then, on the 28th of December, Fred asks me to a movie.  This will be our second date.

All my life, I've been looking for gay subtexts in movies, tv shows, books, comic books, and cartoons.  But after junior high, I had to keep them to myself.  My friends would say "don't be stupid" and point out the movie's profusion of female breasts.

I couldn't even point out the cute guys without getting weird looks.

And I didn't even know that they were gay subtexts until a year and a half ago.

Now, finally, I can both recognize gay subtexts and discuss them afterwards!  I imagine Fred and I sitting at a dark-wood booth in a restaurant pointing out the two male characters with a special closeness, who rescue each other and stay together at fade-out. Or at least grinning over the beefcake.

I've already seen Star Trek and The Black Hole, so our choices are Kramer vs. Kramer (Dustin Hoffman gets a divorce), Going in Style (old guys rob a bank), The Jerk (Steve Martin as a jerk), and All that Jazz (about a theater director).

Fred tells me that the theater director is based on Bob Fosse.  I've never heard of him, but I say "Great, he's one of my favorite actors!"

Besides, it sounds better than those other movies.

It's about a grotesquely ugly old-guy theater director named Joel Gideon (Roy Scheider of Jaws), who chain smokes, uses drugs, and keeps butting heads with his ex-wife, teenage girlfriend, and teenage daughter.  His impossible work schedule runs him into the ground.  He has a heart attack, goes to the hospital, has open heart surgery, dances with his arteries, and flirts with the Angel of Death.  Finally he dies.

Incomprehensible, depressing, and disgusting!  And no gay subtexts -- Joel Gideon is utterly obsessed with women.  Even the Angel of Death is a woman.

A little bit of beefcake -- some hot guys dance together in the "Airotica" number.  But they are drowned out by the proliferation of female breasts.

We leave the Showcase Cinemas in silence and stop in at Happy Joe's Pizza.

We choose a secluded booth so we can talk about gay topics without being overheard.   I'm feeling sick and depressed, not only from the depressing movie but from the lost opportunity.  I wanted to talk about gay subtexts, openly, without fear.

Fred starts.  "Boy, was that movie awful!  That Joel Gideon is a horndog!"

"I know!  All he can think about is girls, girls, cigarettes, and girls!"

"You'd think with all of the gay people working in the theater, there'd be at least some fruity stereotypes in the background somewhere.  Just for the sake of versimilitude!"

"Or a couple of guys who were into each other," I add.

"And what was it with the female body parts?"

"Disgusting!" I exclaim.

And on and on, dissecting each scene for heterosexism and the heterosexual male gaze (though we didn't know either term yet), bemoaning Hollywood brainwashing, how it tells the world over and over that we do not exist, we cannot exist, or if we do, we're monsters and freaks of nature.

I've never been able to discuss our oppression before, either, not openly.   It's almost as much fun as finding gay subtexts.

See also: 10 Reasons Why "Kiss Me, Kate" is a Gay Classic

Mar 19, 2015

Scott Grimes: a Band of Brothers

For a few years in the mid-1980s, Scott Grimes was as famous as Scott Baio or Matthew Broderick.

His red hair and boyish smile drew the interest of teen magazines, and his muscles and penchant for nudity made him a fave rave for many gay teens.

Not to mention his cool fashion sense and hard-to-miss bulges.

His body of work is comparatively small, but wide-ranging, from the pedestrian to the masterful to the ridiculous.

The pedestrian: guest spots on all of the standard tv programs of the 1980s, including Charles in Charge, Who's the Boss, My Two Dads, Wings, and 21 Jump Street.  Starring roles in several series, including Goode Behavior, Party of Five, E.R., and American Dad (his current gig, voicing the teenage son Steve Smith).

The masterful:  the miniseries Band of Brothers (2001), about an infantry division during World War II who learn heroism, courage, devotion, and love.  Scott played Technical Sergeant Donald Malarkey, who is deeply affected by the bloodshed around him, and is always looking for someone to love.

In Dreamkeeper (2003), the Lakota Sioux elder Peter Chasing Horse tells his sullen, "modern" grandson, Shane (Eddie Spears), stories about their culture as they travel to a pow wow in Albuquerque.  A Red-Headed Stranger (Scott) joins them.  As the Stranger and Shane grapple with their unstated but strongly articulated homoerotic desire, Grandfather tells them the store of Tehan, a white man who joined the Kiowa. He, too, felt an unstated homoerotic desire.

Even Scott's ridiculous projects have some gay content.

 In the Gremlins clone Critters (1986), an an army of small, round, squish monsters, sort of like tribbles with teeth, eat their way through a small town.  Brad (Scott) combats them, along with two intergalactic bounty hunters. One morphs into an androgynous glam-rocker named Johnny Steele (Terence Mann), who draws the interest of both Scott and town drunk Charlie (Don Opper).  At the end of the movie, Charlie asks for and receives an intergalactic bounty-hunting job, and the three zap off into space together.

In Critters 2 (1988), Brad is still at work stamping out critters, and the three bounty hunters return to Earth. His coworker dies in combat, and Johnny, grief-stricken, "destabilizes" (has an alien nervous breakdown).  Charlie keeps his arm around him, comforting him, saying “I can’t go on without you."  They embrace.  The music swells.  They have found true love.

Scott is also a talented singer, with three albums to his credit: Scott Grimes (1989), Livin' on the Run (2005), and Drive (2010).  His songs are moody and dark, mostly about lost loves and growing old, but most do not specify the gender of his love, making them resonate with both heterosexual and gay audiences.
He is a gay ally, and often contributes to pro-gay causes.

Mar 18, 2015

Fall 1996: The Preacher and the Homeless Teenager

David was 43 years old, but an honorary twink.  He grew up in an ultra-conservative household in Arkansas, got married, and became a Baptist preacher -- then, on his 40th birthday, had his first same-sex experience.  He came out, quit his job, divorced his wife, and moved to San Francisco -- all in the same week!

He got an apartment and a job, joined a gym, bought a new wardrobe consisting mostly of leather, and went cruising.  Every day.  At lunchtime, after work, in the evening.  Sometimes on the way to work.

David was an equal-opportunity cruiser.  Young, old, black, white, rich, poor, he didn't care as long as you had either a nice smile or a big package.

But still, I was shocked when he cruised the panhandler.

In San Francisco, panhandlers were everywhere, lined up outside ATM machines, restaurants, Muni stations, waving their cups, holding their signs that said "hungry!" or "Disabled veteran" or chanting  "Any change?  Any change?  Any change?"

Most people ignored them, figuring if you gave them money, you would be tagged as an "easy mark" and followed by many more.  Besides, you couldn't tell who was actually in need and who just wanted money for drugs.   There were many charities in town that could provide food and housing more equitably.

The rest of the story, with uncensored photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Your Grandfather's Beefcake: Circus Strongmen

Today every gym is crowded with guys with 60-inch chests and 20-inch biceps, but 130 years ago, they were rare. Poor nutrition, poor hygiene, and a lack of understanding of kinesiology limited the average man's ability to build  muscle.

Those few who developed muscular physiques found themselves in demand in carnivals and circuses as 'strong men," celebrated for their raw strength rather than for their size and symmetry.

But they certainly provided an erotic thrill.  Contemporary accounts often praise their masculine beauty.

The most famous of the strongmen was Apollon (the Greek god Apollo), born as Louis Uni (1862-1928), who joined the circus at the age of 14 and eventually became a headliner, appearing in music halls throughout Europe.  His act involved such feats as bending the iron bars of a cage, lifting 300-pound train wheels over his head, and holding two cars back with chains.

Donald Dinnie (1837-1916) appeared in 11,000 sports competitions, including 16 Scottish Highland Games, where he excelled in wrestling, hurdling, cable-throwing, and hammer-throwing.  He became the equivalent of a millionaire through his exhibitions in the United States and Europe, where he was advertised as "The Strong Man of the Age." In an early advertising tie-in, his likeness was put on bottles of Iron Brew, a soft drink aimed at athletes.

Interestingly, he was 6'1" with a 48 inch chest and 15 inch biceps.

At my peak condition, I had a 51 inch chest and 17 inch biceps, and I was nowhere near "The Strong Man of the Age."  Not even "The Strong Man of the Hollywood Spa.

Edward Aston was a boxer, wrestler, and finally a competitive weight-lifter.  In 1910, he won the World Middle-Weight-Lifting Championship, and in 1911 he was named Britain's Strongest Man with such feats as a clean and jerk of 282 pounds

Not bad for someone who weighted 160 pounds.  Schwarzenegger, who weighed 235 pounds, just managed a 298 pound clean-and-jerk.

He wrote an early weight-training manual, Modern Weight Lifting; and How to Gain Strength.  

Sig Klein (1902-1987) grew up in Cleveland, in the early days of physical culture.  He performed feats of strength on stage and in competitions, and in 1927 was named the world's greatest athlete by Le Culture Physique magazine.  He was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not 10 times.

Later he moved to New York and Attila Studio, which trained athletes, bodybuilders, stuntmen, and actors, among them Zero Mostel, Montgomery Clift, Ben Gazzara, David Carradine, Joel Grey, and Karl Malden.

I don't know who this guy is, but he has quite a physique, and he has quite substantial beneath-the-belt gifts.

Thomas Inch (1881-1963), "Britain's Strongest Man," is known for lifting the "Thomas Inch Dumbbell."  It was specially designed, weighing 172 pounds (the heaviest dumbbells you can get today weigh 50 pounds).

See also: Circus World

Mar 16, 2015

Perils of Life in the Village: My Roommate Tries to "Make" My New Boyfriend

I thought apartments in the Castro were difficult to come by, but when I moved to New York in 1997, Manhattan turned out to be a hundred times worse.

Not just the gay neighborhoods.  Anywhere in Manhattan.

300 square foot studios with cockroaches and no hot water started at $2000 per month.

There was an infinite variety of apartment sharing arrangements: during the week but not on weekends; from 6 am to 6 pm every other day; alternate Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; the couch in the living room; a walk-in closet in the bedroom.

Some guys lived in an ingenious jigsaw of two-day-a-week or three-nights-a-week rentals in horrible apartments with crazy roommates.

I was interviewed by a dozen or so bizzarre and insane guys in horrible apartments before I landed the dream roommate: Edward, an art appraiser who spent most of his time in Europe: in his 60s, tall, husky, white-haired,  slightly feminine.

 He had a beautiful three-bedroom, two bath apartment on East 13th Street, on the border between the East and West Villages, at the heart of the gay community.

It was rent-controlled, and cheap by New York standards: my share was only $700 per month, less than half of my take-home salary at the time.

Besides, the living room was almost entirely occupied by floor-to-ceiling bookcases, filled with everything from the complete works of Plato to Mommy Dearest.

Of course, Edward had a few crazy rules:

1. All guests must be introduced to the other roommates, even if it was late at night and they had to be woken up.
2. There was to be no nudity in the common areas of the house.  Always wear a bathrobe.
3. No food or beverages could be consumed in the living room.

4. No porn movies could be viewed in the living room.
5. It was rude to have one's own food in the refrigerator. Everything anyone brought home, including doggy-bags from restaurants, was up for grabs.
6. The first roommate up in the morning must make a pot of coffee, even if he didn't intend to drink any.
7. The toilet seat must be left up when not in use.

It was worth it.  I stayed for three years.

Edward was not very active romantically. Sometimes he flew down to Florida to visit his partner of 30 years: "But by now it's more about our business endeavors.  We haven't been physically intimate in forever."

He never brought home a date or a hookup, and he never asked to "share" Blake or Joe. "That custom is for you young, randy hipsters!  In my day we were faithful to one person for life!"

You mean the 1970s, the heyday of the St. Mark's Baths?

In the fall of 2000,  I started dating Avi, a 25-year old Israeli studying biology at Colombia University.  He was newly out -- in fact, I was the first guy he had actually dated.

 He lived in a university dorm, so when it was time to spend the night together, we went to my place, and of course I had to wake up Edward for the introduction.  He grunted an annoyed "pleased to meet you."

But the next morning Edward was all smiles, making breakfast (a rarity) and peppering Avi with questions: "Where did you and Boomer meet? How do you like America?  Are you out to your parents?"

When I returned alone that night, Edward was gushing: "Your new boyfriend is magnificent!  Like one of those beautiful boys in a Wilhelm van Gloeden photo, or Caravaggio's Cupid in Amor Vincent Omnia.  Wherever did you find him?  How long have you been dating?"

"Last night was our third date."

"Then you're officially a couple!  We should celebrate!  Bring Avi around Friday after dinner, and we'll have champagne and cake!"

When Avi and I arrived, Edward was sitting on the couch in his underwear, a violation of Rule #2.

"Radiator malfunction, I'm afraid," he explained. "I called the superintendent. But until he gets around to fixing it, underwear will be de rigueur.   Or commando-style, if you like."

I didn't notice that it was particularly warm in the living room, but I gamely stripped down to my underwear.  Avi just took his shirt off.

"Now you lovebirds just get comfy on the couch, and I'll take care of everything."  He vanished into the kitchen and reappeared with a bottle of champagne, a soda for me, and three glasses.  Then he brought out slices of lemon cake with white frosting, a violation of Rule #3. 

"Today I picked up a quaint little video on Bleecker Street," Edward said.  "It's a bit on the risque side, but we're all adults here.  I'm sure we can handle it."

He slid A Carnival in Venice into the VCR. Porn!  A classic, but still, a violation of Rule #4!  Then he squeezed into the left side of the couch, so we were all clumped together, with Avi in the middle.

What was going on?  It was too early in the relationship for "sharing"!  Besides, you always talked about it first -- you didn't just squeeze in!

But that wasn't what Edward had in mind.  It was becoming increasingly obvious that he wanted to "make" (seduce) Avi, whether or not I participated!

But even if Ari wasn't spoken for, older never cruised younger; you always waited for the Cute Young Thing to approach you, lest you be labeled a Creepy Old Guy.

In retrospect, I could have deterred Edward.  I could have moved between him and Ari on the couch, or I could have suggested that we move to the love seat "to see the movie better."

But I didn't want to offend Edward, and maybe get kicked out of a dream apartment in the heart of the Village.

So I put my arm around Avi's shoulders and kept my eyes glued to the tv screen, ignoring Edward as he touched Ari's knee, rubbed his hand against his chest, squeezed his nipple, and finally kissed him on the neck.

I didn't think of how Avi would feel, newly out, dating for the first time, cuddling with his boyfriend and being "made" by a Creepy Old Guy at the same time.

Until it was too late.

Suddenly Avi bolted to his feet.  " have to get up early tomorrow," he stammered.  He grabbed his shirt and practically ran for the door.

"Wait -- let me take you home!"  I called.

"No thanks, I know the way.  Thanks for the cake."  The door slammed behind him.  

When I emailed Avi the next day, he explained that he would be very busy every night for the rest of his life.

See also: The Night I Became a Creepy Old Guy.

Mar 15, 2015

More Homophobia on "Friends": This Time It's Serious

March 9, 1995, a Thursday night.  I always watch Seinfeld at 9:00, and then at 9:30 occasionally the Seinfeld knockoff Friends, about a group of younger, less cynical friends negotiating small-town Manhattan.  Mostly because the first ads promoting the show displayed them in their underwear; they haven't been shown in their underwear since, but one can hope.

Tonight's episode is called: "The One Where the  Monkey Got Away."

The pet capuchin monkey of nerdish paleontologist Ross (David Schwimmer) escapes while his crush Rachel (Jennifer Anniston) is babysitting.  The friends all search, but run into a recalcitrant neighbor and the revenge plans of an animal control officer (Megan Cavanaugh) whom Rachel bullied in high school.

At the end of the episode, they all share stories of the horrors of high school life, except for horndog Joey (Matt LeBlanc): for him, high school was "just four years of parties and dating and sex."

Chandler (Matthew Perry) morosely states that he went to a private boys' school: "Any sex I had would have involved a major lifestyle choice."

A major lifestyle choice?  Is he kidding?


This is not the era of the Reagan-Bush conservative retrenchment.  We're in the heart of the relatively gay-positive Clinton years.  Roseanne had been kissed by a lesbian admirer; there was a gay wedding on Northern Exposure.  There are gay partnership laws, anti-discrimination ordinances.  The horrendous "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is being challenged in the Supreme Court.

It's not exactly safe in the straight world beyond gay neighborhoods, but it's safer than it has been in over a decade.

Then Chandler said that?

I knew that Friends was heterosexist, extolling male-female romance as the meaning of life.  I knew that the guys ridicule each other's slightest gender misstep as evidence that they are gay.  But this isn't minor, veiled, "panic-over-touching-a-dude" homophobia.  It's open, brutal, disgusting.

Who is responsible for this outrageous slap in the face of every gay person on Earth?

The episode was written by Jeff Astrof and Mike Sikowitz.

Jeff Astrof (left) wrote eight other episodes of Friends.  More recently he has written and been executive producer of Grounded for Life, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and S*** My Dad Says (yes, there really was such a program), and Partners (about two best buds, one straight, one gay).

Mike Sikowitz (below) co-wrote the episodes, collaborated with Jeff Astrof on most of his projects, and also wrote/produced episodes of The Class (which had a gay character and a gay-stereotyped straight character who shrieks "Oh, my popovers!"), Rules of Engagement, The McCarthys (which has a gay character), and Welcome to the Family.  

He has a film writing credit in 2014: Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant.  I'm not kidding.

Neither of them seem the faces of evil, exactly.  They're just really, really ignorant, believing that gay men were born straight, but at some point made the decision to turn into flitting, wispy creatures who shriek "Oh, my popovers!" Lesbians, conversely, made the decision to turn into butch, short-haired creatures who grunt a lot.

Another question: why didn't someone speak up?  Director Peter Bonerz?  Creator David Crane, or guest star Megan Cavanaugh, who are both gay?

Why didn't anyone insist that the line be changed to something less ridiculously homophobic?

How about "any sex I had would have required the words out of and closet."

How about "any sex I had would have required a whole new 'birds and bees talk'."

How about "any sex I had would have barred me from donating blood for the rest of my life."

30.4 million people watched.  The next week's episode had only 29.4 million, perhaps the result of 1,000,000 gay people and allies turning off Friends forever.

I didn't watch Friends again, except for the nine episodes with Giovanni Ribisi as a guest star.  He was cute, so I figured I could handle the hatred.

See also: The Homophobic Small Town Manhattan of "Friends."