Jun 18, 2016

The Man on the Flying Trapeze: William Saroyan

During my first year in college, the drama club performed The Time of Your Life (1939), William Saroyan's Pulitzer-prize winning play about the lost and wounded denizens of a seedy San Francisco bar.  Every one of them expressed some type of heterosexual interest, with one exception: Willie, a teenage pinball player.  During the 1970s, all teenagers in mass media were portrayed as churning cauldrons of heterosexual horniness, but Willie never once looked at or mentioned a girl.


I didn't usually care for the heterosexism of Modern American Literature, but I tentatively sought out the other works of William Saroyan (1908-1981), and found melancholy stories about working-class Armenian immigrants in California, mostly with crushed dreams or memories of past glory.

And endless homoromantic subtexts.

My Name is Aram (1940). Aram grows from age 9 to young adulthood without ever falling for a girl, though he is drawn to many men and boys, including his best friend Panko and his beautiful cousin Dikran.

There is even a veiled reference to gay people. In one story, his Uncle Melik, about to travel by train from Fresno to New York, receives advice from his own uncle:  "An amiable young man will offer you a cigarette.   It will be doped." On the train, Melik waits for the cigarette offer, but it never comes, so he takes the initiative and offers a young man a cigarette.  They become friends.

The Human Comedy (1943).  Teenage Homer has a job delivering telegrams during the War, mostly about soldiers who have died; but he doesn't have to deliver the telegram about his older brother Marcus, because Tobey arrives, who knew Marcus "better than anyone in the world," to tell the family.

Meanwhile, though Homer gazes at a "beautiful girl," he finds solace in the eyes of men.

In the 1943 movie version, the actors who portrayed Marcus and Tobey, Van Johnson (left) and John Craven, were both gay.




"The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" (1935): he doesn't really fly on a trapeze.  He is dying, with no women among his dying thoughts.  Instead : he remembered the young Italian in a Brooklyn hospital, a small sick clerk named Mollica, who had said desperately, I would like to see California once before I die."

On and on, a world where coming of age does not mean "sex with an older woman," where death does not mean "letting go of the faces of women," where life is big and dangerous and sad and lived among men.

Saroyan, by the way, had some ties to the post-War gay community.  He frequented the Black Cat Bar in San Francisco, became friends with gay director Vicente Minelli (they collaborated on a musical together), and in 1955, a radio biography starred gay actor Sal Mineo.






Jun 17, 2016

The Giver: Heterosexist Conformist Dystopia

The Giver (2014) just showed up on my Netflix recommendations.   It was about a teenager who "thinks thinks" in a conformist dystopia -- pretty much the protagonist of every young adult movie -- and discovers that "the adults are lying -- only real is real," pretty much the plot of every young adult movie.

But the boy has two friends, a boy and a girl, and there's something about a younger boy who also "thinks thinks," so I figured there would be some moments of gay-subtext buddy bonding, plus the muscular Brenton Thwaites shirtless in at least one scene.

Thwaites plays Jonas, who, along with his inseparable childhood chums Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush), has just graduated to adulthood in a close-knit community with no name -- although there are others, according to the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who appears mostly in holograms.



It's like the Village in The Prisoner tv series, with sculpted grounds and lovely architecture, and everyone always polite to each other. with everyone constantly being monitored, drugged, and lied to. For instance, Jonas' father (Alexander Skarsgaard) has the job of testing newborn babies and killing the rejects -- but because of his daily drug injection, he believes that he is "sending them to Elsewhere," a beautiful Otherworld.

People who are too old to be productive citizens are also "sent to Elsewhere." Shades of Logan's Run.

Also, everything is in black and white, no one is taught the history of what happened before, and no one is allowed to fall in love.  Shades of Brave New World.

I wonder what their high school classes are like.

After their graduation, Asher is assigned a job as a drone pilot (shades of Star Wars),  Fiona goes to work at the baby-killing facility, and Jonas becomes the apprentice to the Giver (Jeff Bridges), an old man who lives in a cabin at the edge of the world and is the only person permitted to lie, be impolite, and remember the past.  He shares memories  of the past with Jonas by touching him.

The memories are of everyday events from "back and back and back":  a gypsy wedding; a Jewish Shabat; some kind of Hindu festival; someone riding a sled to a cabin with a Christmas tree; and lots of people laughing and hugging and kissing.

The past was great!  Jonas concludes.  People felt things then!  They experienced love!

Trying to feel what they felt in the past, he stops taking his daily drugs, and becomes aware of the horrors of the Village.

His parents brought home a new baby, Gabe, but it failed its Maturity Test, and so must be sent "to Elsewhere."  Jonas knows what that really means, and vows to save Gabe.

He asks Asher and Fiona for help.  Guess which one helps, and which one rushes off to tattle to the Elders?

Yep -- guys always betray you, girls are true blue.

Freudians say that the goal of adolescence is to move from the "latent homosexuality," with same-sex pals, to "mature" heterosexual love.  It's complete garbage, of course, but this movie is definitely selling it.


So Jonas grabs the baby and rushes out of the Village, down the steep cliffs, and into the northern California wilderness, being pursued by a murderous Asher (who relents at the last minute and just throws him into a river to drown instead of zapping him).

He didn't bring any baby food or diapers, but Gabe doesn't complain through at least 24 hours of falling off cliffs, nearly drowning, and finally sledding through the snow.  Their fate is ambiguous; presumably they freeze to death.

BUT: Jonas' defection has somehow turned off the memory-zapping device, and now everyone remembers things that happened long before they were born.  So the world is saved.

I guess.  I don't understand it, either.  I'm still angry that EVERY young adult movie is about a Boy and a Girl falling in love, with the Male Friend, when he is present at all, turning into a betrayer.

Another contender for the worst heterosexist movie of all time!

By the way, nobody takes their shirt off.

See also: Logan's Run; 

Jun 16, 2016

Being Asexual in a Sex-Infused World

In West Hollywood, we had spent so many years hearing that same-sex desire was evil, aberrant, incomplete, faulty, sick, or non-existent that we celebrated it -- a lot.

Most conversations involved who you were having sex with and who your friends were having sex with.

Most leisure activity involved having sex, watching someone else have sex, or looking for someone to have sex with.

Sex was used to introduce new guys into your social circle, to be polite, as a party game, as a form of recreation.  You went to bed with the boyfriends of your roommates and friends, and with the roommates and friends of your boyfriend, without giving it a second thought.

Imagine, in that sex-infused world, simply not being interested.

Turns out about 1% of the population is asexual, not interested in sex with anyone.

They usually (but not always) experience aesthetic desire, finding some people hot and some not.  According to a survey conducted by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, over half have a sexual orientation: 27% are heterosexual, 26% bisexual, and 13% gay or lesbian.

They often enjoy romantic relationships (only 20% are a-romantic, interested in friendships only).

They may even engage in sexual activity, to please a partner or fit in with societal expectations: 12% are currently sexual active.

But they are not into it.  They would rather eat cake.

Asexuals face an uphill battle.  Doctors want to give them hormones, psychiatrists want to treat them for a presumed history of abuse, they're asked "if you've never tried it, how do you know you don't like it?" and told they just haven't met the right person yet.

The same things LGBT people hear from their straight "friends" all the time.




Here are some famous people who were/are probably asexual, although they are often assumed gay:
Politician Ralph Nader
Comedian Janeane Garofalo
J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan
Artist Edward Gorey
Sir Isaac Newton
Jonathan Frid, Barnabas on Dark Shadows
T. E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia"












And Jughead Jones from the Archie comics.  For years he was a "woman hater," not interested in women, so we all assumed that he was gay.  Then, in the 1980s, to assuage suspicions, he was heterosexualized, and given about as many girlfriends as the girl-crazy Archie.  But in his most recent rendition, a reboot  by Chip Zdarsky and artist Erica Henderson, Jughead is outed as asexual.

Jun 15, 2016

18 Yiddish Words for Penis

A Germanic language influenced by Slavic and Hebrew, Yiddish was spoken throughout the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe from the 9th century on to World War II.

Jewish immigrants to the United States brought a strong tradition of Yiddish literature, art, and theater.  In the early 20th century, entertainers such as the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers introduced many Yiddish words into everyday English, including klutz, schlep, kitsch, and chutzpah.

Many more are familiar: nebbish, schvitz, tuches.

There are still 1.5 million native speakers of Yiddish, mostly in the Ukraine, Israel, and the United States.  They are mostly elderly: except in a few Hasidic communities, the language is not being taught to the younger generations.

But many young Jews are learning Yiddish in order to embrace their cultural heritage.  You can major in Yiddish Studies at Columbia University and Rutgers,   The Digital Yiddish Library offers free downloads of over 11,000 titles.

So knowing a few Yiddish words for penis might come in handy for cruising at your local synagogue.

Note: most of these terms are obscene, so don't use them when your boyfriend's bubbie is making kiska in the other room.



Small 

Petseleh.  Baby-sized.

Schmeckel.  Diminuitive of "schmuck" (see below).

Schmecky.  A children's euphemism, like "wee-wee."

Schtickl.  Tiny.  From "schtick," a little bit, a familiar term in English for a comedy routine.

Average Sized/General Terms

Bokher.  Literally "boy."

Brit. Jewish/circumcized.  From the Hebrew for "covenant."

Eyver.  The polite term. From the Hebrew for "leg."

Mile.  Another polite term.

Putz, potz.  Literally "ornament."  Also "jerk, fool"

Schmuck, schmock. Also "jerk, fool."  The Three Stooges, who incorporated a lot of Yiddish into their act, called each other "schmucks" a lot.

Vyzoso.  Also "idiot."  The son of Haman, the enemy of the Jews in the Biblical book of Esther.



Large/Extra-Large

Schlang, schlong.  From the Persian for "snake."  Donald Trump was being quite vulgar when he claimed that Hillary Clinton was "schlonged" by President Obama.

Schlanger.  An extra big schlang.

Schmohawk.  An extra big schlanger.  They don't get much bigger.

Schtrunkel. The biggest of the big.  Literally "tree trunk."

Schtupper.  From "schtup," to have sex with someone.

Schvantz.  From the Middle High German for "tail."

Yung.  From "young man."

So Yiddish has 4 words for a small penis, 7 for an average size, and 7 for an extra-large?

I like those odds.

The uncensored post, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

The Beverly Hillbillies

The Beverly Hillbillies, one of the 1960s line of hayseed comedies (others included Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle, and The Andy Griffith Show), slogged on from 1962 to 1971, and your parents watched every week, so you couldn't avoid it.  It was amazingly popular with adults: some of the regular episodes -- not even Christmas specials -- became the most watched episodes of all time.

The basic premise: a hillbilly from Bugtussle, Tennessee or Arkansas, Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen), becomes unbelievably rich when oil is discovered on his property, so he moves to a mansion in Beverly Hills, along with his crotchety mother-in-law Granny (Irene Ryan), his daughter Ellie Mae (Donna Douglas), and his dumb-lunk nephew Jethro (Max Baer Jr.).

Though they became marginally assimilated after nine years, they still wore hillbilly clothes, ate possum pie, and referred to their swimming pool as a "cement pond."  Plots usually involved big city types trying to dupe and manipulate them, but their backwoods wisdom, orneriness, or dumb luck win out in the end.

The message: big city life is dehumanizing.  Only in the country can real be real.

Other plots involved Ellie Mae's dating, Jethro's get-rich quick schemes (odd, since he already was rich), and Granny's dislike of all things big city.

There was never much beefcake in hillbilly comedies.  Max Baer Jr., son of the famous boxer Max Baer, had a nice physique, but rarely showed it on camera.  We were supposed to laugh at his dopiness, not sigh over his muscles.

Bonding was also rather uncommon.  Most of the primary relationships were platonically male-female: Jed and Granny, Ellie Mae and Jethro, bank president Mr. Drysdale and his secretary, Miss Hathaway (Nancy Culp, who incidentally was gay in real life.)









But gay-vague was everywhere.

1. Mr. Drysdale's son, Sonny (Louis Nye) is sophisticated, well-educated, and not interested in girls.  His parents keep trying to hook him up with Ellie Mae (so he will eventually inherit the Clampett millions), but he will have none of it.  He and Ellie are just friends.










2. Hollywood star Dash Riprock (Larry Pennell), a parody of Rock Hudson, is handsome, suave, and not interested in girls.  He vaguely courts Ellie Mae, but his heart isn't in it,  regardless of how much his studio pushes them together.


Apparently the producers thought it hilarious to keep having Ellie Mae run into men who were not interested in girls.







3. Jethro had a "twin sister," Jethrine.  She stayed back in the hills, and didn't show up often, but when she did, it was obvious that it was Jethro in drag.  I got the distinct impression that everyone was just playing along, responding to his drag persona as if she was a different person.

See also: Petticoat Junction; Green Acres



Jun 14, 2016

Cain and Abel: The Homoeroticism of the Biblical Brothers

When I was growing up, one of my favorite stories in my Children's Bible was of Cain and Abel.

They are the children of Adam and Eve, the first two brothers in the world.  They both offer food to God, Abel animal meat and Cain fruit.

God, being a carnivore, prefers Abel.  Cain gets jealous, and in a fit of rage, kills his brother.

He is then forced to wander, but he worries that everyone he meets will want to kill him (the world has filled up quickly).  So God gives him "The Mark of Cain" so he will be safe.

Rather thoughtful. I would have gone with life in prison for murder, but...

The story has a number of plot holes and inconsistencies.  But look at those sculpted abs and enormous biceps!

Throughout history, artists who wanted to depict the homoeroticism of two muscular men together, without women around, have drawn on Cain and Abel.  They struggle, strain, press together so tightly that you can almost forget that they're trying to kill each other.

And, in the modern era, you can comment on warfare, bigotry, and homophobic hate crimes.

Abel is the quiet, gentle, gay-coded shepherd.  Cain is depicted as a big bully, a rough-and-tumble farmer.

Adolph Bougereau, The First Mourning (1888), emphasizes Adam and Eve's despair over losing their boy, who is depicted as feminine, almost pre-Raphaelite.












In his 1899 depiction, Danish painter Laszlo Hegedus gives Abel (facing us) a self-righteous sneer, while Cain (the one with the bare backside) has red hair, symbolising anger.














Fellow Danish artist Svend Rathsack (1885-1941), primarily a sculptor, was interested in both male and female nudes.  His Cain (1910) emphasizes the muscles and buttocks of the brothers, as Cain strikes Abel with what looks like an animal bone.











John P. Reilly (1928-2010) was a Catholic artist who drew inspiration from the Byzantine world.  There's no nudity in his Cain (1958), but I thought it was interesting that Abel, the good guy, is tall, thin, and handsome, while Cain is a short, squat, grunting Morlock.  He's also trapped; maybe his genes have already doomed him to be a murderer.






Marc Chagal, the French-Jewish primitivist, gives us a penis in his 1960 version.












The Bible doesn't say how old Cain and Abel were, but most artists make Cain middle-aged and Abel a sallow youth.  Eric de Saussure's 1968 version makes them both boys. Oddly, Cain is dark-skinned and Abel light-skinned.







Maurice Heerdink makes them both teenage in his ultra-realistic, brightly-lit, homoerotic version (2001).



















I have to include this version by Bill Hoope (2001), if only because I want to know where they got the globe, and why they're attacking it with animal bones.


The Public Penises of Vatican City

Vatican City, the holy of holys for a billion Roman Catholics, is a purely spiritual realm, right?

Well, there is a lot of beefcake to be found.















The Vatican Museum has a huge number of nude Greek and Roman masters, like this Apollo.  The penises were "fig leafed" for about 100 years under the jurisdiction of some of the more puritanical Popes, but they're back.















The muscular Laocoon and his hot sons being eaten by a serpent.
















I think this is Cronos, who ate his children.


















Tiring of Greeks and Romans, head for the Sistine Chapel.  Everyone has seen reproductions of the Creation of Adam, but did you know that the chapel is bursting with beefcake?













When you've finished checking out the 800 or so naked men on the walls and ceilings of the Vatican chapels, look for the Swiss Guards, the elite Vatican police corps since the 16th century.  Apparently they are chosen for their hotness.














And the Pellegrini Brothers?

The acrobats always perform shirtless, so you can see their muscles straining and flexing as they adopt their complicated positions.  So why shouldn't they perform shirtless for the Pope?




Jun 13, 2016

Zagor, the Italian Tarzan, Batman, Robin, Phantom, and Cisco Kid

Zagor is a comic book series first published in Italy in 1961, with later versions in the former Yugoslavia, Austria, Greece, Israel, and Turkey.

It is set in early 19th century Pennsylvania, a pristine wilderness where young Patrick Wilding becomes Batman: he sees his parents murdered, and grows up lusting for vengeance.

Or maybe he becomes Robin: he trains with a group of acrobats, like Dick Grayson.











Or maybe he's Tarzan: he moves into the wilderness, where the natives call him the Lord of the Darkwood.  He travels by jumping from tree branches, like Tarzan swinging from vines.  He fights monsters, poachers, desperados, and jungle beasts...um, I mean coniferous forest beasts...like bears, cougars, and alligators.

Or maybe he's the Phantom: "Zagor" is short for the Indian name Za-Gor-Te-Nah, the Ghost with the Hatchet (his preferred weapon).  Like the Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks.

Note that he always wears a red sleveless shirt with a yellow bird emblem.






Or maybe he's the Cisco Kid: he has a bumbling sidekick, Chico, who looks and acts like Pancho from the tv series.

There have been three movie versions in Turkey:

Zagor (1970), starring Cihangir Gaffari (who appeared in American films as John Gaffari and John Foster).

Zagor kara bela (Zagor and the Land of Trouble, 1971) and Zagor kara korsan'in hazineleri (Zagor and the Black Pirate's Treasure, 1971) starring Levent Çakir.

Levent Çakir is rather inadequately muscular, even though he also starred as the Turkish Superman.





There are two English-language translations: Zagor: Terror from the Sea (2015) and Zagor: The Red Sand (2016).




Jun 12, 2016

Orlando

We always remember where we we were, and what we were doing, when we first hear of terrible events, the events that cause the world to become a darker, colder place.

The Assassination of President Kennedy (November 22, 1963)
The Challenger Disaster (January 28, 1986)
The Murder of Matthew Shepard (October 12, 1998)
The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks (September 11, 2001)
The Orlando Nightclub Attacks (June 11, 2016)

6:45 am on the morning of June 12th.  I came into my office in my bathrobe, booted up my laptop, and started working on a blog post.  Suddenly my partner was standing in the doorway.

"Have you seen the news?" he asked.

"No.  Why."

"You lived in Florida -- do you know anyone in Orlando?"

"No.  I lived in Wilton Manors, not Orlando, and I'm not in contact with anyone I knew there except Yuri, who now lives in London, and...why?  What happened in Orlando?"

"Check the news.  Or don't.  Maybe you don't want to know."

So I checked CNN.  Mass murders at a gay nightclub in Orlando.  40 dead.  Then 50.  53 injured.  The biggest shooting mass murder in U.S. history.

Orlando won't be known for the Magic Kingdom anymore.

When I teach criminology, I always tell my students to not be alarmed, the homicide rate in the U.S. is actually decreasing.  Most homicides are the result of arguments going wrong; your killer is very likely to be a friend or intimate partner.  You are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than by a serial killer or mass murderer.

Unless you're queer.  Then they come hunting.  They blame you for everything that goes wrong, from floods to famines to being turned down for a date.  They dream of a world where you don't exist, and they will do anything in their power to help create that world.

They can do quite a lot.  Go to a gay venue, wear a gay pride t shirt, walk hand in hand with your partner, have short hair if you're a woman, sway and swish if you're a man, wear a pink shirt if you're a boy, go out for sports if you're a girl.  You're a target.

So what do we do?  Go back into the closet, drop pronouns, introduce partners as roommates, avoid writing on gay topics, hide?

Or band together and sing, like the MCC "We are fighting for our lives"?

At least times have changed a little.  When the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans was firebombed on June 24, 1973, 32 gay people were killed, and 15 injured.  The press refused to cover the story, except for a few articles that condemned the victims or made fun of them.

The Orlando tragedy has gotten news coverage.

Presumably Pat Robertson will issue a statement blaming the victims for their own murders, but most politicians and religious leaders have not -- yet.  Except for the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patric who posted a celebratory Bible verse on his Facebook page before an aide convinced him to take it down.

Mark Rubio put in a call for blood donations.  Paradoxically, gay men are forbidden from donating blood.

Upon discovering that the killer was Muslim, Donald Trump used the opportunity to reiterate his policy of banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.  He doesn't say what he wants to do with Muslim citizens, 1% of the population.

I hope this tragedy doesn't push him to victory in the upcoming election.  I keep having weird premonitions that this is 1933 Germany all over again.



L

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