Mar 10, 2017

The Real Gay Characters of "The Real O'Neals"

What happens when a "perfect" Irish Catholic family finds out that they're not perfect after all?
Mom and Dad are divorcing.
Oldest son has an eating disorder.
Daughter has some kind of psychological issue.
Youngest son is gay.

Got it, being gay is inferior, a "problem" like having an eating disorder or a psychological issues.  Can't be a "perfect" family with a gay kid.

With that intensely homophobic beginning, I gave the first season of The Real O'Neils a miss.  But it keeps getting praised by the Trevor Project, so I watched a couple of episodes.

Former teen idol Jay R. Ferguson plays the hapless dad.

Matt Shively, last seen on the Disney Channel, plays the dimwitted older brother.

His problem, and his sister's problem, are not mentioned.  The plotlines are about the parents living together and dating other people while divorced, and about the gay son.

His first gay coffee house.
Starting a gay club at school.
Hosting a Halloween party.
Joining a gym.

The flamboyant stereotype son is played by Noah Galvin.

Not too great.  Here's why his crush (Sean Grandillo) didn't come out:

"Do you like avocados?"
"Why didn't you tell me you like avocados?"

Liking dudes is not nearly the same thing as liking avocados.

People don't want to kill you because you like avocados.
Parents don't kick you out of the house because you like avocados.
You don't have to worry every moment if you will become the victim of a hate crime for liking avocados.

Here's a pic of Sean Grandillo.

But there haven't been that many cringe-inducing moments, and I like the lengths the conservative parents go through to try to welcome their son.

And there's substantial beefcake.  Matt Shively and  Noah Crawford (left) aren't averse to shirtless shots.

Neither is Chris Pipkin as one of his classmates.

Plus I've noticed an occasional bulge that no one remembered to censor.

See also: The Real Bulges of the Real O'Neals.

Skeezix of Gasoline Alley: 1930s Gay Icon

When I was a kid in the 1960s, Dad would call me Skeezix when I misbehaved:
"Put down that comic book and clean your room, Skeezix!"

Particularly when my misbehaving had some connection to same-sex desire, like when Bill and I became a "mama and a papa", when I was disappointed at the lack of muscles at A Little Bit O'Heaven., or when I asked for a statue of a naked man for Christmas.

He never used that name on my brother or sister, just me.  I had no idea why.

One day I stumbled upon a book in my Aunt Nora's attic, starring a boy named Skeezix.  Turns out that he was from the long-running comic strip Gasoline Alley (1918-).  Originally about four buddies who hung around in an alley to talk about cars, it took a domestic turn on February 14, 1921, when Walt Wallet found a baby on his doorstep, and named him Skeezix.

The strips were now about a single dad raising a small child -- who aged in real time.

By the late 1930s, when my father was a kid, Skeezix was a teenager, and the undeniable star of the comic strip.  He sold toys, clothes, shoes, ice cream, coloring books, pin-backs, sheet music, and a full line of big little books.

He starred in three radio series and two movies (played by Jimmy Lyndon of Tom Brown's School Days fame, with the bisexual Scotty Beckett as his brother Corky).

The strip was not known for beefcake -- Walt was rather pudgy -- but Skeezix got some shirtless and underwear shots, and displayed a nice physique.

And he had a buddy to bond with, Spud, who accompanied him on the adventures Skeezix in Africa (1934) and Skeezix at the Military Academy (1938).

So my father connected my homoerotic hijinks to the  shirtless, buddy-bonding, arguably gay Skeezix of his childhood.

The gay symbolism didn't last.  Skeezix got a girlfriend, Nina Clock (pronounced Nine-a).

He graduated from high school, served in World War II, and returned to run the gas station.  He married Nina, and had two kids: Chipper and Clovia.

Clovia grew up, managed the gas station after Skeezix retired, and married Slim Skinner.  They had two kids: Gretchen and Rover (born in 1978).

Rover grew up, graduated from high school, and married Hoogy Boogle.  They had a son, Boog, in 2004.

And so on and so on.  In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the six-generations of the Wallet family to date who isn't involved in a hetero-romance.  There are no confirmed bachelor uncles or maiden aunts anywhere to provide queer subtexts (except for the outsider characters Rufus and Joel).  Gasoline Alley remains a holdout from the time when gay people were assumed not to exist.

Yet for kids growing up in the 1930s, there was Skeezix.

See also: Was My Grandfather Gay?

Mar 9, 2017

Cary Grant: Hints and Closets in the 1930s

On November 29, 1986, Cary Grant died in Davenport, Iowa, right across the river from my home town of Rock Island.  I was living in West Hollywood at the time, but still, it felt weird to know that a film legend had died right next door.

Cary Grant had a brilliant career, usually playing suave, sophisticated types driven mad by a free spirit or a series of catastrophes.  Must-sees include Topper (1936), Suspicion (1941) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), To Catch a Thief (1955), North by Northwest (1959) by Hitchcock again,and  That Touch of Mink (1962) with Doris Day.  Many of his movies have gay subtexts.

In Bringing Up Baby (1938), his character answers the door in a frilly women's nightgown (because a woman stole his clothes), and declares "I just went gay all of a sudden."  He continues: "I am sitting in the middle of Time Square, waiting for a bus."  This is one of the first uses of "gay" in its modern sense, augmented by the reference to cruising.  It's an ad-lib, not in the shooting script. How would he know it?

The perennial question is, was he gay?

The facts of the matter are:

1. He met Randolph Scott in 1932, and the two lived together, on and off, for the next ten years ("to save on expenses," heterosexist biographers claim) and remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

2. But neither have been associated with any gay stars, or with the gay subcultures of Hollywood in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s.

3. Friends and acquaintances noted that he was often seen in the company of young men.

4. He was married five times. His first two wives "accused" him of being gay, his last three denied the rumors, stating that they had sex a lot.

5. He sued Chevy Chase for suggesting that he was gay.

6. His daughter stated that he liked the rumors, because they motivated women to "cure him" through sex.

7. His last movie, Walk, Don't Run (1966), is obviously about a gay romance.

8. He never acknowledged his gay fans.

9. My friend Randall claims that he had a three-way with Cary Grant and Groucho Marx in 1958.  The story is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Answer: there's a ton of evidence for both gay and heterosexual identity.  Most likely he was bisexual and highly closeted.

Mar 8, 2017

Let's Get Physical

I heard Olivia Newton-John a lot during the 1970s. Her easy-listening, feelings-drenched songs appealed mostly to girls. "If Not for You" (1971) and  "I Honestly Love You" (1974) didn't specify pronouns, and  "Have You Never Been Mellow?" (1974) wasn't about romance at all, but I still wasn't a fan.

But after the success of Grease (1977), Olivia's music became as sexually liberated as her character.  Her next big hits included: "Totally Hot" (1979), "Physical" (1981), "Make a Move on Me" (1981), and "Heart Attack" (1982). Again, no pronouns, and this time desire was added to the cuddliness.

 One of ten or twelve songs with gay subtexts from the early 1980s, "Physical" (1981), has about the same theme as "You're The One that I Want," and for that matter, "Show Me" from My Fair Lady (1964): we've done the dinner and movie thing, we've talked about our feelings.  I've got nothing left to say except "Let's get horizontal."

The music video responds directly to gay fans.  Olivia plays a personal trainer whipping men into shape, leering at various disembodied, muscular pecs and arms, and semi-nude men in jockstraps.

She gives extra attention to an out-of-shape specimen, until he gets stronger, younger, and more handsome.  And seems to change his race.  But to her consternation, he goes off with a man, one of the first explicit evocations of same-sex desire in popular music.

Kenny recreated the iconic song on a 2017 episode of The Real O'Neals.

"Make a Move on Me" (1981) makes a similar plea to stop talking: "Spare me your charms and take me in your arms."  (You couldn't carry on a conversation anyway, with disco music blasting).

Not that the romance was absent.  The movie Xanadu (1980) was about the Greek goddess of. . .um, roller disco. . .helping a nebbish  (Michael Beck, left) open a nightclub.

But the song "Xanadu" is about leaving the straight world behind, running away to West Hollywood.

 A place where nobody dared to go
The love that we came to know
They call it Xanadu

See also: Madonna, Gay Diva of the 1980s

Mar 7, 2017

Ryan Cooley: Queer as Folk

Born in 1988, Canadian actor Ryan Cooley has appeared in several gay- and lesbian-subtext programs, such as I was a Sixth Grade Alien (1999-2001), as the alien, with future bodybuilder Daniel Clark as his human buddy, and the Disney Channel's Color of Friendship (2000), about a white South African girl and her black American friend.

Also four tv programs with gay characters:

1. The sci-fi series Lexx (1997-2002), about intergalactic explorers, including the bisexual cluster lizard Zev/Xev (Eva Habermann, Xenia Seaberg).  He played the psychopathic schoolboy Digby in a three-episode story arc.

2. The gay-themed Queer as Folk (2000-2005): Hank, son of Dr. David Cameron (Chris Potter).

3. Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-2007): Class clown J.T. Yorke, who likes girls, sells drugs, and is murdered.  Several gay characters.

3. Lost Girl (2010-), about a succubus (girl who draws energy from her sex partners) trying to live a normal life.  Several lesbian and bisexual characters.

Actually, almost all of Ryan's on-screen appearances have had gay texts or subtexts.  As well as frequent shirtless shots.   But he's never played a gay character himself. Wonder why.

Well, let's see who he follows on twitter: Jerry Seinfeld, Tiger Woods, Dick Van Dyke, Chuck Norris, Don Rickles, Charlie Sheen, Jim Carey, and Ryan Seacrest.  No supermodels in the bunch, but not a lot of beefcake models, either.

I'd have to judge this one as inconclusive.

Western Wind: How We Learned that Literature Was About Heterosexuals

August 28th, 1978, the first day of my freshman year at Augustana College.  I was 17 years old, newly out.   I didn't know any gay people, but I hoped that would change.  Surely at a big, modern college, there would be a mention of gay people somewhere, in class, on the quad, in a student group.

My first class was Introduction to Literature, at 9:00 am: 30 students, almost all freshmen.  The professor, an elderly white-haired woman, passed out the syllabus and told us about the textbook: Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry, by John Frederick Nims.   It was first published in 1974, and had become the go-to book for college English instructors.

Then she read the first poem, "Western Wind," anonymous, from the Middle Ages:

Western wind, where wilt thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ!  If my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.

"The first two lines are easy to understand -- it's raining and windy.  The western wind always brings rain.  What about the last two?"

"The guy wants to get laid!"  a jock exclaimed.

The class erupted into laughter, but the professor said "That's exactly right.  This is a poem about a man missing his lady, and all of the pleasures she offers."

The first moment of my first class of my first day in college was about heterosexual sex!

And it didn't end there.  Poems about heterosexual sex, heterosexual romance, boys gazing at girls, girls gazing at boys.

The sole purpose of literature was to express heterosexual longing, with not a single moment of same-sex intimacy, or a single acknowledgement of the possibility of same-sex desire.

It's been nearly 40 years since that long-ago class.  John Frederick Nims died in 1999.  But Western Wind, now in the fifth edition, is still the go-to book for the ubiquitous Introduction to Literature class.

But surely in modern editions there's an acknowledgement of same-sex desire, some masculine beauty, some references to gay people?

I checked.  A lot of William Carlos Williams, E.E. Cummings, Robert Frost, and Ezra Pound. The horrifyingly incomprehensible "Emperor of Ice Cream" and "Our Bog is Dood."

A few poems by gay authors, but none that mention same-sex desire or relationships.  Sappho's is entitled "There's a Man":

There's a man I really believe is in heaven ---over there, that man. 
To be sitting near you,
knee to knee so close to you, hear your voice, your cozy low laughter,
close to you - enough in the very thought to put my heart at once in palpitation.

They found the one Sappho poem that wasn't about lesbian desire.

A sample of titles:
"Loose Women"
"Blue Girls"
"Upon Julia's Clothes"
"To Helen"
"To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train"
"A Poem for Emily"
"A Woman"

Heterosexual desire abounding.

John Frederick Nims, by the way, wrote about:

Woman mostly, as winter moonlight sees,
Impetuous midnight, and the dune’s dark trees.

The cover photo, with a half-naked man (the titular wind), might provide a bit of beefcake.  But he's carrying a bare-breasted woman in his arms.

And it's actually part of Boticelli's Birth of Venus (1484-86), the famous painting of the emblem of hetero-romance rising from a clamshell:

Introduction to Literature classes are still entirely heterosexist.

Maybe I'd have better luck with the Eastern Wind.

Mar 6, 2017

Bullfighter Beefcake

Bullfighting, known in Spanish as corrida de toros, or "running of the bulls" is a spectacle of man against animal, or rather male against male, since both the toreros and the bull evoke powerful masculine energy.

It dates back to ancient Roman times, when devotees of the god Mithras sacrificed bulls, but the modern bullfight, with the torero on foot, dates only to the 18th century.    It is popular in Spain, southern France, and the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America.

Juan Belmonte (1892-1962) is credited with developing the popular bullfighting technique where you stand nearly motionless and invite the bull to approach, moving out of the way at the last moment.

The bullfight is a highly stylized ritual, with three parts and multiple players, including picadores, banderilleros,  and various assistants, but the star is the matador.

The chief torero, the matador, wears a traije de luces based on the flamboyantly feminine costume of the 19th century dandy: glittering sequins, gold thread, tassles, and ultra-tight tights that place his sex organs in obvious full view (most too explicit to show here).  What Ernest Hemingway, in his classic Death in the Afternoon, called a "male figure complicated by femaleness."

The bull's sex organs are in full view, too.  Its penis when erect is 2-3 feet long.  And it's often erect as it charges the matador, making you think that it intends a sexual assault.

Thus the spectacle becomes a ritual triumph of civilization over savagery, artifice over nature, complicated by gay symbolism.

Although toreros live in an ultra-masculine world, surrounded by other men, most aren't "really" gay.

But the spectacle has more than a few gay fans.  A number of toreros have posed for gay magazines, and in 2009 a European company struck a deal with matador Joselito Ortega to advertise an energy drink called Gay Up on his cape.

Purists were outraged -- not because of the gay ad, because he was lowering himself to product placement.

There are bullfighter bulges on Tales of West Hollywood.

Also check out the anti-bullfighting protests, including the Running of the Nudes in Pamplona.

Mar 5, 2017

A Gaggle of Josephs

It's theater season again, and that means beefcake.  Dozens of high school and college theater departments will be finding the most buffed megahunk who can carry a tune and casting him in Joseph in the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, knowing that he will spend most of the play out of the dreamcoat.

I saw a high school version the other night.  Joseph kept his shirt on, but the guards were rather buffed (see: The Best Date in the History of the Plains).

Here are the top 10 Josephs, rated by their chests rather than their acting ability.

1. Casey Daniel of the Valley Youth Theater shows some nice abs.

2. Lee Mead, who starred in the 2007 West End revival, has a face that draws attention from his pecs.

3. Michael Cicirelli of the Chelsea Youth Theater in Connecticut gets points for agreeing to appear shirtless.

4.  Ben Thacker of Anoka High School gets points for showing his navel.

5. Anthony Fedorov, former member of the boy band 7th Heaven, has pecs and abs to spare.

More after the break.


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