Feb 7, 2013

Fall 1978: My First Gay Novel: Neveryon

During my freshman year at Augustana, shortly after the summer of Grease, I was looking for anything written about gay people.  Readmore Bookworld had nothing, and the "h" section of the card catalog of the Augustana College Library listed only Nothing Like the Sun, by Anthony Burgess, which had no gay characters in it.  Carefully-worded inquiries to my sophisticated, artistic friend Aaron, who took me to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (he was gay, but didn't know it yet) revealed that there had been only four gay writers in the history of the world: Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams -- and Samuel R. Delany.

Today Delany is a veritable queer theorist, churning out solemn, artsy tomes on race, sexuality, identity, and male prostitution that delight the deconstructionists. But in 1979 you had to wade through dense, turgid prose in Triton, Dhalgren, Babel-17, and The Einstein Intersection to find glimmers of characters who were multisexual, multigendered, and incorrigibly decadent.  Where were the gay people?

Apparently Dhalgren has been made into an experimental play.  I have no idea what it's about.

I didn't hold out much hope for the Neveryon series (1975-79).  First, there was a lady hanging around the mighty-thewed barbarian hero, as if he was a Conan the Barbarian clone.  Second, there were quotations from Lacan, Foucault and Derrida.

But it turned out to be a gay love story.

 Gorjik, a “great muscled, affable, quiet giant of a youth,” rises from slavery to a position of power, and then goes out to acquire some slaves of his own.  He buys Small Sarg, a barbarian prince (which means he’s dirty and smells bad), takes him home, and  indicates that they are to have sex. Small Sarg responds “that’s silly. . .that is what boys do,” but he agrees to “do it” anyway, as long as he can remove his slave collar first.  Gorgik happily obliges, since he is into S&M, and wants to wear the slave collar himself.  After their first encounter, they both pretend to be asleep while thinking of coy ways to cuddle: Delany is good at describing sex, but affection between men makes him queasy.

Later in the book, they become professional abolitionists, invading crumbling, decadent castles to liberate slaves. Sometimes Gorgik is captured and tortured, but he rather enjoys it.  They take turns wearing the slave collar and refer to each other intermittently as “master.”  When questioned about this odd arrangement, Gorgik responds: “We are lovers. . .and for one of us the symbolic distinction between slave and master is necessary for desire’s consummation.”

One wishes that, at least by the end of the series, they would settle down to a nice egalitarian partnership, but after a lifetime of subtle hints and heterosexist "fade out kisses," Gorgik and Small Sarg came to me as a Copernican revolution.

Here, for the first time ever on a printed page, I read of men who loved each other, and who were lovers.  The image of Small Sarg beneath Gorgik’s massive arm, staving off sleep, lying perfectly still so Gorgik wouldn’t shift position, remained with me forever.

See also: Michael Moorcock.

Feb 6, 2013

Scott Valentine

Scott Valentine had a lot of bad luck. Born in 1958, he arrived in Hollywood in 1979 with the look, charm, and talent to become a teen idol, like Peter Barton, Jimmy McNichol, or even Rob Lowe.  He was hired to star in the gay-subtext classic Lords of Discipline (1981), when a serious auto accident kept him from acting for three years.

He became a household name in 1985, as the teenage Mallory's boyfriend Nick on Family Ties.  They tried to make the character into a dimwit to minimize the appeal of his muscles -- though he was allowed to wear sleeveless shirts to give audiences at least a glimpse of his biceps -- but he quickly transcended the material, becoming one of the most well-developed and interesting characters on the program.  He stayed on until 1989.

Nick became so popular that he spun off onto his own show, The Art of Being Nick (1986) which just aired once before being cancelled.

While on Family Ties, Scott parlayed his fame into some movie projects, but they didn't do well at the box office -- though My Demon Lover (1987) had a good nude scene, if you don't mind the fact that he's covered in paint.

He also posed in Playgirl. 

Afterwards Scott worked constantly, trying his best to shine in minor roles, often as nice guys who turn out to be evil or who are faced with inexplicable evil that disrupts their small town.

He didn't get a starring role again until 2001, when he played Detective Steve Rafferty, partner and eventual boyfriend of Detective Darcy Walker (Michelle Lintel), who is really the superhero Black Scorpion.  It folded after only 22 episodes.

But wherever Scott lands, his roles are guaranteed to be memorable.

Bugs and Daffy: the Gay Warner Brothers

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I didn't realize that the Warner Brothers cartoons that I was watching on Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat were actually produced for theatrical release 30 years before.  But I did notice some substantial differences between them and the Hanna Barbara cartoons that I saw on Saturday mornings, not to mention the Warner Brothers comic books.

There were no same-sex partners like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, no stable backstories or situations at all. Bugs Bunny might become the antagonist of Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, or Daffy Duck.  Porky Pig may be paired with Bugs, Daffy, or Sylvester (who could talk or not).

The ambiguity in personalities and relationships led away from homodomestic partnerships to more overt gay subtexts.  Pepe LePew tries to romance a male cat in "For Scent-imental Reasons (1949).  Porky Pig and Daffy Duck share a hotel room in "Pig’s Feat" (1943) When they prepare to leave, they are presented with a bill which includes a service charge for removing “love spots."

Much has been made of Warner Brothers’ characters’ forays into drag.  Sam Abel, for instance, believed that the drag routines of Bugs Bunny and others were "ways of addressing problems of masculine domination" and question gender roles.  But Bugs often kisses a male antagonist full on the lips while they are both men, conventionally dressed.  And he is not alone in the practice:In “The Hair Brained Hypnotist,” Elmer is hypnotized into thinking he is a rabbit, and he kisses Bugs three times.  In “Tortoise Beats Hair,” an early Bugs is kissed by five tortoises simultaneously. We must answer two questions about this practice: what is its purpose in the plot, and why is it funny.

At first glimpse, it seems that the kiss is a form of humiliation: Bugs may kiss Elmer after dropping his pants or turning his gun inside out.  But on other occasions, it seems to be an annoyance. No live-action underdogs engage in this practice.

And in other instances one can't find any rational explanation.  When Bugs wins an Academy Award, he kisses his Oscar statue and says he'll take it to bed with him.  The Oscar says “Do you mean it?” and sashays, pansy-style, while Bugs stares, stunned either by the spectacle of a talking statue or by the same-sex proposition.

Many of the throwaway jokes involve gay sexual innuendo.  A dog pretends that a female-cat hand puppet is a real cat, and while a male cat is making out with the puppet, he reaches down and squeezes the dog’s bulbous nose, in the place where the crotch would be.  “Something new has been added!” he exclaims, a la Jerry Colonna.

In “The Big Snooze,” Elmer decides to tear up his contract and quit the cartoon business. Bug enters Elmer’s dream, strips him naked, ties him to a railroad track, and then puts him in drag.  A group of zoot-suited wolves chase him off a cliff.  He awakens and decides to not quit after all, whereupon Bugs exclaims, a la Beulah, “I love dat man!”

In “Duck Soup to Nuts,” Daffy peers into Porky’s gun and sees a pinup girl.  When Porky looks, he sees Daffy.

Later Daffy puts Porky in drag and turns into a lecherous wolf to chase him.  Then he begs Porky not to shoot him because he has a wife and kids, whom he kisses. But they turn out to be his buddies.

Thee jokes and innuendos suggest an awareness of same-sex potential and even an openness that one doesn't see in the live-action vehicles of the 1940s, and is rare in cartoons today.

Round the Twist: 3 Kids and Some Ghosts

Of all the Australian kids' shows I saw on the Disney Channel during the 1990s -- Spellbinder, Skytrackers, Ocean Girl -- Round the Twist was the least gay-friendly.  It was about the twins Linda and Pete Twist, and their younger brother Bronson, who live in a lighthouse and have paranormal adventures.  The title means "over the edge," "around the bend":

Have you ever felt like this, when strange things happen,
Are you going round the twist?

There have been four seasons, stretching from 1989 to the present. Pete has been played by Sam Vandenberg, Ben Thomas (left), and Rian McLean, and Bronson by Rodney McLenan, Jeffrey Walker, and Matthew Waters.

As we see often in paranormal series, there is a substantial heterosexist content.  All of the characters except Bronson have heterosexual romances, and the plot arcs of each series often involve true love.
Season 1: The kids' dad falls in love with a woman and gets engaged.
Season 2: The ghost of a former lighthouse keeper failed to save a ship carrying his girlfriend.
Season 3: Whoever reads a poem out of Linda's book falls in love (heterosexual love only).
Season 4: A girl from another dimension tries to get Pete to marry her.

Pete, especially when played by Ben Thomas, gets lots of underwear, swimsuit, and semi-nude shots, and there are a few glimmers of gay subtext:

1. The bully-antagonist Richard Gribble has a love-hate relationship with Pete.
2. His friend Tiger may be hanging out with him because he likes him.
3. Some of the ghosts are gay-vague.

Are teens today willing to overlook the constant "boy girl boy girl" chant in search of teenage beefcake and a few moments of potential buddy-bonding?

Feb 4, 2013

Fall 1977: Muscleboys in French Class: the Signe de Piste

During my senior year in high school, I thought myself too mature for the boys' adventure books in the Green Library, so I asked my French teacher for something about "adventure" with "no girls in it."  She reached onto her bookshelf and gave me one of those pulpy French paperbacks: Guy de Larigaudie, Yug.  A boy living in prehistoric times who domesticates animals, discovers fire, and travels to distant lands.  And is drawn as a semi-nude preteen, his body hard and golden and glowing in the bright light of prehistory

Ok, that wasn't quite what I was looking for.  Two boys together, and a little older?

Les tambours de l'ete (Summer of the Drums), by Theodore V. Olsen. Michigan Territory, 1832, settlers and Indians each mistrust each other.  Only two teenage boys Kevin and the Indian To-Mah, can help them reconcile.

Both are drawn as slim, golden muscle gods in loincloths or altogether nude, clinging together in an idealized Old West.

Ok, but I didn't care for Westerns.  Something a tad more contemporary?

Mon Ami Carlo (My Friend Carlo), by Gine Victor.  A new boy arrives at a dull boarding school in Italy. A thin boy with a pale face, ebony hair, and eyes like stars.  Milo instantly fell in love with him.  They bedded down for the night in their underwear, their smooth hard chests glowing in the moonlight.

Now I had to ask: what was this publisher who specialized in teenagers in love, and who was this illustrator who created endless pages of muscle gods?

The publisher: Signe de Piste, a collection of boys' adventure novels published between 1937 and the 1990s, most with gay subtexts.

The illustrator: Pierre Joubert (1910-2002), who illustrated many scouting publications as well as many of the Signe de Piste series.  He  specialized in idealized semi-nude boys, preteens or teenagers, muscular, blonde when he could get away with it, enjoying the pleasures of "comradeship."

With Signe de Piste, the Green Library, Alix and Enak, Tintin, Corentin, and Spirou, how could gay boys growing up in France ever feel alone?

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