Jul 6, 2013

Plus-Sized Boys in 1980s Movies

In the 1960s and 1970s, gay preteens who liked their boys plus-sized found slim pickings in movies and on tv, where skinny waifs ruled.  The most they could hope for was an occasional bully or obnoxious glutton, like Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).

By the 1980s, the husky or fat kid became a standard movie sidekick.  Paradoxically, he was apparently inserted into the plot to decrease the erotic potential of the buddy-bond, using the rubric that fat is by definition unattractive.  In The Goonies (1985), Jeff Cohen as "Chunk" participated in the adventure along with the others, and even managed to save the day.  But not before he took off his shirt to do the "truffle shuffle" belly dance.

Jerry O'Connell (center) even got a nude shot with his buddies in Stand by Me (1986), but again, his size apparently precluded any homoromantic imaginings between him and River Phoenix (left), Corey Feldman (right), or Wil Wheaton (not shown).

Paranormal investigator Brent Chalem was Andre Gower's buddy in Monster Squad (1987), but they didn't express much romantic interest.  Instead, gay kids shipped Andre and Robby Kiger.

We see the same exclusion in Adam Sadowsky as Jason Bateman's scheming best friend on It's Your Move (1985-86): friendship, but not much of a gay subtext. Peter Costa played a silent, timid, beset-upon white kid who hung out with Rudy on The Cosby Show (1985-89), but he was more of a sight gag than a friend. Besides, Rudy was a girl.

None of these actors spent much time in front of the camera as teenagers or adults, except for Jerry O'Connell, who muscled up.  Maybe being a former child star is especially traumatic when you are plus-sized.

Jul 5, 2013

Southern Baptist Sissies: Gays vs. God, Yet Again

Sordid Lives (1999) became  #2 on my list of 10 Gay Movies I Hated  because of its dreary insistence that gay life in Texas today is stuck in a pre-Stonewall dark Age, with a drag queen undergoing de-homosexualization therapy in a mental hospital and a gay guy who had to go 3000 miles and undergo 300 years of therapy to be "who he is."  (He never heard of the thriving gay communities in Dallas, Houston, and Austin?)

In December 2000, back in West Hollywood for a Christmas visit, my friends took me to a new play, Southern Baptist Sissies, written by Del Shores, the perpetrator of Sordid Lives.  I liked it a little better, mainly because the Southern Baptist homophobia resonated with my childhood church.  Although ours was much worse.  How about heterosexuals going to hell for not kicking their gay kids out of the house?  Or for suggesting that there might be worse sins than being gay?

But I had a problem with the gays-vs.-God message.

A teenage in the Calvary Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, Mark  isn't sure whether he wants to accept Jesus Christ as His Personal Saviour or not, but his Mom promises that if he does, he can have his buddy TJ for a sleepover.  So he does, and homoromance results.

Mark doubts the church's homophobia, and several other teachings (such as his favorite teacher, who is Jewish, is destined for eternal damnation).  He finally abandons religion. He drives 3000 miles and undergoes 300 years of therapy to be "who he is" (Del Shores).

Emerson Collins (left), who played Max in Sordid Lives: The Series, will play Mark in the 2013 movie version.

TJ goes into the closet, gets married, and hates gay people.  He  does everything he can to promote homophobia in the church.

 Luke Stratte-McClure (right), who also played a Southern gay boy in Del Shores' Yellow, will play TJ.

We hear from two other gay boys: Benny, who is flamboyantly feminine, also abandons religion.  He grows up to become a drag queen performer.

He'll be played by William Belli (left, with Jerry O'Connell), who has played drag queens so often that he rated an appearance as The Professor on RuPaul's Drag University/

Andrew (Matthew Scott Montgomery, above, in Yellow) can't bring himself to accept a life without faith, so he commits suicide.

That's your choice, folks: like religion and hate gays, or like gays and hate religion.

Why can't you be gay and religious at the same time?

If your Baptist roots were homophobic, stop whining and join a gay church, like the MCC or the Reconciling Pentecostals International.  Dallas has a MCC plus The Cathedral of Hope, with over 500 members.

Or join a gay-positive mainline church, like the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, or Disciples of Christ.  Dallas has over 50 gay-affirming churches, including two Baptist.

Or join a pro-gay religion, like Buddhism, Judaism, or Wicca.

Jul 4, 2013

Uncle Tom Award #3: High School Musical

Time for another Uncle Tom Award, given to the actor, director, or producer who most effectively promotes heterosexism.  Award #2 goes to Kenny Ortega and Lucas Grabeel of High School Musical.

The Disney franchise (2006, 2007, 2008) was a parody of 1980s teen comedies, a boy-girl hetero-romance, and a paeon to "being who you are," as high schoolers Troy (Zac Efron, left), Chad (Corbin Bleu, below), and their teammates are torn between the machismo of sports and gender-transgressive singing and dancing in the Drama Club.

Lucas Grabeel played Ryan Evans, stylish, feminine, gay-coded brother of the quasi-villain Sharpay (Ashley Tinsdale).  Many fans point to the song "I Don't Dance," in which he tries to convince the Chad to perform in the upcoming talent show, as gay-subtext classic, loaded with innuendo and homoerotic energy.  Here's a clip.

 In the stage version, he's gay.

But not in the movie.  He couldn't be.  Director Kenny Ortega explains: "None of the kids can be gay, because they're too young to have sex."

So parents festoon their boy babies with bibs reading "Chick magnet."  Kindergarten boys and girls exchange valentines, and everyone says "Oh, how cute!"  But being gay is not about desire or romance, it's about sex, so if you aren't sexually active, you're not gay.

That's pretty disgusting.

 Attuned to the many "Ryan is gay" rumors, the writers gave him a girlfriend in the last installment.

Lucas Grabeel has been the subject of some gay rumors of his own, especially after he played Danny Nicoletta, the photographer friend of Harvey Milk who struggled to keep his memory alive, in Milk (2008).  He responded to them with an offensive statement on his website.  He really, really, really doesn't want you thinking he's gay:

"As an actor, you play roles. I'm NOT Ryan Evans. I'm NOT Kelly Kuzio from Veronica Mars, I'm NOT Lex Luthor [from Smallville]... I'm Lucas. But when I go to WORK,  I assume the character of whom I'm playing.. In the movie Milk, I PLAY gay.  That doesn't mean that I am gay. Sean Penn, one of the greatest actors of our generation, is playing Harvey Milk, a gay character... but he is married to Robin Wright-Penn. Most people in this movie are straight men playing gay men.... Emile Hersch, James Franco, and Diego Luna are just a few...."

Wow, quite a list.  Is there anybody in the world, who is really, actually gay, Lucas?  Or are gay people mythical creatures, like unicorns?

Why did you even agree to play a gay character?

Jul 3, 2013

The Dandy and the Gay Cult: The Last Days of Pompeii

When I was a kid, my church didn't like anything "worldly," not even literature.  Novels were at best a waste of time, and more likely they would promote heresies like atheism, Catholicism, and witchcraft.

But they made an exception for historical dramas set in or around the time of Christ: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis, The Robe, The Big Fisherman,  Barabbas, and even Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii (1834).

Later I discovered that Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) was gay, and a member of the Dandy movement, about well-sensitive, highly refined gentlemen who obsessed over fashion and grooming, swooned over opera arias, enjoyed hedonistic vices, and wrote poetry.  During last days of the Romantic Era (1770-1830) and the first days of the Victorian, "dandy" was code for "gay."

Most of the Dandys weren't great writers; in fact, Bulwer-Lytton gave his name to a contest every year to see who can write the worst opening for a novel.  I only got through a few pages of the purple-prosed Last Days of Pompeii. But apparently, if you slog through the romance between Roman citizen Glaucus and the "beautiful" Ione, you'll meet the evil Egyptian sorcerer Arbaces, who seduces and "destroys" Ione's brother Apaecides -- he sings a song of "love" and then leads him to "a curtain on the other side of the chamber."

Now Apaecides is a priest for the evil cult of Isis, which engages in all sorts of decadent activities.  Not to worry, he renounces Isis and converts to Christianity before Arbaces murders him.

At least the destruction of Pompeii is not caused by God's wrath against the sodomites.

There have been several film versions, mostly skipping the gay subplot.  In the 1959 peplum version, Glaucus (bodybuilder Steve Reeves) gets a gay subtext with his best friend Marcus (Mario Berriatua), but the character of Apaecides, renamed Antonius (Angel Aranda, left, from a Spanish movie) is insignificant.

In the 1984 tv miniseries, Nicholas Clay (left) plays Glaucus, Ernest Borgnine Marcus, and Benedict Taylor Antonius, in a minor plotline that gets him a girlfriend.  There's also a new hunk, the gladiator Lydon (Duncan Regehr, top photo, posing with phallic symbol).

See also: The Flowers of Evil

Jul 2, 2013

Sterling Beaumon: Not All Bad

After the gay subtext-filled How to Eat Fried Worms (2006), Luke Benward and Adam Hicks starred in the Disney Channel's Mostly Ghostly (2008), which was unremittingly heterosexist.

Max (Sterling Beaumon) is a "normal" 11-year old, crushing on a girl and being bullied by his older brother (Adam Hicks). So much for the myth of childhood innocence.  He meets two ghosts, Nicky (Luke Benward) and his sister Tara, who has a crush on him.  When the evil ghost Phears captures Tara, Max and Nicky must work together to save her.  But there's a problem -- Max's magic show is coming up, with the girl he loves as his assistant.  And so on.  Couldn't find a gay subtext.

Sterling Beamon was no stranger to heterosexist plotlines.  He had a recurring role on Lost (2007-2009), as the young Ben, who would grow up to become the leader of the evil Others.  The eight-year old Ben arrives on the Island, and immediately falls in love with a mysterious girl named Annie, who will haunt his dreams for the rest of his life.  

The miniseries Clue (2011), loosely based on the board game, was about teenage crime investigators, including Seamus (Sterling), Lucas (Zach Mills), and Dmitri (Stephan James), all of whom crush on girls. I never saw it, but it doesn't sound promising.

Even the short-lived Red Widow (2013), in which he plays the son of widowed mobster Marta: she walks in on him and his girlfriend having sex.

Plus some serial killers and teenage drug runners.

On the other hand, he's posed in the gay-themed Bello magazine, and he's best buds with Kiril Kulish, who starred in the gay-positive Billy Elliot: The Musical (top photo) and Cameron Palatas (top photo and left, with David Henrie), who starred in the gay-positive Bag of Hammers (2011), so he can't be all bad.  

Jul 1, 2013

Little Big Man: Draft-Dodging, Gay Indians, and Physique Poses

We're so used to seeing Dustin Hoffman as a highly respected dramatic actor that it's easy to forget something:  when he was just starting out, in The Graduate (1967), Madigan's Millions (1968), John and Mary (1969), and Alfredo Alfredo (1972), his physique sold as many tickets as his performance.

Little Big Man (1970) consists of the picaresque adventures of 121-year old Jack Crabb (Dustin) beginning in 1849, when as a 10-year old he is captured by the Cheyenne Indians. He grows up with the Cheyenne, but returns to white society to save himself during an Indian massacre.

He becomes a snake-oil salesman, gunfighter, and shopkeeper, and joins General Custer's 7th Calvary, but returns to the Cheyenne in disgust after another massacre.  Several years later, when he is married with children, a third massacre prompts him to return to General Custer and orchestrate his defeat and death at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

The most surprising thing about this movie is Dustin Hoffman's body. His tight, muscular frame was on display throughout his Cheyenne years, and as nude as it could get in white society, as often as the scripts could provide him with bathtubs and bedrooms.  And everyone he meets looks like they want to rip off his clothes and have sex with him on the spot.  Most of the women get to; the men just complement him on his handsomeness, steal a surreptitious glimpse at his bulge, and offer to become his. . .um, friend.

One might suspect, that like Sal Mineo in Tonka, the movie is just an excuse to display Dustin Hoffman's muscles.  But there is an ongoing Vietnam-Era anti-War message in the endless massacres,  betrayal, and death.

White society (read: the Establishment)  is almost universally despicable, and Cheyenne society (read: the Counterculture) is almost universally good, kind, and noble.  Men who don't want to go to war (read: draft dodgers) are not outcasts; it is perfectly honorable to stay home.

The Cheyenne even accept gay people: a hwame or Two Soul named Younger Bear (Cal Bellini), extremely feminine but in a position of honor in the community, is perhaps the first positively-portrayed gay person in a mainstream movie, certainly the first gay Native American.  He wants Dustin Hoffman, too ("Come to my tent -- I'll be your wife"), but doesn't get anywhere.

Jun 30, 2013

Perry Mason: the Gay Lawyer of the 1950s

Many of the first generation of Boomer kids were inspired to become lawyers through watching Perry Mason (1957-66), who represents only people falsely accused of murder, and uses courtroom theatrics to compel the real murderer to confess: "I had to do it!  He would have ruined me!  Don't you understand!"

I never saw it, but older Boomers tell me that Perry (Raymond Burr) was a refreshing change from the girl-ogling swinger-detective-adventurers of the period: he didn't ogle, didn't have a wife back home, didn't express any heterosexual interest.  Indeed, other than his secretary, Della Street (Barbara Hale), he surrounded himself completely by men: detective Paul Drake (William Hopper), district attorney-antagonist Hamilton Berger (William Talman).  

How did the writers manage to avoid heterosexualizing Perry?  

Raymond Burr wins the honor of having the longest Hollywood career without playing any significant characters who get girls. 

He has a wife in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) (but no romantic scenes of any sort), but there's no girl-ogling in His Kind of Woman (1951) with Robert Mitchum (top), Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953) with Lex Barker (left), Khyber Patrol (1954), A Cry in the Night (1956), The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (1980), or any of the Perry Mason reunion movies. 

Or in his other famous tv program, Ironside (1967-75): the wheelchair-bound detective, doesn't date women.  But he does have a cop buddy (Don Galloway) and a juvenile delinquent-turned-bodyguard, Mark (Don Mitchell).

Of course, the portly Burr would not be often cast as a romantic lead anyway.  But the almost complete omission of hetero-romance is curious.

Raymond Burr was gay in real life, partnered with Robert Benevides (right) from the early 1960s to his death in 1993.  He was strictly closeted, always covering by discussing the girls he found attractive and making up ex-wives. But surely he had some control over how his characters were played, particularly after he became famous as Perry Mason.

Billy Elliot: The Musical: Breaking Out of the Gender Box

Since getting my Ph.D. in 2001, I have worked at three universities, and at each one, a colleague -- a highly educated Ph.D. -- has asked:  "You're an expert on gays.  Tell me this -- why do gay men act so weird?  All swishy and girly?"

Sighing, I point out yet again that:
1. Most gay men do not have gender-atypical mannerisms, tastes, or interests.
2. Many heterosexual men do.

They never believe me.  "Gay" and "feminine" are so intimately linked in their minds that they see femininity in gay men when none is present, and ignore it in straight men.

Thus, every story that challenges hegemonic masculinity is a gay story, regardless of the sexual identity of the star.

Billy Eliot (2000) was about the movie about a working-class British kid (Jamie Bell) who wants to become a ballet dancer rather than a boxer, in spite of the opposition of his family and peers (it also starred Matthew James Thomas as a gay kid Billy beats up for being "bent").  In 2005, it was transformed into a musical, with book by Lee Hall and music by Elton John. It has become one of the most popular musicals of all time, with productions on Broadway, on London's West End, and in Australia, and in touring companies worldwide.

All musicals require a hetero-romance, and Billy Elliot: The Musical gets one, between Billy and his dance teacher's daughter, Debbie.  But it's very brief, and they don't share a love duet.

Besides, the musical version also gives Billy's gay friend Michael a bigger role.  He likes to wear dresses, an atypical interest that parallels ballet.  He has a crush on Billy.  Although Billy explains that he's heterosexual (gender atypical interests have nothing to do with same-sex desire, like I've been telling people for years), in the end he kisses Michael on the cheek.

The actors who portray eleven or twelve-year old Billy can't work a lot of hours, so there have to be a lot of them, a whole crew of Billys for each production.  Some of the more prominent are Kiril Kulish (bff of actor Sterling Beaumon, top photo), Giuseppe Bausillo (second photo), and Fox Jackson-Keen (left).
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