Feb 8, 2014

Martha Graham and Erick Hawkins: Adding the Muscle to Modern Dance

Choreographer Martha Graham (1894-1991) was famous for two innovations in the dance:

1. Modern dance, a "pure" art form divorced from plot, character, and political-social context (though she choreographed many plot-driven ballets, too).

2. An emphasis on the male form, a solid muscularity and blatant eroticism, often with homoerotic implications (asked how a woman could depict masculinity so well, she replied "I like men").

I recommend El Penitente (1940), Night Journey (1947), Episodes (1974), and The Rite of Spring (1984).

But she didn't always emphasize maleness.  When she founded the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1926, it was female only.  In 1939, she drew 30-year old Erick Hawkins away from George Balanchine's American Ballet and Ballet Caravan, making him her first male dancer, the centerpiece of many performances.

And her lover, although he was 15 years younger and bisexual, leaning more toward men (maybe she found him intriguing because, according to rumor, he had one of the largest endowments in the dance world).

They married in 1948.

In 1951, Erick left to found his own company (they divorced a few years later), and went even farther in his quest for a "pure" art form, famously stating that "the body is a clear place."   He studied Zen Buddhism, and considered himself like a Zen master who brings his disciples to enlightenment.

Erick often emphasized muscular male bodies -- perhaps because, like Martha Graham, he "liked men."

He continued to perform well into his 70s.

See also: Ted Shawn, a pioneer of male dance.

Feb 7, 2014

The Korean Penis Park

The Korean Penis Park may be even more remote for Westerners than Bhutan, the Land of the Penis.

It's officially called Haesindang Park, in the small fishing village of Sinnam, about 5 hours by bus from Seoul.

The park offers over 50 wooden and petal penises donated by artists from all over Korea.  Often they are of a whimsical sort, like a penis canon, or a laughing penis.

There's a heterosexual origin myth, about a woman named Auebawi, who drowned before she could marry (and have sex).  To appease her spirit, the villagers hold a biannual festival and offer her homemade penis carvings.

Seems like that would make her even more upset, as she realizes what she is missing.

There's also a museum of "sexual iconography," an aquarium, and an arboretum.

If you're in Japan, check out the Penis Festival of Kawasaki.

Feb 5, 2014

Spring 1989: A Bodybuilding Contest in Turkey

In September 1988, everything was going wrong.  I passed my qualifying exams for my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, but my first committee nixed my dissertation topic, and my second committee was insisting that I llearn a new modern language.

My car was starting to fall apart from driving 100 miles per week in L.A. traffic.

Even with 3 jobs, I didn't make enough for USC tuition.  I owed $20,000 in student loans and my credit cards were maxed out.  I was thinking of bankrupcy.

Living in a gay ghetto, surrounded by 30,000 gay men, I hadn't had a relationship in months (Richard Dreyfuss  and the ex-boyfriend of President Reagan don't count.)

It was time for a change.

The Chronicle of Higher Education listed several job openings for the spring semester, including Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

The Middle East!  I remembered my long-ago plan to "escape to Arabia" with my junior high boyfriend Dan, and Todd, the Lebanese boy who was my "first time."

And it would be a good base for trips to Greece, Egypt, Israel, and the Balkans.

They wanted a specialist in Victorian literature.  I hated Victorian literature.  No matter -- I said I was writing my dissertation on Dickens and Balzac, and got the job.

On January 16th, 1989, I flew with two suitcases and a box of books from Los Angeles to Washington DC, then to Munich, then to Ankara, where a dozen college boys were waiting for me.  They asked about my trip, grabbed my luggage, drove me to my tiny furnished apartment on the campus, and though I was jetlagged, made sure I got a tour of the city and a refrigerator-full of groceries.

What I liked about Turkey:

1. Turkish is not an Indo-European language, so there are few cognates, not even for common words like "car" and "restaurant."  How much of this menu can you figure out?  It was a lot of fun to study.

2. Visiting the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, followed by iskender (lamb with tomato sauce and butter on pita) at the Uludag Kebabcisi

3. Whenever I needed anything, or even if I didn't, a dozen university students were eager to help.

4. Men and women were socially segregated, so it was not at all uncommon for a heterosexual man to spend all of his leisure hours with men
5. The Remzi Kitabevi (bookstore) had a huge English section.

6. Turkish homoerotic oil wrestling.

7. You could see Columbo, Star Trek, Head of the Class, and Perfect Strangers dubbed in Turkish.

8. There were lots of muscular, hirsute men who were not the least bit shy about physical contact.

9. Everyone was technically homophobic, but the homophobia was aimed at feminine or passive men, not same-sex activity itself.

Just as I noticed in India, cruising was everywhere: in the metro station, in the park, in the hamam (bathhouse).  Same-sex activity was an ordinary part of life for most men, their main sexual outlet before marriage, and often after.

10. Turkey invented bodybuilding, and nearly everyone I met competed in the Young Bodybuilders Clubs, the Gymnastics Association, or the Heavy Weight Lifting Association.  Like Halil, who had a girlfriend but still invited me to share his bed at a competition in Istanbul.

By the way, Kielbasa+, making him #8 on my Sausage List.

Dorian Nkono: African-Australian Beefcake Star

So I'm watching all of the Terminator movies in order, and in Terminator: Salvation (2009), the fourth installment, I see Dorian Nkono as "Dave."

He's only onscreen for a few minutes as one of the adult John Connor's friends.

But a google search yields this rather amazing beefcake photo.

And this one.

Why have I never heard of this guy before?

He's an African-Australian actor, a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, with theater credits including Dirty Butterfly and Merchant of Venice.

7 movie appearances, mostly directed by Sam Worthington.

City Loop, aka Bored Olives (2000), about six cynical young adults who work in a Brisbane pizza place, has a gay character.

The Hard Word (2002), about three brothers who are bank robbers, has buddy-bonding subtexts.  Dorian plays the psycho Tarzan.

He wrote and starred in the beefcake-heavy short Enzo (2004), about an African-Australian boxer.

He's also done a lot of Australian tv: White Collar Blues, Dance Academy, Rescue Special Ops, The Straits.

Then there's this shirtless photo shoot on the ocean.

But no biographies or interviews that I can find.  Even his personal website completely omits biographical details.

Is he gay in real life?  Or gay positive?  Details!  I need details!

Feb 4, 2014

Gay Tibet

Buddhists in the United States are generally gay-positive, but not in Asia.  This article by lesbian travelers Katie Cook and Maggie Young discuss the utter impossibility of being open in Lhasa -- to gay Tibetans, ultra-conservative China seems like a gay paradise.

And the Dalai Lama, an incarnation of the Buddha himself, has expressed many times that same-sex relations are "wrong," "inappropriate," and "sexual misconduct."  He clarifies: only if you're religious.  "If two men...are not religious, that's ok with me."

So if you're already going to hell, what's the difference?  Go ahead and date.  But gay Buddhists must be celibate.

Still, when I was a kid in the 1970s, I kept returning to the image of Tibet as a "good place," where same-sex romance was open and free.

I'm not sure why.  I didn't know about Bhutan, the Land of Penises, or about the homoerotic Bokh wrestling of Mongolia.

Maybe it was the image of thousands of muscular monks in orange robes draped around their shoulder, leaving their chest and arms bare -- acres of beefcake.

Or maybe an Uncle Scrooge comic  that I read in grade school, in which the intrepid duck and his nephews visit a Himalayan paradise, Tralla La (a play on Shangri-La).

Or The Blue Lotus, a Belgian comic novel that I read in high school.  The dashing journalist Tintin goes to China, where he rescues and buddy-bonds with the teenage Tchang -- the only person other than Captain Haddock that he ever loved.

Later, in Tintin in Tibet, Tintin goes to Tibet to save Tchang, over the objections of a jealous Haddock.

In high school I also read Seven Years in Tibet (1952), by Heinrich Harrer.  A German soldier during World War II escapes into Tibet.  Eventually he becomes the tutor to the young Dalai Lama.  They become friends, and stay together for many years, until the Communist invasion and escape into India.

I found it a powerful evocation of same-sex love.

In the 1997 movie version, Brad Pitt plays Heinrich Harrer.

Or maybe it was just the image of the Potala, the 1000-room palace-temple-fortress on a hill overlooking Lhasa.

1000 rooms!  I could hide in there, and no one could ever find me again, and I could escape the constant interrogation of
What girl do you like?
What girl do you like?
What girl?
What girl?
What girl?

Feb 3, 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman: Gay Adoption and Preteen Heterosexism

I first encountered most great figures of history, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Alexander Graham Bell, on the Mr. Peabody's Improbable History segment of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show (1959-64, rerun on Sunday  morning through the 1960s).

Mr. Peabody is a super-genius dog (voiced by Bill Scott) who adopts a michievous, not-too-bright human boy, Sherman (voiced by Walter Tetley).  In each episode, they travel back in time to an important historical event, only to find that something has gone wrong:

Ludwig Van Beethoven is more interested in cooking than in composing symphonies.
Edgar Allen Poe wants to write Winnie the Pooh instead of horror stories
Ponce de Leon's men discovered the Fountain of Youth and turned into babies

  It is up to Peabody and Sherman to devise a crazy scheme that sets the course of history right again, and end the episode with an atrocious pun.

Most of the episodes were about "dead white guys," but 12 featured women, 3 featured non-Westerners (such as Oda Nobunaga, who unified Japan), and 3 featured African-Americans (Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Little Richard).

The unapologetic geekiness of both Peabody and Sherman appealed to budding chess club members, and like Yogi Bear, the Flintstones, and most other 1960s cartoons, there was a substantial gay context.

1. Mr. Peabody and Sherman occasionally assist in heterosexual intrigues, but they never express any heterosexual interest of their own.
2. Mr. Peabody is the only talking dog in the world, a "queer" anomaly.  And he has adopted a son, creating an alternate family structure.
3. Sherman frequently becomes a feminine-coded "damsel in distress."  In the opening credit montage, Peabody is shown driving a chariot, with Sherman beside him, his women's headdress flowing in the wind.

There was a full range of comic books, lunch boxes, and stuffed toys.

Fast forward 50 years, and the 2014 Mr. Peabody and Sherman (premiering in March) gives Sherman a girlfriend, Penny.  In fact, it is Sherman's desire to impress Penny that promots him to use the time-traveling WABAC machine and cause the time paradox that fuels the plot.

Various conservative types, such as Peabody's social worker nemesis, are up in arms at the dog-boy adoption.  The shrieks of "It's unnatural" up the gay symbolism.

But that doesn't make up for the intense preteen heterosexism.

Cruising the Romance Novel Aisle

My brother's wife was a big fan of romance novels, so I occasionally got a glimpse of the covers: a paradise of beefcake.

One day I stopped by the romance aisle at the bookstore.  Incredible!  Cover after cover of muscular torsos bursting out of lumberjack shirts or British redcoat uniforms, bulging biceps, six-pack abs!  Often with real models, like Cristian Letelier. Where do all these vampires, dog breeders, and time-travelers from 18th century France get access to Nautilus machines?

The intended audience consists of heterosexual women.  The protagonist, always female, spends hundreds of pages falling for, kissing, thinking about, breaking up with, and reconciling with a man who has the sculpted physique of a Greek god, but has a dark secret or is afraid to love.  The fun for readers is in seeing the same basic situation played out in new, unusual settings, such as in a small-town travel agency or in the world of competitive dog shows.

Ok, so the plotlines are heterosexist.  But is there any gay content?  Any gay best friends who find romances of their own?

To find out, I read two novels by Linda Howard, a well-recognized master of modern romance (her covers don't have any beefcake, so I'm substituting others).

Dream Man, which  tied for first place on the Romance Reader website’s list of Top 100 Novels, stars Marlie Keen, a sweet-natured clairvoyant who longs to lose her gift and embark upon a “normal” life, that is, find a man. When she starts seeing through the eyes of a serial killer, she must team up with a macho detective named Dane Hollister.

Though the setting is present-day Orlando, Florida, there are no gay characters, and gay people are mentioned only twice. Dane denigrates a house for being painted in “ice cream colors, which only women and gays knew the names of”; and the killer explains that he prefers female victims because he isn’t “queer.”

Open Season stars Daisy Minor, a prim librarian who reaches her 34th birthday and realizes that she still isn’t married, so she tries to attract a man by hanging out in seedy bars on the wrong side of town. She sees too much, and must team up with a macho police chief named Dane. . .um, Jack Russo.  He grudgingly falls in with her.

Daisy has a male best friend, antiques dealer Todd Lawrence, whom she seeks out for hair and makeup tips. She suspects that he is gay, but he turns out to be straight. Macho cop or fey antique dealer, conventional or rebellious, guys are guys, all waiting, without exception, to be redeemed through the love of a woman.

Romance novels account for a fifth of all books sold in the United States.  And they present a world where gay people do not exist.

Feb 2, 2014

The Terminator: A Boy and His Robot

I saw The Terminator (1984) during my horrible year at Hell-fer-Sartain State College in Houston, Texas, the most horrible place in the world.  So the post-apocalyptic horror plotline didn't seem that bad...

The premise: evil computers take over the world and try to destroy all humans.  John Connor rallies the survivors and destroys them.  So they decided to send a cyborg with an Austrian accent (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to 1984 Los Angeles, to kill John's mother, Sarah Connor, so he will never be born.  John counters by sending one of his soldiers, Kyle, back in time to protect her.

The main gay connection is the intense beefcake.  Both the Terminator and Kyle (Michael Biehn, left) appear in the 20th Century naked -- we see muscle, back sides, and even Arnold's swaying penis. There's a lame explanation that time travel requires nudity -- one that I've never heard of in any time travel story I ever read.  Director James Cameron just wanted naked male bodies displayed on the big screen.

 Later Sarah's roommate's boyfriend Matt (bodybuilder Rick Rossovitch, below) has a nude sex scene, and then fights with the Terminator clad only in bikini-brief underwear.  The Terminator gets naked again.  Kyle takes off his shirt.  The beefcake goes on and on.  (There are also a few glimpses of Sarah's breasts, but this movie is definitely geared toward the male body).

With all the beefcake, it is rather shocking to find an utter lack of same-sex romance, friendship, or cordiality, just seething, posturing, and shooting. But Sarah is surrounded by men who love her:
1. Her roommate's boyfriend Matt
2. When she seeks refuge at the police station after discovering that someone is killing all the Sarah Connors in town, a mother-hen cop (played by gay-in-real-life Paul Winfield).
3. Kyle, who falls in love with her.

This is heterosexism writ large.  The only hint of gay subtext comes when Kyle describes John Connor in the future: he's big, bold, and handsome; "he has your eyes"; "I would die for him."  Sounds like Kyle has a little crush on John.

But then we discover that his sexual dalliance with Sarah has resulted in a pregnancy; he's the biological father of his future commander.  The warmth he describes is paternal, not romantic.

The sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), contains less nudity, but a lot more gay subtexts.  In the first scenes, the 12-year old John Connor (Edward Furlong) goes around with a boyfriend (Danny Cooksey), and then he gets a blatant crush on the new, good Terminator (Arnold); he literally can't keep his hands off the hunky cyborg.  Sarah goes out of her way to explain this, too, as paternal, not romantic.

I'm not buying it.  The boy all but rips the Terminator's clothes off.

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