Apr 19, 2014

A Pilgrimage to Mecca

When I was a kid, I kept looking for a "good place," where boys held hands and kissed, and lived together throughout their lives.  In eighth grade, my boyfriend Dan and I somehow decided that Saudi Arabia  was a good place.

So we checked out the three books on the Middle East available at the public library, and spent our allowance on others at the Readmore Book World.  We ate olives and drank coffee, and sat cross-legged on the floor (since one of our books said that no one in Saudi Arabia used chairs).  We sent away for an Arabic textbook.  And we planned a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The holy city of Islam, forbidden to non-Muslims, remote, mysterious.

It's not mysterious anymore.  There are thousands of photos and videos on the internet to show you every inch of the city. Trip Advisor offers suggestions on hotels, attractions, shopping malls, and restaurants (including the commonplace Hardees Hamburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken).

But 40 years ago, before the internet, in a small town in the Midwest, we found only sketchy, outdated information:
The tale of explorer Richard Burton sneaking into Mecca in disguise in 1853.
A two-paragraph description of the pilgrimage (hajj) in Hitti's Islam: A Way of Life.
Some photographs in a National Geographic article.
Nothing else.

The lack of information made Mecca even more attractive.  It could be whatever we wanted it to be, so we imagined date palms, camels, scimitars, labyrinthine walkways, towering minarets, and men, their dark hard muscles gleaming against the white linen of their ceremonial robes.

Or out of their robes.

And, most important, freedom from the mind-control chant of "what girl do you like?  What girl do you like?"

How were we going to get to Mecca?

I suggested that we become missionaries, and win all of the Muslims in Saudi Arabia for Christ. Surely it wouldn't take more than a year or two, and then they would welcome us into Mecca.

But then, Dan pointed out, it would be open to everyone, no longer forbidden, not safe anymore.

In the fall of ninth grade, we decided to move to Jiddah  to work as engineers, then cross the desert  by camel (about a two day trip) and sneak into the city. If we wore Arab costumes, we would certainly be undetected.

Once we reached "the good place," we would never want to leave.

But sometime in the spring, Dan suddenly abandoned our plans to call a girl and ask her for a date!  He had been taken over by the tripods.  He was lost.

I know now that Saudi Arabia is one of the more vehemently homophobic countries on Earth. But I still remember the dream of Mecca that kept us warm and happy during a cold Midwestern winter 40 years ago.

For more stories of junior high, see: Getting Phil to Sin; and a Naked Man for Christmas.

Apr 18, 2014

The Naked Run of Roskilde

I love running, but I wouldn't want to do it naked. Too many things flapping around unattended.  Somebody is going to get whiplash.

But I would like to see the Roskilde Naked Run.

Roskilde, Denmark, about a half hour from Copenhagen by train, has been the site of a famous music festival since 1971.

Beginning on the last Thursday in June or the first Thursday in July, it lasts for four days, with over 100 bands, vendors, camping, and 100,000 participants.

Here's a link to the official website.

Most people arrive on the Sunday before the festival, when the 200-acre campground opens, for the four-day warmup.

Every year since 1999, Roskilde Festival Radio has organized a naked run, or Nøgenløb, on the Saturday of the festival.

Hundreds of nude people sprint around the campground to win tickets to next year's festival.  Since there are only two tickets available for hundreds of runners, most are just in it for the fun, and to see things bouncing around.

There's also a naked run in Padasjoki, Finland in mid-June but the two-km course tends to get the older, dumpier crowd, whereas Roskilde gets heavy-metal and electro-pop fans: think Scandinavian twinks with tight bodies and extra-large endowments.

From the photos, it looks like there's  considerable flappage and only a little shrinkage.

The Balcony: Jean Genet's Play of the Gay Underworld

Like Yukio Mishima and Quentin Crisp, Jean Genet belonged to the old school of gay writers who thought of sexuality, especially gay sexuality, in terms of darkness, disease, and corruption.

Our Lady of the Flowers (1942), written while in prison, is about members of the gay underworld, including the drag queen Divine and the male prostitute Darling, who aspire to an antithesis of the "normal" world, finding honor in betrayal, beauty in "sordid" same-sex acts, and virtue in murder.

His Thief's Journal (1949), written while in prison, suggests that the gay underworld is the antithesis of the "normal" world, finding a trinity of evil "virtues": same-sex acts, theft, and betrayal.

His play The Balcony (1957) is a further exploration of this moral inversion.  It is set in a brothel in an unnamed city in the midst of a revolution. Three clients take on the roles of a Judge, a Bishop, and a General, who perform their duties on prostitutes acting as a Criminal, a Penitent, and a Horse, while each is interrogated by the Torturer (a hustler named Arthur).

Meanwhile, everyone waits to hear from Roger, the brothel's former plumber, and Chantal, a prostitute who has gone "straight," renounced the sordid underworld and gone off to join the Revolution.

The madam, Irma, falls asleep and dreams of three young men who are wounded and dying, presumably casualties of the revolution -- but then they are revealed to be named Blood, Tears, and Sperm.  They are casualties of sex.

An Envoy (sometimes the Chief of Police) arrives and tells them that the real-life Judge, Bishop, and General have been killed.  Irma suggests that her three client take their place.  The deviant have become normal.

The Balcony has been staged many times, sometimes with all-male casts which emphasize the homoeroticism of the shadow world.

Most productions involve semi-nudity, especially from Arthur/The Torturer.  In the 2007 performance in Washington D.C., he was played by Rashard Harrison (top), and in the 2013 version directed by Rafael de Musa, by Francesco Andolfi (left).

There have been two operas and several film versions, notably a 1963 tv movie with future Columbo Peter Falk as the Chief of Police, future Spock Leonard Nimoy as Roger, and Shelley Winters as Irma.

Apr 16, 2014

The Russian Beefcake Museum: Male Nudity in The Hermitage

When we visited Jaan in Estonia in the summer of 1998, we spent three days in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Yuri went to college.  But most of our time was spent walking around the campus of the Polytechnic University, having closeted conversations with his old friends at a straight bar across from Sosnovka Park, and, since he wasn't yet out when he was a student, checking out the rather limited gay scene ( a few bars, one with naked dancers, another with a dark room).

So we only had a couple of hours to tour the Hermitage.

You should devote at least a week.

It's the oldest and one of the largest museums in the world, founded by Catherine the Great in 1764.

The main building, the Winter Palace, was the residence of Russian kings and queens from 1732 to the Russian Revolution. Greek and Roman art, anthropological finds from the Altai cultures, Asian art, modern American art, entire galleries devoted to Titian, Van Dyck, Monet, and Picasso.

When -- and if -- you finish with the Winter Palace, you have to tour the collections of Menshikov Palace.  And the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the General Staff Building, and the Hermitage Theater.

Here are just a few of the pieces of interest for connoisseurs of beefcake:

1. Laocoon (1789), by Paolo Andrea Trisconi.  In Greek mythology, Laocoon defined the god Poseidon by having sex on sacred ground, so a sea monster killed him and his sons.  Who were naked at the time.

2. The Farnese Hercules, left.  An 18th century copy of the ancient original, one of the more muscular Hercules around.

3. Crouching Boy (c. 1530), by Michelangelo.  A very muscular boy, originally designed for the Medici Chapel in Florence. No one knows what he's doing; it looks like he's tying his shoe.

4. St. Sebastian (1570-72), by Titian.  The martyred saint is always a good subject for homoerotic art.

5. Daedalus and Icarus (1645), by Charles Lebrun (left). The master inventor is attaching wings to his nude, muscular son so he can take a fatal flight into space.

6. Mercurius (1662), the Greek god Mercury, by Flemish sculptor Artus Quellinus.

More after the break

Apr 15, 2014

Summer 1998: Wing Man for a Muscle God

In the summer of 1998, just after I returned from visiting Jaan in Estonia (and cruising the Swedish bodybuilder in Tallinn), it was time to travel to Montreal, to the annual conference of the International Sociological Society, where I read a paper on queer theory (and investigated the mystery of Formosan men's endowment).

But I also had plenty of time for sightseeing: the Basilique Notre-Dame, the Musee des Beaux-Arts, the Centre d'histoire de Montréal.

And the Gay Village, an amazingly vibrant neighborhood cluttered with gay bars, restaurants, shops, and saunas.

At the Oasis, a gay sauna on the rue Ste. Catherine, I hung around the spa (a pool-sized hot tub) and started a conversation with an older guy named James, probably in his mid-60s, a member of the English-speaking minority of Montreal.  He didn't learn Québécois French until high school, and he still couldn't parse a sentence in Parisian French.

What was the difference?

Tu as...vouz avons
C'est de valeur...quel domage 
Chatons la pomme...nous flirtons

We were so busy discussing languages that I forgot gay sauna etiquette: casual conversations must be restricted to a few sentences, or the other guy will think you are interested.  And James was definitely cruising me!

He reminded me of John Fiedler, who starred in The Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s: short enough, but rather too old for me, and lacking the other characteristics that I find attractive: he was pale-skinned, scrawny, and unimpressive beneath the belt (James, not John Fiedler).,

But, I figured, we were having a nice conversation, so why not? So when James put his hand on my knee and asked "Do you want to come to our room?" I consented.

Wait...our room?

"Do you mind if my friend joins us?"

Two pale-skinned, scrawny, under-endowed 60-year olds?  But I was in this far...  "No, I don't mind at all.  The more, the merrier."

He turned and addressed someone on the other side of the spa.  "J'ai trouvé un garz!  Eu, Jérôme!" I found a guy!  Hey, Jerome!

Wait -- there weren't any pale-skinned, scrawny 60 year olds around...

But there was a massively-built bodybuilder.  In his 30s,  dark-skinned, rock-hard chest and abs, massive biceps, and more than adequate beneath the belt (see top photo).

He had been giving everyone in the sauna attitude -- including us. But now he raised up on one arm and grinned and said, "Ok, passons-nous à la cabine,"  Let's go to our room.

I was stunned.

When two friends cruised together, the most attractive always acted as the bait, piquing the target's interest so much that he was willing to accept the less attractive one as part of the bargain.

Why did James and Jérôme reverse the pattern?  Surely Jérôme could get any guy he wanted.

It would have been gauche to inquire, so I didn't, but later I surmised: because there was such a blatant difference in attractiveness, some targets in the past had agreed to Jérôme but fled upon seeing James.

The strategy of using James as the bait resulted in fewer hurt feelings.

They both turned out to be nice guys.  Later they took me on a tour of the Gay Village, where we had dinner at Cafe Saigon and finished up the evening watching the show at Le Stud.

See also: Are the Stories about Formosan Men True?

Rasmus Kaljujärv: Getting Frisky with the Boyfriend

Rasmus Kaljujärv is one of the biggest young stars of Estonia.

And the most gay-friendly.

Born in 1981, he graduated from the Estonian Academy of Drama and Theater and went to work on the stage, starring in Estonian productions of Woman in White, Ubu Roi, Pericles, Romeo and Juliet, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the gay-subtext Lost in a Friend's Case (2012).

His film and tv career began with the drama short Fender Bender (2003), and went on to the dark comedy Fed Up (2005) and the family drama Home in the Middle of the City (Kodu keset linna, 2003).

Two of his gay-subtext performances are available with English subtitles (Region 2):

I Was Here (Min ola siin, 2008): The teenage Rass descends into the Estonian underworld, alienating his friend Aivo (Märt Avandi).

Tuulepealne maa (2008): A tv miniseries about two  friends (Rasmus and Märt again) who are caught up in the political struggles of Estonia from the 1920s through World War II.  Their gay-subtext friendship remains intact.

The Estonian blog "Gay Web" named him the "Sexiest Gay Man in Europe."  I can't tell if it's being facetious or not, but there are articles on the web proclaiming that Rasmus and this or that actress are "just friends," and photos of him and Märt getting "frisky" off-camera.

15 Public Penises of London

I haven't spent a lot of time in London, but you can't miss its obsession with monuments.  There are hundreds of them, memorializing nearly every famous and semi-famous person in the world, including Queen Victoria (a lot), Admiral Nelson, Charlie Chaplain, Alfred Hitchcock, John Wesley, Ronald Reagan, and Peter Pan (twice)  Plus window washers, roller skaters, Greek gods, animals, and intangible concepts.

Most they tend to be fully clothed and rather dour-looking, but there is a bit of whimsy, and plenty of nude, muscular male forms for the connoisseur of beefcake.  Here are the top 15:

1. The Wellington Monument in Hyde Park, featuring a muscular, naked Achilles in black bronze.

2.-3. Two ten-foot tall statues of football star and underwear model David Beckham (left), ginormous bulge intact, outside the H&M Store on Regent Street (they've probably been moved inside by now).

4. David Wynne's Boy with a Dolphin in Chelsea, the nude boy barely hanging on during his wild ride.

5. Jeté, by Enzo Plazotta, in Millbank (left).  Dancer David Wall was used as a model.

6.-7. Four allegorical nudes on the facade of the Adelphi Building, two male: Contemplation and Inspiration.  (The females, by the way, are Dawn and Night.)

8. The naked art deco guy on the Vue Cinema, Leicester Square (he's up on the top, so you have to crane your neck to see him).'

9. Another naked boy with dolphin in a Hyde Park fountain, but this one is quite muscular, and seems to be beating up the poor dolphin.

More after the break.

Apr 14, 2014

Mark Gregory: Mascara-Wearing Man-Mountain of 1980s Actioners

You're probably seen The Warriors (1979), starring Michael Beck (of Xanadu) as Swan, a gang leader trying to get from home from the Bronx, while rival gangs try to kill him.

The Bronx Warriors (1983) is a blatant ripoff, with Mark Gregory as Trash, a gang leader trying to get home from the Bronx, while rival gangs try to kill him. But it features more gay subtexts -- the mascara-wearing, leather-clad Trash doesn't particularly care for women, but he cares quite a lot for some of his fellow gang members, especially Fred Williamson's Ogre.

You've probably seen Escape from New York (1981), with former Disney kid Kurt Russell as the gnarly Snake Plissken, who must escape from Manhattan (transformed into a maximum-security prison) along with the kidnapped President of the United States.

Escape from the Bronx (1983) is a blatant ripoff, with Trash and his friends trying to escape the post-apocalyptic killing zone of the Bronx, along with the kidnapped president of a major corporation. But again, Trash is not particularly interested in women, but rather interested in gang leader Dablone (Antonio Sabato).

In 1983, director Enzo G. Castellari discovered the 17-year old shoe salesman working out in a gym.  Renaming him Mark Gregory, Castellari groomed him to capitalize on the man-mountain fad, beginning with the two Bronx Warriors movies.

Gregory didn't seem to like acting much.  His feminine mannerisms resulted in homophobic harassment from some of the extras.  He kept to himself, not socializing with anyone except Castellari and his teenage son Andrea.

During the next six years, Gregory appeared in seven movies in the U.S. and Italy, including the Thunder series, about a Native American seeking revenge; Fred Williamson's Delta Force Commando; and Adam and Eve, with the primordial couple fighting cannibals and dinosaurs.  

He gave it his best shot, but acting wasn't his cup of tea, and in 1989 he returned to being Marco di Gregorio and disappeared into civilian life.

Gregorio remained incognito for over 20 years, in spite of efforts from fans and Castellari to find him.

Finally, after extensive research, a fan managed to track him down: he still lives in Rome, where he is the manager of a company that specializes in personal growth.  No, he won't do an interview.  He doesn't want to be disturbed.

Apparently the homophobic harassment took its toll.

Hannes Bok: A Closeted Gay Life in Science Fiction Art

When I was in junior high, I discovered The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and thought it the best thing ever written. Was heroic fantasy always so wonderful?

As it turned out, no.  My friend Darry kept shoving novels from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series into my hands.  The titles were evocative and strange: Golden Cities, Far; The Wood Beyond the World; The Water of the Wondrous Isle; Red Moon and Black Mountain; The Broken Sword.  But the stories inside were boring, overwrought, and full of men obsessed with rescuing, winning, and wooing women.

One of the books that Darry recommended strongly was Beyond the Golden Stair (1970), by Hannes Bok.  I gave it a glance: in the first paragraph, a guy named Hibbert has a recurring dream about a beautiful woman; in the end, he wins her; and in between, there's some stuff about a golden stair, crystal masks, and a blue flamingo.  Yawn.

A few years later, I stumbled across a book, The Life and Legend of Hannes Bok (1970).  Turns out that he was an artist who illustrated over 150 covers for fantasy and science fiction magazines and paperback novels.  Some naked men in the lot, mostly being threatened by weird alien monsters, but also a lot of naked women.

I didn't think about it again for many years, until I met Emil Petaja, who published science-fiction versions of the Finnish Kalevala.  He was then in his 70s, one of the elderly gay men who had been part of the San Francisco gay scene since the days of the Black Cat Club.  But science fiction and the gay scene didn't merge easily.  In the 1960s, he and his lover had to pretend to be just roommates, even among close friends like Lin Carter, editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series.

His lover?

Hannes Bok!

But wait -- if Hannes Bok was gay, why all the female nudes?  And why did he fill his novel with heterosexist imagery?

Petaja stared at me.  "Are you kidding me?  Sometimes he had to draw naked women in cover art -- that's what the publisher asked for -- but his real art was all about gay men being threatened by a homophobic world."

"Ok, well...why was Beyond the Golden Stair so heterosexist?"

"Hibbert falls in love with a woman, sure, that's what sells.  But what about Burks?"

"Um...." I didn't remember the character.  It had been over 20 years since I leafed through the book and tossed it aside.

"The one who's transformed into a blue flamingo?"


He nodded triumphantly.  "Code.  He displays his true nature -- the blue flamingo -- and he becomes the Guardian of the Pool.  A position of authority.  The straights didn't get it, sure, but the gays did."

Even today, gay artists, writers, directors, and actors often present heterosexual love stories, in order to sell.  But never underestimate their ability to acknowledge same-sex desire and romance, if only in subtle, heavily coded images.

Spring 2001: My Date with the Teen Model

When I was living in West Hollywood, there was a strict age segregation.  If your boyfriend was more than five years older or younger, tongues would wag.  More than ten years, and there would be snubs and disinvitations to parties.

So when I moved to New York in 1997, near my 37th birthday, I assumed that my boyfriends would be in the late 30s - early 40s range.

Instead, I was cruised by every Cute Young Thing in sight, guys in their 20s, even teenagers.

What did I have in common with guys 10 or even 15 years younger than me?  I had never heard of Puff Daddy or the Spice Girls.  I didn't watch Dawson's Creek.  I didn't play Grand Theft Auto.  And I was ready for bed by 10:00 pm.

But guys in my age range were usually in long-term monogamous relationships or married to women and closeted.  Or else they had major personality flaws.  So why not try the Cute Young Things?

But they had drawbacks of their own.

The teenage model:  I meet Mario (not his real name) at a party.  He's somewhat more feminine than what I usually like, but short and muscular, two of the five traits I find attractive (the others are dark skin, being religious, and having a large endowment).

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood.
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