Mar 21, 2023

Donelan: It's a Gay Life

When I was in grad school in Bloomington in 1982 and 1983, I was able to get copies of The Advocate at the adult bookstore.  One of my favorite features was a series of single-panel New Yorker-style cartoons, "It's a Gay Life," by Donelan,  lampooning the culture of 1970s gay neighborhoods: brunch, boyfriends, leathermen, queens, cruising, decorating, activism....

"Oh, please, girlfriend.  Isn't brunch a little too early for attitude?"

Some cartoons were about the reaction of straights, those who knew -- and were ok with it.  In a clueless, stereotyping way.

"I know a homosexual.  George knows a homosexual.  You must have so much in common.  So here we are.

Others who didn't know, and didn't want to know.

"Did your roommate just say he was going to 'freshen his makeup'?"

I was most drawn to the cartoons depicting gay men in pairs and groups.  There was a whole society out there somewhere, a place where being gay was commonplace, even expected, where straights were the interlopers and strangers.

"I'd be more impressed if you could name me one man here you haven't dated."

I wanted that world.

Gerald P. Donelan grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and moved to San Francisco in the 1970s.  He published "It's a Gay Life" from 1978 to 1993.  There were two  reprints of his cartoons: Drawing on the Gay Experience (1987) and Donelan's Back (1988).  His work also appeared in Frontiers and in the Meatmen series of gay comic anthologies.

Today his work seems a bit dated, keying into feminine stereotypes a bit too much.  But in the height of the homophobic 1980s, it was a revelation.

"Tell me again the difference between eclectic and tacky."

See also: Howard Cruse.


  1. I like how that guy at the guy's what my generation calls a thot. ("that ho over there")

    Obviously my generation came to accept homosexuality, really the dividing line seems to be if you were born before or after 1970, but being a hipster or a thot (two common stereotypes about gay men) is unacceptable. Yet here are both those in cartoon form. (And yes, having brunch regularly makes you a hipster. Not at the level of paying $100 for a Red Bull and expecting change, but certainly up there.) Different times.

  2. I came out in the early 80's so for me these were a satirical look into gay life at the time. Dated perhaps, but still relevant.


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