Nov 12, 2016

How We Survived the Homophobic World of the 1980s

A few days ago, we discovered that over 40% of the U.S. population believe that all Mexicans are rapists and all Muslims are terrorists, that African-Americans are inferior, that the handicapped should be ridiculed, and that sexual assault is ok.    It gives one pause, but it's not without precedent.

When I was living in West Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s, most heterosexuals believed that gay people were pedophiles and violent criminals, that we were inferior and should be ridiculed, and that physically assaulting us was ok.

We heard incessant "fag! fruit! fairy!" jibes from family, friends, and classmates, while politicians, judges, teachers, preachers, and psychiatrists joined their voices together in an incessant shout of "You're crazy, evil, sinful, criminal!  You shouldn't exist!"

After surviving all that hatred, it was hard to imagine that heterosexuals were even human.  Surely they were soulless monsters who spent every waking moment plotting new ways to defame, humiliate, and kill us.

So we carved out our own Safe Space.

Our world, the only place where we could let our guard down and be free, was bounded by Sunset to the north, Melrose to the south, Doheny to the west, and Highland to the east. At each of those boundaries there was an invisible barrier separating us from the wilderness.

Of course, we had to travel outside our world sometimes, for jobs, to go to concerts and museums, to get to gay bars like Mugi.

But we were very careful: the woods were full of wolves.  We followed strict rules for survival.

1. Be inconspicuous: keep your voice low and your hands at your side.

2. Closet any signs of gayness: no rainbow flags, gay pride t-shirts, Advocate magazines.

3. Never speak to anyone you don't know, unless it is absolutely necessary.

4. Never take anything that a stranger tries to give you.  It will probably be a tract about how sinful you are.

5. Never go to a straight bar or restaurant.  It will be full of homophobes.

6. Avoid heterosexual books, newspapers, movies, and tv shows.  They will be full of homophobia.

What about the heterosexuals you must interact with daily, your classmates and coworkers:

1. Keep the conversation strictly professional.  Be polite but aloof.

2. Don't volunteer any personal information.  If asked, be vague and noncommittal.

"What did you do last weekend?""

"Oh, I just hung around.

3. When they ask about your girlfriend or interest in girls -- which they always do within a few seconds of "hello" -- lie.  Invent one.  Never come out to them, and never say you don't have a girlfriend, or they will try to fix you up with one.

4. When they say something homophobic -- which they always do shortly after asking about your girlfriend -- don't respond.  End the interaction and retreat.

5. What if you are accidentally outed?

If they start screaming, then obviously you should retreat.  If they merely ask insulting questions like "Which of you is the boy, and which is the girl?", use your own judgment about whether to respond.

6. Never accept invitations to parties, dinners, or other social events.  You will be fixed up with a girl or asked to discuss your interest in girls.

7. NEVER cruise them, regardless of how hot they are, or how friendly.  They will interpret your interest as a humiliating insult, and attack.

I have a story about the rules, but writing them all down took up too much space.  It will be up next.

Nov 11, 2016

Four Flamboyant Guys Roaming the Galaxy: "Red Dwarf"

Red Dwarf is the second-funniest science fiction series of all time, after Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  There have been 11 seasons since it premiered in 1988, plus a feature film and an avalanche of guidebooks, novelizations, and merchandise.

The premise: Dave Lister (Craig Charles), a lower-level employee on the interplanetary mining ship Red Dwarf, is put into stasis as punishment for bringing a cat on board.  But there's a nuclear accident, so the ship computer leaves him in stasis until it's safe to come out -- 3,000,000 years later.  He's now the last human being left in the universe, all alone except for three companions:

Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie), a holographic replica of his insufferably priggish bunkmate.

Cat (Danny John-Jules), a self-absorbed, fashion-obsessed humanoid cat (evolved from the one Lister brought on board).

The self-effacing, servile mechanoid Kryten (Robert Llewellyn).

Four distinct personalities, thrown together by chance, alone in the universe -- more or less.

As they zap through time and space, fight mind-controllng monsters, explore alternate dimensions, face mechanical and medical emergencies, they learn to work together as a team.

Each develops beyond his "programming,"  Lister into an unexpected leader, Kryten into a passive-aggressive counselor, the Cat into a skilled navigator, and Rimmer into a hero (sort of).

Aside from being riotously funny, there are more than enough gay subtexts in Red Dwarf :

1. Four guys zapping through time and space, rarely mentioning girls.
2. A significant beefcake factor.
3. The Cat's gay-coded flamboyance.
4. Kryton's gay-coded flamboyance.
5. The homoerotic subtext between Lister and Rimmer.
6. The homoerotic subtext between Lister and Cat.

All of the cast are gay allies.  Chris Barrie has played gay characters.  Danny John-Jules participated in the "Say My Name" project,  to raise awareness of black gay people in Britain.

 In 2012, Craig Charles appeared with his fellow Coronation Street stars at the Manchester Gay Pride Parade.

Nov 9, 2016

Christopher Atkins, Gay Icon

Why is Christopher Atkins a gay icon?  To the best of my knowledge, none of his characters have been gay, although he did have a part in It's My Party (1995), about a gay man (Gregory Harrison) with AIDS.

And his character on Dallas (1983-84), Peter Richards, a psychology major who mentors Ewing heir John Ross Jr., can be read as gay-vague, even though he is bedded by an older woman 
Blue Lagoon (1980), the movie that made him a superstar, is entirely heteronormative.  Boy and girl grow up on a desert island together, Adam and Eve in Paradise before the fall, with no need for anyone or anything else.

Then he played a swashbuckler (The Pirate Movie), a stripper (A Night in Heaven), a lifeguard (Wet and Wild Summer), a sexy vampire (Dracula Rising), a professional gambler (Shoot), and. . .well, just about every profession that has been featured in a Harlequin Romance, always with a fade-out kiss.
Is it because of his body?  It was not muscular, but it was slim, toned, tanned -- and visible.  During the 1980s he was  more comfortable displaying himself on camera than any other actor in legitimate film, and he's still going strong. He's had so many nude scenes that it's hard to keep track of them all.

But is beefcake enough?  Arnold Schwartzennegger has appeared nude a lot, also, but he's hardly a gay icon.

Maybe it's because of how his body was displayed.  Men on display on screen are usually in instrumental poses -- they are fighting or having sex.  We're not supposed to be desiring the bodies, we're supposed to be admiring their utility.  But Christopher's poses were usually ornamental -- he was standing, or dancing, or lying on a bed, doing nothing, displaying his body for its own sake, as an object of beauty.

Chris thinks it's his penchant for nudity (what other major star has nude pictures of himself on his own website?).  In a recent interview, he stated: "The 80s was a big time for the gay movement and here came a movie (Blue Lagoon) where it was male nudity being prominant rather than female nudity and so [I] became sort of an iconic poster child at that time."

Maybe it's his amazing gay-friendliness.  During the 1980s, most male actors refused to acknowledge that they had gay fans, or acknowledged them with a hysterical protest of their own heterosexuality, but Chris genuinely liked and supported his gay male following, and that in itself helped not a few come out: "It's ok to think Chris is attractive -- it's ok to be attracted to men."

And he's in even better shape now than he was in 1980.

There are nude photos of Chris Atkins on Tales of West Hollywood.

The 2016 Presidential Election

I'm going to have to spend the next four years explaining to all my European friends why we elected a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, incompetent bully.   Only one explanation: the majority of Americans agree with him.  Most just kept their racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia bottled up.

Not anymore.  This is a terrifying time to be black, gay, Muslim, or a woman.

Or anyone with a dissenting opinion.  Der Fuhrer has already promised to eliminate Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech.  The rest of the Bill of Rights can't be far behind.

America as we knew it is over.  This is a new Fascist regime.

Nov 8, 2016

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD: Lots of Beefcake, One Fleeting Gay Character

Agents of SHIELD (2013) is a tv adaption of the Marvel comics series, produced by Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Joss Whedon.

SHIELD stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division -- rather a clumsy way of saying Homeland Security.  Except instead of ISIS, they're fighting "inhumans" (people with paranormal powers that emerge suddenly, for various reasons).

The Big Bad is Hydra, a secret society run by reptile beings, which has attempted to intervene into world history many times, from ancient Egypt through Nazi Germany (Hitler was a Hydra stooge).  Its current secret weapon is the Hive, some alien parasites merged into a single sinister being.

There's also an evil government agency that wants to kill all inhumans, regardless of whether they're on our side or not.

There are 11 agents of SHIELD, each with their own alliances, hidden agendas, and angst-ridden back stories.

1. Grand Ward (Brett Dalton, top photo), an undercover Hydra agent who is possessed by the Hive.

2. Leader Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who died at the end of The Avengers,  but who said that all of the movies, tv shows, and comics in the Marvel Universe have to have continuity?

3. Pilot Melinda May (Wing-na Wen), who has a horribly tragic backstory.

4. Lincoln Campbell (Luke Mitchell, left), an inhuman who can manipulate electricity.  He dies.

5. Skye Johnson (Chloe Bennett), an inhuman computer hacker who joined the good guys.

6. Leo Fitz (Iain de Caestecker, left), a weapons expert who suffers from brain damage and lacks emotion.

7. Jenna Simmons (Elizabeth Hemstring), a biochemist who was trapped on the planet Malveth for six months, and emerged psychologically damaged.

8. Lance Hunter (Nick Blood, left).  Does anybody else like the actors' names more than the characters'?  Blood, Hemstring, De Caestecker vs. Hunter, Simmons, Fitz?  Anyway, he's a gruff mercenary who was married to Bobbi.

9. Bobbi Morse (Adrienne Palicki), who works undercover at Hydra.

10. Mack McKenzie (Henry Simmons, left), an evangelical Christian mechanic who dislikes people with superpowers.

11. Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah), a transhuman (don't ask).

Plus a huge supporting cast of government officials, Hydra agents, college professors, college professors who are really Hydra agents, Hydra agents who are really government officials, civilian ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriends, monsters, kids, lions, tigers, and bears.

David Conrad as Ian Quinn, a billionaire industrialist who tries to sell Deathlok soldiers to the U.S. military and has gravitonium (whatever that is).

Gabriel Luna as Robbie Reyes, the vigilante superhero Ghost Rider.

Matthew Willig as Lash, a forensic scientist who helps the SHIELD agents track newly-emerged inhumans.

Leave it to wishy-washy Joss Whedon to wait until the series has been established to gingerly introduce a gay character.  During Season Three, Joey Guttierez (Juan Pablo Raba) was introduced, an inhuman who can melt metal (and hearts).  He was adopted (and outed) by the SHIELD agents.

He even managed to go out on a date -- well, the beginning of a date, before he was called away on SHIELD business.  Then, his story arc ended, his character was dropped.

I guess we'll have to be content with straight guys taking their shirts off.

Nov 7, 2016

The Mystery of Armie Hammer Solved

Armand Douglas Hammer, aka Armie Hammer (1986-), who played the Winkelvoss Twins in Social Network, Tonto to Johnny Depp's Lone Ranger, Illya Kuryakin to Henry Cavill's Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Clyde Tolson to Leonardo DiCaprio's J. Edgar Hoover, is the last in a chain of Armand Hammers.

1. Armand Hammer (1898-1980) was a businessman and philanthropist who founded Occidental Petroleum, donated widely to liberal causes, and groomed Al Gore into a political career. He was married four times, but had only one child.

2. Julian Armand Hammer (1929-1986), led a life plagued by mental illness and substance abuse, and a charge of manslaughter.  He had two children,  Michael and Casey.   Michael was expected to run the empire.

3. Michael Armand Hammer (1955-) rejected his family's liberal Jewish heritage to become an evangelical Christian.  He now channels the fortune into an evangelical Christian film studio, a Christian college, Jews for Jesus, and innumerable fire-and-brimstone preachers.

4. Armie refused to be called Armand at an early age.  He got into Dad's bad graces when he said he wanted to become an actor, but was reconciled when he started getting starring roles.

By the way, Armie has a younger brother, Viktor, named after his great-uncle.

For all of my life up until today, I thought the Armand Hammer name was a pun on "Arm & Hammer," the baking soda produced by the Church and Dwight Company.  The picture of the muscular arm holding a hammer dates back to 1867, when it was first used by the Vulcan Spice Company to represent the Vulcan, the god of industry.

The Vulcan Arm and Hammer can still be seen on many building facades.

The original Armand Hammer swore that he was not named after baking soda, although he did join the Church and Dwight Board of Directors in 1986.  His parents, Russian-Jewish immigrants Julius and Rosa Hammer, were staunch Socialists who helped found the Communist Party of America.  It sort of make sense that they would name their son "Armand Hammer" after the logo of the Socialist Labor Party.

But staunch, serious Socialists naming their firstborn son with a pun?  Unlikely.

Hammer himself had another idea:  Armand Duvall, a young man in love with a dying prostitute in the Alexander Dumas novel La Dame aux Camélias, published in 1848 .  Here he is played by Colin Firth in a 1984 movie version. It has a strong gay subtext, and has often been parodied or adapted for the gay stage.

Armand's parents weren't necessarily interested in French novels, but they probably saw a stage version in New York in 1896, two years before Armand was born.

So, pun on a Socialist logo or a gay prostitute's boyfriend?  Either one is more interesting than a box of baking soda.
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