Apr 7, 2018

The Violet Quill: Sex, Drugs, Alienation, and Elitism in 1980s New York

Did you ever wonder about the origin of the stereotype of gay men as wealthy, over-educated, over-sophisticated, and indolent, doing nothing all day but lounging on the beach, so they can spend their nights disco dancing, taking drugs, and having meaningless sex with strangers?

I blame the Violet Quill.

During the early 1980s, there was very little gay fiction available, even at gay themed bookstores like Wilde and Stein in Houston and A Different Light in West Hollywood.  You could get a few classics, like Remembrance of Things Past, The Immoralist, The City and the Pillar, and Berlin Stories, but contemporary gay literature was dominated by novels published by the Violet Quill.


They were a group of young, sophisticated, wealthy gay men who lived in the Village (the gay neighborhood of New York City) and wrote about young, sophisticated, wealthy gay men who lived in the Village.

Their seven novels constituted Gay Literature:

1. Dancer from the Dance (Andrew Holleran, 1978).  Sophisticated, indolent young hedonists divide their time between the Village and the gay resort of Fire Island, having lots of meaningless sex with strangers, and eventually die.

2. Nocturnes for the King of Naples (Edmund White, 1978): A stream-of-consciousness tale of lost love while having lots of meaningless sex with strangers. Don't be fooled: it's set in the Village, not Naples.

3. The Confessions of Danny Slocum (George Whitmore, 1980).  His confessions involve lots of meaningless sex with strangers while searching for love in the Village.

4. Late in the Season (Felice Picano, 1981). More sophisticated, indolent young hedonists divide their time between the Village and Fire Island, while having lots of meaningless sex with strangers and competing over lovers.  It's "late" because Fire Island empties out in September, not because of AIDS.

5. A Boy's Own Story (Edmund White, 1982): the sophisticated, indolent young hedonist lives in the Village, but goes back home to come out to his wealthy relatives, who are shocked.

6. Nights in Aruba (Andrew Holleran, 1983).  Don't be fooled: the sophisticated, indolent young hedonist lives in the Village, but goes back home to come out to his wealthy relatives, who are shocked. 

7. The Family of Max Desir (Robert Ferro, 1983).  Max is a wealthy, sophisticated, indolent young hedonist who lives in the Village, but goes back home to try to reconcile with his wealthy relatives, who disowned him when he came out.



Noticing a pattern here?  Sex, alienation, wealthy relatives, lost loves, and death.  Not a lot of Gay Pride here: it's a picture of gay life about as sordid and depressing as any of the homophobic novels of the 1930s.

And very, very insular.  No one working class or poor (even middle class is rare), few racial minorities except as fetishes ("I'm in the mood for an Oriental tonight!"),  and no one who doesn't live in the Village or on Fire Island.

Gay people simply do not exist elsewhere.

Later in the 1980s, Gay Literature became dominated by novels about gay men dying of AIDS.  Strangely, they were no more depressing than the endless sex-drugs-and-alienation of the Violet Quill.

See also: Dancer from the Dance; Frank O'Hara


An Unfortunate Series of Unfortunate Events

There are a lot of things I like about season 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Netflix adaption of the book series about the unfortunate adventures of the orphaned Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.

1. In the books, the mystery was infuriatingly hard to unravel, and never fully resolved, but here it's straightforward: the children's parents belonged to a secret society dedicated to "putting out fires." A number of years ago, a group led by Count Olaf split off and dedicated themselves to "starting fires" instead.  The children are caught up in a war between the two factions. 

2. The settings and costumes are beautifully realized,  Depression-Era in The Austere Academy, Jazz Age art deco in The Ersatz Elevator, 1950s Cold War in The Hostile Hospital, with only a few of the books' anachronistic references to streaming videos and the internet.

3. There is a lot more humor in the series. In the books, it was unrelentingly depressing, with any humor coming from wordplay.

Of course, there are flaws:

1.  The children don't get to do much.  Their essential traits, Violet's inventions, Klaus's interest in books, and Sunny's biting, are minimized, while the adults get most of the action and all of the best lines.

2. The hetero-romance between the Baudelaires and the Quagmires is only hinted at in the books, but in the series, it takes center stage. Even when they're searching for their kidnapped friends, Violet yells "Duncan!" and Klaus yells "Isadora," as if the same-sex Quagmire doesn't even exist.   Have to emphasize that these kids are heterosexual!  Don't want any of those pesky gay subtexts!

3.  The action drags and drags and drags.  A very short book adapted into two 45-minute episodes means a lot of reaction shots, irrelevant comedy bits, and even songs.

4. No gay characters, except a couple of the villains, by implication.



5. The "Person of Indeterminate Gender" in the books is a man in drag.

6. No beefcake.  A lot of the actors are buffed -- even Louis Hynes (Klaus) somehow managed to develop a physique --but no one unbuttons a button not even Robbie Amell or Nathan Fillion.

7. This is kind of nitpicky, but, however evocative the name "Lemony Snicket" is, when you say it aloud, it sounds silly.





Apr 6, 2018

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: Do You Have Anything Gay?; Howard Cruse.




Apr 5, 2018

10 Shirtless Photos of Ben Schreiner, Sort Of

Someone said that Ben Schreiner, who appeared on six episodes of You Can't Do That on Television in 1984, near the end of its run, is gay.

Ok, I never heard of him, so I did an internet search.

He must be in his late 40s now.






I'm usually good at internet searches, but there are just so many Ben Schreiners in in the world.

The owner of a construction company in Topeka
A freelance writer in Oregon
A cycling enthusiast in England.
A salesman for a steel company in Vancouver.
A banker in Luxembourg.
A student in Heidelberg
A designer at the Greenheck Fan Company in Wausau, Wisconsin.

I'm not sure which is our Ben, but this one is cute.






So, maybe there are some shirtless shots of the adult Ben Schreiner floating around out there.  When I did a search on google images, here's what popped up.

Nice abs, but too young to be the right Ben, unless this photo was taken 20 years ago,













This is the salesman from Vancouver.  Apparently he used to be a model.


















A football player shirtless in the rain.

More after the break.















Apr 4, 2018

Gay Content in "Gulliver's Travels"

How did Jonathan Swift's biting satire of British mores, published in 1726, become a children's classic?

Maybe because of the little people?

Most of us don't get farther than the voyage to Lilliput, where Gulliver encounters little people with a penchant for bluster over trivialities, sort of like European kings during the Age of Absolutism.










Some of us get as far as Brobdingnag, the land of the giants; the flying island of Laputa; the mythical country of Japan; and the land of the Houyhnhnms, sentient horses who think of humans as beasts.

I got through the whole thing in high school; I remember that when Gulliver finally makes it home, he is disgusted by the habits of the humans around him, and especially by their smell.  He can't abide having his wife in the same room.

I could relate to that.  I couldn't stand the way girls smelled, either.  Disgusting sweet powders and perfumes!

There have been many film, tv, and cartoon adaptions, with Gulliver played by such diverse stars as Kerwin Mathews, Richard Harris, Ted Danson, and Jack Black.











Gulliver varies in age in the various adaptions, from child to middle-aged, but, except in recent movies where there always has to be a hetero-romance, he is excused from experiencing heterosexual interest.

Plus there's all that bondage.


The Gay Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

When I was in high school in the 1970s, a series of paperbacks appeared at Readmore Book World with weird, evocative titles: The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath; The Doom that Came to Sarnath; At the Mountains of Madness.

They weren't actually heroic fantasy, they were "weird tales," dark fantasies by H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) originally published in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly about slithering, tentacled things that lurk just beneath the surface of idyllic small towns.

Such as Azazoth, "who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes."

That's the way he wrote.

And "unspeakable knowledge" uncovered in long-forgotten grimoires: De Vermis Mysteriis, the Book of Eibon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten.... and, of course, the Necronomicon, written by the "mad Arab Abdul Alhazred."

I loved that sort of thing.  Especially because there was:

No heterosexual romance anywhere.
Lots of descriptions of masculine beauty.
Lots of male bonding.
Lots of muscular men discovering the horror behind the  heteronormative job-wife-house trajectory.

In "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" (1919), the narrator hears a disembodied voice speaking from a sleeping man: "I am your brother of light, and have floated with you in the effulgent valleys.  You have been my friend in the cosmos  We shall meet again -- perhaps in the shining mists of Orion's Sword, perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away."

Talk about soul mates!


In “The Quest of Iranon”(1921), a man wanders a stern, unfriendly world in search of the city of Aira, where there are “men to whom songs and dreams. . .bring pleasure.”  He meets “a young boy with sad eyes” who also dreams of escape.    They travel together, happy in a way yet always longing.  They grow old together and finally die, never finding their true home.

Might I suggest West Hollywood?










Randolph Carter, Lovecraft's most famous hero, has been played on screen by Mark Kinsey Stephenson, Art Kitching, Toren Atkinson, Adam Fozard, and Conor Timmis.

In real life, Lovecraft was rather a jerk.  He was even more racist than most in his era, loudly criticizing the "decadent, half-ape" immigrants who were "overrunning" New England.  He particularly disliked Jews, although he married a Jewish woman (his frequent anti-Semitic ranting was the cause of their breakup).



And he was even more homophobic than most, loudly criticizing gay people as "effeminate" and a danger to civilization.  Yet he had many gay friends, such as Hart Crane (author of The Bridge), Samuel Loveman (author of Hermaphrodite and Other Poems), and Robert Hayward Barlow (who became executor of his estate).

In fact, one might say that he found his strongest emotional bonds among gay men.

Apr 3, 2018

Amish Beefcake

Why do we find Amish men so attractive?

Maybe because they combine our images of the rural Adonis -- barbaric, uncivilized, passionate, sexually uninhibited -- with our image of the religious -- inhibited, virginal, other-worldly.












Maybe it's the dozens of movies and tv shows where someone from the main society hides out among the Amish and finds romance.

Or maybe it's the cute costumes.










There are about 250,000 Old Order Amish in the United States, with concentrations in northern Indiana and western Pennsylvania.  They are followers of an Anabaptist sect, with beliefs similar to today's Baptists, except for their separatism: do not be influenced by the "evil" world outside.  About half speak Pennsylvania German, a dialect of Palatine German.  Most refuse automobiles, television, or the internet, although they will use mechanical devices. 

I can relate: when I was growing up in the Nazarene Church, we had cars and electrical devices, but we were forbidden "worldy' costumes, dancing, movies, theaters, circuses, carnivals, rock music, mixed swimming, alcohol, shopping in stores that sold alcohol, etc.



It's not all plowing and Rumspringa.  Amish kids are not educated past the eighth grade, so they tend to lack awareness of science, environmental issues, cultural issues. 

The church is vehemently anti-gay.  Marriage and reproduction is a strict requirement (six kids on the average).  Gay Amish kids who come out to their parents are instantly banished from the community.

I've never met a gay ex-Amish guy, that I know of.  I imagine that those who leave get a hair cut and change clothes.












I've never seen a real Amish guy with his shirt off, either, but I imagine the view is something like this.


Apr 2, 2018

10 Surprising Beefcake Stars of "The Walking Dead"

Are you still watching The Walking Dead?  We are, although I'm not sure why.  Season 8 has been horrendous, as Rick's Alexandria community (I can't call them the good guys, as they do reprehensible things) launches an all out war on Negan's Saviors, with the help (or not) of various other communities: Hilltop, Oceanside, the Scavengers, the Kingdom.  Mostly it means driving down endless roads or running down endless hallways, shooting at people, and killing off extras. 

While making ridiculous decisions.  Look, there's the guy you've been trying to kill for the last month.  He's standing in front of you, unarmed, and you have a gun.  What do you do? 
a. Shoot
b. Say "I'm going to kill you" until he's had a chance to escape.

There are two gay characters, but they've both lost their partners, and there's not much time to date with a war going on.

Not much beefcake, either -- during the zombie holocaust, the gyms are all closed.  But you can pass the time in all of the boredom by wondering what the guys look like naked.  I've found some surprises.

1. Khary Payton (above), who plays King Ezekial, the Elizabethan-accented leader of the Kingdom, has been holding out on us.  That's quite a physique for a 45-year old straight guy.



2.Steven Ogg plays Simon, right-hand man of the baseball-bat wielding Negan, who is more brutal: "Let's go to Hilltop and kill everyone there!"  I've rarely seen abs like that.  Are they real?








3. If you blink, you'll miss Eduardo (Peter Zimmerman), a guard at Hilltop -- the one who slides open the gate for you.  Apparently it takes a lot of upper body strength to handle those gates.
















4. MMA fighter Mike Seal plays Gary, one of Negan's lieutenants.


















5. Without the long hair and scruffy beard, Joshua Mikel (Savior Jared) has a slim, androgynous twink thing going on.

More after the break.
















Apr 1, 2018

Some Bunny Ears and Easter Baskets

How did bunnies become associated with the solemn religious holiday of Easter?  There's speculation that the rabbit was an ancient symbol of fertility, the companion of the Goddess Ostara (from whom we get the name Easter).  But there's no direct evidence.  And how did an ancient Germanic goddess last through the centuries, becoming a story of a hare who lays eggs that German immigrants brought to America in the 18th century?





By the early 20th century, there was enough bunny and egg paraphernalia to transform Easter into a bona fide secular holiday,  celebrated without any Christian beliefs.  Giving us the opportunity to see countless men dressed as bunnies.

An Easter Bunny costume is easy to make.  You just need two floppy ears coming out of your head. 














Paws and crotches optional.
























They can be made of any material you like.  Color coordination is not necessary.

















.

Sorry, a full rabbit head is creepy.
















In media, bunny ears are rarely fun or whimsical.  They represent decay and degeneration.  Remember Bunny Boy from Gummo (1997), where they comment on the decadent lives of contemporary society: drug addiction, crime, viciousness.  Gay and transgender people are pushed into the spotlight as emblems of chaos.

Jacob Sewell has only two other film credits, in 2007 and 2016.  A film every ten years.



Model Casey Levens, photographed by Scott Teitler, treats the bunny ears as a dark shadow, a blemish on his life.














On Glee, Jake posed naked in bunny ears for a school hunk calendar.  The ears represent his humiliation.
















Ewan Kelly of Melbourne's "Friendly Moving Men" displays a real bunny fundraising calendar.  He looks sort of embarrassed, too.


















This stock photo depicts a nerdy teenager, shirtless, with pink bunny ears.


















Almost makes you want to take the bunny ears off and concentrate on the Easter basket.

Why Easter is Better than Christmas

Easter is one of my all-time favorite holidays.  I love the juxtaposition of the iconic event of Christianity, the solemn death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, with the gaudy triviality of chocolate rabbits and colored eggs.


















Although I hate jellybeans and marshmallow Peeps, and this hunk with the rabbit head is just creepy.

But starting over is always exciting: cleaning out the junk that accumulated all winter, ratcheting up your weight training in anticipation of swimsuit season, and buying some new jackets and short-sleeve shirts.

They used to have Easter Parades, where you marched down the street wearing your new spring frock and gaudy hat, as memorialized in the song "Easter Parade," by Irving Berlin, and the 1948 movie musical starring angst-queen Judy Garland and bisexual future Rat Packer Peter Lawford.



By the way, in Sybil (1976), the song "Easter Parade" is a trigger to Sybil's traumatic past.

Put on your Easter bonnet...sob, sob...with all the frills...upon it...sob
You'll be the grandest...sob...lady...[voice gets high and squeaky] in the Easter...parade [switch to a new multiple personality!]

What's not to like?












Besides, Easter coincides with Passover, where you commemorate the iconic event of Judaism, the liberation from Egypt under the leadership of Moses (or, in lesbian households, Miriam), with a solemn ceremony in which the youngest guy present has to lift his shirt...um, I mean has to ask Four Questions:

Why is this night different from other nights?

1. On other nights we eat leavened bread and matzah, and on this night only matzah.
2. On other nights we eat all vegetables, and on this night only bitter herbs.
3. On other nights, we don’t dip our food, and on this night we dip twice (but nobody dips)
4. On other nights we eat sitting or reclining, and on this night we only recline (no, they're all sitting)


Then you eat a big dinner in which your boyfriend's Aunt Esther asks "a bishi brisket, bubbie?" and his mother says "Ess, ess, meyn kinter!  You're all skin and bones!"

I like the matzah spread with horseradish and haroset (fruit and nut paste).



I was going to do a post on my best, worst, and most erotic Easters and Passovers, but I couldn't find enough bad and erotic ones.  They're all the best.

So here's a naked guy with a bunny mask.

See also: Easter at the Bath House.








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