May 15, 2019

"Pose": Let Your Body Move to the Music

I was around in 1987, but almost nothing in Pose (2018-) is familiar.  In retrospect, I was enjoying a lot of privilege: white, middle-class, conventionally masculine, HIV negative, able to escape from the homophobia of the mainstream Reagan-Jerry Falwell society. I visited my parents twice a year.

Meanwhile, many LGBT people were racial minorities, drag queens or transwomen, sick, poor, eking out a living through sex work and petty theft, rejected by their birth families, rejected even by other LGBT people. They had nothing but each other.

So they lived together in "houses" under the care of a "mother," and when the lights went down, they vogued.

Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache
It's everywhere that you go 
You try everything you can to escape
The pain of life that you know
I know a place where you can get away
It's called a dance floor, and here's what it's for, so
Come on, vogue

They compete in gigantic drag contests with judges and scores, their acts involving not lip-synching but "posing," often not in dresses but in the Park Avenue drag of the rich and powerful, critiquing the culture of excess and exclusion that would eventually lead to the Orange Goblin being elected president.

Real house members act as series consultants and take small roles, so the series has an air of authenticity. The nostalgic 1980s soundtrack helps: "Heartbeat," "In My House," "On the Radio," "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," "It's Raining Men," all of those old songs that we heard constantly at the bars but have since forgotten.

Feuds between houses occupy a substantial part of the plot, but there are also stories  about conflicts with the outside world.

1. Damon Richards of the House of Evangelista (Ryan Jamal Swain) is neither drag queen or transwoman, just a rather feminine gay man who aspires to become a dancer.  He begins dating fellow Evangelista Ricky (Dyllón Burnside),

2. Angel Evangelista (Indya Moore) begins dating Stan (Evan Peters): white, married, middle-class, employed by the Trump organization (which was sleazy even back in 1987)

The cast consists mosly of transgender actresses, so one doesn't expect a lot of beefcake. But there are a few conventionally masculine physiques:

1.Dyllón Burnside

2.Evan Peters

3. Angel Bismarck Curiel as drug-dealing house member Lil Papi.

4. Johnny Sibilly, Costas, the lover of ball m.c. Pray Tell (Billy Porter), who is dying of AIDS.

5. James Van Der Beek as Matt Bromley, Stan's completely odious boss.

6. Matthew Carter as "Walkman Wally).

But aren't muscles themselves a type of drag, a costume we wear to hide who we really are?

My grade: A+.

May 12, 2019

Gather the Faces of Men: Homophobia in American Literature Class

When I was a junior in college, I took courses in "The Modern British Novel", "The American Renaissance," and  "Modern American Literature," plus German, French, and Spanish Literature.  And I forever afterwards restricted my literature consumption to the pre-modern (I should have known from my freshman-year class in Fiction Writing).  The professor of the Amer Lit class chose the texts that most jubilantly proclaimed the absence of gay people from the world.

1. John Updike, "A and P." A teenage boy is working in small-town supermarket: “In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.” He goes on to describe their bodies in detail. Why do men never walk in with their shirts off?

2. Alan Dugan, "Tribute to Kafka for Someone Taken." He is at a party, when the police arrive. “I take one last drink,” he writes, “A last puff on a cigarette, a last kiss at a girl. . . .”   Why is there never a last kiss at a boy?

3. Carl Sandburg, "Stars, Songs, Faces": "Gather the faces of women" through our lives, and then, as we prepare to die, “Loosen your hands, let go and say goodbye.” Why are men's faces not worth gathering, or letting go?

Was there no glimpse of same-sex desire or love in these authors?

Not much. Carl Sandburg  evokes "the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of youth, half-naked, sweating," but his world is overwhelmingly that of “slender supple girls with shapely legs."

Men are described only in their connection to women: the Shovel-Man, who dreamed of by “a dark-eyed woman in the old country,” or Jack, who “married a tough woman and they had eight children,” or a Polish boy, “out with his best girl” on a Saturday night. Men only and always long for women.

John Updike writes endlessly about men noticing women, kissing women, and marrying women.   “We are all Solomons lusting for Sheba’s salvation,” says the narrator of “Lifeguard.”

There is a drag queen in "A Bar in Charlotte Amelie," but he is a lonely, pathetic creature, and he never expresses any same-sex interest.

In Updike's magnum opus about alienated suburban heterosexuals, Rabbit Run (1960),  Rabbit (played by James Caan in the movie version) wonders why his friend Tothero likes to watch him undress.  Could he be queer?  He wonders in horror.  No -- it's a nostalgic pleasure, a memory of all the times he used to watch boys undress in the locker room when he was young. that means Tothero isn't gay?

Alan Dugan was “the poet of masturbation,” endlessly describing his straight desires and exploits, with no mention of men except for barroom cronies.

His “Night Song for a Boy” is not about a boy, but about his depression over his failure to get enough women.

In old age, Dugan has a homoerotic dream about a dead friend, but in perhaps the most homophobic line in any poem since Catullus, he is horrified at the thought that his dream self might be “an impotent homosexual necrophiliac,” and longs for the “right” sort of dreams, dreams about women, again.

Every selection on the syllabus of that long-ago class came from an author who obsessed over heterosexual passion and erased nearly every trace of same-sex love from the world.  Their descriptions of men are bare and lifeless, as if too trivial to mention amid the endless paragraphs devoted to girls’ legs.

There were gay writers in mid-20th century America to choose from: Truman Capote, John Cheever, Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Allen Ginsburg, Amiri Baraka, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal. But I never heard of any of them in Modern American Literature class.

See also: Carl Sandburg's Two Gay References

J.R.R. Tolkien, the Heterosexual Who Wrote about Men in Love

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) was one of the iconic authors of my childhood, his Lord of the Rings trilogy one of the first gay novels I ever read.  I didn't even know what "gay" meant yet, but I knew about Sam carrying Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom, Merry and Pippin putting their beds next to Aragorn's, Gimili forsaking Middle Earth to follow Legolas to the Elven lands.

I didn't know anything about Tolkien himself, except that he was a scholar of Medieval literature from England.  I assumed that he was gay, of course.  What straight guy would evoke so many same-sex romances, and omit women, and desire for women, from Middle Earth?

Later I found out a few more details: he served in World War I, he was married to Edith throughout his life, he had four children, and he was a devout Roman Catholic (religion, too, was entirely absent from Middle Earth).  On the other hand, he was deeply involved in an informal group called the Inklings, men (including C.S. Lewis) who got together to drink, dream of Medieval worlds, and form those strong quasi-homoerotic bonds of Oxford best boys.

I certainly don't want to see the movie Tolkien (2019), which takes place before he even begins writing the novels and centers heterosexual romance as the great inspiration of his life. What's next, giving Oscar Wilde a great hetero-romance just because he was married to a woman?

So let's skip the details and see if Tolkien has any gay characters or beefcake potential.

1.  Nicholas Hoult (top photo) as good old John Ronald Reul himself.

2.  Anthony Boyle (second photo) as  Geoffrey Bache Smith, a childhood chum killed in the War.

3.Tom Glynn-Carney (left) as Christopher Wiseman,who invites Tolkien into his social group, his "fellowship," as it were.

4. Craig Roberts as Sam Hodges, a soldier Tolkien serves with,  maybe Sam to his Frodo?

5. Patrick Gibson as Robert Gibson, a fellow artist killed in the War.

That's about it,unless you want to take a look at the uncredited Bargeman, Drunken  Student #2, Rugby Spectator, and Moroccan Waiter.

See also:The Lord of the Rings

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