Aug 5, 2022

Movies in the Fall of 1985: Tim Curry Plays Straight, Michael J. Fox Plays Homophobic, a Teen Nerd Bulges, and a Gay Couple Splashes

 I already covered the years 1984-85 and 1986, so this is filling in the blanks.  I move to West Hollywood in June 1985, found a small apartment (actually a one-room cottage) and three part time jobs, and began the whirl of life in a gay neighborhood: gay church, bookstore, supermarket, gym, laundromat, cookie place.  Apparently I had not yet been socialized into the rule of never setting foot outside a gay neighborhood, if you can help it, so I left often: 11 movies in theaters, as many in six months as I would see in a whole year later on.

August: Weird Science. Two nerds use weird science to build a woman, who becomes a big sister rather than a sex toy (not to worry, they both meet the Girls of their Dreams).  Lots of male nudity, including an underwear scene with Ilan Mitchell-Smith, who would go on to become a history professor.

August: Teen Wolf.  I had just met Michael J. Fox, so I was curious to see if there were any gay subtexts in this story of a boy who "comes out" as a werewolf.  Nope: "I'm not a fag, I'm a werewolf."

September: After Hours,  which would become one of my favorite movies. Griffin Dunne (previously seen in American Werewolf in London) get swept up in the bizarre, surreal world of New York City after hours.  Gay characters are presented matter-of- factly, and even kiss.  I guess the producers thought it would be ok if they only inhabited an underground night world.

October: Dreamchild.  The elderly Mrs. Hargreaves, who inspired Alice in Wonderland when she was a girl, deals with reporters, tabloids, and her conflicting memories of Lewis Carroll.  I went with a guy who had no idea what was going on, since he never heard of Alice in Wonderland.  How is that possible?  (He also didn't know that the Wizard of Oz movie was based on a book series.)

October: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. It was nice to be able to go to a gay-themed movie without having to drive 50 miles to a theater in a different city.  Unfortunately, this one closets the gay novelist, making his obsession with muscles irrelevant to his heterosexual identity. 

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.  Obviously the producers were expecting a blockbuster, followed by numerous sequels and an action hero as iconic as Rambo.  But Fred Ward (Remo) was no Sylvester Stallone. Hint: have him take off his clothes!

October: The Silver Bullet. I may have seen this one on tv later.  Teen idol Corey Haim, in a wheelchair, fights werewolves and wins the Girl of His Dreams.

November: My Beautiful Laundrette. A gay couple in modern Britain fight homophobia, racism, and culture clashes.  I don't remember much about it; maybe I was planning to see it, but didn't, for some reason.

November: Bad Medicine. Steve Guttenberg (sigh) goes to med school in a racist-stereotype Central American banana republic, butts heads with the evil Dean, and wins the Girl of His Dreams. It's hot down there; why doesn't he take off his shirt now and then?

Clue: The logical-deduction murder-mystery game brought to life, with six strangers played by recognizable 1980s stars.  All have dark secrets, and of course Mr. Green's dark secret is being gay (except, in one of the three variant endings, he turns out to be a straight undercover cop).  Tim Curry plays the butler Wadsworth, who is also straight.

December: Legend: In a fairytale world, a princess and a bad boy (Tom Cruise) fight a demon played by Tim Curry.  Why did we keep expecting him to play gay characters?  He was obviously trying to disassociate himself from Rocky Horror by playing as many straight/masculine guys as possible. 

Aug 1, 2022

What's Wrong with the Term "Homosexual"? Other Than Being Extremely Offensive and Homophobic?

The English language didn’t have a word for people who are exclusively drawn to one sex or another until 1892, when the English translation of Richard Von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis appeared.  It divided human beings into two populations, the heterosexual and the homosexual, the one normal, natural, benign, the other contingent, abnormal, unnatural, purveyors of evil, victims of an insidious and destructive psychopathology.  Psychiatrists, criminologists, teachers, and journalists continued to talk about the dark, sinister “homosexual” psychopath for the next 70 years.

Meanwhile, in subcultures organized by people with exclusive same-sex desires and behaviors, the common term was “gay,” probably derived from prostitute slang of the 1890s.  We don’t know how early it was used, but at least by 1932, when Noel Coward wrote the song “Mad About the Boy”:  “He has a gay appeal that makes me feel there’s maybe something sad about the boy.”

Certainly by 1938, when, in the movie Bringing Up Baby, Cary Grant must answer the door in a lady’s nightgown, and he tells the startled caller, “I’ve just gone gay all of a sudden.”  The bisexual actor ad-libbed the line as an in-joke for his friends, assuming it would go over the  heads of the audience.

It was deliberately meant as a code term, used only by members of the subculture.  As late as the 1960s, you could say “I’m going to a gay party tonight,” and judge by the reaction of the listener if they got it or not.

Most outsiders preferred not to "name" same-sex desire at all -- it was much too sinister – but if they had no choice, they used the word “homosexual.”  The first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, used the word “homosexual,” reasoning that otherwise no one would know what they were talking about.

In 1969, the Gay Liberation Front, and the subsequent Gay Rights Movement, made two significant changes.  First, they believed that they were not psychotic, not abominations, not evil.   They chanted “Gay is just as good as straight."

Second, the word “homosexual” had to go.  It was old-fashioned and bigoted. It referred to a mental disorder.  Besides, it had to do with who you have sex with, and they were about so much more than that.  They were about living and working together, sharing a history and a destiny, being a community.  They were not homosexuals, skulking in the darkness, seeking out anonymous liaisons in t-rooms.  They were gay.

The term “gay” was not without detractors.  Many famous homophiles, such as Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood, and Truman Capote, said it was much too frivolous for a bona fide minority group.  Many people said that it was sexist, like using “men” to mean “all people,” ignoring the women.  It also assumed exclusive same-sex desire, behavior, and romance, whereas the community also included bisexuals and transgendered persons.  Eventually LGBT appeared an alternative, and then "queer."

Regardless, “homosexual” was gone, and would remain out of favor among gay people for the next 40 year.  In an Advocate poll in 2000, in answer to the question “What should we be called?”, 95% of respondents said gay or LGBT; 3% homosexual.

There are over 5000 gay or LGBT organizations in the United States, and no homosexual ones.

Barnes & Noble lists 3,389 books with “gay” in their titles and 305 with “homosexual,”  most written to argue that “homosexuals” are bad, evil, and psychotic after all: The Homosexual Neurosis, Hope and Healing for the Homosexual, The Homosexual Agenda.

The Gay Rights Movement had a good precedent for a society-wide name change. In 1965, the Civil Rights Movement objected to the term “Negro,” then used by government agencies, journalists, and on the streets.  Negro was old-fashioned and bigoted.  They chanted “Black is Beautiful!”  They wanted to be called Black.

Mass media changed instantly.  Within 2 years, no one was saying “Negro” except for the incredibly old-fashioned and the bigoted.  In Julia, in 1966, the titular character is on the telephone, & identifies herself as “a Negro.”  The white man she is talking to, not wanting to appear bigoted, pretends that he has no idea what she means, forcing her to use the new term “Black.”

But “homosexual” didn’t change easily. Even though gay people yelled, picketed, conducted sit-ins, and so on, it took until 1985 for the New York Times to agree to substitute gay for homosexual.  In 1976, in the Doonesbury comic strip, Joannie’s law school classmate says “I’m gay,” and she doesn’t understand.

The American Psychiatric Association removed gay people from their list of dangerous psychotics in 1973, but refused to call them “gay” until 1997.  About 20% of scholarly articles today still have “homosexual” rather than “gay” in their titles.  In newspapers and magazines, “gay” tends to win out in titles, but in the articles “homosexual” sometimes pops in as if it an exact synonym.  

In homophobic texts, of course, it's "homosexual" all the way.

Need more convincing?

Movies in 1982-83: Dustin Hoffman in Drag, Rob Lowe in Drag, Two Mighty-Thewed Barbarians, a Gay Murderer, and Tom Cruise


1982-83 was my first year in grad school at Indiana University.  Moving from a college with 2,000 students to a R1 Research University with 40,000, I went crazy.  Who cared that I was supposed to be working toward a degree in English?  Let's sign up for Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Russian Folklore, and East Asian Anthropology.  

I was finally old enough to go to bars, so I was at Bullwinkle's in downtown Bloomington two or three times a week, hooking up in earnest ( I was heavily closeted at Eigenmann Hall, so I littered my room with Playboy and Hustler magazines and pretended that last-night's hookup was with a girl).  When you have a choice of going to a movie or hooking up, which takes precedence?  Still, there were two theaters in walking distance,so I managed to go 13 times.  In retrospect, most of the movies were dreadful.

The Beastmaster.  Wouldn't you?  Conan knockoff Mark Singer has a whole coterie of helpers, including a post-Good Times John Amos, a little boy, the Girl, and two ferrets who are good at biting through ropes.

August: Querelle: "Each man kills the thing he loves."  An adaption of the novel by Jean Genet, promoting the myth that being gay (actually bisexual) disrupts your morality so severely that you are compelled to become a thief and a murderer, and betray everyone who loves you.  But it was a real gay-themed movie with real gay-themed sex scenes, and Brad Davis (top photo) was cute. I was too closeted to see it in Bloomington, so I drove into Indianapolis.

September: Endangered Species. Indiana University was similar to Augustana College in one way: ever to mention even a passing interested in science fiction or fantasy marked you as an infantile, boorish Philistine.  So I had to sneak around to see both gay-themed and science fiction-themed movies.  This one wasn't worth it: Robert Ulrich of Vegas and The Girl investigate cattle mutilations.

October: Android.  This one wasn't, either.  Klaus Kinski and The Girl fight androids in deep space.  I didn't go to another science fiction/fantasy movie until I was back in Rock Island for the summer.

November: Creepshow.  A horror anthology meant to reflect the experience of reading those old EC horror comics, like Tales from the Crypt.  Five stories, mostly about about transgressors who get an ironic comeuppance.  The only one I remember stars Adrienne Barbeau as the abusive wife of milksop college professor Hal Holbrook.

December: The Year of Living Dangerously.  "You're in graduate school.  It's time to leave juvenile science fiction trash behind, and go to serious, artsy movies."  Mel Gibson and The Girl live through the Indonesian Revolution of 1965 and, like, think deep thoughts and stuff.  Notable for Linda Hunt playing Chinese-Australian photographer and voyeur Billy Kwan.  A woman playing a man was shocking at the time.

December: Tootsie: although men playing women was not a problem.  Tired of all of the discrimination men face in Hollywood, Dustin Hoffman becomes Dorothy, aka Tootsie, gets a cushy soap opera job, and teaches the women how to fight back against sexual harassment.  A guy falls in love with him (as Tootsie), and he falls in love with the Girl, so of course he has to come out as a man. The Girl is ok with lesbians, but the guy..."The only reason you're alive is that I never kissed you."  Intense homophobia presented as matter-of-fact.

January: None

February: None.

Spring Break.  The poster shows guys climbing a "mountain" that turns out to be a girl in a bikini.  The plot is about a guy falling in love with The Girl and saving his beloved spring break motel from his evil politician Dad.  So why did I go?  

I don't remember.  Maybe I thought there would be some beefcake amid the wet t-shirt and mud-wrestling contests.

April: Liquid Sky: a weird, artsy, surreal, postmodern movie about drugs, murder, reality mediated through film, and maybe aliens.  

April: Loosin' It: four guys in the 1960s including then-unknown Tom Cruise, trying to have sex with girls, including then-unknown Shelly Long .  It tries to key into the 1950s nostalgia craze, the "Smokey and the Bandits" Southern sheriff craze, and the teen sex comedy craze, all at the same time.  Again, I don't remember why I saw it: maybe looking for beefcake?  

May: Return of the Jedi.  The one with the teddy bears.  And Darth Vader's death.

June: Wargames. Matthew Broderick and The Girl think that they're playing one of those newfangled video games, but actually they're starting a nuclear war.  I saw this because I could go to science fiction movies again, and because of Matthew Broderick, the beefcake bonanza of the 1980s.

June: Twilight Zone: The Movie. An anthology remaking episodes of the classic ironic-horror series, which I had not yet seen. An anti-Semitic guy zaps into the Holocaust; elderly people get zapped into kids; a boy who can zap anything into anything has a bad temper; a man sees a gremlin on the wing of his airplane. No gay content.

: Class: College boy Andrew McCarthy falls in love with roommate Rob Lowe, and accidentally sleeps with his mother. Strong gay subtext.  For an added bonus, in the first scene, Andrew catches Rob wearing ladies' underwear, and assumes that he' know, before he explains that it's a prank.

July: Krull: another Conan the Barbarian ripoff, featuring another of Robert E. Howard's characters (he did write other things, you know).  Except this Conan, Ken Marshall, is not exactly mighty-thewed, and doesn't bare his chest (there are beefcake photos online, but after the first 6 warned that I couldn't "download them safely," I gave up.)

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