Sep 28, 2013

Joseph and the Amazing Gay Dreamcoat

I'm not a big fan of musicals, but Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1972) is one of my favorites, for three reasons (other than it was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who I met in 1999).

Reason #1: The utter absence of a hetero-romantic plot, almost unheard-of in musical theater.

It's a Mod version of the picaresque adventures of Joseph (from the Bible), favorite of his father, given a Coat of Many Colors.

His brothers, jealous, set out to kill him, but have a change of heart and sell him to slave traders instead.  He ends up in Egypt -- depicted as a glittery Las Vegas -- as a slave to sleazy merchant Potiphar.

Potiphar's wife tries unsuccessfully to seduce him -- "I don't believe in free love," he yells in 1960s slang.  Or maybe he doesn't particularly care for girls.  

Falsely accused of attempted rape, Joseph is thrown in prison, where he begins interpreting other prisoners' weird dreams, thus drawing the attention of the Pharaoh (an Elvis-like pop star).   Pharaoh makes Joseph his right-hand man. The brothers arrive, and Joseph toys with them a bit before reconciling.

Reason #2:  Pharaoh likes Joseph -- a lot.  Big gay subtext.

Reason #3: Joseph spends most of the play with the Dream Coat off.  And nearly everything else off.  The Pharaoh usually gets an opportunity to flex.

There have been innumerable revivals, in Britain and the U.S., with Joseph played by James Royce Edwards, Paul Jones, David James-Carroll, Bill Hutton, Mike HolowayDavid Cassidy, his brother Patrick Cassidy, Jason Donovan, Lee Mead, and Keith Jacks (top photo).  Former teen idol Donny Osmond starred in the 1999 movie version.

But that's not all.  Joseph is a favorite of high school and college theater departments; apparently there have been 20,000 productions since 1972. So you have a good chance of seeing Stars of Tomorrow performing Joseph and the Pharaoh at a little theater near you.

Girl Meets World: Teencom with Actual, Real Gay Characters

I didn't think we really needed a Disney Channel sequel to Boy Meets World (1993-2000), the TGIF sitcom about a high schooler (Ben Savage), his girlfriend Topanga (Danielle Fischel), and his boyfriend Shawn (Rider Strong).  It was great, loaded down with gay subtexts that the actors seemed fully aware of.  But what contemporary kid has ever heard of it?

Then I saw the picture of the boy on the elephant.

I can't think of anything to say about it.

He's 14-year old Teo Halm, who has just signed on to play the older brother.  He doesn't have many acting credits, but checking out his tweets and instagrams makes me rather certain that his character will be gay-vague.

The teencom, to premiere in January 2014, makes Corey a middle-school history teacher, and Topanga the owner of a restaurant specializing in pudding. Shawn may be stopping by occasionally.

 The central characters are Corey and Topanga's 12-year old daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard) and her bff Sabrina (Maya Fox).  Girl-power lesbian subtext, anyone?

Riley has two brothers, Elliott (Teo Halm) and Louis (August Maturo), an obnoxious cousin (Leon Sparks), and a crush (Peyton Meyer, left).

Peyton's tweets and instagrams (top photo, for instnace) also suggest that his character might be gay-vague.

Or not.  Apparently this series will be a teencom first, featuring an actual, real, live gay character.  Wearing a Sign and everything.

No word on whether he or she is a regular, recurring, or one-shot.

But, in a few months, barring a last minute decision to close the closet door, the Disney Channel will breaking the silence.

Update: At the last minute, Disney decided to scrap the Teo Halm character, and the gay potential with him.

Sep 27, 2013

Malcolm: Cold War Hustler and His Clients

An elderly, debauched astrologer encounters a boy named Malcolm sitting on a bench outside a hotel in a nameless city.  He is waiting for his father to return.  He doesn't know how long he has been waiting; maybe weeks, maybe years.  His father has been gone a long time.  Let the symbolism begin.

Malcolm is stunningly beautiful, so everyone he sees desires him.  But he desires no one.  He is innocent, a virgin.

 The astrologer decides to corrupt his soul.

He has Malcolm visit a series of his evil associates and their wives or consorts. Each tries to seduce Malcolm, with sex, friendship, money, or art, but each fails, due to a tragic fault or deception.

1. Estel Blanc, a mortician who is not aware that he is black, or that his consort is a transvestite.
2. Kermit, who is not aware that he is a midget, or that his wife is a prostitute.
3. Girard Girard, who is not aware that he is impossibly old, or that his wife has four lovers.
4. Jerome Brace, who is not aware that he is impossibly young, or that his marriage is unconsummated.

Malcolm has sex with all of the men except Estel, in hints only, in suddenly awakening to a shared bed or feeling their face against his thigh.

#5 is Melba, a famous singer who keeps marrying young boys and discarding them when they grow up. Malcolm has sex with one of her discards, and then marries her.

A few months pass, and Malcolm finally finds his father, but the older man calls him a pederast and runs away.  They have switched roles, and ages; the son has become the father.  Malcolm has lived a lifetime.  And he is dying, of "sexual exhaustion."

James Purdy (left), who was gay himself, published Malcolm in 1959, when gay meant evil, sinister, soul-destroying.  The modern reader doesn't feel the same frisson of dread.  The self-deceiving libertines seem tragic rather than threatening, stymied in their attempts to find love.

And Malcolm seems less an innocent corrupted by his own beauty than a teenage hustler who is playing a long con on his wealthy clients.

 Playwright Edward Albee adapted the novel for the stage in 1966, with Matthew Cowles playing Malcolm. It closed after five performance.

Sep 26, 2013

Fall 1977: Black or Gay or Both?

I spent the fall of 1977, my senior year at Rocky High, thinking that maybe gay people weren't all that horrifying after all: meeting a cute gay waiter in Kankakee, dealing with Aaron's sudden lack of homophobia, being disgusted by the preacher's homophobia.  Then, in late October or early November, my workout buddy Tyrone invited me to the Black Student Union's Harvest Dance.  A double date -- I had to get a girl.

I asked Rhonda, one of my lunch crowd friends.

Wrong move: she stared at me as if I had invited her to a beheading.  “You’re kidding, right?” she said. “Why would I go to one of  Their dances?”

Usually at Rocky High, "they" and "them" referred only to Swishes (gays).

“ It’s not one of Their dances! Why would They even hold a dance? They hate women, so who would They be dancing with?

The rest of this post is on Tales of West Hollywood

Eric Martsolf: All Gay-Friendly

If you're a soap opera fan, you know Eric Martsolf as Brady Black on Days of Our Lives (2008-13): here he and his friends strip for charity (only women in the audience) -- or Ethan Winthrop on Passions (2002-2008).

But the 42-year old actor has had a long career as a singer, model, and stage actor -- four years as the Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat -- with several more gay-friendly projects.

Actually, his non-soap work has almost all been gay-friendly.

Four Steps (2009), about a lesbian who hires The Master to help her hone her gaydar.

Venice the Series (2009-), about a lesbian who works as an interior designer in Venice. In 2011-2012, Eric played Van, her roguish nephew. 


Miss Behave (2010-2012), about the mischievous children of super-successful parents, a writer and a talent agent.  Billy (Trevor Doyle Nelson) is "struggling with his sexual identity": Hollywood code for "gay, but we want to give him girlfriends anyway."  Eric had a 3-episode story arc as Marcus Dunne, a famous client who takes a liking to Billy.

No actual gay characters, but then the square-jawed type rarely gets cast as gay.  In real life Eric is a gay ally, a supporter of gay marriage.

Free Fall: Not Knowing for Half of Your Life

I haven't seen Free Fall (Frierfall, 2013), but apparently it's about a guy named Marc (Hanno Koffler) who has gone through half of his life as heterosexual (he's 33).  He's got a pregnant girlfriend.  Then suddenly, without warning, meets Kay (Max Riemelt), and turns gay.

Wait -- you can't turn gay -- you are attracted to the same sex or not.

But if you have no idea, not the slightest inkling, if you've never experienced a moment of same-sex desire, not consciously, anyway,  it's about the same thing.

Can anyone really not know for half of their life?

Parents, teachers, and other adults almost invariably assume that every child is innately heterosexual.

Have you ever seen anything as disgusting as this "lock up your daughters" t shirt?  Apparently this baby boy's parents can't wait until he's a teenager to start brainwashing him into the "girls! girls! girls!" mantra.  They want everybody to think that he's already anxious to sexually assault all of the girls in the neighborhood.  And this is a good thing.

Not only are they presumed grotesquely heterosexual from birth, kids are kept from the knowledge that gay people exist.  

One of my students, who was heterosexual, said that she had no idea that gay people existed until her senior year in high school, when an "alternative prom" was offered to those students who wanted to bring same-sex dates.  Why would anyone want a same-sex date? she asked.  Her friends explained.

After 18 years of silence.

When you are gay, but assumed heterosexual and denied knowledge that gay people exist, it's very easy to fall into a false heterosexual identity, to go through the motions of heterosexual desire and behavior, to ignore your same-sex desires or explain them as something else.

Or it can be merely a matter of definition:  when all you hear about and see on tv or in movies are negative stereotypes, you think "I'm not like that, so whatever I am experience, it doesn't signify gayness."  So you go through your life thinking that, like all heterosexuals, you are attracted to the same sex.

One of my dissertation respondents "came out" at age 63. He knew that he was not attracted to women, and that he was attracted to men -- he and his wife both enjoyed movies featuring male nudity.  And he knew about gay men, the flitting, sashaying queens of tv.  He just never made the connection until one day his wife came home from the library with a book on gay people.  Real ones.  A light bulb came on over his head.

After 63 years of silence.

I didn't make the association until the summer after my senior year in high school.  Before that, there were only hints and signals.

Fall 1982: The Gayellow Pages

Sometimes people who are about my age, especially those who grew up on the East or West coasts, wonder how I could have been unaware that gay/lesbian people existed until I was nearly 16 years old.  How I could have avoided seeing the word "gay" in print until the summer after my 19th birthday.  After all, there were gay characters in movies in the 1960s, and on tv as early as 1971.  Dozens of gay books.  By 1980, Gay Pride Parades (then called Gay Rights Parades) were being held in a dozen cities around the country.

But the gay characters appeared in movies and tv programs that I wasn't allowed to watch, the gay books did not appear on the shelves in any library or bookstore that I had access to, and the nearest Gay Pride Parade was in Chicago.

I knew about "fairies" (feminine men) from my earliest childhood, but I didn't know about gay people until the fall of 1976, when Denny Miller played a gay man who mentored Tommy (Philip McKeon, left) on Alice. I didn't know that they wrote books until the spring of 1980, when I saw Fred's hidden bookshelf, and even then I figured there were only about a dozen in existence.  

I knew about gay bars, bath houses, and adult bookstores, but I had never been in one.  I knew about pornographic magazines.  And that's all.  I figured that since being gay was illegal (it wasn't, at least not in Illinois), there couldn't be any organizations or publications, no community, nothing except clandestine closet bars and porn magazines. 

In the fall of 1982, I began graduate school in Bloomington, Indiana.  On the night of September 25th, I went to an adult bookstore near the campus and asked "Do you have anything gay?", hoping for some porn.  I got got copies of Mandate, In Touch (with the article "Prince Charles is Gay") and Christopher Street, and a directory called the Gayellow Pages.  

It was #12.  That means it was first published in 1970!  There were gay communities at least as far back as 1970, and not only bars and bath houses, but "Businesses, churches, organizations, accommodations, publications..."

And not only in big cities.

There were 16 listings for Madison, Wisconsin. 6 bars, 2 bookstores, a community center, two health services, a legal service, a liquor store, a religious group, a place called "the soap opera," and a women's center.

Kicking myself for not going to the University of Wisconsin, I looked up Bloomington.  A little more sparse: a bar called Bullwinkle's, a women's center,  and a gay student group.  When I called the student group, I got the message: "All conversations are recorded and delivered to the police," so I hung up quickly to avoid being arrested.  But still, it was obvious that there were many more gay people than I ever imagined, and they were much more organized than I ever thought possible.

See also: I Visit an Adult Bookstore.

Sep 25, 2013

Fall 1977: Winning the Waiter's Soul

October 1977, my senior year at Rocky High: though my ex-boyfriend Verne had dropped out of Olivet, our Bible college on the prairie, I still had my early admission and a substantial scholarship.  So in early October, I think the 8th-10th, I caught a ride to Olivet for an "early admission weekend."

We sat in on actual classes, slept in actual dorm rooms, ate in the cafeteria, and heard lectures on everything from Campus Church to intramural sports.I hated every minute of it.

We had Saturday afternoon free to explore the ugly campus and the dismal little village of Bourbonnais, but we were cautioned to not walk more than ten blocks, or onto Convent Street (too Catholic), and especially not into the worldly, ungodly city of Kankakee.

The only bright spot: I "went around with" with a boy named Beau, a tall, dark-haired preacher’s kid from Ohio who I met in Switzerland last summer  (no pic, but in my memory he looks like this).

There wasn't much to see in Bourbonnais, but we gamely stopped at a sporting goods store and a used furniture store, and I eyed a comic book store just on the other side of Brookmont Boulevard, in Kankakee, but Beau reminded me that it was against the rules.

We stopped for a snack in a little diner, where the waiter (named Rich) was a few years older than us, handsome, with sandy brown hair and a gleaming smile.  There was no one else around, so he sat down with us for awhile.  He had just graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in theater, and he kept driving up to Chicago for auditions.  He had been in The Music Man and South Pacific.

South Pacific! He must be very muscular to star in that beefcake heavy musical!

Suddenly I got an vision of hugging and holding Rich at the altar as he Prayed through to Victory. I decided to invite him to church.  Wait -- I'd be going home tomorrow.

But I could win his soul right there!

Every Nazarene teen learned the skills of soulwinning, or convincing friends, acquaintances, or perfect strangers to accept Jesus on the spot, without waiting for a Sunday sermon.  It was much more difficult than inviting them to church, but worth the effort --even one soul won would vastly increase your prestige and catapult you into the ranks of church royalty. Besides, you got to hug them as they Prayed Through.

I used the simplest opening:  “Have you ever heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?"

But instead of giving the textbook answer, Rich rolled his eyes and said, "I've heard that one five times this week.  Don't they give you fundy kids any new material?"

We retreated in red-faced ignominy to the street.

“I shouldn’t have tried such an easy opener!” It hadn’t occurred to me that Bourbonnais had been overrun by generations of Johnny and Suzie Nazarenes eager to win souls and forbidden from walking more than ten blocks from campus.

“Don’t get bugged."  “I don’t think any soulwinning tactic would work on her.”

“Her? That was obviously a guy!”

He clapped me on the back. “Nope – try again. That was definitely a Fruitcake.”

"A what?"

"A Fruit. . .you know. . . .” He flashed a loose wrist.

“Oh. . .um, in Rock Island we call Them something else.”  I was still homophobic, and aa sudden wave of fear rushed over me, as if I had just avoided being hit by a car. “Do you think that was one of Their hangouts?”

“Doubtful – she just works there. Sometimes normal people don’t realize that they’re Fruits, and give them jobs. But you can always tell from the lisp.  And the acting!”

“Yeah, I definitely heard the lisp!”, I lied. I was strangely disappointed. Where was the handbag, the sickly-sweet smell of commingled cologne and perfume, the soul-destroying leer?  Until the fundy quip, Rich was actually pleasant.  And cute.  I wanted to get to know him, hug him.

Maybe gay people weren't so bad after all.

I didn't get to hug Beau, either.

Turkish for Beginners: Gay Subtexts and Nudity

Turkisch fur Anfanger (Turkish for Beginners, 2006-2009) was sitcom airing on German PBS, about a blended family.

1. Psychotherapist Doris
2. Her children, Lena (who narrates), and gay-coded Nils (Emil Reinke).
2. Metin (Adnan Maral), a Turkish immigrant police officer

4. His children, devout Muslim Yagmur and wannabe gangster Cem (Elyas M'Barek, left).

Lots of "girls! girls! girls!" proclamations occur, as every one of the cast has to choose between two prospective hetero-romances: Lena is dating Axel, and Cem, who is dating both Lena and Ulla.

However, from the episodes I've seen, there are gay subtexts everywhere.  Nils crushes on Axel. Lena flirts with Yagmur.  Cem and his buddy Costa (Arnel Taci) are in love, and know it (kind of):

Cem: Have you ever said 'I love you'?
Costa: What are you implying, dude? We're just friends, aren't we?

There is also ample male nudity, including this frontal.

You can see episodes on youtube and Hulu.

The 2012 feature film Turkische fur Anfanger has the gang all meet when their plane crashes on a desert island.  Cem hooks up with Lena, and Costa with Yagmur, but I assume the gay subtexts are intact.

Too bad it's not playing in Turkey.

Sep 24, 2013

Fall 1977: Finding the Gays at Rocky High

During my junior year, Aaron, the rabbi's son who was gay (but didn't know it yet) was exceptionally homophobic. I was homophobic too, of course (I hadn't yet made the connection between "gay" and "boys who like boys.").

But he spent the summer of 1977 visiting relatives in Brooklyn, and returned noticeably tolerant.

He had no qualms about watching Soap, the tv sitcom with a gay character.  He didn't mind driving past the Hawaiian Lounge, the gay bar downtown.  And he had a treasure trove of stories about gay and bisexual Hollywood stars like Rock Hudson and James Dean.  Mostly scandals:

Silent-film star Ramon Novarro choked to death when burglars shoved a gigantic dildo, an artificial penis, down his throat.

Sal Mineo, star of Rebel without a Cause, died after having sex with a male prostitute with a gigantic penis.

Singer Barry Manilow had to be rushed to the emergency room after having sex with over a hundred gay men on the same night.

Finally one night when we were watching tv in my attic room, I yelled, “Enough, already! Don’t you have any stories about normal people? I swear, if you mention one more Swish, I’m going to throw up!”

“Sorry," Adam said.  "I know you don't like gays."

"Don't like them?"  I exclaimed.  "That's an understatement -- they're disgusting! They pretend to be girls, all that make up and perfume, and they carry handbags and call each other 'thweetie.'"

"So what if they act like girls?  They're not hurting anyone."

"Not hurting anyone?  Are you kidding?  They spend all their time trying to seduce normal boys, and if you're too masculine to seduce, they kill you!"

"Well, maybe some of them do that, but you can't blame an entire group on the actions of a few."

"But...but...handbags and perfume..." I sputtered.  "And that's not all...." I remembered that our preacher had just discovered homophobia.  "God hates them.  He hates boys who act like girls."

"Well, then God must hate you.  You play in the orchestra, that's girly.  Nobody can be macho all the time."

Fuming, I said "No...that's different...I don't say 'Thweetie.'"

Aaron looked at me, waiting for my next argument.  But I kept silent and pretended to watch CHIPS.  Finally he said, "Have you ever seen one?"

I had seen two -- the Fairy on the double date at the Hawaiian Lounge, and the waiter at the restaurant where I tried out my soul-winning technique -- but I was tired of Aaron's superior attitude.  "Of course not, and neither have you.  There aren’t any in Rock Island. You’d have to go all the way to San Francisco to find Their little dens of depravity.”

“One of the guys at Rocky High is gay,” Aaron said softly.  "I'll give you $5  if you can tell me who.”

Great -- now I would never be comfortable at Rocky High again!  

Anxious to win my $5, I spent the next week scrutinizing every boy for a tell-tale hip-wiggle or loose wrist, concentrating on the drama club and home economics class.

No one particularly feminine presented himself, so I went back to Aaron and asked for more clues.  "He's really muscular,"  Aaron said.  "Works out all the time."

"That's impossible!  Gays think they're girls.  Why would they want muscles?!"

ButI spent another week searching the weight room and the locker room for a Swish disguised as a jock. No one particularly evil presented himself.

I never found out who the gay guy at Rocky High was.

Years later, it occurred to me that Aaron may have been talking about himself.

Except when he finally told me that he was gay, he swore that he didn't know in high school.

Or -- maybe he was talking about me?  Did he know something?

Aaron's story continues when we go to Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

Dream Boy: Good Old Boys and Ghosts in Love

In Dream Boy (2008), it's the 1970s, and shy, intellectual high schooler Nathan (Stephan Bender), who looks like Shaun Cassidy, moves with his mousy mother and sexually abusive father to the small town of St. Francisville, Louisiana.  He falls in love with Good Old Boy Roy (Maximillian Roeg).  Neither has been in a same-sex relationship before; neither is aware that gay people exist.

That's the plot of every gay coming of age movie ever made, including several on my list of 10 Gay Movies I Loved and 10 Gay Movies I Hated.

But here, for a change of pace, the Big Bad isn't homophobia -- although the two experience a lot of that -- but jealousy.

Dad tries to control Nathan's life, and feels threatened by his new relationship.

Roy's closeted buddy Burke (Randy Wayne, below) wanted Roy for himself, and feels threatened by his new relationship.

Nathan leaves home to escape from the abuse; Dad threatens to find him.

He moves in with Roy; Burke fumes.

Then, for some reason, Nathan, Roy, Burke, and his rebound boyfriend Randy (Owen Beckman) go on a camping trip to a deserted plantation on the bayou.

The supernatural takes over, with omens, spirits, and chants.  Spoiler alert: Burke, maybe channelling Nathan's father or Satan or both, rapes Nathan, then murders him.

Yes, the sweet, innocent gay guy dies.  But not because he's gay.  That's very important.

After the funeral, Roy sees Nathan on the school bus, smiling at him.  Maybe he's a ghost.  Maybe, Christlike, he's risen from the dead.  Maybe he never died at all, and the camping trip and aftermath was all a dream.  The ending is ambiguous.

Stephan Bender is best known for Superman Returns (2006), where he is on screen for about five minutes as the young Clark Kent.

Maximillian Roeg (left), who is actually British, not Good Old Boy, has a few more screen roles, including the thriller Maneater (2009). 

 Randy Wayne is the biggest star of the group, and the only one who has specified a sexual identity: he's "straight but not narrow."


Sep 23, 2013

Fun Size: Nickelodeon Sex Comedy with Gay Characters

American movies and tv programs aimed at a juvenile audience are aggressively heterosexist, screaming hysterically in every episode "Heterosexual desire is universal!" and "Gay people absolutely do not exist!"  Nickelodeon's Fun Size (2012) got away with gay characters only because they were minor, adult, and female, and did not detract from the furious heterosexual machinations of the teens.

Oh, and because the movie got a PG-13 rating: Parents Strongly Cautioned!  Children under age 13 could be traumatized by discovering that gay people exist!

It's a Halloween-themed movie ("Fun Size" refers to the miniature candy bars people pass out to trick-or-treaters).

Wren (Victoria Justice of Victorious) has been invited to a big, cool Halloween party thrown by Aaron (Thomas McDonnell, left), the hunk she is crushing on.

But on the way, her younger brother Albert gets lost in a sea of trick-or-treaters, and she has to find him.  She enlists her best friend April (Jane Levy) and two nerds, Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and Peng (Osric Chau, left), who have crushes on them.  Guess who hooks up?

Meanwhile Albert gets involved with Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch), who is plotting to toilet-paper his ex-girlfriend's house in revenge after she breaks up with him to date the jerk Jorgen (Johnny Knoxville).  Not to worry, Fuzzy finds a new girl.

In fact, the only one who doesn't hook up is little Albert.  Which is surprising, since in contemporary juvenile media, 8-year olds are usually portrayed as just as hetero-horny as teens.

There's a lackluster gay subtext between Roosevelt and Peng, and some beefcake, such as Josh Pence (left) as Wren's mother's twink boyfriend.

You also get to see Fuzzy naked.

And the gay characters: Roosevelt's two Moms, an oddball lesbian couple who will allow him to borrow the family car only if he can ask in Ancient Greek (he misses the word for "seat belt").

Not enough to detract from the unyielding heterosexism of this Nickelodeon sex comedy.

Fall 1977: Kissing a Boy Under the Mistletoe

In junior high, Brian was on the outer edges of my social circle, really one of my brother's friends..  We never hung out.  And when I was in high school, he moved with his parents to Bettendorf, across the river, so I rarely saw him at all.  Yet he was there during some of the most memorable moments of my childhood (I haven't posted about all of them yet):

The first time I hear about gay people on tv.
The secret message at Washington Junior High
Philippine Tubes
The drawing in the basement
And "How Deep is Your Love"

On December 23, 1977, when I was in twelfth grade (a month or so after the Black Student Union Dance and some six months before I Figured It Out), my brother Ken hosted a party for his Rocky High crowd.  He draped our basement rec room with tinsel and offered guests pingpong, foosball, Happy Joes pizzas, Christmas presents, and disco music (but no dancing -- against Nazarene rules). 

I played pingpong for awhile with a stocky, dull-eyed girl named Anne.  Then Brian arrived with a friend from Bettendorf (across the river in Iowa).  He was thin and taut with a misty smile, his hair much darker than in grade school.  He was wearing a green sweater awash with little red bells, and tight faded jeans that bulged like a teen idol’s. 

 After they said "H'lo" to Ken, they started mingling, and when they got to the mistletoe, I said "Hey, everybody, my first victims!" and kissed them both on the cheek.  Everybody laughed.

Later I ran into Brian alone, and sat with him on the couch. "Cool joke!" he said.

We about talked his classes, AP English and German.  We talked about my college applications.  We talked about Pajama Game and Ragtime, Happy Days and The Great Gatsby, and a hundred other things I couldn’t recall later. We played pingpong and foosball.  We went outside to look at the stars. Then, because his friend didn’t want to leave yet, I drove him through the black, bitter cold night to his house in Bettendorf.

We parked against the hard-packed snow and sat for awhile in the darkness. In a stumbling goodbye, I said “Just because you live in Bettendorf doesn’t mean we can’t get together once in a while.” And then I reached over and hugged Brian. I felt his slim taut chest, looked down at his belt buckle glimmering in the darkness. His breath smelled of cough drops. I hugged him tighter. 

“Sure, I’ll call you,” Brian said. He disentangled himself and crunched across the ice to his back door.

When I got home and went back downstairs to the party, Ken immediately tromped over. “You’re a regular Fonzie!” he exclaimed. “When’s the big date?”

“Are you calling me a Swish?” I exclaimed. “I was just giving him a ride home.  No way am I a Swish!” (That was our high school word for "gay.")

Ken rolled his eyes. “Cool it, Captain Spazz! Everything isn’t always about Swishes. I saw you cozying up to Anne before.”

“Oh. . .Anne’s not my type. I don’t date 10th graders.”

Suddenly very tired, I went upstairs to our attic room and crawled into bed and turned on my clock radio.  The #1 song of the season was playing, "How Deep is Your Love," by the BeeGees:

Cause we're living in a world of fools, breaking us down
When they all should let us be.  We belong to you and me

I lay in bed, my thoughts blurred, varying between "I wonder if he'll call?" and "No way am I a Swish!"

The uncensored story is on Tales of West Hollywood

Sep 22, 2013

My Judo Master is Gay

Denkmann Elementary School didn't have any sports teams, so I was spared the "play a a a sport" litany.  Until the beginning of fifth grade, the fall of 1970, when Dad suddenly came home with a pamphlet advertising "Rock Island Parks & Recreation Kids’ Sports.”

"It’s not just ball games, Skeezix,” Dad said. “They have boxing, judo, and karate. Those will be better at teaching you to fight anyway.”

“Couldn’t I join the orchestra instead?”

“Orchestra won’t teach you how to use your fists,” Mom pointed out. “You’re going to have to learn to fight sooner or later. All boys do.”

I sighed.  I get punched by a Mean Boy one time, and they start a "learn to fight" kick, insisting that people will be challenging me to fistfights regularly for the rest of my life.

Or maybe they were responding to the incident at the A&W, when Bill and I became "a Mama and a Papa."  Or asking for an Easy Bake Oven for my birthday.

“How about we make a deal?” Dad said. “You can join the orchestra if you take one of these classes, too. Boxing, judo, karate, whichever you want.”

Judo seemed the least horrible – no actual hitting, and you got snacks – so when the new kids’ classes began in January, I walked four blocks west to 38th Street, to the Rock Island Martial Arts Center. I changed into my stiff white judogi with the novice white belt, and learned about bowing, falling, and randori, or exercises on the mat.

I considered sneaking through the glass doors, looking at the comic books at Schneider’s for an hour or so, then going home and lying to Mom and Dad about how much fun I had. But it was too cold to go outside without a coat, and besides, most of the other students were cute junior high boys, and if I stuck around I might be able to see them take their judogis off in the locker room.

The sensei, or teacher, a Japanese guy named Sammy, was tall and broad-shouldered, with a smooth, golden chest slightly dampened with sweat (I don't have any pictures, but he looked like Japanese bodybuilder Hidetada Yamagishi). During the break, when we got to drink tea and eat almond cookies, he took me aside and wrapped a huge hard arm around my shoulders and said “Don’t worry that you are little. Some of our greatest champions are little guys. I bet in a month or two, you will be able to throw me.”

And, in a month or two, I did manage to throw Sammy (but he helped, practically leaping over my hip). I started to look forward to my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the dojo, with the tinkling Japanese samisen music, the faint smell of bleach and incense, the cute junior high boys, and Sammy’s fascinating stories.

One night during break, as we were eating almond cookies, Sammy said, “I better stock up. At home all we got is peanut butter sandwiches.”

“Why don’t you tell your wife to make pot roast?” I asked. “That’s what Uncle Charlie always makes on My Three Sons.”

“We never have that,” Sammy said with a weird half-smile. “Too complicated to make, too many ingredients.”

Why was pot roast too hard for his wife? I wondered. Weren’t all grown-up women expert cooks? But. . .boys couldn’t cook, or if we tried, it had to be something easy. When Mom was in the hospital having my baby sister, Dad made macaroni and cheese three nights in a row.

The answer was obvious: Sammy was married to a man, not a woman!

I didn't know the word "gay" yet, but I assumed that Sammy was in a same-sex relationship for almost a year.  Until the summer after fifth grade, when he invited some of his best students to his house for a cookout.

When Dad dropped me off and I walked onto the screened-in porch and knocked, the door was answered by a petite Caucasian woman in a flowered blouse and Capri shorts. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Sammy was married to a woman after all.

Where were all the men married to men?  Or were they all forced to marry women?  Maybe the litany "what girl do you like" shifted gradually, as you grew older, to "you must choose a wife!"  And if you refused, you would be forced.