Apr 5, 2014

Tom Jones: Sex and Nudity in 1749

When I was studying for my M.A. in English at Indiana University, I had to select two historical eras.  The first was easy: the Romantic Period, full of exuberant homoerotic scenes and buddy-bonding monsters. For the second, I chose Restoration-Augustan, mostly because Professor Singer, who taught my Restoration seminar, was gay.

I didn't like the texts much, especially those endless boring things that were the precursor of novels: Moll Flanders (1722), Pamela (1740), Tom Jones (1749), Tristram Shandy (1759), Humphrey Clinker (1771). 

 Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, was not the worst of the lot, just the longest, over 300,000 words (the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy is just over 400,000).  And the most heterosexist, a celebration of heterosexual horniness.

Tom Jones, a foundling raised by Squire Allworthy, courts lots of women, but is interested primarily in girl-next-door Sophia, whose father rejects him due to his lack of parentage.  He doesn't have any male friends; men always betray you, due to malice or ignorance.  Mostly he butts heads with his half-brother, the snively, hypocritical Blifil.

There have been several movie and tv versions, which usually concentrate on Tom Jones' heterosexual exploits.  But at least they offer a lot of beefcake, endless scenes of Tom jumping out of beds in his underwear and scramming before the father or boyfriend shows up.

The most famous (1963) stars bisexual actor Albert Finney as the randy foundling.

In 1997, a tv miniseries starred Max Beesley with full frontal nudity.

Nicky Henson (top photo) starred in a sex musical, The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones, in the heart of the swinging seventies (1976).

There is also a comic opera by Francois Philidor (1765), which is still performed occasionally, plus a number of stage plays, none of which apparently give Tom a buddy.

Try Joseph Andrews (1742) for some homoerotic scenes between the young footman and his mentor, Parson Adams.

Apr 4, 2014

Finding a Boyfriend in the Girls' Locker Room

Bill and I began to drift apart in junior high, when we took different classes and joined different clubs.  We still hung out, but we never slept over, and I think both of us were actively looking for new boys.

I tried dancing with boys at the weekly school dance for a few weeks, but teachers soon caught on and gave me detention. 

On a bleak Monday morning in February 1973, white with clouds that threatened snow, I was leaving school late after a club meeting, when I heard scuffling and voices from the eastern corridor that lead through Viking territory. I pushed past some onlookers and saw three Vikings dragging a Fairy (a feminine boy) kicking and squirming toward the girls’ locker room. (One of them was Dick, who I would meet again at a gay bar years later). His yellow button-down shirt was nearly torn off, his pants were bunched up around his ankles, and a Viking was jerking at his briefs. They were going to force girls to see him naked, and force him to see them!

When our eyes met for an instant, I recognized him as Dan, a slim, tanned seventh grader with dark blue eyes, glasses, and thick dirty-blond hair. I had him in three classes, but we rarely spoke unless a teacher forced us. Now, as I saw Dan's smooth chest, his warm tight belly, and his sex organs freed from their white briefs, I felt the gasping ache of joy that I usually felt watching men with muscles.

At the end of the hall, a teacher swung through the gym door to investigate,  concluded that the assault was for Anders’ own good, and silently retreated.

If the adults wouldn’t intervene, I thought, than I would have to! I propped my book bag against the wall and leapt onto the shoulders of the depantsing behemoth.

A moment  later,  Dan and I were both sliding through the double doors into the girls’ locker room. Fortunately, the team had a short practice session today, so most girls were dressed and gone, and the stragglers quickly covered up.

Dan was sobbing, and his hand was bleeding from where his watch snapped off. I put my arm around him while some of the girls gathered the books, clothing, Dan's glasses, and a clear-plastic protractor broken neatly in half. Then the gym teacher finally intervened and sent Dan – not the Vikings -- to detention.

On Tuesday I had wrestling, but on Wednesday, I waited for Dan at the portico outside the east door. “Hi, Dan!” I said, deliberately using the feminine form instead of his last name, the correct masculine form. The Fairy barely slowed as he muttered “H’lo, Davis.”

“Hey, do you like Donny Osmond?" 
Dan  slowed a little more. “He's pretty boss, I guess.”
“I got his new album, Alone Together.  Do you want to come to my house and listen to it?  I live on 41st Street, over by Denkmann."

We ran joyously to my house and sat on the floor in my basement room and listened to "The Twelfth of Never."

Soon I was meeting Dan at his house every morning to walk him to school, and sitting with him and Darry every day at lunch. After school, when I didn't have to stay late for wrestling or clubs, we went to Dan's house and listened to teen idol music or watched tv or played chess. On Saturdays we rode our bikes, and went swimming and hiking. During the summer of 1973, I saw him kissing Bill at the Longview Park Pool.

Dan came to all of my wrestling matches and judo tournaments, even the one in Urbana, three hours away, and as we drove home across a prairie dark except for car headlights and the occasional dim light on a water tower, he nodded off and lay his head softly onto my shoulder, so close that I could feel his breath against my neck. My brother Kenny, sharing the back seat with us, glanced over but did not comment.

But we rarely slept over or shared a bed.  Dan said that we were "too old" for that.

Too old to share beds and rooms, and houses and lives?

The story of Dan continues here, when I see him kissing a boy.

Apr 3, 2014

Matthias Schweighoefer: What a Man

Matthias Schweighoefer is one of the most popular young actors in Germany, notable for his stunning physique, his nonchalance about full frontal nudity, and his intense buddy-bonding.  Indeed, he often combines nudity and gay subtexts (or texts) in the same movie.

12 Paces without a Head (12 Meters ohne Kopf, 2009): Pirate pals Klaus (Ronald Zehrfeld) and Gödeke (Matthias) must decide whether to retire to a farm or to remain pirates to the end.

Friendship! (2010): East German buddies Tom (Matthias) and Veit (Friedrich Mucke) go on a road trip to San Francisco to track down Tom's long-lost father, and have picaresque adventures, including stripping at a non-stereotypic gay bar, before hugging at Golden Gate Bridge.

What a Man (2011): Alex (Matthias) is dumped by his girlfriend, and takes lessons in how to become more "macho" from his friend Jens.

Woman in Love (Rubbeldiekatz, 2011): Alex (Matthias) is cast as a woman in a movie, and soon finds that he can only get parts in drag. He ends up kissing Adolph Hitler.

Russiendisko (2012): Three Russian friends, Wladimir, Andrej and Mischa (Matthias, Friedrich Mucke, Christian Friedel), travel to Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall to seek their fortunes.

Schlussmacher (2013): Paul (Matthias) is a professional "separator" (he breaks up with your boyfriend or girlfriend for you).  Then he meets Toto (Milan Peschel), the dumped boyfriend of a customer, and they buddy-bond.

He's cool about being an object of desire for men or women, or heterosexual men while dressed as a woman.

Apr 2, 2014

Head: More of the Monkees

After their spectacular, media-orchestrated rise to fame in 1966, with a top-rated tv show and several #1 hit songs, the Monkees were on top of the world.

 But not for long. They chafed at their "boy band" restrictions; they wanted be known as serious artists, to move beyond teeny-bopper love songs,  to tackle serious issues. They wanted to be free. Their handlers disapproved.

In the spring of 1968, they wrote and produced a movie, Head.  It premiered with great anticipation; fans thought that it would be a comedic documentary, like the Beatles' Hard Day's Night.

It wasn't.

You say we're manufactured -- to that we all agree.
So make your choice and we'll rejoice in never being free!

It consists of a series of sketches, most about the difference between reality and the manufactured plotlines of their tv series: Davy becomes a boxer; Micky is lost in the desert; they visit a haunted house and the Old West.  They constantly disrupt the stories, changing their lines, dropping character, or just saying "We don't want to do this anymore" and walking off the set.

But every set leads to a new story.

They think they have escaped, and settle down to throw a birthday party for Mike.  But he starts yelling that this is not his apartment, these are actors, not his real friends, it's all a fake.

They escape from a box only to find themselves in a bigger box.

They try to commit suicide, only to find that that, too, isn't real; there is no escape.

The constraint of modern life, the inability to ever be free, is a common thread in 1960s media, and resonated strongly for gay kids growing up in a constant drone of "What girl do you like?  What girl do you like?  What girl do you like?"

We've seen it in Easy Rider and Alice's Restaurantin the Tripods series of dystopian mind-control novels, in Richard Schaal trapped in The Cube; in Number 6 trapped in The Village, even in the Castaways trapped on Gilligan's Island.

Still, this version is worth a look for:
1. The clever "box inside a box" concept
2. The frequent beefcake.  You see more of Micky and Davy than ever before, constant shirtless and semi-nude scenes, and all of the guys gets close-ups of their very, very tight pants.
3. The homoerotic buddy bonding that shines through, in spite of the frequent girl-kissing.  These guys are into guys.

In a way, Head represented the suicide of the group.  Teen fans hated it, and the psychedelic generation stayed away.  Their tv series was cancelled, and their songs stopped charting.

But, 46 years later, the memory remains.

Spring 1976: My Date with the King of Sweden

Prince Charles isn't the only royal that I've been associated with.  Rock Island, my home town, has strong Swedish roots, so on a visit to the U.S. on a hot day in the spring of 1976, King Carl Gustaf of Sweden stopped by.

He gave a speech at Augustana College, shook hands with the mayor, and had an "informal lunch with America's youth" at Rocky High -- by which they meant a catered affair around a big table in the cafeteria with 20 specially-selected students.  As the president of the Spanish Club, I was invited, and somehow I managed to steer myself into the position right next to him.

The King was 30 years old, tall, handsome, with a rugged, athletic frame and a firm handshake.  He had a reputation as a jetsetting gadabout who preferred skiing, bicycling, and hanging out on the beach to his palace in Stockholm.  He was not married, and I found out later that there were some gay rumors attached to him (he would marry that summer, and have three children, Victoria, Carl Philip, and Madeline).  Carl Philip (top photo) has turned out to be a hunk in his own right, with the requisite gay rumors attached (my friend Zack claimed to have been in bed with him.)

 It was a hot day, and the cafeteria wasn't air conditioned.  The fans were going full blast, but still, we were sweating.

I didn't know about gay vibes yet, but I knew that I liked Carl Gustaf, his smile, his handshake, the muscular physique obvious beneath his business suit.  We were sitting so close that I could "accidentally" brush my knee against his.

As far as I can recall, this was our conversation:

King:  What student organization do you represent?
Me:    The Foreign Language Club [it was really the Spanish Club, but I wanted him to think I was into Swedish).  
King:  Which languages do you study?
Me:    Spanish, French, German, and Swedish.
King:  Svenska ar ett vackert sprak.
Me:    [No idea what he said.]  Yes.
King:  You must come to Sweden, and study at Goteborg University.  They have a fine language faculty.
Me:    I will.

Not terribly interesting, in retrospect, but at the time I was glowing.  A cute guy had just invited me to visit him!  Oh, and he was a king!

A few years later, in college, I studied every language I could get my hands on and finally majored in Modern Languages, maybe trying to recapture the moment when a cute guy told me "Svenska ar ett vackert sprak."

Mar 31, 2014

Neil Diamond: All of the Sad, Gay Songs

My junior year in Augustana College (1980-81) was very busy: cruising at the levee, tricking my friend Haldor into a date, going to Professor Burton's Handcuff Party, hanging out with the Bookstore Gang, reading Death in Venice in my German literature class. 

It was all done to a backdrop of Olivia Newton-John, Rex Smith, and especially Neil Diamond.  You couldn't turn on the radio without hearing "Hello Again," "America," or "Love on the Rocks."

Or walk down a dormitory hallway without hearing "September Morn" or "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" playing from someone's room.

In December 1980, everyone went to see Neil Diamond starring in the update of The Jazz Singer.

In March 1981, everyone went to see him in concert in Davenport.

My friend Bruce called him the most handsome man in the world.

I wasn't a big fan.  His songs were earnest, heart-wrenching, and ultimately depressing, and I preferred light-hearted and joyous.

And with greater gay symbolism, like "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John, or "I'm Coming Out," by Diana Ross.

Still, he had a nice hairy chest, and I figured he was gay due to his habit of dropping pronouns, so his lost loves could be male or female. Check out "Hello Again":

Hello, my friend, hello
Just called to let you know
I think about you ev'ry night

My friend?

Or "Love on the Rocks":

First they say they want you
How they really need you
Suddenly you find you're out there
Walking in a storm

They say they want you?

Ok, so I was mistaken.  With three heterosexual marriages and a number of hetero-romances on his resume, Neil Diamond is probably straight.

But gay-friendly.

In contemporary performances of "Brother Love," he does a call out: "white or black, gay or straight, big or small, we are all God's children."

The Three Stooges: Gay Symbolism on "Cartoon Showboat"

When I was a kid in the 1960s, every day after school I rushed home or to my boyfriend Bill's house to watch Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat.  Captain Ernie (later weatherman Ernie Mims) showed old Bugs Bunny and Popeye cartoons, and with the proviso "Don't try this at home," The Three Stooges.

I didn't realize that the comedy shorts were originally shown in theaters 30 or more years before, or that the three "stooges" belonged to a long tradition of comedy teams.  I found them bizarre, somewhat disgusting,  and fascinating.

What was this world of boarding houses, boxing rings, hobos riding the rails, jitterbug music, and machine-gun toting gangsters?

Why did Moe, Larry, and Curly/Shemp have different jobs and living situations in every episode?

Why was their theme song Three Blind Mice?

Why was third member of the trio so changeable, sometimes Curly, sometimes Shemp?

The role of the Third Stooge was sometimes filled by two flamboyantly gay-coded actors, Joe Besser in the shorts and Joe DeRita in the movies (seen here with Samson Burke in The Three Stooges Meet Hercules).  But they never appeared on Cartoon Showboat.

And the most important question: why did the men live together (and sleep together)?  Where were their wives?

All of the adult men I knew, or had seen on tv, or had ever heard of, had wives.  My parents and other relatives constantly talked about the far-off day when I would be "grown up" and "married," as if the two states were identical.

Yet these three men were obviously grown up, and obviously not married.  Men building a life together, not needing or wanting wives (I missed or ignored the scenes where they flirt with women).

I didn't think there was any  romance between them, not even friendship -- Moe was painfully abusive to the others, and they treated him with open contempt.

But, as with the Hanna Barbara cartoons of my earliest childhood (Yogi Bear, The Flintstones), the domesticity itself was evocative.

There was a recast, The Three Stooges, in 2012, with Chris Diamantoupoulos  (top photo) as a rather muscular Moe.  Again, they don't get girlfriends or wives; the hetero-romantic plot is given to a new character.

See also: Samson Burke.

Fall 1972: Slow-Dancing at the School Canteen

When I was in 6th and 7th grades, I was told incessantly about my upcoming "discovery of girls."  No matter that I thought "girls are yucky!" now.  One day soon, very soon, I would awaken changed, my body and my mind aching to kiss, hold, hug, and have sex with girls.

My parents, my teachers, Brother Reno, Grandma Davis, my cousin Joe -- they all insisted that it would happen, it was a fact of life, universal human experience, as inevitable as sunrise. As the days and months of 6th and 7th grade passed, they became more insistent, constantly interrogating me: "Do you like girls yet?  What about now?  Now?  Now?"

Meanwhile, the school kept trying to jump-start my "discovery."

One Friday afternoon shortly the beginning of 7th grade at Washington Junior High, we were all herded into a gymnasium decorated with red and gold streamers, the boys and girls on separate sides. A table on the north side had rows of paper cups full of beet-red punch and piles of sugar cookies that looked like they had been sitting around since Christmas.

“What’s going on?” I asked my friends (my boyfriend Bill wasn't there; he had football practice). They didn’t know, so I approached a hulking Ninth Grader.

"It’s the canteen,” he grunted.  "It's to teach all you Spazzes how to dance with girls."
"I'm not dancing with any girls!"

He laughed, a short derisive laugh.  “That’s what you think, Gomer! Nobody gets out of here alive unless you ask a little cutie pie if you can drag her, and she says ‘Oh, yes, please do!’”  The last came in a squealing falsetto.

"My church doesn't allow dancing.  It's a sin in the eyes of God.  I can get an excuse from the Preacher."

Soon a teacher walked onto the stage and announced that it was “time to dance.” He put a single on the record player: "Song Sung Blue," by Neil Diamond.  A few boys crossed the wilderness of tan, gleaming boards and dragged girls onto the dance floor. Others followed, until eventually most Ninth Graders and quite a few younger boys made the trek.

My friends and I stood our ground.  No one tried to force us, though once a teacher clomped over and announced with a grin that we couldn't hold out forever – in a matter of days or weeks, or months at the most, our ache of desire would overpower our shyness, and we would cross the wilderness of tan, gleaming boards, and approach the Girl of our Dreams, and become men.

That's never going to happen!  I thought savagely.

I noticed a few boys, maybe a dozen, on the east side of the gym, mixed in with the girls, chatting casually.

“Why don’t they have to drag girls?” I wondered aloud. “Are they already men?”

“Man, you got fruit-loops for brains?” my Ninth Grade informant exclaimed. “They’re the exact diametric opposite of men. They’re Fairies!”

“Like. . .um. . .in Mother Goose?” I asked, perplexed.

“Naw, Gomer...remember Acting like a Girl, the stuff that got Mean Boys on your case in diaper school?  Fairies are like that, but tons worse – they pretend they really are girls! So they hang out with girls instead of hugging and kissing them!  But they can't hold out forever!  Watch this!"

He suddenly vaulted across the gym to the girls' side, grabbed a seventh-grade Fairy, and dragged him out onto the dance floor.  They slow danced until two teachers rushed in and pulled them apart.  Everyone laughed.

"He was too obvious," I thought, not realizing that he intended to humiliate the younger boy.  "I can hide it, I bet."

I scanned the girls' side of the room.  I saw Dan, who would become my second boyfriend, but for some reason I decided on a cute dark-haired 7th grader named Brett, who was engrossed in a conversation with a girl.  I tromped over and asked "Wanna dance?" with a friendly, non-threatening smile.

Brett stepped aside, thinking I meant his friend.


He stared, his eyes wide with suspicion.

"Not a slow dance, a regular modern dance," I explained, "Where you don't touch each other."


"It's crowded...who will know?"

He looked to his friend for advice.  "Oh, go on," she said, pushing him toward me.

I took Brett's hand -- warm, damp with embarrassment -- and led him onto the dance floor.  We danced to "Knock Three Times" and "I Feel the Earth Move," careful to always have a girl nearby and constantly move across the dance floor to avoid discovery.

It worked wonderfully!  I was dancing, laughing and joyous, with a boy.

I kept it up for several weeks, dancing with Brett or other from the girls' side of the gym.

Then, like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun.  One afternoon Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" came on, a slow dance. Most of the kids on the dance floor fled to their respective sides of the gym.

Brett looked at me quizzically.  "It's ok," I said.  We began to dance, slowly, not touching, but close, gazing into each other's eyes.  I wanted to hold him in my arms, I wanted to kiss him.  So I reached out and took both of his hands.

Then someone grabbed me and jerked me roughly backwards.  It was a teacher.  "Picking on a kid, just because he's smaller than you!" he snarled.  "A week's detention!  Brett, you can go home."

After that, I got an excuse from my Preacher to sit out the canteens.

Brett and I stayed friends, but we never danced again.

See also: 77 Signs that You're a Fairy