Jul 26, 2014

Spring 1967: Marrying the Boy Next Door

Long before I met Bill, before my first date, when we were still living in Racine, Wisconsin, I married the boy next door.

This isn't him; he would have about my age, six or seven years old, in first grade.

His name was Doug.  I remember a crew cut, a bare smooth chest, and a broad smile.

We must have sat at pale wood desks at Hansche Elementary School, we must have played army men and cartoon kits, we must run in swimsuits to the beach -- but I  remember only three incidents.

1. We have spread a blanket over the kitchen table to make a fort, and safely sequestered, we are watching My Three Sons. I think it was the episode where Robbie Douglas (Don Grady, left) falls in love with a bullfighter, so February 16, 1967.

Suddenly I say, softly,  "Someday I'm going to marry Robbie Douglas."

Doug giggles.  "You can't marry Robbie Douglas!"

"I know that!  He's not real.  I mean I'm going to marry a boy that's cute and nice, like him."

"I'm cute and nice," Doug protests.  "And I got more muscles!" For proof, he flexes his arm.  I cup his small, hard bicep in my hand.  "You should marry me!"

"You have lots of muscles," I agree.  "I want to marry you."

2. Probably the next day, after school.  Mom is frying baloney for supper.  The round fake-wood table with the seam in the middle is set with plastic plates and glasses, and paper towels for napkins. There is a bottle of ketchup, a jar of Miracle Whip, and a jar of “dull pickles.”

We walk up to her hand in hand, and I say "Guess what?  Doug and me are getting married."
She doesn't respond.  With her back turned, I can't tell if she is happy or sad or mad.
“Did you hear me, Mom?”

Mom stiffens abruptly, and says in a strangely harsh tone, "Boys can't get married."
"I know that!  We got to wait until we're big."
"Like Robbie Douglas's Dad and Uncle Charlie," Doug adds.
On My Three Sons? They’re not married.” Mom is still distracted, still not looking. "You can only get married if you fall in love.”

“Well – me and Doug fell in love, so we can get married, ok?”
“Boys only fall in love with girls,” she said. “Now go wake up your Dad for supper.”

3. Not dissuaded, we decide to get married anyway.  We march down to the deserted February beach with three of our friends.  A big, grown-up third grader named Pam officiates.  She says "I now pronounce you man and husband," instead of "man and wife."   Someone throws rice on us, and we have a brief but exciting kiss.

 I don't remember anything about Doug after that.  Maybe he moved away.

My mother claims that she doesn't remember my marriage in the spring of 1967.  It was a trivial incident to her, childish nonsense.

Or maybe something more. She tried to hide it, but she was really upset.  Maybe the incident brought her first suspicions that boys could indeed fall in love.

Summer 1966: The President's Not Cute

Everyone in the Boomer generation and older knows where they were on November 22, 1963, when they heard of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

My Cousin Joe remembers a murmur going through the school, a teacher crying, and being sent home early.

I was barely three years old, so all I have are some vague, confusing memories of people being sad.

I didn't know he was dead, or that Lyndon B. Johnson was the new President.  There were so many pictures of him on tv and in books, and people talked about him so much, that I thought that he was still the President 2 1/2 years later.

All the pictures showed John F. Kennedy as handsome and athletic.  There were shirtless photos in Life magazine.  He had muscles!  And the movie PT-109 (1963) showed him rescuing a buddy from a sinking ship during World War II!  My friends and I made him a key player in our "my hero" games.

So I was thrilled one day in the summer of 1966, when we were visiting Indiana, and my Aunt Nora, my father's sister, suddenly announced "You're going to meet the President!"

Later I found out that Indiana was celebrating its Sesquicentennial, 150 years of statehood, and my grandmother's family was important, descended from pioneers.  She and some other "pioneer women" had been selected to shake hands with the President at the festival in Indianapolis.

We drove down with my Grandma, my Aunt Nora and two of my older cousins, Joey  and Eva Maria.

I remember a parade with boy scouts, some people walking around in pioneer costumes with a covered wagon, and a merry-go-round like at a carnival (but it wasn't a "carnival," forbidden for Nazarenes, it was a "festival").  But the highlight was to be the address by the President.

My cousins and Aunt Nora and I stood at the head of the crowd, very near the row of chairs where Grandma was sitting and the podium where he would speak.  I couldn't wait.  Maybe he would come out in a swimsuit, like in the photos in Life magazine.  Or at least take his shirt off -- it was a hot July day, and lots of guys in the crowd had their shirts off.

"Isn't this exciting, Boomer?" my Cousin Joey said.  He was a grown-up, 12 years old (top photo looks like him).  "Seeing the real, live President, just like on tv. Maybe he'll shake your hand, too!"

Then a band began to play "Hail to the Chief," someone announced "Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States,"  and....

An old, ugly guy marched onto the stage!

I tugged at Cousin Joey's shirt.  "Where's the President?"

"Why, that's him.  Doesn't he look the same as on television?"

There had been a terrible mistake!  Where was the hunky muscleman who ripped his shirt off and dived into shark-infested waters to rescue his buddy?  

This trip had been one big lie!

Outraged by the betrayal, I tore myself away and ran headlong through the crowd.  Joey chased behind and grabbed me by the cotton candy machine, with Aunt Nora and Eva Marie following.

"What on Earth is the matter with you?" Aunt Nora asked.  "You're a big boy, too old for temper tantrums!"

"It's your fault!" I said, starting to cry.  "You said we would meet the President!"

"Who do you think is talking up there, Bub?" Joey asked.

"Not the President!"

"What makes you say that?"

"He's not cute!"

Years later, Cousin Joe said that he "knew" that I was gay at that moment.

Jul 25, 2014

Bobby Hull: Hockey's Beefcake Boy

When I was a kid, I hated sports, but that didn't stop my parents and Santa Claus from loading me down with sports equipment and sports-themed toys.

Well, the action figures were ok -- you could pretend that they were rescuing each other, or tied up face-to-face by the bad guy.  And sometimes they had muscular chests under their clothes.

And the Bobby Hull Hockey Game that I got for Christmas in 1970 was actually kind of fun.

I didn't know who Bobby Hull was, but my cousins quickly informed me: a hockey player for the Chicago Black Hawks, who scored lots of goals and made lots of slapshots, whatever those were.  In 1972 he moved to the Winnipeg Jets, where he stayed until he retired in 1979.

I wasn't impressed by goals and slapshots, but I was impressed by Bobby's physique.  He was one of the few sports figures to be photographed semi-nude often, in the locker room, while exercising, on the beach.  He was even displayed naked in Life magazine!

Here he's polishing his stick, but the phallic symbolism is obvious.

During his career, and after, Bobby also appeared semi- nude in ads.  Here he and his bulge are selling shorts in front of a striped surfboard.

I can't find any particular gay connection in his life, which has been rather controversial due to allegations of domestic abuse and pro-Hitler comments.  But sometimes beefcake is enough.

Jul 24, 2014

Cheech and Chong: The Original Stoner Couple

Comedy duo Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong were the original stoners: their comedy albums were about the "hilarious" things people say while high, and their movies were about the "hilarious" hijinks people get into during their quest for drugs.

I was an undergraduate at Augustana (1978-82) during the Cheech and Chong heyday. My brother had all of their albums.  Augie guys couldn't stop quoting from their movies, Up in Smoke (1978), Cheech and Chong's Next Movie (1980), and Nice Dreams (1981). 

Two more followed -- Still Smokin' (1983) and The Corsican Brothers (1986) -- but the War on Drugs had made drug use suspect -- even lovable stoner drug use -- and the duo soon split up.

I never made it through any of their movies.  They were predicated on gay panic and homophobic stereotypes.  Check out Cheech's near-assault by two swishy gay predators in Still Smokin' -- it's nearly enough to outrank Chuck and Buck as the most homophobic movie of all time.

But to be fair, it's hard to find a comedy during the period that didn't include gay panic jokes and homophobic stereotypes.

And you have to admit, these guys were hot.  Cheech Marin, especially, knew how to flex a bicep.  He -- or his stunt double -- even has a frontal nude scene in Nice Dreams.

Have they redeemed themselves since the 1980s?

Cheech has had a long career in movies and tv series, playing mostly stereotypic Hispanic characters.  I liked Born in East L.A. (1987), about a Mexican-American guy who is mistaken for an illegal alien and deported.  Although he falls in love with a woman, he bonds with several guys along the way.

And The Shrimp on the Barbie (1990), about a Mexican immigrant in Australia who is hired by a heiress to pretend to be her boyfriend and -- get this -- does not fall in love with her!  At least, I don't remember any hetero-romance.

Cheech also starred in Nash Bridges (1996-2001), as Inspector Joe Dominguez, sidekick to Bridges, who was played by the gay-positive Don Johnson.  They had a gay secretary, Pepe (Patrick Fischler), and if I recall properly, they went undercover as a gay couple in one episode.

He played a gay character in an episode of The George Lopez Show: George believes that he has found his father, and shows up at the home of Lalo (Cheech), who is gay, and living with his partner, Charles (John Michael Higgins).

Tommy Chong hasn't done quite as much.  He is best known as the aging stoner Leo on That 70s Show.

Recently the two have reunited for some video shorts, and for the animated feature Cheech and Chong: The Animated Movie (2013).  Their mascot is a crab (pubic hair lice) named Buster (the same joke was used in the gay comic Poppers back in the 1980s).

Jul 23, 2014

Lurich and Aberg: Wrestlers Who Lived and Died Together

The Estonians love wrestling, and they love nudity.  So Georg Lurich (1876-1920) is a national hero.  He grew up in Väike-Maarja, Estonia, which was then part of the Russian Empire, and became a professional weight-lifter, Graeco-Roman wrestler (where they wrestle nearly nude), and strongman (the precursor to the modern bodybuilder).

Although he lived in St. Petersburg, he toured frequently in Estonia, helping to establish the spirit of Estonian nationalism that would result in independence in 1918. Amandus Adamson used him as a model for the famous sculpture of mythic hero Kalevipoeg at the Gates of Hell, and also for a statue entitled Champion.

There are two other statues of Lurich in Tallinn, and one in Väike-Maarja

He became a folk hero, with Paul Bunyan-style exploits based on his superhuman strength.  Here he's holding up four rather chummy guys and a barbel, just as Kalevipoeg formed a bridge to allow villagers escape from a fire.

Lurich befriended a number of young athletes, including wrestling great George Hackenschmidt.

But his long-term companion was wrestler Aleksander "Leks" Aberg (1881-1920, below).  They toured together in America, China, Japan, and throughout Europe.

They were touring in southern Russia in 1917, when the Russian Revolution came.  Troop movements trapped them in the village of Armavir, near the Caucasus Mountains, for three years.

They both contracted typhus during the winter of 1919.  Lurich died in January 1920.  Aberg recovered, but then succumbed to pneumonia in February.  They were buried in a single grave in the German Cemetery in Armavir.

Every year, Georg Lurich and Aleksander Aberg Graeco-Roman wrestling competitions are held in their honor.

Jul 22, 2014

Fall 2004: The Ugly Guy Makeover

When I moved to Florida in 2001, I quickly discovered that the age restrictions of West Hollywood and New York were gone. I was in my early 40s, but regularly got asked out by everyone from 18-year old college water polo players to Bermuda-shorts-wearing retirees in their 70s.

The bars were age-segregated, but that didn't stop cross-cruising.

Bill's Filling Station was usually crowded with leathermen, cowboys, and miscellaneous bears, but the occasional Cute Young Thing who came in was an immediate hit.

The Manor, a multi-level bar, restaurant, and nightclub with flashing lights, throbbing music, and minor celebrities semi-naked, was too big and brash for me.  But when Yuri dragged me there, the Cute Young Things pushed and shoved to be the one who asked me to dance first.

So I was surprised to see the Ugly Guy standing by himself, propping up a wall by the bar.  Completely ignored by the Cute Young Things.

"See that guy in the corner?" I asked Yuri.  "I'm going home with him tonight."

"What?  There are a million hot guys here.  Why do you want the nerd?  He's not even your type."

True, he didn't have any of characteristics I find attractive -- he wasn't short, husky, muscular, or dark skinned.  But then, he didn't have any of my  Top 10 Turn-Off, either.  He wasn't too tall or too skinny; he wasn't wearing jewelry or sashaying around the room.

"He's lonely.  I like lost souls.  Like you, for instance.  When we met, you were going around saying 'I'm straight.'"

"Huh, huh!  I was not ever lost!  Just stupid!"

We inched forward to get a better look.  Then we discovered why he was getting Attitude.  He was ugly.

His head was slightly asymmetrical, his eyes were slightly askew, and he had acne scars.  Not attractive.

If he had a prominent bulge, a fabulous wardrobe, or a bubbly personality, the lack of handsomeness would not have been an issue.  I knew a perfectly hideous guy in West Hollywood who dated a different guy every week, simply because he was knew how to work a room.

But the Ugly Guy was wearing a plaid shirt with a white undershirt, he hadn't bothered to wear tight jeans or stuff a sock down there, and he didn't make eye contact with anyone.

Yuri and I approached and introduced ourselves to the Ugly Guy.  It was hard breaking through his shell -- he was rather bitter, and complained about everything -- but eventually we discovered that his name was Bob, he managed a supermarket, and he lived in Davie, Florida, about 15 miles away.

He was leery about going home with us -- "Oh, I'm nothing special.  You'll be disappointed."  But around last call he finally consented.

It was fun leaving with him, watching the jaws of the Cute Young Things drop in surprise as they scrambled to figure out what Bob had that they didn't.

In the morning, over breakfast, Bob confessed, "I've been coming to Wilton Manors every Saturday night for two years, and no one ever talks to me.  I think most gay guys are jerks."

"It's just a highly specialized environment, with its own rules.  You have to learn to play the game, accentuate your best features."

"It's like a job interview," Yuri told him.  "There are lots of guys applying, so you have to find some way to stand out."

"With what?  Nearly everybody there has more muscles than me, and better clothes.  And I'm Princess Tiny..."

"So work out, go shopping, and..."

"And pretend," Yuri said.  "You act like you're a horse, and they will be so horny, when they find out, they don't even care.  Did Boomer care, last night?"

"Yuri is an expert on male endowments," I said.  "If he doesn't know, it's not worth knowing."

We spent the next week giving the Ugly Guy a makeover -- everything from his name - it was now Robert -- to his haircut and outfits.  On Saturday we went back to the Manor.  Robert was wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow flag, tight jeans enhanced with a balled-up sock, and a gold chain.  Yuri led him by the hand onto the dance floor, and then sent him out to cruise, with the advice "Act like you're a horse!"

It worked.  Within ten minutes, Robert was chatting up a Cute Young Thing, and within an hour he was invited home.

It worked on Sunday at Bill's Filling Station, too.

And Tuesday at the Boardwalk.

And Thursday at the Depot.

Before I knew what was happening, Robert had a full social calendar.  Too full.  First he was too busy to have dinner.  Then he stopped responding to my emails.

A few weeks later, Yuri and I ran into him at the Manor.  He gave us Attitude.

Jul 21, 2014

Spike Island: Manchester Boys Bond at a Rock Concert

It seems that every year in the U.S., we see yet another movie about a group of high school friends facing the prospect of Growing Up: a heterosexist myth in which one abandons the exuberant buddy-bonding of high school for heterosexual romance, careers, houses, kids, and domesticity.

Usually it's set at an iconic moment in the filmmakers' life.

The British have their own versions, most recently Spike Island (2013), set during the heyday of The Stone Roses.  Yeah, I never heard of them either, but apparently they gave a famous "final concert" in May 1990 on Spike Island in Cheshire, and five working-class Manchester lads are desperate to go.

Not just for the music; they have their own band, so they have to get to the concert to give their demo tape to Ian Brown.  It's their only chance of escaping from their dismal working-class, married-with-children futures.

But they have no tickets, no money, and the concert's sold out. So they steal a florist's van and head out on the highway.

The main couple are Tits (Elliott Tittensor) and Dodge (Nico Mirallegro), who dread the upcoming end of their long-term friendship while competing over the same girl.

There's a lot more soap opera crammed into the weekend.  A dying father; an abusive father; a confrontation between brothers; a boy who doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps; etc., etc.  The characters are broadly-drawn cliches that we've seen a thousand times before: the jock, the nerd, the ineffective girl-chaser, the kid brother.

But there's also a lot of gay connection.  Both Tittensor and Mirallegro have played gay characters before, and they add a nice gay subtext.  Plus there's a lot of physicality in the boys' relationship, hugging, holding, hanging over each other.

And some semi-nudity.  Recommended.

See also: I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Jul 20, 2014

Fall 2005: After 20 Years, My Relatives Still Closet Me

When I was a kid, we visited my relatives in Indiana at least once a year, sometimes more often.  But in high school and college, I often had other things to do, and my visits became infrequent.  After I moved to West Hollywood, I flew home once or twice a year to visit my parents and brother and sister, with little time to spare for an additional six-hour drive to Indiana.

Then I moved to New York, then to Florida, and the years passed, and I hadn't seen Aunt Nora for over a decade, and some of my cousins, not for 20 years.  They had families of their own, with husbands and wives and children that I heard about often through conversations with my mother and brother and sister, but had never met.

In 2005, I got a job in Dayton, Ohio, a 2 1/2 hour drive from Rome City, close enough to visit again.  So I went to Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt Nora's house. And I found out something disturbing.

I wasn't out to them.

Not one, except for my parents, brother, sister, and Cousin Joe.

Aunt Nora's new husband says, “You must have to fight off the ladies with a stick!”

Cousin Joe's teenage son asks me to evaluate the breasts of a female celebrity on tv.

Cousin Eva gets right to the point: “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Why did every one of them think that I was straight? Even though I hadn't seen or heard from them for many years, I heard about them: every visit and telephone conversation with my family consisted primarily of discussions of these relatives,their job prospects, medical problems, and straight romances. Surely the next day, when they got on the phone, they mentioned my job prospects, honors, medical problems, and same-sex romances.

Well, all but that last thing.  My extended family members said things like “I hear you’re a schoolteacher”; “I hear you’re a writer”; and “How do you like it in Ohio?” One even knew that I threw my back out, an injury that happened five months ago, and was incapacitating for only a few days.

But that last thing, the people I was dating, in love with, sharing my apartment with, sharing my life with: no information.

My mother, brother, sister, and Cousin Joe failed to tell those other relatives anything about it. In conversation after conversation, year after year, they had forced me to pass. No one should know.

It would take too long to come out to fifteen people, and besides, I don't believe in pronouncements, as if I were revealing a secret, so I simply answered the questions as they arose.

To Aunt Nora's new husband: “If a lady tried anything with me, I would run into the nearest gay bar and hide until she went away, or until I got lucky.”

To Cousin Joe's teenage son: “I wouldn’t know about women’s breasts, I’m too busy looking at guys.”

To Cousin Eva: “No, I don’t have a girlfriend. My boyfriend would get jealous.”

They just stared, thinking that I was a wise guy making a silly joke, or not comprehending at all. But even if they concluded that I must be gay, would word get around, as uncle called cousin, cousin called aunt, brother called brother?

Six months later, at a Fourth of July barbecue, I went through the same thing all over again, with them or with other members of the extended family.

Cousin Eva's daughter's boyfriend: “Are the girls in Ohio hot?”

Aunt Nora's new husband's brother: “You must be a real devil with the ladies!”

Cousin Ed:  “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Why do family members who know that you are gay keep so aggressively silent? Perhaps they are used to not thinking about it themselves, except when absolutely necessary.

If I do not have my arm around a lover at that moment, if I am not discussing a Gay Pride parade at that moment, then they can forget. I return, in their mind, to the default: male, therefore interested in women.

See also: A Glimpse of Cousin Joe's Shame; Straight Guys Never Figure It Out

Serge Lifar: Gay Masculine Beauty during the Jazz Age

During the 1920s, the go-to guy for masculine beauty was a Russian ballet dancer named Serge or Sergei Lifar.

Born in Kiev, Russia in 1905, Lifar went to Paris in 1923 and joined the Ballet Russes as Sergei Diaghilev's newest protege-lover.  In 1925, he became lead dancer, to the consternation of previous protege-lovers who were no longer getting the best roles.

Ballet was big during the Jazz Age, maybe because it was the only art form that allowed audiences to see masculine biceps and bulges, and Diaghilev showed off Lifar's every chance he got.  In La Chatte (1927), Lifar entered the stage riding in a "chariot" formed entirely of men.

That didn't sit well with the other members of the ballet company.

In 1929, Diaghilev died, and Lifar moved on to become the director of the Paris Opera Company, where he staged and danced in his own creations, including a renovation of The Afternoon of a Faun in 1935, and Icare (1935), his masterpiece, about the Greek boy who flew too close to the sun.

But Lifar was famous far beyond the world of ballet.  He was photographed in newspapers and magazines. He was painted and sculpted.  He was on a stamp in the Ukraine.

He cavorted with artists, writers, and film stars, many involved in the gay culture of Paris Between the Wars, like Salvador Dali, Paul Valery, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, and Paul Robeson.

In 1944, during World War II, Lifar's collaboration with the Nazis got him "banned for life" from the Paris Opera.  He claimed that he was working as a secret agent (he returned in 1947).

And don't forget the "duel" he fought in 1958 with equally flamboyant ballet producer George de Cuevas.

Lifar was not openly gay, but his many liaisons with men were well known in the ballet world.  He also sought out the attention of wealthy women who served as his benefactors.

He died in 1986.

See also: The Chilean Bad Boy