Oct 31, 2014

The Penis Valley of Turkey

One of the lesser-known tourists attractions in Turkey is in Göreme, about five hours south of Ankara, an old Roman town in a dusty volcanic valley.

From most places in town, you can see the giant penises...um, I mean "fairy chimneys" created by rock erosion.

But for a better view, walk about a mile north of town to the Göreme Historical National Park (Göreme Tarihi Milli Parkı), to see hundreds of shafts, some so precisely like penises that you'll swear they were carved for that reason.

The Turkish government pretends that no one has ever noticed the connection, but savvy travelers refer to the park as the Valley of Love.

Christian monks began carving out cells in the penises...um, chimneys...beginning in the fourth century AD. By the 12th century, there were churches, too, decorated with beautiful frescoes that still survive (bring a flashlight -- there isn't much light).

No nudity in the frescoes; it was enough, apparently, to live inside a giant penis.

Although Göreme has a population of only 2,500, it is well set up for tourists, with lots of hotels carved into the caves.

Try the Fat Boys Bar -- not exactly gay, but cute waiters, hamburgers, and alcohol.

See also: A Bodybuilding Contest in Turkey;  and The Penis Cemetery of Iran.

Paul Michael Glaser: From Starsky to AIDS Activist

Paul Michael Glaser was half of the quintessential gay couple of the 1975-1979 tv series, Starsky and Hutch (with David Soul): two cop partners who loved each other, a lot.

Although they didn't play up the gay subtext, they were ok with it, merely issuing an occasional wink-wink protest like "Anyone who watches the show can see that Starsky and Hutch like women."

After Starsky and Hutch, Paul starred in a few tv movies, but then his attentions were drawn elsewhere.  In 1985 he and his wife Elizabeth discovered that she had contracted HIV through an emergency blood transfusion, and unwittingly transmitted the virus to their children, Ariel (born 1981) and Jake (born 1984).

During the 1980s, when AIDS was being advertised as a "Gay Disease," people assumed that Paul was gay, and had infected his wife and children.  They experienced the same fear and homophobic harassment that gay people with AIDS were experiencing.

But they didn't let homophobia affect their relationship with the gay community.  They were always staunch supporters of gay rights.

After Ariel died in 1988, Elizabeth began the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.  She became a national advocate for AIDS awareness and research, speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.  She died in 1994, and Paul took on the management of the organization.

Jake has grown up living with HIV.  He is now an AIDS advocate and actor.

Oct 29, 2014

Dad Explains the Facts of Life (Except the Most Important One)

There are several rites of passage between a boy and his Dad:

When he teaches you to shave.
When he lets you drive for the first time.
When you can beat him at arm wrestling.

But the biggest is The Talk, when Dad sits you down and explains The Facts of Life.

By which he means the mechanics of biological reproduction, how sperm and egg cells merge their chromosomes to turn into an embryo, and nine months later, a baby.

Why is this the sole subject matter of The Talk?

Biological reproduction may be interesting, but it's irrelevant, the physiology of the past.  What about your respiratory, circulatory, nervous, and muscle systems?  What about the nutrition and exercise necessary to ensure that your body works properly?  Surely those are Facts of Life of more immediate importance.

The reason is obvious: The Facts of Life Talk isn't really about biological reproduction.  It's about Sex, aka heterosexual intercourse.

Dad assumes that the quest for heterosexual intercourse, will occupy your thoughts, color your decisions, throughout your life.  You will choose colleges and careers solely on the likelihood of heterosexual intercourse, marry to be ensured of a regular partner, get a job and a house and have kids to ensure that she sticks around, and spend your declining years on a park bench, gazing at "all the pretty girls" and wishing that you could have heterosexual intercourse with them.

By the time Dad sat me down for the Talk, I already knew all of the Facts of Sex, except for one.

1. We learned some of the Facts in seventh grade health class.  The teacher showed us a drawing of a man and a woman, facing us like the greeting to aliens on the Pioneer Space Probe, with the testicles and ovaries circled.  He explained that sperm from the man's testicles merged with eggs from the woman's ovaries, which was then embedded into the uterine wall and developed into a fetus.

Ok, but how did the sperm get to the ovaries, when they're a good five feet from each other?  Teleportation?

"Don't get smart!  You already know about sex!  That's all you kids think about!"

2. Ok, so we reproduced through sex.  That must be why my Sunday school teacher, Brother Dino, admonished us not to have sex before marriage, or God would strike us with incurable diseases as a punishment.  He didn't want kids having kids.

But what exactly was sex?  What did you do to draw the wrath of God and make a baby?

"Good question!" Brother Dino said.  "It's not just sex.  God hates anything that defiles the body."

Which didn't answer the question.

3. At Nazarene summer camp, I asked an older boy named Marty to explain the procedure.  He told me about going from first base (kissing) to second base (feeling the girl's breasts over her bra) to third base (feeling under).  He even demonstrated by feeling my chest under my shirt.  But then he got nervous and left before the home run.

How did feeling under a girl's bra make sperm go from your testicles to her ovaries?  The two organs were still a foot or more apart!

4. In eighth grade at Washington Junior High, my friends and the jocks claimed that they had sex often, a dozen times a week.  As we walked down the halls, they would say "I've had her...had her...had her..."  

I couldn't ask them, so I asked Bill's big brother, Mike.

"Ok," he said, "The home run: you put your penis inside the girl's vagina." (yes, he used the technical terms).  "That's an opening that leads all the way up to her ovaries. So the sperm comes out and goes right up the tube to the egg."

"But...but...pee comes out of your penis, too!" I exclaimed.  "How do you make sure that sperms come out instead?"

Mike began to blush.  "Um...when you get older, sometimes...you know, it gets bigger...and like turns into a baseball bat."

"Sure, I know all about...um, baseball bats," I said, feeling very grown up and sophisticated.  No one had ever mentioned that Fact of Life before.

"Well, when you're like that, only sperm can come out.  When you're not, only pee."

"But..you can't control when that happens.  How do you get it to happen when you want to have a baby?"

He laughed.  "Oh, you'll find out, Bud.  Believe me, you'll find out!"

So I sort of knew the procedure.  But Mike left out the most important Fact of Life.

Can you think of what it was?

5. In the fall of ninth grade, Dad took me out to the back yard, sat me in the grape arbor where, he said, someday he would host my wedding, and had the Talk.

"You had Sex Ed, right?" he started off.  "You know about sperm and eggs, and all that?"


"Do you have any questions?"

"Well..."  Yes, I had a question.  "I already learned about running the bases, and what to do with your penis if you want a baby.  But I hear guys talking all the time about having sex when they don't want to make a baby."

"Don't do it!" Dad said sharply.  "God will punish you with incurable diseases."

"Sure, sure...but...why would you want to?  I mean, if you don't want to make a baby, what's the point?"

"What's the point?" he repeated, staring at me.  "What do you mean, what's the point?  It's a girl -- let's say a really cute girl -- and you've been kissing her, and feeling her breasts."

I looked away, toward the garage.  "That's gross!  Girls are all soft, with no muscles, no penis.  Nothing cute.  I mean, why would you touch them like that, unless you had to?"  

I didn't realize that I had said too much until it was too late.  Dad stood abruptly, snarled "Don't be a wise guy!" , and nearly ran back to the house.

Like Mike, Dad left out the most important Fact of Life.  It took me years to figure out it out on my own:

Sometimes you want to hit a home run with a boy, not a girl.

See also: Getting past first base; and Seeing Brother Dino in the Shower.

Oct 28, 2014

Dad STILL Thinks I Like to Look at Girls

People keep asking, and I keep asking myself, how could my parents and relatives and friends have had no clue?   How could I have had no clue, until the summer after my high school graduation? 

I mean, it seems pretty obvious, after the Book of Cute boys, the bodybuilder on the beach, marrying the boy next door, crying because the President's not cute, my date with a boy, Bill and I becoming a Mama and a Papa, wanting to see muscles at A Little Bit O'Heaven, asking for a naked man for Christmas,  planning to escape to Arabia with Dan, having a crush on Giovanni, dancing with a Swedish leatherboy, deciding to go to college to be with Verne...and on and on.

How many clues do you need?

But it was a different world, where gay people were never, ever mentioned.  Many heterosexuals were not aware that gay people existed, and those who did thought only of drag queens. If you didn't wear dresses and sashay and call people "Mary," then you were heterosexual, and the things you did were, by definition, things that heterosexuals did.

I didn't wear dresses, sashay, or call people "Mary."  Therefore:

My interest in guys was merely buddy-bonding, or so trivial as to go unnoticed.
My lack of interest in girls was merely shyness.
Or I was just being a smart aleck, trying to stir things up by pretending to not be interested.

And by the way, those drag queens were only about dresses and makeup.  They had no erotic or romantic interest in men.  Same-sex desire absolutely did not exist.

So even though I was quite aware of my interest in men, even though I was intimate with two guys during high school, I never connected that interest to "gay."

Even when they figured it out, my parents and relatives still thought of me as heterosexual most of the time.  They had to make a mental shift, add some information, to conclude "Right, Boomer will be bringing a guy to the party," or "No, Boomer won't want to be fixed up with the boss's daughter."  Sometimes it didn't work.

Get this:

Summer 1989: Back from my semester in Turkey, I go home to Rock Island to visit my parents and brother and sister. At JR's, Rock Island's gay bar, I run into a woman I knew in high school.  Of course, I didn't know then that she was a lesbian!  We make plans to have dinner tomorrow night.

I go home, and tell my mother about my dinner plans.  Later, I overhear her telling my father: "Boomer is wild about a girl he met today."

Wild about a girl? Really?  

I've just started dating Lane, so they've heard me praising him in about 6 of our weekly phone conversations.  Before that, they heard about Alan, Raoul, my celebrity boyfriend, Jimmy the Bodybuilder on Crutches, my date with Richard Dreyfuss, the Bulgarian bodybuilder who was jealous of Michael J. Fox.  They've met Fred, Brian, the Priest with the Pushy Mom, and Viju.

Did she just forget?

It gets worse:

Summer 2002: Mom and Dad have retired and moved to Franklin, Indiana.  I fly up from Florida to visit them.  It's a nice, bright, sunny day, and my father suggests that I go jogging in the park, where I can "look at all the pretty girls."


I should say something like: Dad, I'm 41 years old.  I haven't been on a date with a girl, or even mentioned a girl, for over twenty years.  But I've said a lot about Jaan, Yuri, Blake the Opera Buff, my date with Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Hottest Guy in the World, Matt the Security Guard, Jim the Baseball Player.  I'm living in Florida with 2 guys.  Doesn't that give you a clue?

But instead I just repeat, weakly, "Look at all the pretty girls..."

"Well, sure.  You're a guy, aren't you?"

I begin to understand.   He made an instant, instinctive connection:  Boomer is a guy, and all guys like to look at pretty girls.

He could have thought for a moment, and reasoned: no, wait, Boomer would rather look at guys.  But he didn't think, heteronormativity was just too strong, and 41 years of evidence vanished in the face of an "obvious" truth.

See also: Why My Parents Kept So Many Shirtless Pictures; and My Father Explains the Facts of Life.

The First Gay Kiss on Children's TV

The Cartoon Network's  Clarence (2014-) was on my list of potential gay-subtext programs to watch, but I wasn't hopeful.  The premise seemed sort of boring: boy with some friends.  Where were the fairy godparents, wizard academies, or superheroes?

Clarence is a chubby, optimistic kid with two friends, Jeff (his rule-spouting superego) and Sumo (his get-er-done id).  He lives with his single mom and her live-in boyfriend, and has the usual assortment of bullies, crushes, and martinet teachers.

I watched one episode, and turned it off: Clarence, about age 10, was going on a date with a girl!  Why does indoctrination into heteronormativity have to begin so darn early? At least my parents, teachers, and friends waited until I was in junior high to begin the "What girl do you like?" interrogation.

According to the Clarence wiki, several of Clarence's friends also date girls or have crushes on girls. Doesn't sound promising.

In July 2014, Skyler Page, who created the series and voiced Clarence, was fired after allegations of sexual assault by coworker Emily Partridge.  Other coworkers have since mentioned that Page often made sexist statements and behaved inappropriately.  Spencer Rothbell (left), one of the writers, became the new voice of Clarence.  

Maybe the second season will be a little more inclusive.

The gay characters:  Clarence's teacher is waiting for a blind date.  A cute guy shows up.  She thinks, "Great, this is the one!"  But the cute guy is actually meeting another guy.  They hug and kiss cheeks.  Her face falls as she sees that her real blind date is ugly.

Un-named walk-on characters, one second on screen, presented as a problem for a heterosexual character, in a situation where no child is present.

But in the boardrooms of the Cartoon Network, where "Children must never know that gay people exist!", it's a giant leap forward.

Of course, fans are bound to scream"They can't be gay!  Friends kiss each other on the cheek!  Or brothers!  They could be brothers!"

Anything they can think of to avoid acknowledging that there are gay people in the world.

See also: Cory Haim's Bubble Bath; and The First Gay Character on Children's TV

Oct 26, 2014

Jesus' Kid Brother and the Bare-Chested Centurion

There's no Jesus in Jesus' Kid Brother, by Brian and Mark Karmelich, but there is significant beefcake, and some gay subtexts.

Growing up in the Christ family (apparently they weren't aware that Christ is not a surname), Larry naturally feels some sibling rivalry with his celebrity half-brother.  But Dad Joseph tells him that, even though he can't be the Savior of the World, he can have an admirable life: "find a good job, and fall in love."

So Larry and his buddy Barabbas go out to look for a job.  En route, Larry meets Mary Pilate, daughter of Pontius, leader of the despised Romans.  They fall in love and go on the lam, pursued by Stu the Centurion, who is in charge of crucifixions, and his cross-makers, Kriss and Kross.

The last thing we need is another hetero-romance, but there are gay subtexts throughout, in the interaction between Larry and Barabbas, and especially in Stu, who appears to want Larry for himself.

The premiere, at the Hudson Theater in 2003, featured David Brouwer (Larry), Christopher Dean Briant (Barabbas), and Benjamin Sprunger (Stu the Centurion, top photo).

The Long Beach run featured Joseph Sark (Larry), Christopher Dean Briant (Barabbas), and David Eldon (Stu the Centurion, left).

Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Slave as Object of Desire

In the first years of the twentieth century, everyone read Uncle Tom's Cabin, the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) that, in Abraham Lincoln's famous joke, "started the Civil War."

Or they went to see one of the many silent film or theatrical versions.

 The characters and events were as intimately familiar as anything in today's Harry Potter or Twilight series.

You would call anyone evil a Simon Legree.

Anything with an unknown origin was compared to Topsy, who was never born; she "just growed."

Jokesters called anyone impossibly virtuous a Little Eva.
And Uncle Tom, the doddering, creaking, white-haired, who sang and danced and reveled in his slavery, proclaiming it the best of all possible worlds?

By the 1940s, his name was being applied to African-Americans who supported or abetted racist policies.  Today anyone in an oppressed group who sells out to the oppressor is called an Uncle Tom.

Like the gay writers and actors who fill our tv screens with screaming-queen stereotypes.

But in the original novel, Uncle Tom was no sell-out: he was strong-willed and principled, standing up to slave owners to obey the dictates of his conscience.

And he wasn't a doddering oldster: he was in his 40s, still strong, his muscles an object of both admiration and fear.

The comic book versions depict him as more of a sex symbol than an elderly minstrel, his overalls falling open to reveal his massive chest.

The  poster for the 1965 film version (top photo) shows the back side of a naked muscleman, and promises: "the real story of how it all happened -- the SLAVES, the MASTERS, the LOVERS!"

Although the movie contains no nudity and no lovers.

Uncle Tom has a wife in the novel, but she is of minimal importance.  What is important is the homoerotic desire that he elicits in his owners:

Simon Legree, who beats him because he refuses to harm another man.

And especially Augustine St. Clare, the gay-vague fop who opposes slavery even though his wife forces him to own slaves, and who wants to free Tom but can't bear the idea of not being able to gaze on his sleek, shimmering muscles anymore.

See also: The Uncle Tom Award #1: Todd Graff; and Brock Ciarlelli, the Uncle Tom of the Middle.