Nov 29, 2014

Fall 2005: Gay People Absolutely Do Not Exist

Heterosexual Soldier
In the spring of 2005, after twenty years in the gay neighborhoods of California, New York, and Florida, the only academic job I could find was in Dayton, Ohio, an hour's drive from the nearest gay neighborhood.  Too far to come home to every night.

So, for the first time in twenty years, the first time in my adult life, I would be living and working, buying groceries and going to the gym, finding friends and lovers, falling asleep every night and waking up every morning in the Straight World.

My friends advised me to stay home, find another temporary position at a college in Florida, or give up academe altogether.  I had forgotten what the Straight World was like, they said.  The heterosexuals who lived among us had learned to be civil, so they merely asked “Are you the boy or the girl?” instead of screaming “Got AIDS yet?”  But in the factory towns and farming villages of the Straight World, they were all screamers.

I would be spat on, called names, harassed by the police, refused medical care, kicked out of my apartment. My car’s tires would be slashed. Rocks would be hurled through my kitchen window.  One day I would be murdered, no doubt about it, and my assassin would get the lightest possible sentence, as the judge declared, “It’s a pity that ridding the world of an abomination must be punished at all.” Why did we all flee from our birth towns in the first place?  To stay alive.

Heterosexual Bear
I thought my friends were exaggerating.  An entire generation had grown up since Stonewall.  Surely some heterosexuals were gay-friendly, even in the Straight World, and most of the rest were simply polite bigots, keeping their hatred well concealed.  Surely screamers were rare, even in the Straight World, and actual murders rarer still, occurring only when a preacher incited bloodlust with a cry of “God wills it!”

Besides, the Straight World could not possibly be empty of gay people.  Not everyone moved to a gay neighborhood.  10% of the population would never fit.  Not even 5%.  For every gay person who fled to gay neighborhoods, there must be a dozen who stayed home, and now flew rainbow flags from their porches, strolled down the street hand-in-hand with their partners, created spaces of freedom in spite of the screams.

So I loaded my car with suitcases and books and left the Gay World for the first time in my adult life, to go into exile in western Ohio.

After checking into my hotel, I made my way up the hill to the campus, to a flat brick building with a cornerstone stating that it was constructed in 1969, the year of Stonewall.  A good sign, I thought. Maybe the Straight World wasn’t so dark and savage after all.  

When I arrived at my new office, its former occupant, a fat, sweating political scientist named Dr. Dean, was busily clearing out so I could move in.  We chatted while he knelt on the floor, taping up the last of his boxes.  He asked how I liked Ohio.  I liked it fine so far, I said.  Then, preoccupied with masking tape, not looking up, he asked: “Did your wife come with you?”

Heterosexual Captain Crunch
My wife?  Gay men had partners, spouses, lovers, never wives. Why would Dr. Dean think that I was heterosexual?  I hadn’t mentioned a woman.  I hadn’t kissed a woman in his presence.  I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.  But Dr. Dean showed no sign of looking for evidence.  He asked  by rote, with utter nonchalance, as if “Did your wife come with you?” was small talk, the precise equivalent of “How do you like Ohio?"

 I had quick, witty, withering responses prepared for the polite bigot who asked “Why are gay men so obsessed with fashion?” and for the screamer who ranted “Why do you molest little boys?”, but I had no response prepared for this nonchalance, this blithe confidence that every man has a wife, and presumably every woman a husband, that heterosexual experience is undoubtedly universal human experience.

“Uh. . .I’m not. . .I don’t. . . .”  I stammered.

Dr. Dean looked up, frowning, surprised at my hesitation.  “Or haven’t you met the right woman yet?” he offered in a kindly tone.

Finally collecting my wits, I said, “There is no right woman. I am not interested in women. I haven’t been on a date with a girl since high school.”

He stared, mouth gaping, utterly taken aback.  Was he so surprised to discover that gay people existed?  "Don’t give up,” he said after a long moment.  He returned in embarrassment to the box that he was taping. “Everyone has a soulmate somewhere.  I didn’t get married until I was thirty-six.”

Now it was my turn to stare.  Dr. Dean was not shocked about meeting a gay person  – he still thought I was heterosexual.  Saying I was not interested in women did not tell him that I was interested in men, but that I had given up on finding the “right” woman!  Saying that I hadn’t dated a girl since high school did not tell him that I dated boys, but that I never dated at all!

I stood upright and turned back toward the bright wood-framed hall where the doorways of heterosexual professors were marked with office hours from semesters past and yellowing Dilbert comics.  I wanted to scream “I exist!”  I wanted to drag Dr. Dean up by his shirt collar and force him to wake up from his smug heterosexual fantasy.  But instead I asked: “Is there a soda machine nearby?”  My first encounter with a resident of the Straight World ended in ignominious defeat.

Heterosexual Supermarket
Dr. Dean was not unique. During my first weeks in Ohio, I heard about “my wife” and “my girlfriend” constantly.  The assistant manager who signed me up for a membership at the Better Bodies Fitness Center said that she could work out with me for free.

A parishioner at Unitarian Church mentioned the Women’s Breakfast she might be interested in.

The clerk who gave me a Super Value Discount Card at Kroger's Supermarket offered me a second card to take home for her.

The DMV employee who issued my new driver’s license asked how she liked Ohio.

One professor who asked about my wife ironically had a “LGBT Safe Space” sticker affixed to her office door.

Colleagues, student assistants, new neighbors, church parishioners, and random strangers always asked about my wife within a sentence or two of “Hello.”  It was simply how one made conversation in the Straight World,

18 Heterosexuals
No one in the Straight World ever asked, “How does your partner like it here?”  No assistant manager who signed me up for a gym membership told me that “my girlfriend or boyfriend” could work out for free, no church parishioner mentioned the clubs “my significant other” might be interested in, and no grocery store clerk gave me a second Super Value Discount Card for my “spouse.”

Regardless of whether they were young or old, uneducated or educated, screamer or polite bigot or gay-friendly, they were absolutely certain, without the slightest doubt, that gay people did not exist.

See also: Straight Guys Never Figure It Out

Nov 28, 2014

The Linguist on my Sausage List

People who hear about the various languages I've studied always ask "Why didn't you become a linguist?"

Because linguistics is not about world languages.  It's about phonetics, phonology, morphology, and syntax, how ui changes to eu in some dialects of Farsi, but only before glottal consonants.

But that doesn't stop people from trying to fix me up with translators and polyglots of various ilks.

The latest, when I was in Dayton, was Ari, a professor of linguistics at Ohio State, about an hour away.

"He's got four of the five traits you find attractive," my friend enthused.  "He's a gym rat, religious, a swarthy Mediterranean, and gifted where it counts!"

So we exchanged a few emails and photographs.  Ari was muscular, in his mid-30s, dark-skinned, with curly black hair.  He said he was born in Israel, and moved to the U.S. when he was five years old.  He was a lapsed Orthodox Jew.  And a linguist!

Sounds perfect.

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood.

The Gay Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

When I was in high school in the 1970s, a series of paperbacks appeared at Readmore Book World with weird, evocative titles: The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath; The Doom that Came to Sarnath; At the Mountains of Madness.

They weren't actually heroic fantasy, they were "weird tales," dark fantasies by H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) originally published in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly about slithering, tentacled things that lurk just beneath the surface of idyllic small towns.

Such as Azazoth, "who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes."

That's the way he wrote.

And "unspeakable knowledge" uncovered in long-forgotten grimoires: De Vermis Mysteriis, the Book of Eibon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten.... and, of course, the Necronomicon, written by the "mad Arab Abdul Alhazred."

I loved that sort of thing.  Especially because there was:

No heterosexual romance anywhere.
Lots of descriptions of masculine beauty.
Lots of male bonding.
Lots of muscular men discovering the horror behind the  heteronormative job-wife-house trajectory.

In "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" (1919), the narrator hears a disembodied voice speaking from a sleeping man: "I am your brother of light, and have floated with you in the effulgent valleys.  You have been my friend in the cosmos  We shall meet again -- perhaps in the shining mists of Orion's Sword, perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away."

Talk about soul mates!

In “The Quest of Iranon”(1921), a man wanders a stern, unfriendly world in search of the city of Aira, where there are “men to whom songs and dreams. . .bring pleasure.”  He meets “a young boy with sad eyes” who also dreams of escape.    They travel together, happy in a way yet always longing.  They grow old together and finally die, never finding their true home.

Might I suggest West Hollywood?

Randolph Carter, Lovecraft's most famous hero, has been played on screen by Mark Kinsey Stephenson, Art Kitching, Toren Atkinson, Adam Fozard, and Conor Timmis.

In real life, Lovecraft was rather a jerk.  He was even more racist than most in his era, loudly criticizing the "decadent, half-ape" immigrants who were "overrunning" New England.  He particularly disliked Jews, although he married a Jewish woman (his frequent anti-Semitic ranting was the cause of their breakup).

And he was even more homophobic than most, loudly criticizing gay people as "effeminate" and a danger to civilization.  Yet he had many gay friends, such as Hart Crane (author of The Bridge), Samuel Loveman (author of Hermaphrodite and Other Poems), and Robert Hayward Barlow (who became executor of his estate).

In fact, one might say that he found his strongest emotional bonds among gay men.

Nov 27, 2014

Kissing Boys to the Bee Gees

For good or bad, I'm a child of the disco era.  The songs of the Bee Gees bring back a rush of memories, especially those from their annus mirabilis, 1977-78:

When I brought Tyrone to the Harvest Dancewe were listening to "If I Can't Have You" on the car radio:

Don't know why I'm surviving every lonely day, when there's got to be no chance for me.
My life would end, and it doesn't matter how I cry.
My tears of love are a waste of time if I turn away

 I Kissed a Boy Under the Mistletoe at my brother's Christmas party, then went upstairs and turned on KSTT radio to "How Deep is Your Love":

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.

When I figured It out, "Stayin' Alive" was playing in the background of everybody's life.

Well now, I get low and I get high, and if I can't get either, I really try.
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes -- I'm a dancin' man, and I just can't lose.

Objectively analyzed, the lyrics are simplistic and contradictory -- and heterosexist, loaded down with "girl! girl! girl!"

Yet no songs have ever been so meaningful.

The BeeGees consisted of three Australian brothers, Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb.  They had been recording for two decades before they hit it big with the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, which launched the disco craze.   They were apparently all heterosexual, but their music drew heavily from the gay-and-black underground scene.

Their younger brother Andy had an annus mirabilis of his own in 1977-78, with "Love Is Thicker than Water," "Shadow Dancing," "An Everlasting Love," and "Don't Throw It Away."

He became a teen idol, his bare hairy chest and bulge featured prominently in Tiger Beat, as well as the "nearly" gay interview magazine After Dark.

 See also: Figuring It Out; The Eagles; and Rod and Al Stewart.

Nov 26, 2014

Summer 1979: Cute Nerd or Creepy Old Guy?

Summer of 1979.  The summer after my freshman year at Augustana College.

There were no gay organizations in town, no gay books in the library, no gay dating sites on the internet.  There was a gay bar, but I was only 18 years old, and you had to be 21 to get in.

There was no way to meet gay men -- or straight men on the downlow -- except randomly, in the course of your daily activities.  Of course, neither of you would come out, for fear of violent reprisal.  So you played a game.

You made eye contact for a little longer than usual.
He glanced at your crotch, and made sure that you noticed.
You glanced at a hot guy passing by, and made sure that he noticed.
He asked if you had a girlfriend.
You asked if he lived in the dorm or with his parents.

When you were quite sure, you got him alone and made an undeniable move: you touched his face or his basket, or leaned in for a kiss.  But you were never completely sure.

He might jump away and yell "Whoa, man!  That's not my thing!"
Or call the Dean and have you expelled.
Or kill you.

During my four years at Augustana, I only met two or three guys that way.

One was a cute nerd.  Or maybe a creepy old guy.  I couldn't decide which.

In the main reading room of the Augustana Library, there was a bookcase filled with discards and donations.  You could get a hardback for fifty cents and a paperback for a dime.  Many students browsed there, sometimes a faculty member, but rarely anyone from the community.

I had a part time job in the library, and I often noticed Trevor (not his real name), a slim, rather cute guy in his 30s or 40s, with brown wavy hair and horn-rimmed glasses, who always dressed formally and spoke in over-grammatically correct English.  He came in most Tuesday afternoons at 3:00, just as the new books were put out.  He bought at least three, sometimes four or five, week after week.

When he came up to the circulation desk to pay, we made eye contact for a little longer than usual.  I glanced at his crotch, and made sure that he noticed. He glanced at a hot guy, and made sure that I noticed.  I asked if he lived in the dorm, and he said, "Oh, no, I'm not a student.  I live in town."

I, not we.  Not married.  Maybe gay, maybe interested.

But there was only one way to be sure.

One day he found a treasure: a ten-volume set of the works of Martin Luther in German (the library had just received a new edition).  "I'll take the first five volumes now, and come back for the others."

"I'll be happy to help you carry them to your car."

"I don't have a car.  But don't worry -- it's just five blocks."

I thought for a moment.  "Hey, we're running a special for our best customers -- free taxi service.  My car's parked out back."

He hesitated.

"It's 90 degrees out there.  You can pay me back with a bottle of pop."

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Nov 25, 2014

Do Gay Men Play Strip Poker?

When I was growing up in the Nazarene Church, nearly everything was a sin, a one-way ticket to eternal damnation:

Reading any non-religious books or magazines, including the newspaper, on Sunday.
Dancing, "even in the guise of physical education class."
Eating any food that contained alcohol or sounded like it contained alcohol, like beer nuts.
Games with dice, including Monopoly.
Playing cards.
Entering a Catholic church, even an architectural masterpiece like the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Saying bad words, even "gee," "gosh," and "golly."

I started breaking away during my senior year in high school.  It took a couple of years to severe all ties, and a few more years to stop feeling guilty over the Nazarene "sins."

Today I'm doing pretty well.  I only feel twinges of guilt on occasion, when I read the Sunday newspaper or play golf.

But there are two "sins" that I've never overcome:

1. Alcohol.  I don't mind being in a bar or restaurant that serves it, but I won't have it in my house.  I've had two glasses of wine and 1 1/2 cans of beer in my life.

2. Cards.  Seeing playing cards fills me with revulsion.  Especially the face cards -- Jacks, Kings, Queens.  I won't touch them.

Fortunately, card games -- Bridge, Poker, Gin Rummy, Pinocle -- seem to be primarily a heterosexual pastime.  No one in West Hollywood, New York, or Florida ever invited me to "play cards."

I understand that there's a game called Strip Poker, in which everyone who loses a hand must remove an article of clothing.  It's purportedly designed to give heterosexuals a chance to see people of the opposite sex naked.

But skillful male players usually suggest the game to unskilled female players, or they plan in advance with multiple articles of clothing, so the decks are stacked against seeing a male Full Monte.

Unless it's an all male group.

Here's another all-male group.

Gay men don't really need a game to trick other men into taking off their clothes.  You can just ask.

So they don't usually play strip poker.

Strip Twister, maybe.

In 2006, Paddy Power held the first annual World Strip Poker Championship in London.  Freelance writer John Young beat out 194 other contestants, mostly male, by keeping his clothes on the longest.  He won a fig leaf trophy and $10,000, to be donated to the charity of his choice.

See also: Twister; and The Night I Drank 1 1/2 Cans of Beer.

The Erotic Temple Carvings of Khajuraho

When I was in grad school in Bloomington, my friend Viju invited me to fly back to India with him for a visit.  I had only been to Switzerland, Germany, and France before, so I was thrilled!   I spent months doing research: buying guidebooks, studying conversational Hindi, going to Bollywood films, and compiling a list of the important sights:

The holy Ganges River at Varanasi
The Golden Temple of Amritsar
The Portuguese colony of Goa
The Ajanta Caves
The Taj Mahal in Agra.
And the temple complex of Khajuraho, with the most famous erotic carvings in the world.

As it turns out, we stayed in Delhi, except for trips to Varanasi and Agra.   Viju wanted to spend time with his family and friends, and eat in his favorite restaurants, and go shopping and cruising, not drive all over the country to visit boring temples. Khajuraho, 9 hours south in Rajasthan, was definitely out of the question.

"You're not missing anything.  Believe me, it's nothing special."

"It has the most erotic carvings in the world, doesn't it?" I asked.

"Maybe you think they're erotic, but I don't think so."

Later I found out what Viju was talking about.

Guidebooks continue to praise Khajuraho as the "most erotic monument in the world," but they mean erotic for them, not for me.

1. The complex contains about a dozen temples dedicated to various gods, including Shiva, Krishna, and Ganesha.  The walls are covered with hundreds of carvings depicting thousands of people engaged in everyday activities, to symbolize the four goals of life in Hinduism.

Dharma (right conduct)
Kama (pleasure)
Artha (making a living)
Moksha (the search for the Divine).

2. There is no beefcake.  The bodies, male and female, are slim and sinuous, with feminine curves.  No muscles.

3. About 20% of the everyday activities depicted involve Kama, and only about half of those involve sexual acts.  So 10% of the total.

4. The sexual acts are overwhelmingly heterosexual.  Men are copulating with women in various positions.  There are trios, two women and one man.  There are heterosexual orgies, where every identifiable man is with a woman.

5. There used to be some same-sex acts, two women together or two men together, but they were erased during the "sexual cleansing" regiment of Gandhi and Nehru.  Now there are perhaps two left.  The official Indian government says "none," that this one is a misinterpretation of a disciple bowing to his master.

You'd be better off watching Rajasthani bodybuilder Anand Arnold.

See also: A Bodybuilding Contest in India.

Veronica's Closet: How Not to Play a Gay Character

In the 1990s, TV writers didn't know what to do with their gay characters.

They knew what gay men were: men who were really women.  Men who were interested in show tunes and chick flicks and skin care products, who used their hands when they talked, who secretly wore dresses.  And who men.

  But what to do with them?

Veronica's Closet (1997-2000) took a novel approach: how about a gay man who doesn't know he's gay?  He'll have the show tunes and skin care products, but claim to be straight!  Won't that be hilarious?

It wasn't hilarious at all.

The show aired after Seinfeld, and starred Kirstie Allie, formerly of Cheers, so it became popular.

Veronica ran a clothing company designed to increase women's chances of romance (modeled after Victoria's Secret).

Her staff included:
1. Olive (Kathy Najimy), whose job was undefined.
2. Underwear model turned publicist Perry (Dan Cortese, top photo).
3. Uptight marketing manager and token black guy Leo (Daryl Mitchell).
4. Secretary Josh (Wallace Langham).

Josh started out as feminine-coded, working as a secretary for a women's underwear company.  And the feminine traits piled on, week after week. Not only show tunes and skin care products, but pink handkerchiefs, demitasse, a worry over getting fat, a female best friend, no interest in sports, a girly car, hints at drag. For heaven's sake, his middle name was Nicole!

Therefore he must be gay.  The entire cast acted as if he was gay, asking his advice on skin care products and trying to fix him up with men  When he protested that he was straight, they smiled knowingly.

"Wait," I wanted to ask, "Has Josh ever expressed the slightest interest in men?

"No, never," Veronica might answer.

"Has he ever expressed any interest in women?"

"Yes, often.  He's been shown having sex with women.  He had a girlfriend, nearly got married. But what does that have to do with it?  He's feminine, so he's gay."

Near the end of the series, Josh finally gave and admitted that he was, I mean gay.

He reluctantly gave up his heterosexual romances and began dating a guy, not because he was interested, but because that's what, I mean gay men do, right?


The cast doesn't have a great record on gay rights.  Kathy Najimy is bisexual. Kirstie Allie is not a gay ally

Wallace Langham, who played Josh, turned out to be rather homophobic also.  In 2000 he beat up a gay tabloid reporter while using anti-gay slurs.  He was sentenced to 450 hours of community service for LGBT charities.

Nov 23, 2014

5 Places to See Naked Men in Australia

The Australians love their nudity.

1. There are nude beaches near Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, with several that cater mostly to gay men.

2. The Meredith Music Festival, held every December in the town of Meredith, Victoria, features "the world's nude footrace," a sprint around the main amphitheater in front of 12,000 spectators. There are men's and women's races, with the winners of both competing in a final race.

3. In January, the Nude Olympics are held on Maslin Beach in Victoria. There are balloon races (couples carry balloons between them), sack races, frisbee contests, and doughnut eating contests.  Contestants must all be nude, but spectators have a choice.

Contestants are mostly middle-aged heterosexual nudists.  There's a Ms. Maslin contest, but not a Mr.

4. At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, performance artist Stuart Ringholt leads nude tours.
He's nude, and you're nude.

He believes that you can get a new perspective on art by breaking down the barrier between you and the physical world.

But won't people be checking out each other more than the art?

5. Artist, Stuart Tunick, photographs people naked in front of iconic structures to depict the struggle between art and the natural world.  He began in New York, but got arrested and fined five times, so he moved abroad.  He has had exhibitions in Mexico, Switzerland, Belgium, and Australia.

In 2010, he got 5,000 to pose in front of the Sydney Opera House.  The logistics of getting so many volunteers to undress and stand still for hours must have been staggering.

Here's the results.  A solid wall of human bodies.

See also: Top 12 Public Penises of Australia

The Bodybuilding Villages of India

In West Hollywood, everyone went to the gym.  The dating game was very competitive, and if you had a partner, there were lots of guys eager to break you up.  So you had to be in shape.  We joked that you could always tell the sexual orientation of guys in their 40s: the gay men looked 30, and the heterosexuals looked 60.

But there's a village in India where nearly the entire adult male population, gay and straight alike,  is into bodybuilding.

Actually two adjoining suburbs, Asola and Fatehpur-Beri, about 10 miles south of New Delhi, near the airport.

They belong to the Gurjar, a Scheduled Tribe (historically disadvantaged) from Rajasthan, previously nomadic, relocated to Delhi to work in farming and low-paying government jobs.  But mostly unemployed until they discovered bodybuilding.

The bodybuilding craze began 15 years ago, by accident.  A wealthy businessman, driving past, saw some of the village men wrestling, and offered them 2,000 rupees apiece (about $32 U.S.) to be the security guards at a wedding he was hosting.
This was big money!  They jumped at the opportunity.

Soon professional bouncer agencies were placing the other muscular young men of the village.  The more massive, the better.

You can make a living through your physique?

 Everyone started hitting the gym.

Kids growing up looked to bodybuilders as role models.

Now over 200 villagers are employed as "hired muscle": bouncers at New Delhi's trendy nightclubs, private security guards, and bodyguards.

The jobs are temporary: once you reach your 30s, your attractiveness to potential employers declines.  But by then, most of the  men have used their connections to pursue other careers.  Some have become wealthy businessmen.

I assume that the standard proportion are gay; the gay dating services list a number of men from Asola and Fatehpur.

See also: A Bodybuilding Contest in India; and The Erotic Temple Carvings of Khajuraho