Apr 11, 2015

Ren and Stimpy: Nickelodeon's Disgusting Gay Couple

In the early 1990s, everyone in West Hollywood was watching the Nickelodeon cartoon series Ren and Stimpy (1991-1995), a parody of the idiotic animated cartoons of the 1960s.

Including the puerile commercials, like "Log" and "Powdered Toast."  Powdered Toast Man became a cultural icon of his own.

The main stars were Ren the viciously psychotic chihuahua and Stimpy the excessively stupid cat, who parodied cartoon duos like Ruff and Reddy and Yogi Bear and Boo Boo,

Except they were entirely obsessed with farting, nose-picking, and body fluids, often drawn in nauseatingly grotesque detail.

It was rather hard to watch, but we watched anyway, for the obvious gay subtexts.

 Ren and Stimpy are presented as an overtly romantic couple. They share a house and a bed; they reminisce about their wedding, and Stimpy gives birth to a sentient fart, a product of their sexual union.

In some episodes, Stimpy is a stereotypical 1950's wife, passive and nurturing, responsible for cooking, cleaning, and ironing Ren's underwear.

Ren is socially and sexually the aggressor; in "Son of Stimpy", he tries to seduce Stimpy into the bedroom, but is rebuffed with "is that all you ever think about?"

Sexual activity is also implied when Ren's cousin Sven Hoek visits, and Stimpy is instantly attracted to him.

 But there was something off about subtexts.

It took awhile to realize that they were deliberate, and vicious.

The hints of same-sex activity and same-sex romance are presented as gross, disgusting, hard to watch.  Like sentient farts and "magic nose goblins."

Expected to elicit an uncomfortable laugh.
"Two dudes banging each other!  Sick!"

Stories about animator John Kricfalusi's homophobia began to emerge.  He made homophobic jokes and slurs constantly, and refused Robin Williams as a voice artist because "he's a fag."

After two seasons, he was fired -- not due to homophobia, due to his horrible working relationship with Nickelodeon.

In the summer of 2003, the Ren and Stimpy Adult Party appeared briefly on MTV.  This time there was no question: the duo was presented as a gay couple.

In cartoons that were unwatchable, unfailing grotesque and disturbing.  Ren and Stimpy live in a homeless man's mouth and then in a spittoon.

Apr 10, 2015

Spring 1964: Two Men Hugging

In an old science fiction story by Robert Heinlein,  a man discovers that the world is a lie.  Every building in every city is a movie-set fake, constructed for his benefit and disassembled when he passes on.

His friends, family, and even passersby are actors, staging scenes for his benefit and then going home to memorize tomorrow’s script.

He uncovers the lie only after years of living in what he thinks is the real world.

One day he is scheduled to go away for the weekend.  It is raining outside, so he opens his umbrella.  Suddenly he realizes that he has forgotten something upstairs, and rushes up to get it.  But it is not raining upstairs!  “They” neglected to produce sufficient rain to cover the entire house, and in that small detail their entire deception was revealed.

I spent my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s  in a lie of my own, told over and over again that I, like every boy on Earth, would spend my life yearning for feminine curves and smiles, that same-sex desire did not exist.

But I kept noticing momentary lapses, tiny mistakes, unguarded moments that revealed that it was not raining upstairs.

Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans living together in the Treasure House.
Rich and Sean smiling at each other in The Secret of Boyne Castle.
Robbie Douglas singing about boys holding hands among the candles.

The first unguarded moment came very early in my life, when I was still a toddler.  Probably in the summer of 1964, when I was 3 1/2 years old.  We were living in Garrett, Indiana.

I woke up late at night, but I thought it was morning because it was light out, so I walked into the living room, where my parents were watching our old black and white tv.  On the small, flickering screen, I saw two men.  They looked like a cowboy and Indian, but in modern clothes.  They were hugging.

My mother noticed a moment later and rushed me off to bed, but it was too late.  I had seen two men who weren't swooning over women.  They wanted men.

I never saw that "cowboy and Indian" again, and over the years I concluded that I had dreamed it.   But recently I did some detective work with wikipedia and a phone call to my mother:

It was an episode of of The Real McCoys (1957-63, but rerun through 1964): a hayseed comedy about a farm family in rural California. The hugging "cowboy and Indian" were eldest son Luke  (Richard Crenna) and farm hand Pepino (Tony Martinez).

Luke was married, and Pepino had girlfriends.  They weren't "really" gay in the series.

But it doesn't matter.  As I grew, and the what girl do you like interrogations began, and the you'll find the right girl someday pronouncements, the constant hysterical insistence that no boy has ever liked boys, not once in the history of the world, I thought of the hugging men.

A glimpse through the machinations and dissimulations and lies.

It wasn't raining upstairs. 

See also: My Date Must Be a Boy and Top Coming Out Stories.

Apr 8, 2015

Sausage Sighting #6: the Homophobic Student in the Shower

When I was in grad school, the first-year grad students were a "cohort" who shared an office and took classes together. One was a lesbian, and most of others were nonchalant about the presence of gay people in their midst.

But not Jason: 22 years old, short, solid, with short black hair, a fiery intensity, and a cute Upstate accent.

He was what we call a "true believer": preaching, with the zeal of a religious fundamentalist, that sociology alone could unlock the secrets of the universe.  All other religions, philosophies, and academic disciplines were a waste of time.

Once he was working on an essay, and he wanted to use the famous quote "If I have seen far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."  He asked around the office to find out who said it.  Obviously a sociologist, but which one?  Durkheim?  Weber?  Pareto? Mead?

It was Sir Isaac Newton -- a mathematician.

He decided against the quote -- if a sociologist didn't say it, it wasn't worth listening to!

When I brought Yuri as my date to the department Christmas party, Jason finally figured out that he was sharing his office with a gay person.  He turned as white-faced and trembling as any redneck Bible-thumper.  But in liberal late-1990s Long Island, you weren't supposed to be homophobic, so he stayed in the closet.  It came out in subtle ways:

1. If I was in the office alone, he waited in the hallway until someone else showed up.

2. When we were going on a car trip, he wouldn't sit next to me in the back seat.

3. Once I accidentally went into the restroom while Jason was at a urinal.  He whitened, zipped up immediately, and rushed out.

4. We were all talking about our dream classes (to teach).  Mine was Gay Studies 101.  Jason said, "Get real!  No student would ever enroll in a class like that!"
"Gay students would."
"Yeah, but there's like -- what, six gay students on campus."
Long Island had 24,000 students.  More like 2,400.

5. We were all talking about our first sexual experience, and I said "Ok, my turn."
Jason asked: "Was it with a man or a woman?"
"A man, of course!"
He turned his head away. "Please don't!"

Two member of my cohort noticed Jason's homophobic discomfort, and helped me play it up.

1. "So, which of us has had bisexual experiences? Boomer, did you ever kiss a girl?  Jason, did you ever kiss a guy?"

2.  "It's the last day of the semester -- hugs all around.  Boomer and Jason, you want to be alone together?"

3. "Jason, what do you think of Casper Van Dien from Starship Troopers?  He's so hot, I'll bet you'd switch teams for him!"

In March 1999, several members of my cohort presented papers at the annual conference of the Eastern Sociological Society in Boston.  I stayed at the gay Chandler Inn, but four guys shared a room at the Hilton, where the conference was held.

Mike, who was gay-friendly, shared a bed with Jason.  He helped me design the mother of all pranks.

Our prank:

Jason liked to sleep in, past when the other guys left for breakfast, then take a long shower (we speculated that he was doing more than showering in there).

What if he came out of the shower and caught me and Mike "in the act"?  He would conclude that Mike was gay, that he had been sleeping next to a gay person!"

On the third day of the conference, Mike pretended to be "still asleep" when Jason started his shower.  I knocked softly, and he let me in.  I stripped to my underwear, and we climbed into bed and put our arms around each other, poised as if we had been kissing.

And waited.

And waited and waited.  It was a long shower.

Finally the door opened, and Jason came out, combing his hair.

No towel, no bathrobe.  Completely naked.

This was better than I had hoped for!  I had a great view of his solid chest and shoulders, still damp from the shower, his abs, his legs -- and his Kielbasa.  Low hanging, ruddy, enormous.

He stopped and stared at us, agape.

"Oh, hi!" Mike said.  "I invited Boomer over for a little morning session.  I hope you don't mind."

"There's room for one more," I added.

That might have been going a little too far.  Jason ran back into the bathroom and slammed the door, and wouldn't come out until we admitted that it was a prank, that we weren't really doing anything, that Mike was really straight.

He still refused to sleep in the same bed with Mike.

Oh, well.  At least I got a memorable Sausage Sighting.

See also: My Top 15 Sausage Sightings; The Truth about the Formosan Penis

Apr 7, 2015

Maxwell Caulfield: Responding to Gay Rumors with Homophobia

Have you heard of Maxwell Caulfield?  During my senior year in college, he was being hailed the Next Big Thing.

Born in Scotland, Caulfield moved to London at age 15 and became a nude dancer at the infamous Windmill Cinema.  At age 18, he came to the U.S., and quickly got cast in the gay-themed stage farce Hotrock Hotel (1978), then the gay-themed Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1981), by Joe Orton.

In 1982, he won out over thousands of hopefuls to star in the sequel to Grease, the most popular movie musical of all time.

Grease 2 premiered in June 1982 to a huge hype campaign.

The box office wasn't exactly miserable, but it didn't match expectations by a long shot.

Singing "Rock-a-Hula Luau" was not exactly helpful to Caulfield's career.

In the homophobic 1980s, the gay rumors didn't help, either.

He starred in a few horrible-sounding tv movies, such as Electric Dreams (1984), about a guy and a computer both in love with the same woman, and The Supernaturals (1986), about an army of dead Confederate soldiers still fighting the Civil War.

And The Boys Next Door (1985), an intensely homphobic movie in which a straight guy (Caulfield) is lured into a mass-murder spree by his closeted-gay friend (future jerk Charlie Sheen) go on a killing spree because, of course, gay people are all psycho killers waiting to happen.

It could also be read as a commentary on Caulfield's career: "Look, I was lured into playing those gay roles by evil gay producers.  It's not my fault."

He spent two years playing Miles Colby in the Dynasty spin-off The Colbys (1985-87).

Then it was back to bad, ridiculous, or homophobic movies.

Mind Games (1989): a couple goes camping, and encounters a psycho (Colby) who has sinister designs on their son.

Dance with Death (1992); Murders at a strip club.

Animal Instincts (1992): Porn.

He's been more successful on stage, with starring roles in Joe Orton's Loot, Tryst, Cactus Flower, female impersonator Charles Busch's Our Leading Lady, and Chicago.

Fall 2006: Outed in the Locker Room of a Jewish High School

One day when I was living in San Francisco, Kevin the Vampire showed me the want ad section of the San Francisco Chronicle with a job circled: a man to teach English and Spanish at a Jewish high school.

"The perfect job for you!" he exclaimed.  "You could forget about this back-to-grad-school nonsense and stay in San Francisco,"

"Sounds interesting," I said noncommittally. Teaching high school?  

"And it's only a few blocks south of my apartment.  Very convenient, once you move in!"

"But I don't have teacher certification."

"That's not necessary for teaching at private schools in California."

"And I'm not Jewish."

"So you pretend.  You've been to synagogues.  You can read Hebrew.  It won't be difficult."

I looked at the ad.  "Why do they want men only?"

"Because it's a boy's school, and in Orthodox Judaism, women can't teach men. It's above their station."

"Wait -- they would never hire anyone gay -- Orthodox means homophobic.  They think we have no morals or self-control, so we'll be trying to seduce all the students."

Kevin rolled his eyes.  "My dear naive Boomer, haven't you figured it out yet?  All breeders are homophobic!  They want us dead, every one of them!  That's why we must pretend to be straight, every time we set foot outside the Castro!  Or is it just shyness that keeps us from holding hands as we walk down Geary Street?"

"You're right, of course. You always have to be careful in public."

"Not careful -- a whole new person.  Someone who gazes longingly at women and has never heard the word 'gay.'  We must always wear the mask.  This job will only make it more obvious."

So I tweaked my resume: my semester in Turkey became a semester in Tel Aviv, my volunteering with youth at the gay church became at a straight synagogue, and my reason for abandoning my Ph.D. changed from they were homophobic to they were antisemitic.

Sure enough, a few days later, the principal called me in for an interview.  He was Dr. Meyer, a grinning, rotund fellow, balding, with a close-cropped white beard.

He asked the usual questions about my education and experience, and then what it was like growing up "different" in western Illinois.  He meant "Jewish," of course, but my experiences with "what girl do you like?" heterosexism transferred easily into "what church do you go to?"

He asked why I moved to California.  I changed it's a gay haven to it's got the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.

He asked about my wife.  I changed Lane to Leanne, and gave us two kids, Isaac and Miriam.

"Your students will all be seniors," Dr. Meyer said, "18 years old, legal adults, but afraid to move out into the world.  Your job will be to encourage them to seek out new experiences, meet new people."

I wanted to ask "Like gay people?"  But I didn't.

For my sample teaching, I led a class of seniors in a discussion of The Great Gatsby, carefully omitting any reference to gay subtexts.

Then came the campus tour.  A library crowded with studious high school boys poring over the Talmud.  A gym class full of muscular 18-year old jocks playing basketball, divided into shirts and skins.

This might not be a bad place to work after all.

As Dr. Meyer escorted me through the locker room, I was ambushed!

Eight or nine high school musclemen in towels and jockstraps.  A flurry of hand-shaking and shoulder-patting, and every one of them, in turn, grabbed and squeezed my bicep.

"Are you going to be our new teacher?"
"I need lots of help with AP English!"
"Will you be available for after-school tutoring?"
"How would you feel about starting a Spanish club?"
"No, we need him to be faculty adviser for the paper!"

Finally Dr. Meyer pushed through them, snarled "Don't pester the candidate," and led me away.

"Well, that was fun!" I exclaimed, glowing with exhilaration.  "Are they always so,,,um, physical?"

"Touching the tefilim of a teacher is a mitzvah.  Of course, you weren't wearing any, so they had to improvise." (Tefilim: prayer boxes attached to the arm and head).

Why was he staring at me so oddly?

"They seemed to like me," I said, feebly.

"Yes...um...well, I think we have everything we need.  We'll be calling the successful candidate before Shabbos."

He didn't call.

I think the ambush was a test, to weed out the gay candidates. Straight guys were supposed to find contact with other men repugnant, so they shrank back in disgust from the shoulder-patting and bicep-squeezing.

See also: My Date with the Vampire.

Richard Simmons: Fitness Guru Who Has Never Said the Word "Gay"

The Liberace of the 1980s was Richard Simmons, a fey elf in an Afro who led millions of overweight middle-aged women in energetic dance-style aerobics.

Growing up obese, Richard was dissatisfied with the diet and exercise regiments available: he believed that exercise should be fun and uplifting, and diets should be a joyful celebration, not dreary deprivation.  So he opened his own exercise studio, Slimmons, in Beverly Hills in 1969. He still teaches aerobics classes there every morning.

You can buy many of his Sweating to the Oldies DVDs, and about a dozen books, including Never Say Diet (you should say "live it!").

His program seems to be all about aerobics, or just getting off the couch and moving around.  Not a lot of weight training.

His effervescent personality and success in reaching the middle-aged female crowd led to a story on Real People, followed by guest appearances on game shows and talk shows, a four-year stint playing himself on General Hospital, numerous tv commercials, and his own Richard Simmons Show.

Richard had a few male fans.  He helped the morbidly obese Michael Hebranko drop from 906 to 200 pounds in 19 months, a feat which got Hebranko listed in The Guiness Book of World Records (unfortunately, most of the weight came back; he died in 2013 at 550 pounds).

There are many parallels between Richard Simmons and Liberace:
1. Aggressively feminine mannerisms.
2. A penchant for flamboyant costumes.
3. A fanbase composed mostly of middle-aged and elderly women.
4. A loud, obnoxious refusal to identify as gay.

Liberace claimed to be straight, and sued anyone who implied different.  Richard merely refuses to use the word "gay" in public, anywhere, anytime.  He has never expressed any support of gay causes.  When he is asked about his sexual orientation, he drops pronouns: "I don't have time to date anyone," "I'm not really looking for a relationship with anyone," and so on.

The major difference is: Liberace was popular in the 1950s, when to come out openly would mean career suicide.  It's now 2015, 46 years after Stonewall.  Does Richard really believe that most of his middle-aged female fans think that he is straight?  And would abandon him en masse if he made a public statement?

Apr 6, 2015

My Fair Lady: A Gay Couple in Edwardian England

My Fair Lady (1956) is one of my all-time favorite musicals, but there is no beefcake, so I'll illustrate it with some nude shots of actors who have played Henry Higgins in their other roles..

It's about an elderly gay couple in London at the turn of the twentieth century, Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering,

Henry, an instructor of elocution, claims that language is the key to social status; he bets Pickering that he can take anyone of the lower class, give them elocution lessons, and pass them off as nobility.

Ok, why not try Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle?

Henry doesn't have much use for women, even as friends.  He is definitely a man's man.

Henry: Would you be slighted if I didn't speak for hours?
Pickering: Of course not!
Henry: Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?
Pickering: Nonsense.
Henry: Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?
Pickering: Never.
Henry: Well, why can't a woman be like you?

But he agrees.  Eliza moves into their house, and the lessons begin.

Everyone thinks that Eliza and Henry have an amorous relationship.  Henry's mother, who has suspected him of being gay for years, is delighted.

Eliza soon becomes indispensable in the household, keeping track of Henry' appointments and performing secretarial tasks.  She even gets a little crush on him.  Though he doesn't share her romantic inclinations, Henry begins to think of her as a friend and confidant.  He expects that, when the contest is over, she will stay on.

I've grown accustomed to her face
She almost makes the day begin
I've grown accustomed to the tune
She whistles night and noon

Eliza wows London society at the contest, and is proclaimed "of noble birth."  Everyone congratulates Henry, not Eliza, who concludes that she was being used an experiment, and leaves in a huff.  But she is persuaded to return.

 Henry, never one for apologies, or hugs, says "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?"  Curtain down.  The end.

That's right -- no fade out kiss.  There are hints that the two might become lovers, but they remain only hints, a heterosexual subtext in what is a rarity in musical theater, a plot about male-female friendship.

The 1964 movie adds a little more heterosexual subtext, but the original play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, has substantially less.

Of course, heterosexual critics and audiences try their best to force the text into the trajectory of a heterosexual romance.  Sometimes they don't even notice that Henry and Pickering are a gay couple.

Henrys: Jack Gwillam, Reg Livermore, Ian Richardson, Rex Harrison.

See also: Sherlock Holmes, Gay Icon and The Gay Connection in The Sound of Music.

The King and I: Bare Chests and Shaved Heads

The King and I, the 1951 Rogers & Hammerstein musical, can be played as a heterosexual romance, like the 1956 movie version:

Young widow Anna Leonowens goes to Thailand in 1861 to tutor the many children of King Mongkut.  Their culture clash results in romantic sparks, and they fall in love.

Or, with barely any tweaking at all, it can be played as two strong-willed people developing a non-romantic friendship based on mutual respect.

Which, by the way, was the case in the original novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944), based on the memoirs of the real Anna Leonowens: she became language secretary to King Mongkut, but didn't fall in love with the man 40 years her elder, and in fact found him unpleasant to work with.  She had quit her job and was on her way back to England when he died.

So it's worth checking out the nearest high school drama club, community theater, or summer stock production of The King and I, to see which direction they're taking it.

Also, the King and his son Chulalongkorn are usually portrayed shirtless, so they'll be looking to cast the actors with the most smooth, muscular chests they can find.

Sometimes the actors go for the full Yul Brynner effect and shave their heads, too.  Sometimes not.