Feb 13, 2015

Why Gay Men Read "Dykes to Watch Out For"

In the 1980s and 1990s, gay men and lesbians both called West Hollywood home, but it was two different West Hollywoods that rarely interacted, with different bars, restaurants, gyms, bookstores, parties, and organizations.  We came together for a few causes of common interest, like Gay Pride, but we rarely became friends.

If you did become friends, it was hard to find a place to hang out.  Lesbian bars charged men exhorbitant covers to keep them out, and the various womyn's spaces in town didn't allow men inside at all.
But we all read Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in the local gay newspapers, and collected the small paperback reprint books: New Improved Dykes, Unnatural Dykes, Invasion of the Dykes, Split-Level Dykes.  

They gave an interesting glimpse into lesbian experience, so close to our own: growing up amid a "what boy do you like?" brainwashing,  being told that same-sex desire does not exist, escaping to a gay haven, looking for love in a paradise of feminine beauty.

But also so different.  And, perhaps, with lessons we could learn.

1. Gay men paid little attention to events taking place outside West Hollywood, except for homophobes plotting our destruction.  We barely knew that the Gulf War was happening, but Mo, the central character, was devastated by it.  Ecology, big business, politics, poverty, patriarchy -- the Dykes to Watch Out For seemed less insular, ready to fight for many causes in the wider world.

2. Gay men knew other gay men, period.  You might know heterosexuals at work, but you didn't number them among your friends.  You could easily go for weeks without speaking to a woman. But the Dykes to Watch Out For sometimes had children from heterosexual marriages before they came out.  That meant ex-husbands and the current partners of those ex-husbands, and so on, and so on, until their address books swelled with names of friends from every gender and sexual orientation.

3. The acronym LGBT had not yet caught on; gay men recognized same-sex desire, period.  Even vague statements like "what a beautiful woman!" were likely to get you laughed at, if not branded a "traitor."  But early on, Dykes to Watch Out For began to explore the fluidity of desire, with transwomen, bisexuals, and a woman who insists that she's a lesbian, not bisexual, even though she's in a relationship with a man.

See also: The Princess: Sometimes Boys Are Girls.

Feb 11, 2015

Parry Glasspool: Naked and Proud on Hollyoaks

Parry Glasspool has been making his mark on the British stage in comedies and dramas of gay interest:

Proud (2012): Lewis, an 18-year old Olympic boxing hopeful with a 40-ish boyfriend who comes out to his homophobic coach at a birthday party thrown by his parents (bottom photo).

Festen (2012): Christian, a boy who accuses his father of sexual abuse while everyone is gathered for a family dinner.

The Pillowman (2013): Ariel, survivor of a child murderer.

What the Butler Saw (2013): Nick, who is having an affair with Mrs. Prentice, and spends about half the production fully nude.

The 21 year old actor, who graduated from the University of West London in 2013, has also done some tv commercials and music videos, and he's a gifted gymnast.  This is a really difficult stunt.

He recently landed a role on Hollyoaks Later, the edgier, "sexier" spin-off of the long-running teen soap.  He plays Harry, estranged son of main character Tony Thompson, who joins his father for a wedding in Spain and becomes involved in a feud with a mysterious stranger.

There have been gay characters on Hollyoaks Later throughout its six-year history.  Maybe Harry is another.

What's Wrong with the Word "Homosexual"?

Some people who comment on this blog actually use the term "homosexual."  I delete their comments.

The word makes my ears hurt.  I will not permit it to be said in my classrooms.  I never use it in my writing.  I will purchase no book with that term in the title.

The English language didn’t have a word for people who are exclusively drawn to one sex or another until 1892, when the English translation of Richard Von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis appeared.  It divided human beings into two populations, the heterosexual and the homosexual, the one normal, natural, benign, the other contingent, abnormal, unnatural, purveyors of evil, victims of an insidious and destructive psychopathology.  Psychiatrists, criminologists, teachers, and journalists continued to talk about the dark, sinister “homosexual” psychopath for the next 70 years.

Meanwhile, in subcultures organized by people with exclusive same-sex desires and behaviors, the common term was “gay,” probably derived from prostitute slang of the 1890s.  We don’t know how early it was used, but at least by 1932, when Noel Coward wrote the song “Mad About the Boy”:  “He has a gay appeal that makes me feel there’s maybe something sad about the boy.”

Certainly by 1938, when, in the movie Bringing Up Baby, Cary Grant must answer the door in a lady’s nightgown, and he tells the startled caller, “I’ve just gone gay all of a sudden.”  The bisexual actor ad-libbed the line as an in-joke for his friends, assuming it would go over the  heads of the audience.

It was deliberately meant as a code term, used only by members of the subculture.  As late as the 1960s, you could say “I’m going to a gay party tonight,” and judge by the reaction of the listener if they got it or not.

Most outsiders preferred not to "name" same-sex desire at all -- it was much too sinister – but if they had no choice, they used the word “homosexual.”  The first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, used the word “homosexual,” reasoning that otherwise no one would know what they were talking about.

In 1969, the Gay Liberation Front, and the subsequent Gay Rights Movement, made two significant changes.  First, they believed that they were not psychotic, not abominations, not evil.   They chanted “Gay is just as good as straight."

Second, the word “homosexual” had to go.  It was old-fashioned and bigoted. It referred to a mental disorder.  Besides, it had to do with who you have sex with, and they were about so much more than that.  They were about living and working together, sharing a history and a destiny, being a community.  They were not homosexuals, skulking in the darkness, seeking out anonymous liaisons in t-rooms.  They were gay.

The term “gay” was not without detractors.  Many famous homophiles, such as Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood, and Truman Capote, said it was much too frivolous for a bona fide minority group.  Many people said that it was sexist, like using “men” to mean “all people,” ignoring the women.  It also assumed exclusive same-sex desire, behavior, and romance, whereas the community also included bisexuals and transgendered persons.  Eventually LGBT appeared an alternative, and then "queer."

Regardless, “homosexual” was gone, and would remain out of favor among gay people for the next 40 year.  In an Advocate poll in 2000, in answer to the question “What should we be called?”, 95% of respondents said gay or LGBT; 3% homosexual.

There are over 5000 gay or LGBT organizations in the United States, and no homosexual ones.

Barnes & Noble lists 3,389 books with “gay” in their titles and 305 with “homosexual,”  most written to argue that “homosexuals” are bad, evil, and psychotic after all: The Homosexual Neurosis, Hope and Healing for the Homosexual, The Homosexual Agenda.

The Gay Rights Movement had a good precedent for a society-wide name change. In 1965, the Civil Rights Movement objected to the term “Negro,” then used by government agencies, journalists, and on the streets.  Negro was old-fashioned and bigoted.  They chanted “Black is Beautiful!”  They wanted to be called Black.

Mass media changed instantly.  Within 2 years, no one was saying “Negro” except for the incredibly old-fashioned and the bigoted.  In Julia, in 1966, the titular character is on the telephone, & identifies herself as “a Negro.”  The white man she is talking to, not wanting to appear bigoted, pretends that he has no idea what she means, forcing her to use the new term “Black.”

But “homosexual” didn’t change easily. Even though gay people yelled, picketed, conducted sit-ins, and so on, it took until 1985 for the New York Times to agree to substitute gay for homosexual.  In 1976, in the Doonesbury comic strip, Joannie’s law school classmate says “I’m gay,” and she doesn’t understand.

The American Psychiatric Association removed gay people from their list of dangerous psychotics in 1973, but refused to call them “gay” until 1997.  About 20% of scholarly articles today still have “homosexual” rather than “gay” in their titles.  In newspapers and magazines, “gay” tends to win out in titles, but in the articles “homosexual” pops in as if it an exact synonym.

Every time I tell students that the word "gay" is appropriate and the word “homosexual” old-fashioned and bigoted, they are astonished.  They tell me, “But every other teacher I have ever had in my life said ‘homosexual’ was good and 'gay' was bad.”   They then trot out a gay friend who says “I have no problem with homosexual.” I ask if they are aware of the century of oppression centered on that word.  They are not.  They think of “gay” as bigoted!


When I was an undergrad at Augustana College in the early 1980s, the Bookstore Gang was all wild over Elfquest, a comic book series created by Richard and Wendy Pini in 1978, and still going on in various incarnations.  It is popular for cosplay today.

Combining heroic fantasy with science fiction, it was set on an alien planet with two moons, where spacefaring Elves settled thousands of years ago.  They now co-exist, sort of, with tribes of evil Trolls, insect-like Preservers, and humans.

The main character in the beginning was a Wolfrider Elf named Cutter, son of tribal chiefs Bearclaw and Joyleaf, who must lead his people to safety when their home is destroyed.  He also finds a "Partner in Recognition" in Letah of the Sun Folk,   Later other characters took center stage, a cast of thousands in stories extending over tens of thousands of years.  It became very complicated, and I lost track.

All of the Elves were drawn as pretty and androgynous -- you could distinguish the men only by their bare chests, with the muscular pecs of teen idols.  And they had sex a lot -- a tumble on the grass at the drop of a kilt became a mainstay of the series.  But, at least in the comics I read in college, all of the tumbling and romance were strictly heterosexual.

I hear that some later storylines included same-sex romances, and Wendy Pini stated that "all of the Elves are bisexual."  But Augustana, they only contributed to the erasure of gay people from the world.

Feb 10, 2015

The Mystery Man of the Little River Band

I happened upon this picture on the internet.  A shirtless hippie, short, beautifully sculpted, standing in a group of his mates. The caption read: "Russ Johnson, Mississippi."

Ok, I figured it was some guys from Mississippi, one of them named Russ Johnson.

Turns that an Australian rock band got its start as Allison Gros in 1970, changed its name to Mississippi in 1972, and broke up in 1975.

They released an album and five singles, most not particularly heterosexist.  Like "Kings of the World," which reached #7 on Australian charts in 1972: 

Robbers on the highway, beggars in the street
Everyone is lonely, no one is tryin' to meet

But wait -- here's another picture of the same guy, except it's captioned Derek Pellicci.

When Mississippi split up in 1975, he became one of the founders of the Little River Band.

They hit #3 on U.S. charts in 1978 with "Reminiscing", about growing old together:

When we're old, we'll go dancing in the dark, 
Walking through the park, and reminiscing

I was around in 1978, but I don't remember any of their other hits.

Here's the Little River Band in 1978, taken directly from Glen Horrock's website.  Derek Pellicci is in the middle.   Definitely not the muscular hippie in the top photo: his hair is too dark, and he has a hairy chest.

So who is the mystery man of the Little River Band?

Feb 8, 2015

Bachelor Weekend: Six Irish Guys Get Naked on Holiday

You're probably wondering about muscular, bulgeworthy, and otherwise memorable actors illustrating my post on James Joyce.

They're from a 2013 Irish film called The Stag, or in America The Bachelor Weekend, about a group of guys giving their mate one last taste of freedom before his wedding.

In American films, this sort of party involves hookers and girls jumping out of cakes, but in Ireland, it's a weekend trek through the countryside, where they get lost and naked.

The six mates are:

Right: Wimpy groom Fionnan, whose fiancee Ruth insists on the weekend in the country, even though he hates the outdoors (Hugh O'Conor, who played Stephen Dedalus in a 2003 version of Ulysses).

Left: The Machine, Ruth's psychotic brother, who pushes his way into the weekend and causes havoc  (Peter McDonald, a familiar face on Irish television).

Right: Davin, the macho best man, who was dumped by Ruth before she started dating Fionnan, and isn't happy about it (Andrew Scott, Moriarty in the tv series Sherlock).

Left: Depressed businessman Simon (Brian Gleeson, known for Snow White and the Huntsman).

Left: Little Kevin, Fionnan's younger brother, who is gay (Michael Legge, the teenage Frank in Angela's Ashes).

Right: Large Kevin, his drug-addled older boyfriend (Andrew Bennett, the narrator in Angela's Ashes, and Edwart in the gender-bending Sherlock Holmes short Edwart & Arlette).

I haven't seen it; the trailer looks fine, but the reviews are atrocious.  Apparently there are many homophobic and transphobic jokes, in spite of the gay characters and the "group hug" ending.

But I do want to see a lot more of Little Kevin.


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