Category Archives: Gay Interest

Why is There No Gay Men’s Body Liberation Movement?

Photo by Randy Tarampi on Unsplash.

“Gay Fat”

“You’re not fat fat, but you are gay fat,” said the guy I was dating at the time when I expressed that I felt like I didn’t particularly fit into gay culture.

These words, which at the time were deeply hurtful, continued to bother me for years. They illustrate the ridiculous, restrictive, and unattainable body norms that govern gay male culture. I often ponder what exactly it means to be “gay fat.” “Fat” is a social construction, a term that often functions as a general category in which we place anyone who does not meet cultural standards of size and/or appearance. The notion of being “gay fat,” as opposed to simply “fat,” illustrates that gay male culture and Western culture have different body standards.

I call this ideal gay male type the normate gay: the slim, toned, appropriately masculine, appropriately hairy, white, cisgender, and able-bodied gay man who embodies the collection of characteristics gay culture values most. The bodies of gay men who have less social and sexual capital because they are regarded as “deviant” — those who are of color, trans, disabled, fat, or fem — are defined in contrast to the body of the normate gay. The normate gay does not, in fact, exist, but is an idealized and unattainable cultural figure. Though some gay men may embody the normate gay to a large extent, appearance standards are set to create a constant state of lack that aligns with consumer capitalism in the form of diet culture. As sociologists Nathaniel C. Pyle and Noa Logan Klein observe:

“The prevalence of these media representations [the body promoted by mainstream gay media] creates an enormous pressure on gay men to conform to this narrow ideal body type, much like the beauty standards that are imposed on women and have been thoroughly analyzed by feminists. Rates of eating disorders and other body image disturbances are high among gay men, which may be taken as evidence that body image ideals exert pressures on gay men similar in strength to those faced by heterosexual women.”

Gay men clearly suffer from a host of body image issues, disordered eating, and full-blown eating disorders. Yet, despite existing similarities between appearance standards for women and gay men, there is no gay men’s body liberation movement to the extent that one exists within contemporary feminism. In gay men’s culture there is little discussion of diet culture, body positivity, the concept of “health at every size,” or feminism.

The absence of a sorely needed gay men’s body liberation movement is the product of cultural ideas of toxic masculinity — aspects of masculinity that produce socially harmful effects such as domination, misogyny, homophobia, and violence — and toxic gay masculinity, a subcategory of toxic masculinity that describes aspects of masculinity within gay male culture that are similarly detrimental.

Toxic masculinity, as a set of cultural standards for what men should be or do, is not monolithic. Gay men can simultaneously be victimized by toxic masculinity, as expressed by straight men, and perpetuate toxic masculinity against other marginalized men. Toxic gay masculinity functions around the desire to embody the normate gay type and to police those who fall outside the parameters of this cultural ideal, thereby reinforcing structural forms of oppression such as sexism, cissexism, racism, lookism, sizeism, and ableism.

I prefer the terms “body liberation” and “body justice,” as opposed to the more popular term “body positivity,” because body positivity is increasingly co-opted by the weight loss and diet industry. Some diets, for example, market themselves as involving “body positive weight loss.” Body positivity as a feminist concept stemming from the Fat Acceptance Movement, however, is about radically accepting and making peace with one’s body as is. “Body positive weight loss” is therefore at odds with the original intentions of body positivity.

The now widespread use of the term may also prevent us from seeing sizeism as a social justice issue. It is not enough to feel “positive” about one’s own body or the bodies of those one interacts with on a daily basis. The word “positivity” can prevent us from seeing body liberation as a civil and human rights issue and that body size should be a protected category similar to race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. The terms “liberation” and “justice,” which imply the need for systemic change where body size is concerned, are, by nature, more radical and less co-optable by diet culture.

There is no gay men’s body liberation movement because norms of masculinity prevent gay men from seeing and addressing the extent to which diet culture and gay male culture are enmeshed.

A Brief History of the Gay Male Body

When the gay liberation movement emerged in the United States in the late 1960s, body standards for gay men were not the gym-toned aesthetic of today, but the thin, androgynous hippie style often adopted by New Left men of the period. As the Gay Rights Movement progressed, and gay people became more socially and culturally visible and enmeshed within emerging forms of consumer capitalism, body standards for gay men became more idealized, unattainable, and rigid. The expansion of gay gyms, bathhouses, sex clubs, and porno theaters represented the co-optation of the philosophy of gay liberation by capitalists.

The normative body type that emerged during the mid-to-late 1970s is what some have referred to as the “Castro clone,” or, the sexualized image of the ideal white, working-class gay man. This look grew out of the Castro district of San Francisco, which became a gay mecca as urban gay communities expanded during the post-Stonewall period. The “Castro clone” often sported masculine fabrics such as denim and leather and typically wore form-fitting plaid shirts or t-shirts and Levis jeans, worn tight to emphasize the crotch area. A mustache or facial hair often topped off the hyper-masculine look. Some have also likened the “Castro clone” to the image of the Marlboro Man, a character of a rugged, working-class man used to market Marlboro cigarettes, who first appeared in advertising in 1954.

Body norms for gay men shifted with the arrival of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s to an even further idealized slim, toned, white, and able-bodied aesthetic. The amplified masculinity of the rugged “Castro clone” was replaced by an imperative to be smooth, hairless, and clean shaven. Though scientifically inaccurate, AIDS was described by medical professionals and the media as an explicitly gay disease or “gay cancer” (the initial name used for the condition by the Centers for Disease Control was GRID, or, Gay Related Immune Deficiency). In contrast to prevailing notions that gay men were diseased, the ideal body aesthetic of the time was one that connoted health, cleanliness, and physical fitness in the form of muscularity.

Activist and journalist Michelangelo Signorile, in his 1997 book Life Outside, argued that the muscular gym imperative heightened during the early years of the epidemic because doctors recommended steroids to HIV-positive gay men to combat wasting and other physical signs of illness. Signorile famously observed that, at this time, the most physically beautiful men were often those who were the most ill. Though doctors prescribed steroids with the intent to help patients combat the symptoms created by AIDS, steroid use in response to the epidemic further solidified gay culture’s masculine muscular ideal.

The anti-identity movements of the 1990s, such as third wave feminism and radical queer and transgender movements, which questioned the efficacy of the gender binary and other gender and sexual norms, led, in part, to the emergence of bear and twink subcultures, though the gay gym aesthetic still predominated in the mainstream. Gay culture and sexuality remain taboo and attaining an ideal physique is a way for gay men to visually demonstrate their morality, virtue, and control in the face of a society that regards non-heteronormative ways of being as deviant and shameful. Due to internalized homophobia, some gay men might regard their sexual desires and practices as “excessive” and seek to mitigate shame by disciplining and exerting control over their body size and shape.

Some historians trace the beginnings of contemporary diet culture to the work of the nineteenth-century social reformer Sylvester Graham. Graham argued that one’s appetite and morality were linked and that one could use food as a path to moral virtue. He prescribed a bland diet as a way for men to control their desires and exercise sexual restraint. It is therefore unsurprising that during the HIV/AIDS epidemic the ideal gay body type shifted from simply thin to a physique that was lean, sculpted, and hairless. The ideal gay male body type has developed over time to represent not just morality and virtue, but moral virtue on hyperdrive. Consumer capitalism, including gay media, further employs the precepts of diet culture to prey upon gay men’s desires to be socially and sexually worthy.

Dear Gay Men, You Are On a Diet

Lookism, or the personal, institutional, and social privileges and benefits conferred upon persons whose physical appearances align with cultural preferences, is rampant in gay male culture. The term was first coined during the 1970s by activists within the Fat Acceptance Movement. Michelangelo Signorile defines this concept as follows:

“the setting of a rigid set of standards of physical beauty that pressures everyone within a particular group to conform to them. Any person who doesn’t meet those very specific standards is deemed physically unattractive and sexually undesirable. In a culture in which the physical body is held in such high esteem and given such power, body fascism then not only deems those who don’t or can’t conform to be sexually less desirable, but in extreme sometimes dubbed lookism also deems a person completely worthless as a person, based solely on his exterior. In this sense it is not unlike racism or sexism, or homophobia itself.”

Lookism, then, does more than position someone as merely unattractive. It denies one’s very humanity on the basis of culturally-determined aesthetic standards. In gay male culture, it is not enough to be thin; rather, one must embody a set of idealized aesthetic characteristics in order to be considered desirable and worthy. Sizeism and lookism combine to create an ideal that is impossible for most to achieve.

Diet culture is hard to recognize within the context of gay male culture because it often appears dressed in a masculine guise to make its precepts more palatable to gay men. Gay men talk about “fitness journeys,” “gyming,” “gym goals,” and “meal prepping” — not dieting. But as Harrisonexplains, diet culture also “masquerades as health, wellness, and fitness.” This facet of diet culture is only amplified within the masculinized space of mainstream gay male culture.

Gay men may also engage in “clean eating” — another form of dieting under the guise of “health” — as a way to manage the stigma of being gay through appeals to bodily cleanliness and moral superiority. The assumption is that if we eat foods that are “clean,” we are, by extension, “clean,” and if we eat “unhealthy” foods we are therefore “contaminated” or “dirty.” I admit that for awhile I got into “clean eating,” in part, as a way to feel morally superior to other gay/queer men. My thought process was that if I didn’t have the ideal body aesthetic, I could at least feel better about myself because I was eating “cleaner” in comparison to others. In reality, food holds no moral value outside the value a culture — in this case Western diet culture — ascribes to it.

The invisibility of diet culture within gay male culture also results in some gay men seeing the end results of their personal “fitness journeys” as something all gay men can attain through discipline and hard work. The message is that anyone can achieve acceptance within gay culture if only they hit the gym and eat “healthy.” Such messages are diet culture dressed up as “fitness inspiration.” They may further be seen as anti-homophobic messages — not diet messages — because gay men may link their “fitness journeys” to overcoming bullying, harassment, and internalized shame.

The majority of these men, in the words of Harrison, “were born on third base but think they batted a triple.” Genetic privilege allows them to more easily conform to the normate gay ideal. Feminist activist and educator Warren Farrell refers to this phenomenon as “genetic celebrity,” or, the largely unearned adoration we bestow upon those whose physical appearances, based upon random combinations of genetic factors, fall within the parameters of what a particular culture deems “attractive” and thus desirable and worthy.

While thin or “fit” gay men may also suffer from body image issues that intersect with experiences of homophobia, they should simultaneously acknowledge their thin privilege and the fact that they do not have to face the pervasive stigma and stress experienced by those who live in larger bodies. Put differently, there is no system of oppression that marginalizes thin people in the ways sizeism and lookism oppress those who are larger.

Pointing out the extent diet culture and gay male culture are enmeshed is challenging because it unsettles notions gay men have long held as truths. It is difficult for some gay men to acknowledge and surrender the social and sexual privileges conferred by normate gay status and to work towards collective body liberation.

Riot, Not Diet

The Stonewall Inn Riots of 1969 are often cited as the origin myth of modern gay liberation (though, in fact, the Gay Rights Movement began several decades prior and a liberationist mentality developed across the United States simultaneous to Stonewall). Our gay ancestors, nevertheless, rioted, fought, and died so we would have the right to exist proudly and without shame. This includes the liberation of our bodies — not just sexually — but in all ways.

The solution is not for women and fems to prioritize the inclusion of gay/queer men within ongoing body liberation movements. Gay men must do it themselves, must create their own movement informed by existing critiques, and must give up the hesitance to address diet culture and body liberation because dismantling long-held ideals means relinquishing the status and privilege that comes from normative masculinity. An essential first step is to recognize where and how diet culture operates within gay male culture. We must, as our gay predecessors did, and as a popular third-wave feminist slogan tell us:

“Riot, not diet. Get up, get out, and try it.”

Reference

Gay History: Trio Of Drag Queens Saves Man From Being Bashed, Then Starts On The Attackers

WHEN Ivan was decked by a coward punch in Sydney he thought he might die. He prayed for a hero, and got three drag queens.

A MAN who was decked by a coward punch while on a night out in Sydney, and said he feared for his life, was rescued by a trio of unlikely saviours. 

Ivan Flinn, 34, from Surry Hills, said that during the attack earlier this month he hoped someone would come to his rescue. Help did arrive but not in the form he expected.

“I am a bit religious and I really thought I was going to die, I was praying for a hero and I got three angels,” he told news.com.au.

Those “angels” were three drag queens by the names of Coco Jumbo, Ivy Leaguee and Vybe. They stepped in after a night performing on the stages in Sydney’s neighbourhood of Darlinghurst, known for its large gay population and venues.

Luke Karakia, who performs under the name Ivy Leaguee, ended up getting injured scuffling in the middle of the road with one of the alleged attackers. Nevertheless, his frocked-up alter ego didn’t think twice before stepping in.

“Those boys sh*t themselves, they weren’t ready for some drag queens on top of them”.

Ivan Flinn say he was the victim of a homophobic assault on Sydney’s Oxford Street. Picture: Benedict BrookSource:Supplied

Mr Flinn is so grateful to the three for racing in to his rescue he’s helped raise $1000 to help them pay for their wigs and high heels that were damaged in the fracas.

The IT project manager, originally from New Zealand, said he had left a local bar on the famous gay strip of Oxford Street after midnight on August 6 and had headed to a local kebab shop to get some sustenance for the trip home.

Almost immediately he noticed a group of rowdy people behind him. “There were heaps of homophobic slurs, ‘you f**king f*ggot, you queer c**t,” all the slurs you can possibly imagine.”

“I said ‘dude, don’t ever use the word f*ggot and specially not on Oxford Street of all places’”

The advice did not go down well. Mr Flinn alleges one of the man then attacked him, ripped his shirt and punched him, dislocating his jaw.

From left to right, drag queens Coco Jumbo, Vybe and Ivy Leaguee came to the rescue. Picture: FacebookSource:Supplied

“He was really abusive, he had intent to assault.

“After the punch I was stunned but the next thing I knew Ivy went in and was scrapping with the guy who punched me. They’re in the middle of the road, cars swerving around them, tooting, and I saw the guy rip her wig off.

“They were bashing each other and she’s still wearing her high heels.”

Ivy told news.com.au she was with her fellow performers getting an after work kebab when she noticed “dick heads being dick heads” shouting homophobic slurs

One man turned to Ivy, she claims, and called her a freak. “I said, ‘I am a freak, I’m one of the freaks of Oxford Street, now get out of this shop’.

“And then little Ivan walked into the middle of it.”

The attack happened on Oxford Street, Sydney’s LGBTI heartland. Picture: Jeremy PiperSource:News Corp Australia

Ivy said she saw Mr Flinn get attacked and she wasn’t having it. “I said, ‘you want to pick on little guys, you’ll need to fight the big freak. I’m a man underneath all of this, so let’s go.”

Luke Waqa, who performs as Coco Jumbo, also piled in.

“A guy pushed Ivy so I picked him up and threw him into the gutter.

“I don’t think they knew what they were getting themselves into. I used to play rugby league. Plus I have an older brother,” Coco said.

“He tried to run away and I chased him into the oncoming traffic. I’m surprised my wig didn’t come off.”

Ivy’s wig certainly did come off in the scuffle — it was destroyed — while she said she sustained injuries on her leg as the two of them grappled on the road.

She thought the attackers came off worse though. “These big burly guys couldn’t even throw a punch, all they could do was pull hair and run.”

Mr Flinn, the trio of performers and the alleged attackers all spoke to police at the scene.

A NSW Police spokeswoman confirmed to news.com.au officers broke up an attack in Darlinghurst earlier this month involving up to seven people.

“Police are continuing to investigate the incident, including a possible motivation of homophobic bias.

“NSW Police treats all matters of violence extremely seriously, including bias crimes motivated by sexuality or gender.”

Ivy said she wasn’t afraid of what she might be getting herself into.

“I don’t have a problem defending myself. Growing up gay, I’ve been picked on and bullied and there comes a time when you fight back and you don’t care if you’ll get hurt or what happens to your wig.

vy Leaguee (centre) said she didn’t think twice about stepping in.Source:News Limited

“I may be gay but I’m a man and if you’ll hit me I’ll hit you back,” she said.

Mr Flinn said he was amazed by the three of them.

“I really thought I was going to die that night if he had kept punching me.

“Everyone was silent but they reacted so quickly. The drag queens fought my fight for me, they are my heroes.”

He said he started the GoFundMe fundraising drive to try and replace some of the damaged clothes. He is due to hand over the proceeds this weekend.

“Drag queens are the strongest people in the LGBTI community. They stand there and say this is who I am and I’m proud.

“They saved my life, I wanted to thank them”.

Ivy said it was “disgusting” some people came to Oxford St to cause trouble. However, she said there had been very few incidents in her seven years on the scene and the community looked after its own.

“There are idiots everywhere but don’t come to our street and expect us to just take it.”

Coco said she had a simple message for the homophobes: “Don’t mess with gay people. Let alone two men dressed as women. Silly boys.”

She said they weren’t fazed by the damaged outfits and were touched by Mr Flinn’s fundraising.

“It’s all just materials at the end of the day, there’s no use crying over split lace.

“We’re just glad Ivan’s OK”.

Reference

Gay History: How a Long-Forgotten ‘Confirmed Bachelor’ Informs Our History

Image: State Library of Queensland

When Robert Herbert and John Bramston sailed home to England after six years in the new colony of Queensland, John’s younger brother remained. A ‘confirmed bachelor’, Henry Bramston played a prominent role in Brisbane life but was quickly forgotten after his death.

Robert Herbert, private secretary to Sir George Bowen, arrived in Brisbane in November 1859 to prepare the official welcome for Bowen in his role as Queensland’s first Governor. On his arrival, Bowen appointed Herbert to head the government of the new colony. John Bramston arrived next in January 1860. He had lived with Herbert since they met at university a few years before. Bramston took over as Bowen’s private secretary and later stood for election to parliament himself. Finally, Bramston’s younger brother Henry disembarked in Brisbane in February. Sailing from England to Australia took about three months at the time, indicating the threesome planned their staggered arrivals.

Henry Bramston

In 1864, Henry and a friend bought a property out in the bush near Roma with Robert Herbert and John Bramston as partners. The next year, the same year that his brother became Attorney-General, Henry received a very convenient government appointment as magistrate at Roma. Such blatant nepotism did not always provoke the same indignation then as now. Henry remained in the public service until the end of his life.

Despite various rural appointments, he mainly lived in Brisbane. He proved a more social animal than either his brother or Herbert. That pair preferred the splendid isolation of their 50-acre farm. However, they were rarely alone at Herston. Robert Herbert and John Bramston welcomed a constant stream of similarly upper-class Englishmen who like themselves favoured boating, fishing, hunting and camping over elegant soirées.

The local squattocracy generally laid on lavish social events in honour of unmarried British gentry resident in the colony. They seized on the opportunity to enhance their social standing by marrying their daughters to toffs. However, it seems the local nobs quickly discerned that Robert Herbert, John Bramston and younger brother Henry had little interest in vows of matrimony.

Herston

Herston Robert Herbert John Bramston gay premier henry bramston confirmed bachelor
Herston with Robert Herbert, left and John Bramston. Images: State Library of Queensland

A busy man

Henry Bramston was a man about town and something of a dandy — an immaculate dresser and partial to fine jewellery.

He served on the Acclimatisation Society, Philharmonic Society, Hospital and Turf Club committees and on the board of the National Association which ran the annual exhibition. He also worked tirelessly to raise funds for the construction of Fortitude Valley’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

Henry owned a house opposite where the Normanby Hotel now stands. His gardens were much celebrated, particularly his potted plants and flowering ornamentals.

He was a busy man.

The Brisbane Courier records him ‘donning the pink’ to act as Clerk of Course at the races and organising balls at the School of Arts. He both supervised the Horticultural competition at the Ekka and won many of the prizes in that same competition.

At the 1878 Ekka, he won 21 of the 39 awards for ornamental plants. Although he did not enter any pansies in the competition, he encouraged others to cultivate the large-flowered hybrid. He donated ten shillings for the best three pansies; the same for the best single pansy; and £1 for the best collection of five pansies.

Dear Sir…

Henry’s voluminous correspondence at times made the Letters column of the Brisbane Courier seem like his personal Facebook page. He reached for his quill to compose comments on any and every topic. Among his favoured subjects — hospital rules. Henry enthralled readers with lengthy treatises seemingly designed to smother with micro-management any patients who survived their ailments.

Henry did not tolerate dissent. Only courageous souls dared propose concepts contrary to the Bramston Manifesto. First and foremost, he objected to charitable endowments that resulted in free treatment for the hoi-polloi. He abhorred benevolence toward a class of people he insisted ‘would never work for what they could get by begging’.

A bit rich coming from a bloke who owed his position in life to a family connection.

He took particular offence at a proposed children’s hospital, concerned that tending to sick children would encourage the lower classes to breed.

A frequent postscript epitomised his routine tone.

Crave pardon

“I have written plainly… and if I have offended or hurt anyone’s feelings, I can only crave pardon for so doing.”

Crave pardon as he might, Henry tolerated neither dissension nor any slight against his esteemed self — nor his prized bay gelding.

When Henry entered the horse in the harness competition at the Ekka, Prince took second place. That bewildered a newspaper editor who thought the prize undeserved. He ridiculed Prince as using ‘his forelegs as though they were a pair of crutches’ and likened the horse to a cockroach.

How very dare he! Henry dashed off an outraged response.

“I must crave permission to take exception to your remarks.”

Henry Bramston eventually ran into financial difficulties. He overspent during the construction of a grand mansion on 20 acres at Ascot and was forced to sell everything, including his prize-winning pot plants.

He then moved to Newstead and died in 1891 in a private hospital on James St.

Following his death, the newspapers eulogised Henry Bramston as ‘a very old citizen of Brisbane’. But Henry was only 55 years of age. He merely seemed old because of his constant fussing and ‘fuddy-duddy’ nature.

Mayfield

confirmed bachelor henry bramston john bramston robert herbert
Mayfield: The mansion Henry Bramston built at Ascot later hosted Edward VIII when he visited Brisbane as Prince of Wales. The house, which burned down in the 1930s, gave its name to Mayfield St, Ascot.

Bitchy old New Farm Queen

In truth, Henry would fit easily into Brisbane’s inner-city suburbs today. We may loathe to admit it, but most Brisbanites have either said or heard the phrase, ‘bitchy old New Farm queen’.

Unlike the elder brother he followed to Queensland, there is no evidence beyond stereotype to indicate his sexuality.

Assuming Henry Bramston was gay because he fitted a stereotype would now arouse angry indignation. We insist emphatically — and correctly — that our communities are diverse. Not all gay men are effeminate, and not all lesbians are butch.

But stereotypes did not simply emerge from the ether. Something inspired them.

Stereotypes arose because of the commonalities manifested by people the general public became aware were same-sex attracted. The most obvious were generally effeminate men and butch women. While not representative, the individuals who refused to conform to heteronormativity were our public face.

Their visibility promoted tolerance of difference long before we dared advocate for law reform.

Sir Robert Helpmann

Lifesavers once dumped Bobby Helpmann in the surf for daring to promenade on Bondi Beach with plucked eyebrows and painted fingernails. However, the openly gay ballet dancer later became Australian of the Year. How do we quantify the acceptance achieved via the social prominence of that celebrated queen of high camp?

Likewise, many now disparage the mincing Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served? as a derogatory stereotype. Yet, mainstream television audiences of the 1970s and early 80s loved the character. They laughed with him, not at him.

Here’s a little secret!

LGBTIQ+ people also loved him. He gave us visibility, and the show promoted acceptance. While amused by the camp eccentricities of Wilberforce Humphries, his co-workers never displayed the slightest intolerance towards his sexuality.

Lilian Cooper also warrants mention as Queensland’s pioneering female doctor and one half of a same-sex couple who lived together openly for half a century. Few accounts of Lilian fail to mention her butchness — both in dress and manner. Yet Lilian Cooper and Josephine Bedford became revered Brisbane citizens for their considerable civic contributions.

In our commitment to repudiating stereotypes, we should not deny their role in advancing our cause. In an era of persecution and prosecution, likeable but stereotypical gay men and women bequeathed our communities visibility and increased acceptance.

Queensland’s arch-homophobe Phyllis Cilento clearly recognised their impact. She admonished her readers on the subject in 1953.

“The danger now is that after the first revulsion of feeling against homosexuality, people will become used to the idea, and take it for granted as ‘just one of those things’…

“They will look around… and find homosexuals among men they formerly admired for their intellectual and artistic achievements or liked for their friendly and gentle manner, and they will feel that really this cannot be so heinous a crime.”

Bachelors and spinsters

The generation of Brisbane bachelors who followed Henry came of age at a time of increased wealth and more frequent social opportunities. Newspapers documented the social lives of nattily dressed ‘eligible bachelors’. Admiring belles surrounded the elegantly attired young men at every garden party, picnic race or masquerade ball. Their ranks included Claude Musson, the stock and station agent who orchestrated the city’s ‘gayest’ balls. And also ‘pretty Willie Morse with his golden curls’, whose father owned the Orient Hotel. Joining their coterie was George Love Warry, scion of a wealthy storekeeping family.

With a wink and a nod, the papers wryly noted that as the years rolled by, some of the town’s most popular single men moved from the column of ‘eligible bachelor’ to that of ‘ineligible bachelor’.

So was the general public as unaware and intolerant of LGBTIQ+ people as commonly asserted?

Or was discussion of LGBTIQ+ people suppressed — and the hatred towards us directed — by the usual suspects? Were they the same people who cause us grief today — clerics insistent on universal submission to their personal god, politicians thirsting for notoriety and sensationalist media?

Let us not forget that those same people acted as arbiters of our history. ‘History is written by the victors.’ But only temporarily. As time goes by, locked archives are accessed and previously hidden memoirs published. However, to some degree, queer history remains hostage to the people who refused us any input into the chronicles of our existence. We were, after all, ‘unfit for publication’.

They told us, for example, how much ‘normal’ people despised homosexuals and illustrated their point with evidence such as the prosecution of Oscar Wilde.

But wait a moment!

Did the public actually despise Oscar Wilde? They continued to buy his books and attend his plays. Decades later, students continued to study Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest as part of the Queensland high school English curriculum. That was despite Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen banning gay teachers in his quest to eradicate the scourge of homosexuality.

In recent years, as researchers gained access to previously ignored or hidden archives, we learned the stories of less famous LGBTIQ+ people.

We now know that Yorkshire’s Anne Lister, the notorious ‘Gentleman Jack’, managed to live an open, if not publicly discussed, life as a lesbian in the 1830s.

In Brisbane, Lilian Cooper and Josephine Bedford lived together as a couple, worked together as a couple and were invited to social events together which they then attended as a couple. Did no one ever think, “Hold on? I wonder if this couple is a couple?’

Likewise, did no one quietly ponder the living arrangements of Robert Herbert and John Bramston? Just a decade later, Queensland’s elite did not hesitate to employ homophobia against the foppish Governor Cairns. But Herbert and Bramston supported policies which enriched the local nobs. Cairns, on the other hand, advocated for Aboriginal people to have the same legal rights as anyone else. He fought against their dispossession and murder and was aghast at the enslavement of South Sea Islanders. The local establishment attacked the Governor not because of his sexuality but because of his insistence on fair and proper governance which would impact their profits.

The Elephant in the Room

Were we actually the social pariahs we’ve always thought?

Certainly, members of our communities did risk prosecution even if surprisingly few actually faced it. Definitely, we suffered prejudice, as we still do. We were sometimes subjected to violence, as we still are.

But with increased access to secrets of the past, we learn of LGBTIQ+ people who did not lead furtive and sorrowful lives: people who benefitted from tolerance in their communities even if their difference remained unstated.

Perhaps we were just another elephant in the room.

Public discussion ignored plenty of other social phenomena in days gone by. Issues like domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy and others remained taboo in polite society.

Holy f***!

One night in the 1990s, I partook of a few drinks with my mother and grandmother. We reminisced about life in my small rural home town in the 1960s. Our memories travelled house to house as we discussed people we remembered. I mentioned an out of the way house which I knew nothing of except that a single man in his early thirties lived there alone — unusual in a small country town.

I once waited in the car while my father popped in there for some reason.

“Ah yes,” they told me, “The barman. That’s where men went when their wives weren’t putting out.”

Holy f***!

I always assumed that only heterosexual sex ever occurred in our remote rural outpost — that even the cattle copulated exclusively in missionary position and with the lights off.

But no! In rural Queensland in the 1960s, gay sex occurred and the entire bloody town — except me apparently — knew about it and tolerated it.

Reference

Gay History: After Stonewall Clones, Closets and Codes

A work by Bill Costa, from the Leslie-Lohman collection. Registrar Branden Wallace traces the images of purity (white linen, smooth body) to the advent of AIDS and HIV. (Photo courtesy of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art)

Late June’s (2019) 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is making this Pride month a particularly reflective one.

But like a newly minted AARP member flipping through their high school yearbook, the modern gay rights movement’s “Big five-oh” moment brings, with its flood of memories, certain hard questions—not the least of which is: What possessed you to wear that?

“I have, fortunately, no photos publicly available of me during my ’70s platform shoes and glitter rock period,” says Joseph Hawkins, director of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Library and Archives at the USC Libraries, who spoke with the Blade about how the things we put in our literal closet can liberate us from the figurative one (or keep us there).

“When I look at pictures of people back in the [pre-Stonewall] 1960s,” says the USC Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, “there was an assimilationist viewpoint, where you wanted to look like a good citizen. I think of people marching in front of the White House, where they’re dressed in their Sunday best.”

“When the consequences of being an out homosexual were damaging to one’s life and career, there had to be codes to letting people know who you were,” observes registrar Branden Wallace, of NYC’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

Fashion, Wallace notes, “is a way to express one’s identity, specifically, for the time after Stonewall, when you had this bursting, where queer culture could actually be visible. They took their cues from things that were going on socially, and the trends in fashion, and also developed their own.”

Registrar Branden Wallace, of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. (Photo by Gonzalo Casals)

By the late ’60s, Hawkins recalls, “there was a lot of crossover [between the counterculture and gays]—ripped Hawaiian shirts, and ripped jeans. But later, that gave way that whole ‘clone’ thing, which came as a response to the term ‘sissy.’ Even within the gay community, a sissy would be ‘too’ effeminate. In the clone movement, the gay men were going to out-butch straight men.”

There was very little “humor, in these bastions of gay masculinity… seriousness and masculinity were the same thing. That opaque perspective on masculinity was also a mockery of drag queens and effeminate men. They weren’t really men,” recalled Gerald Busby, in a recent Blade article (“Of cowboy drag, cruising, and cocaine”) about the “cowboy” look he donned to make it past the doors of NYC’s Spike and Eagle’s Nest, during the early 1970s.

“It denoted seriousness of commitment to being gay and being masculine, as well as being decisive about what kind of sex you were after,” Busby noted, of the “alignment of costume and behavior… unmistakable symbols of sexual preference, such as blue or red handkerchiefs in left or right rear pockets of jeans, to indicate top or bottom.”

This exaggerated working class “clone” look, whether denim, lumberjack, or leather, Hawkins observes, was, in its own way, a “liberation ideology. Part of what allowed the sexual revolution to occur was this idea that masculinity could be a gay phenomenon. That’s what fed the ‘clone’ thing. It was a response to the idea that gay men couldn’t be masculine.”

Of his above-mentioned platform shoes ’70s look, Hawkins notes he paired it with skin-tight jeans, shoulder-length hair, and “an old saddle bag I carried. I don’t remember being ‘coded,’ though.” Working in an Office of Economic Opportunity program at the time, Hawkins recalls going on a field trip to Washington, D.C., when “a guy in my group turned to me and said, ‘Oh, girl, if you’re gonna sell that merchandize, you have to advertise.’ There were certain things you wanted to do to look gay, for people to know you were gay. You could walk down the street and catch someone’s glance. That was a different kind of coding.”

In the decades after Stonewall, Wallace notes, cloning reared a new head, and coding morphed with the mainstream, to the point of merger.

Sporting a well-groomed, muscled, manicured look and clingy shirts meant to showcase a sculpted gym body, the “Chelsea Boy” aesthetic ruled the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“I called it the ‘A-Gays,’ a standard that is unobtainable” yet desirable and pursued, Wallace recalls, also noting the Chelsea Boy look shared its time in the sun with “grunge and goth, the alternative kids who, no matter how hard they tried, could not fit in. So it’s amazing that in gay culture [of that time], you have the perfectly coiffed, and this side that just didn’t care, and was for all genders.”

There was also in this era, Wallace notes, “a drastic change in the photographic artwork. With the advent of AIDS and HIV, the art tends to go toward a smooth body, clean appearances. There’s usually white linen and water around. So artists like Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber are using these models for their purity; a perfect-looking body that is not possible.”

Nowadays, “anything goes,” Wallace says. “Beards, which you never saw in a Chelsea Boy in the 1990s, bow ties and sweater vests, and everything… I’m probably raw denim, wearing a T-shirt, got a big keychain in my pocket and a hanky and a Mohawk. That’s usually paired with a suit jacket or a jacket of some sort. You really can do anything now.”

“I don’t know why these things happen,” Hawkins admits, of trends and styles and looks that sometimes seem to defy explanation (he’s still wrapping his head around flip-flops). “Sometimes, in the middle of them, they make no sense. On the other hand, you look back and there are all these political and cultural cues. Maybe there’s an economic downturn or a wave of conservatism based on some sort of military action”—or, an event like Stonewall, which steps over lines in the sand while drawing new ones of its own. “Those things,” Hawkins says, “begin to infiltrate the way people think about fashion, and what they are going to do.”

Gerald Busby in cowboy drag, ready to cruise at the Spike and the Eagle’s Nest. (Photo by Joanna Ney)

Reference

In A Private Cemetery in Arkansas…

In a private cemetery in small-town Arkansas, a woman single-handedly buried and gave funerals to more than 40 gay men during the height of the AIDS epidemic, when their families wouldn’t claim them.

One person who found the courage to push the wheel is Ruth Coker Burks. Now a grandmother living a quiet life in Rogers, in the mid-1980s Burks took it as a calling to care for people with AIDS at the dawn of the epidemic, when survival from diagnosis to death was sometimes measured in weeks. For about a decade, between 1984 and the mid-1990s and before better HIV drugs and more enlightened medical care for AIDS patients effectively rendered her obsolete, Burks cared for hundreds of dying people, many of them gay men who had been abandoned by their families. She had no medical training, but she took them to their appointments, picked up their medications, helped them fill out forms for assistance, and talked them through their despair. Sometimes she paid for their cremations. She buried over three dozen of them with her own two hands, after their families refused to claim their bodies. For many of those people, she is now the only person who knows the location of their graves.

“When Burks was a girl, she said, her mother got in a final, epic row with Burks’ uncle. To make sure he and his branch of the family tree would never lie in the same dirt as the rest of them, Burks said, her mother quietly bought every available grave space in the cemetery: 262 plots. They visited the cemetery most Sundays after church when she was young, Burks said, and her mother would often sarcastically remark on her holdings, looking out over the cemetery and telling her daughter: ‘Someday, all of this is going to be yours.’

‘I always wondered what I was going to do with a cemetery,’ she said. ‘Who knew there’d come a time when people didn’t want to bury their children?’”

Gay History: Remaking the Castro Clone

Levis 501 jeans. Skin tight. Sanded down at the knees and crotch for that perfectly worn-in look. Third button unbuttoned to create a bit of allure. T-shirt, also skin tight. A Levis snap-front plaid. That was the uniform of the Castro clone, the gay fashion icon spawned in the 70s that — with surprisingly minor evolution or alteration — can still be seen on the streets of San Francisco today.

Danny Glicker, thankfully, is in love with the look. As the costume designer on Milk, Gus Van Sants biopic of the slain civil rights leader Harvey Milk, Glicker had to outfit hundreds of actors, from leading men Sean Penn, James Franco and Emile Hirsch to an army of extras, all dressed to span a full decades worth of fashion dos and donts.

Period films always present challenges to their costumers, but those based on true stories are that much more complicated. Glicker was saddled with another great expectation while preparing the highly anticipated film: Milks characters are not only real, they lived during a time many viewers can still recall themselves. And Milk owned a camera shop and lived an incredibly well documented life, which took some of the guesswork out of the equation, but also meant that there would be no excuse with eagle-eyed fans for anything less than absolute authenticity.

Simply recreating the clothes wouldnt have been sufficient — the bodies on todays actors are more defined and muscled than those of the leaner Milk and his comrades. Instead Glicker had to tailor the clothes to look as if they were hanging off of a 70s frame.

We created these enormous books of research that specifically address each character within the timeline, says Glicker, a young, unassuming, bespectacled man with a head of thick black curls whose previous work include Transamerica, Thank You For Smoking and HBOs True Blood. It was sort of overwhelming, because after awhile it was hard to edit down the material. I was very interested in recreating outfits exactly as they were, partially because I knew that Gus was going to be incorporating so much archival footage into the movie, and I didnt know exactly where.

Given access to the archives of the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society, Glicker and his team managed to get their hands on a fair amount of Milks actual clothing. Then they went shopping. Glicker, who prefers vintage pieces, combed hundreds of stores and amassed a huge collection of items, which he then authenticated using his research books before altering to fit the actors. No tiny detail of the evolution of fashion went unchecked — there are, after all, key differences between a 1976 shirt and a 1978 shirt (such as the collar width), and Glicker was determined to be accurate.

What couldnt be bought was recreated (and sometimes what was bought was still recreated so that spare sets were available), including T-shirts from now-defunct Castro bars, protest Ts found in the archive, and the suit Milk was killed in, which they had viewed at the Historical Society. That was a very, very meticulous recreation, says Glicker, who had to wear cotton gloves while handling the suit, which is kept in a temperature and light controlled environment and wrapped in acid free tissue. We were measuring everything from the lapels to the belt loops and leg openings. The fabric, every aspect of the fit, it was all done to match as closely as possible.

And when the thrift stores and archives didnt have what he needed, Glicker went to Levis corporate headquarters in San Francisco. The uniform of choice for Harvey Milk, his friends and many in the LBGT community at the time was the Levis 501 button fly jean, says Robert Hanson, President of Levi Strauss & Co.s Levis Brand Division. If you saw anything but Levis in the film it would have been wrong.

Levis gave me a tremendous amount of access to both their archive and retail store, says Glicker. Hanson (who is gay) and Levis, an early pioneer and longtime stalwart supporter for gay causes, thought the film was a perfect match for the brand. The movie is really about a very specific movement at a specific time in the city, Glicker says. These people wore Levis. It was what they were about and where they were. Its more than just a brand of clothes in this case, its an iconic part of America and the Castro.

When I started reading about what people wore, adds screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. I thought, What was that Levis clone look about? It didn’t take much to realize that it was about a group of people who had been called pansies and fags reclaiming their masculinity and being men.

That held true even when going butch went beyond the basics. I remember reading someone complaining that the guys were actually going too far with it — trying to be too butch, actor James Franco, who plays Milks longtime lover, Scott Smith, told Black in his Out cover interview. I saw a lot of guys from the Castro where they [actually] looked like construction workers.

Thats why the Castro clone, Glicker says, is actually a deceptively simple look. It has to be perfectly played, he says. In order to make it look good, you have to find the perfect fit and you have to feel great in it to be able to sell the outfit. It was a uniform because it was accessible for everybody. It wasnt out of peoples grasp. It was about the wearer more than the means of the wearer. And whether or not Milk launches a vintage resurgence, the basic elements havent been put out to pasture. I see the influence of it everywhere. Its not going anywhere. Its like the gay communitys little black dress.

Reference

Gay History: 2013; Vatican in a Sweat AGAIN: Catholic Church Left Red-Faced As It Emerges Priests Share Apartment Block with Europe’s Largest Gay Sauna

Next-door neighbours: The website of Europe’s largest gay sauna, Europa Multiclub, which is housed in an apartment part-owned by the Holy See
Location, location, location: The Europa Multiclub in Via Carducci, Rome, where several priests live nearby
Red faces all round: Cardinal Ivan Dias (pictured), the so-called ‘prince of the church’ has a 12-room apartment located just yards from the Europa Multiclub
In turmoil: Revelations of the sauna come amid claims Pope Benedict XVI (above) resigned in response to a gay cabal in the curia, the Vatican bureaucracy
Array

It is already reeling from claims Pope Benedict XVI resigned because of a gay cabal in the Vatican.

Now, as the College of Cardinals prepares to elect his successor later today, the scandal-hit Catholic Church has broken into another sweat, this time over news several priests share an apartment block with Europe’s largest homosexual sauna.

The Holy See owns 19 apartments in the block in Rome after buying a £21million share of the building in 2008.

Several of the flats house priests, notably Cardinal Ivan Dias, the so-called ‘prince of the church’ whose 12-room apartment at 2 Via Carducci is located just yards from the Europa Multiclub.

The 76-year-old, who is the head of the Congregation for Evangelisation of Peoples, would no doubt be horrified to discover what was happening on the floor below.

Cardinal Diaz, who is Indian and a former archbishop of Mumbai, will take part in the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI later today.

According to the Independent, he believes that gays and lesbians can be cured of their ‘unnatural tendencies’ through the ‘sacrement of penance’.

But it’s not known if he has ever nipped downstairs to impart his views on those attending the sauna.

The facility, billed as ‘Italy’s best-known gay sauna’, boasts a Turkish bath, Finnish sauna, whirlpools and massages.

Its website ironically touts one of its ‘bear nights’ with a video of a hairy man stripping down and changing into a priest’s outfit.

It says Bruno is ‘free to the music of his clergyman, remaining in a thong, because he wants to expose body and soul’.

The purchase was apparently the brainchild of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict’s much-disliked right-hand man who held the Vatican’s purse strings during the last pontificate.

Visitors of Italian gay websites were quick to make jokes about the sauna.

One said on Gay.it: ‘Oops, I took the wrong door, I thought it was the chapel.’

The Vatican has declined to comment on the proximity of the sauna to the priests’ accommodation.

The revelations come days after Italian newspapers published claims of homosexuality and blackmail within the Church, with one allegation centering around a secret ‘gay cabal’ of priests.

The Vatican has also been hit with further charges of hypocrisy against the Church’s stance on homosexuality following the resignation of disgraced Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien.

The 74-year-old had been preparing to help choose the next Pope. But earlier this month effectively admitted that allegations that he made homosexual approaches to young trainee priests were true.

He conceded his ‘sexual conduct’ had ‘fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal’.

The former archbishop will face a Vatican investigation into his behaviour and could be subjected to further punishment if evidence of wrongdoing is found.

His admission left the Roman Catholic church in both England and Scotland in deep crisis over sexual standards and apparent hypocrisy on the part of its most senior priest.

Vatican purchases €23m building that houses Europe’s biggest gay sauna

Faces at the scandal-struck Vatican are even redder than usual after it emerged that the Holy See had purchased a €23 million share of a Rome apartment block that houses Europe’s biggest gay sauna.

The senior Vatican figure sweating the most due to the unlikely proximity of the gay Europa Multiclub is probably Cardinal Ivan Dias, the head of the Congregation for Evangelisation of Peoples, who is due to participate in the election at the Sistine Chapel.

This 76-year-old “prince of the church” enjoys a 12-room apartment on the first-floor of the imposing palazzo, at 2 Via Carducci, just yards from the ground floor entrance to the steamy flesh pot. There are 18 other Vatican apartments in the block, many of which house priests.

The Holy See is still reeling from allegations that the previous pontiff, Benedict XVI, had quit in reaction to the presence of a gay cabal in the curia.

And with disgraced Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien lending new weight to charges of hypocrisy against the Church’s stance on homosexuality, La Repubblica newspaper noted that the presence of “Italy’s best known gay sauna in the premises is an embarrassment”.

Cardinal Dias, who is seen as a social conservative even by the current standards of the church hierarchy, is no doubt horrified to learn of the activities taking place a floor below.

It is not known, however, if the former archbishop of Bombay has popped downstairs to give spitiual guidances to the clients of the Europa Multiclub, given his belief that gays and lesbians can be cured of their “unnatural tendencies” through the “sacrement of penance”.

The sauna’s website promotes one of its special “bear nights”, with a video (below) in which a rotund, hairy man strips down before changing into a priest’s outfit. It says Bruno, “a hairy, overweight pastor of souls, is free to the music of his clergyman, remaining in a thong, because he wants to expose body and soul”.

There was further embarrassment for the Holy See when the press observed that thanks to generous tax breaks it received from the last Berlusconi government,  the church will have avoided hefty payments to the Italian state. The properties are recognised as part of the Holy City.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Emeritus Benedict’s widely disliked right-hand man, who held the Vatican’s purse strings during the last pontificate, was said to have been the brains behind the purchase of 2 Via Carduccio in 2008.

Readers on Italian gay websites were quick to make jokes at the cardinals’ expense. One on the Gay.it site quipped: “’Oops, I took the wrong door, I thought it was the chapel.’…If you can’t go to the gay sauna for fear of being seen what do you do if you have millions of Euros stolen from Italians? You buy the apartment block with the sauna inside.”

Reference

Gay History: John Lennon Once Almost Beat A Man To Death

Today I found out…

John Lennon Rehearsing “Give Peace a Chance”

John Lennon once almost beat a man to death.

Was John Lennon gay? “Why are you bringing up such a ridiculous question? Who cares if he was gay? I thought this article was about John Lennon almost beating a guy to death.” Well, it is, it is, keep reading and you will see all the pieces to this incredible, little-known chapter in the life of John Lennon and how perilously close his temper came to ending the Beatles entirely, almost before they really got started.  This savage beating also helped change Lennon’s life, as he said “It was the last fight I ever got into. That’s when I gave up violence, because all my life I’d been like that.”

In 1963, the Beatles’ were beginning to become famous in England and Europe. A little over a year earlier, they signed with a manager named Brian Epstein (who incidentally died of a drug overdose just four years after this).  Epstein was unequivocal in his sexual preferences- he was as gay as they come.  (As a point of note, being gay was actually against the law in Britain at the time, and was to remain so until 1966.)

According to Pete Best, the Beatles drummer before Ringo, Brian had tried making passes at all four Beatles (including himself) and was met, each time, with a polite but firm, rejection.  Many Beatles fans knew about Brian’s “secret life” and assumed that Paul, the “cute Beatle”, and the one most of the girls liked, was the object of his affections.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It was the loud, overbearing, and aggressive John Lennon who Brian was crazy about.

In April of 1963, the Beatles were now one of the hottest acts in Europe.  Their records were selling like the proverbial hotcakes. The first album was sitting in the #1 spot on the charts; their concerts were selling out to capacity crowds; and within a few brief months, they would be playing the Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen herself.

The Beatles arrived at London Airport on Sept. 22, 1964, after a tour of the United States and Canada. From left, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Brian Epstein — the group’s original manager — and John Lennon. Credit… Keystone/Getty Images

It was at this time, out of the blue, that John and Brian decided to take a break in the Beatles’ very busy schedule and go off together for a holiday in Spain. The first suspicious thing about this amongst fans was “Why did John go on holiday, as his wife had recently given birth to a new son?”  (Cynthia had gave birth to Julian, John’s first son, on March 8, 1963).  John admitted, years later, what a rotten and selfish thing this was for him to have done, but nonetheless, he went with Brian, sparking rumors that it was a romantic get-a-way.

Fellow Beatle, Paul McCartney, has his own take on John’s Spain trip with Brian.  According to Paul, the trip’s purpose was for John to assert who the real leader of the Beatles was with Brian. That John took Brian on the holiday “…to make sure Mr. Epstein knew who to listen to in this group”.  It is interesting that even in these very early Beatles’ days, John and Paul were already jockeying for an upper hand.

Whatever the case, John and Brian spent 12 days together in Spain. “We used to sit in cafes together”, recalled John, “looking at the boys. I’d say, ‘do you like that one? Do you like this one?’ …I was rather enjoying the experience, thinking like a writer all the time.”

The details of the trip were sketchy, at best, but soon John and Brian had returned and were ready to get back to the business of making Beatles records, performing concerts, and making appearances.  But in Liverpool, the “gay” rumors were now intensely swirling. Things came to a head with a disc jockey the Beatles knew named Bob Wooler (1926-2002).

Wooler was a very close friend of the Beatles and had introduced them on stage some 300 times.  This incident happened at Paul’s 21st birthday party, on June 18, 1963.  At the party, Wooler was joking around with John and said (with heavy gay intimations): “Come on John, what really happened with you and Brian? Everybody knows anyway, so tell us.”

John had been heavily drinking that night and Lennon was a notorious “bad drunk”.  In a blind rage, John proceeded to beat the stuffing out of a very surprised Bob Wooler, literally kicking him repeatedly in the ribs as he lay on the ground in a bloody heap.

According to John, the only reason he actually stopped the savage beating was because, “I realized I was actually going to kill him…  I just saw it like a screen. If I hit him once more, that’s really going to be it. I really got shocked and for the first time thought: ‘I can kill this guy.’”

Wooler was rushed to the hospital by Brian, who was also present at Paul’s party, and given treatment for a variety of things, including broken ribs.  Luckily for John Lennon- and the Beatles’ future amazing run- Wooler survived the ordeal.

Incredibly, John refused to apologize. “He called me a bloody queer, and I bashed in his ribs for it”, he said defiantly.  Because of this refusal to apologize, Brian had a writer for The Daily Mirror, Don Short, send a telegram on John’s behalf, apologizing.  The telegram read, “Really sorry Bob. Terribly sorry for what I have done. What more can I say? -Signed, John Lennon”  In addition to that, a payment of 200 pounds (around $2200 today) was also given as compensation.

Despite their very recent fame in Europe in musical circles, this incident actually got the Beatles their first national press coverage in England in an article in the Daily Mirror.  (One can easily imagine what kind of coverage an incident like this would have gotten nowadays, with our current tabloids, twitter, and the blogosphere.  And, of course, had Bob Wooler not been the forgiving type, he could easily have raked John over the coals, but chose not to. Or what if John had actually killed Wooler by perhaps kicking him a few more times with Wooler’s broken ribs perhaps puncturing his lungs?  It would have finished the Beatles as we remember them right there, not to mention the fact that John Lennon would have been sent to prison for murder!)

Despite the severity of the incident and the coverage in the Daily Mirror, the incident was soon forgotten and the Beatles went on to conquer the musical world.

The one murky question for Beatles fans is obviously “Did John and Brian really?…”  Beatles fans and aficionados have been debating the question all these years later.

In 1971, in his classic “Rolling Stone” interview, John stated that of all the Beatles he “was the closest to Brian”. (was this one of John’s inside jokes, did he really mean?…) John later briefly commented on the lingering question about Brian and himself shortly before his tragic death in 1980.  “It was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was not consummated. But it was a pretty intense relationship”, he said.

About the gay accusations setting him off, Lennon went on to add, “You know, when you’re 21, you want to be a man. If someone said it now, I wouldn’t give a shit”. (1980). But at the time, John was a very macho, young rock star and he had to prove it to everyone.

One marvels when looking at the incredible, unbelievable career of John Lennon- and the Beatles- at just how close it all came to going up in smoke, because of a needless, drunken beating, all those years ago at a birthday party.

Bonus Fact:

  • While he may or may not had a romantic encounter with Brian Epstein, Lennon definitely also loved the ladies. In 1968, he confessed to his first wife, Cynthia, that he had had over 300 extra-marital affairs with women during their six-year marriage. He may have been underestimating himself.

Reference

Gay History: From Glee to Sean Hayes: Gay Actors Play Straight

I have not been able to locate the Newsweek actively “Straight Jacket” at the centre of this 2010 controversy…though from what I can gather this is a reproduction.

This story was first posted on the Web on April 26, 2010.

The reviews for the broadway revival of Promises, Promises were negative enough, even though most of the critics ignored the real problem—the big pink elephant in the room. The leading man of this musical-romantic comedy is supposed to be an advertising peon named Chuck, who is madly in love with a co-worker (Kristin Chenoweth). When the play opened on Broadway in 1968, Jerry Orbach, an actor with enough macho swagger to later fuel years and years of Law & Order, was the star. The revival hands the lead over to Sean Hayes, best known as the queeny Jack on Will & Grace. Hayes is among Hollywood’s best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm. (The fact that he came out of the closet only just before Promises was another one of those Ricky Martin “duh” moments.) But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?

This is no laughing matter, however. For decades, Hollywood has kept gay actors—Tab Hunter, Van Johnson, Richard Chamberlain, Rock Hudson, etc.—in the closet, to their detriment. The fear was, if people knew your sexual orientation, you could never work again. Thankfully, this seems ridiculous in the era of Portia de Rossi and Neil Patrick Harris. But the truth is, openly gay actors still have reason to be scared. While it’s OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain), it’s rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse. De Rossi and Harris do that on TV, but they also inhabit broad caricatures, not realistic characters like the ones in Up in the Air or even The Proposal. Last year, Rupert Everett caused a ruckus when he told The Guardian that gay actors should stay in the closet. “The fact is,” he said, “that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the?.?.?.?film business.” Is he just bitter or honest? Maybe both.

Most actors would tell you that the biographical details of their lives are beside the point. Except when they’re not. As viewers, we are molded by a society obsessed with dissecting sexuality, starting with the locker-room torture in junior high school. Which is why it’s a little hard to know what to make of the latest fabulous player to join Glee: Jonathan Groff, the openly gay Broadway star. In Spring Awakening, he showed us that he’s a knockout singer and a heartthrob. But on TV, as the shifty glee captain from another school who steals Rachel’s heart, there’s something about his performance that feels off. In half his scenes he scowls—is that a substitute for being straight? When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than for Rachel. It doesn’t help that he tried to bed his girlfriend while singing (and writhing to) Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” He is so distracting I’m starting to wonder if Groff’s character on the show is supposed to be secretly gay.

This is admittedly a complicated issue for the gay community, though it is not, in fact, a uniquely gay problem. In the 1950s the idea of “colorblind casting” became a reality, and the result is that today there’s nothing to stop Denzel Washington from playing the Walter Matthau role in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Jack Nicholson, by the force of his charm, makes you forget how he’s entirely too old to win Helen Hunt’s heart in As Good as It Gets. For gay actors, why should sexual orientation limit a gay actor’s choice of roles? The fact is, an actor’s background does affect how we see his or her performance—which is why the Denzels or the Tom Hanks-es of the world guard their privacy carefully.

It’s not just a problem for someone like Hayes, who tips off even your grandmother’s gaydar. For all the beefy bravado that Rock Hudson pro-jects onscreen, Pillow Talk dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates. (Just rewatch the scene where he’s wading around in a bubble bath by himself.) Lesbian actresses might have it easier—since straight men think it’s OK for them to kiss a girl and like it—but how many of them can you name? Cynthia Nixon had a male partner when she originated Miranda on Sex and the City, Kelly McGillis was straight when she steamed up Top Gun’s sheets, and Anne Heche went back to dating men (including her Men in Trees costar); we believed their characters before their sexuality became an issue. If an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet tomorrow, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say. Or maybe not. Doesn’t it mean something that no openly gay actor like that exists?

Newsweek’s Setoodeh Responds to ‘Straight Jacket’ Backlash

As BroadwayWorld has previously reported, in a recent Newsweek article, Ramin Setoodeh posed the question: “Heterosexual actors play gay all the time. Why doesn’t it ever work in reverse?” 

Setoodeh went on to state that Sean Hayes, currently starring in the Broadway revival of PROMISES, PROMISES, cannot come across as straight in the role. He writes “Hayes is among Hollywood’s best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm. (The fact that he only came out of the closet just before Promises was another one of those Ricky Martin-duh moments.) But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?”

The comments have drawn the wrath of many, including Hayes’ PROMISES co-star Kristin Chenoweth, who authored a strongly worded response.  Writes the actress: “I was shocked on many levels to see Newsweek publishing Ramin Setoodeh’s horrendously homophobic “Straight Jacket,” which argues that gay actors are simply unfit to play straight. From where I stand, on stage, with Hayes, every night — I’ve observed nothing “wooden” or “weird” in his performance, nor have I noticed the seemingly unwieldy presence of a “pink elephant” in the Broadway Theater.”

 Cheyenne Jackson and Michael Urie – openly gay actors themselves – weighed in at a Temperamentals Talk back, afterelton.com reported, calling Setoodeh an outright “asshole” and “unconscionable.”

Said Jackson, “It was infuriating on so many levels. Not only does [Setoodeh] say that a gay man can’t play straight, he got personal, picking on Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises, [pointing out] certain scenes where he thinks [Sean] is stiff and uncomfortable…It was very veiled self-loathing. Really upsetting…Everytime we go forward, some asshole like this takes us back a bit.” 

Added Urie: “We’re all actors, and the audiences get it. When I saw Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises, it was a full house and everyone was completely in love with him…And to attack, to quote Ugly Betty, someone [like Groff] recently ‘hatched from the gay egg’ is unconscionable and he should strung [up]. [Groff] made everyone want him in Spring Awakening. And Cheyenne was f*cking Elvis in All Shook Up. He was sexy and hot. He’s always playing straight. And people buy tickets to see him. No straight critics accuse Sean Penn of not being able to play Harvey Milk or [criticize] Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.”

Setoodeh has just released a response on Newsweek.com in defense of his original article:

“I wrote an essay in the May 10 issue of NEWSWEEK called “Straight Jacket” examining why, as a society, it’s often hard for us to accept an openly gay actor playing a straight character. You can disagree with me if you like, but when was the last time you saw a movie starring a gay actor? The point of my essay was not to disparage my own community, but to examine an issue that is being swept under the rug…

But what all this scrutiny seemed to miss was my essay’s point: if an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet today, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man?…

I realize this is a complicated subject matter, but the Internet sometimes has a way of oversimplfying things. My article became a straw man for homophobia and hurt in the world. If you were pro-gay, you were anti-NEWSWEEK. Chenoweth’s argument that gay youth need gay role models is true, but that’s not what I was talking about. I was sharing my honest impression about a play that I saw. If you don’t agree with me, I’m more than happy to hear opposing viewpoints. But I was hoping to start a dialogue that would be thoughtful-not to become a target for people who twisted my words. I’m not a conservative writer with an antigay agenda. I don’t hate gay people or myself.”

Reference

Gay History: Jack Larson, Gay Actor Tormented by Jimmy Olsen Role on TV’s ‘Superman,’ (Died in 2015 at 87)

He was not faster than a speeding bullet. He was not more powerful than a locomotive. He was not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

In the great pantheon of characters to emerge from the “Superman” universe — Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Jor-El, General Zod — Jimmy Olsen probably ranks below even Richard Pryor’s wisecracking embezzler in the much-maligned “Superman III.” Jimmy just isn’t that cool. He’s often described as a “cub” reporter. He needs saving more than he saves. He says “Golly.” And he’s sometimes drawn as a redhead.

“Oh, I’m not going in there!” Jimmy whines when hustled into a secret prison after falling prey to the treacherous Von Klaven brothers, identical twins who steal radium, during the 1952 Superman adventure “Double Trouble.” Jimmy’s line when rescued by Man of Steel George Reeves: “Right now, you’re prettier to me than all the movie stars in the world!”

But in a franchise that’s seen its share of tragedy — George Reeves’s reported suicide, Christopher Reeve’s spinal injury — the woes of the actor who played Jimmy in the 1950s went underreported. Jack Larson, who died at 87 on Sunday, was a gifted writer and gay man whose talents and personal struggles were overshadowed by his role as Superman’s flunky.

Even worse: He knew it would turn out this way.

“If I won the Nobel Prize for Literature at 75 and died, they would still say, ‘Jack Larson, best remembered as Jimmy Olsen in the ‘Superman’ series,”’ he said in 1982.

Though Larson never won the Nobel, his swipes at literary greatness were more than the flailing of a teen star gone to seed. Born in California, Larson had dreams of making it big on Broadway as an actor and playwright. After being signed by Warner Brothers while still in high school and a stint in the Marines, the budding thespian found himself at a crossroads.

It was 1951. The old studio system was dying. Though just in his early 20s, Larson had done a few films, but was running out of work — and wanted to get to the Great White Way.

His agent came up with a solution: Play the terrible supporting role of Jimmy Olsen in “Adventures of Superman.”

“I didn’t want to do it,” Larson said, ”but my agent said, ‘Look, you want to get to New York. You don’t have any money. Nobody will ever see this show so take the money and run.”’

Larson did. For $350 an episode, he completed the show and went to the Big Apple. And he was living there when the show he had dismissed became one of the most iconic in TV history — even though it was pretty bad.

“Adventures Of Superman was frequently barely a superhero show — it was more like a dirt-cheap police procedural sprinkled with a few minutes of unconvincing special effects — but it still featured the most famous, popular superhero of all time,” the Onion’s A.V. Club wrote in 2013. “So what else was the nascent geek clan going to watch?”

Larson, meanwhile, became a would-be aesthete fixed in amber as a hapless hanger-on. With a terrible bowtie, no less.

“To me, it was a nightmare,” he said in 2006. “Everywhere I went, it was, ‘Jimmy! Jimmy! Hey, Jimmy, where’s Superman?’ Suddenly, I couldn’t take the bus or the subway anymore. It absolutely freaked me out.”

However, Larson rode the wave. He played Jimmy in 101 episodes of “Adventures of Superman” between 1952 and 1958. And after Reeves’s death — which Larson never believed was a suicide — they tried to get him to do more.

“I refused point blank,” he said. “It made me sick that George had died. He was Superman, and that was the show. I felt, ‘Why go on with it?’ I decided then to quit acting.”

Feeling typecast, he “took up the life of a playwright in New York,” he told the New York Times in 1976 — in a piece that identified him as a “bachelor.”

Larson was far from that. It seemed that one good thing had come of his time as Jimmy: a sexual awakening. While in Hollywood, he became involved with screen legend Montgomery Clift, and met his future longtime companion, director James Bridges (“The Paper Chase,” “The China Syndrome”).

“He realized, in retrospect, that some of his adolescent angst had been due to turmoil over his sexual orientation,” the Times wrote in 1998.

Jack Larson in 2011. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

That turmoil would be given voice in “The Relativity of Icarus,” a dance piece that premiered at New York’s prestigious Joffrey Ballet in 1974. Larson wrote a poem that accompanied the work. Four decades ago, what some saw as an attempt to mask gay themes in the charged relationship between Daedalus and Icarus was met with controversy.

“It is strange in this day of liberation movements that a homosexual pas de deux has to masquerade as a duet between father and son,” the Times wrote.

Amid the “Icarus” publicity, Larson was outed — as Jimmy Olsen. But Jimmy, he found, was no longer repugnant to him. He began to work the TV nostalgia circuit, and was contemplating hosting a tribute show in 1982.

“I want to host it,” he said. ”I want very much to do it — join up my life with Jimmy Olsen. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

In the coming decades, he would produce films directed by Bridges and write more plays. And he would appear in what CNN called “winking roles” in “Superman” fare such as “Superboy,” “Lois & Clark” and the film “Superman Returns.”

His sexuality — once hidden — was now an asset.

“Gay fans are gushing over the fact that the director of the new ‘Superman Returns’ (opening June 28) is a gay man, Bryan Singer,” the Chicago Tribune wrote in 2006, “and that, besides the fact that Superman is a real hunk, a new trading card featuring scenes from the film shows the big guy — get this! — actually emerging from a closet.”

The paper, noting Larson’s sexual orientation, added: “What was fun about that show was just the ambiguity of it all. It wouldn’t have mattered if Clark was secretly in love with a co-worker named Lois or Louis Lane.”

Somehow, Larson had ended up with it all: a literary career bolstered by his status as a pop-culture footnote, and both inextricably linked to his life as a gay man.

In some ways, Jimmy had given it to him.

“Everywhere I go, I get the warmest feelings from people about Jimmy,” he said. “They love him, and I grew to feel that I could never have done anything more special than be Jimmy Olsen.”

Los Angeles: Actor and playwright Jack Larson (1928–2015) died yesterday at the age of 87. Best known for his role as Jimmy Olsen, Clark Kent’s boy-reporter sidekick in the 1950s television series “Superman,” Larson met his longtime partner, film producer James Bridges, in 1957; they had been a couple for nearly four decades when Bridges died in 1993.

For many years, Larson and Bridges shared a home in the Brentwood Heights neighborhood. Known as the Sturges House, the structure was designed in 1939 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “It was obvious to anyone that since we lived together we were partners,” Larson told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “We always went places together. We never pretended.'”

Located at 449 Skyway Road, Sturges House is formally listed as a Historic-Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles. Larson continued living in the house until his death.

Knowing the Sturges House

I first encountered Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sturges House in courses in the History of Architecture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I was a graduate student in the 1960s. This was indisputably “FLW Country.” He had been born nearby in 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin and had lived as a child and teenager and had gone to high school in Madison and had then matriculated as “special student” at the University of Wisconsin. Long after that he had built “Taliesin,” his great longtime home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, northwest of Madison. In 1937, also in Madison, Wright had built his first so-called “Usonian” house for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs, a small, wood and brick, two bedroom, flat-roofed, moderately-priced structure that took its name from various sources, including a play on “US-ian.” It was followed, in the late 1930s and 1940s, by other Usonians in Wisconsin, and in neighboring Illinois and Michigan. Wright’s similar, though distinctive, Sturges house (1939) in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles is generally considered to be his “California Usonian.”

Selma Sturges on the roof of the residence, 1940.
Image used with permission, courtesy of the Sturges family. Photographer unknown.

When, in 1968, I received an appointment at UCLA to teach urban, architectural and cultural history, I was fortunate to live first in the 1937 Strathmore Apartments in Westwood, designed by Richard Neutra, one of Wright’s already famous former apprentices—about whom I would soon begin to write a book. At the same time, I began to explore Los Angeles architecture, including ten Neutra structures in Westwood alone and not far away, in neighboring Brentwood: Wright’s great Sturges house. Unlike the generally flat sites of the Usonians in the Middle West, I was surprised to find the Sturges residence perched high on a steep lot among rolling hills. Eager to explore this treasure, I unabashedly knocked on the door one day and was cordially welcomed by its owners, the film director James Bridges and his longtime partner, the actor and writer Jack Larson.

Bridges (1936–1993) directed such acclaimed films as: The Paper Chase (1973), The China Syndrome (1979), and Urban Cowboy (1980). Larson (1928–2015) was best known–to his eternal dismay–for his role as Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter, in the long-developing series Adventures of Superman. He always lamented that he was not as well known for the libretto he wrote for his and Virgil Thomson’s opera Lord Byron (1972). The couple acquired the house in 1967 and lived there together until Bridges’ death in 1993. Larson continued to inhabit it alone until his death in 2015.

Jack Larson as ‘Jimmy Olsen’ and Noel Neill as ‘Lois Lane’ (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images), c. 1951. Vintage print from the collection of Jack Larson sold to benefit The Bridges/Larson Foundation.
Film Director James Bridges on location. Vintage print from the collection of Jack Larson sold to benefit The Bridges/Larson Foundation.

Jim and Jack were the first to tell me of how the Sturgeses were told that it was medically impossible for them to have children and how, as a consolation, they decided to commission a house by Wright, whom they had long admired. It was an ideal cottage for two people, but soon after they moved in, Mrs. Sturges realized that she was, in fact, pregnant. Wright altered the house design to accommodate a nursery. But after another child came along, the couple gave up their dream house and moved around the corner to a larger residence. Their name, however, would always be attached to their Wright-designed home as it went through several owners until Bridges and Larson acquired it.

Robert Imandt photograph of the residence, c. 1946. Vintage print from the collection of Jack Larson sold to benefit The Bridges/Larson Foundation.

Built of steel, concrete, brick and wood, the house is approached from the west at the rear just off the carport at the top of the hill. Visitors could either proceed around the encircling deck to enter through the living room on the eastern side or, as most did, through the small kitchen to the west. With less square footage than the Usonians in the Middle West, the house contains a relatively large living-dining room, two small bedrooms, and one bath on the main level. Tiny stairs lead up to the roof deck and down into the windowless basement, which Bridges used as a dark room and studio. In 1939, Wright had deputized his recent Taliesin disciple, John Lautner, to complete final details of the design and to supervise construction. Both Wright and Lautner created specially designed furniture and other accouterments, such as lamps. Small cabinet spaces were cleverly concealed behind fold-out wall panels. Larson and Bridges would also enjoy pointing out various movie treasures they had acquired over the years such as the actual wrench used by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936).

Sturges Residence appears on the cover of California Arts and Architecture magazine, April 1940. Vintage magazine from the collection of Jack Larson sold to benefit The Bridges/Larson Foundation.

The house was long enjoyed by such Hollywood visitors as writer Gore Vidal and director John Houseman as well as by actors Jane Fonda and Debra Winger, who starred in Bridges’ films and continued to be friends. Jack and Jim also seemed happy to open the house to admiring architecture people such as historians Vincent Scully and Colin Rowe, museum curators Arthur Drexler and Carter Brown, and architects Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Richard Weinstein, Jaque Robertson and Frank Israel. The house thus had several incarnations in the public imagination, first, as it was initially published in the Forties and Fifties and again in later years after it had become so famous that it seemed indispensable to any publication on Wright or on modernist Los Angeles.

It remains a vitally significant monument in the history of both.

Pedro E. Guerrero photograph of the residence, 1947.
Vintage print from the collection of Jack Larson sold to benefit The Bridges/Larson Foundation. © 2016 Pedro E. Guerrero Archives.
Frank Lloyd Wright, The George D. Sturges Residence, Photo © Grant Mudford
Frank Lloyd Wright, The George D. Sturges Residence, Photo © Grant Mudford
Frank Lloyd Wright, The George D. Sturges Residence, Photo © Grant Mudford
Frank Lloyd Wright, The George D. Sturges Residence, Photo © Grant Mudford
Saved from savewright.org

Photo © Grant Mudford Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

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