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Gay History: Wakefield Poole’s “The Boys In The Sand”

Boys in the Sand is a landmark. American gay pornographic film released at the very beginnings of the Golden Age of Porn. The 1971 film was directed by Wakefield Poole and stars Casey Donovan. Boys in the Sand was the first gay porn film to include credits, to achieve crossover success, to be reviewed by Variety, and one of the earliest porn films, after 1969’s Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, to gain mainstream credibility, preceding 1972’s Deep Throat by nearly a year.

Produced on a budget of $8,000, the film is a loose collection of three segments depicting Donovan’s sexual adventures at a gay beach resort community. Promoted by Poole with an advertising campaign unprecedented for a pornographic feature, Boys in the Sand, which premiered in 1971 at the 253-seat 55th Street Playhouse (154 E. 55th Street, New York, New York 10022) in New York City, was an immediate critical and commercial success. The film brought star Donovan international recognition. A sequel, Boys in the Sand II, was released in 1986 but was unable to match the success of the original.

The film’s title is a parodic reference to the Mart Crowley play and film, The Boys in the Band.

Plot

Boys in the Sand is composed of three segments set on Fire Island.

• Bayside: The dark, bearded Peter Fisk walks along the wooded paths of the island until reaching a beach. He strips and sunbathes on a blanket. Suddenly, out in the water, the blond naked Donovan appears and runs up onto the beach to Fisk. Fisk performs oral sex on Donovan, who then leads Fisk into the woods. Fisk grabs the blanket and follows, catching up to Donovan in a clearing. They kiss and touch each other, then Donovan takes a studded leather strap from Fisk’s wrist and attaches it around Fisk’s genitalia. They continue the scene, with each performing oral sex on the other and Donovan penetrating Fisk. Following Donovan’s climax he returns to servicing Fisk orally and, as Fisk is climaxing, momentary flashes of previous scenes are intercut. The scene ends with Fisk taking the strap from his genitals and attaching it around Donovan’s wrist. Fisk runs into the ocean and vanishes, mirroring Donovan’s entrance. Donovan dons Fisk’s abandoned clothes and heads off down the beach.

• Poolside: The segment opens with Donovan on a pier, holding a newspaper. He returns to his house, strips by the pool and begins reading. Intrigued by an ad in the back of the paper, Donovan writes a letter in response. After a number of days pass (marked by the cliché device of fluttering calendar pages), he receives a reply in the form of a package. Inside is a tablet, which he throws into the pool. The water starts to churn and the dark-haired Danny Di Cioccio emerges to Donovan’s delight. The two couple by the pool, with each performing oral sex on the other and Donovan penetrating Di Cioccio in a variety of positions. Di Cioccio turns the tables and tops Donovan until Donovan’s climax. The scene closes with the two engaged in horseplay in the pool and then walking off together down a boardwalk.

• Inside: This final segment opens with shots of Donovan showering, toweling off and wandering idly around his room, intercut with shots of African-American telephone repairman Tommy Moore checking various poles and lines outside, Donovan spots Moore from his balcony. Moore sees Donovan as well. The remainder of the segment consists of Donovan’s fantasized sexual encounters with Moore throughout the house intercut with shots of Donovan sniffing poppers and penetrating himself with a large black dildo. The segment ends following Donovan’s climax with the dildo, with the real Moore coming inside the house and closing the door behind them.

Production

Poole was inspired to make the film after he went with some friends to see a film called Highway Hustler. After watching the film, he said to a friend, “This is the worst, ugliest movie I’ve ever seen! Somebody oughta be able to do something better than this. “Poole was convinced that he was that somebody; “I wanted [to make] a film that gay people could look at and say, ‘I don’t mind being gay – it’s beautiful to see those people do what they’re doing.’ Having enlisted the help of his lover, Peter Fisk, and another man, Poole first shot a ten-minute segment entitled Bayside.

The success of that initial shoot convinced Poole to plan two more segments and seek theatrical distribution for the completed work. He hired Tommy Moore and Casey Donovan for the third segment, Inside. When Fisk’s scene partner from Bayside heard about the potential distribution deal, he refused to sign release forms until he was guaranteed 20% of the profits. Instead, Poole decided to scrap the segment and re-shoot with Fisk and Donovan. The resulting footage was so good that Poole decided to use Donovan for the second segment as well, entitled Poolside, and construct the loose storyline around him. The three segments were filmed on a budget of $8,000 over three successive weekends in August 1971 in the gay resort area of Cherry Grove, New York, on Fire Island.

Popular and critical reception

Boys in the Sand had its theatrical debut on December 29, 1971, at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York City. Poole engaged in an unprecedented pre-release publicity campaign, including screening parties and full-page ads in The New York Times and Variety.

The line, for the first showing, reached 7th Avenue. The film made back most of its production and promotions budget the day it opened, grossing close to $6,000 in the first hour, and nearly $25,000 during its first week, landing it on Variety’s list of the week’s 50 top-grossing films. Positive word of mouth spread and the film was favorably reviewed in Variety (“There are no more closets!”), The Advocate (“Everyone will fall in love with this philandering fellator”), and other outlets, which previously had completely ignored the genre. While some critics were less impressed, others saw the film as akin to the avant-garde work of directors, like Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol. Within six months the film had grossed $140,000 and was continuing to open in theatres across the United States and around the world.

The film’s mainstream popularity helped usher in the era of “porno chic”, a brief period of mainstream cultural acceptability afforded hardcore pornographic film, having been cited as “very much a precursor” to the following year’s crossover success of Deep Throat. The film would continue to attract critical and scholarly attention from pornography historians and researchers for years after its release. The film is credited with beginning the trend of giving pornographic films titles that spoof the names of non-porn films.

With the success of Boys in the Sand, Casey Donovan became an underground celebrity. While he never achieved the mainstream film career for which he had hoped, he continued his career in pornography and translated his fame into some appearances on the legitimate stage, including a successful national tour in the gay-themed play Tubstrip and an unsuccessful attempt to produce a revival of The Ritz. His fame also allowed him success as a high-priced escort. He remained a bankable commodity in the adult industry, making films for the next fifteen years until his death from AIDS-related illness in 1987.

Legacy

Poole and Donovan had long wanted to make a sequel to Boys in the Sand. In 1984, they finally shot Boys in the Sand II. Also filmed on Fire Island, the film featured Donovan, the only cast member from the original to return. The original opening sequence, Bayside, was recreated for the sequel, with Pat Allen performing the run from the water. Litigation tied up the release of Boys in the Sand II until 1986 and with the advent of the home video market, there was a glut of gay porn titles available. Boys in the Sand II did not distinguish itself from the competition and was not particularly successful.

In 2002, TLA Releasing released The Wakefield Poole Collection. The two-DVD set includes Boys in the Sand and Boys in the Sand II along with a third Poole/Donovan collaboration, Bijou (1972), and other shorts and material shot by Poole. The collection won a 2003 GayVN Award for “Best Classic Gay DVD” and is now out of print.

In May 2014, filmmaker and writer Jim Tushinski’s full-length documentary I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole which features extensive interviews with Poole, “Boys in the Sand” producer Marvin Schulman, and many contemporaries, began playing at film festivals. In June 2014, the DVD company Vinegar Syndrome restored “Boys in the Sand” from the remaining film elements and released this new version on DVD along with early short films by Wakefield Poole and several documentary shorts about the filming and reception of Boys in the Sand.

Who is Wakefield Poole and Why Haven’t You Heard of Him?

In late 1971, a little over two years after the Stonewall Riots, there were no out celebrities. That changed on December 27, when a respected Broadway choreographer/director and his business manager opened a low budget 16mm movie in a rundown art house theater on 55th Street. 

“Boys in the Sand” was a phenomenon and utterly new—an artistically photographed, sexually explicit narrative film, set to classical music and featuring only male actors. These actors had unsimulated sex with each other on the beach, by a pool, and in a glamorous Fire Island house.  It was presented and advertised as a legitimate film because it had no precedent. It wasn’t like the seedy loops that ran at the 42nd Street porno houses. It was gay sex positive, showing gay male sex and sexuality as something beautiful and to be admired. And the film made a lot of money. Variety took notice and trumpeted “Amateurs Bring in Bonanza.” Straight couples and women showed up. Rudolf Nureyev drove hundreds of miles to see the film. Going to a screening, you might see Angela Lansbury, Liza Minnelli, or Halston in the audience.

Director Wakefield Poole, well-known in Broadway circles, put his real name above the title in all advertisements and on the marquee of the 55th Street Playhouse. Proudly. Poole became one of the most famous gay men in the world along with “Boys in the Sand” star Casey Donovan. Pirated copies of the film played for years in Europe. Outside New York, people heard about the film through enthusiastic coverage in magazines like After Dark and The Advocate. 

Placing ads in these magazines, Poole and producer Marvin Shulman started selling “Boys in the Sand” to the home 8mm film market – making the film available on multiple reels for $99 with a suggested soundtrack insert sheet so folks in Oklahoma or Idaho could enjoy the film just as the New York theatergoers had. The money rolled in, even though sending “pornography” through the mail was punishable with a prison sentence. Actor John Gielgud arranged to buy a 16mm copy and take it back to the UK so he could show it to all his friends. Hugh Hefner and Sammy Davis, Jr, also purchased 16mm copies directly from Poole and Shulman for their film libraries. Even several Hollywood studios  asked for a copy, thinking they could hire Poole for something more mainstream.

Less than a year later, Poole and Shulman had another hit. “Bijou” was a dark, enigmatic, hardcore experimental narrative featuring actor and Robert Redford lookalike Bill Harrison, who shocked audiences when he unveiled the largest penis most people had ever seen on a movie screen or in real life. “Bijou” was such a success and had such a psychological effect that audience members by the hundreds went and talked to their analysts about it. Eventually, the head of the Columbia University Psychology department summoned Poole to his home on Easter Sunday to screen the film for some colleagues, his wife, his teenage children, and his mother. The National Organization for Women screened “Bijou” as an example of a non-degrading sexually explicit film.

Then “Deep Throat” opened, copying the advertising and promotional campaigns of “Boys in the Sand” and “Bijou.” When “Deep Throat” became a crossover phenomenon, mainstream media declared it as the start of porno chic, a brief period in the 1970s when hardcore films with stories, humor, and good production values suddenly were acceptable. In reality, it all started a year prior, ushered in by two gay men who had no idea if anyone would even come to see their little movie.

So why haven’t you heard of Wakefield Poole? Why isn’t he acknowledged by film historians and gay cultural gatekeepers as one of the true pioneers? Fandor just released an infographic highlighting the history of sex in film. “Deep Throat” is there, but no mention of “Boys in the Sand.” It’s not Fandor’s fault. They are repeating the well worn notions of official film history which states that gay cinema started in the 1990s. But when Out Magazine or one of the other mainstream gay magazines names the most influential LGBT people of the 20th Century, you’ll never find Poole listed. When an LGBT film festival in the US gives out a Lifetime Achievement Award, it’s not to Wakefield Poole (though he has received two from non-US film festivals). Some US festivals are brave enough to show his films, but many cower at the feet of their corporate sponsors, who do not want to be associated with “porn.”

There is an effort among LGBT cultural gatekeepers to de-sexualize our history. They want our pioneers to be G or PG-rated because they want LGBT people to be seen as just like everyone else – parents, husbands, wives, and respectable members of society. The sexual parts of LGBT history make most heterosexuals uncomfortable. They even make many LGBT people uncomfortable. So it’s best if these things are swept under the rug and forgotten. 

But this denial of sex started years before the gay mainstreaming movement. By the time AIDS ravaged the community, sex was suspect and dangerous. Gay men who survived didn’t want to talk about porn or the sexual component of gay history because they had an enormous amount of shame. Sexual hedonism killed their friends. Porn contributed. It didn’t help that Poole’s classic films were always released on home video as “pre-condom porn” by less than respectable adult film companies and in versions that made the gorgeous photography look like someone smeared mud all over the negative.  Poole and his films faded from collective gay memory, known only to vintage porn collectors and a few film fans.

In 2010, I accompanied Wakefield Poole to the Fire Island Pines, where two brave locals were doing benefit screenings of “Boys in the Sand.” The screenings were to help fund a 24/7 doctor living in the Pines, something the community didn’t have. Filmmaker Crayton Robey and artist Philip Monaghan were shut down by all official Fire Island Pines organizations m but forged ahead. When the two men started advertising the event, some locals were horrified, telling the organizers that porn had no place being screened at the Community Center and that the organizers were guilty of spreading AIDS because no condoms appear in the film. The loudest complaints came from gay men who owned property in the Pines—property that would not be worth nearly as much had it not been for “Boys in the Sand” making the Pines an international tourist destination in the early 1970s. The film is an integral part of the history of the Pines and yet some of the gay community there wanted the film demonized.

I hope this is changing. Five of Poole’s films have been completely restored from 2K scans of their original elements and released by the highly respected exploitation film DVD company Vinegar Syndrome, who is marketing them to cult film fans. The response so far has been exciting and unexpected. But mainstream film history and mainstream LGBT recognition still eludes Poole, his legacy, and his work. Without Poole’s work and its influence on other LGBT filmmakers, there would be no independent gay film, no big LGBT film festivals, and certainly, no accurate depictions of gay male sex on the screen. For most straight folk, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. For LGBT people, however, Poole is a key figure in their culture and art. Too bad most of them don’t have the slightest idea who he is.

Reference

Gay History: Matthew Shepard: The Legacy Of A Gay College Student 20 Years After His Brutal Murder

Matthew Shepard was abducted, beaten and killed 20 years ago because he was gay.

Twenty years ago, Matthew Shepard was a “smart, funny” 21-year-old, no different than any other young man that age.

He was an “ordinary kid who wanted to make the world a better place,” his parents remembered.

But in October 1998, that all changed, when the openly gay college student was abducted, beaten and tied to a fence in Wyoming.

His life ended a few days later, and with it came a widespread awareness of the dangers that members of the LGBTQ community face every day. The homophobic brutal killing also served as a catalyst for progress in America’s laws and culture.

In the two decades that have passed, however, it remains debatable how far the country has come since the shock of that crime.

A gruesome attack

Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, spent Oct. 6, 1998, at a meeting of the school’s LGBTQ student group planning upcoming events for LGBTQ awareness week, Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, told ABC News.

He then grabbed coffee with friends before heading to a bar in Laramie in southeastern Wyoming.

Shepard was sitting alone at the bar, drinking a beer, when he was approached by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. They later confessed they had “developed a rouse in which they’d pretend to be gay to win Matt’s confidence,” Marsden said.

“They could offer him a ride home and rob him,” he added.

Matthew Shepard is seen in this undated photo. Matthew Shepard is seen in this undated photo. Matthew Shepard Foundation

McKinney and Henderson kidnapped Shepard and told him he was being robbed, Marsden said.

“(MORE: ‘Gay panic’ defense still used in violence cases may be banned by new federal bill)

McKinney hit Shepard about 20 times in the head and face with the end of the pistol, Marsden said, before the two stole Shepard’s shoes, got in their truck and drove back to town.

Shepard was found the next day, 18 hours later, by a passing cyclist. He was taken to a Laramie hospital but his head injuries were so severe that he needed a neurosurgeon, so he was moved to a Colorado hospital, Marsden said.

Shepard’s parents at the time were in Saudi Arabia, where his father worked. They flew back and were with their son at the hospital for his final few days, Marsden said.

When his mother, Judy Shepard, saw the badly beaten college student in the hospital, “he was all bandaged, face swollen, stitches everywhere,” she told ABC News’ “Nightline.” “His fingers curled, toes curled, one eye was a little bit open.”

Shepard died on Oct. 12.

Judy and Dennis Shepard speak at the Democratic National Convention at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Aug. 16, 2000. Judy and Dennis Shepard speak at the Democratic National Convention at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Aug. 16, 2000. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images, FILE

The loss “never heals,” his father, Dennis Shepard, told “Nightline.” “He was just an ordinary kid who wanted to make the world a better place. And they took that away from him. And from us.”

A promising young life cut short

Matthew Shepard was a mischievous, stubborn and argumentative child, his father said.

“We didn’t realize the amount of violence and discrimination … against the gay community until after he died.”

He grew up to become very interested in international human rights, particularly women’s rights in the Middle East and Asia, and he studied political science, said Marsden.

“His goal was to work for the State Department to try to bring the same privileges and rights he thought he had in America to other countries,” Dennis Shepard said.

A few years before his death, Matthew Shepard came out to his mother on the phone.

“He said, ‘Mom I’m gay.’ And I said, ‘What took you so long to tell me?'” she recalled. “Rejection was not ever an issue in our family.”

Their son was then living an openly out life.

“Everybody he met, he said, ‘Just to let you know ahead of time, I’m gay,'” Dennis Shepard said.

“It was like, ‘This is who I am, and that’s the way it’s going to be,'” added Judy Shepard.

Dennis Shepard wasn’t worried about his son’s safety.

“We didn’t realize the amount of violence and discrimination … against the gay community until after he died,” he said. “We thought, he was born here … he has all the rights, responsibilities, duties and privileges of every other American citizen.”

The nation mourns

The shocking homophobic crime in the sparsely-populated state garnered national sympathy. The outpouring of love was immediate as flowers and stuffed animals filled the hospital.

“This is before the term viral existed, but it really did go viral,” Marsden said.

“It spawned candlelight vigils all over the country. There was a mass protest on Fifth Avenue in New York in which almost 100 people were arrested,” Marsden said, as well as a vigil at the U.S. Capitol with celebrities and members of Congress.

A candlelight vigil is held for Slain gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, Oct. 19, 1998. A candlelight vigil is held for Slain gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, Oct. 19, 1998. Evan Agostini/Getty Images FILE

“All of these spontaneous vigils were organized by volunteers independently of one another. All of the calls to action for hate crime legislation were the work of individual civic and political leaders,” Marsden explained. “It was a spontaneous outrage about the severity of this crime and the overall phenomenon of hate crimes against LGBT people, which were starting to get more social attention around this time than they had received in previous years.”

But it wasn’t all sympathy.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested the funeral, picketing with anti-gay signs.

Rev. Fred Phelps and his parishioners traveled from Kansas to Laramie for the funeral and trial, protesting with brightly colored signs and spewing hatred.

Friends of the slain student dressed in angel costumes and staged a counter-protest encircling the parishioners so their signs wouldn’t be visible.

Matthew Shepard’s friends Walter Boulden and Alex Trout, from left, get emotional as they speak during a national vigil for Shepard,Oct. 14, 1998, at the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Matthew Shepard’s friends Walter Boulden and Alex Trout, from left, get emotional as they speak during a national vigil for Shepard,Oct. 14, 1998, at the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Juana Arias/The Washington Post/AP

Two killers head to court

After McKinney and Henderson were arrested, Henderson waived his pre-trial investigation and took a plea agreement, agreeing to two life sentences.

McKinney went to trial, and defense attorneys argued his violent actions were “gay panic” — a reaction to Shepard making a sexual advance.

“When the defense gets out there and starts talking out of, the victim’s fault, you know, ‘gay panic,’ … you just really want to scream,” Judy Shepard said. “One of the portions of his statement was that Matt was coming onto him … if that’s your defense, then every woman in a bar who gets hit on, she has the right to murder the guy sitting on her? That’s just absurd.”

The “gay panic” defense is still legal in most states but has been outlawed in a few. It’s been used since the 1960s in more than half of the states in the country, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

McKinney was convicted on numerous kidnapping and murder charges. Before sentencing, his attorneys, the Shepards and the prosecutors agreed to two consecutive life sentences in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table.

McKinney has declined to speak to ABC News while Henderson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Change in Washington

Shepard’s murder shined a light on the scope of federal hate crime laws, which at the time did not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Two gay activists demonstrate in the streets of North Hollywood to protest against the death of Wyoming University student Mathew Shepard, Oct. 13, 1998. Two gay activists demonstrate in the streets of North Hollywood to protest against the death of Wyoming University student Mathew Shepard, Oct. 13, 1998. Hector Mata/AFP via Getty Images FILE

Demonstrators protest the hate killing of gay student Matthew Shepard, Oct. 19, 1998. Demonstrators protest the hate killing of gay student Matthew Shepard, Oct. 19, 1998. Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

“Matt’s murder immediately raised the visibility of that effort and, although it took until 2009, it did eventually pass and was signed into law by President Obama,” Marsden said.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act added crimes motivated by the victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the federal hate crime law.

James Byrd Jr., who was black, was murdered by three white supremacists in Texas in June 1998. Byrd was dragged behind a pickup truck, decapitated and dismembered.

The moment Obama signed the hate crimes law “was amazing,” Judy Shepard said. “He understood social injustice. And to be there with James Byrd’s sisters when they, when he actually signed, signed into law, it was an incredible experience. And it was a relief and it was also a total understanding that there was just really a lot more left to do.”

Judy Shepard and Dennis Shepard speak onstage at Logo’s “Trailblazer Honors” 2015 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, June 25, 2015. Judy Shepard and Dennis Shepard speak onstage at Logo’s “Trailblazer Honors” 2015 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, June 25, 2015. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images, FILE

For Judy Shepard, one of the best signs of cultural progress is seeing Gay Straight Alliance groups ramping up in schools. In Wyoming, where there’s a population of just 500,000, she said there are 19 Gay Straight Alliances.

Matthew Shepard’s story has also lived on through various creative works, including the “The Laramie Project” and “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” plays, which tell the story of how Laramie residents reacted to the murder.

They are among the most performed plays in American high schools, Marsden said, and have even been performed across the world in different languages, Judy Shepard said.

“It’s a universal story,” she said. “If you remove the sexuality from the story and insert race or religion, it’s exactly the same story of intolerance in a community or intolerance of individuals and how it affects a community.”

“Matt’s story, I think, was inspirational to many people, especially people his age who had not previously been active in LGBT rights who started doing so. Some have gone on to be really prominent activists in the community,” Marsden said

Back to ‘ground zero’

“I thought we were making such great progress in the Obama administration,” Judy Shepard said, but after the 2016 presidential election, she felt the progress of the foundation was at “ground zero again.”

The Trump administration has brought changes including an order to ban transgender troops in the military and a new “religious liberty task force” that advocates fear will provide an excuse for discrimination.

Just this month, a new policy went into effect in which the Trump administration will no longer provide visas for same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats and U.N. officials serving in the U.S.

“I’m just so mad that we are regressing,” Judy Shepard said. “We’re back on the road talking about hate and acceptance and loving your neighbor and, you know, all those things again.”

During the Obama administration, the Department of Justice “was working with us.”

“They would set up conferences to educate law enforcement, NGOs and nonprofits on how to deal with hate crimes. How to address them, how to identify them, how to work with victims. And they would invite us to come,” Judy Shepard said. “We visited several countries, 25 countries with [the] State Department. Now we’re not.”

“Now the [Department of Justice] definitely does not want to work with us,” she continued. “Civil rights is not an issue, a primary issue, for the DOJ anymore. … So we don’t get calls from them anymore.”

To Marsden, the degrees of progress for LGBTQ rights in the past 20 years vary.

Especially in urban areas, Marsden said he thinks “LGBT people have a good deal more personal freedom, career opportunities, are much less subject to discrimination. I think a lot of our schools are safer, including bullying issues, which of course affect people way beyond the LGBT community — they affect anyone who is different in some way or another than the perceived norm.

“However, if you look back in history every time there’s great progress there’s also a great backlash going on,” he said, citing how the end of slavery prompted the evolution of KKK and Jim Crow, while the 1960s Civil Rights movement ignited racial violence.

“All of the advances we’ve made have been great but they haven’t reached everyone. It’s still a very hard time to be a [transgender] kid in America even in more enlightened parts of the country, certainly in more rural parts of the country.”

A Gallup poll from May 2018 found that 31 percent of people don’t think marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.

“The overall lesson about looking back on progress is you have to fight to keep it. It can be very easy politically in this time in America to reverse the accomplishments made in the last 10 or 15 years,” Marsden said.

“I want people to be very conscious of their safety,” said Judy Shepard, warning that hate is still very much out there and that women, people and members of the LGBT community are especially vulnerable. “Especially now, when we hear so much vitriol being shouted from our leaders.”

“The number of hate crimes against LGBT people has gone up in the last two years, just like racial and religious hate crimes have,” Marsden said.

Reported hate crimes in the nation’s 10 biggest cities rose 12.5 percent last year — the fourth consecutive annual rise in a row and the highest total in over 10 years, according to an analysis from California State University San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.

“Most hate crimes and discrimination are racial or religious — LGBT is a smaller percentage,” Marsden said. “We see, sadly, the kind of person who hates a certain race it’s pretty likely you’re the kind of person that hates a certain religion or a certain sexual orientation or gender identity, as well.”

A legacy — and life — memorialized

To the slain student’s mother, Matthew Shepard shouldn’t just be remembered for his legacy — he should be remembered for his life.

“I want people to remember that he was a person, that he was more than this icon in the photograph and the stories,” Judy Shepard said. “He was just, he was a 21-year-old college student who drank too much, who smoked too much and didn’t go to class enough. Just like every other 21-year-old college student. He had flaws. He was smart, funny. People just were drawn to him. And there was a great loss not just to us, but to all his friends. And people who hadn’t met him yet.”

Reference

Tradies Prefer Their Shorts ‘as short as possible’, Survey Reveals

Three Melbourne Builder & Co tradies on a worksite in Prahran sport different length shorts: Dale Cheesman, Dylan Milligan and Shaun Caton from L to R. Picture: Tim Carrafa

TRADIES are pulling up short this summer.

According to a new survey by RSEA Safety, which asked tradesmen how short they like to wear their shorts, a staggering 60 per cent of blue-collar workers quizzed have revealed they prefer their shorts “as short as possible”.

While some of those who voted in the social media campaign preferred the modesty of a longer hemline of nine or ten inches, the much more revealing four inch short-length proved the most popular.

The shorter the better — they’re easier to work in and the legs are getting a good tan,” says Dylan Milligan (middle). Picture: Tim Carrafa
Brands are competing to offer tradies the “shortest short”. Picture: Tim Carrafa

Lilly Lee, general manager of marketing at RSEA Safety, said many new season shorts combine functionality with style, and the trend was definitely thigh-high.

“We are expecting at least a 30 per cent increase in short sales in the coming months, and this season we are noticing an increase in shorter styles, with brands almost in competition with each other over who can offer the shortest short,” Ms Lee said.

“ELEVEN have launched a 4-inch ‘Chizeled’ short and FXD WS-2 have designed a ‘short short’ while Corc’s have introduced a ‘shorty short’ style. We thought it would be fun to ask tradies in our #shortorshorter campaign how they wear theirs and we’ve had some hilarious responses with an overwhelming number of tradies voting for “as short as possible’”

Melbourne tradies Dale Cheesman, Shaun Caton-Robertson and Dyllan Milligan, from The Melbourne Builder & Co, showcased an array of summer shorts at a Prahran building site this week.

Mr Milligan is among those advocating for shorter shorts this summer.

“The shorter the better — they’re easier to work in and the legs are getting a good tan.”

Reference

Gay History: Klick Guide – Sydney Gay What’s On. Early 1980s.

Just looking at the venues in this guide is pretty well a dead giveaway for its year of publication. By the mid-80s, the Roman Baths, 253 Baths, Club 80, the Apollo Bar and Flo’s Palace had closed. Flo’s was to become the Hellfire Club, then the Den Club – both incarnations as men’s sex-on-premises venues. Patchs became DCM. The Link also closed around the same time. KKK Baths closed on 20 May 2012, having opened in 1972. The Exchange Hotel closed in 2015. The Midnight Shift (previously Tropicana) became Universal in 2018. DCM closed around 2009. The Unicorn, The Oxford, The Flinders and The Beresford have undergone a number of incarnation over the decades. The Albury closed in 2000, and has been reincarnated as retail stores. The “Golden Mile” of gay Oxford St, Darlinghurst is a sad excuse now for what used to be a thriving ghetto. It is now a long string of empty premises featuring For Sale, or For Lease, signs.

Australian Storytelling: Australian Folklore – An Interview with Peter Dargin

Again, the Captain Pickles mentioned in this interview is my Great Grand Uncle, Captain George Rickinsom Swan Pickhills. The misspelling of his surname was common – and evidently infuriated him.

A question asked of me at the Mudgee workshop conducted by Helen McKay, was “Where do you get your folklore?”

Sometimes I take known stories from the universal folklore and adapt them to a local setting. “Swagman’s Stone Soup” is an example. Further to this is the development of stories around a particular Australian theme – bush-rangers. Stories that adapt the history of Outback N.S.W. during the 1870’s-80’s.

The first introduces Silly Billy Brown. He demolishes the family toilet trying to shoot a crow stealing eggs from the chookyard. Billy runs away on a one-eyed horse (at a similar age and time to Sidney Kidman) to become a bushranger but is bushranged by Captain Twilight. They meet up with Captain Daylight and become the Daylight Gang, living at their secret Rocky Billabong Hideout. This is a traditional use of three characters.

Extended stories bring in The Three Troopers: Sergeant Flashman, Trooper O’Kane and Trooper Crump. Mrs Kate Brown, Molly Brown and Miss Elizabeth Goodheart, of Dunlop Station, feature as strong characters. Captain Daylight and Sergeant Flashman compete for the heart of Miss Elizabeth Goodheart.

These characters have their place on a Time Line — from the New Calendar 1752 to the 21st century. It starts in England before the First Fleet: shows the Crimean War, for Sergeant Flashman; the death of Daylight, then follows Silly Billy Brown, who, as William Browne MP, fails in his attempts to get the railway through the Outback. Captain Twilight just fades away, but, there is a link with the present.

At Terrible Tiny Tilpa, Lizard McGinnis, Old George and a smelly swagman provided volumes of information, mystery and unbelievable history, for a similar volume of ale, when I was researching “Around the Pubs” for ABC 2CR.

They took me to a long, low, mud house on the banks of the Darling River to meet first child of Daylight and Elizabeth Goodheart. Miss Day (Captain Daylight’s real surname), never married. The young man she loved and her two brothers died in the horrible mess that was Gallipoli.

She was waiting for the mailman to bring her a telegram from the Queen telling her she was 100 years old.

Don Day is remembered as a dashing bushman, not as a bushranger. He drowned rescuing a woman and her three children. Their horse bolted tipping them into the river. He rescued the people then dived down to cut the horse from the dray. He never came up. The horse did, more dead than alive, but the Great Grey-green Darling River kept Don Day.

After shearing, his friends made a memorial at Daylight Point. It’s a sight that brings tears to the eyes and a lump to the throat. I know, because Miss Dianna took me there.

She sat straight in her side saddle as the horses trotted up a rise overlooking one of the grandest waterholes on the Darling River.

And there it was, a big black billycan on a fire of bronze logs.

It sat on a large flat rook, dragged for miles by bullock team. Engraved into the billy can is:-

“In Memory of Donald Francis Day 1850-1896 — Elizabeth Day, Twilight, Cpt. Rtd. Dianna Day, William Brown, JP Frank Day, Judge Long, Rtd. Gordon Day, Ned O’Kane, Insp.” Little crosses are punched after Frank and Gordon.

“Even Captain Pickles was here. He brought people down from Bourke on the wandering Jane.”

I helped Miss Dianna down. The horses trotted into a small broken-down yard, lush with grass. I made a fire, then filled our billy from the river. We had jolly jumbuck, boiled potatoes, johnnycake and billy tea.

Red cloud bars turned grey. Frogs and night insects started chatting. I dropped another log onto the fire, showering red sparks and stirring the low flames. When I looked up small silver twinkles dotted the sky and Miss Dianna and a curlew were both talking at once.

She told how Aboriginal women saved her life, and her mother’s, when she was born. How, in the 1890 flood, Joey Quartpot rescued them, one by one, in his bark canoe. Of her brothers, young and wild, riding all the way to Sydney to join the Light Horse to fight for King and Country. And her mother, going to live in a flat in Manly where she knitted socks and made Christmas Puddings for the ANZACS, only to die of a broken heart.

The past flickered through the flames, as she went further back to tell about Daylight and Twilight.

She laughed about William Browne MP. “He became rather fat, bald and pompous. But his heart was in the right place. He stuck up for the Outback.”

The tail of the Southern Cross was hanging low over the river. “I come here every year for the morning of the day Dad drowned.” She walked stiffly to the bronze billy can, lifted the lid then pulled the end off one of the logs. It was hollow.

Night melted. The first ray of daylight speared down the long waterhole into the bronze log, striking a large crystal in the bottom of the billy can. A shaft of light shot upwards, through the overhanging coolabah, scaring the hell out of the black and red cockatoos and blinding the last stars.

“Bushranging, booze and battle took the best of our youth, Peter.”

That night gave me the folk lore and a store of stories – fact, fiction and fantasy – to last me a lifetime.

Miss Day received her telegram from the Queen. She rests beside the long, low, mud-brick homestead. No one lives there but, at times, a swagman calls, tidies the garden then disappears towards the Tilpa Pub.

Peter Dargan, Travelling Writer, Dubbo, NSW. © 1995

Reference

Gay History: Tab Hunter on being gay in 1950s Hollywood*

Tab Hunter, the actor with the all-American looks who starred in ’50s classics “Damn Yankees” and “Battle Cry,”. Photo Credit: Allan Glaser Production

With his blonde surfer-dude locks and fresh-scrubbed complexion, Tab Hunter set female hearts aflutter in the 1950s with hit movies like “Damn Yankees” and “Battle Cry” and records including the chart-topping “Young Love.” No one suspected that Hollywood’s all-American boy was homosexual.

Now Hunter, 84, opens up about his days in Hollywood — from his discovery at age 20 to working with cult filmmaker John Waters — and his private life, including his relationship with actor Anthony Perkins — in the new documentary “Tab Hunter Confidential,” produced by his longtime partner Allan Glaser. The actor will be on hand for a screening and Q&A Wednesday, Oct. 14, at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. He spoke by phone from his home in Santa Barbara, California.

You were thrown into movies with no experience. What was the first day on the set like?

The first time was when I tested with Linda Darnell for “Island of Desire,” and I was a nervous wreck. And she pinched me and said, “Relax, I’m good luck for newcomers.” And she was.

You left Warner Bros. after getting roles you didn’t like. Did you regret that move?

Yes, in many respects, and no. Your own freedom and individuality is major. . . . I really wanted out of the studio contract, but at the same time, the security financially was important because I had a mother I had to care for. It was a tough decision to make. I did a couple of movies after that that were all right, and then I did a lot of dreck, mainly for survival.

As a gay man in the 1950s, did you ever think being an actor, in which your life would be so scrutinized, might not be the right profession?

If something would be mentioned, I would just go in the other direction. I wouldn’t confront anything. My sexuality was nobody’s business. The studio never mentioned my sexuality. If they had, I would have freaked out. The only person I ever discussed things with besides Tony [Perkins] was Dick Clayton, my agent.

The movie deals heavily with your relationship with your mother. What did she say when you told her you were gay?

I never told my mother anything. We were driving back from my brother’s funeral up in northern California after he was killed in Vietnam. As we were driving down the coast, out of the blue my mother said, “I never see Tony anymore or hear about him.” And I said, “Well, he’s doing a picture in Thailand.” There was this long pause, and all of a sudden my mother said, “I’ve never been in love.” That was the closest we ever came to saying anything about it.

How did the idea for the documentary come about?

It all started with the book [his 2005 memoir of the same name]. Allan said, “I think you should do a book because I hear someone is going to do a book on you.” I thought, “Who would want to read a book on me?” He said, “You’d be surprised.” I thought about it and decided I’d do it. I figured get it from the horse’s mouth. . . . Then years went by and Allan said, “I think we should do a documentary.”

Warner Bros. considered you for “Rebel Without a Cause.” Did you want to do the kinds of roles people like James Dean were playing?

It was only when I got “Battle Cry” that I realized I wanted seriously to be an actor. . . . I started working with [acting coach] Jeff Corey and doing a lot of live TV, which was a great training ground.

Do you have any favorite co-stars or roles?

I loved working with Geraldine Page, she was one of my favorites. And Natalie Wood, who was like my kid sister. . . . “Damn Yankees” was great because it was my first musical, and I was working with the whole Broadway cast. Live TV was probably the most gratifying for my growth as an actor and a person.

How was working with Sophia Loren?

She was absolutely fabulous. We were working in the heat of the summer in New York City. She had an air-conditioned limo that we would sit in to cool off while we were waiting for a shot. The big record at that time was Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash,” and that was our song. Under all that fire and sex, the great thing I loved about Sophia is that she was so childlike.

And Divine in “Polyester” and “Lust in the Dust”?

That’s one of my favorite leading ladies. I was just done doing a play in Indianapolis or someplace, and John Waters called and said, “I’ve got a script that I’d love you to look at, and it’s a film with Divine.” Then he said, “Before we go any further, how would you feel about kissing a 350-pound transvestite?” And I said, “Well I’m sure I’ve kissed a helluva lot worse.” I read the script and I knew I had to do it because it was such fun. . . . I wanted John to direct our film “Lust in the Dust,” but he said he only does his own stuff. I’d written it and originally it was called “The Reverend and Rosie,” and it was going to be Chita Rivera and myself, but she was tied up on Broadway. And then I wanted Shirley MacLaine, and that didn’t work out. Then Alan said to me, “What about Divine and Lainie Kazan as half sisters?” And I said, “Alan, you’re brilliant.”

Had you had any aspirations to be a singer?

I used to sing in the shower [laughs], and in church I sang in the choir. The only time I had a solo, nothing came out because I was so frightened. When Howard Miller, who was a big disc jockey in Chicago, heard me sing, he said, “Did you ever think about recording?” I said, “I’d love to do that,” so he said, “Let me put you in touch with [record producer] Randy Wood. Randy called me, presented me with a tune called “Young Love.” We went in an recorded it on a Friday, and on Monday morning I was driving down Sunset Boulevard and heard it on the car radio and almost hit a palm tree.

What did you think of your singing voice?

They drowned me in echo and I guess they thought it was all right

What did you think about having all of those female fans swooning over you?

Whenever anybody says to me, “My mother just loved you,” my response is, “Thank her for me because if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have been working.”

Did you ever think your looks were a help or a hindrance to your career?

I wasn’t comfortable in that skin. My comfort zone was being out at the stable. Every free minute I’d be out with my horses. They were my touch of reality in Hollywood. I was just never an out-there kind of guy. I was very shy as a kid. I played the game, but it was difficult.

Reference

An Abbreviated History of the Decorated Male

Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood A/W16Photography by Juergen Teller

AnOther traces the history of male icons who have challenged modern tropes of masculinity, from Louis XIV to Andreas Kronthaler

It’s important to note that it’s only within the past few of centuries of western fashion that menswear has become synonymous with the tropes of masculine dress we might think of today. Even this relatively recent history of gender-regulated, pared-down, ostentation-eschewing style has been punctured with numerous anomalies that challenge the norms of said masculine taste standards. Heels, cosmetics, and other accoutrements that often constitute the cultural symbols of femininity have, at various periods, been equally associated with men and masculine ideals. As critics today return to embracing these often-neglected facets of men’s style, and designers from Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood to Grace Wales Bonner turn away from contemporary conventions of masculinity, we explore the appearance of the decorated male throughout history.

Louis XIV as Apollo in Le Ballet Royal de la nuitArtwork by Henri Gissey

Power Heels, Powder and Patriarchy

As is so often the case, one cannot speak about western fashion without mentioning examples outside the Occident. Makeup for men is known to have been prominent throughout the ancient world, with nail varnish being worn by those throughout all ranks of society at least as early as 3000 BCE in Japan and China. Perhaps the best-known example of ancient male cosmetics would be the wearing of eye makeup by the ancient Egyptians, while heels are a comparatively younger affair, worn by men throughout the medieval near east where they had the functional purpose of allowing horse riders to stand up in their stirrups and fire arrows. When these same Persian heels arrived in the court of Louis XIV, their purpose was altogether more decorative. Himself an admirer of this elevated footwear, they came to be known as the “Louis Heel”. The image of the 17th aristocrat is possibly one of the most prominent historical images of the decorated man; alongside heels, they opted for wigs, face powders and other makeup such as artificial beauty spots.

The Macaroni. A real Character at the late MasqueradeMezzotint by Philip Dawe, 1773

So many of these items were simply not yet strict symbols of femininity. Indeed, far removed from today’s concepts of masculine dress, many of these were as much to do with power and patriarchy as individual expressions of style. It is often cited that the diminutive King Louis took to heels and towering wigs to impart a more “monarchic” height, while it has been observed that it was only due to trends of women imitating men’s fashion that the heel became common amongst both genders. In 18th-century Europe, particularly in England, decoration reached new heights with the “Macaroni”. Macaroni referred to groups of cultured young men whose interest in fashion was seen as excessive. Their hairstyles and powdered wigs, jewellery, attire, makeup and generally “effete” appearance were cause for concern amongst many who felt they were rather too unmanly. It is worth noting, however, that whilst frowned upon and associated with effeminacy, there was not quite the same negative weight to such styles (or indeed to effeminacy) as there later was in Victorian society. Class, however, was heavily at play and while it might be considered acceptable or even suitable for a man of certain social status to sport highly stylised attire, a man of lower rank would not be received as warmly.

Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey

Eccentrics and Exiles

There was a notable shift come the Victorian era, one that was particularly visible in Britain. Following some high-profile scandals in the press, attitudes towards gender became markedly less tolerant. In many ways, the late 1800s in particular can be thought of as a cut-off point for the social rules that shaped men’s style – whatever was considered masculine around this period remained so in a manner that had not quite been so rigid previously. This rigidity did not mean that there weren’t several who defied or ignored convention. If fortunate they were classified as eccentrics, as was the case with Henry Cyril Paget, whose elaborate headdresses and bejewelled costumes (which often contained Louis heels), amazed and also horrified many.

Paget, however, had the protections of wealth and status and that often worked to convert perceived queerness into tolerated eccentricity. Others were not so lucky. Even the likes of photographer Cecil Beaton, who was by no means lacking in money and social standing, suffered from the rampant homophobia that suffused the post-Victorian air. At a friend’s ball, he was famously dunked in a fountain by a group of “hearties”, because of his wearing makeup. Similarly, Quentin Crisp’s love of makeup and feminine attire resulted in his being chased through the streets, kicked and beaten. What was certainly apparent by the 1930s was that, in the public consciousness, the image of the decorated man had become consolidated with a vision of femininity and queerness that was violently received.

Self-portraitPhotography by Samuel Fosso

The Opening and Breaking of Menswear

This consolidation was to have a lasting effect. Vogue ball culture, which emerged from American black drag scenes of the 1930s, is particularly pivotal, in that it shows how queer cultures and groups utilised the negative connotations of the decorative to challenge and undermine the dominant status of masculinity. Elsewhere, counterculture made constant recourse to what had become strictly feminine symbols. With the disco movement, we see men in heels once again, this time in the form of platforms, while the flamboyant impulse was once more loose in the embracing of all the glitter and ornament that have now come to be thought of as “camp”. Similarly, the New Romantic movement which came about almost a decade later is defined by its disregard of the doggedly concrete rules about what men could and couldn’t wear, elevating instead the “excesses” of costume.

Current conversation regarding menswear and cosmetics is becoming increasingly preoccupied with noting the breaking down and opening up of menswear. For many, the mere loosening of men’s fashion is not enough – the very existence of menswear and womenswear as two separate strands, something which is central to the mechanisms of the fashion industry, continues to keep harmful gender norms alive (in spite of the move of some designers, like Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, to do away with such divisions). While designers like Claire Barrow emphasise the essential non-binary nature of their clothes, when it comes to more commercial bodies, such as Selfridges, who recently made the decision to promote gender-neutral clothing with a retail concept space titled ‘Agender’, it can be hard not to suspect the cold machinations of trends and advertising at work. For some, defying dominant gender standards is a choice, but for others, it is a necessity and not something to be left to the mercy of consumerism.

Reference

GayHistory: Mickey Mouse, Homophobe

Mickey Mouse: guilty of a hate crime?

Brent Bozell is one of those right-wingers who has made a career of being indignant at every hour of the day, always on the lookout for an excuse to whine and complain. One of the things that upsets him is that some comic books feature openly gay characters. “The world of comic books has sure changed a lot since we were young,” Bozell wrote in a 2006 column. “Who would have predicted, 10 years ago, that the comics would become a red-light neighborhood where sexually perverted superheroes would be packaged to elicit from children fascination and sympathy?”

Like most professional moralists, Bozell has no real sense of history: he’s a traditionalist with no grounding in the past. If Bozell knew anything about earlier times, he would realize that gays have been portrayed in comics for decades, not just in comic books but even in comic strips that ran in family newspapers.

What could be more wholesome than Mickey Mouse, the big-eared emblem of the Disney empire? Yet a Mickey Mouse comic strip from January 22, 1931 shows the little rodent meeting a big cat who displays all the markers stereotypically given to gay characters during that period: a lisp, a limp handshake, and a general effeminacy of manner (in this case, batting eyelashes). Revealing himself to be not just homophobic but a violent gay-basher, Mickey attacks the big cat.

In the early decades of the 20th century, many cartoonists featured characters that were gay stereotypes: swishy men and butch women. I’ve sprinkled examples throughout this essay. Here are some notes on them (to maximize enjoyment of these images, I suggest clicking on each one):

Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs

1. In an April 11, 1925 Wash Tubbs sequence, the hero meets a “girl” who turns out to be Desperate Desmond, a cowboy actor.

Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie

2.In a January 11, 1927, Little Orphan Annie strip, the pupil-less waif talks to Miss Brussels, a very manly woman who runs an all-girls schools (which were, in popular folk-lore, places where Sapphic love flourished). “Hm-m-m- Never saw anyone just like that before,” Annie reflects. “Dresses lots like a man, doesn’t she, Sandy?” Like many of the masculine women in Annie, Miss Brussels turns out to be a very bad egg, who mistreats the poor orphan. (Later on in the Cold War era, Annie meets some traitorous State Department diplomats who seemed very effeminate, conforming to the commonly-held notion that gays were more likely to betray their country).

Rea Irvin’s The Smythes

3. A 1930 Sunday page of The Smythes, a domestic comedy drawn by Rea Irwin, the famed cartoonist who was so instrumental in creating the visual ambience of The New Yorker magazine, features a very foppish interior decorator named Mr. Bullfinch.

Frank King’s Gasoline Alley

4.Frank King also used an “interior decorators are gay” gag in a June 06, 1930 Gasoline Alley strip.

5.Terry and the Pirates in the late 1930s, which had a lesbian villain (Madam Sanjak from 1939) and a gay villain Papa Pyzon (in 1936) based on Charles Laughton (who was himself gay and also collected comic strip art). Madame Sanjak specialized in kidnapping and hypnotising young girls, and making them her slaves. For more on these characters see this article.

Will Eisner’s The Spirit, part

6. A Spirit story, by Will Eisner, from September 07, 1941 introduces a character named Miss Dorothy Heartbern, who turns out to be a very fey man. Asked to impersonate the Spirit, he says, “The Spirit! Oh! How romantic!! I just love bad men!!” The phrase “a friend of Dorothy” was commonly used to describe gay men in that period.

There are enough of these gay characters that one could easily do an anthology called “The Gay Image In Comics before Stonewall.” The general point to make about these characters is that they are all homophobic stereotypes, although the tone of the representation varies greatly. Sometimes the cartoonists were mildly satirical (as swishy she-men), sometimes melodramatically hostile (as vile seducers of children).

Will Eisner’s The Spirit part 2

One last point needs to be made: conservatives like Bozell never objected to these gay stereotypes when they flourished in the comics. So what people of this ilk are upset about is not the representation of homosexual per se, but about the fact that gays are increasingly shown in a neutral or favourable light. As long as gays are represented in a homophobic way, Bozell and his political allies would never raise a voice of objection. For the Bozells of the world, it is okay to show gays, as long as you don’t show them as human beings.

Reference

  • Mickey Mouse, Homophobe, sans everything, 16 December 2009, by Jeet Heer

Gay History: 30 years Of Gay Style: From Disco Chic To Hipster Bears

It used to be a tribal signal but as gay style has moved into the mainstream, the look has become harder to pin down. It’s forcing creatives to really push the boundaries if they want to make a statement

Now and then … Sylvester in the 80s and John Grant in 2015. Composite: Getty

When he was studying at Central Saint Martins, London, in the late 00s, Craig Green wrote his dissertation on the adoption of gay style subcultures by straight men. In the preceding decades, perfumed dandies, dilly boys, mods, skins, clones, new romantics, scallies, fierce vogueing divas and muscle Marys had all been sieved out of their natural habitat on to the high street for brief moments of mass consumption. But by the time Green – currently reigning menswear designer of the year at the British fashion awards – was weighing up his thesis, things had changed. The bears – hirsute, gay men – crowded on the dancefloor of London’s XXL nightclub were barely distinguishable from bearded Bon Iver fans.

A reciprocal shared wardrobe, common across menswear emerged. “When I was younger,” says Green, who was born in 1986, “what I thought of as a very gay look was really a metrosexual thing, a bit Italian, clothes a tiny bit too tight, skinny jeans, tanned, tight T-shirt, worked out. Most of the men who dressed like that were straight. Gay men all seemed to be growing beards, too. It was a less specific time. You couldn’t really tell who was who any more. Had we come to a melting point?”

From the vantage point of the DJ booth in the capital’s Horse Meat Disco, Luke Howard has been well positioned to watch the changing appearance of gay men over the past 16 years. He has noticed something similar to Green. “Lads in a straight club in Sheffield or Leeds don’t look that different from an average crowd we get at Horse Meat Disco,” he says. “These days I can barely tell the difference between straight men and gay.”

At the beginning of last year I started writing a book, Good As You, about the mainstreaming of gay pop culture as gay men headed towards complete equality in British law; roughly, a journey from Smalltown Boy to same-sex marriage that felt personal and lived, but would hopefully reflect a wider shift in the country as the gay culture has come into the light. Across the 30 years I looked at (1984-2014), the sheer number and range of signals that gay men sent out through their personal, often tribal, style fitted a wider emerging narrative, reframing the British gay man’s story from victimhood to a kind of valiant heroism. By the time I had finished the book, a moustache was no longer a moustache, it was part of a suit of no-nonsense sex armour.

UK designer Charles Jeffrey. Photograph: Dave Benett/Getty Images for Daz

“Traditionally,” says Tim Blanks, editor-at-large of Business of Fashion, “gay style was about men who took a lot of care and attention about their appearance.” The Beckhamification of culture that begot the metrosexual ended all that. The most popular gay cultural figures in its slipstream were visibly paying less attention to their clobber than the majority. For Blanks, this is even truer of gay cultural figures now. “Where is gay style now concentrated?” he asks. “[Singer] John Grant’s statement is the most chic, stylish and sophisticated art. But it isn’t visual.” Like the musician Perfume Genius, AKA Mike Hadreas, Grant favours contemplation of the interior life over the exterior.

Yet just as the gay scruff-as-cultural-archetype boomed, a raft of new figures emerged, reframing sexuality and style, both in and out of high fashion. Demna Gvasalia (Vetements, Balenciaga) and Alessandro Michele (Gucci) became the most influential designers of their era by taking – respectively – utilitarian street style and ornate embellishment down strange, pleasingly radical avenues, upsetting the strict tenets of buttoned-up, sartorial menswear. Meanwhile, American designer Rick Owens has looked to the brilliantly extreme edges of performance art, taking inspiration from the purposefully surreal, absurdist and unsettling physical disposition of David Hoyle and Christeene Vale. Things have shifted. “Oh, I could look at [queer experimentalist] Arca 24 hours a day,” says Blanks. “He is phenomenal. His look embodies transgression, intellectual depth, incredible provocation and sensuality in exactly the way Bowie’s and Lou Reed’s did when I was teenage.”

For a young breed of designers, a sense of controlled, thrilling outrage – a sense incubated in gay nightlife – is once more tickling the underbelly of fashion. “You have all those children of Kim Jones,” Blanks notes. Jones, head of menswear at Louis Vuitton, made a path from 90s London gay club culture to the apex of men’s fashion. He was a regular at 90s gay clubs from Kinky Gerlinky to Queer Nation, which he has heavily referenced in his collections. Young designers including Christopher Shannon and Bobby Abley have done their own idiosyncratic takes on that journey, too. It’s a path that can work in reverse, too. In their earliest incarnation, Take That, five straight men from the north-west, were styled to catch the eyes of ritzy gay clubbers at La Cage in Manchester.

Another who trod that path was Green, whose richly specific fashion vernacular feels technically in the lineage of Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. Then there’s JW Anderson’s fruity gender play, putting men in frilly boob tubes and thigh boots during his early years.

As Green was writing his thesis, the young designer Charles Jeffrey was being beaten up in Glasgow for his appearance. An obsessive fan of Southend gothic revivalists the Horrors, he tried to emulate their style on a pocket-money budget. “I wanted the panda eyes and the big black hair but I had to buy winklepickers from Burton and women’s blouses from Primark,” he recalls. Hair was a big thing for Jeffrey, his point of differentiation, the “this is me” moment that many men have traditionally alighted on when they adapt publicly into a chosen gay identity. “I was called a ‘faggot’ and a ‘poof’ for having bright orange hair in what I thought of as really quite an aggressive look. I didn’t see it as being gay at all and I was punched in the face in George Square for it.”

“Gay men have co-opted both masculine and feminine imagery,” says Howard, “in an either/or way as regards their choices of clothes.” This delineation has precedent. “In the late 70s, you had new romantics with their velvet and face powder, which coincided with the clone look – handlebar moustache, muir cap, leather and denim – inspired by construction workers and uniformed personnel.” He thinks the reason these polarities exist might be connected to deeper identity questions. “Boys that grow up to become gay men have often personally experienced or at least witnessed anti-gay bullying, which perhaps then becomes either externalised – I’ll be as flamboyant as I want in my attire and to hell with you all – or internalised: I’ll be more masculine-looking than the most heterosexual men.”

Clubbers at Leigh Bowery’s club Taboo in 1986. Photograph: UniversalImagesGroup/UIG via Getty Images

The digital age has complicated personal identity issues for everyone. For many gay men, the closure of bespoke social spaces, as clubs and bars shut up shop, has meant formalising an identity online. “At the Blitz and Taboo,” says Blanks of the legendary London gay clubs, “it was always about not wanting to be stuck at home.” Times change and styles change with them. “Now, it is absolutely all about staying in.” The 2017 gay male archetype could easily be the bearded, topless selfie guy, stomach clenched, puckering up in his bathroom mirror, who routinely clogs the suggestion feeds of gay Facebook and Instagram users.

“What a shame,” Blanks continues. “The notion of community used to be absolute. The internet presents a different sense of immediacy. Your desire is now more important than your style.” In this sense, the most useful arbiter of gay style may be Ernesto Sarezale, the London nightclub fixture who frequently attends, dances and leaves completely naked.

Jeffrey’s Loverboy parties have seen the emergence of a newly radical slant on the club kids who have defined gay culture. “What I love about someone like [Loverboy regular] Harry Charlesworth,” says Blanks, “is that he’s sitting dressed like a southern belle with a hairy chest that Burt Reynolds would be proud of. It’s that visual idea that ties back to the Cockettes.” The revolutionary late 60s/early 70s San Francisco drag ensemble – a template for wild expression – are a touchstone in the gay style story.

“My gay style icon would have to be Sylvester,” says Howard, about the Cockette who broke free from the underground to define the sound, look and spiritual outer edges of disco. “He used his body and the clothes he wore as a way to express his liberation from the oppressive restrictions of heteronormative culture. If only more men, gay and straight, myself included, could be more like him.”

Model wearing a Tom of Finland print swim shorts. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Wardrobe constraints can be further complicated by the thorny issue of sex. “Dress codes are generally about getting laid,” says GQ Style’s editor, Luke Day. “The connecting tissue between all gay subcultures is that you’re generally expressing your sexual preference in some sort of way. We are trying to attract. What we put out there is what we fancy.”

“There are gay men that I like the style of,” says Green. He mentions his former stylist and collaborator Julian Ganio, the fashion director of Fantastic Man magazine. “He wears things really well. It’s quite difficult to look good in denim shorts, a bucket hat and a pair of shearling loafers, but he’s got a magic way of holding himself.”

Ganio himself doesn’t think that gay men’s style has changed much over his time. “It never really does,” he says. “In 30 years’ time, it’s more than likely the leather queens will still wear leather, the bears will wear a plaid shirt and beard and the scallies will wear Reebok Classics with a Ralph Lauren polo shirt.”

Howard thinks the real influence of gay men on mainstream style may not even be on their own kind. “Perhaps, traditionally, gay men have had more time and money to spend on their clothes and bodies, but gay men have arguably had more influence on women’s style and fashion than men’s.” The recent appointment of Edward Enninful as editor of British Vogue would suggest that. As for the question that haunts the debate of gay men and style, Ganio has a simple and succinct answer.

Why are so many gay men designers?

“Because gays are fab,” he says.

Seven key gay styles

he Village People. Photograph: PA

The clone

Origins: Tom of Finland.

Subcultural habitat: The End-Up nightclub, San Francisco.

Crossover moment: Tom Selleck as Magum PI, the Village People.

The dilly boy

Origins: The rent boys of yore plying their trade at Piccadilly Circus.

Subcultural habitat: Smoking a Virginia Slim louchely under Eros with a Jean Genet paperback.

Crossover moment: Bowie, Lou Reed, Christiane F, Suede.

The Vogue queen

Origins: Harlem Vogue balls.

Subcultural habitat: A makeshift catwalk on the Chelsea Piers; Paris Is Burning.

Crossover moment: Madonna, Malcolm McLaren, streetdance.

David Beckham’s Armani ad. Photograph: Marcus and Mert/Publicity image from PR company

The muscle Mary

Origins: YMCA locker rooms and Physique Pictorial magazine.

Subcultural habitat: Trade.

Crossover moment: Mark Wahlberg for Calvin Klein, David Gandy for Dolce and Gabbana, and David Beckham for Armani underwear.

The bear

Origins: Christopher Street.

Subcultural habitat: The King’s Arms, Soho, London.

Crossover moment: Ted, beard oil, Rag’n’Bone Man.

The scally

Origins: All Ralph Lauren concessions, department stores, the north, 80s.

Subcultural habitat: Frank Clarke’s 1988 film The Fruit Machine.

Crossover moment: The Streets, Skins, Slaves, Hollyoaks.

The Cockettes in 1972. Photograph: Robert Altman/Getty Images

The Cockette

Origins: The late-60s hippy communes of San Francisco.

Subcultural habitat: Falling over, high, on stage.

Crossover moment: Kenny Everett as Cupid Stunt, David Walliams in Little Britain.

Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride – 30 Years of Gay Britain by Paul Flynn is published by Ebury Press,

Reference

Gay History: 6 Sites Recognised By Britain For Significence To Gay History.

Originally published in the New York Times

LONDON >> The former homes of the writer Oscar Wilde and the composer Benjamin Britten are among six sites that were recognized on Friday by an arm of the British government for their significance in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history.

Oscar Wilde’s house, 34 Tite St, Chelsea

Historic England, a body that designates places worthy of legal protection, announced the decision, the latest in an effort to showcase “queer history.” Last September, Historic England gave the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a well-known gay pub, a Grade II listing, meaning that it cannot be demolished, extended or altered without special permission.

Similar efforts to recognize gay history are underway in the United States. In June, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn, the location of a 1969 police raid and subsequent protest that galvanized the gay rights movement, and surrounding sites a national monument.

Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said in a telephone interview that the decision was “part of a deliberate policy of looking at what we protect and commemorate by a listing, to see that it is more representative of society as a whole.”

Through a research project called Pride of Place, people have been invited to submit places of importance to gay history, many of them forgotten or obscure. More than 1,600 submissions have come in. The project will in part serve to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales (1967).

Britten House, Lowestoft. Home of the Suffolk born composer, Benjamin Britten.

There are about 500,000 listed buildings in England, of which 2.5 percent are in Grade I, reserved for buildings of “exceptional interest,” like Stonehenge and St. Paul’s Cathedral, and 5.5 percent are in Grade II*, which covers “particularly important buildings of more than special interest.” The rest are in Grade II.

Of the six sites announced Friday, one is a new Grade II listing: the grave of Amelia Edwards — a writer, musician and founder of Egyptology in St. Mary’s Churchyard, in Bristol. She and her partner, Ellen Braysher, lived in the nearby town of Weston-super-Mare, where Edwards died of pneumonia in 1892, a few months after Braysher’s death.

(The New York Times, which covered a lecture she delivered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1889 on the hidden cities of ancient Egypt, said that an 1875 trip to that country was the “turning point” in her life.)

The Burdett-Coutts Memorial at St. Pancras Gardens in London, was given a higher listing, Grade II*. The memorial commemorates, among others, the Chevalier d’Eon, who was a French spy and diplomat in the 18th century.

A minor aristocrat from Burgundy, the chevalier was sent to Russia as a spy, fought in the Seven Years’ War and helped negotiate the treaty that ended war between Britain and France. The chevalier lived the first part of his life as a man, and the last few decades as a woman; the remarkable story has inspired art, plays and studies.

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern

The memorial is made of limestone, granite and marble, includes a sundial and is built in the High Victorian style.

The other four properties were given updated descriptions in the National Heritage List for England, the searchable online database that Historic England maintains, to better reflect their significance to gay history.

Two are well-known to arts lovers. One is the house at 34 Tite Street, in the Chelsea neighborhood of London, where Oscar Wilde lived with his wife, Constance Lloyd, and their two children from 1884 until his trial for “gross indecency” in 1895. Convicted of having sex with men, Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor. The law under which he was convicted was not repealed until 2003. (The house, which has a blue plaque outside, is still a private residence.)

After catching influenza, Edwards died on 15 April 1892 at Weston-super-Mare, having lived at Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol since 1864. She was buried in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Henbury, Bristol, where her grave is marked by an obelisk, with a stone ankh at the foot.

The other is theRed House, in Aldeburgh, a town on the east coast of England. Benjamin Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, lived together there from 1957 until Britten’s death in 1976. (The house, run by the Britten-Pears Foundation, is open to the public.)

The remaining two sites were used by people who had to shield parts of their lives. n West Yorkshire, was the home of Anne Lister, a landowner who kept diaries, part of them in code, about her relationships with women. She lived in the house for several years with her partner, Ann Walker.

Shibden Hall, Halifax

In Chertsey, a suburban town in Surrey, is St. Ann’s Court, which Historic England cited as an example of “queer architecture.” The concrete house, built between 1936 and 1937, was the home of Gerald Schlesinger and Christopher Tunnard, a gay couple who designed their home in response to laws that made homosexual sex a crime, even in the privacy of one’s home.

Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial

The house’s master bedroom could be separated into two, promoting an image to visitors that the two men slept separately. Phil Manzanera, a guitarist with the rock band Roxy Music, later lived in the house.

St. Anne’s Court, Chertsey, Surrey

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