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Gay Rights: Forget It

I go through life’s little traumas. My book isn’t in Brentano’s window, so I get de­pressed. A playwright I met in San Francisco uses me, but can’t stay the night. Copy is cut, so that the original point of my story is lost. I don’t know whether or not to tell someone I love that I love him. Then Guyana happens. Then Moscone and Harvey Milk are assas­sinated. Then the gay-rights bill fails again at City Council. And everything that’s big seems inconsequential. I go to glamorous parties and wonder why I’m there. I taxi to a screening of The Deer Hunter and walk out when a deer is shot. I make a fish stew and can’t eat it. The avocado I bought last week is rotting in the fruit bowl. This month life is frightening, and death too real. Here are some thoughts on gay rights, politics, and life.

There was yet another City Council hear­ing November 29. The idea this time was to get the full council to decide whether it should vote as a body on Intro 384, the bill which would legally protect gays from being discriminated against in employment, public accommodations, and housing. On Novem­ber 8, Intro 384 lost in the General Welfare Committee by a vote of 6 to 3.

Little advance notice of the hearing had been given. The night before, the Daily News ran a short story in which gay lobbyist Allen Roskoff stated that he was certain of 18 discharge votes and “quite hopeful” that four more would be secured. “Quite hopeful” in city council jargon means “forget it.”

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Hopelessness permeated the air even be­ifore the hearings began. The usual rah-rah gay-rights supporters were missing. No more than 15 (the tiniest number ever) cluttered the balcony, while about 30 assorted “normal” types were there to applaud the opposition.

Key sponsor Carol Bellamy overlorded the proceedings. Clearly playing favorites, Coun­cil President Bellamy pounded her gravel, made final crisp judgments, and jutted her jaw in the best Smiling Jack tradition whenever the minority seemed most out of favor. She ran a tight, mean show.

Challenge time began when a councilman spotted a photographer in the hearing room and demanded that he be thrown out. Bella­my didn’t buy. Then Michael DeMarco of the Bronx told her that she was ruling against the house protocol. Bellamy ordered him to shut up. “If you persist, I’ll have a sergeant-­at-arms remove you from the chamber,” she hissed. House majority leader, Tom Cuite (long the leading opponent of gay rights) en­tered the picture and recited parliamentary procedure. It was clear to the blind what was taking place: the debate was not about cam­eras, but old thinking versus new, censorship versus opennness, anti-gay forces versus pro­-gay. Censorship won: 28 votes to toss the photographer out, 12 to allow him to stay.

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Councilman Leon Katz of Brooklyn, with no understanding of the gay-rights issue, claimed that “we can’t enact legislature ad­vocating homosexual conduct as acceptable and as the desirable correct way.” Katz­ — along with many of his colleagues — was un­able to differentiate between doing it and be­ing it. The act defined the issue.

Throughout the endless debate that fol­lowed, mini-melodramas took place offstage. Tom Cuite put his arm around Councilman Fred Samuel, and led him, buddy-like, out of the chamber. Later, when it came time to vote, Samuel, a sponsor of the bill, voted no. What was said — or offered to Samuel — is a mystery that undoubtedly will be solved in the weeks to come. Also a mystery: why Koch wasn’t there to lead a few councilmen to his inner office for a game of friendly per­suasion. Instead, an aide distributed paper­back copies of Laura Z. Hobson’s Consenting Adults as a meaningful gift from the mayor to the council. He’d have done better with Scru­ples.

In all fairness, several 384 supporters spoke quite elegantly. Manhattan Council­man-at-large Henry Stern claimed that if the bill was to be voted down, City Hall would be in backwater, that the private sector was ahead of the public sector. He added that a “no” vote would be a reflection on the city council. Brooklyn Councilman-at-large Rob­ert Steingut offered that he was not con­cerned with millions, but with a handful of people who have no redress to a legislative body. Manhattan Councilwoman Jane Trichter hit the nail on the head when she claimed that “what is operating here is a fear of that which is different.”

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That which is always the same, was pro­vided by Bronx Councilwoman Aileen Ryan, whom Murray Kempton called “a most un­movable, hard, dumb woman.”

Ryan wailed, “I am proud that the General Welfare Committee has bent over backwards to give fair hearings … In the name of family and stability, defeat this motion to dis­charge.”

Vincent Riccio of Brooklyn offered good cause for the city to do away with the council completely. “I was told City Council was an easy job,” he complained, “but I spend all my days going to committee meetings.” He proceded to attack the gay community with a viciousness indigenous to tyrants who build support out of hate. From the balcony came hissing, but the sound was like rhumba mu­sic to Riccio’s ears. He took little square steps with his feet when the hissings broke into boos.

“I believe New York should have a refe­rendum,” he continued. “If this bill passes, I shall make such a move.” Apparently he was unaware that a different kind of referendum is being discussed in top gay political circles. One which would allow the voters next year to decide whether the City Council should be abolished. Only 50,000 signatures are needed to get it going.

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Riccio concluded his tirade by noting that he had received letters calling him dirty names “because I represent family and reli­gion.” Since reporter feedback was prohibit­ed, I could not tell the councilman that he does not represent my own father and mother, who are originally from Brooklyn, or Morty Manford’s father and mother from Queens, or Vito Russo’s parents from Man­hattan. The Bells, the Manfords, and the Russos happen to love their children. They also happen to be supportive of their beliefs.

But it wouldn’t have mattered if Oscar Wilde’s mother served as the councilwoman from Staten Island. The bill was doomed. Fi­nal vote: 16 for, 26 against — the most re­sounding defeat for gay rights in New York since the bill was first introduced in 1971, approximately seven hearings ago.

The brainchildren who decided to rehash the vote this time are as much to blame as the councilpeople who voted against it. They include members of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights and the New York Political Action Council (NYPAC), who met with In­tro 384 supporters, such as Bellamy, Jane Trichter, Tony Olivieri, Carol Greitzer, and Henry Stern. All of them knew it would lose, for not only were they dealing with the bill, they were suggesting a change in council procedure. Change is the last thing the mori­bund council would consider. The gay-rights politicos, then, are to be faulted for inflicting further psychological damage to the collec­tive gay psyche. According to NYPAC’s Nick Bollman, “We did it to get the votes on record. The major defeat was when Intro 384 went down a couple of weeks before.”

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So now we have a record, and what are we to do with it? Send Kool-Aid popsicles to Ai­leen Ryan and Vincent Riccio? And petunias to Henry Stern?

Threatening, boycotting, educating is not the way to get power from political assholes. Money and favors are. If offered a house in Quogue or a judgeship in Queens, there is no doubt in my mind that several zealot anti-gay gnomes would suddenly open their hearts, if not their homes, and allow the gay vote to tiptoe in.

The morning after Proposition 6 was de­feated — a victory that was more a vote against witchhunts than one for gay rights — I appeared on the Mid-Morning Show in L.A. John Briggs called the TV station. The sena­tor, in the best Douglas MacArthur tradi­tion, swore he and his forces would return. He attributed his loss to the fact that the pro-­gay forces had a million-dollar kitty for ad­vertising while the Briggs guys had a small fraction of that amount. The host asked him if politics was a matter of money, and, in his roundabout way, Briggs admitted it was.

Why gay people insist on being part of this corruption is something I just have come to analyze. Why should our anger erupt because of a defeat that came about through lack of funds or poor advertising or dumb planning? None of this has anything to do with who we are.

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The gay-rights bill should be a matter of common decency, not one of political ma­neuverings — from either side.

In Manhattan, Koch doesn’t have the clout to buy off the handful of bigots who claim to represent their constituents, while those gay millionaires and denizens of fashion and high society who own sage brush homes in the Pines wouldn’t think of contributing to “the cause.” I no longer blame them. Gay politics is not the way.

Perhaps it once was. Once there was hope. Once gay power was a joyous cry in this town. Then the thrust toward radicalism died. The stuffed-shirt gay politico appeared. Lethargy set in. Anger followed the Bryant defeat. Sorrow follows Milk.

For gay people the war is on, but the way to fight is not through politics. The way is through pleasure. So when things get tough, my advice to readers is don’t run to the Task Force. Forget about City Hall. Go to Christo­pher Street. And handle matters your own way. ♦

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March for Mass

About 250 women and men congregat­ed at Sheridan Square in the rain last Sunday night to form a candlelight procession mourning the death of Harvey Milk. They marched through the West Village to Metropolitan Duane Metho­dist Church, punctuating the quiet night with shouts of “enough shit,” the new gay slogan.

In many ways, the march was similar to the candlelight vigil that followed the Snake Pit raid in March 1970. At that time, a young immigrant, Diego Vinales, fearful of deportation, jumped from a po­lice station window, only to be impaled on a picket fence. Many of the same acti­vists who anended the Vinales vigil were present at the Milk procession, including Jim Owles, first president of the Gay Ac­tivists Alliance, and Craig Rodwell, own­er of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Book­shop.

Rodwell, who knew Milk from the ear­ly ’60s, spoke at the church. He said, “Harvey was an atheist, and I also think he will forgive us for meeting here tonight.” Rodwell suggested that gun con­trol be added to the list of gay issues. Trish Williams, a lesbian folksinger, sang, “You’ve pushed us back/you’ve pushed us back/but you will push us back no more.” The congregation sang along with Williams, as if it were a hymn.

— A.B.

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The Year 2: Toward a Gay Community

Happy birthday, gay liberation, happy birthday to you! The baby is two years old and the song is sung by Martha Shelley and Allen Young and Judy from New York’s defunct Gay Liberation Front, under a Christopher Street banner, a stone’s throw from the old Stonewall Inn, so long ago and far away. Helping along with the cel­ebration are about 6000 birthday guests. They’ve come from Toronto and Washington and Hartford and Columbus and Amherst and all five boroughs and flood Christopher Street from Sheridan Square almost to the river, Sunday under a cloudless pansexual sky. Early gay libera­tion faces — Jerry Hooze and Craig Rodwell and Marty Nixon­ — have come out for the celebration. Young serious politicos. wearing granny glasses and toting knapsacks, buss the likes of Eben Clark and Jean De Vente. “Happy birthday. Isn’t it beautiful?” “Beautiful, just beautiful.” Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday.

Sylvia of STAR is there — and Marsha and Bebe and Natasha. Yellow balloons on long strings are printed GAY and tied to wrists and headbands. Oc­casionally one breaks away and flies up, up, over, liberated, free, and gone. Jill Johnston is there. She gives me a bear hug and says “Sometimes I wish I were a male homosexual,” as Pete Fisher and Marc Rubin pass by, arm in arm, caressing. Kate Millett arrives. “This is a very beautiful day,” she says. “A very important day. It’s fantastic, this whole sense of freedom and euphoria. I feel a sense of common identity with ev­eryone here. It’s a strong feeling and happy and fine.”

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Media, media everywhere. Global Village with a crew of four, and the Life and Newsweek re­porters who’ve been following us around these many weeks, and radio and TV networks, and amateur camera buffs shooting away at the crowd and at each other. Out of the closets, into the media, and into your living room. America, beware!

The big parade starts. A marshal shouts, “Keep behind the Christopher Street Liberation sign!” Somewhere back there, a contingent from Perth Amboy totes a sheet spray-painted and stenciled: “A dream is a dream, reality is real, open the door, to the way that we feel.” I see a Gay Jewish Revolution banner and the Gay Activists Alliance lambda and all those lambda shirts.

As the march progresses up Sixth Avenue, past Foam Rubber City, past the flower and plant block, the up-front banners move farther behind and the three city blocks of marchers become nine city blocks. By 34th Street, we’re up to 15. There are no incidents. Some sidewalk observers heed the call and join us. At a 42nd Street construction site, three hardhats make ha-ha gestures. At 45th Street, an observer remarks, “I’m getting to feel like a real creep here with my husband and baby. I’m getting to feel abnormal.” Near the Statler Hilton a group of young women sing “I enjoy being a dyke.” “Join us, join us,” shout the marchers to the bellhops and hotel guests. “Beyond the moon is Lesbos,” says a frizzle-haired woman to a passing hooker. “This is a flex­atone — the first gay musical in­strument,” says a flexatonist striking his pocket-sized in­strument. Two, four, six, eight, organize and liberate.

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The parade enters Central Park. Michael, in a Billie Burke-Wizard of Oz outfit with additional silver cardboard wings, tells the cameramen, “I’m just showing the straight people what a good fairy is.” Miss Philadelphia does a belly dance near the zoo en­trance. “I’m here because it’s my day,” she says, “and I want to be beautiful” and the beads and tassles shake, and click, click go the cameras.

We enter Sheep Meadow. An army of 200 or 300 more gay peo­ple enter from another pathway. We climb a hill. From a vantage point I see hundreds upon hundreds of shirtless men, braless women, give me a G, give me an A, give me a Y. They float, they dance, arms interwoven with arms, fists in the air. The Chris­topher Street banner lies limp on the grass. No one walks over it. The man next to me is crying.

Small vignettes are played on the grass. The woman with daisies in her hair is plucking out a baroque something on a guitar. An Indian headband falls off someone’s head and a stranger picks it up and gets a kiss in re­turn. Five naked men pass by and one says. “Why don’t you take off your shorts? Don’t be embar­rassed, don’t be shy.” Tarot cards are read. And Jim Owles says, “I’ve never seen so many beauti­ful faces in my life.”

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***

Three days prior to the march, I spotted Bob Kohler in front of The Voice office. Kohler is one of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front. He’s quieted down lately, seldom seen at marches, no longer a fixture outside the late Women’s House of Detention with bis dog and his pamphlets. He’s kvetching less and looking better.

“I lived, ate, slept, shit gay lib­eration for two years,” he said. “I was leading a closed, incestuous existence. A few months ago, I just dropped out. Now I’m getting myself back into the mainstream and putting my body where my mouth was. You can talk gay lib forever and picket until you’re blue in the face, but the time has come for me to relate to the department store clerks, the sani­tation people, the workers of the world who don’t know ‘move­ment,’ to try to raise their con­sciousness.

“I no longer feel the need for an organization as a crutch. Gay Lib­eration Front in New York, as it had been set up, is no longer in ex­istence. It was used as a spring­board from which other organizations and collectives were formed. We have a Gay Activists Alliance now, but for anyone to hang on to an organization is wrong. I’d like to see the move­ment use its sixth sense like an animal and kick its young out when they’re ready and push them into something better. Encourage people to leave the great father and go into the world and relate.”

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Gay Activists Alliance, with its constitution and its structure and its committees that range from Theatre to Municipal Govern­ment, is about the most popular of the gay groups in New York. Orig­inally set up as an activist organi­zation, it still specializes in politi­cal zaps, but has lately broadened its scope to encompass the social and sociological aspects of gay liberation. Its members are pri­marily white, young, middle-class males, gung ho enthusiasts, politi­cally middle to radical middle. GAA is into reform within the system, fuck the slow motion methods, it’s been too long, we’ve had it already, gay power, gay identity, now.

Far more conservative are the Mattachine Society and West Side Discussion Groups, both pri­marily male, both “service” organizations. There are campus groups, like Gay People of Columbia, and spin-off groups, like Gay Youth, for the under-21s, and the Beyond family, a con­sciousness-raising group made up of a dozen past and present GAA members. There are radical groups like STAR (the Street Transvestites Action Revolu­tionaries) and the Gay Revolution Party, which believes that the root of oppression is in the struc­ture of sexual castes — the domi­nant male and the woman his pos­session — and that liberation depends on the breaking down of the caste system and the smashing of sexism.

Gay women’s groups span the political spectrum. Gay Women’s Liberation Front believes the gay revolution is part of the revolution of all oppressed people. The key to Radical Lesbians is living new radical life styles and finding new ways to relating to women. Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) func­tions as an umbrella organization. It recently had two palace revolu­tions. It’s re-inventing itself in an effort to end a hierarchy of power and is now made up of a series or nine or 10 collectives with two coordinators.

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The DOB Center on Prince Street is now called the Lesbian Center and serves the entire les­bian political structure. The center has a lesbian school where courses are given by members of all three groups on carpentry and creative writing and collective theatre and dog training, among other things.

Sidney Abbott, writer, active in the gay women’s movement, says that as a result of the re-struc­turing “young women who were conservative are relating to the radical women and loosening up and getting more progressive. For instance, some radical les­bian women at recent dances stripped from the waist up and danced around in a circle hora style. The purpose of this was to affirm the beauty of being lesbian women. It’s a profound statement about feelings about self, if you take into mind that all women basically don’t like their bodies — ­their bodies are supposed to be dirty and objects of comments by men. It’s doubly true to lesbians. Even beautiful lesbians find their bodies too fat, too thin, ugly. The positive dance statement was un­derstood by the older women. Last Saturday some of them took off their bras too and joined in. It’s a whole new spirit. The joke going around now is that we think we’re so great we may want to reproduce. GAA may have to start a sperm bank for the women so that we groovy people can make even groovier people.”

The feeling of pride, the methods and means of achieving it, the development of a gay iden­tity, varies from group to group, from individual to individual. Many of the older professionals who regularly attend the West Side Discussion Group’s Wednes­day meetings feel a camaraderie exchanging pleasantries at the social hour that follows the dis­cussion. There’s an x-ray am­bience over coffee and fig newtons generally missing at the “sex object” haunts, the bars, the baths, the dark corners. The coffee klatsch exchanges about “taste” during the gay pride march and poor Lawrence of Arabia would send a gay activist screaming to his nearest fire­house. But to the doctor and law­yer who are not yet ready to risk a TV close-up with a picket sign, West Side is a push out of the clos­et, a step from consciousness zero to consciousness one.

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The consciousness of homo­sexuals into a pre-Vietnam war life style could be further height­ened by the passage of the fair employment bill sponsored by City Councilmen Burden and Clingan and Scholnick and Weiss, supporting the right of fair employment and fair housing for New York’s estimated 800,000 homosexuals. Discrimination on the basis of one’s private consensual sexual orientation would be illegal. The bill has recently been supported by John Lindsay; it’s also supported by Percy Sutton and Bella Abzug and a strong ma­jority of city councilmen and by a number of important citizens and organizations. But it’s been stag­nating in the General Welfare Committee since January­ — Thomas J. Cuite, vice-chairman and majority leader of the City Council, will not allow the bill to be released.

Richie Amato, head of Gay Ac­tivists Alliance Fair Employment Committee (he was Richie X until yesterday — he came out on television in celebration of Gay Pride Week), claims “Cuite promised that if we’d get councilmen outside of Manhattan to support the bill, it would be voted on. We did, and nothlng happened. He said we needed support from each borough. We got the support. Still nothing. Cuite’s decided single-handedly to block the bill. As far as I’m concerned, the democratic process is a fraud, and I’m speaking as a Democratic com­mitteeman.”

All of this past week there’s been pamphleting in the City Hall area to bring attention to the bill. On Thursday night there was a silent candlelight march from the Lesbian and GAA centers to City Hall. On Friday there was more pamphleting, more picketing. At 2 p. m. that day several GAA members tried to enter City Hall to lobby. They were stopped. A melee followed. There was push­ing and shoving and the police set up a barrier at the top of the front door steps. There were gay power and justice chants and nine arrests were made. Almost methodically, and perhaps more than coinci­dentally, four of the nine arrested from a crowd of approximately 80 protesters were four of the five elected GAA officers. Jim Owles, president, was the first pulled in. He had a 3:30 appointment with the Knapp Commission, where he was to report on rumored raids of gay bars scheduled for the week­end. He couldn’t keep the appoint­ment, since he was handcuffed to a chair. Arnie Kantowitz, vice-­president, and Steve Krotz, secre­tary, two of the less vociferous demonstrators, were picked from the crowd. Arthur Evans, the new delegate at large, and five other people were also arrested, all for disorderly conduct. They were taken to a room in the basement of City Hall, kept there for an hour, then transferred to the Fifth Precinct, and four hours later released on vera summonses. Cuite wasn’t around for any of this, nor was the Mayor. I talked to Michael Dontzin, the Mayor’s counsel, however, who assured me that the Mayor urged the pas­sage of the bill but has no control over the calendar of the legisla­ture and suggested that GAA work more on the Council to get the bill passed. Head against a stone wall time. One can only wonder again how much further we have to go to push past the trumped-up excuses — and cant.

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Straight-jacket laws, “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” (the boys in the band in jail), and staggered con­sciousness degrees notwithstanding, there’s a hell of a lot going for the homosexual this year, year 2, going on year 3, Stonewall A. D. The rather recently rented GAA Firehouse is a gay community center from which a gay community and a gay culture are quickly developing. It’s a four-story late 1800s job, located on Wooster Street in the SoHo district. In addition to the general meetings that drag out every Thursday evening, there’s committee work done throughout the week, symposiums, sensitiv­ity workshops, and the Saturday night liberation dances, a heaven cross between Woodstock Nation and Dante’s Inferno.

At the Saturday dance a week before Gay Pride Week, the joint was jumping with some women and hundreds and hundreds of men, swaying their bodies, stamping their feet, spouting movement talk and little nothings that could hardly be heard over the amplifying system that blared acid rock. Four floors of new free. The main dance takes place on the ground floor. In the basement, the air is cooler, the place less packed, the dancing less intensified. Tins of beer in iced gar­bage cans stand free form, and lambda-shirted attendants beckon one and all to help them­selves free of charge. The second floor is laid out with bridge tables and chairs and there’s a coffee nook at the side of the room, a “collapse” area away from the dance floor, a place to chat and dig. On the third floor, a video tape indoctrines a spellbound au­dience with a showing of the March to Albany for Fair Em­ployment.

Outside the Firehouse, there’s a line from here to Radio City. Two attendants at the door are not allowing anyone in because no one is coming out. Kissing is hello at the Firehouse, a handshake taboo, dancing the liberation con­nection. The firehouse dance that evening bit into the take of two of the three Village bars I visited. A bartender at Danny’s said their business was down 75 per cent from normal on Saturdays since the GAA dances began. An assis­tant manager at the Stud said their business was off 20 to 40 per cent. A bartender at the Triangle said “we don’t get the crowd that goes to those dances. The dances don’t affect us. Nothing GAA does affects us.” None of these bars, incidentally, are dance bars.

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A fashion show took place at the Firehouse during Gay Pride Week. It was put together by Ron Diamond who emceed in a top hat with pink plumes, sequined butterflies, open white fluff shirt, and shorts. Ron’s message, repeated over and over by the men and women models who paraded down the Firehouse steps and posed on a makeshift stage in rhumba outfits and bird of paradise feathers and leather and chiffon and satin and lace, is that gay people are now expressing their inner feelings in costumes that are an extension of the inner self. We are no longer hiding behind the jackets and ties and prissy dresses of the ’50s. If we care to be outrageous in our unisex clothes, in our role reversal outfits, in our see-through caftans and little foxes, right on. If bat­tery-lighted earrings are what we like, flash those lights. If a batman cape from the Pampas suits our fancy, spread those wings. If studs and leather are our scene, flaunt our scene. Ron claims it’s too bad we have to wear clothes at all, we’re beauti­ful without them. But since we wear them, wear what we feel. What we feel is what we are.

This week also included a drama titled “Requiem” put on by the Theatre Group. It had to do with the crucifixion of Christ and it was performed earnestly and some good wine and cookies were served as part of the pro­ceedings and it ended with a gay power chant that spelled out JESUS (give me a J, give me an E … ).

“What, if anything, can the arts do for gay liberation?” was the question posed by the moderator at a roundtable rap attended by Jill Johnston and Stuart Byron and yours truly from The Voice and Merle Miller who confessed in the Times and Jean-Claude van Itallie who wrote “America, Hurrah!” and Charles Ludlam, Jeff Duncan, Gordon Merrick, and John Button. The answer was bounced around a dozen different ways and the discussion frag­mented into a dozen different dis­cussions. When a homosexual ar­tist makes it big in a heterosexual society, he makes it big as a he­terosexual. Why the camouflage? Merle Miller said, “It would have been an immense help to me as a kid to know that Tchaikovsky was gay. Had I known that, it could conceivably have changed my life.” Out of the closets and into the arts. Charles Ludlam said “homosexuals have a responsi­bility to sabotage seriousness,” and shortly after disrobed, and he might as well have lighted a ciga­rette since no one paid any mind to the action. Jon-Jon, a move­ment staple, zapped the sym­posium for saying too many words and said the demon­strations as art forms are beauti­ful and that the transvestites and the street people are the real gay artists. Jeff Duncan said, “I can’t come out in my heart until the social structure is broadened.” Miller said, “The reason for coming out is essentially per­sonal. To me, it’s leading your life fully so your art can be full.” The moderator said, “We’re degen­erating,” and Ludlam said, “If we don’t degenerate, who will?”

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The man who heads the Culture Committee said, “Building a gay community is important. We dis­cover as we do it that the guilt has been lifted, and we find loneliness there. The loneliness will disap­pear when we finally become a community.”

The community will come. It will spring forth from the Lesbian Center and from the Firehouse and from the dozens of parlor dis­cussions and coffee klatsches and tete-a-tetes on park benches and shout-outs at committee meet­ings. The community will ema­nate self-respect and self-pride, those little things we want from gay liberation which ultimately come from ourselves.

Coming out is a beginning. Changing straight-jacket laws is a beginning. Zapping is a begin­ning. Marching to Sheep Meadow is a beginning. Dancing our way to liberation is a beginning. But only a part of it. Consciousness-­raising is another part. The day is coming when all of the parts will fit together and our history and experiences will be different from what they are now. Soon? Maybe. There are a hell of a lot of us working on it.

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A Happy Birthday for Gay Liberation

They stretched in a line, from Gimbels to Times Square, thousands and thousands and thousands, chanting, waving, screaming — the outrageous and the outraged, splendid in their flaming colors, splendid in their delirious up-front birthday celebration of liberation:

“Say it clear, say it loud; gay is good, gay is proud!”

“Two-four-six-eight; gay is just as good as straight!”

“Ho—Ho—Homosexual!”

“Out of the closets and into the streets!”

They swept up Sixth Avenue, from Sheridan Square to Central Park, astonishing everything in their way. No one could quite believe it, eyes rolled back in heads, Sunday tourists traded incredulous looks, wondrous faces poked out of air-conditioned cars. My God, are those really homosexuals? Marching? Up Sixth Avenue?

And they were. From New York and Philadelphia and Washington and Baltimore. From  Rutgers and Yale (Yale) and NYU. From staid old-line chapters of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, to Gay Activists, to the political radicals of Gay Liberation Front and the radical lesbians from the Lavender Menace. “Together,” they shouted, “together! G-a-y P-o-w-e-r. What does it spell? Gay Power! Again Louder! GAY POWER!”

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It was an event, the first mass coordinated event of the gay liberation movement. One year old this week. One year since the Sixth Precinct raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, and those insane, freaked-out, sexed-up drag queens went berserk and clawed back, actually fought with police in the streets and rioted, sent cops to the hospital, overturned cars, lit fires, and showed all the closet timmies that enough was enough, that the growing harassment and repression and terror was much too much. Too much bullshit from bar owners and Mafia and police and all the rest of pious straight society that thought gay was simply a huge giggle.

And here they were. Out in the streets again. Not the precious birthday party queers or “Boys in the Band,” not the limp-wristed, pinky-ringed, sad-eyed faggots of uptown chic, but shouting men and women with locked arms and raised fists.

Gay Pride Week began a bit more quietly, with a Wednesday sit-in action at Republican State Committee headquarters by Gay Activists Alliance. GAA is an activist offshoot of GLF, but confines its focus to homosexual questions, equality, and civil rights. It split from GLF when GLF became involved in Black Panther demonstrations. GAA is more militant than Mattachine and more sedate than GLF, which identifies with all oppressed groups, and is somewhat anarchic-freak in style and structure. GAA has worked to put pressure on elected officials to end job discrimination and sodomy laws, and says it might have provided the margin of victory for Bella Abzug, who got a rousing reception at a GAA meeting she addressed.

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Seven members of GAA sat in at the Committee’s 12th floor offices on 56th Street, demanding a public response from Governor Rockefeller, while a picket line of several dozen paraded outside  to the bewilderment of  East Side passersby. There was no satisfactory answer from Rockefeller’s office however — the only Republican official present was a woman, and as a Committee spokesman explained, “I really don’t think this is a … uh … subject that a lady would find … uh … palatable.” That pretty much ended any possibility of dialogue, and the first seven sit-ins of the gay movement were quietly arrested when the Committee’s office closed.

Much of the week’s activity swirled around the Washington Square Methodist Church on West 4th Street, where gay groups provided booths, information desks, first aid, free food, housing, and the opportunity to chat. Signs outside read “Gay Liberarion Front, Come In and Come Out,” and were an obvious treat for Village sightseers who littered and snapped away with their instamatics. (Across the way, however, 4th Street’s sedentary gypsies hardly batted an eye, deeply embroiled in games of chess, goh, and their bustling lampshade commerce.) There were also several dances throughout the city, workshops of Alternate U., and a well-attended Lesbian Center restricted to women.

The friendly church was unfortunately open game for hungry winos, who put something of a strain on the kitchen staff, and a strain on everyone when they muttered “faggot” on a free full stomach. “Even the Sabrett man on the corner came in and left with two plates of food,” complained one chef. But there were also straights who dropped by just to find out what was going on, and at one point a mass of Tennessee high school students poured downstairs from a church program to hear about gay liberation from a GLF member. “The reason we’re despised as homosexuals,” the GLFer explained, “is because we’re supposed to be effeminate and sissy and weak. We’re supposed to be womanish, and there’s supposed to be something wrong with being womanish. But I’ve been in the navy three years,­ I’ve played football and been a lifeguard, I’ve done all the John Wayne things society says men are supposed to do, and I’m still a fag. Well, Sunday we’re going to march up Sixth Avenue and you can stare and take pictures and scream fag all you want, and we’ll just say ‘fuck you.’ Because we don’t care any more. We don’t want anybody’s acceptance. We’ve begun to stand up by ourselves.”

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And the students looked at the man from GLF, and somehow he didn’t look queer. And they looked around, and there were all these men who really didn’t seem to have anything in common except they must be queer or else why would they be there? Still, it was strange, so many different kinds of queers, even some older men in business suits, men who talked in deep voices, men who looked as tough as anyone regular, men who were smooth and men who were hairy, and when you thought about it, they, the high school students, looked a whole lot more alike than the … what did he say? … the gay people. They’d have to think about that.

On Saturday, a number of gays donned giant sandwich boards reading “I am a homosexual,” and marched around the Village, trying to convince some straights to lend a gay hand and experience a little oppression first-hand. A street action by the Gay Guerrilla Theatre pictured a drag queen in front of a gay bar. The queen gave a $5 bill to the bar owner who gave it to the State Liquor Authority who gave it to the Mafia who gave it to a policeman who clobbered the queen with his nightstick.

Mafia control of gay bars is a continuing source of oppression of homosexuals. Many gays complain of exorbitant cover charges, watered drinks, overcrowding, and the constant threat of raids, terror, and embarrassment. Even the location of gay bars is oppressive, with many tucked in underground haunts and others located in the raunchy Siberia of Leather Land, under the shadow of parked trucks and the West Side Highway. Few gays offer any specifics about Mafia control, but gang influence seems pervasive, with a little help from the SLA, police, and public morality that condemns gays to a forbidden zone.

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Sometimes oppression is not so covert. Friday night, four gay men were walking along 14th Street at University Place when they were jumped by four straights from a car. Why? Because they were holding hands. The sin of sins. One of the gays was immediately knocked to the street unconscious — he needed 14 stitches in his head. Another lost two teeth. Three of the four went to the hospital. At the Sixth Precinct, police told the gays that if they wanted to file charges of assault, they would be arrested and counter-charged with harassment. No charges were filed.

And not all oppression is at the hands of the Silent Majority. Friends in the radical movement itself have sometimes turned up less than friendly. One of the first events or Gay Pride Week was a midnight benefit at the Elgin Cinema in support of the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, the group that organized the week. After the Elgin booked the gay benefit, however, it proceeded to schedule a benefit for the Venceremos Brigade on the same night. The Brigade apparently learned of the prior booking, but went ahead anyway. Thursday night, however, members of GLF showed up at the Elgin, switched off the projector, turned on the lights, and demanded that the Brigade hold its benefit some other night. The Brigade suggested the gays choose some other night, then suggested splitting receipts, both of which GLF rejected. After all, it was Gay Pride Week, not just any Thursday. And as things got tense, reports GLF, the Brigade called the gays faggots and threatened to rape them. Right now, the two groups are trying to work it all out. GLF has demanded that five of 20 persons sent to Cuba be gay. GLF has expressed its political communion with the Cuban revolution on a number of levels, but it refuses to tolerate anyone’s inhumanity toward homosexuals. “Members of the Brigade have the nerve to show us pictures of concentration camps for homosexuals — camps they never saw,” said one GLFer, “and tell us they were just nice health camps, that they were places where homosexuals were being helped to get their thing together. Goddammit, we don’t need to get anything together! They do.”

Even at Sunday’s march, there was a mini-confrontation when an 8th Street Black Panther paper-hawker called out “Get the Panther paper and stop all this foolishness.” Several gays pounced out of the line of march with angry cries of “listen, brother, cut that shit out!” It all ended peaceably with some tense shouts of “Right On!” and “Power to the People!” but it is clear that the radical movement is going to have some of the same problems with gay liberation that it has been having with women’s liberation.

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Just as many movement radicals are more readily attuned to racism than sexism, more willing to preach black liberation than cope with their own male chauvinism, so the gay movement has added a whole other dimension to the struggle, for some the logical extension of women’s lib. Women’s lib has begun to expose the plastic role mitosis of our society, the diseased polarities of male and female. More and more that analysis has led into an exploration of homosexuality as a realm where traditional sex roles are more easily jettisoned. (“Women’s liberation is a lesbian plot!” announced the Lavender Menace.) Many women have found it impossible to relate to men in a non-sexist manner, and have begun to re-discover their identity and sensuality through sisterhood. (There is nothing sacred about homosexuality, of course, male or female. Many gays play the same butch-femme role-games with the same arbitrary sex coordinates.)

For men, of course, radical brotherhood is with other peoples, Third World peoples, blacks, chicanos. We, as men, objectify our brotherhood because we can’t hug and kiss in the streets, because we are taught that sex is male and affection is female, and to be affectionate with another man is womanish. (One man alone is a man, but two men together equals a woman.) So we slap each other on the back and jab at each other’s shoulders — don’t touch too long.

The black experience is safely compartmentalized; we’re not about to change color or culture. But there is nothing stopping the heterosexual going gay. Who is a latent homosexual? That is the threat posed by gay liberation. It is a challenge to all our macho chauvinism, a challenge to shed our protective skin and open up ail the insides. The implications of gay liberation are not that everyone is gay, or that everyone should be gay (“you can’t knit a homosexual,” said one GLFer), or even that everyone must have a gay experience. The implications are that we must begin to cope with our own non-sexist loves and affections, and not let our sexual preferences distort and color our entire emotional life. To that extent gay liberation is not a problem, but perhaps the most profoundly revolutionary movement we are in touch with.

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Ideally, bisexuality is the pot of gold. But practically, there appear to be few honest bisexuals. Many male homosexuals who do have affairs with women, or are married and have affairs with men, often are simply clinging to the respectability and rewards of the heterosexual life, unwilling to accept the full impact of being gay. For straights, it is tempting to use bisexuality as a prophylactic in confronting the threat of the gay movement. Exclusive homosexuality, after all, is just as repressive and dehumanizing as exclusive heterosexuality. Even if there is some significant biological reality to bisexuality, however, it is clear that politically that logic belongs to an era when integration was the yellow brick road. As long as gays are oppressed, as long as they are beaten on 14th Street and quarantined in underground bars, as long as they are told they are less than complete, less than normal, less than human, then the first step in gay liberation must follow that of black liberation: black is beautiful, gay is good. And maybe when we can see through the screens of our own fears and frailties, maybe then we can begin to talk about integration and bisexuality.

Certainly Sunday’s march was a monumental step. Not everyone was quite ready for it. As the crowds began to swell around Sheridan Square, one man was pacing back and forth and muttering, “It’s too soon, it’s soon.” A Christopher Street resident told an interviewer, “Mankind is falling apart. It’s like the Roman era. Everything is decadent.” An irate older woman was having a fit because the assemblage was disrupting her 1 o’clock mass. Startled onlookers were doing triple takes at the spectacle, men kissing men in the street, women kissing women, everyone holding hands, and the crayoned signs of the Lavender Menace reading “We are the dykes your mother warned you about,” “Sappho was a right-on woman,” “Everything you think we are, WE ARE!”

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Among the marchers themselves, the majority were young, political, and freak. It was clear that the quiet West Enders still wanted to keep their homosexuality private, still saw their sex life non-politically, and were hesitant to share it with the cameras, tourists, employers, and families.

For sheer power of analysis, however, the day’s award must go to a burly-looking straight with a football helmet and letter jersey, interviewed for TV in Sheep Meadow. “What do you make of all this?” he was asked. “Well, I’m from Alabama,” he explained, “and at home you back into ’em everywhere. But it sure is something to see ’em all united. Hell, it sure is something.”

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Mike Umbers: Christopher’s Emperor

A week ago last Monday, Mike Umbers sat on the deck of his Gay Dogs on Christopher Street, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand, a Lark in the other, and talked about prostitution and pornography and real estate —  and himself. He said he was worried that the feds would soon be cracking down on him. Late Thursday, Christopher’s End, his heavily patronized all-male after-­hours bar, was raided and cleared out for the night for ABC liquor violations. Sunday morning, 4 a.m., the place was raided again, this time by the feds as well as city cops. Two of Mike’s employees were arrested and charged with failure to have the $56 federal tax stamps required for retail liquor dealers. Mike, who was not on the premises, escaped arrest.

Mike’s three big Christopher Street operations are Chris­topher’s End, when it’s open, the Studio Book Store, and Gay Dogs. All right-out exploitative. Mike calls himself a gay catalyst and flesh peddler. He deals in boy-boy sex. He describes Mark Litho, his publishing house, as a means to produce paper flesh that his Stu­dio Book Store peddles. Gay Dogs is cruising flesh. And Christopher’s End, with its backroom and nude boy shows, is climax flesh. Mike is also rumored to have his finger in the controver­sial Stonewall Inn. It was boarded up June 27, 1969, and won’t be re­opened until a liquor license is issued. Negotiations have been going on for several months. Right now, the second floor of the two-story Stonewall is occupied by a bevy of young men. The Stonewall proper is in construction limbo.

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Mike Umbers may be the “soft­-spoken maverick looking for sexual and financial freedom” described by Women’s Wear Daily, but he’s hardly the Umbers they depict who left his security analyst job at Hayden Stone eight years ago because “I disliked the coat and tie, the pretentiousness of the scene, and hated being packed into subways.” Eight years ago, Mike wasn’t riding subways. He was serving time on a first degree attempted grand larceny charge. Five years, from 1961 to 1965, shuttling between Clinton and Greenhaven and Auburn and Sing Sing. He says he went up on an insurance fraud and it was his first arrest, in fact the first time anyone from his Long Island family ever went to jail. In all four prisons, he worked for psychiatrists, pulling $5 a day. Prison was a tuition-free educa­tion for Mike, “the best education you can get.” When he came out, he had a grand total of $86 in his pocket and owed $40,000.

Contrary to Women’s Wear Daily (“after Wall Street, he began his own construction busi­ness”) Mike went into the boy-girl whoring racket. He says he was “the best male madam in New York with three houses on the East Side, all very luxurious.” One wonders how an ex-con up to his neck in debt, with no credit rating, can make it big and quick in the world of high-class uptown prostitution. The way Mike tells it, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of this good looking broad. The deal was for $300. The money came in dribbles. The broad would intermittently ex­cuse herself from the sitting, disappear for 20 minutes or so, come back, and pay Mike a little more.

The way fate has it, the broad was a whore, a high-class one, the highest in town. She and Mike took to shacking up together. He became her man. She gave Mike a daily allowance of $100. For some reason or other, they went off to Canada. He got busted on a white slavery charge. They came back to the States. But there was a long period when Mike was left alone with Susie’s fancy apart­ment and a ringing phone. So Mike took it upon himself to meet Susie’s girl friends and a few new girls to help satisfy Susie’s clien­tele. Soon Susie returned to reclaim her turf. Mike slipped into the male hustler scene. It’s a heavy scene. Mike got tired of fucking different women three or four times a day and got tired of playing the head games, telling this one I love you truly and as soon as she’s departed, telling that one I’ll marry you. Mike’s energy petered just in time. Three weeks after he got out of the business, the local cops busted down doors of apartments he’d moved out of. The FBI produced a two-inch dossier on him. He says, “I saw it when they tried to make me do something I didn’t want to do.” For the record, the blotter shows 10 Umbers arrests in addi­tion to the larceny term. The ar­rests include procuring and obs­cenity and criminal receiving and petty larceny.

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Mike in the summer of ’71 is not the slim Lothario he was a few summers back. He’s a little paunchy, a little tired, an air of defeat underneath the bravado. All things considered, though, he looks good at age 36. He’s got great pearly white teeth, short salt and pepper hair, kind green eyes, and a native intelligence that would work for him in any business, including security ana­lyst. Plus, he listens. The kids who fetch his cigarettes and sweep his Gay Dogs floors and fix his peep show machines react to Mike like kids trying to please a father. Mike in turn gives them a verbal pat on the head. But his eyes are miles away.

Mike Umbers is not the only one who is having his share of troubles. The July 18 raid on Christopher’s End was one of nine that took place on after-hours bars that night.

The Daily News labels the raids “a move to cut off one of or­ganized crime’s sources of in­come, estimated at $2 million an­nually from nine after-hours clubs alone.” It’s unlikely that income will be cut off for long. The cop at Christopher’s End figures the place could re-open in a few days. And the fed at Christopher’s End figures this is just small pickings in the over-all big syndicate scheme.

“What’s the next step,” I ask Mike Umbers. “Are we heading toward legalized prostitution?” Mike says he’s been approached by a buddy, a super cop on the In­telligence Division, a cop with only a few more years before ret­irement. The cop propositioned Mike about setting up a house. “He claims it’s the next thing Lindsay will do. He’ll legalize prostitution in special districts, maybe within the next year or two, allowing houses to exist. It’ll be a terrific source of revenue, and the Intelligence guy is smart enough to want to get into it at the start.” I ask Mike if he’s into prostitution now. Yeah, sort of, soft sell, through the Studio Book Store. He calls it a male escort service. It works like this. A dude hits town and heads toward the bookstore. He buys $40 worth of porno. So the next question to the clerk is “where can I score?” Out comes the models portfolio. Shots of 10 boy beauties, available at $25 to $50 an hour. The connec­tion is made. The customer pays. And Mike splits 50-50 with the model. All nice and clean, no hassle, everybody’s satisfied. What the model does on the job is his business. Mike doesn’t want to know from it.

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Mike, however, knows his sex business well. Well enough to give an impromptu lecture on the as­cending ladder of whoring. At the very bottom is the streetwalker. It’s the lowest form. The boys peddle their wares on Third Ave­nue in the 50s and West 42nd; the girls play the 40s and West 70s. They trick out of hotels, they do a lot of stealing and beating up of johns for money. They work the hardest and still earn nickels and dimes. “There’s little whoring in the West Village,” says Mike. “It’s the land of boy hustlers and the land of the freebies.” Next step up is the massage parlor. A girl works in the back room of a storefront that’s been converted. Mr. Customer walks in, gets a massage, and if he sounds right, gets more than a massage. The masseuse averages $100 a day. Step three is the man or woman who toils under a madam(e) in a house. The average pay is $150 a day and life is easy. Top of the heap is the call boy or call girl who has his own apartment and his own clientele. If his stamina and business sense are good, he can pull $300 a day.

Mike’s West Village real estate holdings include 714 Greenwich Street, a five-story residential building between West 10th and Charles, and 178 Christopher Hotel, which houses the Krone Gallery and is adjacent to the Christopher Hotel, home of Christopher’s End. He claims he owned these buildings before he went to prison. He also owns two East Village buildings (one is the former STAR house — see last week’s Voice) and East Side. The Christopher Hotel was one of the last addresses of Jerome John­son, Joe Colombo’s attempted killer. Did Mike Umbers know Johnson? “I’d seen him around,” he says. “He was a junkie. He used to hang out at the Keller Hotel. Like most junkies, he’d do anything to hustle a score.” Had Umbers been questioned about the Colombo shooting? “The cops were here three or four hours after it hap­pened. They got what I know.” (On Monday afternoon, after the weekend raids, Chief of Detec­tives Albert Seedman, who has been investigating the shooting of Joe Colombo, announced that Umbers was the link between Di Bella of the Mafia and Johnson.)

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I ask him what’s to become of the STAR house. “I plan on making it into a gay hostel” he says. ”It’ll have three floors of dormitory, and I’ll charge $1.50 a night. Anyone can stay there. I’m not interested in making money. I have gay businesses and I employ gay people. I started this whole empire myself, and I’m doing more for the gay community than any organization.”

I wonder what Mike means by “any organization.” Is he talking about gay liberation?

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A Case for ‘Cruising’

I share in the homosex­ual rage sweeping New York — a rage too long dor­mant — against the cen­turies-old abuse of homosexuals. That anger is now directed at stopping the filming of Gerald Walker’s novel Cruising by William Friedkin.

Two main arguments have emerged for stopping the film. The first is that it may unleash a wave of violence against homosexuals. The second is that its con­centration on the elements of cruising, leather bars, and sadomasochism may result in a distortion of all homosexuals by focusing on a small segment.

My thoughts on violence and censorship — the issues involved here — are shaped by intimate encounters with each. As a homosexual, I have seen “queer­bashers” with chains ready to lash in cruising turfs; have seen faces of homosex­uals branded with lead pipes by hate-pocked “straight” attackers; have heard the curdling epithet “Queers!” and the accompanying crash of glass; have ex­perienced the frustration of failing to get cops to move into assaulted areas they invade only to arrest homosexuals.

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As a writer, I have experienced censorship too. Last year in England an anti-homosexual group effectively banned a nonfiction book by me by threatening the publishers with a suit before publica­tion, thus intimidating booksellers into not carrying it. That book, the group claimed, would pervert by presenting homosexuality in a “positive” light.

I do not question the homosexual anger in New York. It is the particular nuances of this matter, and possible hidden ramifications, that I believe should be explored further. Now, it would be naive to deny the special impact of films. It is also risky to predict that impact; and it may prove dangerous, based on such prediction, to move into the quagmire of prior censorship. Censorship continues to be a major factor in the oppression of homosexuals. For years, the motion picture code forbade any treatment of homosexuality. Showings of Genet’s Un chant d’amour and Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks — groundbreaking homosexual films — resulted in raided theatres. Until recently, photo­graphic and verbal presentations of homosexuality were ipso facto causes for censorship. Confiscation of homosexual magazines and books was routine, and jail sentences resulted. Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar was denied advertising space. Only last year, The New Yorker rejected advertising space to a staid homosexual publication.

Where shall the line now be drawn, and by whom? Is Roots offensive for showing violence against blacks? Holocaust against Jews? Shall television news clips exposing war atrocities — factors in ending the Vietnam war — be censored? And news stories of murders and kidnappings? What about Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Hard Core, both of which contain gross scenes of heterosexual brutality rendered even more offensive by posturings of morality and gratuitous anti-homosexual implications? And Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange?

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Granted that Friedkin’s intentions may not be noble; remarks attributed to him from years back sound at best archaic today. (One should point out, however, that his film of Mort Crawley’s play, The Boys in the Band, was very daring and sympathetic for its time.) Undeniably, the producer of Cruising, Jerry Weintraub, has been vulgarly offensive, insensitive to real issues. But can one determine from a script a film’s full meaning, which is also shaped by essential elements of per­formance, editing, even music? It is not only Cruising that is involved here: The precedent set by preventing its production will reach out to all other films — and may ricochet.

What are the long-term effects? Will any group demand to see a script in advance? May the same argument be used against a film made by homosexuals and opposed by heterosexuals? Shall we determine artistic expression by popular consent? May we not inadvertently be assuring that no director, no producer­ — not even homosexual ones — will dare to deal with homosexuality on screen at all? Anita Bryant attempted to silence our voices before it could be known what we would say. Our mere presence in schools, she asserted, would pervert children, even bring violence on them. She interpreted the impact of our behavior and, prejudg­ing it, moved to ban it.

Thomas Paine saw the trap of selected censorship: “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

If this film turns out to be odious, might we not turn it to our advantage, clarifying the elements it has, even if distortedly, exposed? Might we not point out that the violence against us is a result of sexual repression and other outside pressures inflicted on us — that the seamy places shown are those we have been shoved into by those societal strictures? Might we not use it to expose the indif­ference to violence against homosexuals, and the fact that one of the major outrages we face is the latent homosexuality of cops who stalk us and even turn into “queer­bashers”?

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Might we not, further, encourage pow­erful but uncommitted homosexual direc­tors and producers to counter the Friedkin film’s purported distortions by dealing with our own realities instead of hiding, as those directors and producers often do, in musical inanities and films brimful of social conscience toward everyone except homosexuals? At present, the troubling subject of violence toward homosexuals dealt with in Cruising, however sensation­alized its treatment may turn out to be, is virtually unknown to other than the victims of that violence.

It is exposure, not secrecy, that precedes the solution of a problem. When, a few years back, a cruising park in Los Angeles was ravaged by a wave of “bashings,” it was media silence and police apathy — not exposure — that allowed the attacks to continue unabated night after bloody night until murder inevitably occurred.

The second reason proffered against the filming of Cruising — that it presents a negative view of the homosexual world — also needs close examination. I firmly believe that not even implicit criticism of the homosexual world may be made that does not contain a greater criticism of heterosexual totalitarianism. But once that is emphasized, it is dishonest to deny that many homosexuals prefer certain subjects of homosexual life to remain hidden — especially that of sadomasochism.

Understandably, in view of the rabid homophobia, some of us want to conceal all that can possibly be determined as “ugly,” even when that ugliness is implanted by heterosexual bigotry. The re­sult is that we often become the only minority intent on showing our oppressors how happy they have made us. We affect that by insisting doggedly on presenting a so-called “positive” image — often a eu­phemism for heterosexual imitation — even to the point of denying the enriching spectrum of our experience, including an abundant sexuality, which needs no apology.

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Beyond the immediate context of what Cruising may or may not show, some questions should be asked. Would we allow any other film to deal with some of the elements we are objecting to in Friedkin’s? Or should we banish them totally from exploration? Only from heter­osexuals or even from our own? Will there be a leap to demand to see advance galley proofs of magazine articles and books?

Is there, in fact, an increasing fascina­tion with sadomasochism and leather, especially in our proliferating orgy rooms? Are the orgy rooms altering the pattern of homosexual behavior? Do those who fre­quent them comprise a small “freaky” segment, or a growing faction on the homosexual landscape? And if it is a disturbing faction, does it not require, exploration? Conversely, if it is “small,” does that exclude it from exploration?

And finally, why does every homosex­ual film or book — unlike a heterosexual film or book — have to represent our entire world, each and everyone of us, when we have so many diverse and rich voices?

We homosexuals cannot improve our world for ourselves and for those who follow us — and improving it is a duty we should all feel — if we ban the exploration of our problems. They will not go away if we shove them into the closets from which we have ourselves emerged. The homosexual energy now crackling in New York and elsewhere against oppression has too long been unreleased. Now that we homosexuals have rediscovered the spirit of the Stonewall Inn protest, the power must be used strongly. But critically. For the fight still clearly looms.

Page 4 of 12.

Page 6 of 12.

Page 7 of 12. PAGE 8 IS OUT OF ORDER IN THE LIBRARY

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On ‘Cruising’: Why the Village Went Wild

Jerry Weintraub, the producer of Cruising, has been telling reporters that pissing off gay people is the best kind of publicity. “I mean,” he told me, “when does a picture in production have an edito­rial in The New York Times?” Surely, this is gallows humor. Even if the protesters don’t actually stop his film, their disrup­tions are bound to strain its $11 million budget. Their anger won’t be lost on the networks when Cruising comes up for TV sale. And they can dent its grosses (at least in the cities) by throwing up a picket line wherever the movie shows.

Pissed-off people can limit an audience to their enemies — and that’s bad marketing. David Picker, the executive vice-president of Lorimar Productions, must be pondering the wisdom of his predecessors, who decided to finance Cruising even though the smart money in Hollywood was against it. In the nine years that Gerald Walker’s book has been up for grabs, three producers have optioned it, including Bob Weiner, who wanted Paul Morrissey to direct. At least three studios (Warner, Paramount, and Fox) turned Friedkin’s screenplay down. Did Hollywood snub this film because it was anti-gay, or because it was gay? The question is all but academic now. Assuming it’s finished, Cruising will go down in history, if only because it marks the first time a citizens’ protest has been mounted against a film before it’s in the can. And it has brought the gay community its most potent or­ganizing tool since the murder of Harvey Milk.

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No one was more surprised by the crowd that cut through Greenwich Village last week than the organizers of this campaign. For the most part, they are journalists who caught onto Cruising because Hollywood is their beat. A copy of the script, leaked by a gay person in the production, confirmed their worst fears. There are three murders in the first 14 pages, all of them hinging on rituals of leather-bar persuasion that are hard to [ed. note: illegible]. Evidently, William Friedkin does not: His script is a testament to heterosexuality; its dialogue is as inauthentic as the movies Hollywood churned out about the hippies 10 years ago. Here, for example, is the killer, being cruised by his gay prey:

“Why haven’t I seen you here before?”

“Just got in.”

“Where from?”

“Chicago, Maine, Duluth, Mars. Who cares?”

“I beg your hard-on?”

“Look, it’s a boring, disgusting place — right…?”

“You wanna split?”

And here is what follows:

“Shut up!”

“No, no please.”

“Turn around.”

“Oh God! Oh God! No.”

“You’re not getting me hard!”

“You’re hurting me.”

“Eat this underwear! Get this underwear in your mouth!”

“Oh yes! Yes!”

“I’m gonna give it to you good.”

Enter the knife.

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Friedkin’s folly has been to take characters from The Boys in the Band, which he directed 10 years ago, and update their agony by dressing them in leather. The connection between homosexuality and homicide is impossible to avoid. Sex between men is, for Friedkin, a prelude to combat. Al Pacino plays a rookie detective who is tainted by his immersion in this milieu. Cop and killer face each other, pants down, in a climax that is positively Eastwoodesque.

“How big are you?”

“Party size.”

“What are you into?”

“I’ll go anywhere.”

“Do me first.”

“Hips or lips?”

“Go for it.”

They reach for their knives.

Weintraub says the script has been substantially altered in the last few weeks. Though he denies that the demonstrations had anything to do with these changes, there is now “a healthy gay relationship” in the film, and a disclaimer stating that what is being shown represents only a fringe of gay life. Al Pacino’s sexuality will be ambiguous, and so will the killer’s. “The written page is just a guide to what you’re going to do,” says Weintraub. “You can’t rate a film until you see it.”

It’s entirely possible that William Friedkin thinks this film will be erotic to homosexual men. It’s possible that all the people connected with Cruising thought they were doing something progressive by exposing a netherworld that many gays abhor. “What if the film serves as a warning to a young guy who comes to New York looking for a thrill?” Weintraub asks. “What if it says to him, don’t do this stuff; go and find a good relationship.”

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But intentions are besides the point, because this project comes at a time when the gay middle class is beginning to assert a sense of public propriety that is not so different from that of the black middle class. Disco is the most vivid expression of this joint aspiration, but so is a new conservatism about emblems of oppression, like the word “nigger” or the accouterments of S&M. If Jesse Jackson blows up when a “progressive” like Mick Jagger observes that “black girls like to fuck all night,” why shouldn’t gay people have the same response to a stereotype even if this one has its grain of truth?

“I’m not putting anything in this film that doesn’t take place every day and every night,” Weintraub says. “This is not fiction, what we’re doing. This is truth.”

In fact, the corner of the Village where Cruising is being shot has always been a mecca for those who depend on the kind­ness of strangers. Back when Billy Friedkin was impressed by wet dreams, gay people called the stretch of waterfront that adjoins West 14th Street “the casbah.” But its bars are designed to resemble a filmmaker’s fantasy of dangerous sex. Illusion — not danger — is the point. The people who go to these bars know they are visiting a Luna Park of the libido; most of the people who patronize Cruising will think they are seeing or­dinary life.

Billy Friedkin wouldn’t know ordinary gay life if it hit him in the face — which, apparently, it has. Thanks to pressure from gay-rights organizations that are usually at each other’s throats, all but one bar in the village have withdrawn their cooperation with the film. About 20 extras have quit, and some of those who remain have leaked confidential information about locations, so there’s been no escap­ing the demonstrators. They show up every morning, shrill as the disco whistles they wear around their necks. They taunt the actors and harass the crew. The company has temporarily retreated to the basement of a bar called the Catacombs, on West 14th Street. Friedkin has constructed a replica of the Mine Shaft there. One extra said each stud in that scene was getting $60, but there was an extra $25 for any extra who would simulate a blow job. He added that everyone was expected to provide his own gear.

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I visited the set Thursday morning. The extras lounging in dress leathers looked authentic enough, but they also seemed slightly passé, like last year’s Donna Sum­mer song. This was in marked contrast to the demonstrators, who sported no regalia of any sort. Instead of the dangling keys and “hot hankies” that figure so promi­nently in Friedkin’s vision of gay life, these people were wearing buttons with small pink triangles, to commemorate what gay prisoners wore in concentration camps. The march itself, which paused at bar after waterfront bar to summon the patrons inside, seemed to be a way for gay people to signal each other that the time has come to stop flaunting fetishism. These weren’t radicals, though remnants of the Gay Activist Alliance were certainly visible when the going got tough. This was the gay MOR, spurred on by the closest thing he has to a political leadership in this town. As its ranks swelled, something larger than William Friedkin’s homophobia was addressed. After years of stereotyping imposed from without and absorbed from within, this particular rank and file was serving notice on the Great American Dream Machine that it could no longer peddle its fantasy of gay life as if it were the real thing.

“We won’t be a background for their exploitation films,” said Ron Gold of the National Gay Task Force, over the bull­horn at Sheridan Square. Then, perhaps a thousand people set off down Christ­opher Street, with a more abrupt version of those remarks. They shouted, “No more shit!”

It was the closest thing to a long hot summer the city’s seen this year. All week, the Village rang with the rampage of gay people who had anything but cruising on their minds. They blocked Sixth Avenue, Seventh Avenue, West Street, 14th Street. They threw bottles and bricks, smashed windows, slammed into cars and trucks. The Sixth Precinct was kept busier than at any time since Stonewall. There were five arrests and perhaps a dozen injuries, mostly of demonstrators who wandered away from the crowd. One cop was kicked in the balls; it made page one of the Post. The next day, Tony Baska’s picture made page eight. In the photo, he is being “persuaded” to lean against a car. A bit later, however, he was pummeled, cuffed, thrown to the ground, kicked, and clubbed — by five cops. Alone in a cell, Baska told me, he heard the police talking about the demonstrations. “I think they should be decapitated,” said one of the city’s hippest cops, the guys who play against the gay softball league each year. “These pansies are trying to act like men.”

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Tony Baska recalled the rally he’d attended at the Washington Square Meth­odist Church a few days before. Half a dozen gay leaders exhorted people to commit civil disobedience. “Call if you get busted,” they each said. Baska was permitted one shot at the telephone, and he dialed the Gay Switchboard. A tape told him to call back in the morning.

“It’s unreal,” said Betty Santoro, of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. When things got heavy, she called 15 gay lawyers, but all of them were too busy to work for free. She finally had to rely on the National Lawyers’ Guild, which is straight, or at least, nondenominational. “The people who started this aren’t carry­ing through on their responsibility,” San­toro says. “The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and the right hand is running the show.”

What she means is that, even though an ad hoc committee sponsored this cam­paign, its impetus came from the move­ment’s moderate wing — especially the Na­tional Gay Task Force. The militant Gay Activist Alliance call this “The National Gay Tom Force,” but both organizations rely on each other’s presence, though they revile each other’s ideology. NGTF counts on the GAA to stir things up so it can move in to work things out. The only problem is, nobody controls the enrages, and when the shit hits the fan, nobody is there to help them out.

Last week, the GAA was relatively restrained, but that didn’t stop the occa­sional bottle from being thrown or the flash of studded belts when the cops drew near. Straight provocateurs, some people muttered. Yet clearly these were young gay people out to show their rage, but there was no strategy for them to follow, so they roamed the waterfront along with everybody else, smashing car windows and taunting the police. This, too, could be blamed on the organizers, who were so ambivalent about the need for civil disobedience that though some of them advo­cated it, they were unwilling to organize it.

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On top of this, the ad hoc committee made a spectacular blunder when it de­cided early on to throw the matter into the mayor’s lap. Maybe the NGTF thought its connections at City Hall would prove more powerful than the economics of the situation, but a little research would have shown that the Mayor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television has done everything to cooperate with filmmakers short of paying them to work here. Last March, when the Board of Education refused to allow a movie called Hot Lunch to film at the High School of Performing Arts because its script contained refer­ences to marijuana and teenage sexuality, the mayor’s office tried to overturn that decision. The Board of Ed won out, but the city promptly rented Haaren High School to the filmmakers for $1.

Last week, three members of the ad hoc committee met with Nancy Littlefield, the mayor’s movie scout. Weintraub sug­gested at that meeting that he couldn’t be responsible for his crew’s reaction if the demonstrations got violent. His indication that there were Teamsters on the set, coupled with the fact that some unsavory owners of waterfront bars may have served as consultants on this film, led some people in the ad-hoc committee to con­clude that the mob has an interest in Cruising. “That’s nonsense,” says Weintraub. “That’s propaganda. I have no connection with anybody. The Teamsters on my set are working people. Somebody comes along and yells obscenities at them, in this heat, they’re liable to get their noses out of joint.”

The city is extending the usual courtesies to the producers of Cruising: police protection, permit facilitation, per­mission to store equipment on a city pier. The ad hoc committee asked the mayor to revoke the permits and rescind the police. This wasn’t a matter of censorship, they contended; it was simply a matter of withdrawing cooperation. Said Ethan Geto, a veteran gay activist and an assis­tant to State Attorney General Robert Abrams: “We are simply asking the city not to put its imprimatur on an offensive, abusive vehicle.”

The mayor declined, citing the First Amendment and refusing to interfere in any way with the content of a film being shot on the streets of New York. Some of the demonstrators agreed, especially within the NGTF, where Koch has strong support within the gay community. But Doug Ireland, who was beaten by a bouncer for leafleting in a gay bar, won­ders: “Would the mayor allow a remake of Birth of a Nation in Harlem, or Jew Suss in Borough Park?” Is Cruising good for New York? I asked Nancy Littlefield, who is the mayor’s movie scout. “Anything that brings in $7 million is good for New York,” she said, and then hung up.

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Andrew Stein has proposed the community boards be informed in advance of films that shoot on their streets. The mayor disagrees: “I do not believe community boards should have the right to decide what books shall be shown in bookstores in their areas, what paintings shall hang in museums in their areas, what movies shall be shown in theatres in their areas, or what films should be made in their areas, as long as what is done is lawful.” But Tony D’Apolito, the chair­man of Community Board 2, which in­cludes the Village, says, “Community boards don’t have the right to decide anything. We’re asking for the right to be consulted. By asking our opinion, we might be able to save them from making a mistake.”

Most of the demonstrators do not intend to stop William Friedkin from making this film; they just want to get him out of the neighborhood. Let him make Cruising in the studio, where he’ll have to pay through the nose to make it look real. Then there are those who want the film stopped entirely because they say it will cause murder on the waterfront. Arthur Bell has characterized Cruising as “a snuff film. This isn’t a civil-liberties issue,” he told a crowd in Sheridan Square. “This is a matter of survival.” Nice rhetoric, I thought, but then I visited the set.

I saw the cops hassle three guys who were taunting the demonstrators. “Why you picking on us, we’re the only ones who aren’t queer?” They were out to avenge the honor of Al Pacino, their favorite star. I asked why they thought the queers were in the streets. “They just want publicity,” said one guy, who owns a gas station near the set. Then he pointed to the demon­strators who looked most like leaders, the ones who were giving interviews to the press. “You wipe out that guy and that one over there,” he said, “the whole thing dies.”

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Page 4 of 12.

Page 6 of 12.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

On ‘Cruising’: The Hollywood Hassle

The Cruising company departs New York this week, leaving behind a load of unresolved issues. Most of these have been argued in The Voice. Some will be resolved only after the film’s release. But one issue has been overlooked that goes beyond civil rights: the obligation the city has to its people to make certain the production of a movie doesn’t mess up their lives.

•••

Two weeks ago, Steve Askinazy, age 30, co-owner of Chez Stadium Restaurant on Greenwich Avenue, former owner of the Ballroom, returned from a conference of gay and lesbian Jews in Tel Aviv. One of the first functions he attended was a meet­ing of Community Planning Board No. 2 (he is a member). Askinazy was among several who convinced the board that vio­lence would certainly erupt if Cruising were to be filmed on Christopher Street. The following day, the board sent a letter to Mayor Koch asking him to deny the film crew a permit for that locale “so as to ease the tension in our community.”

On Monday evening, August 20, Askinazy wore a University of Tel Aviv T-­shirt (the lettering was Hebrew) and a yarmulke to Sheridan Square, where he heard speakers proclaim that a symbolic victory had been won: store owners, bar owners, and residents of Christopher Street had made it impossible to film that evening because they had locked their doors, shrouded their own signs, and put up others which read: “STOP THE MOV­IE CRUISING.” Instead, the crew would shoot on West and Perry.

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So, with 700 protesters, Steve Askinazy marched to the new location. He kept an eye on the crowd, as did the 30 other gay marshals and the 200 cops assigned from various precincts (this figure includes the Tactical Police Force). At no time were the protesters allowed within two blocks of filming, but whistles, chants, and appeals to “Stop Cruising!” were heard as far north as 14th Street.

Earlier, there had been an incident involving the cutting of a cable wire, and one demonstrator was hit on the head by a missile. At 9:30 p.m., another confronta­tion occurred and a demonstrator was ar­rested and taken to the Sixth Precinct. An hour later, a commotion erupted on the river side of West Street. A group of ap­proximately 100 protesters tried to inch their way forward and six cops on horses charged at them, dispersing the crowd and causing pandemonium.

Askinazy, who was on the other side of the street, ran toward the commotion, hoping he could do something to cool down the crowd. Halfway there, he remembers, “Several demonstrators ran in my direc­tion, and I decided to run with them instead, away from whatever disturbance was taking place. A cop blocked my path. I spun around and another cop blocked me. The two closed in. I froze, ready for them to arrest me or tell me to leave. They threw me against a car and beat me with nightsticks. Within seconds, four other cops joined them. Six of them were beat­ing and kicking me on the back, head, and stomach. I fell to the ground. One tried to suffocate me by putting his hand over my nose and mouth. I thought I was dying. I don’t remember feeling the pain — just the terror.”

Askinazy was arrested and booked. He was charged with endangerment, resisting arrest, and harassment. He was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital for treatment of severe bruises, stomach pains, and a con­cussion. He is still at St. Vincent’s.

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•••

William Friedkin, his crew, and his star, Al Pacino, invaded Jones Street Au­gust 10. Residents on the block hadn’t received prior notification. Nor had they been asked how they felt about Cruising being shot on their block. According to a Jones Street resident who didn’t want her name made public, “The cops had the street cordoned off by 8 p.m. They didn’t allow us into our buildings without first showing identification. They escorted us in. They were on practically every rooftop. At one point, they were lined up shoulder to shoulder, halfway down the street, like they were awaiting the arrival of Jimmy Carter.

“The cops are more interested in pro­tecting the rights of moviemakers than the people who live in this city. There have been instances of people being mugged in the Village and it’s taken them an hour to come. Here, they were out full force for a few minutes of movie shooting. Is this where our tax money’s going?”

•••

In Central Park, an Erie Transport truck carrying production equipment plowed through the Rambles to the spot where Paul Sorvino finds a mutilated body. The truck tore low-hanging branches off trees and left tire scars in the grass. At 26 Ninth Avenue, where the Metropolitan Community Church is housed, the crew took over a butcher sup­ply shop next door, converting it into an s&m-gear toyshop. Without notice, they shut off electricity in the building housing the church and shut down the elevators.

On August 13, they brought their equipment to 140 Claremont Avenue, near 122nd Street, and almost immediately trouble started. Once again, there had been no prior warning. Martha Williams, a cellist and faculty member at Man­hattan School of Music, noticed that “a prop man was pasting labels over our names on the mailbox and door buzzers. I told him to stop — it was illegal.” A couple of days later, he was doing it again. A neighbor started photographing him in the process and he quit. One day, the crew began shooting a scene in the lobby. Wil­liams was with several neighbors — they refused to move. “After all, this is my home,” Williams said. “This is where I’ve lived for 13 years.” The production man­ager called the cops. Four came from the 26th precinct and another four from the Tactical Police Force. They told Williams that the landlord’s lease with the film company superseded her rent lease and that she had to move from the hallway or they’d give her a summons. If she still did not move, they’d take her downtown to criminal court and put her in jail for the night. They also instructed her that she couldn’t get in or out of her building while the crew was shooting.

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Williams lives with her husband in Apartment 4A, next door to where the movie killer and mutilator of gay men resides (he’s played by Richard Cox). At 3 a.m. on the morning after the hallway confrontation, Williams and her husband returned to their apartment. She put the key in the lock and found she couldn’t open the door. Crazy glue had been poured on the keyhole. The couple went to the 26th precinct and called a locksmith. It cost $108 to repair the damage. When they finally got in, they found a message on the answering machine. It said, “You know, you’re a jerk. If you had cooperated with the film crew, they would have been all right and you would have been all right. You got what you deserved. Screw you.”

Brian Kirschner, who lives in Apart­ment 4C, found a sign on his door calling him “QUEEN OF THE YEAR” (Kirschner is straight). His apartment had been broken into, his lease and paycheck stolen, and his records vandalized.

The day before, Kirschner was playing his stereo when crew members began pounding on his door. They pounded so hard he thought the door would cave in. The next thing he knew, the electricity in his apartment had been cut off. They turned off the electricity in Martha Wil­liams’s apartment too, because she was using her vacuum cleaner. On Thursday, August 16, she was playing Bartok’s Sixth when the electricity was turned off, for the second time that day. It stayed off for two hours. Williams phoned the police. They said, “Call Con Ed.” She called Con Ed. They said, “Phone the police.” She phoned the Mayor’s Office for Motion Pic­tures and Television and asked for director Nancy Littlefield. She got assistant Meredith Anthony instead.

Meredith Anthony told Martha Wil­liams, “The Cruising crew is sensitive and professional.” She further said that the mayor’s office has no jurisdiction outside of actual filming on city streets.

“Do you mean that a tenant in this situation has no rights and no recourse against the city?” asked Williams. “I’m afraid that is the case,” answered An­thony. Later on, Williams spoke to Nancy Littlefield, who promised to call the prod­uction office. That was the last Williams heard from Littlefield’s office.

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•••

I phoned Nancy Littlefield. In fact, I called her five times during the week I wrote this story, leaving messages each time. Finally, I received a call from her assistant. “Miss Littlefield has no com­ment.” On anything? “That’s right. Miss Littlefield has no comment.”

Garbo has that option but certainly no public servant does — so I phoned the mayor’s office and complained. An hour later, Nancy Littlefield was on the phone. Had she relayed Martha William’s complaint to the Cruising production office? Yes, she replied. They assured her that Williams’s electricity would be turned on.

Littlefield reiterated that problems be­tween tenants and film crews were not within her jurisdiction. Indoor shooting is a “private, individual thing that a film company negotiates.”

Would the Cruising agonies hurt future film projects in New York?

“I don’t think it’s going to help or hinder. Censorship will hurt.”

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•••

When all this mishagas started, Mayor Koch summoned me to City Hall. He asked me to come alone. He wanted to explain his position. For 25 minutes, I listened to him discuss feelings. His feel­ings are he doesn’t believe the city should censor books or movies, no matter what the content. He hadn’t read the Cruising script, nor the synopsis in the Post. Besides which, that wasn’t the point. “Whether I like the script or not, the city has an obligation.”

He then went on to say that he’s “the best mayor this town has ever had, protec­ting people and their rights.” I told him to stop the soapbox. It occurred to me how touchy this business must be for him. Had he done too much for the gay community by issuing an executive order right after election? Or not enough by failing to get the gay civil-rights bill passed? Were in­nuendos to haunt him all through his administration? Why wouldn’t he try to understand the political issue of Cruising?

We were playing twin soliloquies, and I was getting mad. As I started to leave, the mayor said, “You’re not going to shake my hand?” By reflex, I shook his hand. I used to like him when he wasn’t mayor.

Cruising isn’t the only film to disrupt New York, but no other movie has caused as many problems. Godfather producer Al Ruddy conferred with Italian Americans in 1970 before filming. They made it clear they wouldn’t allow Ruddy to shoot his big wedding sequence as planned, at an Italian-owned manor on Long Island. It was shot on a Staten Island estate instead. Whistles and noisemakers slowed down filming of Cotton Comes to Harlem on Harlem Streets. Protesters claimed that Cotton depicted blacks in a stereotypical and negative manner. Badge 373, with script by Pete Hamill (who has supported Friedkin in two Daily News column and whose book, Flesh and Blood, will be made into a TV movie by Jerry Weintraub, the producer of Cruising) faced opposition from Puerto Ricans in the summer of 1973. Meetings with director Howard Koch took place at the Paramount offices. Puerto Rican spokesmen threatened that theatres showing Badge 373 would be bombed. The theatres weren’t, but the movie bombed anyway at the box office despite heavy media coverage.

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(Advance publicity doesn’t make a bad movie a hit. Cleopatra was the most pre­-publicized film in history due to the loony romantic shenanigans of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during production in Rome. Nevertheless, it was a critical and financial disaster. Not even the terrorist stakeout of an embassy helped Muhammed: Messenger of God. Muhammed was pulled from theatres at the height of the Washington rumble and reinstated after the real-life drama had run it course. It didn’t benefit from the headlines. Another Time, Another Place was released in the mid ’50s after Lana Turner’s daughter stabbed Lana’s lothario lover. Lana was a big star and revelations about her abundant love life sold papers, but they couldn’t sell her stinky film.)

Several films in progress have tied up city traffic and caused entire neighbor­hoods sleepless nights. The Warriors was problematic before it was released. Real-life gangs riffed with cast members, and the producers had to pay off the toughs in order to assure peace on the shooting site.

When Kojak shot in front of Fran Lebowitz’s building in the Village, the author of Metropolitan Life innocently left her apartment carrying 25 pounds of laun­dry.“’Go back in,” production men shouted. Fran did not obey. “I’m doing my laundry,” she said. “I’m not trying to break into show business.” They let her go to the laundromat, but when she returned a cop stopped her and said, “You can’t go in there.” “Why not?” Fran inquired. “I live here.” “They’re making a Kojak mov­ie,” the cop replied. Finally, the director intervened. “Listen kid,” he said to Fran. “Help us out. You can watch us work.” Fran retorted, “I’ve got a column to knock out. Why don’t you walk upstairs with me and watch me work?”

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Fran is opposed to moviemaking in New York. She maintains, “It’s like the Shriner’s parade. They should have it somewhere else.”

Most everyone else is all for it. When Woody Allen films his Manhattan love sonnets, neighborhoods go out of their way to respond with generosity. When The Goodbye Girl was shot in the West 70s, simulated rain flooded half a city block; local kids splashed in it and applauded Richard Dreyfuss, who applauded back en route to his dressing-room trailer. Martin Scorcese took over East 13th between Sec­ond and Third for a few days of Taxi Driver, and the shoot was like a street carnival. Director, producer, publicist, crew, treated the citizen’s with affection and respect. They responded in kind.

Cruising is a different story. Friedkin doesn’t speak to people. I’ve no doubt that had he at least conferred with the Com­munity Planning Board, problems in Greenwich Village would have lessened. Had he dealt with gay groups, he’d have had an understanding of the inciteful na­ture of his script. If he had a sense of social justice, perhaps he’d have altered his script, which, in effect, says that murder is the result of gay sex. (The murder sequences in Cruising are filmed like prod­uction numbers in an M-G-M musical — ­each more spectacular than the last.)

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Ethics, professional or personal, mean nothing: Disrupting citizens’ lives is some­thing producer Weintraub and director Friedkin couldn’t care less about. (Wein­traub told Martin Burden of the Post, “I wish they’d got the title right in the picket signs. It’s Cruising, not Cruisin’ ”). Budget is relative — they’ve gone over by at least a week. However, much of the money going into Cruising is coming from reluc­tant taxpayers, and more has been lost by individual merchants such as those on Christopher Street who willingly closed their shops rather than participate in the making of the film. Thousands of police hours have gone to keep angry gays in their place while Friedkin filmed his anti-gay movie. (A sound technician at the lab where Cruising is being processed told me the film is not only anti-gay, it’s anti­-human.)

Another bit of local fallout is the mor­als division’s August 15 raids on Crisco Disco, the Mine Shaft, and the Anvil. They were the first major police raids on gay hangouts in a decade. Fourteen men were arrested and charged with selling or serving liquor without a license. Sgt. Phil­lip Tambasco of the Public Morals Division maintained, “The raids had noth­ing to do with Greenwich Village protests by homosexuals against the filming of Cruising.” Lawrence Gedda, State Liquor Authority commissioner, claims, “When one of these places hits the newspapers and gets a certain amount of notoriety, it gets raided.” Both the Mine Shaft and the Anvil received media attention because they denied Friedkin and company access to their facilities.

•••

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In Hollywood, Larry Marks chats from his office on the Paramount lot. Marks is vice-president of production and market­ing at Paramount. He feels that “Future movies that are potentially dangerous on an explosive subject will no longer film in New York. People there are more in tune. Films like Cruising will have to shoot in Kansas City.”

Does that mean they’ll still make mov­ies with fag jokes and anti-gay themes, but away from Manhattan? Larry Marks thinks less so. “I can feel the effects already. Industry people will be more careful about gay lifestyles and the kind of gay ingredient that should be in a script.

“To use a cliché, what you’ve done in New York is raise consciousness.”

What Cruising‘s done in New York shouldn’t happen in Kansas City.

Page 10 of 12.

Categories
Equality From The Archives Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Dead Boys: Fast Sex and Slow Suicide on the West Side Docks

Dead Boys: Fast Sex and Slow Suicide on the West Side Docks
January 30, 1990

AT TWO A.M. THIS BILIOUS TUESDAY, Pookie hops off the low wall of the pier and fastens a moistened forefinger to his ass. “Fsssssssss,” he goes, flashing his frog-eyed crack grin, “I’m hot like a full-time motherfuck.” On the instant, all the pretty cars come courting, making the hairpin turn at the north end of the dock. A black Saab swings by, a silver Volvo hard behind him, slowing to get a load of the short, plump kid with the sort of epicene beauty peculiar to boys of a certain age. At the back of the pack, the guy in the blue Town Car leans on his horn.

The Town Car pulls up; its passenger window whirs down. A broad, pink man with a polished skull peers out, composed as a corpse in his Chesterfield topcoat. “Aren’t you freezing in that little thing?” he inquires. “Aren’t you hot in that big thing?” says Pookie, popping his head in. “I don’t recall seeing you out here before.”

“And might not see me out here again, so best pick up while the iron is hot. Is your iron hot, love?”

The Pink Man’s eyes play up and down the boy. “How old are you, 15?”

“At least!” Pookie trumpets. “Plus tax.”

The Pink Man frowns and looks away awhile, performing his moral arithmetic. “Get in.”

Pookie jumps in. In the eight or 10 seconds it takes the Town Car to hit the exit. Pookie is across the seat and in the Pink Man’s embrace. “That’s a fuckin’ yo-yo right there,” sneers Georgie, who at 18 looks spent, his face cinched up like an old canvas bag. It is impossible to tell whether his is the voice of experience or envy. “I told him, ‘Stay in the loop till you know the game.’ Instead, he’s gonna bust right outta here with a stone-cold freak. I laugh if he come back here with a knife in his chest.”

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IF YOU ARE SITTING on that wall at two in the morning, the cold and damp on you like a molestation, chances are you aren’t one of the sleek-skinned kids who turns up here on weekends for the party off of Christopher Street. Chances are even better that you aren’t one of the buttoned-down 20-year-olds hustling a place like Rounds on 53rd Street, pre­senting your business card — Professional Escort — to the Aquascutum crowd. No, the chances are you are what they call a “dead boy” down here — a throwaway be­tween the ages of 16 and 20, homeless and hungry and, like as not, in ill-health.

According to Covenant House, the ex­perts by default, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 adolescents on the streets of this city: the kids from the Koch pest­-houses like the Martinique, the Prince George; the kids off the Greyhounds, flee­ing predaceous families; and the kids shot out of the foster care system, New York’s sprawling pathology factory. The most desperate of them eventually land with a thud on the docks, where not even the salt in the air can preserve them.

For the past several months, these kids have talked to me about certain johns who heal them up as a sort of postsex purgative; about the perils of sleeping amongst the crazies at the shelters; about the crackheads and dealers who ride herd on the scene, picking kids off on the fly. But in a sense all of this is overkill, because if you stack it up together and pile on things like polyaddiction and double pneumonia, the sum total will not finish off as many of the kids I spoke to as their numb indifference to AIDS. According to the CDC, the number of kids nationally between 13 and 19 with full-blown AIDS cases has more than doubled in the last two years.

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Everyone on the docks has a pocketful of condoms. Project First Step, the outreach arm of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, dispenses them nightly with the strenuous injunction to please use them. But pull a kid aside, out of earshot of the pack, and he’ll tell you that (a) he doesn’t need them, (b) the johns won’t wear them, and (c) a rubber these days is just a bargaining chip — “they’ll give you five, maybe 10 more bucks to let ’em do it skin-on-skin.”

“In the first place, I fuck, I don’t get fucked,” harrumphs Arnie, the tall, haggard kid to whom Covenant House intro­duced me. “In the second place, I get sucked, I don’t suck. Does it sound to you like I need to put on a bag?” Actually, I tell him, it sounds like he needs to put on two.

“Nah,” he sneers, sliding down in his seat. “I’ve been out here running game going on like six years now. And every time they test me…” he clucks, giving me his stagey grin. “Clean as the Board of Health.”

“Twelve per cent of the older kids who come into our system test positive for HIV,” reports George Wirt, Covenant House’s tireless VP of Communications. That figure is staggering, matched up against the national infection rate of 4.3 per thousand, but, as Wirt says, “You really can’t even go by the 12 per cent. Most of the kids who’ve been out there hustling for any length of time don’t even come into our system. The real number has got to be significantly higher.”

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Covenant House is itself a telling gloss on the problem. For all its celebrated good works — and even its detractors agree that life in this city would be un­thinkable without CH’s interventions­ — the agency is notorious for giving gay kids a hard time. At the crisis center on 41st Street, effeminate boys are thrown in with the hardass straights, with the predictable result that some “get raped, or beat up, or harassed to no end,” says the director of another agency who de­clined to be named. And Joyce Hunter, the director of social services for the He­trick-Martin Institute, a small but ex­traordinarily effective agency whose charter is the protection of gay and lesbi­an youth, tells the story of a kid who once called her in desperate shape. “I referred him to Covenant House. Where else could I send him? He said, ‘If that’s the best you can do, I’ll take the streets,’ and hung up. That call still haunts me now. It’s why we decided to start this agency.”

And even as Covenant House beats the drum about teenage AIDS, it stands on its refusal to hand out condoms. Instead of safe sex, it preaches abstinence to these kids, proving that Catholic obscu­rantism isn’t dead, it’s just gone private sector. This isn’t to scapegoat Covenant House, which recently opened up a floor for homeless kids with AIDS, and is re­viewing its policy of lumping gays in with straights. The point is that, outside of a cluster of small agencies, these are kids without a port in a perpetual storm.

“No one’s set up for what’s about to come down,” warns Wirt. “Nationally, there’s God knows how many kids infect­ed right now. You’re going to need a whole array of new responses once those cases incubate.”

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Certainly, the old responses aren’t working; Covenant House loses two of every three kids who come into its care. The up-at-six-lights-out-by-10 Boys Town lifestyle can’t begin to compete with the street kid’s “deathstyle,” as Tru­dy Peterson, the director of the Streetwork Project, calls it. Peterson, a vivid blonde woman in her middle forties who’s been working with these kids for almost 20 years, says that what they’re aggressively engaged in these days is a kind of “slow suicide. ‘I’m gonna take a bunch of drugs, and I’m wiped out, and my immune system’s crazy, and it’s five degrees out, and… I’ll get in this car with three guys, knowing they’re sadists and will abuse me…’ ”

Kids are, by definition, creatures of the moment, oblivious to their mortality. But on the docks, the denial is double-walled. Behind the customary teenage omnipotence is the thick shale of grief and rage. “Virtually every kid I see here is a badly abused child,” explains Elizabeth Mas­troieni, Covenant House’s straight-shoot­ing AIDS educator. “So many of them were sold, or seduced, or beaten by their parents, or just flat-out abandoned… For a lot of [the kids], hustling is really a reenactment of what they grew up with, only now they’ve got the control. Instead of lying in bed helplessly waiting for the parent to come in, now they’ve got the power to say yes or no — and get paid money to do the thing, on top of it.”

By CH’s estimate, there are a million homeless kids hustling sex in this coun­try. In New York, they happen to be largely black and Hispanic, but in Miami and Fort Lauderdale they are overwhelm­ingly white. And in L.A., reports Wirt, just back from a fact-finding trip out there, the kids are in flight from split-­level houses. “We’ve never seen anything like it. There are little cities of kids thing under the Santa Monica Freeway.”

Nor does the thing hang neatly on the peg of sexuality. For every boy on the dock who acknowledges he’s gay, there’s another who’s vehement that he’s “got a girlie in Queens, and a little baby on the way.” No, the only thing these kids can be said to have in common is that they’ve been sabotaged by the very people life appointed to protect them.

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I WILL LIVE TO BE a hundred,” declares Diego, a sweet, expressive kid who bends like an antenna against the breeze. “I won’t get no disease, no one can’t hardly hurt me, ’cause life already used up all its bullets on me. If it wanted to finish me off, it woulda did so when I was four.”

We are walking the dock this balmy October evening, enjoying the false blan­dishments of Indian summer. Around us, the johns are positively buzzing, brought on by the mild air and some hallucination about romance. Diego ticks off their pre­dilections as they go by. “That one likes to get beat up a taste, got his own little custom-made paddle.… The blue Regal, he wants you to fuck his ugly wife for him, then go out and eat Mexican food with ’em after. And this knucklehead, he’ll take anything he can get, but what he really wants is for you to piss on his windshield. From his lips to God’s mouth, I say.”

We had been talking about his child­hood a moment ago, so when I tell him that his thing is evasion, he laughs out loud. “Oh, I can skate alright, honey! I’m the black Dorothy Hamill!”

 

The story that he unfolds is like so many others you hear that you catch yourself wondering if these kids share notes. There was his airtight relationship with his adoring mother, “who was to me like a saint, an angel on earth”; the fa­ther, a mailman who was so mean “he used to bite the dogs”; and there was Diego’s own sense, “from as early as I can remember,” that he’d been singled out of the family for the old man’s abuse. “I’m sorry, but I have to laugh,” he says, not laughing. “You’re going to beat my ass with a broom handle for something as two-cents as slurping my milk — and then an hour later come in and lay down with me? I know it’s not polite to say something against your family — but for that man, they should’ve brought back lynch­ing, baby.”

And your brothers and sisters? I ask. Did they come out of it alright?

“Pshuh,” he snaps. “They’re as happy as larks. Far as they’re concerned, none of this ever happened.” He pauses, peering down at the bright pageant of Christo­pher Street. “I guess I had to take the weight for the good of the family.”

That isn’t self-pity, it’s guilt, and it’s the deadliest addiction down here — this attachment to the idea that you’re the proper target of life’s sadism. Why, for instance, aren’t these kids selling crack instead of their bodies? Because dealing is an act of violence perpetrated against others; hustling your body to men who won’t wear condoms is an act of violence against yourself, a carrying-out of the sentence handed down in childhood. “Why the fuck should I hassle ’em to wear a rubber?” shrugged Chris, a very stoned metal kid in heavy leather. “I’m gonna be dead in two years, anyway.”

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ONE NIGHT IN LATE September, perhaps my second on the scene, I was walking up the dock taking the lay of the land when I heard someone shout, “YO, YOUR BACK!” I wheeled and saw three kids coming straight for me, closing hard and fast as linebackers. I froze, bracing myself for the hit, when a second shout brought them up short. They veered off right, hurling glares over their shoulders, and hopped the divider onto the highway. I put my heart back inside my chest and went to thank my benefactor, a squat black kid in two-tone denims sporting a fat welt over one eye.

“Ah man, fuck you,” he sneered, “I shoulda let ’em jay you, only I don’t need no 20 cops down here. I got like 60-something cents in my pocket tonight.”

I explained what I was doing, and of­fered to buy him dinner. He asked to see my press card. “Oh, this’ll make someone a nice souvenir. But you bullshittin’, I know you got back-up somewhere. You ain’t really out here by yourself.”

I assured him that I was, and on foot, to boot.

“Look around you!” he guffawed, sa­voring my stupidity. “You see all these hardnut crackheads? They ain’t here to get laid, they’re here to get paid, if you know what I’m talking about.”

There were kids sprawled sullenly on the hoods of cars; kids roaming the piers in packs of three and four, or huddled like cabals around someone’s boombox. Only at the far north end could boys be seen standing by themselves, arms across their chests in desultory attendance. “This ain’t Shangri-la anymore, this is 42nd Street South,” said Aubrey. “Any­thing up there, you can buy down here now. Drugs, car stereos, a whole trunk­load of guns — anything you want, except for pussy… but check back for that on Friday.”

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The joke reverberated. Just that eve­ning, I’d been talking to a couple of retail­ers on Christopher Street, whose bitter suspicion was that the cops were quietly redlining the West Village, pinching all the pandemic sins of Times Square down here. “Doesn’t the Sixth Precinct ever patrol this place?” I asked Aubrey.

“To protect who?” he snorted. “Ain’t nobody out here but a bunch of fags and baseheads.”

And into which of the two groups did he fall?

“Neither, nor,” he declared. “I’m a man with a plan. One day real quick, I’m gonna just… disappear.”

There was some thunder in that word, too. Trudy Peterson, whose love for these kids suffuses everything she says, told me that the hardest thing about her work “is that these kids just disappear. We don’t know if they went down to Florida to hustle, to Puerto Rico and their grand­mothers, or if they’ve been taken up to some rooftop by a gang and raped.”

Aubrey did in fact disappear — on his own steam, I hope — but not before I ran into him again that Friday night. He was standing by himself, looking like hell in a red hood, skeed off his ass on a crack­-and-smack jam. “Come here,” he said, hugging me. “I wanna show you something freaky.”

We walked down to the second pier. He pointed to a crawlspace about 40 feet out, where a kid was sound asleep perhaps a yard above the tide. “I never in my life been that fucked up,” he marveled. “I hope whatever he do tonight, he don’t roll over. That’d be a wet dream-and-a-half, boy!”

He was still tittering about this 10 min­utes later, wondering whose life would pass before your eyes if you drowned out there, your own or Charlie the Tuna’s, when the laugh suddenly caught in his throat. “Ho, shit, here comes the fastest way to die.”

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He pointed discreetly with his chin to a baby Benz sedan. which was circling the dock slowly, in a sort of taunting, Dave Parker trot. Its windows were down, revealing three b-boys in black, fronting enough gold to float a municipal bond issue. They sprayed the scene with their 12-gauge glares.

“Which one’s the dealer?” I asked.

“What, are you gonna go interview him?” he sneered. “Yo, man, quit lookin’ at ’em! You got detec written all over you. If they see me even talking to you about ’em…”

We averted our eyes as the Benz made another pass, then peeled out onto the highway, serenading us with the gentle strains of NWA:

Fuck the police, and Ren said it with authority 
’cause the niggers on the street is a majority
A gang is with whomever I’m stepping
And a motherfuckin’ weapon is kept in
A stashbox for the so-called law
Wishin’ Ren was a nigger they never saw…

“That was Markie’s crew,” said Aubrey. “He’ll send ’em after you if you’re like even five minutes late — and those niggers don’t even play.”

“Does Markie run the show down here?”

“Not really, he stays on the uptown tip. But some of these hardnuts go up and get 50 bottles [vials] offa him, then smoke the shit and don’t come back with the $200. That’s how niggers get shot down here.”

“Are there a lot of kids getting shot?”

Aubrey fixed me with his ready glare. “All these motherfuckers they be pulling out the river — what do you think, they fell off their yacht?” He wagged his head sadly, then murmured, “Dag, but that Benz was slammin’, though. All the mon­ey I made out here… I coulda bought that car three times.”

“Where is it all now, Aubrey?”

Wise and world-weary and, like so many street kids, theatrical, he waits two beats before saying, supremely, “Me, I might be crazy, but I ain’t stupid. I pay homeboy in full.”

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“THERE ARE KIDS TURNING up dead all over the city,” says Covenant House’s Mastroieni. “Sometimes, when cops find a body in a lot or a construction site, they’ll know to call us first. We keep a file on every kid we see here… very often, we’re the only ones who can identify a kid — or care to.”

A kid running the docks, she points out, is terribly vulnerable, the perfect crime waiting to happen. “They work by themselves, they’ve got no I.D., [and] they’re high out of their minds most of the time.… If you’re a dealer and a kid stiffs you, you can make a quick example of him for $20. And if you’re a john and you want to take a kid to Jersey and bury him — well, it’s not like he’s got a partner jotting your license number down…”

“Please understand that we’re trying to maintain good relations with the police,” says Mastroieni. “And generally we do. There are some very honorable cops out there, cops who tip us off when they see one of our kids where he isn’t supposed to be. But most of them?” she sighs. “Most of them don’t give a damn about these kids. As far as they’re concerned, who­ever’s killing them is doing the Lord’s work.”

How does a skinny 17-year-old stalked by johns and dealers defend himself? By arming himself, quite literally, to the teeth. There isn’t a kid out there without a gun or a knife, or at any rate a single­-edge secured in imaginative places. Bob­by, a delicate kid sitting on the hood of a Dodge, showed me how to conceal a razor blade between cheek and gum (“Keep the sharp side down, and don’t smile too much”). He told me what had happened to him and his lover, Raymond. They were walking west on Charles, “drinking a beer and smooching to try and stay warm,” when suddenly they were set upon by a carload of kids. “I’m not saying they didn’t fuck me up good — they did­ — but I know at least one of those boys will never forget me. I cut his shit from yay to yay, and the blade was rusty, too.”

Raymond, however, came away so banged up he had to go back to Puerto Rico. “He was really a nice guy, and I never expected that… I never had no one treat me with that respect before. And between us, we had like a little room in Flatbush. It wasn’t much, but at least I wasn’t out here till no four a.m., trying to get someone to take me to his place so I could catch a shower.”

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IF IT’S FAIR TO CALL kids living from trick to trick slow suicides, what do you call the grown men who cruise them? Write a piece on the johns, implored one outreach worker after another, meaning by all means bash those bastards. But the request betrayed a certain curiosity as well — who are these men, and why are they out sniffing after kids — and sad, sick, addicted kids at that?

“Ninety to 95 per cent of [the johns] are married men with families,” says Pe­terson. “They’re Boy Scout leaders, store managers, executives — men with money… One kid said to me, ‘You know, they open up their wallets to pay me, and I see pictures of their children in there and I think, if they’re paying me to do this, what are they doing at home to their own kids?'”

At 3 a.m., when the exchange rate on the pier is a bottle of crack for a blowjob, it’s the john who like as not is supplying the crack; the john who spurns the kid’s choke roll of condoms; the john who boosts the ante from sex to sadism. Al­most every kid I talked to, from the piers to Port Authority to the loop on 53rd Street, said he has at least one regular who engages him to do the “wilder thing,” i.e., the sort of act that only the most unfettered mind could construe as carnal. There is Peter, the lantern-jawed kid in greasy jeans, whose “Friday guy” forks over $200 to be yoked to two poles in the back of his van and have his nip­ples pierced with an ice pick. There is Maurice, who gets paid “stoopid money” to shit on a hot dog roll and make his client eat it.

I want to make it thuddingly plain that we are talking about so-called straights here, men whose sexuality is the ticking bomb under their two-family colonial. “Some day,” Peterson worries, “some guy’s going to wake up with AIDS, and give it to his wife. Then he’s going to come over here with a gun and shoot 10 street kids.”

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Given the fixity of their death wish — ­there are johns buying boys with conspic­uous lesions on their arms — it is impossi­ble that “some guy” hasn’t already awo­ken to that discovery. But what Peterson is putting her finger on is the john’s ca­pacity for projection, driving the stake of his self-loathing through the hearts of these kids. “With the transvestites, you know, the johns like to punch them in the crotch,” says Mastroieni. “The kid’s roll­ing around in agony, and the john’s up there laughing, going, ‘Hey, I just wanted to make sure you were a boy.’ ”

The other fraction of the john popula­tion, out gay men, tend to be vastly more benign to the kids. Many form attach­ments to their “steadies,” bringing them home for several days or even a stretch of weeks before the thing craps out over drugs or house rules. They’ll take a kid out to dinner, or occasionally pick him up a shirt, no small favor for someone who’s been wearing the same thing all week. Whether it’s empathy or romance or a rescue fantasy, something quite the ob­verse of sadism seems to obtain here.

The kids I spoke to were by and large grateful for these affairs, but the experi­ence of being cared for was also terrifying to them. On the one hand, they’re hungry for it, no matter how long they’ve been out here; on the other, they’re clinging fast to their hard boy swagger, to that uptown street affect by which they sur­vive. “I do what I gotta do,” goes the dogma of West Street, “but I damn sure ain’t nobody’s toy-boy.”

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“I’M A PRETTY NORMAL person. I wouldn’t consider myself a sex fiend,” says Peter. “But when I’m on that pipe, all I can think about — bang! — is fucking. Fucking, smoking, and fucking some more. And I’ll tell you what — when that head comes over me, I gotta go some­where and beat my meat, ’cause otherwise I’m liable to kill someone.”

In the centrifuge of crack, everything flies apart: neighborhoods, families, per­sonalities. But the drug also has an insid­ious side effect that hasn’t been suffi­ciently well-documented. Smoked in even modest amounts, it can be just a crazy­-making aphrodisiac, wiping all the other imperatives off the board. It’s like an infusion of pure id every half-hour — and these kids aren’t exactly overloaded with superego to begin with.

“Because of crack,” says Peterson, “there’s more sex and more desperate sex: multiple-partners, orgy-type sex in crack houses.… The drug itself drives you to it. You don’t care how many arms and legs and asses — the more the merrier.”

“Look at these people out here,” Diego sniffs. “They don’t care what they look like, they don’t care what they smell like — crack whores, that’s all they are.… You come down here with 20 bottles, it doesn’t matter how old and ugly you are, you’re the Pied Piper of West Street.”

The only thing that’s dropped faster than the price of drugs in this city is the price of street sex. “I used to make good money out here, and I’m talking 50s, 100s,” says Diego. “Now, the johns drive up, they don’t even say hello. They just go, ‘Hey, you got a stem (a crack pipe) on you?’ And if you say yes, right then and there they know they got you… Three, four hits, you’ll be up in the back seat like a slave — you might even get out that car with no money. This boy Rickey talk about, ‘Oh, that man spent $300 on me.’ Really? I don’t see it. ‘Well, it was $300 in rocks.’ Oh. So you’re up in the room with him talking about six, seven hours, and when you came down you had to hop the turnstile to get back here,” Diego chortles. “I guess that’s why they call it dope.”

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Covenant House refers to this disas­trous tit-for-tat as “survival sex,” as if kids were blowing johns to keep a roof over their heads. CH ought to know bet­ter. Certainly, its outreach people do. Making the rounds in their baby blue vans, they see the same boys out there night after night — strung-out, exhausted, the odor of the subways upon them. The kids descend upon the vans in their em­barrassed way, ostensibly for a cup of cocoa and a peanut-butter sandwich, but also to talk to someone like Veronica DiNapoli.

A four-year outreach veteran, DiNapo­li’s blend of tact and tenderness often opens kids up on the spot. They hug her and hold fast to her hand or her sleeve as they pour out their sad packet of lies: Veronica, didja hear, I’m going away to college… Veronica, Herbie told you we found this fly spot in Queens? And she listens to it all, treading delicately around their claims, because she knows that’s all they have. On a particularly cold night, several of them will consent to come back to the residence, or take a ride to the hospital for the gash in their forearm. But these are children whose hope and trust have been ripped out like cables. In every blessing, they have been taught to suspect a beating.

“It’s so sad,” says Liz Russo, the tough, pretty former director of Hetrick-Mar­tin’s outreach team. “They get battered at home, they get battered in their neigh­borhoods, [and if] they’ve been kicked out by their parents, they get battered in the group homes… That’s why so many of them are down here in the first place­ — they actually feel safer on the docks.”

Even by the standards of this shame­less city, it is disgraceful that there is no sanctuary for homeless gay kids. In Los Angeles, a town not known the world over for its benevolence, there are several such places, notably Lois Lee’s group res­idence Children of the Night. In San Francisco, kids converge on Project Stepping Stone, a crash pad with staff in the Tenderloin. But in New York, it is either Covenant House or the East Third Street Men’s Shelter, where kids stand about as much chance as goldfish in a shark pool.

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What they need is a place that’s uncon­ditionally theirs, that welcomes them in all their pain and complexity. There’s been some talk among the loose consor­tium of small agencies about acquiring a space, but the thing is miles beyond their grasp. No, this is a matter for the next HRA chief, who can either start looking around for a facility downtown or laying in a supply of caskets for the new year.

In the meantime, the kids will go on wintering on the E train, or at a certain all-male theater in the West Village. Said one kid who’s passed his share of nights there, “You go in expecting to see a whole bunch of bizarre sex going on, and in­stead it’s all these young kids knocked out sleeping.… In the middle of February, you’ll be glad they let you stay there, but those seats get hard on your ass, boy.”

Ignoble as that is, it’s high living compared to last year, when kids slept in the backs of reeking garbage trucks, or in the Department of Sanitation’s salt storehouse on 16th Street. “They had the most casual rats in there,” Diego winces. “Big-ass ones that just walked right up to you and started chewing on your shit… If you count my father, I’ve slept with sick, dirty bastards for 13 years, but rats I cannot work with.”

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ONE NIGHT, THAT FIRST bitter stretch after Thanksgiving, I took a ride up to East 53rd Street. The Loop, as it’s known, used to be the Ritz of rough trade: clean, pretty boys, the majority of them white, available for the delectation of more discriminating palates. Enter crack, the great leveler. Such kids as have managed to steer clear of the pipe now do their business inside the bars, leaving the streets to the Dead Boys and the newly addicted. You see them staked out in doorways or phone booths, skinny and windburnt in their thin nylon jackets.

They tend, however, not to show up much before 3 a.m., working the docks and the ’Deuce for the earlybirds. So, just before midnight I walked the neighbor­hood looking for stragglers. I turned up 55th Street, marveling to myself at the high-speed sociology of crack, when I saw a kid skulking in the shadows. I’d been mugged just the week before, nailed as I left the piers by a bunch of kids yelling “Faggot!” so I broke left on instinct, cut­ting him a wide berth. As it happened, he was weeping. I came near, guilty and so­licitous, and saw a small Spanish kid with a flat, round face, hugging himself inconsolably.

“What happened?” I asked. “Did someone hurt you out here?”

Startled, he came out of his half-crouch and fixed me with a look that I will never forget. He had the heartbreaking eyes of an abandoned baby, wild and illingual in his pain and terror. He was convulsing in sections, his left and right sides going at cross-purpose spasms. He teetered against the building on stork legs. “Mau­rice!” he screamed at me. “Maurice, the motherfucker! I was ’sposedta been high from three hours ago!”

I backed up and look off down the street, looking for a cop, an ambulance. But the only thing that met me coming up Second Avenue was the wind making its announcement to Diego, and to Au­brey, and to Dead Boys everywhere, that winter, in all its maleficence, was here.

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Howard Cruse: The Back Door of Consciousness

Last week we heard of the death of the pioneering underground cartoonist Howard Cruse. Initially known for his free-wheeling character Barefootz, who first appeared in the University of Alabama’s student newspaper in 1971, Cruse went on to found the publication Gay Comix in 1980. Over the years Cruse wrote and drew some exclusive comix for the Voice, featuring characters by turns ebullient, brainy, questing, and combative. In the story below, from June 26, 1984, specialized “gay laboratories” turn out “solar-powered oppression-sensitive subjective insight-exchange helmets.”

Cruse (born the son of a Baptist preacher in Springville, Alabama, in 1944) drew on his experiences in the South during the civil rights era for his 1995 graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, perhaps his best-known work. A decade earlier, he zeroed in on the prejudices from on high for a Voice cover looking at the state of gay life in America.

A few years later the cartoonist sat down with editor Richard Goldstein to explain why he saw comics as the perfect medium to get past some of society’s worst blind spots: “Cartooning has the advantage of being mischievous and naughty. It’s like play.”

Howard Cruse Interviewed by Richard Goldstein: The Back Door of Consciousness
June 28, 1988

WHEN THE ADVOCATE decided to resume running Wen­del, Howard Cruse’s groundbreaking gay comic strip, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. We thought we’d have to settle for Cruse in books, Gay Comix (which he founded), and the posters and pamphlets he frequently renders for AIDS education and numerous gay organizations. Cruse is as protean as he is committed. But it’s his representation of gay people, in the full flush of an innocence we all feel within but are often denied from without, that makes his work so artful — and so useful.

GOLDSTEIN: In comics, it seems, the prohibitions against showing gay are much more severe than in other media.

CRUSE: Well, there’s still a lot of pressure to view comics strictly as a children’s medium. They were at­tacked during the ’50s as being hazardous to the mental health of children, which caused mainstream comics to rule out any challenge to the standard way of looking at life. And when the underground comics rebelled against all that, many of the artists — the male artists, particu­larly — were still prisoners of their own homophobia. I remember Robert Crumb, in a piece he called “Let’s Talk Sense About This Here Modern America,” had a list of people he hated, including fags and fag-hags. It was generally considered hip to dismiss gay people, as it is today.

GOLDSTEIN: What prevents people from seeing the full humanity of gay characters?

CRUSE: A straight friend who got my book, Dancin’ Nekkid With the Angels, told me his friends had asked: “Why should I buy a book to read about gay sex?” Now the book has some explicit sexual images, but it’s not about gay sex. But the assumption is that the lives of gay people are totally about sex.

GOLDSTEIN: You’ve done a lot of safe-sex literature, very successfully, it seems to me, because it’s cartoony; it has a certain innocence, even though it’s about death and sex. To impose innocence on those subjects seems radical.

CRUSE: I think the basic shorthand of cartoon illustra­tions can make a statement. Open-faced qualities in the characters. Eyes that don’t look shifty. Smiles that are not strained. These things say to the reader that, even if the experiences being described are sexual, these are not sleazy people. This is a radical message simply because the overlay of falsehood about gay people is so strong.

GOLDSTEIN: Do you regard your comic strips as a model for your own life?

CRUSE: Cartoons are fantasy, and fantasies are often rehearsals for life. A good cartoon is shorthand for a perspective on life. It can get at the truth of experience without having to depict it literally.

GOLDSTEIN: What’s the power of exaggeration as a weapon?

CRUSE: Really, I think the power of all art is its poten­tial to save mankind from being robotized by being fed a relentless drumbeat of assumptions about life. Cartoons are wild; they bypass the rational and go straight for feelings. A feeling doesn’t require an explanation, but it sometimes suggests an explanation after the fact that can make us question our assumptions. Cartooning has the advantage of being mischievous and naughty. It’s like play.

GOLDSTEIN: Why do you think the innocence your work projects seems so empowering?

CRUSE: It’s tremendously empowering when you’re gay to realize that you’ve been doing it right, and it’s the bigots who are stumbling about in a fog about this subject. Suddenly you realize that simply accepting your own place in the world permits you to just put away all this energy you’ve been using to deal with what the Bible says or what this or that politician says.

GOLDSTEIN: Can you do that without art supporting you, without imagery and representation?

CRUSE: It’s very hard to get through the relentless propaganda: You are wrong, you are bad, you shouldn’t think this thing, you shouldn’t be doing this thing. A childlike, irreverent art like cartooning allows you to get in touch with these parts of yourself from before all of this programming happened. It wakes you up.

GOLDSTEIN: So art is a model for the process of coming out.

CRUSE: I guess it’s analogous to coming out in that it is a route for people to break through the programming. Art can go in the back door of consciousness, just by making you feel directly.

GOLDSTEIN: Do you think it’s essentially the power to represent that has given the gay movement its dynamism in the last 20 years?

CRUSE: I think there is a great deal of power in being able to see yourself in art. If you pick up a book or a comic book, or see a play or a movie, suddenly you realize someone completely disassociated from you felt things you feel and made them into art. It’s very validating.

GOLDSTEIN: There’s a contradiction in the fact that you’re working in a popular form that doesn’t reach a mass audience. How do you deal with the possibility that your work might be unacknowledged, not because of its inherent limits, but because of a homophobic culture?

CRUSE: As an artist with the usual aspirations, I’ll be pissed off if that happens. I don’t want to think about being gay all the time. I want to have my life, my lover, my friends, and I don’t want to have to spend my time being scared and angry. My sexuality will always have a place in my work. It’s the energy that has to be mar­shalled to defend it that creates the distortion. I’m interested in the undercurrents of life, the ways that people relate to each other, whether they’re gay or straight; the way they love each other and betray each other. These are the things that make all narrative art resonate. I would like to create characters that will resonate a century from now, even to people who are not living in a gay subculture or under the gun of bigotry.

GOLDSTEIN: What would have to happen to make that so?

CRUSE: People would have to learn how to think for themselves.

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Stonewall 25: Miss Attitude 1994 Is Over You

Got to Be Realness: Miss Attitude Is Over You
June 28, 1994

They keep assuring us she’s on her way. Her assistants buzz around us. “Girl­friend’s always late. She on C.P. time.” “The Devil gonna be selling Sno-Kones ’fore that bitch get here.” Finally, a bespec­tacled, porcine androgyne with a pungent jheri curl even in his beard emerges from the entourage and laughs at my complaints. “She waited long enough for your asses, now it’s your turn,” he says, snapping his fingers directly in front of my nose, in delib­erate violation of my personal space.

MC: The International Center for Fabulous­ness is proud to introduce our next guest. She will be giving one of her legendary lectures as the keynote address of our annu­al three-day conference/drag ball. You’ll note that the speech is listed in the program under the title, “Git Out My Face, Bitch: A Black Gay Queen Reads Your Ass.” One of only three nominees for Miss Attitude, she’s regarded by those who don’t know better as the authority on black gay life, and was recently appointed the James Baldwin Professor of African American Effeminacy at Harvard. Her book, Don’t Play Me, Play Lotto, You Might Win, has stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for over 50 weeks and has millions of white suburban teenagers who once idolized Chuck D snapping their fingers and walking around with their hands on their hips. Ladies and gentlemen, gentlemen dressed as ladies, and women dressed as wimmin, a queen who needs no introduction. Please admit that it’s all about Miss Banji Realness.

Applause. Whistling. That Arsenio dog­barking noise. Banji takes her time ap­proaching the podium, the usual combina­tion of overness and scorn hanging fashionably from her face. She’s a very tall, light-skinned man with finger waves and beaucoup-de-silver jewelry complementing her ribbed black turtleneck bodysuit. She takes a sip of the Cosmopolitan provided for in her contract. Her bracelets jangle like wind chimes as she shuffles her notes on the lectern.

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BANJI: A few weeks ago, this very sweet white girl — as opposed to the obnoxious ones who try to tell you what black people are like, meanwhile they never even watched Good Times to find out what FAKE Negroes look like — this very sweet white girl asks me, “So, Miss Realness, you’re gay and black … what’s that like?” I was actu­ally relieved to hear this question phrased so innocently, I’ve heard it alluded to indeli­cately so often. I rather cryptically said, “You can see better.” Naturally, she wasn’t satisfied.

“See what better?” she asked.

Miss Realness, hand on hip, smirks and looks at the ceiling.

Now any gay person can see the homo­phobia in heterosexuals, but Miss Thing and her ilk have firsthand experience seeing homophobia and shadism from African Americans, racism and homophobia from gays, homophobia, racism, shadism, and a side of cole slaw from other black gay men. You can even see the misogyny that holds it all together.

She ain’t had no clue. “What do you mean, homophobia in the gay community?”

“Come on, Twinkletoes. Do flaming queens get your dick hard?”

“Umm … I generally like straight-acting guys …”

“I hope they don’t act straight when you get them in bed, honey.”

You could’ve heard a mosquito fart. Then she changes the subject. “What was that about misogyny?”

Miss Realness delivers a withering look to the audience.

I told her, it’s all about penetration, dar­ling. In this messiness we call society, the penetrators think they’re superior to the penetratees. They believe desire for men, inseparable from desire for penetration, is an exclusively female and therefore inferior trait. All these motherfuckers walking around think they’re real men ’cause they don’t get fucked and they don’t ack like no queen. Honey, you ain’t even thought about what it means to be a real man till you’ve bled all over the sidewalk ’cause some fool hit you with a baseball bat. Gonna tell me you’re a real man when you ain’t questioned the definition of masculin­ity that gets handed down from absent fa­ther to future wife abuser to noncommuni­cative couch potato? Na-aah, honey, homo don’t play that.

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Realness wags her extended index finger at the audience.

I just don’t have no patience for arrogant motherfuckers who don’t appreciate what it is to risk death to love as they please. After that one, Goldilocks’s jaw dropped.

“You seem to have a lot of anger,” she whined.

I rolled my eyes and replied, “When your white gay brothers shun your ass for being black and your black brothers shun your ass for being gay, there’s a certain point where you just stop taking shit. It can take a long time, though. Some people I know are eating three meals a day in a restaurant called Chez Shit. Waiters of all denomina­tions come up one after the other saying, ‘My name is whatever, I’ll be giving you shit today. Our specials are Shit With Mush­rooms in a Tomato Cream Sauce, Shit Flor­entine Sautéed in Garlic, Grilled Shit With Ricotta Cheese and Pesto Spread on Toast­ed Sourdough …” They throw so many fancy ingredients on top of their shit that it starts sounding good, and then you’re, like, sauntering down the line at life’s buffet thinking: ‘Lobster Thermidor? Nah. Filet mignon? No. Hey! Could I get some of that Bowel Movement Au Jus?’

Luckily for me, I could never hide in no damn closet. I can’t hide my black ass and as soon as I open my mouth, I’m a faggot. So I have to defend myself, and if it can’t be with fists it’ll be words. I don’t need people who be igging my ass dictating my values. And that goes for straight-acting homosex­uals, too. I make up my own values, and you know Girlfriend values her makeup.

“I must say you come on pretty strong. Why do you think you have such a loyal following?” she axed me, as if there were a need to axe. By now I’m about to rip her head off. “’Cause I tell the truth,” I said. “And deep down, people need to hear the truth, and not some half-truth that makes them feel safe. They need to hear the truth that wrecks them, that makes them run home screamin’ to they Mama. And when you tell the no-frills truth, they have to respect it. My girl Essex Hemphill calls it ‘the ass-splitting truth.’ So go ahead, bitch. Split my butt open with that truth dildo.”

Then she in my face going, “Well, truth is not inherently male.” I told her, “Honey, anyone can own a dildo.”

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Held behind the velvet ropes during Realness’s previous appearance as a nomi­nee, I was determined to get on the list to see her at the awards ceremony. The buzz was that she was a shoo-in. After bribing the publicist and the thin party promoters in crushed-velvet shirts who function as her security guards, I squeezed into the back of’ the auditorium.

HOST: Welcome to the fifth annual Miss Attitude Awards. I’m Marcal D’Johnson. Each year, SNAP, the Society of Nubian American Pansies, doles out another award to the Queen of Queens, she who most exemplifies the giving of face. The winner must have poise, grace, dignity, and a fierce look. We’re not talking about a certain rough ’ho who will remain nameless even though her name is Devonell Williams who we had to disqualify for working at a certain store that will remain nameless although it is called Woolworth’s.

CONTESTANT 1: Would you just shut up and give me the goddamn award so I can make my 1 a.m. appointment?

D’JOHNSON: (To Contestant #1) So they have a curfew at your welfare hotel now?

CONTESTANT 1: (Doing side-to-side head moves) Like I give a shit about winning your two-dollar plaque. I could go down to K mart and buy one myself.

CONTESTANT 2: You forgot, the Kmart don’t take food stamps.

CONTESTANT 1: Well you would know, bitch.

D’JOHNSON: And now the moment you’ve been waiting for. The envelope, please. And the winner is … Miss Banji Realness! (Ap­plause. Pause.) Miss Realness couldn’t be with us this evening, because, as her per­sonal assistant’s personal assistant tells us, she had “better things to do.” She did, however, send us this videotaped accep­tance speech. A video monitor springs to life, and we see Banji talking on the phone. After a few minutes she looks at the camera contemp­tuously, and sucks her teeth.

BANJI: I don’t need your stupid-ass award. ■

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