CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Death of John/Diane

Talking Heads

Resting their minds from the Palestin­ian slaughter and the killing of the economy, some New Yorkers turned their at­tention last week to a diverting little crime, the murder of Diane Delia.

A dark pouting model, Diane Delia was the apex of a love triangle at whose base were her accused killers Robert Ferrara and Robyn Arnold. The murder itself, which took place in a Yonkers wood last October, was accomplished with four straightforward shots to the head, two, the prosecutor alleges, fired by each of the accused. The cause of death is one of the few details of the Delia case that is a certainty, that and the obsession the ac­cused killers had for the victim. Both Rob­ert Ferrara and Robyn Arnold were emotionally entangled with Diane Delia — Ferrara married her, Arnold was in love with her — and both date their involvement to the days before her operation, when Diane Delia was still John Delia, a man.

The Transsexual Love Triangle, as the tabloids call it, was being played out in high colors against the grim backdrop of the criminal court building on Centre Street. In a ninth-floor courtroom the dev­otees gathered, toothless trial junkies, a woman who follows the trials in police costume, the Super-8 filmmaker Eric Mitchell, reporters, parents of the accused, and friends of the deceased. Pastel chalk squeaked as the television news artist sketched the witnesses, while they, in turn, painted a picture for the jury of John/Diane, as the victim, for convenience, was called.

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A medium-height man from a middle-­class family, John Delia was dark-skinned and slight. His body and face were so smooth that, when at 16 he first began dressing in women’s clothes, there was never any stubble to betray him. His drag impersonations, lip synching to Diana Ross records, were so convincing he made an act of them, performing first at local clubs, later in Manhattan, billed as an impersonator of women even after this was no longer the case. Miss D., as his friends called him, had small hands, a naturally feminine voice, beautiful legs, and a reck­less humor. He was compulsive, rude, and funny. He was casually immoral, and loyal. He had big feet and a taste for cheap clothes. The boaty pumps that are pivotal evidence in the prosecutor’s case rested on the courtroom table — weird icons. Like ev­erything else in the John/Diane story, they’re purple.

Robyn Arnold, the surgeon’s daughter and accused murderess, met John Delia at the Playroom bar in the late ’70s. They became lovers. She offered him money and her complete attention. Friends say that as many as 40 framed snapshots of John De­lia litter Robyn Arnold’s bookshelves. Sev­eral large blowups of Diane Delia decorate her wall. It was Arnold who paid for Delia’s sex change, when, several years into their relationship, he met and fell in love with Robert Ferrara, a bartender from New Hope, Pennsylvania. It was Arnold who paid for surgery to prettify Delia’s nose and heighten his cheekbones. Hard but not unpretty, Robyn Arnold hid behind a fringe of hair in court, as witnesses de­scribed for Judge Rothwax, the press, and the jury, her aggressive, manipulative sex­uality and her emotional enslavement to Delia. Sitting beside her, Robert Ferrara listened as the prosecutor mounted his case.

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When Delia became enamored of Fer­rara they began to live together. Arnold continued to pay the bills. Claiming that Ferrara could not accept himself living in a homosexual relationship, Delia planned and Arnold engineered the sex change: the two were married. Delia was as proud of his new anatomy as a child with a toy and made a party trick of showing the altered parts. Neither Diane Delia nor Robert Ferrara saw marriage as a binding proposition, though, and both had affairs. In 1980 Delia left Yonkers for Montreal, where she was hired by a modeling agency for her “Latin look” and shot an Avon ad for a Foxfire robe (“Wrap yourself in luxury.”). She took a lover there. In her absence Robyn Arnold and Robert Ferrara cemented their friendship. Piqued by this, Delia returned to New York and the three were reunited, after a fashion. Delia’s nature was com­pulsive, sexually and emotionally. Her extramarital affairs with men were expected, but when she started to sleep with women, the climate changed — this betrayal was the final straw.

In the prosecutor’s scenario, Delia’s husband and friend arranged on the night of Wednesday, October 7, to pick her up in Arnold’s Cadillac Seville to go dancing. They drove her instead to a wood and shot her, leaving the body for some days before returning to dispose of it in the Hudson River. It washed up three weeks later. The prosecutor’s case is circumstantial and tri­angular: it hangs on the motives of the accused, on Diane Delia’s shoes, which were later found by a friend in Robyn Arnold’s possession, and on the yellow acrylic blanket in which the body was un­luxuriously wrapped. Witnesses claim the blanket came from Miss Arnold’s bed. At presstime, none of this had been proven.

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The courtroom has been tickled when suited men take the stand to identify evidence: “Of course, I know those pumps,” said one. “I used to wear them.” It has been shocked by the excessive violence of the shooting. The first bullet killed Delia; the others blew out her eyes. It has been chilled by the sight of Delia’s death outfit, once lavender, now mottled river-green. It has been amused by the courtroom antics of Arnold’s lawyer, a silver-haired ham given to improvised outbursts. And it has been bemused by the image of the two accused killers. Silent, drab, impassive at their table, they are diminished even after her death by the late John/Diane, whose flamboyance was seductive and whose seductions proved fatal. The received wis­dom about transsexuals suggest they are born imprisoned in bodies of the wrong sex. For John/Diane Delia this seems inac­curate. In her desire to please and be ac­cepted, she treated all sex as the right sex. As a man and as a woman she accom­modated both men and women lustily, equally. It may be that her democratic nature was the end of her. ❖


Pop Goes Homosexual: It’s a Queer Hand Stoking the Campfire

Pop Goes Homosexual: It’s a Queer Hand Stoking the Campfire

Last August there appeared on the cover of the magazine One a photograph of a young man dressed as an ancient Roman warrior in a toga and thonged sandal-shoes; on the floor beside his chair there stand a sword, a helmet, a shield. His hair curls downward on his forehead, his eyes are dreamy and promising, his lips pout suggestively. He looks as though only yesterday he was plucked from the sands of Fire Island or the doorways of Christopher Street, hustled into some uptown studio, dressed in this outfit, and photographed — to the general amused satisfaction of countless homosexuals and the equally general slightly dismayed amazement of as many heterosexuals. But no. That’s not the way it happened at all. Inside the magazine the cover photograph is identified as follows: “Youth, Oh Youth!”; cabinet photo circa 1880.” This is, of course, camp. High camp. Double camp. And this, on the cover of a magazine which purports to be the serious spokesman for the homosexual viewpoint in America, sounds perfectly the note of garish hysteria which, as of this writing, presides over the general confusion known as popular culture. What it all boils down to is: the queers have it.

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Popular culture is now in the hands of the homosexuals. It is homosexual taste that determines largely style, story, statement in painting, literature, dance, amusements, and acquisitions for a goodly proportion of the intellectual middle class. It is the homosexual temperament which is guiding the progress of Pop Art, producing novels like Last Exit to Brooklyn, making “underground” movies, selling cast-iron lamps shaped like roses to sophisticated schoolteachers, and declaring the Gene Kelly–Debbie Reynolds movies of the ’40s and ’50s a source of breathlessly amusing entertainment. It is the texture, the atmosphere, the ideals, the notions of “camp” (a term, from its beginnings, the private property of American and English homosexuals) which currently determines middle-class taste, directs its signs, and seems to nourish its simple-minded eagerness to grind the idea of “alienation” into yet another hopelessly ironic cliche.

Aesthetic Mood

It has been claimed (most notably by the critic Susan Sontag in a brilliant and now famous essay “Notes on Camp”) that camp is a sensibility, an aesthetic method of apprehending experience, and above all, a tender way of viewing the naive and the inconsequential. Nonsense. While it is true that camp does finally collect itself into a “way of looking at things,” there is nothing tender about it — at least there is nothing tender about the camp we in the mid-’60s are acquainted with; and I think it safe to say there never was; for camp was used originally by homosexuals as a private identification for a form of self-satire not especially notable for its gentle indulgence. No, camp is not tender. What it is is arch, sly, hysterical, schizophrenic. And what it most profoundly is, now, in its present role as arbiter of popular taste, is a malicious fairy’s joke whose point is its raging put-on of the middle classes; those very classes which have always denied the homosexual his existence.

The homosexual in modern Western society has, like the Jew and the Negro, always lived as an outsider, a spectator at the great heterosexual WASP banquet: you can look but you can’t touch. He walks in the shadow of Western privilege, unable to grasp its substance. He is denied his civil rights, driven from small towns, disowned by horrified families, fired from valuable jobs, forced by emotional need to live in ghettoes. He is a victim of blackmail, an object of ridicule, a man whose fundamental desires are contemptuously dismissed as constituting “an unnatural act”; and for him to attempt fulfillment is to risk arrest and imprisonment. In short, if one is a homosexual that characteristic is likely by far to be the most powerful and most influential factor in one’s life; more than the condition of wealth or poverty, strength or weakness, stupidity or intelligence, more than the sharp influences of region, religion, or personality, does it determine the shape and color and essential direction of experience. It is a fact of existence, in essence, capable of producing a culture. Which it has. A culture most curious in its general characteristics, its aims, its accomplishments.

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Victims in a society are drawn in masochistic fascination to their oppressors, seeking often to emulate and/or to appease them. This very often requires shameful disavowal of the self. His natural emotional integrity, however, makes very clear to the victim what he is doing, thus inflaming him with self-disgust and an appetite for dignity. Upon this unhappy polarization is strung the tension of a victims’ culture. Thus, the Jews on the one hand changed their names and (in affluent America) their noses; on the other hand they steeped themselves in an ethnic intellectuality and mysticism, concentrated on morality, guarded the secrets of the ghetto, and created an intensely Jewish idiom. Similarly, the Negroes on the one hand became Uncle Toms and then (in Adam Powell’s phrase) “Uncle Toms with a Harvard accent,” and on the other hand developed the richness of their religion, the depth of their music, the privateness of their humor, the agony of their lawlessness. And both Jews and Negroes have, through this body of literature, music, thought, and behavior, amounting to a “life style,” added immeasurably to the sum of humanity’s knowledge of the pain and deformity of castigation.

Brutal Caricature

Homosexuals, however, in a bizarre psychological turnabout, seem to have avoided the desperate conflict previously described, and achieved a pivotal psychology and a “life style” that one can almost describe as weirdly “integrated”; or at any rate a demonstrable proof of the dictum: you become what you are. For the homosexual’s culture seems to be based on nothing more than a brutal caricature of the femaleness he so violently rejects; and the absolute craziness of it all is that — whatever the tangled psychic roots — he has become the women he despises, in a form grotesquely frivolous and vicious. Thus he has won by losing. In weird imitation his hair is dyed, his face is made up, his walk is mincing; he is neurotically lonely, weepy sentimental, sexually promiscuous. His mannerisms are painfully girlish: he sulks, he pouts, he flounces; he wrings his wrists and files down his spiteful humor. His interests are more often than not womanish: he becomes a hairdresser, an antique dealer, a haberdasher, a creator of “atmosphere” — in theatres, restaurants, boutiques, and, of course, the salon of the interior decorator. (All of which is not to say that there are not homosexuals among teachers, writers, soldiers, philosophers, and architects. It is to say that those men who are teachers, writers, soldiers, philosophers, and architects and who also happen to be homosexual are not men who are the makers of or the participants in the homosexual culture as such — and the men of whom I am speaking. The distinction is crucial and must be made at once.)

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Last summer on the sands of one of the Fire Island beaches frequented by homosexuals I sat watching the incredible parade. Beside me sat a beautiful 25-year-old boy (offering friendship to the tune of “Do you prefer Helena Rubinstein to Elizabeth Arden?”) who the night before had frugged wildly, flirted madly, and subsequently nearly been raped in his bed by a muscular bartender he had drunkenly led on, and whose near-attack was made memorable by the fact that at precisely the “terrifying” instant the bartender had entered the bedroom, somewhere across the dunes someone was shrieking: “Well, if that’s the way you feel about it you can just take your sneakers and go!” Now, eight or ten frantic hours later, the sun blazed in the sky and my friend was feeling morose and decadent. He watched a powerful looking blonde on the next blanket plucking his eyebrows and, in a passion of unconscious double meanings, burst out: “You know, this is ridiculous. After all, you can’t be gay all your life! I mean this (pointing to the blonde’s makeup job) is all so adolescent.” (I was struck absolutely dumb.) But that is precisely the point. And that is precisely what homosexual culture is aiming at: the gruesome attempt to be gay all your life, to be professionally gay all your life. Which is, of course, what the preoccupation with trivia always amounts to. And again, of course, the parodic echo of the woman: the frantic female in a sweat over the loss of her youth.

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Giver of the Word

It is the willful confusion between this “gay” homosexual ambience, this mindless grotesquerie of trivia and the aesthetic value of style, that accounts for the strange popularization of camp, the absolute distortion of its meaning, and the irony of its position as giver of the word to the educated middle classes.

For, after all, what has camp ever been? In Where’s Annie?, Eileen Bassing’s novel about Am­erican expatriates in Mexico, is a scene in which a party in the villa of an aging American homosexual writer turns into a kind of orgiastic revel (as Terry Southern would say if this was “Candy Goes to College”). The number­less boys kept by the writer begin to dress themselves in women’s clothes and then proceed to impersonate female impersonators. It begins in an attitude of high laughter and gradually gathers momentum; the original intent of burlesque slowly loses its sharp defining edge as the boys forget themselves in a blur of genuine growing heat. Ned, a homosexual painter — himself a complexity of integrity and evil — flies into a fury at this disgusting “camping.” Together, Ned and the writer (for whom the boys are a surrogate) are camp: the self-conscious mockery etched in self-conscious contempt. For camp is, pure and simple, self-hatred. And, in all its ramifications, it represents the homosexual’s contribution to the stock of known psychology on the subject, confirming the fact that included in self-hatred in almost equal parts are revulsion and attraction, compassion and disgust, defiant guile and naked vulnerability, and that its neces­sary components — i.e., the recognition and practice of that which leads to bitter conscience-stricken remorse — exist in loving symbiosis and wouldn’t for all the world have it any other way.

What marks camp more pre­cisely than anything else is the mockery which surrounds it; a mockery which may seem deceptively gentle but which invariably turns savage; a mockery which may be trained by its practitioners on themselves but in curious psychological integrity absolutely lashes the squares who — either way — resent or identify themselves with camp, reminding one always of the way in which Negroes re­gard those whites who insist they understand the Negro. It is this mockery Susan Sontag has erroneously labeled camp’s tenderness (meaning a gentle appreciation which endows the naive, the simple, the meaningless with style), thereby helping to skyrocket into a position of current celebrity and influence this fantastically arch “sensibility” and its creepy creators, exploiters and sycophants.

100 Year Set Back

The most directly stunning result of camp’s influence is, of course, the raucous Pop Art vogue… which has probably set the course of American art back some hundred years or so. One has the feeling that it all started one day when a bunch of the sweet young things got together after a mad, mad day at the decorator’s; in sarcastic imitation of the Mrs. Babbitts they serve the boys began to whoop it up, painting the objects best fitted to describe Mrs. B’s crass taste. One painted a huge lettuce and tomato sandwich sitting, appropriately, on the table of a haute-cuisine restaurant — everyone was highly amused: “The old cow!” Suddenly in popped a slightly retarded P.R. man who had lost his way while trying desperately to focus across the insurmountable distance of four straight martinis. He took one look at the lettuce and tomato sandwich. “Wow!” he breathed in reverent tones. “Man, that’s great. Its a whole new vision. Creative as hell!” “Whey you foolish boy,” tittered one of our own, but his eyes widened in incredulous cunning as he caught the malicious glee in the glance of his own dear boy on the other side of the room. Then they both nodded, steered the P.R. man to his fifth martini — and the panic was on. Soon the boys were reinventing photography, turning out pretty good super­market ads, and slapping a lot of papier-mâché around: all to the tune of thousands of dollars, international fame, and impeccable interpretation: “A profound statement… babble, babble, babble… the meaninglessness of affluence… babble, babble, babble… seriousness is dead… babble, babble, babble.” And one sees Andy Warhol staring serenely across private, peroxided spaces, smiling Sphinx-like as the critics describe the meaning of his Brillo boxes. Or one gazes in disbelief at one of Tom Wessleman’s nudes. What is it? What’s wrong here? Is sex only being gently twitted? Are these pictures merely humorous? Humorous, hell! They’re down­right ludicrous. And that’s the point: women are ludicrous and most insultingly ludicrous are the middle-class women in the middle-class bathroom and the middle-class kitchens of middle-class America. But — and this is the crowning touch — she, the idiotic real-live model — stands before this classically spiteful joke, smiling benevolently as though she were in the know, because she’s heard somewhere that all the intellectuals love this stuff. She pokes her dour-faced husband in the ribs: “Joe, buy it. C’mon, Joe. For me.” And Joe chomps down on his cigar, counts out a few thousand dollars, and takes it — or a giant hamburger or a soup can or a really groovy papier-mâché busdriver — back to the steel and glass Long Island palace he calls home, thereby further contributing to a curious sociological phenomenon: today the nouveau riche culture-vulture­ lives in a strikingly designed home, buys antique furniture, Spanish rugs, glass lamps — and hangs Pop Art on his walls; 40 years ago he bought white wall­-to-wall carpeting, cream-colored furniture, and hung Picasso and Braque on his walls… and another notch is carved in the camper’s belt.

Of course, one could go on and on. From Pop Art to Rudi Gernreich’s topless bathing suit (an especially delicious example of a camper’s delight; one can see Gernreich outfitting some mindless blonde in his topless wonder. “Oh, Rudi, should I?” she breathes anxiously. “Oh honey,” deadpans Rudi. “It’s so you.”) to Tiffany lamps to comic strip characters to flapper clothes to silent movies to Victorian furniture and threadbare Oriental rugs; to “atmosphere” and the dreadful insistent preoccupation with it; to the creation of a mystique and a genuine value surrounding it; to the fraudulent notion which claims that the trivial has the right to more than five minutes of our attention and proceeds to make a cult, a life-style out of it; to the claim that emptiness is substance; to a literature which has grown out of the homosexual temperament and which is frightening in its steely-eyed slickness, its language of surfaces, its heartlessness, its unbearable loathing of humanity and all its activities (I speak here of books like Last Exit to Brooklyn and most certainly not of books merely dealing with homosexual love, such as Giovanni’s Room or Another Country, in which the protagonists are men in passionate pursuit of their manhood; quite another matter altogether).

Why? Why camp? And why now? Why the eager bobbing plunge of yes by middle-class intellectuals — that plunge which is alone responsible for the phenomenal rise of camp in the world?

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The answer lies in the fact that it is a time in which the spirit of self-belief is profoundly on the decline. For most men the gods are all dead: ideology, tradition, Christian morality — all gone, neatly knocked off by imperfectly understood and thoroughly indigestible doses of Einstein, Fermi, and Freud. We find very little beyond ourselves to believe in and thus we cannot take ourselves seriously. We have become disheartened, demoralized, and, finally, hysterical — so intolerable is our circumstance. The world thus must be declared a topsy-turvy place, the banners of renunciation must wave, and black must be declared white. And so, everywhere in the Western world men are involved in what the British novelist, John Fowles, speaking in his new novel, The Magus, refers to as “…this characteristically 20th century retreat from content into form, from meaning into appearance, from ethics into aesthetics.…” Thus, an intellectual like Susan Sontag cultivates aesthetics and seeks to prove that an insignificant and rather nasty sensibility really has something legitimate to say; and round the world cowardly intellectuals everywhere become ardent camp-followers concentrating with myopic imbecility on “style”: “The envelope is the message, baby.” Meanwhile the swishes of America lean back, smile soothingly, croon, “Oh sweetie, you are so-o-o right,” and spoon the cream right off the top.

It will no doubt all pass: it is too flimsy, too fraudulent, too distasteful not to. And the course of human life has a way of taking care of its cyclical demoralizations, anyway. The cynical ennui of the 1920s was soon replaced by the urgent events of the ’30s and ’40s. Who knows but that Vietnam may yet turn the trick for us. In the meantime wounds will be inflicted and scars left. One very real scar may be the result of the disservice being performed on the concept of style and the meaning of aesthetics in human life. For the discrepancy between the meaning of style as an enriching cloak of expression for vital content and the shallow, mean-spirited, empty-vesseled “style” of camp is so large that if it weren’t painful it would be absurd: Susan Sontag has dedicated her notes on camp to Oscar Wilde. In actuality they should have gone to Bosie Douglas, for not only is it decidedly more his spirit — spiteful, petulant, vain, trivial, untalented — than Wilde’s which informs camp, but it is the difference between the two that tells the entire story.

The meaning of camp and the “meaning” of camp require a hand as masterly as Nabokov’s to unravel the endless reverberations of self-parody in which this fantastic little con game are rooted. But the irony of the adoration of camp by the middle-class intellectual is obvious and of classic proportions: not only does the victim comply with circumstances oppressive to him but he also diligently searches for a victimizer hateful enough to effect his demise with the proper amount of imagination… and style.


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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Equality From The Archives PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Stonewall 25: Oh My Papi

Oh My Papi
June 28, 1994

Pornography imagines an eroticized uni­verse where anything can happen, nothing is forbidden, and the unattainable is all yours — an orgiastic Eden with no threat of expulsion, or mortality. But even the porno­graphic imagination, particularly the highly profitable corner of it that latched onto the gay male libido, has its limits and conven­tions. Anything goes, perhaps, but not any-one. Like fashion models, porn actors are more form than content, and that form — ­both a mirror of and a spur to changing tastes — quickly becomes standardized. Cur­rently, the porn ideal is the same cartoon (actually, a Tom of Finland drawing) of masculinity found at most gay gyms, dance clubs, and go-go bars: He’s broad-shoul­dered and bubble-butted, with a chest like shiny armor plate and no sign of body hair; he’s clean-shaven, thick-lipped, straight-act­ing, and white. He’s the ’90s clone, and we’re over him.

Thing is, many of us were never into him in the first place. There’s no denying the attractions of the hunky whiteboy: they’re damned near unavoidable. So maybe I wouldn’t throw the boy out of bed, but I wouldn’t coax him there. He may be an icon for our times, but he’s just not part of my fantasy life. But, faced with limp indif­ference, pornography is infinitely resource­ful; like any niche marketer, it specializes.

Lately, the consensus has given way to a whole new porn multiculturalism — maga­zines and videos whose subjects are exclu­sively Asian, black, or Latin. In New York, it’s the Latin angle that seems most reso­nant. Maybe that’s because the city has a long history of cross-cultural Caribbean connections and that melting pot really boils over when sex is added to the mix. Or maybe it has something to do with the fuck-­anything-that-moves stereotype; when it comes to polymorphous perversity, Puerto Rico is definitely in the house.

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The relationship of gay white men and Latinos, whether mutual attraction or mu­tual exploitation, has its lore, its literature, and plenty of anecdotal evidence. (You could start with the personals in any gay rag, the ones that read “GWM seeks PR homeboy, 18-28, beefy, hung, uncut. Bi a plus.”) And for the past nine years it’s had its own porn auteur, the pseudonymous Brian Brennan, whose Barrio-based outfit, Latino Fan Club, has turned out 60 exhila­ratingly cheesy, way hardcore extravagan­zas. The LFC motto: “Celebrating the beau­ty of the Latin male.” Right — all nine and a half inches of it.

Latino Fan Club films — from the seminal Boys Behind Bars trilogy to the four-hour epic Spanish Harlem Knights to the insouciant Horse-Hung Hispanics (in four vol­umes), Red Hot Ricans, and Foreskin For­ever — have a raw energy due partly to their homemade, improvisational style, but most­ly to their rambunctious young stars. While most mainstream gay porn is fixated on buffed beauty — the choreographed coupling of two well-oiled machines — LFC gets off on homeboy horseplay and utterly unaffect­ed horniness. Some of this gangsta attitude is what the ball children call banji realness, a butch pose played to the hilt, but much of it is genuine. Many of LFC’s most popular “models” look like the kids who regularly show up in handcuffs on the covers of the Spanish-language tabloids: dark-eyed, tat­tooed, scarred, slightly built, haphazardly groomed, mean, cocky, wounded.

This personality profile promises a heady combination of brute domination and lost-­boy vulnerability. Over and over again, with plenty of the requisite cum shots, that’s exactly what Latino Fan Club delivers. But what animates the best LFC titles is an all­-consuming interest in the boys themselves. It’s not that these guys spill their guts out in the course of the amateurishly impro­vised dialogue, but they do emote in ways most porn would relegate to the editing floor. Since many LFC movies actually have narratives, some of the boys even get to act, or at least react.

The LFC aesthetic — though inspired by exploitation (and mock-exploitation) au­teurs like Roger Corman, John Waters, and the anonymous dirty old man behind those “solo” films from Old Reliable — owes its style to its stars. Loose, funky, playful, al­ways ready to drop real work and fool around, LFC doesn’t take itself too serious­ly. Without actually introducing a woman onscreen more than a few times, it swings both ways. Though most LFC actors come across as straight (“trade” Brennan calls them), the ruling sexuality of the films is definitely bi. “You do it even better than my wife,” one man tells another, and lots of homo sex is sparked by conversations about withholding girlfriends.

Two typical LFC models, Gustavo Viva and José Pelos, identify themselves as bisex­ual but are quick to note their hetero preferences. Pelos, an LFC office worker who says he met Brennan while hustling the peep shows on 42nd Street nearly 10 years ago, insists that “with a guy it would be a hustling thing and it would be safe; if I’m going to do something I’ll do it for the money.” Viva, a carpenter who builds some LFC sets, says, “Working with Latino Fan Club — that’s my job. I’m not going out there and harming anyone else; I’m working for what I receive. Some people may look at me as, like, he’s nothing more than a faggot or a homosexual, but I have a fiancée at home, and she says as long as you come back home to me and use a condom, she has no problem with it.” Both say Brennan doesn’t push his models beyond their limits (Pelos’s are succinct: “Won’t suck, won’t get fucked, won’t kiss”), but there’s clearly a certain flexibility. In a gay porn zone too often artificially divided between tops and bottoms, this is definitely another country.

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Charting that territory is Brennan’s forte. Forty-nine, bearded, and frankly out of shape, the Latino Fan Club founder doesn’t pretend to understand or explain the whole Latin thing. He only aims to exploit it for his pleasure and, not so inci­dentally, ours. A former Madison Avenue art department slave, Brennan was working as Blueboy’s art director when he decided to do a photo spread of his own. He chose his first subject, the half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican boy who delivered coffee to the office every morning, by following his own tastes. He’d been going to a bar near his West Village home called the Phoenix that young Latin hustlers had turned into a kind of clubhouse. Sometimes they would bring their girlfriends, sometimes they would do what Brennan calls “hiphop stripping” and jump up on a table so guys could stuff bills into their G-strings. Encouraged by the MC to videotape these spontaneous strip shows, Brennan realized that his crude tape was exactly the sort of thing he could never find at the video store, where “it was all California surfer dudes, boy-next-door stuff, or leather scenes. You’d never see a His­panic model, and I thought this might be a niche that I would enjoy doing.”

In 1985, Brennan began setting up nude photo sessions and marketing “a typical jack-off tape” of five different models called New York Street Boys. He also began run­ning an ad for what he at first called, with typically clumsy bluntness, a Fan Club for Guys Who Dig Latin Guys. “I started be­lieving in the thing about please yourself, do it as best as you can, and you’ll find all the people who are just like you,” Brennan says, sitting at a littered work table in the Latino Fan Club office/photo studio/crash pad/headquarters in East Harlem. The mail­ing list of Latinophiles he began building nearly a decade ago now includes over 7000 men, one of them the owner of this well­-secured corner property. With the excep­tion of LFC’s suite and another space with a pool deck that turns up, stocked with grinning homeboys, in LFC’s promotional newsreels, most of the building has been gutted for co-ops and remains empty.

Sade wafts in from the pool deck below, where a potential LFC star splashes under the rear windows of neighboring tenements. Under the loft bed where Spanish Harlem Knights‘s picaresque hero, Julio Nieves, snores fitfully, there are two banks of VCRs busy duplicating a tape running soundlessly on a monitor nearby. A scrawled sign reads “Say no to drugs and yes to dicks!” It’s all a cheap parody of film studio empire, fitting for a company that thrives on parody, trash, and — yes! — dicks. Though LFC’s produc­tion values have improved since Brennan shot every scene of the original Boys Be­hind Bars in the same corner of the same room in his old apartment in Forest Hills, its tapes are still deliberately unpolished. Continuity is a sometime thing; the focus fades at the most crucial moments; and there are plenty of times when you can hear Brennan’s instructions from the sidelines: “Push your pants down” or “Move your hand away.” “Do it as best as you can” seems to be the operative phrase here.

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Brennan may admire the impeccable gloss of Kristen Bjorn’s gay porn videos, but he models himself on a rougher, more marginal (and much more low-budget) style. Boyd McDonald, the horny genius behind Straight to Hell‘s collections of true homo­sexual experiences, was a kindred outlaw spirit. He once gave Brennan written per­mission to do a video version of his books, but Brennan says. “The only real way to make a Boyd McDonald movie is to have hidden cameras and stuff. I don’t think that’ll ever get made.” So he carries on in his own way, fucking with the genre when­ever he can. As if the tough mugs of his stars weren’t enough to signal viewers that they’re veering off porn’s beaten path, Brennan jokes about putting barred-circle symbols on his boxes to indicate No Butch Queens, No Designer Underwear, and No Shaving (of the depilated California proto­type, he says, “It’s almost like ‘Oh my God, hair on a male! How gross!’ ”).

Like Hitchcock, Brennan appears fully clothed on the sidelines in several of his films (he’s the shady stockbroker in Latin Sex Party, the prim painter in Spanish Har­lem Knights). In one of his many outtake reels, where the rawest material pops up, Brennan is an off-camera audience to super­star Rico Suave’s nude posing routine. “You are so fucking beautiful,” he says, while Suave stretches his long brown body like a particularly sly cat. If there’s a typical Latino Fan Club moment, it’s probably the offhand exchange (“That was great, man.” “You like that, huh?”) between two macho boys who have just had sex. But Brennan’s “You are so fucking beautiful” sums up the feeling behind the camera.

Because this comically awestruck bit of psychological fluffing comes from a white man who’s paying his Latin models between $200 and $300 a scene (the “receiver” earns more), there’s a definite whiff of colonialism in the air. Aside from some lightweight rumination about the “qualities of maleness that turn me on,” Brennan offers no deep examination of the attraction to what he calls “bad boys.” And he shrugs off the relentless characterization of his Latin stars as criminals, hustlers, addicts, or street kids as typical exploitation film fare (besides, he says, he gives guys auditioning for his prison and rehab clinic films the choice of being guards or inmates). Danger, uncomplicated sex, the exotic unknown — “I’m giving them what they want!” Brennan barks with a laugh.

According to a 1991 LFC membership poll, the number one collective fantasy involves being accosted by a gang of Latin boys, dragged into an alley, and forced (but not too violently) to go down on them. Brennan associate, and sometime film heavy, M. Vic Mann realizes this fantasy for LFC’s cute young white boy star, Eric Beatty, at the beginning of his Homeboy Hoodlums. After the rape, Beatty dumps his nagging girlfriend and turns into a major cocksucker, picking up one rough trade Rican after another until he gets around, inevitably, to his original attackers, who get their comeuppance from his Latin cop lover, but not before an orgy at gunpoint. There are some happy endings.

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Most of LFC’s cracked scenarios have this Samuel Fuller on Spanish Fly quality, so it’s hard to get exercised about their racial politics. The white wardens, doctors, and petty functionaries in LFC’s clearly makeshift institutions (you’d be surprised at how much can fit between these prison bars) are either loudmouthed, cigar-chomping creeps or venal manipulators. But they’re such corrupt buffoons that their scheming and rapaciousness is more comic than alarming, and they always end up on their knees before sneering boys who purr, “You like that big dick, don’t you doc?” The boys may not look like angels, but next to these assholes and toadies, they’re the heroes, and the camera loves them.

Other LFC films imagine a world where Latins rule (Super Barrio Brothers) or triumph through a combination of cunning and sex. In Latin Sex Party, the funniest of Brennan’s movies, a windbag “professor” runs a seminar aimed at reforming uptight white yuppies. While he’s spieling, his increasingly bored audience is seduced one by one by the Latin boys from the basement apartment who are trying to raise rent money. The seminar is such a success that the professor and the homeboys go into business together. It’s the perfect LFC fantasy: white daddies, on their knees, only too happy to receive the Latino’s sexual healing.

If this fantasy can’t entirely quell our uneasiness at the boys’ willingness to trade flesh for favors or the men’s fetishization of their undisguised contempt, one more shot of superstar Romeo Castillo’s ripe, quiver­ing ass will. These aren’t tracts or position papers, they’re Papi potboilers; order is subverted, everybody gets fucked, and if anyone comes out on top, it’s the Horse­-Hung Hispanic, waving his meat like the flag of the latest independent nation.

Waving the freak flag right along with them is Brennan, who’s fast becoming the Russ Meyer of queer porn — part crackpot, part visionary, total obsessive. “When I was a kid I was nuts about just movies, movies, movies,” he says, and now he’s making four of them simultaneously. Here’s a trailer for one called Attack of the Amazing Colossal Latino: A broad-chested B-boy looms na­ked over Times Square at night, his fat uncut dick swaying next to the Coke sign. He leans down, scowls into the haze of neon, and shouts, “Fuckin’ size queen! Is this big enough for you now?” ■

Equality From The Archives PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Stonewall 1979: Gay Life, Present at the Creation

Present at the Creation
June 25, 1979

The lives of great cities are ordinarily organized by the imperatives of class, race, religion, and authority. The temper of Boston is Brahmin and Celtic; the tone of Dallas is Baptist and nouveau riche; the mood of Chicago is bourgeois and bossy. The texture of New York is woven of all cults, castes, and nationalities, but now there is another, wholly new strand in the social fabric: affection. For the first time in history an affectional community — comprising a million or more homosexuals — occupies a territorial base, and it has begun to promote its power and assert its attitudes in ways that are rarely recog­nized and little understood.

New York has become a gay place. The material of the new homosexual culture pervades its life, from lowbrow to high­brow, on the streets and in the shops, the theatre, the cafes, and the apartments of at least a dozen neighborhoods. What is startling about this cultural explosion (the city has seen many others) is that it flows from a source of sexual identity, just as the stuff of ethnic and religious communities grew from their more familiar roots. We know about Polish peasants, African slaves, Prussian burghers, Can­tonese coolies, Latins, Litvaks, and Levantines. We can trace their influence in our politics, our literature, music, busi­ness, language, dress, cuisine, morality, and everyday attitudes. We speak of the Jewish novel, black jazz, Calvinist work ethic, Latin rhythm, Oriental patience, Irish politics, Italian filmmaking. We may relish, detest, or simply describe the re­gional flavors that blend in the melting pot, but their origins are hardly mys­terious anymore.

But there are no evident precedents (in this civilization, at least) for the development of an “ethnic” culture based on sexuality and centered in a single geo­graphical district. Scholars may fetch far for parallels in the myths of Amazon woman-nations or the tales of Greek homoerotic cults; but there are no ready records of self-conscious communities formed around a shared, exclusive sexual trait — masculinity, femininity, homosexuality, transvestitism, or whatever — to compare with the extensive gay society that has developed in the American metropolis in the few short years since its birth in 1969 in Sheridan Square, in the battle of the Stonewall bar. It is no exaggeration to say that we are present at the creation of a stage of society and a style of life that is unique in the world we inhabit.

Two important distinctions should be set down. First, the new gay city includes both men and women, of course, but for many reasons (not least of which is plain sexism) the gay male elements are more noticeable than the lesbian ones; and, many of the descriptions used to charac­terize the common culture come out of the male experience. Patterns of lesbian cul­ture are often included in the larger category of feminism — for which there is no gay male analogue. Second, the development of a visible gay community in New York — in Manhattan, most of all — is replicated by similar developments in other cities around the country. The birth of the various gay communities is really a vast “invasion,” a migration that is both external (from the hinterlands to regional centers and then to the largest cities) and internal (from the closets into the sunlight and moonglow). Gay life elsewhere may be more intense or per­fected; but nowhere is it as much of a model, on a scale so mass, as in Manhattan.

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The elements of gay style are both banal and extraordinary, as unimportant as the short cut of men’s hair and as weighty as the invention of pop art, as trendy as the redevelopment of Columbus Avenue and as serious as the emergence of gay psychiatric and medical services. Gay sensibility can be sordid — the dives along the Hudson River way after midnight; or elegant — the ballet, the musical theatre, the opera; or glitzy — Studio 54, Saturday afternoon “tea” in the Pines on Fire Island, a roomful of Art Deco chatzkas; or angry — a march through the Village after a homophobic incident, or a flood of letters to the Post after a know-nothing column by Harriet Van Horne.

All told, there are as many separate — and often contradictory — styles as there are homosexuals, and the assertion of any of them, or of any set or system, may provoke vehement attacks and vigorous exceptions from those who do not feel themselves included. No heterosexual is as bothered by the bars and baths as are gays who do not frequent them; no Brooks-Brothered straight man will rail against the leather look as furiously as a preppy partisan of Shetland sweaters and penny-loafers in an East Side gay garden; no one hates gay disco more than a gay punk.

For like the other evolving, expanding ethnic sectors in New York — black and Latin, for instance — the gay community is fragmented, disparate, and heterogeneous while it is profoundly self-conscious. Differences in class, gender, age, race, ideology, and psychology give the culture its many-sided surface: it can be as radical, reactionary, racist, tolerant, snobbish, or democratic as any other social grouping in these times. But what unites homosexuals on a deeper level are the common condition of oppression, the shared history of liberation, and the sense of permanent separation from the prevailing social definition of normality. We may be teased, tolerated, or loved; we must always be different. From such differences comes a unity in spite of ourselves, a sense of pride as well as fear, struggle as well as acceptance, superiority as well as vulnerability.

Straight society sees homosexuals (the flamboyant few), but it does not readily recognize the presence of a gay culture. Last winter, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story on the city’s “renaissance,” replete with color photographs of all the fashionable features of born-again Gotham: discos, musical comedies, Bloomingdale’s, rehabbed brownstones, warehouse neighborhoods, Deco restaurants, designed boutiques, gourmet kitchens. There was hardly an item on the list that was not tinged with gay sensibility — or created by it. And yet the influence of the new sexual community on the revitalized city was never once mentioned — not even in the coy euphemisms (“neighborhoods of single adults”) that the genteel press prefers. Gays who read the Times were astounded by the omission. It was as if a newspaper had described the New South without mentioning the blacks of Atlanta or Birmingham, or had recalled pre-war Vienna without admitting the existence of its Jews. The oppression of gays takes many forms — from brutal discrimination on employment to psychological submission in the family — but the most devastating of all is the cloak of invisibility imposed by the straight powers that be.

It is hardly surprising that gays themselves often participate in the unorganized conspiracy of silence about the very existence of gay culture. Gays are all still in the closet to some degree, the militant no less than the mouse. Invisibility may be frustrating and stifling, but it is also protective. Homosexuals who are entirely comfortable in an all-gay environment often find it difficult or disturbing to communicate the quality of that experience to their straight friends, no matter how approving the straights may be: “they don’t understand”; “they have no idea what goes on in our lives”; “they don’t think like us.” Every gay person knows that the mood of a roomful of homosexuals is abruptly and irreversibly changed when straights enter.

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The straight world is what is; to be gay is to be aware of a special reality. Depending on how a particular homosexual may feel about himself or herself at a given moment, that reality may be glorious or ghastly, enlivening or deadening. But gay reality stands out against ordinary life in sharp relief. There are neighborhoods and gay neighborhoods, newspapers and gay newspapers, resorts and gay resorts, bars and gay bars, doctors and gay doctors, dinner parties and gay dinner parties (compare: judges and lady judges, or theatre and black theatre). The very awareness of a distinction constitutes the primary closet, whether gays are conversa­tionally open about their sexuality or not. For liberation, after all, is both a personal and a social process. Heterosexual con­sciousness imposed closets on gays in the first instance, through religion, the ideol­ogy of family life, machismo, puritanism and gentility. Gays cannot fully escape without changing the greater world as well as their own smaller selves.

From the moment gays begin to test their identities against straight “norms,” they learn to pretend: to hide behind straight masks, to perform straight parts in straight plays, to divide gay selves from straight roles. Only the eyes betray the truth: gay men check out everyone within eyeshot for the sly glance, the subtle mannerism, the hidden smile, the meas­ured gait, the clothes, the posture — all to find fellow members of the tribe and announce their own “ethnicity,” in ways so covert that outsiders (those whom other tribes may call strangers, barbarians, ofays or goyim) seldom catch the ex­changes. It happens all the time: on the subway, in an office, on a movie line, in all-night banking centers, airport lounges. The universal gay check-out glance may be a kind of “cruising,” but its basis is survival and support more often than sex. Until recently, a gay grew up believing he was the only queer in the world; the search for others is essentially a means of reassur­ing himself that he will never again be alone.

There were millions of homosexuals before Stonewall, of course, but there was no coherent, self-aware gay community. There were bohemian elites and quiet cliques of closeted homosexuals, but no gay culture, no visible gay presence on the street except for the odd “queen.” For the most part, homosexuals were allowed to express their identity in purely sexual terms (hence the clinical, Latinate name homosexual), and only after dark, in bars and in bed. Homosexuals had straight jobs, socialized with straight friends within a strictly heterosexual culture, participated in straight politics, talked straight talk. Homosexuals bought records of straight popular music, whose lyrics told of guys and their dolls. The straight theatre consisted of plays based on the formula: boy meets girl, etc.

Only after the straights dropped of fatigue or boredom could homosexuals “go out” — that is, present themselves in a gay setting. But the night trips of that era were always furtive, dangerous and often hu­miliating. What gay culture existed before 1970 was preeminently a culture of oppression, in which homosexuals conformed to the perverse and prejudiced definitions of sexual “deviation” dreamed in the worst heterosexual nightmares. Gays were sissies, tramps, sadists, drunks, neurotics, hysterics. All expectations were con­firmed, all prophecies fulfilled.

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The few homosexuals honored in the heterosexual world were forgiven their bad habits if they did not flaunt them, or if they made a valuable contribution to straight culture. Tennessee Williams was lionized as long as he kept the sexuality of his dramatic characters properly am­biguous and his own predilections nicely sublimated. What Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears did after the opera was their own business. Similar rules held in other oppressed cultures: Ralph Bunche did not flaunt his blackness and Margaret Chase Smith did not trumpet feminism; the occasional homosexual celebrity was ex­pected to keep his or her own quirk hidden as well.

Looking back, the world seemed positively medieval; in these post-liber­ation years, gays have been able to inte­grate their lives with the facts of their sexual identity to a degree considered impossible a short time ago. In New York now, gays may live in supportive surroun­dings, in heavily gay districts, within a social and economic infrastructure shot through with aspects of gay culture. Gays may work in gay-run businesses catering to a gay clientele, or they can get jobs through the gay network in larger estab­lishments, such as department stores, where gays occupy top managerial posi­tions. They eat in gay restaurants, shop on gay avenues in gay boutiques, listen to gay-oriented music, share gay living-quar­ters, dance in gay discos, vacation in gay garden spots, worship in gay churches, read gay magazines and gay novels, snack on gay pizza and gay burgers, see tele­vision programs with gay characters and movies by gay directors featuring gay actors and actresses, play softball in gay leagues and hope for victory in the Gay World Series, sail on gay cruises, get high on gay drugs pushed by gay dealers, and spend all their social hours with gay friends.

Both straights and gays debate the value of gay exclusivity, but the trend appears to be firmly established. The need for it is evident beyond argument: gay culture strengthens the fragile self-image of homosexuals, and the more complete the community, the stronger the image. The development of a more or less total gay culture is analogous to the experience of other ethnic minorities at similar mo­ments in the history of their liberation movements: read Miami Beach for Fire Island or 125th Street for Christopher Street, and gay exclusivity does not seem so strange. Many homosexuals will con­tinue to spend their hours in heterosexual culture, too; there is no one empowered to demand affiliation in one or another social set. But the developing gay com­munity in New York will certainly set the terms for the next phases in all of gay life: there is power, energy, and innovation in the creation of a separate gay society, and it has already had an enormous impact on the lives of all New Yorkers.

What makes a hamburger gay? Cer­tainly it is not a genital attribute. What counts is the context: like the space “around the fish” in Klee’s famous paint­ing, the surroundings of the ordinary burger on the bun give it a cultural meaning. Walk into Pershing’s on Colum­bus Avenue or Clyde’s on Bleecker Street: the sound is disco, the texture is grainy, the pitch is high. A youngish man with a dark mustache, short dark hair, and a tight T-shirt and jeans approaches with a certain smile. He nods in a familiar manner and recites the list of burger possibilities (cheddar, “blue cheese,” bacon) in a litany laced with a little lilt. Almost everyone in the room seems to be a male homosexual. Even the plants are well hung; and so a neuter burger becomes recognizably gay.

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Sometimes the defining characteristic of the new gay institution is the specific makeup of its clientele: the sheer size and aggressive good taste of Bloomingdale’s gay trade makes the store a center of the New York gay marketplace. Often, gayness is a matter of attitude or emotion: gay disco music is apt to be rhapsodic or sentimental rather than driving and raw — Candi Staton rather than Instant Funk. Or, that certain veneer of camp irony may characterize a gay neighborhood: Columbus Avenue — the main street of the “Swiss Alps” — is lined by shops with such names as The Sensuous Bean (coffee), Kiss and Make Up (Cosmetics), Le Yogurt (yogurt), the Cultured Seed (flowers). Decoration of course, is also telling: the To Boot cowboy boot story on West 72nd Street — “Queens Boulevard” — features “situation windows” that suggest the presence of odd couples rather than the conventional kind. In one display, two pairs of empty boots are placed in a room from which the occupants have hastily abandoned an elaborate Sunday brunch. One can only imagine what is happening “offstage.”

Bars are still at the core of gay social life (there are more than 70 in Manhattan), and the baths, backrooms, and warehouse barracks were sex is easily and anonymously available remain popular from that earlier era when they were, in a sense, pressed on the gay population by the straight definition of homosexual encounters as strictly zip-fuck meetings. While many gays deplore the exploitation of affection which bar life entails, the priapal palaces still serve a social and emotional purpose that will last until the next level of ascent to a more sincere and non-sexist society is reached. But while gays attack “cock culture” from the inside, there is something disingenuous about straight criticism of gay social institutions from the outside — as if masters condemned servants for participating in the culture of servitude.

The specific vision, manners, protocols, and imagination of gay culture were first forged in response to the prevailing definition of homosexuals as “different” in their sexual affections from ordinary people. Those who are called different and treated as such, will naturally develop different ways of life. At bottom, it matters little what the original difference was thought to be: Jewish culture began many millennia ago as a function of the oppression of Jews for their monotheism or their curious tribal rituals. But theology is not primarily what concerns that culture today. Blacks were oppressed because of the amount of melanin in their skin and because of their African habits of life; but black culture in America is more than a color code or a continental curiosity.

And yet many heterosexuals still admit the existence of only sexual differences between themselves and homosexuals. Jeff Greenfield, for instance, charged in this paper last year that gay rights are unworthy of liberal support because they involve mere methods of copulation, not community demands or cultural needs. For such heterosexual critics (and there are homosexuals still stuck in their closets who want desperately to agree) there is no gay culture, no gay lifestyle, no gay consciousness — just isolated units of homosexuals doing their thing in the sack.

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Such denials of a gay sensibility lead to bizarre lapses of comprehension. For example, Time and Newsweek have both published long cover articles on the masters of pop art, which detail every conceivable influence brought to bear on the works of these artists — except the overwhelming fact of homosexual culture to which they belong. Reading such analyses, we learn about the importance of the artist’s regional background, his relationship to city and country, his favorite ancestors in art history — about everything except the one influence which was most responsible for the creation of the artistic genre: the gay aesthetic vision. The pop artists and their followers attacked the analytic traditions of modernism that held sway for 50 years, and promoted instead a romantic “camp” attitude that profoundly changed American tastes in art, performance, and design. It is impossible to understand these breaks in cultural continuity without accepting the reality of a gay aesthetic — and yet it seldom appears in straight art criticism. Only when artists paint homosexual pornography, or when writers describe sexual acts, is their own sexual “preference” considered relevant.

The struggle for visibility — that is, for social acceptance of a gay identity beyond mere sexual practice — is long and tedious, with lags and leaps at unexpected times and in improbable places. Failures in the political forum — such as the repeated refusal by the City Council to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance — may turn out to be less significant than success in community development. For the most important changes in the lives of gay people since Stonewall have come from the creation of the new ecology of gay institutions — commercial, cultural, political, and intellectual — which provide the material basis to protect and extend the community.

The gay “movement” after Stonewall was largely radical in its analysis of sexist society and militant in its practice of confrontation with the straight male “ruling class.” It had personal and ideological ties to the equally radical and militant antiwar, civil rights, and socialist movements of the era. There was a moderate wing as well, but it too was part of a movement of structured organizations — even if the total effort often seemed disorganized and the relationships were usually strained.

Only in the loosest sense does a definable gay political movement still exist in New York: rather, there is a social earthquake, without significant, representative organization or clear direction. If there is a discernible theme to this enormous event it is, simply, change: very little that can be seen in metropolitan gay culture today will last the year, perhaps not even the week.

For example, the macho styles of dress and attitude so much in vogue in Village gay life in recent times seem to have lost their power and punch. While the “look” is still prevalent, it is no longer on the front edge of historical necessity. Gay macho (which was really never macho at all, if the truth is told: under those leather jackets lurked a lot of pussycats) ex­pressed and exaggerated the suppressed masculinity of gay men, now made legit­imate by the ideology of liberation. In the old days, homosexuals were “nellies” and “femmes.” Suddenly, it was possible for homosexual men to be men, and they clutched at society’s symbols to validate that difficult definition. Some gays with a well-developed radical approach were able to avoid the butch look and the violent symbols. But macho had to work itself out. As macho naturally followed sissy, its own negation will arrive when the time is ripe — probably soon, from the look of things.

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One clue to the new shape of-things could be found at the annual Black party held last month at the Flamingo disco, attended by several thousand of the most self-conscious gay circuit riders in the city. The 1978 Black Party had crackled with leather and rattled with chains; its domi­nant style was s&m. This year, the hard core softened: costumes were fanciful and ethereal rather than heavy-metal — head­-dresses of silver-tipped black feathers replaced executioners’ hoods of leather. Moreover, the mood of the party shifted from sinister to rollicking, from heavy duty to good fun.

Flamingo is an extreme example in all respects — many gays find it intimidating because of the emphasis its members place on brawn and bodies and disco madness. But the same kinds of changes evident at the Black Party there will be found in other gathering places which cater to gays of milder temperaments.

If one factor in the change of attitude is the passage of time, another is the arrival of the second post-liberation gener­ation to positions of status in the gay community. Homosexuals who came out — that is, affirmed their sexual identity to themselves and those around them — when they were already adults will never lose their closet consciousness as thoroughly as young gays who come out now, in a vastly changed social universe, during adolescence or before. The latecomers see the issues in their own way, conditioned by the pain and confusion of years of real repression. The task of self-definition as gays was arduous and confused; the ways were uncharted.

Younger gays today are relieved of some (although not all) of the problems which plagued the first generation. While there is more open “fag-baiting” and less genteel obliviousness found in many areas of the city, the psychological security of a vast, visible gay world is drawing out people who would have been intractably closeted in the ’60s. At least there are available models now by which young gays can begin to define themselves. And those who will come out in future years into a much more supportive and well-posted gay community will have a still clearer sense of who they are. How that will affect their behavior in the full society is im­possible to predict with any certainty. But it is clear that homosexual life 10 years from now will present scenes as different from those visible today as our own pic­tures are rearranged from the pre­-Stonewall era.

Take one example: there is a group of men in New York these days that one writer I know describes as the “killer fruits.” They are rich, powerful, and ma­nipulative businessmen, lawyers and de­signers who hold court in East Side duplexes, chic discos, and the Hamptons with a retinue of young “twinkies”­ — attractive boys who are kept amused, kept busy, and simply kept by their older protectors. Competition among the “killers” is fierce, pressures are intense, and humane values are held in abeyance as the men jockey for position, status, and the favors of their followers. The “killers” are only partly out of their closets; they gain power by keeping their sexual identity ambiguous to the straight world in which they operate. But they are of a certain age and history which suggest that they will soon vanish as a breed. The closet that produces them will cease to be so attractive as the gay community widens and its opportunities for a fulfilling life improve. Closets are places of personal as well as social oppression: they torment their inhabitants and diminish their func­tional capabilities. The end of the closet — as a concept of mind — is the essential goal of gay liberation.

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Because there is no politburo, legisla­ture, or gay town meeting to establish priorities and set goals for the gay com­munity, the scene in New York is every-­homosexual-for-himself. Contradictions tumble over one another: for instance, every phase of liberation becomes a base for commercialization — which in a certain sense replaces one form of oppression with another. The demands of vanguard capitalism on the consciousness of the gay community are in some ways as strong as the strictures of puritanical heterosexuality. Gays have more disposable income these days than their straight counterparts in class and age — these are few, if any, children to educate, families to support, heirs to provide for. Gays may be easily led into traps of conspicuous consumption.

There is a final contradiction in the construction of a complete gay society, which may prove to be the most difficult to resolve: the backlash of heterosexuals against the accumulation of power, privi­lege, and status by gays. The difficulties here will not arise primarily from the Anita Bryant end of the right wing, nor from the traditional homophobic centers in orthodox religion. The more serious problem will come from the majority of straight men who find their own emotional mobility and social comfort circumscribed by the growing influence of gays — in business, entertainment, and everyday life. Heterosexual men used to take their privi­leged positions for granted, but all at once it seems, they are threatened by the success of gay liberation and feminism. It is not impossible to conceive a scenario for severe backlash. In a time of economic hardship, straight men may come to be­lieve that gays have the good jobs, the most spending money, the least responsi­bilities — and the most fun. Gays could be seen not only as “different,” but also as threatening. At that point, the gay “ethnic” community could be a target as easily as other groups served as scapegoats for mass social failure in the past.

Gays will be vulnerable for years to come — as far into the future as we can see. But gay liberation and feminism are allied in function as well as form, and together they infiltrate so much of the majority society that it would be hard to re-isolate and destroy them. The gay ghetto is primarily a function of consciousness, not class or race. Gays are, literally, everywhere — in every family, every business. The backlash seeks to re-closet gays, but before it can succeed, it must erase the liberating experiences of millions of men and women. It would be a cruel endeavor indeed, and also self-defeating. Gays have valuable lessons to teach the world — about freedom from roles, the importance of emotion, the varieties of sexuality — and if given the chance, people will learn what is best for them.


There’s No “App” To Cure Meningitis, New York City Gay Guys

The New York City Health Department yesterday renewed a recommendation to gay men who’ve had sex with a man they met via-a digital “app”: get a meningitis vaccine.

In the last 12 months, there have been a total of 11 cases of meningitis within the City’s gay community, two of which were diagnosed within the last five weeks.

According to the Health Department, the disease is prevalent amongst men who’ve met their sexual partners “through a Website, digital application (‘app’), or at a bar or party since September 1.”

The recommendation is specifically geared towards those who had sex with a man they met in the Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights,
Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, East New York, Prospect Heights or
Williamsburg neighborhoods in Brooklyn.


Previously, the Health Department warned that men with HIV are
particularly at risk of contracting the disease
. But the new warning is
for all men who’ve had sex with another man — regardless of whether
they have HIV.

The disease spreads by “prolonged close contact with nose or throat discharges from an infected
person. Examples of prolonged contact include living in the same
household or intimate activities, including kissing and sexual contact.”

of meningitis include high fever, headache, stiff neck and rash that
develop rapidly within two days. The Health Department says that people
who have been in prolonged close contact with infected people need to
see their health care provider immediately to receive preventive

Symptoms may occur two to 10 days after exposure, but usually within five days.

For more information, search “meningitis” at


Congressman Charlie Rangel’s No H8-er

Manhattan Congressman Charlie Rangel may be (but definitely is) a tax cheat. But he’s no hater.

The congressman yesterday announced that he’s joining 25 other members of Congress in their support for the NoH8 campaign, a “global art protest project” in opposition to California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage.

Oh, and of the 26 lawmakers involved in the campaign — according to Rangel’s office — not a single one is a Republican (although, Cindy and Meghan McCain — the wife and daughter of Senator John McCain — have lent their faces to the project).


“I believe that hatred of any kind has no place in America. I’m proud to
participate in a campaign that promotes the progress that our country
has made over the past few years with regard to the rights of the LGBT
community, Rangel says. “This is a wonderful way to support their
struggle for equality and to discourage discrimination based on who
people love.”

If you’re unfamiliar with NoH8, it’s described as “a photographic silent protest that feature subjects with duct tape over
their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Proposition 8
and similar legislation around the world, with “NOH8″ painted on one
cheek in protest.”

The project was dreamed up by photographer Adam
Bouska and Jeff Parshley, and initially just included the faces of
everyday Californians. It quickly grew to include politicians, members
of the military, and celebrities.

So far, the campaign boasts more than 20,000 faces.

Rangel’s support was in honor of National Coming Out Day, which has been observed every October 11, since 1988.

“To witness the LGBT community gain the rights that they always deserved
has a way of teaching us what the great Coretta Scott King once
exclaimed: ‘Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really
won; you earn it and win it in every generation.'”

Below is the list of members of Congress who’ve signed on to the campaign — again, not a single Republican.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Rep. Lucille
Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep Michael Capuano
(D-MA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Jim McGovern (D- MA), Rep. John
Yarmuth (D-KY), Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA), Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), Rep. Sam
Farr (D-CA), Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep.
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
(D-TX), , Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
(D-FL), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-NJ), Rep. Raúl
Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA), Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Rep.
Al Green (D-TX), Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), and Rep. Susan A. Davis
(D-CA). Previously posing for NOH8 were Adam Schiff (D-CA), Dennis
Kucinich (D-OH), William Keating (D-MA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Earl
Blumenauer (D-OR), Nicki Tsongas (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn
Woolsey (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Jackie Speier (D-CA).


The Insane Immaturity of Albany’s Gay Defamation Case

With DOMA on the decline and gay marriage approval trickling into the national discussion, it seems that gay rights issues are popping up in states across the country. And the most recent one happened right in our own backyard. But this one is a bit different.

On Thursday, a court case called Yonaty v. Mincolla made its way up to the Albany court house and was dismissed. In it, two friends argued over a gay rumor that got taken a little too far and the courts decided that labeling someone “gay” or a “homosexual” is not defamation. The validity of the remark no longer matters, either.
Here’s a quick definition of defamation so we know what we’re talking about:
Defamation (n) – false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another; as by slander or libel; calumny.
After Thursday, an accusation of homosexuality will no longer be approached with this criteria in the state of New York. And this goes against precedent: it took us a few decades to understand that calling someone “gay” is not an ‘injury of the good reputation of another.’ Good grief.
But, the details of the case show us a deeply entrenched fear of the accusation; it’s almost the plot line to a really shitty episode of Happy Days.

In Broome County, Jean Mincolla started telling people that Mark Yonaty was gay. Why? Because he wanted to break up Mark’s long-term relationship with his girlfriend and, for whatever the reason, he thought questioning the man’s sexuality would do the trick.

Anyway, Mincola told Ruthanne Koffman, a close friend of the girlfriend, and Koffman went on to tell the girlfriend’s mother, who went on to tell the girlfriend. Once she found out, it’s only logical that Yonaty would sue Mincolla, right? Of course.
It’s like six degrees of rumors mixed with an extraordinary dose of immaturity. But think about it: Yonaty was so upset that Mincolla would question his sexuality in front of his girlfriend that he sued him. It is this insecurity of homosexuality that still exists in certain places; this idea that gay constitutes fault. And the irony of it all: Yonaty isn’t gay!
Thankfully, Justice Thomas Mercure witnessed this wild paradox and made a decision that can all let us sleep a bit better at night:
“In light of the tremendous evolution in social attitudes regarding homosexuality…it cannot be said that current public opinion supports a rule that would equate statements imputing homosexuality with accusations of serious criminal conduct or insinuations that an individual 
has a loathsome disease.”

Case closed.