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August 4th, 2014

The Militant Homosexual I Became Was Nurtured By Hollywood’s Homosexual

A friend on Facebook turned me onto this…

vito_documentary

I have both editions of “The Celluloid Closet” published while he was still with us. If any one thing could have been said to have radicalized my attitudes toward gay equality it was this one, even more so than “And The Band Played On”.  The book opens with a story about how a gay friend of his was telling another gay friend about a new movie that had a gay character in it, and the other friend immediately asks how the character dies. In a nutshell, that’s how it was.

I ordered the DVD of Vito and it came Friday and I had housework to do so it just sat for a while. Last night before bed I watched the first two thirds of it. It filled in a lot of blanks for me because I only knew of Vito Russo from his groundbreaking film history The Celluloid Closet. I didn’t know, but I should have guessed, how the activist predated the historian. The part showing him struggling to pull together all the hidden threads of our presence in the movies really brought back home to me that sense of isolation and cultural invisibility I hadn’t felt in decades.

Back in the 1970s, that homosexual characters were occasionally included in movies, either for laughs if they were flaming sissies or as the embodiment of unnatural evil, was something probably everyone knew. Russo was the first person to actually gather all the pieces together, all the little walk on toss off parts along with the major roles, all the sissies, all the evil psychos, all the tragically dammed, and look at all critically.  And the book he produced hit gay people everywhere who read it like a ton of bricks, because you knew the scapegoating and stereotyping weren’t just how your heterosexual neighbors were taught to look at you, but also how you were taught to see yourself.  Heterosexuals could dream of the happily ever after, could see that dream on the silver screen, could picture themselves there, having that life, or something like it.  Hollywood flushed our dreams into the sewer from the moment we first walked into a movie house.  We weren’t lovers, we were sissies, we were dangerous sexual psychopaths, we were the butt of dirty jokes, we were the personification of unnatural evil, we were pathetic, we were terrifying, we were not human. But you really didn’t see it all that clearly because the one thing we were most of all was something not to be discussed in public among decent normal people.

Then Vito Russo gathered it all together and put it in front of us.  And it just took your breath away…to see it all there, laid out in front of you.

And it made you angry…

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 21st, 2014

Damage

This came across my Facebook stream just now…

Op-ed: All Gay People Are Screwed Up and It’s OK

We all face a deficit for growing up LGBT in a straight world. Admitting it is the first step in making sure the next generation gets a better deal.

Like the writer, Neal Broverman, it surprises me that this is controversial.  It shouldn’t be.

It sometimes takes a harsh circumstance to remind us how different our lives are. In The Case Against 8, HBO’s powerful documentary on the defeat of California’s antigay ballot initiative, lead plaintiff Kristin Perry had an “a-ha moment” while testifying in front of a federal judge. Defense attorney Ted Olson asked Perry if she thought granting marriage equality to gays and lesbians would have an effect on other forms of LGBT discrimination. Perry said her whole life would have been different, and better, if the biggest choice she made in it — marriage — was given the same weight and respect as everyone else’s: “So, if Prop. 8 were undone and kids like me, growing up in Bakersfield right now, can never know what this felt like, then I assume their entire lives would be on a higher arc, they would live with a higher sense of themselves that would improve the quality of their entire life.”

Reflecting on that moment later, she said, “It was powerful to connect the dots spontaneously on the stand and realize you’ve been living under this blanket of hate everywhere you turn…

Every crush I’ve ever had, every gay guy I’ve ever tried to date, every perfect match I thought I’d found, they were all wounded. And I have to suppose they looked at me and saw the same, good as I had it compared to a lot of other gay guys. I didn’t get sent to a camp, I didn’t get thrown out of the house, I wasn’t told by my own parents that I wasn’t loved. But you don’t grow up in a world that tells you from every direction that you are despised without taking it to heart.

Mad #145, Sept ‘71, from “Greeting Cards For The
Sexual Revolution” – “To A Gay Liberationist”

Detective_1968_481

“The thought of turning…of turning involuntarily into one of them frightened me…and made me sick with anger.”

bakersfield_kountry_komics_faggot
Jake shows the kids how to deal with a limp wrist faggot in Larry Weltz’ “Gearjammer”, Bakersfield Kountry Komics, 1973

 

And the worst of it is you grow up accustomed to it all, and you forget the wounds are there, always defeating you and you don’t even know it anymore, because you’ve accepted that as your lot in life.  But it is rust on the soul.

It is a constant struggle to live the life you should have had all along.  But it is a noble one…

Later in the documentary when Perry is discussing the discrimination she experiences, she says, while tearing up, “The sad parts [of being an LGBT person], I feel like I’m OK with because I’d rather be who I am today than somebody who never felt challenged and never had to find out who they really were. And I know who I am.”

Oscar Wilde, who suffered his own terrible wounds, once said that we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.  I’d put it differently.  We are all damaged, but we have survived and we are not cowed.

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 12th, 2014

You First

My cartoon for Friday’s Baltimore Pride issue of Baltimore OUTLoud.  Oh you think she was a nice lady do you…?

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

October 14th, 2013

Once Upon A Time In Washington…

On this date in 1979 the first gay rights march on Washington took place, with about 100,000 demonstrators. I was one of them.

Here’s an ad placed in the Washington Blade after the march for the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and in it the photographer caught me when I was walking along with the Maryland contingent. This is a scan from the copy of the Blade I saved, so the quality isn’t the best, but it’s all I have.  The Stein Club made posters with this shot and I’ve regretted ever since that I didn’t snatch one up.

I’m there in the lower right hand corner with, oddly, my Argus C3 around my neck. It was a (very) poor man’s Leica and I was probably experimenting with it. The Canon F1 was probably in my backpack. I’d worked all summer long at a fast food joint in 1971 to be able to buy the F1, but apart from a couple lenses for it and a really nice German enlarging lens I wouldn’t be in any position to buy nice photographic equipment for decades to come.

I think I had color loaded in the F1 and Tri-X Pan in the Argus.  At some point I need to post a gallery of my shots here in the “Life and Times” section of that demonstration and other gay rights events I attended and photographed. I wasn’t working for anyone at the time, just documenting my life and times and the struggle I found myself a part of whether I wanted to be or not.

When I came out to myself in December of 1971 I wanted what most of us want when we’re young…the significant other, the soulmate, the happily ever after. What I got was not that. Yes, it’s so much better now than it was back then, but we had a lot of work getting from there to here and we still have a long way to go before every gay kid can dream the dream of love and joy and contentment without fear or shame or guilt.  The young guy you see in this ad would never have thought in his wildest dreams he would live to see the day he could get legally married anywhere, let alone in his home state of Maryland, to the man he loved.  But that day came.  If only I’d had a better world to grow into adulthood in, I might have found him.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

February 25th, 2013

Notes On The Gay Lifestyle…(continued): Message From Another World…

I came out to myself one December evening in 1971, and for the next couple years had no clue whatsoever as to how to find others like me, and maybe get a date, and maybe even find someone who was special enough to settle down with, and build us a life together.  Until that moment everything I knew about homosexuals and homosexuality I had learned from heterosexuals, and the opinions there ranged from tactful pity to venomous hostility.

In 1971 every state but one had sodomy laws on the books.  In 1971 you could be fired, you could loose your professional license, you could loose your home, you could loose your freedom, just for being discovered. Forget about a career anywhere you might need a background check or a security clearance.  And the message you got from every direction was you were human filth, a danger to children, a threat to your community, a pathetic faggot at best…


Mad #145, Sept ‘71, from “Greeting Cards For The
Sexual Revolution” – “To A Gay Liberationist”

  

a dangerous sexual psychopath at worst…


“The thought of turning…of turning involuntarily into one of them frightened me…and made me sick with anger.”

  

You were a symptom of social decay.  You were what caused the fall of Rome.  You were an abomination in the eyes of God.  Certainly you were a thing best left unspoken of in decent company.

This was the world I came out into.  The only place I knew of where other people like me could be found was a seedy bar downtown that everyone in school joked about.  When I searched for books about gay people, fiction that spoke to me about life as a gay man, all I found were trashy sex novels where the gay protagonist was there only to remind everyone what a sad, pathetic life we were all condemned to.  To be sure, 60s sexual liberation, at least in theory, extended even to gay people.  In the Broadway musical Hair they sang “Sodomy Fellatio Cunnilingus Pederasty. Father, why do these words sound so nasty?  Masturbation can be fun. Join the holy orgy Kama Sutra Everyone!” But this was, as always, gay lib as purely sexual in nature…a side show to heterosexual liberation at best.  More often, sexual freedom did not include treating gays as anything other than pathetic faggots.  Even in the sexually no-holds-barred underground comix world, gay people were stereotypical faggots…


Jake shows the kids how to deal with a limp wrist faggot in Larry Weltz’ “Gearjammer”, Bakersfield Kountry Komics, 1973

  

If not symptoms of capitalist decadence and oppression…


Guy Colwell reminds us in Inner City Romances #3 (1977),
that homosexuality in prison is but a mirror image of capitalist oppression
of the strong over the weak…

  

I had nothing that spoke to me…nothing that spoke to that wonderful, magical experience of first love, and what it taught me was truth; that the love between same-sex couples could be every bit as vital and life affirming as that experienced by opposite-sex couples.  Then late in 1972, I stumbled across Mary Renault’s novel, The Persian Boy, and in her works finally, Finally, found what I was looking for…

“Hephaistion had known for many ages that if a god should offer him one gift
in all his lifetime, he would choose this. Joy hit him like a lightning-bolt.”
―Mary Renault, Fire from Heaven

But my community seemed still so far out of reach.  I knew it was out there…somewhere…but I could find no access to it.

By the winter of 1972 I was working at a camera store that catered to the professional clientele. I did stock boy duties and one day, while unpacking a shipment of cameras from a distributor in San Francisco, I found a complete issue of The Advocate, placed neatly on top of all the balled up newspaper that was packing the contents of the box.  By then I had heard of The Advocate, knew it was a newspaper produced by and for gay people, but I’d had no idea where to find a copy.  And now suddenly, there in front of me, was a complete copy, placed there like a message in a bottle by someone in the shipping department at the other end.

To whom it may concern…you are not alone…

I glanced quickly around…my stock room manager was elsewhere, I was alone.  I took the newspaper and placed it inside my backpack and closed the zipper.  When I finally got it home I devoured it like a starving man.

I still have it…a carefully saved bit of personal history…

  

Eventually I found my way to a seedy “adult” bookstore where I could find copies of The Advocate, as well as the local gay paper, The Washington Blade, and several glossy gay magazines that weren’t entirely pornographic, such as Mandate, In Touch and Christopher Street (a gay version of the New Yorker that had hilarious New Yorker style cartoons).  That lasted until I discovered the Lambda Rising bookstore downtown at which point it seemed like, finally, the world had opened up to me.  But that first copy of Advocate felt at the time like a lifeline, tossed to me by some friendly stranger on the other side of the country.  I wish I could thank them.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

April 6th, 2012

Today In News You Probably Didn’t Know Was Old News

I am reminded of a colleague who reiterated, “all my homosexual patients
are quite sick”, to which I finally replied “so are all my heterosexual patients.”

-Ernest van den Haag, psychotherapist

There is nothing wrong with homosexuals.  That is a simple statement of fact.  Not opinion.  Fact.  Well researched, well established, scientific fact. And it has been well established fact for quite a very long time.  If you were born in the 1960s or later, then this fact is older then you are.

Jim Burroway over at Box Turtle Bulletin writes…

Study of 100 Homosexuals: 1957. There had been a string of high profile arrests of very prominent and well-known men in Britain in the early 1950s, including Lord Montagu, his cousin, Maj. Michael Pitt-Rivers, and journalist Peter Wildeblood,  all of whom had been charged and convicted of homosexual offenses. Their arrests opened the debate over whether homosexual acts between consenting adults should remain criminalized.

So in 1954 a study was convened under the leadership of Lord Wolfenden whose name would later be attached to a report recommending the complete decriminalization of homosexual relationships among consenting adults in Britain.  And how did they come to this conclusion?  Well they didn’t consult the bible, and they didn’t ask the prejudices of their day.  They did something positively unique for that day when it came to the subject of homosexuality.

They looked for evidence.

One problem with the published research on gay men was that virtually all of it was based on clinical or criminal populations, which Curran and Parr acknowledged would not necessarily be representative of the general population of gay men. In their report, they acknowledged that their sample would likely exhibit higher rates of psychiatric problems or criminal recidivism. But when they looked into the files of these 100 men who had been referred to their practice, the authors observed:

…[I]n spite of the probability that any group of homosexuals referred to a psychiatrist might be expected to be heavily weighted in the direction of psychiatric abnormality, no fewer than 51 % were considered to be free from gross personality disorder, neurosis, or psychosis during their adult lives. Only one was certifiably defective and none certifiably insane. They included a number of important and talented individuals of high integrity, successful, efficient, and respected members of the community. Only two had been on any criminal charge other than homosexuality. Very few showed the traditional “pansy” picture of homosexuals; indeed, only 21 were noted to have at all obvious homosexual personality traits, only one of these being a paedophiliac.

So in spite of their having difficulty recruiting a completely representative sample of gay men, in spite of their sample being weighted toward mental patents and criminals, they found less mental aberration then they would have otherwise expected. In fact slightly better then half their sample showed no signs of gross mental illness at all.

Only half the patients showed significant psychiatric abnormality other than their sexual deviation, and such associated abnormalities were often slight. Moreover, many of these abnormalities were explicable as a reaction to the difficulties of being homosexual. Symptomatic homosexuality was rare.

And then it gets down to brass tacks.  Is homosexuality a disease?  Is this even a problem?

If homosexuality is a disease (as has often been suggested), it is in a vast number of cases monosymptomatic, non-progressive, and compatible with subjective well-being and objective efficiency. In our series, both practicing and non-practicing homosexuals were on the whole successful and valuable members of society, quite unlike the popular conception of such persons as vicious, criminal, effete, or depraved. Only one-fifth were at all obviously ” pansy,” and we found no reason to regard most of the patients as physically, intellectually, or emotionally immature (unless the basic criterion for ” immaturity” is that of being homosexual-a circular argument).

What they’re saying here is that if homosexuality is a disease then its one that has only one symptom (homosexuality) does not get worse if untreated, and does not negatively impact the overall health and well being of the individual who has it.  Really…can you even call it a disease in that case?

This is similar to what American researcher Evelyn Hooker in her 1957 paper The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual found: well adjusted homosexuals are clinically indistinguishable from well adjusted heterosexuals. From her Wiki entry…

She gathered two groups of men: one group would be exclusively homosexual, the other exclusively heterosexual. She contacted the Mattachine Society to find homosexual men. She had greater difficulty finding heterosexual men. She also had to use her home to conduct the interview to protect people’s anonymity…

Hooker realized that all extant science on homosexuality consisted of studies conducted on homosexual men who had already been committed to mental institutions or imprisoned for sexual offenses. Her experiment was simple and elegant and beautiful in the way all great science is simple and elegant and beautiful.

She recruited two groups of sexually active young men, one gay and one straight.  From both groups she eliminated anyone who had ever been in therapy or trouble with the law.  Then she gave each group a battery of what were then standard clinical psychiatric tests…

Hooker used three different psychological tests for her study: the TAT, the Make-a-Picture-Story test (MAPS test), and the Rorschach inkblot test.

She used trained professionals who were skilled in administering each of the tests.  The testers did not know whether they were testing a homosexual man or a heterosexual. When she got the results back she further anonymized them so nobody looking at the tests could tell who administered the test.  Standard double-blind technique.

Then she did something simple and beautiful…

After a year of work, Hooker presented a team of 3 expert evaluators with 60 unmarked psychological profiles.

…she passed the results out to the experts and asked them if they could identify the homosexuals.

No one could.

First, she contacted Bruno Klopfer, an expert on Rorschach tests to see if he would be able to identify the sexual orientation of people through their results at those tests. His ability to differentiate was no better than chance.

Then Edwin Shneidman, creator of the MAPS test, also analyzed the 60 profiles. It took him six months and he too found that both groups were highly similar in their psychological make-up.

The third expert was Dr Mortimer Mayer who was so certain he would be able to tell the two groups apart that he went through the process twice.

The three evaluators agreed that in terms of adjustment, there were no differences between the members of each group

Well adjusted homosexuals are clinically indistinguishable from well adjusted heterosexuals.  This was what the Wolfsden researchers also found.  And this is what everyone who objectively studies gay people has found ever since.

The experiment, which other researchers subsequently repeated, demonstrates that most self-identified homosexuals are no worse in social adjustment than the general population

When you study sick homosexuals, people who have already been committed to mental institutions or sent to jail for sex crimes, then what you find are sick homosexuals.  But if you did the same thing with heterosexuals, only studying those in mental institutions or jail,  you would also conclude the same about heterosexuals and nobody does that.  The Christianist web site Lifesite tries to downplay Hooker’s study thusly…

Despite the fact that the purpose of the study was ostensibly to examine the possibility of mental instability in homosexuals, individuals who showed signs of mental instability were removed from the groups, which further predetermined the study’s conclusion.

But that was the point.  If homosexuality was the result of mental dysfunction, as NARTH and their companions in the anti-gay industrial complex insist, then removing the individuals who showed signs of mental instability would have made not a whit of difference in the outcome. The experts Hooker contacted to evaluate her test results would have still been able to identify the homosexuals because homosexuals are mentally unstable, whether they show it outwardly or not.  That the experts could not identify the homosexuals with those mentally unstable individuals removed proved decisively that the old models of homosexuality were wrong.

I am reminded of a colleague who reiterated, “all my homosexual patients are quite sick”, to which I finally replied “so are all my heterosexual patients”…

“If homosexuality is a disease (as has often been suggested), it is in a vast number of cases monosymptomatic, non-progressive, and compatible with subjective well-being and objective efficiency. In our series, both practicing and non-practicing homosexuals were on the whole successful and valuable members of society, quite unlike the popular conception of such persons as vicious, criminal, effete, or depraved”…

“The three evaluators agreed that in terms of adjustment, there were no differences between the members of each group”…

Understand this if you understand nothing else about the anti-gay industrial complex: this is knowledge that is over a half century old now.  There is nothing new here.  Most of the people reading this post will have been born after modern science clearly and unambiguously established this fact: there is nothing wrong with homosexuals.  This has been understood in the science for over half a century.

by Bruce | Link | React! (5)

March 19th, 2012

Always A Time Before Stonewall…

I updated my depressing blog post of yesterday to include something that strikes me as an extra added burden on late fifties gay male dating. It’s a situation that will hopefully be done with, or mostly so, beyond my generation of gay folk. It’s better now for gay people in a lot of ways and especially for gay kids, even accounting for the fact that bullying still takes a frightful toll.  But millennials who reach their fifties and suddenly find themselves tossed back into the dating pool should be in one that is mostly as full as it should be of randomly available older gay singles. That isn’t the case with my generation.  A lot of gay guys in the general vicinity of my age are still deeply closeted because that’s what they felt they needed to be in order to survive when they were young men back in the 70s.

Being a homosexual back when I was a gay teenager was worse then being a murderer, worse then being a rapist, worse even then being a communist. A lot of us took that to heart and never found the inner strength to live openly and honestly because the risks were just too much, the pressure was just too much.  So a lot of us put on a mask of heterosexuality back then. It was a matter of survival. And as they grew older they lived that life even if it wasn’t the life their soul was meant to live.

Now some of them have wives, some have kids, and they just can’t leave that life without doing a lot of damage to a lot of people around them.  And if at this late stage of that one chance for a decent life you get, they find themselves looking in a mirror and knowing it could have been different…harder, more of a struggle initially, but better, more honorable, more decent…they have to ask themselves if getting their self respect back, their honor back, is really worth the toll it is going to take on a lot of people, not just themselves.  And a lot of them are simply going to choose to go to their grave wearing that mask and I can’t find it in my heart to judge them for it.

And what that means for those of us of this generation who took the risk and lived honest open lives is our dating pool is a lot smaller then it should be and if we are still single at this age we’re basically fighting against really horrible odds on top of the fact that gay males are a minority to begin with. And that can’t be helped. It just is what it is.

Millennials…don’t be looking at lonely older gay guys like me in fear that this is your future.  I am not your future.  I am your past.  For gay guys of my generation it will always be a time before Stonewall.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

July 16th, 2011

History Uncloseted

In a previous post I discussed the ramifications of a bill before California governor Jerry Brown that would add the history of gay people to the textbooks and lessons of California schools. He signed it.

Gov. Brown signs bill requiring teaching of gay accomplishments

Brown issued a statement in which he called the legislation an “important step forward for our state.’’

“History should be honest,’’ Brown said. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books.’’

As I mentioned before, that honestly, not so much about the accomplishments of gay people but more, a factual account of the witch hunts violence and political and social persecution we have endured as a people, is greatly feared by the anti-gay industrial complex. And as expected, they are already moving to do a Proposition 8 on it…

Conservative group to fight gay textbook law

The proponent of the proposed referendum, Paulo Sibaja, filed a request for a title and summary with the attorney general’s office. Sibaja said he acted on behalf of the Capitol Resource Institute, which had officially opposed the bill throughout the legislative process before Gov. Jerry Brown signed it Thursday. Sibaja is the legislative director of that organization.

The Capitol Resource Institute is a hard-line, socially conservative organization that has long opposed efforts in California to expand rights for the LGBT population…

They’ll probably get their signatures too. Whether or not they can wage a successful campaign to erase a minority group from the pages of history in California remains to be seen, but expect more of The Homosexuals Are Coming For Your Children rhetoric in the coming months. And…more anti-gay violence for them to wash, wash their hands of before the multitudes.

One part of that history they never want told is coming to the screen. A documentary based on David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare is now in production

The Lavender Scare is the first feature-length documentary film to tell the story of the U.S. government’s ruthless campaign in the 1950s and ’60s to hunt down and fire every Federal employee it suspected was gay.

While the McCarthy Era is remembered as the time of the Red Scare, the headline-grabbing hunt for Communists in the United States, it was the Lavender Scare, a vicious and vehement purge of homosexuals, which lasted longer and ruined many more lives.

There’s more at the documentary website, including a trailer. The book it is based on is available in cloth, paperback and ebook form from the University of Chicago Press. I also highly recommend Neil Miller’s Sex Crime Panic (Alyson Books) and David Carter’s Stonewall (St. Martin’s Press). I would also love to hear gay history book recommendations from the readers here.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

July 12th, 2011

Yes, We Exist. And So Does Our Past.

“History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”
-David McCullough

In California bill, SB48, hopefully to be signed by Governor Jerry Brown, seeks to help correct a longstanding and bitter historical wrong. No…not the absence of gay history in the classroom

School textbooks evolve, just like the society the pages describe. The contributions of African Americans, Latinos, Asians and women – all missing or minimized in decades past – are now more fully and accurately portrayed in textbooks and other instructional materials. The role of gays and lesbians also deserves fair treatment in lessons about the development of this state and nation.

That’s the simple and forceful premise behind a bill, SB48, now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. But the idea of highlighting gay people’s contributions still draws controversy in a state where same-sex marriage remains illegal and a political wedge issue. In this case, the opposition is misguided about what’s at stake.

Ostensibly the bill is intended to improve awareness of the contributions of gay people to history. That’s a worthwhile goal in and of itself and as the second paragraph above notes, the usual suspects are raising a ruckus about it. But positive images of gay people are not what the opposition is afraid of. Here, in the Catholic Reporter, the real problem is daintily addressed…

Bishops oppose bill on gays in textbooks

William May, chairman of a California-based group called Catholics for the Common Good, said in a June 16 letter to the head of the state Assembly’s Education Committee, that problems around bullying are not going to be solved by “cosmetically sexualizing social studies” in the state’s public schools.

He said unjust discrimination against gays and lesbians “is an important fact that must be taught and not forgotten, but this bill will not affect that.” He also said the bill’s language was “so vague, and subject to such broad interpretation, that it can only lead to confusion, conflict and the potential for complaints and litigation.”

Note the formulation “unjust discrimination”. There’s the problem. Here’s the naked fear of this bill:

U.S. shifts policy on same-sex bankruptcies

The U.S. Justice Department has dropped its opposition to joint bankruptcy petitions filed by same-sex married couples in a victory for supporters of gay marriage.

The policy change is the latest setback for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which has come under increasing pressure since the Obama administration said in February that it would no longer defend its constitutionality.

The filing by the Obama Department of Justice goes beyond simply bowing out of the case…it makes a dazzlingly clear cut case that DOMA is an unconstitutional attack on a suspect minority that has suffered a long history of legal and social persecution:

Justice Dept. brief against DOMA lauded as ‘watershed moment’

LGBT rights supporters are heralding a recently filed legal brief against the Defense of Marriage Act – the first of its kind against the anti-gay law from the Obama administration – as a landmark document that will aid in bringing about the end of DOMA.

Notably, the brief recalls the U.S. government’s role in discriminating against LGBT people in its description of the ways in which LGBT people have received different treatment over the course of history. The Justice Department recalls that former President Eisenhower signed an executive order adding “sexual perversion” as grounds for dismissal for federal employees.

“The federal government enforced Executive Order 10450 zealously, engaging various agencies in intrusive investigatory techniques to purge gays and lesbians from the civilian workforce,” the brief states. “The State Department, for example, charged ‘”skilled” investigators’ with ‘interrogating every potential male applicant to discover if they had any effeminate tendencies or mannerisms,’ used polygraphs on individuals accused of homosexuality who denied it, and sent inspectors to ‘every embassy, consulate and mission’ to uncover homosexuality.’”

The full text of the brief is Here (PDF). It also reads in part:

In order to identify gays and lesbians in the civil service, the FBI “sought out state and local police officers to supply arrest records on morals charges, regardless of whether there were convictions; data on gay bars; lists of other places frequented by homosexuals; and press articles on the largely subterranean gay world”

The United States Postal Service (“USPS”), for its part, aided the FBI by establishing “a watch list on the recipients of physique magazines, subscrib[ing] to pen pal clubs, and initiat[ing] correspondence with men whom [it] believed might be homosexual.” The mail of individuals concluded to be homosexual would then be traced “in order to locate other homosexuals.”

Now consider this, and ask yourself how many times you have heard comparisons of the struggles of gay Americans and black Americans denounced because gays never were sold into slavery, never had to ride the back of the bus, never were denied the right to vote. Or comparisons with antisemitism denounced because gays were never herded into extermination camps. How many times have you heard the struggle for gay equality dismissed as the pastime of privileged rich white men. How often have we heard, and still hear, that laws protecting gay people from discrimination are unnecessary, are really just about seeking social approval.

Below is how Mad Magazine looked at our struggle back in 1971. I include this to show what the popular view of our struggle was so shortly after Stonewall, not to be pointing a finger specifically at Mad. This was how our struggle was commonly viewed back then and Mad like a lot of publications is way, way nicer to their gay readers nowadays.

Mad #145, Sept ‘71, from “Greeting Cards For The
Sexual Revolution” – “To A Gay Liberationist”

Forgive us if we’re more concerned with Indians and Blacks… So easy to say, when the shear brutality of anti-gay persecution was so completely unknown to most Americans. But of course to know that history they would have only had to look…

The Last Police Raid on Gays of Fire Island

…my mind went back to starting as a reporter at the daily Long Island Press in the 1960s covering police and courts when a Suffolk County custom was the annual police raid on the gay communities of Fire Island, a barrier beach on the Atlantic and a diverse summertime haven for New Yorkers.

Boatloads of Suffolk police would make a night-time assault on Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. Prisoners were dragged off in manacles and charged with morals violations. All would plead guilty, most being from the city and frightened about casting their lot with Long Island locals. And, no question, this was a variant of a witch hunt. Police stressed, in notifying the press about the arrestees, where they worked and what they did. They wanted to get these guys in trouble.

But looking at what was happening to us was exactly the problem. There was no news footage back then of gays being dragged off in manacles because we were considered too disgusting to even talk about in family newspapers, let alone on TV. And when we were talked about, it always had to be in the most reassuringly scary and disgusted terms…

We had to fight just to be seen, before we could fight to have our stories told.

Some years ago I watched a documentary on Logo about the gay history of Fire Island. During a time when same-sex couples risked arrest for dancing together the police would patrol the streets around a club called the Botel and arrest random young men as they left. On those nights the bartenders would get the word somehow and warn people not to leave the club alone, but go out in large groups. Typically the police would arrest at least twenty gays. There was a large telephone pole near the Botel, that had a chain fastened to it, and as the police would randomly arrest gay men as they left the Botel they would cuff them to the chain…one by one…until they had their twenty for that night.

No, we never rode the back of the bus. We rode the boat back to the mainland and to jail. We sat in the cells of all the 50 states where sodomy laws put us. As Neil Miller documented in his book, Sex-Crime Panic in sentences of indefinite length in special wings in mental hospitals created specifically for homosexuals. As David Carter documented in his book Stonewall, bars and restaurants could have their licenses revoked if they served us. And as David K. Johnson documented in his book The Lavender Scare, we were relentlessly witch hunted in the 1950s because even more then the communist threat we were viewed by the republican party as a useful tool to play wedge politics against the democrats with. And as the Obama Justice Department brief states…

State and local law also has been used to prevent gay and lesbian people from associating freely. Liquor licensing laws, both on their face and through discriminatory enforcement, were long used to harass and shut down establishments patronized by gays and lesbians…State and local police also relied on laws prohibiting lewdness, vagrancy, and disorderly conduct to harass gays and lesbians, often when gay and lesbian people congregated in public… Similar practices persist to this day…

Yes…as a matter of fact…

Police disciplined over Eagle bar raid

Ten Atlanta police officers lied about events surrounding a controversial 2009 raid at a Midtown gay bar, according to an investigative report released this week, and the department on Thursday demoted a commander and placed seven others on administrative duty. Two officers previously were fired.

The 343-page report confirmed complaints raised in the lawsuit that officers had deleted call logs, photographs and cell phone text messages, which a federal judge had ordered turned over to the lawyers for men who had filed suit. The report said the officers lied when asked about people being shoved to the floor, city ordinance violations that were witnessed and phone use that night.

Decades since Stonewall and it’s still going on. But at least now there can’t be an expectation that we will endure it quietly. And that has consequences. Bigotry no longer has the free reign it use to have over us. Sometimes we win a few. The closet as it turned out, not only kept us hidden, it kept the crimes against us hidden.

It is the prospect of that history of anti-gay persecution becoming commonly known and understood that terrifies the anti-gay industrial complex. Because then the need for laws protecting us from discrimination becomes crystal clear. Because then the hatred at the root of groups like NOM and the Family Research Council becomes sickeningly obvious. Because then it becomes hard, obscene even, to argue as Maryland Delegate Jay Walker did that,

“I cannot fathom a day in which I will be told which water fountain I can use but at the same time the gay and lesbian community had so many more things that they could participate in that African Americans and immigrants couldn’t.”

We sure did…

Across the country there was an alarming vagueness in legal definitions as to who might be classified as a sexual psychopath. State laws defined a sexual psychopath as someone who had a “propensity” to commit sex offenses (Michigan and Missouri) or who “lacked the power to control his sexual impulses” (Massachusetts and Nebraska). In most states, however, authorities couldn’t just pluck such a person off the street and label him a sexual psychopath. In Alabama, for instance, the suspect had to be convicted of a sex crime first. Under the proposed Iowa legislation, such a person had to be charged with – but not necessarily convicted of – a “public offense.” In Nebraska, on the other hand, a suspect didn’t have to be charged; all that was needed were certain facts showing “good cause” and the process of classification as a sexual psychopath could begin. And in Minnesota, the only requirements were a petition by a county attorney and an examination by “two duly licensed doctors of medicine.”

Whatever their individual wordings, such laws were intended to bring about the indefinite detention of dangerous or socially undesirable people. In all these states, a sexual psychopath could not be released from detention until psychiatrists ruled that he was “cured” or at the very least no longer posed a threat to society.

Despite their good intentions, sexual psychopath laws invariably took a catch-all approach to sexual offenses. The intended targets may have been rapists and murderers, but in almost every state with a sexual psychopath law, little or no distinction was made between violent and non-violent offenses, between consensual and nonconsensual behavior, or between harmless “sexual deviates” and dangerous sex criminals. An adult homosexual man who had sex with his lover in the privacy of his bedroom was as deviant as a child murderer. A person who had a pornographic book or photograph hidden in a night table faced the same punishment as a rapist. All these people were lumped into one category – that of the sexual psychopath – and could be incarcerated in a state hospital indefinitely.

New York lawyer and judge Morris Ploscowe, one of the most prominent critics of sexual psychopath laws at the time, found that these were most often used to punish and isolate minor offenders rather then dangerous predators. In Minnesota, which enacted its sexual psychopath law in the ’30s, some 200 people were committed to state hospitals in the first ten years of the law’s existence, according to Ploscowe. Most were detained for homosexual activity, not for being hard-core sex criminals.

-Neal Miller: Sex-Crime Panic

So many more things we could participate in…

Like the federal government, state and local governments have long discriminated against gays and lesbians in public employment. By the 1950s, may state and local governments had banned gay and lesbian employees, as well as gay and lesbian “employees of state funded schools and colleges, and private individuals in professions requiring state licenses.” … Many states and localities began aggressive campaigns to purge gay and lesbian employees from government services as early as the 1940s.

This employment discrimination was interrelated with longstanding state law prohibitions on sodomy; the discrimination was frequently justified by the assumption that gays and lesbians had engaged in criminalized and immoral sexual conduct…

-Defendant’s Brief In Opposition To Motions To Dismiss, Golinski v. Office Of Personnel Management.

At one time all fifty states had sodomy laws but never mind that, homosexuals were never really a persecuted minority. At one time bars and restaurants were forbidden from serving known homosexuals but never mind that, homosexuals were never really a persecuted minority. At one time the Post Office with help from the FBI tracked down suspected homosexuals for government witch hunters but never mind that, homosexuals were never really a persecuted minority. At one time homosexuals were rounded up and held indefinitely in mental hospitals, could have their children taken away from them, could loose their jobs, their homes, their professional licenses, their freedom, but never mind that, homosexuals were never really a persecuted minority.

1777 – A committee works on a revised set of criminal law for Virginia. Thomas Jefferson and other liberals attempt to have the death penalty for sodomy replaced by castration for men and boring a hole through the nose of a woman. The committee rejects their suggestion and retains the death penalty.

Nothing to see here…move along…

That is why our history must never be taught. As long as this history, which is still being uncovered and documented, remains hidden the haters can keep right on posturing as the aggrieved parties whenever we compare our struggle to that of other hated minorities, and their bar stool prejudices toward us to their bar stool prejudices toward others. They can keep insisting that we do not need the protection of the courts because we are not a suspect class and were never really persecuted to begin with. That we are merely a small group of privileged mostly rich white men who are seeking special rights at everyone else’s expense. That they are not bigots whose concern was never about anything more then that their hatreds always have free reign over the lives of those they hate. Forgive us if we’re more concerned with Indians and Blacks. That is why our history must never be taught.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

April 25th, 2010

Reclaiming Our History, Our Selves

This came across my screen some time ago while browsing The Stranger blog, and I’ve been meaning to write about it…

The thing I was most excited about in the writing of this article is the discovery (thanks to the good folks at Horizon Books) of a poem from 1892 titled “Jeff and Joe. A True Incident of Creede Camp, Colorado” that was published in an 1897 collection of cowboy poems titled Jim Marshall’s New Pianner and Other Western Stories by William Devere, the self-described “Tramp Poet of the West.” The poem is an exceptional artifact. Devere writes of a pair of cowhands he knew at Creede Camp:

Jeff, yer see, thought well of Joe—
Knowed him thirty years or so,
Pal’d together down below.
Joe liked Jeff and Jeff liked Joe,
An’ through all the changin’ years,
Sheered each other’s smiles and tears.Worked together, tooth and nail,
Punchin’ cattle up the trail;
Dealt the old thing; tackled bluff;
Each one blowed the other’s stuff,

The cowboys enjoy a fairly open, long-term committed homosexual relationship…

Uncovering the story of gay people throughout the pages of time is a kind of archeology.  Our past has been carefully buried by layer upon layer of prejudice, hate and oppression.  Sometimes, as in the case of ancient poems, the burial involves nothing more then the deft changing of a pronoun by some past editor or copyist.  A monk, carefully transcribing an ancient text, happens upon evidence of the sin of Sodom and covers it over with a few strokes of the quill, and a same-sex love is thereby turned into another opposite-sex one.  The original manuscript can then be safely burned later, perhaps after saying a few prayers.  Most of Sappho, the greatest poet of ancient times, is lost to us now as is an entire book of letters written by the philosopher Aristotle to Hephaestion, the lover of Alexander.

That erasing of our history continues to this day.  The web page for the upcoming movie, Young Alexander the Great, advertises its telling the tale of Alexander’s teen years thusly:

Alexander is at school, where he lives and studies with other boys, the sons of Macedonian noblemen. Their tutor is the legendary philosopher, Aristotle. The atmosphere is friendly but competitive, however, Alexander experiences all the problems a modern teenager has today, be it bullies and cheats at school, or winning the affections of beautiful girls.

Our history, the poetry of our hearts across the ages, is carefully erased so we can cease to be human beings in their eyes, so we can be their convenient scapegoats.  Cowboys?  Gay cowboys?   In John Wayne’s west?  Are you nuts or something?

Joe gets sick and dies, after being assured by Jeff that he lived a good life, as a cowboy should, and that there’ll be no “gospel sharks” preaching or praying at his funeral. Devere pays tribute to the grieving Jeff:

An’ as for Jeff—well, I may say,
No better man exists to-day.
I don’t mean good the way you do—
No, not religious—only true.
True to himself, true to his friend;
Don’t quit or weaken to the end.
An’ I can swear, if any can,
That Jeff will help his fellow man.
An’ here I thank him—do you see?
For kindness he has shown to me.
An’ This I’ll say, when all is o’er,
An’ Jeff has crossed to t’other shore,
I only hope that you and me
May stand as good a chance as he.

That was written by someone who had actually lived the American west during the period later idealized by a Hollywood where any mention of homosexuality was prohibited by the Hayes code.   We know there was no casual acceptance of homosexuality in the American frontier because Hollywood told us so.  And it still does.  One year after Brokeback Mountain came unexpectedly and uncomfortably close to winning best picture, Hollywood gave us an updated 3:10 To Yuma.  So as to quickly reassure the movie going public that homosexuals, if they existed at all west of the Mississippi, were psychotic killers the guy in the white hat always dispatched at the end of the film, one was tastefully added to the remake.  Micheal Jensen at After Elton describes it thusly…

The new film 3:10 to Yuma delivers yet another coded gay villain to add to the already crowded pantheon. A remake of the 1957 film starring Glenn Ford, Russell Crowe plays the role of outlaw Ben Wade. Christian Bale co-stars as Dan Evans, the down on his luck Civil War veteran desperate enough to try to bring Wade to justice despite the near certainty he’ll die trying. And Ben Foster stars as Charlie Prince, Wade’s villainous henchman and second in command who oozes gay subtext.

To be perfectly clear, Foster’s part is actually rather small, so don’t expect GLAAD to issue a press release taking director James Mangold to task for denigrating the gay community. That being said, there is also no mistaking that Foster’s character is indeed coded as gay and is done so to make him even more unsettling to filmgoers since being a murderous sociopath apparently isn’t bad enough.

When we first see Charlie Prince, he is astride his horse, one hand draped delicately over the other with the limpest wrist this side of the Mississippi river. He is by far the nattiest dresser in the entire cast, and if that isn’t mascara he’s wearing when we first meet him then I’m Buffalo Bill.

Foster’s casting tells us a great deal about what Mangold intended for the character. He is a slight man, probably best known as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand and as Russell, Claire’s sexually ambiguous boyfriend in Six Feet Under. Macho isn’t a word likely to often be used in describing Foster.

Within the first five minutes of Prince’s appearance onscreen, one character refers to him as “missy” and “Charlie Princess,” a nickname usually not uttered to his face, but apparently widely used behind his back. Naturally, Prince is utterly ruthless, killing anyone who gets in his way, and showing no emotion at all – not unless he’s interacting with Ben Wade, who clearly makes Charlie swoon.

You know how this ends…right?

The film’s climax is appropriately dire, with bullets flying every which way. Of course, the odds against Evans’ succeeding seem impossibly high, and I won’t give away the ending (except to say that it is improbable at best), but of course Charlie Prince does figure prominently.

He arrives at the very end, riding in to rescue Wade from Evans’ heterosexual clutches. Naturally, that involves putting a bullet into Evans, an act that so infuriates Wade that he in turn pumps Prince full of bullets himself. Shocked at the actions of the man he adores, the dying Prince looks like nothing so much as a dog being put down by his master.

As Wade watches Prince die, I couldn’t shake the feeling that thanks to the influence of Evans, he now sees Prince clearly for the first time. It is only then that he understands what friendship between two men should be like and it doesn’t involve what Prince yearned for. He may have been an outlaw and a murderer, but make no mistake – that isn’t the reason Prince has to die at the end of the film.

Brokeback Mountain uncovered a painful part of the story of gay people in the American west…if not the frontier days.   It was a surprise hit, and that outraged the Hollywood good old boys club.  In the weeks before the Oscar ceremonies, some members of the Motion Picture Academy, some of whom owed their careers to the closeted gays in the business, bellyached openly that not only were they not going to vote for Brokeback Mountain, they weren’t going to even bother watching it, a violation of Academy rules.  “If John Wayne were alive he’d be rolling in his grave,” said Ernest Borgnine.

Clearly, something had to be done…

What surprised most of all is that the homophobic subtext isn’t a leftover relic from the original 3:10 that Mangold felt compelled to include. That would’ve been bad enough, but instead almost all of the coded gay aspects in the remake were introduced by either Mangold or the film’s assorted screenwriters.

In the original movie, Prince is played by character actor Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen, Starman). At no point is his character called “missy” or referred to as “Charlie Princess”. In the saloon scene where Wade flirts with Emmy, Prince also spends time talking with her. Nor is it made to seem that Prince is pining over his boss, jealous over the attention he gives to others. At one point, he even discusses his having a wife.

One thing does remain the same in both movies: Prince dies in each, but in the 1957 version it’s at the hands of Evans, not Wade. Thus there is no message sent that Prince is being punished for his “queer” transgressions against Wade (which aren’t even present).

[Emphasis mine...] Perhaps that stopped John Wayne rolling in his grave.  On the other hand, maybe John Wayne would have appreciated a good story and good acting that broadened the audience’s understanding of their neighbors in this life.  Uber patriot he may have been but I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting he was a bigot.  And he starred in at least one western based on a novel written by an openly gay man.  It was William Dale Jennings‘  The Cowboys.  If Wayne read the book prior to making the movie, he had to know about it’s gay subtext.  In fact, the book was a source of controversy to publishers back in 1971 because of it, which sorta makes it surprising it was made into a movie at all, even allowing for the fact the gay subtext was cleanly erased from it.

As you read the story of Wil Anderson,  a small rancher so desperate to get his herd to market after all his men ran off on a gold rush, that he let’s himself get talked into taking on the town’s teenagers as help, it’s easy to just miss the sweet, and at the end of it tragic, teenage love story happening right there in front of you.  It is between Slim and Charlie Schwartz, and it’s tragic because in the end Charlie is shot by the bandits who try to steal Wil’s herd and Slim is the one who carries his dying friend’s body back to the wagon.

Slim and Charlie arrive at Wil Anderson’s ranch with the town’s other young teenagers and instantly Anderson picks up on the fact of their close friendship.   Slim looks to Wil to the the most mature, sensible kid in the bunch, while Charlie, who has a game leg, doesn’t look like he’ll make the cut.  Wil doesn’t want to take on a cripple and right away Charlie seems a bit of a hothead.  But Slim is very protective of his friend and Charlie eventually proves to Wil that he can do as good a job as any of the other kids.  When Charlie gets thrown in the midst of a stampeding heard of horses, Slim races out to rescue him, almost getting himself killed in the process when his own cinch breaks just as he snatches his friend from the path of the thundering herd.  Wil chews them both out for the mistakes they made that nearly got them both killed…

Then he turned to Slim and shouted as if the boy were a mile away: “And you Mr. Galahad, just you listen to me!  You better get down on your knees and pray God that cinch of yours really broke.  Because if I find it’s in one piece and only came loose I’m running your tail out of here today.  If you don’t know how to saddle a horse proper, you don’t belong on the Double-O!”

Mr. Galahad… It seems they are inseparable.  But Charlie is suddenly taken with Cimarron, a beautiful young Mexican drifter who wanders onto Wil’s ranch looking for work.  When Charlie decides to be Cimarron’s bunkie during the cattle drive, Slim gets a tad jealous…

Slim was eating alone off to one side.   Charlie Schwartz brought his plate over and sat down beside him.

“What’s the matter Slim?”

“Nothing.”

“Come on.”

“Well, shouldn’t I be kind of took back at the way you threw in with the bean-eater?  When your soogan burned in the barn I just naturally thought you’d be my bunkie.”

“He asked.”

“Did I have to ask?”

“I wouldn’t have thought so.”

“You gonna keep with him?”

“I guess.”

Well I never thought you’d choose a stranger over me.  And for sure not a bean-eater.”

“Call him Cimarron.”

“That’s not his name.”

“That’s his summer name.  It means somebody who ran away.”

“And that ain’t all.  It’s a name for somebody wild and lawless and won’t join in.  It must have been gave to him.  It’s too good for him to take himself.”

“He’s not really like that Slim.”

“And I’ll tell you something else, Charlie Schwartz.  I happen to know he has a desperado flag in his war bag.”

“A what?”

“One of them red sashes the old cowboys wore when they wanted to show off and raise hell.”

“Slim, I’ll thank you not to talk him down.  He’s my friend.”

“All right.”

Later on the drive, Wil takes note of which boys have partnered with which…

Early in the drive they began to split the blankets.  After a hard rain, they found that if they doubled up they could sleep on a tarp as well as under one.  Unexpected pairs tried each other out and became bunkies.  Only Slim and Weedy slept alone.  Nobody would have Weedy, and Slim would have nobody.

It almost goes right over your head because, well, that sort of thing just Never Happened in the old west.  Jennings doesn’t come right out and say what’s going on between Slim, Charlie and Cimarron, but as you read this next passage from the book, one that didn’t make it into the film, note that in Jenning’s glossary of cowboy terms at the back of the book, “bunkie” for “bedmate” is related to “bunky”, which is a horse that pitches…

Wil began to fret when Cimarron didn’t show up. It just about had to mean the beautiful little bastard had got himself into some sort of trouble down to the south. The Old Woman said, “No, maybe he just got himself loose in the foots and free in the fancy. Cimarron ain’t no fireside boy, you know. He don’t belong to nothing and nobody except himself. Could be he just cut his pocket pin and drifted.”

Everybody was looking at him. Wil felt tired and mean. He turned to young Charlie Schwartz and asked, “You’re his bunkie. You think that’s what he did?”

Young Charlie looked at the ground in what would have been blushing confusion if he hadn’t been so tanned. Then he looked up and set Wil Andersen back on his heels. “It takes more then sleeping with a man to know what’s on his mind.”

Wil looked at the ground. The Old Woman was smiling, but it was a good point. Wil almost liked the boy for a moment, because you could see he was worried about Cimarron too.

It’s easy, given how much of our past has been deliberately erased, for people to point and say that Jennings was a militant homosexual activist imposing homosexuality on a time and people in our nation’s history where there was no such thing.  But among other things Jennings relates in the glossary of cowboy terms,  a “gimlet” is a tool for boring holes, but  Gimlet-ended” to the cowboy meant a man with a small butt and to “gimlet” your horse was to ride it so hard it got a sore back.  As Jennings writes, something is clearly being alluded to there in cowboy slang.

Slang is worth paying attention to because it’s where words become art that everyday people use to describe their lives and their world.  The world of the cowboys was a real place with real people in it.  Some of whom, were same-sex couples.

An’ This I’ll say, when all is o’er,
An’ Jeff has crossed to t’other shore,
I only hope that you and me
May stand as good a chance as he.

Someday, we’ll have our history back.  All of it.  And…our poetry.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

August 11th, 2009

Gay Americans…Republican’s Cynical Weapon Against Democrats Since Truman

You hear some folks bellyache about those "Gay Studies" curriculums in various colleges and universities.  If they’re not complaining that they’re utterly worthless exercises in pointless "diversity", they’re insinuating that the courses couldn’t be about anything but how to have gay sex. 

I’ve never gone through one of these curriculums myself, but if the vast treasure trove of gay history that’s out there is any measure, a Gay Studies course isn’t just a nice idea for promoting diversity, it’s an important part of the human story.  Particularly here in America, where gay citizens have been a punching bag, a handy scarecrow, for every hysteria that’s ever swept through the country.  Case in point, the red scare of the 1950s.

I’m only part way into David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare, and already its challenging some of my bedrock views of what happened to my country during the so-called McCarthy era.  Far from being merely a sideshow to the communist witch hunts of the 1950s, the purges of gay Americans were central to it.  And…surprise, surprise, the engine for it all was republican hunger for political power.

Right at the beginning of the book, Johnson describes, using newspaper accounts of the time, interviews, and newly declassified documents, how the republicans in the late 1940s, out of power since Hoover brought on the great depression, saw the issue of homosexuals in government as a useful weapon against the party in power. 

They orchestrated a hearing in which they pressed the secretary of state for information about communists in the state department.  But it was a game of tag.  In the process of defending themselves against the republican charge that they had allowed communists to get and hold jobs in the state department, the democrats described how they were diligently ferreting out "security risks".  Far from being lax said the democrats, they’d uncovered and removed 91 "security risks" from the state department.

Which gave the republicans an opening to press them for details.  How many of those were communists?  It was a question the republicans already knew the answer to, because they’d had all the details in a closed door hearing previously.  What they wanted was to get it out in the open.  And the democrats, backed into a corner and not wanting to leave it hanging out there that they’d let so many communists into the state department when they hadn’t actually, said, that in fact none of them were communists, nobody had been let go from the state department for disloyalty.  The 91 people fired were not accused of being traitors.  Just…you know…security risks.  Pressed further they admitted that these people had all been fired because they were homosexuals.

That was what the republicans wanted to hear, and get into the papers.  Not a communist threat, but a lavender one.  Why?  Because it was felt that the moral issue played even better against the democrat’s base…working class and poor Americans, then the communist threat did.  In other words, it made a great wedge issue against the democrats.  And right from the beginning, when Joe McCarthy began waving around his baseless claims of a vast communist conspiracy lurking in the federal government, some republicans…even in his own state…were counseling him to downplay the communist thing and play up the morals charges more, because for one thing they actually were finding homosexuals working in government agencies, but mostly because it made the voters in the democrat’s base even angrier.

McCarthy of course, didn’t take that advise.  He pressed on with his communist bogyman and the question echoed in the committee chambers of capital hill, are you now, or have you ever been a communist?  But while McCarthy was busy stirring up the Communist Menace and getting headlines, the republican party was busy stirring up the Homosexual Menace and a great purge began which…ironically…led to the formation of the first gay rights groups as gay people began to get tired of being kicked around and started pushing back.

Later, during the black civil rights movement, the republicans would go on to exploit white working class racial fears against the democrats in exactly the same way.  But here, even as far back as the late 1940s, you can see them using the Homosexual Menace as a tool to divide and weaken the democrats.  Because accusing the democrats of tolerating homosexuality worked even better then nearly anything else the republicans could throw at them…even communism.  And it wouldn’t stop working, until we gay Americans, having had enough of it, took to the streets in defense of our lives.

You want to know why it’s so damn important that we make a big deal out of our sexual orientation?  Why we don’t just quietly "leave it in the bedroom where it belongs"…?  This is why.  Because our lives were turned into cannon fodder for the power dreams of politicians and that needs to stop.  This country needs to look…really look…at the character of those loud voices bearing moral crusades, waving around scarecrows that have their neighbor’s faces on them.

The moral rot that is on plain view every night on Fox News and in the many health care "town halls" going on all across the country…in the "birthers" and the "deathers"…it isn’t new.  Not at all.  What’s different now is the gutter that all those country club republicans began playing to back in the Truman years has taken over, and they have their own voice now in the national news media.  And you need to understand this: those country club republicans would be fine, even with that, if it could keep them in power.

Perhaps you could see this just as clearly from looking at the history of race relations in America, and republican party race baiting.  But the history of the struggle of gay Americans for equality and justice is American history too, and you really see what the republican crusade for "morality" and "family values" is made of when you study it.

[Edited a tad...]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

July 6th, 2009

If You Understand Nothing Else Understand This: Those Days Are Over

Dan Savage puts his finger on what’s so utterly dumbfounding about the Rainbow Lounge raid…

…The police burst into that bar as if it were still 1968, the year before the NYPD’s raid on the Stonewall Inn, as if the old rules were still in force. They assumed that the other men at Rainbow Lounge that night—the men who witnessed four officers assaulting Chad Gibson—would disappear into the night, grateful that they got out of the Rainbow Lounge without getting assaulted and arrested too. The police didn’t expect the other gay men men at the Rainbow Lounge to talk to the media—or to organize a protest outside Fort Worth’s city hall. The police didn’t even seem to realize that there were men taking pictures with their cell phones during the raid. It’s as if the police in Fort Worth didn’t know what decade this is.

Read the whole thing on SLOG

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

June 27th, 2009

Message From A Stonewall Adult, To A Post-Stonewall Kid…

The day after the homos rioted in Greenwich Village, the New York newspapers barely mentioned it.  But that was par for the course back in the 60s.  I was a fifteen year old kid when it happened, growing up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., and didn’t hear about the riots until I was well into my own coming out to myself process in 1971.  By then, the scruffy, angry, younger gay liberation front was rudely elbowing aside an older generation of more genteel suit and tie activists, who had tried with painfully little to show for it, to work within the system for change. 

You’d have thought the gay civil rights movement had begun on the street in front of the Stonewall Inn.  It didn’t.   In the lightning flash of the Stonewall riots we lost sight for a while of how much courage it would have taken to picket for gay rights in front of the White House, as activist Frank Kameny and members of the Mattachine Society of Washington did on April 17, 1965.  Kameny was rightfully honored recently at a White House ceremony, and received an official apology for being fired in 1957 from his position as an astronomer for the Army map service.  People think the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s were all about ferreting out communists in government and industy.  But homosexuals were just as much, if not more of a target then.  We need to remember the staggering courage it took for those early pioneers in the struggle to come forward, and push back against the hate.  But we also need to remember this

A prominent Stonewall myth holds that the riots were an uprising by the gay community against decades of oppression. This would be true if the “gay community” consisted of Stonewall patrons. The bar’s regulars, though, were mostly teenagers from Queens, Long Island and New Jersey, with a few young drag queens and homeless youths who squatted in abandoned tenements on the Lower East Side.

I was there on the Saturday and Sunday nights when the Village’s established gay community, having heard about the incidents of Friday night, rushed back from vacation rentals on Fire Island and elsewhere. Although several older activists participated in the riots, most stood on the edges and watched.

Many told me they were put off by the way the younger gays were taunting the police — forming chorus lines and singing, “We are the Stonewall girls, we wear our hair in curls!” Many of the older gay men lived largely closeted lives, had careers to protect and years of experience with discrimination. They believed the younger generation’s behavior would lead to even more oppression…

And thus the phrase "militant homosexuals" entered the vernacular.  But all it takes to become a Militant Homosexual is to simply believe there is nothing wrong with you and behave accordingly.  There is nothing unusual about people getting angry when they are mistreated.  There is nothing remarkable about people fighting back when their basic human rights are denied them.  There is nothing less surprising then to witness lovers protecting and defending the sacred ground between them.  Especially young lovers.  When someone utters the phrase "militant homosexuals", what you should be hearing is: I Can’t See The People For The Homosexuals.

The older generation had grown up in a time when homosexuality was almost universally regarded as a dirty secret, a filthy perversion, the less spoken of the better.  As new studies began to show that we were a natural part of the human family after all, that generation began, very courageously, to take that message to the public.  See…we’re just like you after all…  And so we are, the ordinary among us and the exotic both.  But you can’t reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into. 

As long as the rest of society could look the other way while our lives were drowned in a sea of prejudice and hate, we would never make any progress.  As long as the rest of society could ignore the toll prejudice was taking on our lives, that prejudice would keep doing its work on us.  That night in June of 1969, the frustration of the young and outcast simply boiled over.  And the rest of us saw something we had never seen before: gay people, angry gay people, fighting back.  And it lit a fire in us.  And we would never be the same.  Because a few street kids and drag queens simply had enough, that one night, that one time.

There are times when it’s wise to listen to what the older generation has to say.  We’ve been there…we took the hits…we saw it all with our own eyes.  But never…Never…let someone old enough to have achieved some measure of success, and made a good and comfortable life for themselves, tell You what you have to put up with. 

[Edited...much...]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

June 14th, 2009

Why We Fight…(continued)

While reading the extract below, keep in mind that the author is talking about a time in this country, the 1950s, when every state in the union outlawed same sex relations among consenting adults.  No prostitution or public sexual conduct was necessary to be convicted of "the crime against nature".  Gay men and women, caught up in police witch hunts, often had to denounce others.  And in addition to being locked up in jail, people’s names, and sometimes photographs were published, and homes and jobs would be lost…

Across the country there was an alarming vagueness in legal definitions as to who might be classified as a sexual psychopath.  State laws defined a sexual psychopath as someone who had a "propensity" to commit sex offenses (Michigan and Missouri) or who "lacked the power to control his sexual impulses" (Massachusetts and Nebraska).  In most states, however, authorities couldn’t just pluck such a person off the street and label him a sexual psychopath.  In Alabama, for instance, the suspect had to be convicted of a sex crime first.  Under the proposed Iowa legislation, such a person had to be charged with – but not necessarily convicted of – a "public offense."  In Nebraska, on the other hand, a suspect didn’t have to be charged; all that was needed were certain facts showing "good cause" and the process of classification as a sexual psychopath could begin.  And in Minnesota, the only requirements were a petition by a county attorney and an examination by "two duly licensed doctors of medicine."

Whatever their individual wordings, such laws were intended to bring about the indefinite of dangerous or socially undesirable people.  In all these states, a sexual psychopath could not be released from detention until psychiatrists rule that he was "cured" or at the very least no longer posed a threat to society.

Despite their good intentions, sexual psychopath laws invariably took a catch-all approach to sexual offenses.  The intended targets may have been rapists and murderers, but in almost every state with a sexual psychopath law, little or no distinction was made between violent and non-violent offenses, between consensual and nonconsensual behavior, or between harmless "sexual deviates" and dangerous sex criminals.  An adult homosexual man who had sex with his lover in the privacy of his bedroom was as deviant as a child murderer.  A person who had a pornographic book or photograph hidden in a night table faced the same punishment as a rapist.  All these people were lumped into one category – that of the sexual psychopath – and could be incarcerated in a state hospital indefinitely.

New York lawyer and judge Morris Ploscowe, one of the most prominent critics of sexual psychopath laws at the time, found that these were most often used to punish and isolate minor offenders rather then dangerous predators.  In Minnesota, which enacted its sexual psychopath law in the ’30s, some 200 people were committed to state hospitals in the first ten years of the law’s existence, according to Ploscowe.  Most were detained for homosexual activity, not for being hard-core sex criminals.

-Neal Miller: Sex-Crime Panic

This may be difficult for some of my heterosexual readers to grasp here…but back in those days, mere possession of pornography was enough to get you lumped in with rapists, murderers…and homosexuals.  What may be difficult for some of my younger gay readers to grasp, is that a heterosexual charged with possession of pornography back then would likely be more appalled to to find themselves being compared to homosexuals then to rapists and murderers.  The stigma of being homosexual really was that profound.  You were more despicable then even rapists and murderers.  More despicable even, then a communist.

When the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the sodomy laws in 2003, fourteen states still had some form of sodomy law on the books…four of them applying only to conduct between members of the same sex.  In Idaho and Michigan you could get life for it.  That was only six years ago.

If you’re curious, Miller’s book, Sex Crime Panic is a good place to begin developing an understanding of what Stonewall means to your gay and lesbian neighbors.  Miller details events that took place in Iowa in 1955, following the rape and murder of two children.  To address a growing public anti-gay hysteria, authorities arrested 20 gay men who they never even claimed had anything to do with the murders, had them declared "sexual psychopaths" and locked them up in a state mental hospital indefinitely.  The only thing unique about Miller’s story, is that someone actually went to the trouble to document it all, finally.

by Bruce | Link | React! (3)

January 27th, 2009

Boys Will Be Girls And Girls Will Be Boys

I hadn’t known this, but the other day on Fark.Com one of the headlines read that January is National Drag History Month.  As a gay man who tends to favor somewhat androgynous males, I have to admit that some of these performers just knock me out.  That’s not to say I like it when guys dress up as girls, so much as when guys can be sexy and sultry and beautiful.  There’s an art to this that I never really appreciated when I was younger, and stereotyped drag as an artifact of gay repression.  You can certainly view it that way.  But in a more liberated time, you can also view it as a kind of subversive gender-bending art that is beautiful and sexy for its own sake.

Some drag performers don’t have it.  They just look like guys wearing dresses.  But some guys have got it going on.  One commenter on Fark said that a boy in a dress is just a boy in a dress. 

No…  Not at all…

…not at all.   

So…  Happy National Drag History Month Mrs Cuba…aka Deanna Lexington.  Wish my friends down there hadn’t been such a bunch of jackass knuckle-dragging dickheads and let me have a chance to meet you last year.  But if you happen to chance across this post…I have some more photos from that Academy of Washington D.C. Miss Gaye Universe Ball.  It was nice to see you get an award.  Personally, I thought you should have taken it all.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

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