Aug 24, 2013

Dylan Minnette and Braeden LeMasters: Let the Right One In

17-year old Dylan Minnette may be best known for his role as Kenny in Let Me In (2010), the American remake of Let the Right One In (2008).  He played the leader of a group of bullies who take a violent and arguably homoerotic interest in the androgynous young Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), pushing him into the romance with a female vampire.

In the original novel and the Swedish version, the vampire is actually a castrated boy living as a girl, but Let Me In  heterosexualizes the romance by making her biologically female.  All that's left is the throwaway line "I'm not a girl," which mystifies Owen.

Pictured: Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak as another of the bullies terrorizing Owen.

The "bad guy" role was a change of pace for Dylan, who carefully establishes on the DVD commentary that he and Kodi were friends off camera.  Previously he was cast in "nicer" roles in such vehicles as The Year without a Santa Claus and Snow Buddies.

Several tv series with gay characters, including starring roles on Saving Grace, Awake, and a gay-themed episode of Law and Order: SVU. 

Dylan is best friends with 17-year old Braeden LeMasters (second from left), who played in the gay-themed Six Feet Under and in the gay-positive Easy A (2010) with Dan Byrd.  

Both are rumored to be gay in real life, but with so many heterosexual allies around, who knows?

Their band, the Feaver, also includes Zack Mendenhall on bass and Cole Preston on drums.  They've played at some prestigious venues, including the Chicago House of Blues, the Viper Room, and the Whiskey A-Go-Go (at an all ages event).  Their songs, including "The Formula," "Old School Man," and "In the City," are often not heterosexist.

Aug 23, 2013

Fall 1975: Swishes: An Aversion to Muscles and Women

When I first arrived at Rocky High for 10th grade in August 1975, I was impressed.  It rose like a fantasy-world castle on the western summit of the Hill, just north of the statue of Chief Black Hawk.  There were lots of interesting classes like Quad Cities History, Arthurian Legends, Archaeology, and Latin.  And there were hundreds of cute boys!  I watched shirtless guys perform in South Pacific from the orchestra pit; I measured Rocks (athletes) for uniforms as an athletic trainer; I had lunch with the King of Sweden.

But soon I realized that Rocky High was not a castle but a fortress, a bulwark against an unnamed evil.

One night in September, Darry made use of his new learner’s permit to drive us to Happy Joe’s, the pizza place that only high schoolers went to. After we found a booth and sat down, we saw Warren Hodge (not his real name), the cute blackhaired cellist who was in charge of our lunchtime crowd, sitting at a small table with his Just Friend Colleen.   The guy second from the right looks like him.

He was gesturing angrily, so I left Darry looking at a menu and went over to see what he wanted.

“Are you from East Moline, Spazz?” he yelled, standing to make himself heard over the noise.
“What’s bugging you?” I asked.
“What’s bugging me is two guys  -- neither of them Rocks -- in Happy Joe’s – alone -- at night!”
“Boomer doesn’t know any better,” Colleen said, mollifying. She reached out a chubby hand to touch Warren’s arm. “It’s not his fault.”
“Ok, so now he knows better! Get out now, and don’t let me catch you doing it again!”
“What’s not my fault?” I asked, still not comprehending.
“Look -- if you and your buddy-buddy are so strung out for pizza, invite someone else – a Rock -- a girl -- your Mommy if you have to. But never just two guys. What will people think, if we see you in a booth at Happy Joe’s, at 8:00 pm, with a guy?”

“Why would they care? And what’s so jazzed about 8:00 pm? Would 7:30 be ok?”

Overcome by my stupidity, Warren sat down again. He dropped his head into his hands and moaned  “Why do we let tenth-grade Spazzes into our Crowd?”

Colleen touched my wrist. “It’s an important rule. Haven’t you heard it yet?”
“I’ve only heard rules about dating girls.”
“Well, there are rules about boys, too!"
Fascinated, I said “Lay it on me, Mr. Wizard. What do I need to know to date boys?”
“Don’t get smart!”

Colleen turned to me. “Ok, so never go out at night with just another guy. Invite a Rock or a girl, or go in a group. On account of if it’s just the two guys, and neither are Rocks, people might think you’re. . .you know.” She displayed a wrist hanging loosely from her hand.

“I know what?
“Pardon my French,” Warren said, “But people will think you’re a Swish, ok?”
I had never heard the term "Swish" before -- people usually just said "That Way." Warren and Colleen had to explain it to me.

Every boy occasionally slipped up and acted like a girl,  and the Fairies of junior high pretended to be girls, getting good grades or disliking sports -- to the consternation of junior high bullies like Dick Sunstrom -- but Swishes (called Fags on TV) weren't pretending.  They actually were girls, or rather a bizarre hybrid, physiologically male but far more feminine than any real girl.  They reeked of perfume and face powder, and wore low-cut evening gowns with strands of pearls, and carried handbags, and called you "Thweetie" in a baby-doll lisp.

No one ever suggested that Swishes might desire sex, with mortal men or with each other. A year later, when I heard the term "gay" for the first time, I didn't immediately make the connection.

How could boys and men, drawn to the masculine, revolted by the feminine, ever become Swishes?  You could turn by choice, a suicidal rejection of the masculine, but most commonly you turned by force.  Swishes took perverse delight in creating more of their kind, so they lurked in bars, in alleys, in deserted hallways, waiting, ready to pounce.  All it took was a touch of a limp, many-ringed hand on your shoulder or a few lisping words whispered in the ear like an incantation.

How could you distinguish a Swish from a mortal?  They could hide their most blatantly feminine traits, but it was impossible to hide:
1. Their violent aversion to women (they wouldn't even be in the same room with a woman, if they could help it)
2. Their intense hatred of Rocks, especially the most muscular (they wouldn't even pass the locker room, if they could help it).

So naturally I demonstrated that I wasn't a Swish by sitting with girls at the lunch table, and by going out to dinners and movies every weekend with the most muscular Rocks I could find.

Sea Hunt

You may remember Lloyd Bridges as the feisty octogenarian personal trainer Izzy Mandelbaum on Seinfeld, (1998), or airport supervisor Steve McCroskey in Airplane (1980).   Or for his roles in Blown Away, Hot Shots, Weekend Warriors, East of Eden, The Fifth Musketeer, How the West was Won, Roots, and 200 other movies and tv series.  But for the first generation of Boomer kids, he was Mike Nelson on Sea Hunt.

Produced by Ivan Tors, who also gave us the beefcake-heavy Flipper, Sea Hunt (1958) was about a scuba diver who traveled around, fighting Cooperstowne, rescuing people, exploring underwater caves, and instructing the public on diving safety.

Lloyd Bridges was an unlikely star, in his 40s with no previous scuba diving experience, and currently being subjected to Hollywood blacklisting for his participation in the Actors Lab, an alleged communist organization.  But the veteran of 20 years of action-adventure movies rose to the role, took scuba diving lessons, and ended up doing most of his own stunt work.

And all of his shirtless and semi-nude shots, displaying a massive chest on screen, in magazines, and in a long-running comic book series.

Going against the tradition of 1960s detective-adventure boyfriends (Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip), Mike Nelson usually worked alone, but occasionally he had a buddy to dive with, and he rescued men as often as women.  Many future stars appeared on the show, including Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek), Larry Hagman (I Dream of Jeannie), and Lloyd's sons, Beau and Jeff (left).

Aug 22, 2013

True Jackson: The First Gay Character on Children's TV

Gay-coded adult men have been commonplace in children's television for many years, their gay-coded traits signifying laughable inferiority-- think of Mr. Moseby, the persnickety hotel manager on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, or Mr. Bickles, the drama teacher who keeps getting his dreams crushed on Fairly Oddparents.  

But those characters were carefully heterosexualized, both by giving them fruitless attempts to gain the attention of "the ladies," and through the complete inability of any other character, juvenile or adult, to recognize even the most blatant gay stereotype.

Nickelodeon's True Jackson, VP (2008-2011) may have been the first juvenile program where the gay-coded adult was surrounded by characters who knew.  It was about a 15-year old girl (Keke Palmer, left) who becomes the vice president of the fashion company Mad Style.  She and her best friends, Lulu (Ashley Argota) and Ryan (Matt Shively, below), bring youthful joie de vivre to the struggling company.  The receptionist Oscar (Ron Butler, right), feminine, fabulously-dressed, and sarcastic, becomes True's confidant and gay bff.

Almost all gay male characters in comedies are extremely feminine receptionists, secretaries, hairstylists, or wedding planners, so Oscar would be nothing special.  Except he's in a teencom.  And no one ever asks about girlfriends, or suggests that he is inept at attracting "the ladies."  Everybody knows that he's gay.

He gets no heterosexual plotlines, and only one heterosexual statement: asked to comment on male attractiveness, he responds "How should I know?  I'm a dude."

The fan boards went wild with speculation.  Was the character "supposed to be gay"?  Was the actor gay?  Most said things like "Get real!  This is a kid's show!"

I didn't see any other gay texts or subtexts, not even a lesbian subtext between True and Lulu.  All other primary relationships were male-female, and plots returned obsessively to the hetero-romantic entanglements of the teens.  True dates Jimmy (Robbie Amell, top photo, later on Struck by Lightning), Lulu dates Mikey J (Trevor Brown); Ryan has a series of crushes before settling down with a girlfriend of his own.

But through it all Oscar sits at his receptionist desk, watching, commenting on the action, saying "We exist here, too."

See also: Some Assembly Required  and 10 Teen Hunks of Disney Summer Movies.

Aug 21, 2013

Struck by Lightning: A Big, Scary Gay Scandal

23-year old Chris Colfer, the gay actor who plays the uber-feminine Kurt on Glee, made waves in January 2013 when he wrote, produced, and starred in the black comedy Struck By Lightning.  He plays high schooler Carson Phillips, who doesn't display any romantic or erotic interest in anyone but is probably supposed to be gay.

Carson aspires to go to Northwestern University, major in journalism, and become an editor at The New Yorker (how's that for a specific goal?).

The best way to get into Northwestern?  Submit a literary magazine that he edited.
The best way to get good submissions?  Blackmail students into submitting.

I'm not sure that's logical, but there's scandal aplenty to draw from.

1. Claire (Sarah Hyland) is having sex with the brother of her boyfriend (Robbie Amell, below, previously of True Jackson VP), who also happens to be the coach.

2. Rich kid Nicholas (Carter Jenkins of Aliens in the Attic, top photo) is secretly gay, and involved with drama club queen Scott (Graham Rogers).
3. Dwayne (Matt Prokop) smokes pot.
4. Foreign-exchange student Emilio (Robert Aguirre) is really from San Diego.

Plus there's a nude photo, a Goth girl into S&M, a baby born out of wedlock, and addiction to prescription drugs.  Eventually the entire student body hates Carson.

To make matters worse,  Carson's application was "lost in the mail," so he doesn't get into Northwestern, and will have to attend community college (he didn't have a safety school?).  But it wasn't really lost in the mail, his crazy mother destroyed it so his dreams wouldn't be realized.

But it's all irrelevant anyway, since Carson is dead.  He's struck by lightning in the first scene.  All of his morally suspect skullduggery was futile.

But everyone in the school, including the kids who hate him, comes to the funeral.  Apparently he touched their lives. . .um. . .somehow.

I don't quite understand what the movie is getting at.  Is it the moral of The Simpsons: "Never try"?  Is it "Don't make your goals so darn specific?"  Is it revealing the sordid underbelly of a "perfect" high school?

And Chris Colfer wins the Uncle Tom Award for his depiction of being gay as a big, scary scandal.  Some 43 years after Stonewall. (At least Carson doesn't blackmail the gay kid).

Robin Askwith: Running from Gay Men

Robin Askwith was a reliable source of 1970s beefcake, but, like Michael Sarrazin, you had to look around the naked girls to see it.  Born in 1950, the slim, long-haired Boomer boy was a fixture on the British screen long before his character urinates on a crowd in Pasolini's The Canterbury Tales (1972).    

1. The homoerotic boarding-school movie If...(1968), with a very young Malcolm McDowell.
2. Hans Brinker, the Dutch boy who wins silver skates in a tv adaption of the children's classic (1969).
3. Lennie, who steals a car along with a buddy in Scramble (1970).

4. Des in Tower of Evil (1972), with bodybuilder John Hamill.
5. A young rock star who encounters gay villains in The Horror Hospital (1973).
Plus lots of hippies and working-class blokes on tv series like The Misfits and Father Dear Father.

His utter lack of self-consciousness about displaying frontal nudity made Robin the go-to guy for nude scenes in the randy 1970s.  He even made forays into the x-rated market, but became most famous for R-rated comedies, Confessions of a Window Cleaner, Pop Performer, Driving Instructor, Camp Counselor (1974-77)  

He played Timothy Lea (pronounced "lay"), a horny young man who goes into business with his brother in law Sidney Noggett (Anthony Booth), and ends up having sex with lots of women.  Plus running at breakneck speed from flirtatious gay men.

Roles became sparse in the conservative Thatcher 1980s, and Robin moved into theater, appearing in a stage version of the Confessions series and a number of pantomimes.  He returned to the screen in 2000 for a series of nostalgic roles in horror movies: The Asylum, The Legend of Harrow Woods, Evil Calls. 

Quite a lot of homophobic content and not a lot of gay content -- he was known for a "traditional, uncomplicated heterosexuality" -- but in real life the performer is more gay-friendly.  His autobiography, The Confessions of Robin Askwith, discusses "fifty people wearing Robin Askwith masks watching 'the' Robin Askwith in a pink Lurex jock strap dancing with our gay stage manager."

Aug 19, 2013

My Last Wrestling Match

When I was in junior high in the early 1970s, I hated sports, but my parents wouldn't believe me.  They demanded, "Boys like sports.  You must sign up for a sport."  Anything involving projectiles being hurled at me was out of the question, of course.  I liked to watch the swimming team, but not splashing around in water.

What about wrestling, my brother's favorite sport?  Hardbodied boys in revealing singlets grabbing, pawing, and laying atop each other?  And then stripping down in the locker room afterwards?  It sounded perfect!

Besides, I had been taking judo lessons for two years, so I knew all about throwing, falling, and pinning.

I did ok.  I actually won a few matches, and I grew confident enough to challenge the Estonian Wrestling Brothers, George and Kristjan.

Then came a tournament in the spring of ninth grade, at Centennial Hall, a big fieldhouse across the street from Augustana College.  My opponent, a beautifully muscled African-American boy named Walter, came from a tough school in Peoria, but I still managed to pin him with one arm behind his head and the other between his legs. As Walter flailed about, trying to break, his crotch became noticeably thicker and harder, until my arm seemed to be pressing against a coke bottle.

The full story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Teen Beach Movie: Not Your Grandfather's Homoeroticism

Teen Beach Movie premiered with frenetic hoopla on the Disney Channel last month, and has been repeated many times since.  It reprises the premise of Pleasantville (1998), with Tobey Maguire as a teen who gets trapped in a 1950s sitcom.  Here the teenage Brady (Ross Lynch, #4 on my list of Unexpected Disney Channel Teen Hunks)  and his girlfriend McKenzie (Maia Mitchell) are trapped in the 1960s beach movie Wet Side Story.  

After becoming acclimatized to beach movie conventions, like you go in the water but never get wet, and you randomly break into choreographed song and dance routines, they draw the attention of the stars, Tanner (the bulgeworthy Garrett Clayton, Disney's Next Big Thing) and his girlfriend, thus upsetting the plot and jeopardizing their chances of getting home.

Meanwhile, there's a bitter -- yes, bitter -- conflict between the surfers and the bikers, and two villains, one flamboyantly gay-coded, build a diabolically fiendish Weather Machine to drive the teens away from the beach.

Back in the real world, McKenzie's evil aunt hatches a dastardly plot to send her to college. The horror!

Throughout, I was wondering:

1. Do we really need a parody of beach movies, a genre that ended in 1967, enjoyed by the grandparents of today's teenagers?

2. I'm all for sending girls a message of empowerment, but should that message really be "Don't go to college!  Stay on the beach and become a surf bum!"

3. In the original beach movies, Frankie Avalon, Jody McCrea, John Ashley, Tommy Kirk, Duane Hickman, and the rest of the guys wore swimsuits throughout.  Biceps and bulges were emphasized.  Why does Brady never once take his shirt off?  Tanner hangs around with his shirt unbuttoned.  The other stars remain fully clothed.

4. Why do all the songs sound like they came from the soundtrack of Grease?

5. A gay-coded villain?  Really?

6. The original beach movies were overbrimming with gay subtexts.  Frankie is torn between the wild homoerotic freedom of the surf and conventional wife-kids-house-job with Annette.  Here McKenzie is torn between the wild heterosexual freedom of the surf and college, while endless songs extol boys liking girls and encourage every boy to find a girl.

The only gay subtexts I could find were:
1. The gay villain.
2. Both of the male leads are extremely feminine.  Disney seems to have hired them explicitly because of their outrageous swishiness.
3. Butchy (John DeLuca), the leader of the bikers, doesn't express any heterosexual interest, and he has a homoerotic moment with Tanner when they decide to work together to save their friends.

The Island in the Sky: My First Boyfriend

Just after Christmas in 1968, when I was in the third grade, a boy named Bill, short and deeply tanned with black eyes and small hard fists, suddenly started to chase me across the schoolyard to my house every afternoon, threatening to pound me for some offense. But I proved too swift, and my house  too close by, to make pounding feasible, so Bill took to walking next to me instead, pointing out the other boys he had pounded or planned to pound.

This went on for a month or two.  One day in February, when we reached the chain-link fence, Bill announced, “I’m gonna go to Dewey’s and get an ice cream cone.” Dewey’s was a store in a white building on 20th Avenue, facing Denkmann to attract rich South Side kids as they walked home with allowance money bulging in their pockets.  It sold mostly kids’ treats: ice cream, candy bars, Hostess Twinkies, little bags of Lays Potato Chips.

“It’s too cold for ice cream,” I said.  "Anyway, a Mean Boy named Dick hangs out there."

“Ok.” Bill turned abruptly and walked away, his boots crunching loudly on the ice-encrusted snow. But after a few steps, he turned back. “They have other stuff, too,” he said in a low dismal voice.  "Uh. . .you know, if you want, you can come with. I got money.”

Finally I understood, and I almost laughed. Bill was asking me for a date! For all his tough-guy posturing, he was shy and nervous when it came to talking to boys. Maybe this was why he became a bully – they rarely dated anyone. They substituted pounding for hugs, pointed out faults to avoid being rejected.

“That sounds cool,” I said. Bill had muscles, and he was forceful, always in charge, so we could play adventure games and Bill could rescue me and I could exclaim “My hero!” And it would be fun to date a bully; imagine the stares and double-takes when we played together at recess!

After buying a Milky Way for me and Hostess Snowballs for himself, Bill suggested that we eat at his house instead of staying at Dewey’s, where the fat man behind the counter always glared at kids and muttered about long-haired hippie freaks. Besides, Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat would be on in a few minutes.

Bill was rich.  He lived in a gigantic house with lots of levels and an arbor out back.  He and his brother and sister all had their own rooms. There was a separate dining room, and a family room with oak panels and chairs shaped like barrels and a piano in the corner.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the family room, watching Bugs Bunny and The Three Stooges on Cartoon Showboat and drinking Squirt from thick, heavy glasses, the first I had ever seen that were actually made of glass, not plastic.

Bill’s family kept rushing in, all bubbly and excited. His Mom, a squat brown smiling woman, invited me to stay for dinner. His Dad asked what I was studying in school and lent me a book on the ancient Aztecs. His older brother, a high schooler named Mike, mussed my hair and called me “Bud” and offered to drive us places.

Later I found out why everyone was so excited – Bill had never liked a boy before! This was the first time he had ever invited a boy over as an actual date!

This photo is not really of him; I only have a few photos of me and Bill together, and most of them make us look like little kids (that's really his house, though).

After that Bill invited me over to his house almost every day after school, and on weekends he always thought of something fun to do: miniature golf, hiking at Black Hawk Park, a “young people’s” concert at Augustana College, a trip to the Putnam Museum in Davenport to see Egyptian mummies and a huge Aztec calendar stone.

Sometimes Bill asked me to sleep over, and if it wasn’t a school night we got to stay up as late as we wanted, even later than his big brother. We lay propped on thick starchy pillows on Bill’s bed, eating Lay’s Potato Chips and listening to “Chicken Man” on the radio and reading comic books. I had only a few comic books of my own, donated by uncles or traded with cousins, but Bill had hundreds, of every type imaginable: Superman, Tarzan, Archie, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, Casper.

One of the Casper comics was so beautiful that I begged Bill to let me keep it. The cover showed the ghost-boy scaring a superhero. In the story inside, Casper flew an island in the sky called The Elysian Fields. There he met the gods of Greek mythology – Zeus, Apollo, Ganymede, Hyacinth – all with beautifully sculpted muscles. They lived together, eating grapes, throwing a discus, playing horseshoes on a unicorn horn, their idyll threatened only by the mischief of a green-faced trickster god.

They lived together – that was the most important part, the reason I asked for that comic book out of all of Bill’s hundreds. I had never heard the word "gay" before, but I knew that this was proof positive that grown-up men got married and lived together, and maybe when we were grown-ups, Bill and I would get married and live together  too.

The comic book reappears, when Darry and I search for it during my senior year in high school, and when I write a story about it during my freshman year in college.

The story of Bill continues here, when we hear a song about boys holding hands.

David DeCoteau's Talking Dogs and Homoerotic Hunks

You probably know David DeCoteau from a practically endless number of horror movies in which heavily muscled guys lather up their pecs in the shower or lie next to each other in their underwear, while discussing their respective girlfriends.  That is, movies aimed squarely at an audience of gay men that pretend that gay people do not exist.  Kind of fun, in a pre-Stonewall closet way.

But David DeCoteau has just started producing and directing kids' movies.  I haven't seen any of them -- I don't think I actually want to -- but no doubt they are set in the same world, gay-free but overbrimming with muscle hunks.

1. Christmas Spirit (2011). A teenager who's lost the Christmas Spirit gets it back with the help of an angel. With Jason Brooks, Aaron Jagger, and Bryan Craig.

2. A Halloween Puppy (2012): A boy accidentally turns his mother's model-boyfriend into a puppy.  With Lucas Adams, Evan Crooks, and Ryan Greco (top left)

3.  A Talking Cat? (2013).  A single mom and a single dad, both with teenage male models in the family, fall in love, thanks to a talking cat.  With Justin Cone and Daniel Dannas (left).

4. An Easter Bunny Puppy (2013). A talking dog belonging to a boy with a male-model brother buries Easter eggs.  With Strider Ellis, Jason Faunt, Renton Pexa, Chris Petrovski (left), and August Roads.

5. A Talking Pony? (2013). More of the same, with a pony belonging to a male model. With Jason Faunt (left), Dillon Olny, and James Lastovic.

6. My Stepbrother is a Vampire? (2013).  A single mom and a single dad, one with a teenage daughter and the other with a teenage vampire-male model, fall in love. With Jud Birza, Seth Austin, Nick Galarza, and Cody Beverstock (top right).

Where does DeCoteau find them all?  And more to the point, why does he bother to fill his movies with them, even children's movies where the cast rarely unbuttons a button?