Oct 11, 2014

R. Crumb: From Fritz the Cat to Gay Marriage (Sort of)

Growing up in 1950s Philadelphia, Robert Crumb was a sissy -- he hated sports; he was scrawny; he liked comic books, especially girls' comics like Little Lulu.  According to a 1998 sketch, he "almost turned into a fag."  The only thing that "saved him" was his heterosexual mania.  He liked big women -- tall, broad-shouldered, with muscular legs.  He wanted to ravish a giantess.

In an era when women were expected to be frail and petite, this interest in Big Women marked Robert as "queer," as a sexual outsider. His autobiographical comics read like a gay coming out story.

But he was heterosexual, just too shy and overcome by self-loathing to fit in.  Even when he moved to San Francisco and made a name for himself as an underground comic artist, he was an outsider, observing the sit-ins and love-ins and acid trips from a distance.

When I was in high school in the 1970s, the older kids passed around his underground comics, Zap!, Head!, Home Grown Funnies, and Snoid!  When I was in college, they were a fixture at Adam's Bookstore, but hidden under the counter, away from those who wouldn't understand.

Later I found copies of Fritz the Cat, which became an X-rated cartoon in 1972, and Mr. Natural, about a cynical guru.

R. Crumb's comics were a minefield, grotesquely drawn, full of profanity, sex, and drugs.

And extreme racism. A black female character who speaks with a racist drawl and is named Angelfood McSpade? Really?

And extreme homophobia, grotesque caricatures of Gay Liberation pioneers.

And extreme sexism -- Big Women desire nothing more than complete subjugation by scrawny men.  To be slapped, beaten up, ridden like horses.

There was a lot of male nudity -- mostly scrawny men, but with very long penises.  In the 1970s, just seeing a penis in a comic strip was a cause for celebration.

But any beefcake interest was completely overwhelmed by the female nudity -- Big Women, naked, gyrating, shoving their breasts and buttocks and other parts savagely into every spare inch of the frame.

Yet there was something fascinating about the comics, something almost endearing about R. Crumb's constant self-exploration: castration anxiety, sadomasochistic fantasies, paranoia, weird fetishes, cranky old-man rants about everyday hassles....

And gay subtexts. Pairs of men, or anthropomorphic animals, often set out together to find meaning in a bizarre, meaningless world.  They got laid, of course -- usually sharing the same Big Woman -- but in the end the heterosexual shenanigans could not assuage their elemental loneliness. They found glimmers of happiness only with each other.

Although he submitted a comic to AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) in 1988, R. Crumb is still quite homophobic.  In 2009, The New Yorker commissioned him to draw a cover on gay marriage. Whose crazy idea was that?

He submitted this grotesque parody of a gay couple, and stated that he approves of gay marriage because "How are you supposed to tell what gender anyone is if they're bending it around?"

Um...Robert, did you know that most gay people have a conventional gender presentation?  

He was actually surprised when the cover was rejected!

See also: Gay Comix of the 1980s; Here at the New Yorker

Oct 8, 2014

Max & Shred: Nickelodeon's New Drake and Josh

Nickelodeon has always been very good at gay-subtext teencoms, from Salute Your Shorts in the 1990s to Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide in the 2000s to the contemporary Henry Danger.   

Max & Shred, which premiered a few days ago, is a reprise of Drake and Josh, which in turn was a reprise of The Odd Couple: two guys with opposing personalities are forced to live together.

 Here it's celebrity snowboarder Max (Jonny Gray, right), cool, athletic, a teen operator in the mold of Drake, who moves to Blizzard Springs, Colorado to train for a snowboarding event, and must room with science nerd Shred (Jake Goodman, left), Josh without the extra weight.

There's also a mad scientist girl-next-door who climbs in through the window, a sister who is older and popular, a couple of parents, and the usual friends, jocks, bullies, and science nerds at school.

Max and Shred have the same physicality as Drake and Josh -- their hands are all over each other all the time.  And Shred draws has a pleasant non-gendered transgression.  But the show seems to be trying to avoid the gay-subtext-filled Drake and Josh.  Their hetero-mania is established through drools and double-takes, and in the second episode, they both fall in love with the same girl.

Jonny Gray is a relative newcomer, with only a few credits on the Imdb, but Jake Goodman has appeared in 18 projects, including a starring role in the Canadian teencom Life with Boys (left, with "brothers" Nathan McLeod and Michael Murphy).

My Job as an Athletic Trainer

When I was a kid, I hated sports -- who would willingly submit to having hard round projectiles hurled at them? -- but my parents wouldn't believe me.  "You're a boy!  Boys like sports!" they kept insisting as I unwrapped Christmas presents of basketballs and baseball bats.

Denkmann Elementary School didn't offer gym classes, so they insisted that I choose something from the Parks & Recreations Department "Kids Sports" program.  So I took judo lessons for three years, stopping only when the dojo moved to Davenport.

See the full post on Tales of West Hollywood


Oct 7, 2014

Homophobic Moments in Music: It's a Man's World

From the moment I turned 13 to the moment I moved to Texas at age 24, my life consisted of a nonstop interrogation of girls! girls! girls!

From parents, teachers, Sunday school teachers, bosses, neighbors, and friends:
"Is there any girl in school that you like?"
"That girl is cute -- why don't you ask her out?"
"You'd have a girlfriend if you weren't so picky!"

From friends, classmates, bullies, jocks, and strangers on the street:
"Doesn't that girl have large breasts - why don't you ask her out?"
"Which actress on tv would you like to have sex with?"
"How many girls did you have sex with last night?"

So the last thing I needed during my senior year in high school was the most uber-heterosexist song on Earth.

During Homecoming, the orchestra had to play for the Gong Show, an adaption of the popular game show where singers could perform for a panel of judges until they were "gonged" off.  The one who made it through the entire performance without a "gong" was the winner.

There were 20 songs, mostly pop hits of the era: "Convoy," "I Write the Songs," "Stand Tall," "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing."

Some dinosaur numbers that got quickly gonged: "Blue Suede Shoes," "My Boyfriend's Back," "Luck be a Lady Tonight."

A duet, "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," from last spring's musical, Annie Get Your Gun.

"Voi che sapete," an aria from The Marriage of Figaro, got gonged after just a few bars.

The song that won: "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," originally recorded by James Brown, the flamboyantly feminine but apparently heterosexual "Godfather of Soul" (1933-2006).  It's a heavy-beated, immensely sexist number about how men are in charge of everything:

This is a man's world, this is a man's world, this is a man's world.
Men make cars and trains, electric lights, toys, well, just about everything.
If you're a man, you're in charge.
But you're nothing without a woman or a girl.
Yeah...you're nothing, nothing at all, without a woman or a girl.
You're lost in the wilderness
You're lost in bitterness

Great, just what I needed to hear.

Things haven't changed much since the 1970s.  Recently the song was played over a gay male couple who appeared on So You Think You Could Dance, to emphasize the producers' belief that same-sex relationships were worthless, "lost in bitterness."  The judge suggested that they try being with women: "Who knows, you might like it."

See also: So You Think You Can Dance; and 12 Songs I Hate.

Fall 1972: How M*A*S*H Saved My Life

I hated my childhood church.  Everything was a sin: movies, comic books, rock music, books beside the Bible, games with cards, games with dice, restaurants that served alcohol, stores that sold alcohol, dancing, mixed swimming, carnivals, circuses, theaters, curse words, premarital sex, extramarital sex, nonmarital sex, thinking about sex....

Plus we had to sit through three services per week, on Wednesday evening and twice on Sunday, and they were all the same: tedious hymns from Victorian times, 45 minutes of the Preacher pacing and screaming and literally pounding his Bible, and then an endless exhortation to come down to the altar and "get raht with God."

We usually skipped the Wednesday service, and I didn't mind Sunday morning so much; the service ended at 12:00 sharp, and there was nothing good on tv anyway.  But Sunday night services had no limits -- they could go on for two hours or more, with a tv paradise back home: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, It's About Time, Flipper, Land of the Giants, The Young Rebels, Hogan's Heroes...

How to get out of going to church on Sunday night?  When I was in grade school, I tried four tactics:

1.  "I don't want to go!!!! I hate it!!!!"

That didn't work.

2. "I have a lot of homework to do."

No.  Nazarenes were forbidden from working on Sunday, including homework.

3. "I have a stomach ache."

Stomach aches were foolproof...there was no way to prove that you didn't have one, and you weren't necessarily sick. Maybe you just ate something that disagreed with you.

That worked once.  But my parents picked up pie and ice cream on the way home, and some jello for me.  Nazarenes weren't supposed to buy things on Sunday, but...

4. "Bill invited me over for a sleepover.  I can go to his church."

Nope.  Bill was a Presbyterian, and Nazarenes couldn't set foot in a "liberal so-called church."

When I started seventh grade at Washington Junior High, my parents began to watch me carefully, searching for any sign that I had "discovered" girls and thereby become a man.  Did I hang out with girls?  Did I mention any girls, even in passing?  Did I sign up for a mostly-girl club?  Did I notice an actress on tv?

Notice an actress on tv!

The biggest buzz in the 1972-73 tv season was M*A*S*H, a comedy-drama about doctors sexually harassing nurses and getting drunk during the Korean War.  TV Guide was particularly ecstatic over the sexually promiscuous Hot Lips Houlihan, played by Loretta Swit (right).

5. "I want to stay home and watch M*A*S*H.  It sounds good...."

I didn't even have to mention Hot Lips Houlihan.  My parents nudged each other, beaming with pride, and joyfully gave me permission to stay home.

Turns out that I hated M*A*S*H (except for Gary Burghoff as the cute Radar O'Reilly), and there was nothing else good on Sunday nights anymore.

But anything was better than being screamed at for 45 minutes.

And I learned a valuable lesson: my parents were so anxious for me to be heterosexual that they would give me permission to do anything, if there was even a hint of a girl involved.

See also: Slow Dancing at the Canteen

Two Boys Kissing at the Longview Park Pool

I don't remember much of what happened on that day in the summer of 1973, about a month before we visited my Kentucky kinfolk and I met the Teenage Indian God.

 I don't know why practically everybody I knew was at the Longview Park pool:

Peter, the only Asian boy in school, who would participate in the streaking adventure next year.
My best friend Bill.
Dan, the boy I met in the girls' locker room, who had dirty blond hair and a gay-coded lilt to his voice (thought I didn't know what gay meant yet)
My brother and his best friend.

It was one of those bitingly hot, oppressive days that you sometime get in the Midwest, where the heat literally sizzles in the air and you can't walk more than a few steps without getting soaked. The pool was crowded with glistening bodies, mostly high schoolers, breathtakingly beautiful although dangerous – a bounce in the step or a lilt in the voice might draw their wrath, and result in a shove at a girl or a forced swimsuit removal.  I was standing with Dan at the four foot mark, where the bottom slid abruptly into the deep end, relishing the feeling of endless space. But when I bobbed under the water for a moment, Dan was gone!

Anxiously I scanned the surface of the pool for boys with dirty-blond hair.

The pool had been noisy, with screams and laughter and fifty gossiping or bragging voices, but now it was so quiet that I could hear David Cassidy singing “I Think I Love You” from far away, maybe from a transistor radio over by the bath house, or farther afield, from someone’s picnic on the grass that sloped down the Bluffs. But the song hadn’t played regularly on the radio for years! I had a strange feeling of being unstuck in time, as if I had tripped accidentally into the past like Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows.

I pulled myself out of the pool. The damp concrete was hot beneath my bare feet, the air thick and heavy, smelling of chlorine and suntan oil and Raid, the spray used to keep bugs off. I walked around the shallow end, past the baby pool, and then along the western perimeter, where a chain link fence looked down the Bluffs. Then I saw a churning in the deep end, like a cauldron boiling.

Some Mean Boys were trying to drown Dan!

Why wasn’t the lifeguard intervening? Or any of the adults?  Why were they all pretending not to notice?
I dove into the hot, frothing water to rescue him myself.

I don't know if the rest was a dream or not: I saw Dan's torso, his shoulders, his tousled dirty-blond hair -- he was kissing Bill!  Their arms and legs were intertwined, their bodies were pressing rhythmically together, and they were kissing!

Writhing with jealousy, I tried to pull them apart. Dan pushed me away with his hand. I head a sickening thud.

The next thing I remember is lying on the concrete at poolside, a hard-muscled guy, sopping wet, kneeling over me, holding my eye open.  He had blood on his hands.  I found out later that he was a medical student who had fished me out of the water and performed first aid.

An emergency room visit and five stitches later, I was back home in bed, eating ice cream.

They told me that I tried diving off the edge of the pool and doing a somersault, but I miscalculated and hit the side.

That makes more sense than what I remember, unconscious fears and anxieties bubbling to the surface when I didn't even know the word "gay" yet.

Afterwards I rarely went into a swimming pool again, and I always jumped in feet first -- no diving. And Bill and I grew even more distant.  The last time I visited his house was for a Halloween party in 10th grade, and I spent most of the evening talking to his big brother Mike, who used to call me "Bud" and drive us places.

Bill's story concludes here, with the Kissing Bandit.

The story of Dan continues here, when we decide to escape to Saudi Arabia.

Oct 6, 2014

Homophobic Moments in Music: My Girl, Bill

In the spring of 1974, while I was arguing about Freedom to Marry in Mrs. Dunn's class at Washington Junior High, a ballad-style song by Jim Stafford called "My Girl, Bill" began  playing on KSTT radio.  But not for long.  Parents and preachers started screaming, and radio stations cut it from the air, and record stores yanked it from the shelves.

In order to find out what all the fuss was about, my boyfriend Dan and I had to wait until his album, Jim Stafford, appeared.

We still didn't understand.  It seemed to be a straightforward song about two men who are in love with the same women.  They meet to talk things through.  The narrator says: "I know that we both love her, and I guess we always will, but you're going to have to find another, because she's my girl, Bill."

What was the problem?  Maybe parents got riled because it mentions wine?

Two years later, when I figured out what gay people were, I realized that Jim Stafford was playing a trick on listeners: the comma was inaudible, so they thought that Bill was "my girl," a gay relationship was being described.  Unthinkable in 1974!

Of course, gay men never referred to their partners as "my girl."  In the 1970s, the most common terms were "my lover" or "my boyfriend."  It was only clueless heterosexuals who imagined that gay relationships must be divided on gender lines, with "a boy" and "a girl."

I don't know who was more homophobic: Jim Stafford, with his  nasty "joke," or the audience, who got all riled over the possibility that two men might be in love.

Stafford hasn't had a charting song since "Turn Loose of My Leg" hit #98 in 1977, but apparently he's still performing in Branson, Missouri.  I wonder if "My Girl, Bill" is still part of his repertoire.

See also: Discovering what "Gay" Means; and 12 Songs I Hate.

Oct 5, 2014

What Does "Brian Gives Free LBJs" Mean?

After reading my posts on "The Secret Message at Washington Junior High" and "I Catch Cousin Joe in the Act," you probably thought that the graffiti "Brian gives free LBJs" referred to some sort of sexual act.  I turned it into a sexual act when I fictionalized the incident in The Boy Who Loved Robbie Douglas.  (I also changed Brian into a trickster god and Cousin Joe into my brother.)

But the real meaning was something much more profound.  I found out in the spring of 1981, my junior year at Augustana.  A student who was from Chicago, like Brian, said that in his grade school, the older boys would force or bribe the younger boys to run errands and do chores for them,  like the "fags" of British boarding school (possibly the origin of the derogatory term for gay men).

 It was called "doing a LBJ" or "giving a LBJ," after President Lyndon Baines Johnson (he didn't know why).

That summer, the famous summer of 1981, I looked up Brian, an undergraduate drama major at Carthage College.  We had a pizza at Happy Joe's, and then parked on the levee and watched the cars glistening by on the Centennial Bridge.  I talked about the day we  found Brian scrubbing at the graffiti on the wall of Washington Junior High, and how I had just discovered that a LBJ meant a chore.

"But I don't understand why a Mean Boy would write 'Brian gives free LBJs.'  What's so bad about doing free chores?"

Brian hesitated for only a moment.  "They weren't bad.  The big boys were cute, and sometimes they would let me hang out with them.  Sometimes we would hug.  I liked the way a big guy's arms felt around me. . .I wanted that. . ."

My face reddened as I realized that he was revealing something very personal.   "Um...did you ever find out who wrote it?"

"You know what? I’ve never told anybody this before, but it was me. I wrote it.”

His face was turned away, toward the  rushing river. “Why would you write 'Brian gives free lbjs’ about yourself?”

“I don’t know. I was a mixed up kid, I guess. That’s why I was trying to erase it."

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“That you’re gay."

Brian stared at me for a moment, small and fragile, alone. Then he was angry. “I am not!” he exclaimed.  “Maybe I was a confused kid, but no way am I gay!”

"Ok, ok, whatever," I said.  "But do you still like it when big guys hug you?"

I didn't wait for him to answer.

Brian and I dated a few times during the very busy summer of 1981, but that night was more about friendship, and recognition, and belonging.

Top 15 Public Penises of Texas

Long ago, before I moved to West Hollywood, I spent a terrible year teaching at Hell-fer-Sartain State College, the worst place on Earth.  Houston had some very nice shops, museums, and restaurants, and the biggest gay neighborhood in the Cowboy Belt, but it was 20 miles away, and in the nonstop gridlock traffic it might as well have been 2,000 miles.

So I didn't do much sightseeing, and I certainly didn't have the time or energy to go scouring the countryside for beefcake art.  But, apparently, Texas has more than its share.  Starting with Houston:

1.-3. The Cullen Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Fine Arts features a reproduction of Rodin's Walking Man, Ă‰mile-Antoine Bourdelle's Adam, and this stylized nude man atop a horse.

4. Austin, about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Houston, is the site of the Texas State Capitol and the University of Texas.  When I visited, it was frightfully crowded, with streets torn up for construction everywhere.  But the entrance to the university campus features the muscular semi-nude Torchbearers.

5. I've never been to San Antonio, about 1 1/2 hours south of Austin, but evidently it has become a cultural center rivaling Houston, with ,many museums and art galleries.  This nude fisherman stands outside the McNay Art Museum.

6. This hunky, well-endowed statue of Marcus Aurelius is in the San Antonio Museum of Art.

7. This sculpture outside the Children's Museum is called "Firstborn Son," but it looks like the child has just broken the dad's neck.

More after the break.

8. Waco, about  1 1/2 hours north of Austin on the road to Dallas, is pronounced "Way-co," not "Wacko."  It's famous chiefly for the Branch Davidian cult that blew up there.  But it has a more sedate past, such as a large Masonic Temple, with this frieze by Raoul Josset depicting muscular, nude workers.

9. There's another frieze of hunky football players at Farrington Field in Fort Worth.

10. I've been to Dallas.  but I didn't visit the Freedman's Cemetery, where this African prince stands guard.

11-12. There are several muscular, half-naked freedmen inside the cemetery.

13. According to Google Images, this is "Cattle Drive," in Dallas, depicting a number of naked boys leaping into the river. Why "Cattle Drive"?  I have no idea.

14.Arlington, a suburb of Dallas, is the home of the stadium of the Dallas Cowboys football team, where this frieze depicts scenes from Texas history.  Apparently many Texas in the past were naked a lot.

15. This Nature Boy is playing with the birds in a pier in Galveston.

It's a big state. I didn't have time for Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, San Angelo, or Corpus Christi.

See also: Male Nudity in Italian Class.