Symonds, Whitman, Rossetti and Rake

Outrage cover image

Before Christmas I checked out a book from my little public library branch: Naomi Wolf’s Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love. I had a lot of other things to read and left it for last, not knowing what it contained, vaguely recognizing the author’s name. Turning to it, I recognized Wolf’s photo. If nothing else, readers might remember her defense of Julian Assange when he was accused of sex crimes in Sweden. I thought the book would be a history of censorship, but it’s more comprehensive. By returning to a cast of characters Wolf creates an intimate narrative against the mise en scène of her historical sweep and sociopolitical stance. Continue reading “Symonds, Whitman, Rossetti and Rake”

The Summer of Our Discontent

Paul Goodman Article image

The same edition of Gay & Lesbian Review that I touched on last time—its Stonewall Special—contains an essay by author and publisher John Lauritsen: “The Rise and Fall of the GLF.”1 I reread the piece last month.

Shortly after Stonewall in the summer of ’69 Lauritsen attended a meeting of gay people who were debating whether to align with the antiwar movement, with which John had been involved since 1965. He and the other radicals at the meeting carried the day and so the group eventually was dubbed Gay Liberation Front, a nod to the National Liberation Front—aka Viet Cong—of Vietnam. This is an example of the overlap I always saw as perfectly natural. As a kid I organized against the war in high school and and also wrote a book report on James Baldwin’s Another Country.2 Others might have preferred cubbyholes over connections. Continue reading “The Summer of Our Discontent”

Stonewall, the Great Gay Migration and the Monumental Divide

West Virginia Hero Shirt design image

Last Wednesday I watched a somewhat slimmed-down version of the new documentary Lavender Scare, based on the 2004 (!) book of the same name by David K. Johnson.1 In the film Meryl Streep’s narration explains how the influx of homosexuals from rural to urban regions began in the 1930s, the start of the Great Gay Migration.2

Washington was a boom town. The government was creating thousands of new jobs to combat the Great Depression. Many of the young men and women who came for those jobs were homosexuals. They grabbed the chance to experience a new level of acceptance and friendship in a big city far from home.

I was reminded of a recent essay, “Forget Stonewall,” in the May/June edition of The Gay & Lesbian Review, by Yasmin Nair who reminds readers that the source of that influx still exists. Continue reading “Stonewall, the Great Gay Migration and the Monumental Divide”

I coulda been a bartendah!

Andrea Carney photo image

—with apologies to Marlon Brando

On the eve of PrideFest here in Denver I thought I’d reminisce by telling about a particular visit to a lesbian bar in the Los Angeles area.

I started hanging out with Judith1 in 1959 or 1960 when we both worked at a North Hollywood manufacturing plant, Borg-Warner, making electronics for aeronautics.2 One night she convinced me to go on a double date and I agreed. But I could tell that my guy wasn’t really into me; he seemed to be interested in her. And Judith’s guy wasn’t really into her, so we swapped partners. (The three of them had gone through school together and at some point the district allowed girls to wear pants. These same two boys—our dates—had been so angry at this change that on the day it went into effect they attended class in dresses.)

After a bad experience with a guy, Judith told me she was swearing off men and she’d occasionally invite me to go with her to lesbian bars. At the time, North Hollywood and Studio City were known for having several that catered to women and to men. Later she (and her son) and I got a two-bedroom apartment together in North Hollywood. Continue reading “I coulda been a bartendah!”

Careless Whisper: Pansy Patois

Men photo image

In December while trying to verify the colloquialism in The Smiths’ song title “Reel Around the Fountain”1 I noticed that the band’s singer Morrissey had employed a now-abandoned slang in his solo single “Piccadilly Palare,” sung in the character of a former street hustler. It was the lead track on his album Bona Drag, but I hadn’t really collected Morrissey records and skipped that one because it was a compendium of singles. I had, however, collected much Smiths, but I was confused by the band’s many, many compilations and 12-inch vinyl product. In fact “Paint a Vulgar Picture,” from the final album, can be seen as a commentary on this excess, as it laments a pop star’s exploitation in death but also questions the star’s complicity in life.

Satiate the need
slip them into different sleeves!
Buy both, and be deceived

Continue reading “Careless Whisper: Pansy Patois”

A Perfect Crime?

Phrenological Diagram, Leopold and Loeb

Yes, this involves Leopold and Loeb and their victim Bobby Franks…

Killing time a week ago in the expansive area devoted to new releases at the central branch of the Denver Public Library, a title beckoned: Nina Barrett’s The Leopold and Loeb Files: An Intimate Look at One of the Most Infamous Crimes, issued last summer.1 If overly familiar with The Crime of the Century—title of Hal Higdon’s 1975 book2—one might ask, Why another rehash? Continue reading “A Perfect Crime?”

The Pageantry, the Spectacle

Low still image

Back in the 1980s I was given tickets to a Southern California kitsch institution, Pageant of the Masters. The concept intrigued: an amphitheater stage filled with “ninety minutes of tableaux vivants (living pictures), incredibly faithful re­creations of classical and contemporary works of art, with real people posing to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces,” as described on the event website. But the execution, meticulous as it was, underwhelmed. I guess I wanted more vivants in the tableaux, which occurred too infrequently. But it did occur in a sort of sideshow.

That sideshow was not the companion Fine Art Show, which we took in before the Pageant and from which Andrea and I bought a couple of hand-altered Polaroids that hang on our walls today. Allow me to digress…

Boom Boom Room

The Fine Art Show was conspicuous by the omission of skin: many of the artists appeared to be too well constrained by a bland family-friendly bubble-wrap envelope, but not so well contained that we couldn’t detect hints of riskier work. Hell, Laguna Beach (the Pageant/Show’s site) was home to the Boom Boom Room, which OC Weekly (formerly a sibling to Denver’s Westword via Voice Media Group) claims to have been “the oldest gay bar in the Western United States,” its host hotel, the Coast Inn, having opened in 1929, per the founders’ granddaughter’s timeline. Laguna even had its own chapter of the Mattachine Society beginning in the ’50s. Continue reading “The Pageantry, the Spectacle”

1952: A Triad

1952 was a watershed year for the Mattachine. The organization had begun its engagement with the larger community by standing in solidarity with Mexican Americans who, like homosexuals, were targets of the Los Angeles Police Department. With the arrest of its cofounder Dale Jennings in March of that year, the Mattachine had a test case of its own to rally ’round, but in that effort the group turned inward rather than outward. I examine this dynamic in the first of three articles, “Harry Hay Meets His Match.” I also look toward the remarkable woman Hay met along the way.

The gamble to back Jennings paid off. His superb legal representation—bankrolled by Mattachine fundraising—resulted in a hung jury, allowing the organization to capitalize on an impossible dream: an admittedly homosexual man beating a charge of lewd vagrancy. “Blown Cover: The Arrest of Dale Jennings” reviews some of the particulars of the case, including the identity of his arresting officers. I also examine LAPD’s liberal employment of the lewd vagrancy allegation as well as its use of a tactic known as the “third degree” and brutalization in general.

In the fall of 1952, emboldened by Jennings’ success in court, the Mattachine once again turned its gaze outward, this time to civic leaders and local candidates for office. The vehicle of outreach was a brief survey known to have been completed by only three or four respondents, but when it came to the attention of a local newspaper columnist, the concerns he voiced about the Mattachine turned out to reflect those already in the minds of its members, as discussed in “Queer Questionnaire and Coates Column.”

The above three articles are adapted from my work-in-progress with the working title The Feeble Strength of One: Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Maxey, Marx and the Mattachine. Because their length likely would prevent their eventual publication as-is, I offer them via The Tangent Group.

Gerry Brissette: Mattachine Momentum, Misgivings

Brissette-Freman Letter

A profile of Gerry Brissette.

Gerard “Gerry” Brissette (November 12, 1926–September 20, 1980) almost singlehandedly organized what we now know as the Mattachine Society in the San Francisco Bay Area.

With his direction, facilitation, and participation the organization in Northern California grew from a virtually useless mailing list in mid-February 1953 to being active enough to send delegates to the Mattachine’s constitutional convention in April and May of that year. Nearly as quickly, following the conventions, Brissette became disillusioned with the organization’s trajectory and fell away. Due to a series of letters between Brissette and Mattachine cofounder Chuck Rowland in 1953, we are privy both to Brissette’s early biography as well as his motivations and challenges in building the organization in San Francisco and the East Bay. A 1976 interview of Brissette conducted by historian John D’Emilio aids in the latter regard as well.

This profile of Gerry Brissette is adapted from my work-in-progress with the working title The Feeble Strength of One: Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Maxey, Marx and the Mattachine. Because its length likely would prevent its eventual publication as-is, I offer it on The Tangent Group.