Stigma

posted by Madame Bubby

‘Porn is not destroying the environment.” – recent tweet by Steven Toushin, owner BijouWorld.com


I’ve noticed on Twitter, that is, on my own account especially, a stigma, and this stigma is connected to a larger stigma.

The stigma isn’t homophobia specifically, nor is it what I term a type of classism or elitism, or that somehow only certain persons with certain academic credentials are worthy of a voice in discussing serious issues.

The stigma is what I call pornophobia. It manifests itself in this case, specifically, that because our blog is part of a website that sells gay porn, it is somehow cheapened, deemed unworthy of respect (not that anyone has directly criticized it), and perhaps for diplomatic reasons, persons ignore it as not worthy of artistic or intellectual study. If the blog was located on a not for profit site like an archives or a museum or a library, I think, the stigma would not be as prevalent.

Porn is an integral party of LGBTQ history, in fact, human history, and to just assume that it is a manifestation of “baser” instincts is wrongheaded and bigoted. Some of the earliest gay pornographic films were products of an artistic motivation to incorporate sexual experiences into narratives with story arcs, developing characters, and profound symbols.
 

Poster and images from The Idol
Vintage poster & images from Tom DeSimone's The Idol (1979)

VHS cover for Blue Angel
VHS front & back cover for Jurgen Bauer's The Blue Angel (1986)

They were liberators for the newly liberated. Watch The Idol and The Blue Angel, among other films we make it our mission to preserve and disseminate. They may be somewhat anomalous in their depth and scope, but there’s a range here, and even some of the early J. Brian titles, which feature unabashed sex and not much else, convey their own unique ambience of carpe diem, imply that the cultural composed connection between gay sex, in fact, any type of sex, and shame is as breakable as a bruised reed.
 

Stills from Seven in a Barn
Stills from J. Brian's Seven in a Barn (1971)

Too much literature and art has been created, I think, and this dynamic includes even LGBTQ persons themselves, that focuses on the relationship between many forms of harm and porn, ranging from the stereotypes of the gay porn movie as inextricably linked to an oppressed audience suffering from frustrated sexuality and exploitation, to even condemning all porn as fundamentally misogynistic.

I am not claiming that all porn is of artistic merit, nor am I making any claim that the porn industry (distinguishing between the industry and the product) has not been part of exploitative and oppressive structures.

But any action that involves bending or breaking taboos is indeed a risk. Taking that risk in expressing one’s sexuality means confronting and continually reimagining the primal center of human life, in fact, all life.

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The Legacy of Scotty Bowers: A Brief Reflection

posted by Madame Bubby

Scotty Bowers, recent photo

Scotty Bowers, a legend in Hollywood’s sexual underground in the 1950s and 1960s, died at home in Los Angeles on October 13 at the age of 96.

When I found out about his book, Full Service, I must admit I was excited to read it, mostly because I always enjoyed titillating, “Hollywood Babylon” scandals. And here was someone who actually made satisfying the sexuality of Hollywood royalty of that period (and others) his business, literally.

He started his “infamous” gas station procurement network in the late 1940s, mostly hiring out young studs for closeted gay actors and others in the Hollywood business (and there were many).

According to his book, his career as a sex worker began in 1946 while he was working as an attendant at The Richfield Oil gas station located at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard, at the corner of Van Ness Avenue. In 1950, Bowers stopped working at the service station, and he then began working as a party bartender (one his party “tricks” involved using his schlong to stir drinks), while continuing his sexual services to both men and women. And he himself, because he was gifted with such a stunning endowment, according to Bowers, was quite popular.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Young Scotty Bowers

I must admit I was surprised that the famous Hollywood actor Walter Pidgeon, whom I call Mr. Miniver (he was Mrs. Miniver’s [played by Greer Garson] husband in one of the most wholesome, inspiring, patriotic 1940s movies, Mrs. Miniver), was one of his first clients. It’s still sometimes difficult to separate the screen persona from the real person (and in Pidgeon’s case, he was married to a woman, of course), but that was Hollywood: ultimately, illusion.

What I found to be, according to Scotty (and I don’t dispute at all his reliability in this case, as many others do), the close to ultimate Hollywood illusion: the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn romance. I remember when growing up, it was pretty much a given that these two were the romantic Hollywood power couple of the period (at least before Burton and Taylor came along). Yet, according to Bowers, both were gay (or in Tracy’s case, probably bisexual), and Scotty apparently was one of his sexual partners. Hepburn, who some have argued was really more fluid in her relationship to gender and sexuality, used Bowers as a means to “hook up” with several women.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

But what I think when reading the book and also viewing the documentary (I made a special trip to see it), Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, is that one can get distracted by all the Old Hollywood “scandal” and peccadilloes.

Scotty himself suffered many tragedies in his life that are perhaps closely related to, or perhaps not, his life a sex worker. He lived with a common-law wife whom he met right after his service in WWII, but they grew apart, and the daughter by this marriage, Donna, died young from complications after an abortion.

He did finally manage to find happiness with his last wife, but looking at the documentary, it’s clear Scotty suffered, especially later in life, from a hoarding disorder. I remember, and this behavior is that of a typical hoarder, a scene where he is going through memorabilia in a rented storage space stuffed to the maximum. Yes, there’s history made visible in the things he cherishes, but it seems buried, hidden, physically and mentally in clutter, multiplicity out of control.

Hidden and buried, yet now, no longer a secret. Scotty helped others keep secrets, but he never made his sex life a secret. He gloried in it. And I also think it wasn’t just a case of someone who knew he could use his sexuality as a commodity. Of course, he did, if one interprets his legacy very literally. Old Hollywood needed and wanted him to keep its illusion of heteronormative glamour intact.

But in doing so, he ended up exposing that illusion, not out of spite, but because in a world that was built on dreams and illusions, he actually fulfilled in the most primal, honest way the personal dreams of the stars who embodied on screen the dreams of people who probably got their gas pumped (and much more) at the Richfield Oil Gas Station.

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Two Muscle Guys Kiss at the Last Judgement

posted by Madame Bubby

I got blocked on Twitter a while ago by a Roman Catholic bishop because I responded to a tweet about Michelangelo with a pretty general article on the sexuality of the famous artist Michelangelo. Michelangelo was gay. He liked guys. Especially guys with big muscles.
 

Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo Buonarroti (source: biografieonline.it)

Now, during the Renaissance, the concept of sexual orientation had yet to be articulated or analyzed. Thus, Michelangelo, according to the social and religious norms of the time (usually the same), either performed sex acts with men (called sodomy due to an interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story since deemed incorrect by current Biblical scholarship), and/or, perhaps more loosely, he loved men, young men (which does not necessarily imply sexual activity).

In this case, art imitates life, and Michelangelo, aiming to produce what he deemed to be an ideal mimesis of the body as revealing a primal strength and power coursing through creation, painted male bodies that rival the famous bodybuilders of the past, without the artificial steroid-induced bulk. (And even the women in the Sistine Chapel are muscular.)
 

Adam and Eve, Sistene Chapel Ceiling
Adam and Eve, Sistene Chapel Ceiling (source: artarchive.com)

This unabashed glorying in muscular nudes under the aegis of a commission to paint the Sistine Chapel ended up becoming a problem. Why? The Counter-Reformation not only reacted to the Reformation, but to some of what it deemed licentious excesses of the Renaissance, and much Catholic religious art ended up degenerating into fixed forms drawn in attitudes of pious sentiment. Hello, anemic Jesuses with bleeding hearts and heavily draped Madonnas gazing up at the clouds.

And, in the case of Michelangelo’s paintings, the Church authorities covered up the genitalia.

But, as one article I read recently reveals, Michelangelo’s Last Judgement shows that just covering up genitals does not literally erase any imagery that might induce those impure thoughts that might send one to hell.

In the midst of the Last Judgment, where a muscular beardless Christ resembling Apollo looks like he is a bad ass coming to whale on a rival gang, two men kiss. Mutually and fearlessly. (Even his mother is frightened.) And these are not the ones condemned to hell. These are two guys on the redeemed side, as opposed to, as the article claims, a reputed pedophile biting his genitals to hell.
 

The Last Judgement kiss close up
The Last Judgement close up (source: Michelangelo.org)

Now, the men kissing need not imply sexual attraction, of course, depending on the cultural context. They could even be family members displaying affection. But it’s there, it’s there for the homosocial gaze, and I just wonder if Michelangelo was himself encoding, as it were, his own Last Judgement against a Counter-Reformation Church that viewed humanity as more fallen and sinful rather than filled with a holy energy that includes struggle and conflict but also surmounts it with a hope for a final vindication.
 

The Last Judgement
The Last Judgement (source: Vatican Museum, Michelangelo)
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At the Adonis

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Adonis Theater, NYC
The Adonis Theater (photo source: back2stonewall)

The history of the popular 1970s/1980s gay porn theater, the Adonis Theater - the setting and subject of the classic Hand in Hand Films release A Night at the Adonis (Jack Deveau, 1978) - is discussed in an article we recently came across at back2stonewall. The article states that the Adonis Theater was originally built as the Tivoli Theater in 1921. Initially a vaudeville house, it then became a movie theater before its final incarnation as a porn theater/cruising palace. The Adonis was such a hot venue in the 1970s that, the article states, “it was hard to find a seat... but that was all that was hard to find. Patrons would literally avoid the seats under the balcony's edge at busy times for fear of being showered with semen from high above.”
 

Adonis Theater interior
Adonis Theater interior (photo source: back2stonewall)

Adonis Theater balcony
Adonis Theater interior

Deveau's film (which Bijou is excited to announce that we are currently finishing re-restoring for a new and improved re-release next week) is an incredibly well-made, hot, entertaining, and historically intriguing look at this venue. The film does an excellent job capturing - in attractive photography that roams the building as it follows its ensemble cast - the physical layout of the space and the atmosphere created there, as well as featuring the theater's actual staff (their real ticket taker appears in the film in a memorable cameo) and detailing its cruising and sex rituals.
 

A Night at the Adonis poster
Adonis Theater sign in A Night at the Adonis
Adonis Theater ticket taker in A Night at the Adonis
Queue of men waiting to get into the theater in A Night at the Adonis
Men cruising on the balcony in A Night at the Adonis
Theatergoers and staff in A Night at the Adonis

An insightful IMDb review points to some other notable ways the film illustrates some of the nuances of New York City gay culture in the 1970s. Characters bump into each other and have roundabout connections at this particular night at the Adonis, and, through this, the film deals with “both the very local, small-town 'everyone knows everyone else' nature of the then queer community and the odd coincidences and synchronicities that can happen when cruising takes place.”

One of the lead characters (played by hunky Malo, of porn and mainstream film), passes up a pick up attempt by his boss (porn superstar Jack Wrangler) with the intention of staying home to read a hefty volume, Gay American History, but, as this review says, the book only “tells him tales of sodomites of fallen times who were persecuted, tortured, and murdered by the state; Malo's subsequent visit to the Adonis makes a new kind of American gay history, which is... itself a vanished, historical past now."
 

Malo during the filming of A Night at the Adonis
Malo during the filming of A Night at the Adonis

The review points out that Deveau's film manages to “communicate the ways in which human beings locate themselves in history and space, therein creating themselves through a shared culture” and how an ambitious new employee character embodies “a bit of a prophesy of the future, wherein gay normative self-images in the West will be shaped by business-studies kids out to make bucks from the new gay communities.”

A Night at the Adonis played at the Adonis Theater, itself, and the back2stonewall article quotes an internet posting about the unusual experience of watching it on that very screen: “it was rather odd to be in the exact theater that was being depicted... sort of a movie coming to life all around you. What was happening on the screen was also happening in real life as you were watching the film.”
 

Guys cruising in the theater seats in A Night at the Adonis
Guys cruising in the theater seats in A Night at the Adonis

A Night at the Adonis is one of NYC-based studio Hand in Hand Films' productions set in and about a specific gay New York City sex space/landmark. Another is Times Square Strip (1983), set at the Gaiety Theatre, which focuses on the on and off stage antics of the dancers at the Gaiety Male Burlesk.
 

The Gaiety Theatre exterior
Gaiety Male Burlesk ad
The Gaity Theatre and Gaiety Male Burlesk ad

Times, like Adonis, is an ensemble piece set over the course of one night, full of breezy, quippy dialogue, and - though it isn't as full a portrait of its location as is Adonis (it occasionally ventures outside the building for sexual escapades) – it spends considerable time depicting the performances taking place on stage.
 

Dancers performing in Times Square Strip
The MC in Times Square Strip
Dancers and the MC in Times Square Strip

Wikipedia notes that The Gaiety Theatre was open for nearly 30 years, from 1976 until 2005, and, according to a 2005 New York Times article, attracted mainstream attention “after photos of Madonna and some of the club's dancers were included in her book Sex (1992).” These visitors included John Waters, Divine, Andy Warhol, RuPaul, Diane Keaton, and Shirley MacLaine. The club had an “unrivaled ability to survive, despite the strict zoning laws instituted during the Giuliani administration, thanks to a location just outside a restricted area.” Wikipedia also mentions a few well-known dancers who performed at the theater, including porn stars Joey Stefano, Johnny Harden, Kip Noll, and Leo Ford.

The Adonis Theater, however, did not survive New York City's changes to Times Square, with Mayor Ed Koch “using the AIDS epidemic to clean up Times Square” and “trying to get the theater closed down to tidy it up for the building of the monolith Worldwide Plaza, soon to be built on the next block.” The Adonis attempted to relocate to another theater building at this time, but did not last long there and this second Adonis was closed “in 1994 by the City's Health Department after a raid revealed high-risk sexual activities taking place among patrons.” The original Adonis was demolished in 1995, though a vivid portrait of what it once was remains in Deveau's classic film. In watching it, you almost feel as if you are there.
 

Bathroom sex in A Night at the Adonis
Jayson MacBride and Malo exiting the theater smiling in A Night at the Adonis
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20,000 Men

posted by Madame Bubby

Gay director Joel Schumacher in a recent interview that he has slept with 10,000 to 20,000 men (well, that's not too specific a figure, but who can really keep count unless you are carrying around a “little black book” at all times).

Ok, let's do the math. Now, Joel is 79. He claims he started fooling around sexually at age 11. Thus, using the 20,000 maximum, he would have to have had sex five times a day for 55 years. Maybe some days he had more sex than others; I am thinking perhaps he may have attended orgies Friday and Saturday, giving him some weekday nights “off.”
 

Joel Schumacher
Joel Schumacher (Source: queerty.com)

In the interview, Schumacher does tie this sexual history back to the 1970s, where, according to much evidence, some of it anecdotal, a lot of gay sex was going on. The bathhouses were veritable sex palaces and even advertised as such. One person I know said that his memory of being gay in the seventies in Chicago meant readily available sex. And not just in bathhouses and movie theaters and bars. Everywhere. A cruise in a gas station would end up in sex in the gas station bathroom or the bushes next to the parking lot.
 

Gas station bathroom cruisin/sex from Grease Monkeys
Gas station bathroom cruising/sex from Jagaur's Grease Monkeys (1978)

Thus, even if 10,000, the low estimate (again, how would one really know?) could be close to the truth, if one counts every single sexual encounter, and I am making the assumption that not every encounter involved penetration, maybe.

In an attempt to place this, let's just say, “prolific” sex life in perspective, “Now a lot of gay people are getting married, they’re adopting, or they’re having children,” Schumacher said later in the interview. “There wasn’t any of that when I was young. If you went into a gay bar and there were 200 men in there, and you said, ‘Okay, who wants to have a little house with a white picket fence, and a dog, and a child, raise your hands,’ or ‘Who wants to get laid tonight?’ The concept of a lovely suburban life or raising children was not a high concept.”
 

Guys in Fair Oaks Bathhouse, 1978
Guys in Fair Oaks Bathhouse, 1978 (Source: Christopher Harrity, The Advocate, June 29, 2014, picture taken by Frank Melleno)

The 1970s was definitely a time of norm breaking, but, going beyond this time period, when being LGBTQ was not a privileged position in society. Schumacher also implies, it's easier to break norms, especially sexual norms, if you are privileged, and he admits he is. And related to privilege, especially economic privilege, he does claim he never did sex work or paid for it, either.

And of course AIDS changed everything, which Schumacher does admit. And so much more as LGBTQ persons embraced essentially conservative structures like serving in the military openly and especially legal marriage.

Thus, I wonder if the real issue here isn't the quantity of the sex partners, that Schumacher is just a gay version of those toxic masculinity boasters like Wilt Chamberlain who also claimed he slept with 20,000 women, or even, who cares?

I think it really is how we interpret the availability of sex in diverse social and cultural contexts. Taking away sexual choice doesn't necessarily make sex less available. And thus, a climate of easily available sexual choices doesn't necessarily mean sex is more available to you. Schumacher found he could act on his sexual identity in the wild 1970s. In his case, the “supply and demand” worked in tandem for him personally. Personally is the key word here. And I think Schumacher was not simply reducing sex or sex acts to numbers or checking off a list. His experience was the experience of many gay men in their personal sexual journeys. And they were finally given the freedom to choose, until AIDS took away that heady freedom. And it was the LGBTQ community that refused to allows persons with AIDS to be treated like numbers and in doing so, survived and thrived like Joel Schumacher has done.

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