The Gay and Lesbian Softball League Phenomenon

Gay softball players in Chicago

As in most sports, my youthful experience was negative or at least ambiguous. Perpetrating the stereotype that lesbian or “masculine women” and nuns (often equivalent in many eyes to lesbians) play softball, the principal of the Catholic school, the formidable pantsuit-wearing Sr. Judy was obsessed with softball. She claimed I was not playing with enough enthusiasm (she wielded the same accusation during volleyball practice), and I was banished to right field. I purposely let the ball hit me when it flew toward me, and I was banished to the sidelines. And I thought softball would be easier than baseball, because the ball was bigger and softer and supposedly easier to hit and catch. Oh well …

Fast forward several years later, and a work friend told me her easygoing, sports-loving husband saw a group of guys near the lake playing softball. He, like many (or most) straight males, was socialized to join guys playing games outside, and he asked if he could join them. He played with them for a while, really enjoying himself, but after a guy patted him rather too enthusiastically on the ass, he realized he was playing with members of the local gay softball league. He was not homophobic about it, but he was just surprised. Or maybe just a tad homophobic, perhaps, because he was subscribing to the stereotype that gay men did not play sports.

Instead, lesbians did – especially softball. This stereotype persisted, even as recently as the time Elena Kagan was nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court. The Honorable Ms. Kagan was not married, and she played softball. Therefore, she must be lesbian.
 

Elena Kagan playing softball
Elena Kagan playing softball

And around that time, in an article in the New York Post, the token straight gal (gay teams have rules limiting the number of straight players) on an all-lesbian softball team, says (I don't think she was being homophobic, but I wonder) that her teammates were “so husky you might wonder whether they have a beard to shave.” Yikes. And she says one teammate offered her a toaster to “switch hit.” (What brand? I might do it for a four-slot Kenmore that takes bagels.)

It's a shame that stereotypes obscure the truth about these leagues, that “LGBT sports clubs and events provide an opportunity for individuals to experience a sense of pride, a safe and welcoming environment, and feelings of belonging to the larger gay community” (Sara Mertel in her dissertation on the sociology of an LGBT softball league, summarizing an article by Elling, Knoop & Knoppers). I consider these leagues comparable to the gay chorus movement, which has allowed gay men to teach and learn as musicians on both amateur and professional levels in an inclusive environment. Talent is talent, art is art, but in this context, they become vehicles of liberation and, some might, argue assimilation.

In fact, in the early heady days of gay liberation, gay and lesbian softball leagues sprang up very quickly, beginning in San Francisco in 1974 with the formation of the Community Softball League, which eventually included both women's and men's teams. These teams actually competed against each other and, quite telling, against the San Francisco Police softball team (quite a revolutionary moment, to say the least, given the history of victimization by the police).
 

Gay team vs. police team San Francisco softball game
Gay team vs. police team San Francisco softball game

In 1978, an international organization called NAGAAA (North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance) was formed to govern the many leagues participating in gay sports. According to a piece in Outsports, this organization was a realization of the vision of Chuck Dima, a New York bar owner, who orchestrated a tournament where the gay softball teams from San Francisco and New York played each other. The first women's team competed in 1979. Today, the NAGAAA incorporate 41 individual softball leagues, and hosts the Gay Softball World Series, first held in Los Angeles in 1980.
 

Gay softball game in San Francisco, 1977
Gay softball game in San Francisco, 1977

Now, ironically, the gay softball world faces another challenge, and it's not the holy haters. In 2011, three guys on their gay softball team sued the NAGAAA after they were determined to be non-gay (one was apparently bisexual), and their team was stripped of its second place finish. The National Center for Lesbian Rights backed the men. The Court upheld the straight limit, dismissing the discrimination claims. In the settlement, the players were reinstated and their second-place finish is now fully recognized, while NAGAAA maintained the Constitutional right to limit the number of straight players on a team.
 

NAGAAA North American Gay Softball Division logo

There's the tension: assimilation and identity in a world that doesn't just tolerate LGBTQ persons, but even sees them as exemplars of strength and talent. I don't think I will go out and join a gay softball league (I might get banished to the benches too based on my skill level). But I would certainly watch, and not only the softballs. Or maybe, just maybe, the hot young studs would let me be the “water boy” … hmm …

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Who Could Be the Emperor in Centurians of Rome: His Name Is Elagabalus

Michael Flent as the Emperor in Centurians
Michael Flent as the Emperor in Centurians of Rome

When the gay porn epic Centurians of Rome came out in 1981, the publicity proclaimed that the kinky, fisting-loving emperor played to the hilt by Michael Flent was Caligula. At one level, it makes sense, given the overall reputation of Caligula as the ultimate monstre sacree, but after a close viewing, I came up with another theory. Admittedly, the work is fiction, and I highly doubt the creators were specifically trying to place the action and characters in specific historical circumstances, but there are third century A.C.E. parallels.
 

Original poster for Centurians of Rome
Original Original Centurians poster

The emperor Elagabulus, born in 203 A.C.E, was the scion of a dynasty dominated by Syrian women. It's a bit complicated, but let's just say by that time diverse persons in the Empire were able to rise, primarily through the army, to powerful political positions. His father was Sextus Varius Marcellus and his mother was Julia Soemias. His grandmother, the formidable Julia Maesa, was the sister of Julia Domna, and thus the sister-in-law of Septimius Severus, the Roman founder of the dynasty.
 

Bust of Julia Maesa
Julia Maesa

I mention all these women specifically, because, at one point in Centurians of Rome, the Emperor mentions his mother sends him women he is not interested in. This dynasty was run by powerful women on so many levels, and I find this detail telling, and there's more in what we know about Elagabalus that makes this detail, and many others in the movie, even more telling.

Now, Julia Soemias was a cousin of the emperor Caracalla. When Caracalla was assassinated in 217 A.C.E, Macrinus ascended the throne, and he exiled the whole Syrian tribe. But Maesa plotted to regain power, and Soemias made a claim that Elagabalus was the son of Caracalla. After some battles and further plotting, he was proclaimed emperor, as the Senate accepted the claim of parentage.
 

Alma, Tadema, and Heliogabalus

Elagabalus' religious beliefs presented a problem, as he was the hereditary priest (through his mother) of the ancient Syrian mountain god Ilāh hag-Gaba, who was later assimilated into the worship of the sun God Helios and Sol Invictus (the victorious Sun; thus Elagabalus is sometimes referred to as Heliogabalus). The worship of this god apparently required him to circumcise himself (not a Roman custom), but even more significantly, he installed Elagabal as the chief deity.

But, more relevant to this discussion of Centurians of Rome, and I must admit that some of the ancient sources are not exactly reliable (Augustan History contains some Hollywood Babylon-like elements!), Elagabalus' sexual orientation was confusing. He married five women (and divorced them all), including a Vestal Virgin (a huge taboo). But marriage was more of a fluid financial transaction at that time in Rome, and of course one could assume Grandma and Mama were hoping he could produce an heir. He didn't.
 

Elagabalus' entry into Rome

But he supposedly married an athlete called Zoticus (though his prime male companion was a blond chariot driver and bond slave named Hierocles) in a public ceremony in Syria. The historian Cassius Dio claimed he made himself up and whored around in public and in the imperial palace. Some historians have claimed that Elagabalus may have been transgender, as, according to one source, he wanted to somehow equip himself female genitalia and called himself the queen or wife of his main male lover, Hierocles. Note that at the end of Centurians, guess who the Emperor ends up with sexually as he makes him his slave: the blond stud Eric Ryan.
 

Eric Ryan and Michael Flent
Eric Ryan and Michael Flent in Centurians

I see much more parallels, or really resemblances, with the character played by Michael Flent, whose sexual kinks were certainly not “vanilla,” and his almost feminine submission to the hot top George Payne in the fisting scene evokes some of the details mentioned in this admittedly biased account of life in the palace by Cassius Dio:

“Finally, he set aside a room in the palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by. There were, of course, men who had been specially instructed to play their part. For, as in other matters, so in this business, too, he had numerous agents who sought out those who could best please him by their foulness. He would collect money from his patrons and give himself airs over his gains; he would also dispute with his associates in this shameful occupation, claiming that he had more lovers than they and took in more money.”
 

Michael Flent and George Payne
Michael Flent and George Payne in Centurians

Yes, life in the palace became one decadent orgy which turned a profit. Maybe that's why the government needed that tax money from Octavius and Demetrius (Scorpio and George Payne), and the character of Argus (Eric Ryan) certainly fits in with being one of those agents looking for sex slaves.
 

George Payne and Scorpo
George Payne and Scorpio in Centurians of Rome

Grandma Maesa finally had enough, and she, after some machinations, managed to get Elagabalus and his mother replaced, and the two were eventually assassinated in 222 A.C.E.. His replacement: the indisputably heterosexual Alexander Severus, Elagabalus' cousin, the son of her other daughter, Maemea. Think: backlash, but in this case, the women were still in charge, and Alexander, though he got rid of the Elagabal cult, was religiously tolerant.

I must admit I am an ancient history geek (in the department I teach at, I hold that unofficial title), and hence my attraction to this movie, and I also admit when I was watching it, I thought of the unfortunate and much-maligned Elagabalus. Overall, Elagablaus resembles the Emperor in Centurians more than the wildly cruel and bizarre but ultimately heterosexual Caligula.

Sources: some Wikipedia, and also Will Durant's series The Story of Civilization (Durant was a homophobe, but the series contains everything you need to know about everything, as far as I am concerned, and that's how I first found out about Elagabalus).

We just remastered Centurians of Rome, and the newly restored version is available on DVD and streaming on our Video on Demand site. For more information on the strange backstory of this classic gay porn blockbuster (it was funded by a bank robbery!), read this fascinating blog at The Rialto Report.
 

Centurians cover image
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Bijou Blog - GLORIOUS GLORYHOLES, OR NOT? PART THREE

GLORY HOLES, THE LAW, AND POLITICS

Yet again, despite attempts to investigate and analyze the behavior from a psychosocial perspective, the issue is also a legal one that that straddles the issues of private and public social norms. The book Glory Hole also contains an article, "Public Homosexual Activity and the Law," which ends up being a critique of the sodomy laws, which outlaw private homosexual sex and ironically force gays in to the public bathrooms, during the period and also the methods of enforcing public decency. This article really attacks the use of the police officer decoy (still a threatening presence today), claiming the practice is hypocritical:

This "decoy" method of law enforcement has lately come under a lot of scrutiny by the courts which would violate the individual's constitutional rights. It would seem that society's interest in protecting the public against lewd solicitation is endangered just as much if the solicitation is made by a private citizen or a vice squad cop.

The article also describes a scenario which could resemble the Senator Larry Craig bathroom scandal that took place several years ago, except the "closet queen" Craig was doing the foot tapping:

The undercover police officer seeks to provide an opportunity for a homosexual to either commit a lewd act or to make a solicitation for such act. In order to invite such solicitation, the undercover cop may sometimes spend lengthy periods of time at the urinals or sinks of a public toilet; he may sit in a stall and tap his foot or clear his throat to attract the unsuspecting homosexual's attention.

Congressperson Larry Craig is definitely a throwback to this era, a conservative married guy whose only outlet for his sexuality was the bathroom. In Craig's case, the hypocrisy (given his public persona and anti-gay voting record) was obviously more on his part rather than on the part of the arresting officer.
 

Larry Craig mugshot
Larry Craig

GLORY HOLES: OUT OF THE CLOSET AND INTO GAY PORN

One wonders if the sexual revolution of the 1960s and post-Stonewall 1970s, and the ensuing AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, really made any change in the  glory hole dynamic describe above. Gay bathhouses (and bookstores today) in the 1970s often contained glory holes, but they were more a sexual fetish tool, for those who are turned on by  that type of sex, located in an environment that was not really public like an actual bathroom.

What the 1970s and 1980s did contribute to the now-iconic glory hole was a slew of porn movies that showed really hot, enticing glory sex. Yes, the sex in these films was obviously staged and thus lacked the danger and anonymity of the real event, but art can often improve on its imitation of life.
 

Roger
Jim Rogers & Michael Braun in Dangerous (1983)
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Glorious Glory Holes, Or Note? Part Two

Roger

BRIEF HISTORY OF GLORY HOLES

Whatever the psychological and social ramifications, as well as possible etymologies and connotations of the glory hole, it can be still found in public bathrooms throughout the United States located in movie theaters, truck stops, adult bookstores, gay bars, and as I stated in the introduction, university rest rooms. Glory holes are most often located in Tea Rooms or T-Rooms, which evolved from the nickname "toilet room." These tea rooms were public toilet areas where secretive homosexual activity occurred, as early as the eighteenth century. Of course getting caught (as is still the case) would mean some form of criminal punishment, which in the past included the pillory and the gallows.
 

Article headline that says Raid Nets 8 Arrests on Sex Charges at I-95 Md. Rest Stop, Police Say Laurel Site Known Nationally as Homosexual Spot

In the repressive environment of the 1950s, the T-room with its omnipresent glory hole was a significant place where gay men could at least obtain some sexual, if not interpersonal, contact. Before Newton Arvin, the famous "scarlet professor," was arrested in 1960 for possession of obscene materials (those vintage physique magazines and 16mm movies) and "lewd" behavior, he used to routinely cruise public bathrooms and bus stations. He had been married, but much later in life he admitted to himself and a few select others his homosexuality and began to act on it in the only possible situations available to gays during this period.

 

Newton Arvin

 

Newton Arvin

 Professor Arvin's, and others like him, position was given a particularly impersonal ambience, bleak as a typical bus station during that period, by David Reuben in his 1970s book Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex - But Were Afraid to Ask:  

 

Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask cover

Most homosexuals will quickly tell you that they cruise public restrooms because they are there, because certain of such places are well known for such activity, because there are few other places a person can go in the daytime for sex, and a myriad of other reasons. For some, a t-room is quick and convenient. These are the people who dig impersonal sex, people who live with their families and can't bring a trick home, or people fearing to get involved.

GLORY HOLES AND THE GAY CLOSET

The book Glory Hole: A Study of Homosexual Activity in Public Places (no date, no publication information; looks to be early 1970s), a pornographic book touted as educational material with some interesting articles (including the one cited above defending glory holes), uses the above book as a source and corroborates this rather bleak view to some extent. Yet this view, as the text says, of the "sordid squalor of the nation's public toilets" seems to fight against the graphic pictures and jerk-off stories of glory hole sex in the book. Or is there really a conflict there?

 This text quotes from a source called Psychopathia Sexualis, which connects glory hole behavior with masochism, the thrill of getting caught and the public humiliation that ensues (different from the consensual BDSM which often involves public humiliation in a space with other BDSM participants and in the context of a scene). Perhaps this supposed masochism is also linked to the thrill of breaking a taboo ... even the thrill of looking at pictures (as in the book Glory Hole) and viewing movies of glory hole sex when one knows the actual situation could be fraught with danger.  

 

Psychopathia Sexualis cover

Glory Hole also attempts to formulate a solution for its time period, claiming that such sex can be addictive and also implying that such sex is ultimately harmful. Yet, the article argues, if the states eliminated laws against sodomy in private, perhaps homosexuals wouldn't be forced to have sex in bathrooms. Obviously the situation isn't that simple, but it does connect on a deeper level to the whole issue of being in the closet.

The closet connection is something of a knotty contradiction. If a guy is prohibited from having sex in his own home across the board, legally forcing him to live in the closet, why does having public sex (the bathroom) constitute a release from that closet? And practically speaking in this situation, wouldn't it be safer to do it in your own home rather than risk arrest by doing it in public, even it is illegal to do it anywhere? Yet, if he can do it legally in the bedroom of one's own home, then perhaps, just perhaps, he wouldn't indulge in sexually addictive bathroom behavior. Unless, as is often the case, he finds “toilet sex” to be a big turn on, closet or no closet.

One other source the book uses, at that time the most detailed study of glory holes, Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex In Public Places by Laud Humphreys, pretty much assumes the situation is hopeless for those who do glory hole sex. The 1960s and 70s were a time when "interpersonal" relations that built self-esteem and self-actualization were emphasized, as in the psychology of Abraham Maslow; perhaps Humphreys is working in this context, finding the impersonality of tearoom sex (such as no conversation between the participants) to be psychologically damaging.
 

Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places book

Humphreys does give some interesting detail on the actual physical dynamic going in the T-room, using anecdotal evidence and perhaps making some stereotypical assumptions about glory hole patrons, argues that the "patrons" are mostly "closet queens:"

The so-called "closet queens" are the persons most attracted to tearoom sex. Tearooms are popular not because they serve as gathering places for homosexuals, but because they attract a variety of men, a minority of whom are active in the homosexual subculture and a large group of whom have homosexual self-identity.

In addition to the closet queen participants, Humphreys notes, some act as voyeurs, and also serve as a lookout for the police, a "watch queen." The situation Humphreys describes may stem from a closeted gay subculture, but even in that specific situation, many devotees of glory hole sex may have indulged in bathroom sex for many other reasons, such as raw sexual excitement, the anonymity (as mentioned above), or a fetish for the ubiquitous hole, and they may have come from a variety of social situations, not just the gay closet.

Part Three to follow next week. In the meantime, check out the Sex Toilets DVD series, full of more glory hole and “toilet” sex.

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Glorious Glory Holes, Or Not? Part One

Vintage glory hole blowjob photo

"BROKEBACK BATHROOM"

A long time, ago, in 2004, I found out via the gay press that one of the men's bathroom in a building where I teach at was one of those "T-rooms," complete with a glory hole. Apparently the cops raided the bathroom, which by then had developed a reputation for clandestine sexual activity. The glory hole was sealed and a sign placed in the room announcing that the area was now under surveillance by campus police. The publicity garnered by the raid around campus later earned the bathroom this nickname: "Brokeback Bathroom."
 

Brokeback Mountain cover

I never knew this activity was going on. Honestly. But one question really prompted further inquiry: in an age of more tolerance, and even in some areas of the mainstream, acceptance and embracing of gay sexuality (ironically, the generally positive reception of the movie Brokeback Mountain that came out in 2005 revealed this development), why the secret sex in unsanitary bathrooms? Only an "outlet" for married guys or guys in the closet? And even if a guy wasn't in that situation, why the appeal of sticking your dick in a hole and letting someone unknown person suck it? I enjoy oral sex immensely, but I like to see the person who is going down on me and play with other parts of his body. Apparently many others aren't necessarily interested in seeing what the cock is attached to!

WHAT IS A GLORY HOLE? WHAT'S IN THE NAME?

What is a glory hole? Why is the hole modified by the word glory, with all its complex connotations, including Biblical/religious ones (the word for glory in Hebrew is kavod, in Greek doxa)? It's interesting and perhaps significant, given the often blurry distinctions between the experience of sexual orgasm and religious mystical experience (think of the famous statue by Bernini, "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa"), that the word glory is an English translation of the Hebrew word which really means weight and could imply destruction related to powerful physical phenomena like thunder and lightning.
 

Kavod in Hebrew

Detail from Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Teresa statue
Detail from Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa"

And according to W.R.F. Browning's Dictionary of the Bible, in certain sections of the Torah or Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), the "cloud" is a kind of covering through which the glory shines (Exod. 24:16-17). There appears to be strong associations with a supernatural power pulsing through the natural (thus both transcendent and immanent), which include sexual power, and also a kind of need to somehow "cover" or "conceal" that power (like the walls between the bathroom stalls) because of its physical (and spiritual) immensity.

POSSIBLE PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE NAME

This context could give some weight (pun intended) to the rather florid and fanciful "etymology" from the unknown author of an article published in the late 1960s or early 1970s, "The Other Side of the Story: Defending Glory Holes."

Why are they named glory-holes? Possibly because of the glorious sexual release of being blown, standing with your erect prick stuck through it and being sucked off by a warm, hot mouth on the other side. Possibly, on the other hand, the "glory" belongs to the person doing the "job" on the other side of the wall, sucking on a fat, throbbing piece of meat, and receiving the thrill of a convulsive stream of jetting cum into his mouth as reward for a job well done.

Regardless of the hammy, cliched language, the unknown author touches on some of the motivations for such activity, including the anonymity (only seeing a mouth, for example), and even, despite the anonymity, an objective sense of accomplishment or reward without the context of a potentially complicated interpersonal relationship. Also, the anonymity can encourage a fetish, not only for say, an uncut cock or a thick one, but also perhaps attaching whatever face or body shape to that appendage, as argued by that same unknown author:

There is also the fantasizing of sucking on an organ which you can mentally attach to anyone you wish - an unobtainable "straight" friend, a movie star hero, a famous athlete; indeed, anyone at all! It's simply PRICK! And prick alone, in its raw, unadulterated state!

A private fantasy becomes public in a way one can't express publicly.
 

Cover of the vintage magazine Glory Hole: A Study of Homosexual Activity in Public Places

More on glory holes, focusing on their history, next week in this multi-part series. In the meantime, find countless movies featuring glory holes - including the four Sex Toilets compilations - on DVD at BijouWorld.com and streaming instantly at BijouGayPorn.com.

 

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lawrence saunders
I love your blogs. They are titillating and informative. Keep them coming!... Read More
Friday, 13 July 2018 22:42
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