David's Sexual Underground - 5/22/23

 

1980s Chicago - BijouBlog

David's Chicago Sexual Underground header

 

Greetings All,

 

It has been a rough week for me, which has put us behind schedule this week. I have been assisting a dear friend and mighty force in our greater LGBTQ+ community these past few months. When I came to Chicago in 1976, one of the first friends I made was Marge Summit, then owner of His N Hers, a popular community bar located under the L tracks on Addison.

 

Marge Summit in westernwear at His N Hers

 

Marge created a wonderful space that brought many facets of our community together to celebrate. Marge’s staff served us great drinks, prepared fabulous food including the best burger I ever enjoyed in Chicago. And Marge made a space for lots of local talent to perform, grow and succeed.

She became a dear friend and mentor to me in the service industry. Those of you who joined me for Chicago’s Original Country Dance after closing Carol’s Speakeasy should remember Marge helping us serve drinks at various spots along the way Pusch Studios, Paris Dance, Whiskey River, Bedrock to name a few.

 

Marge at the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame

 

As an icon of our community, Marge was there when AIDS first struck Chicago. Her support for many of the early organizations that came to be in response to this emergency was fantastic. Howard Brown, Chicago House, Open Hand and numerous others were causes championed at His N Hers in the 80s with the support of the talented artist that performed at the bar.

Marge did more than just host benefits; she took action when needed. One of my favorite things she did was to push peoples’ comfort zones.

 

Frank Kellas and Marge Summit in newspaper photo, cited as being named as Organizers of the Year from Gay Chicago for their commitment to the Gay Dollar Campaign

 

To stress the economic force of our community, Marge and her leather buddy Frank Kellas launched the Gay Dollar campaign. She bought rubber stamps that read Gay Dollar and stamped thousands of one dollar bills. In the 80s, that got the attention of the Feds. They visited her and threatened her if she persisted. She did persist and straight folks were forced to be embarrassed by handing over “gay money” when shopping, dining, etc.

You may not remember there was a small grocery store at the corner of Belmont & Broadway. The owners were unhappy as the neighborhood became “New Town” with gays moving into the area. Bars, stores catering to gays sprang up. With the fear of AIDS, the owners were afraid of contact with us. Marge would get friends to join her to each grab a grocery cart and fill it with all kinds of items, the smaller the better. Filling the carts, they would leave them at the checkout announcing they were gay. The fearful owners and staff would be forced to wipe off all the handled merchandise, fearing contamination of AIDS. Sound familiar?

Marge met the love of her life, Janan, in her later years and I was honored to host their wedding at my Country Dance at The Call. Sadly, we had to celebrate Janan’s passing there too. The past few months were hard for Marge, failing health and loneliness made it a vicious circle. I was fortunate to spend time with her, sharing memories, meals, helping her cope as she became weaker.

 

Marge and Janan

 

I got to sit with her one last time on Tuesday in her finally hours as she passed from this world knowing she would be reunited with her wife, Janan.

Marge was not part of our leather community, but she understood our side of the family. She was a great friend of Chuck Rodocker, Chuck Renslow and Jim Flint, all leather bar owners in the 70s and 80s. She stood with us as AIDs decimated the clubs and took the lives of so many leathermen.

This loss is not felt just by me but many others of our leather community of that era.

Thanks for allowing me to share this passing with you.

 

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Nitty-Gritty City

posted by Madame Bubby

I moved into the nitty-gritty “big, bad” city in the middle of the 1980s. I rented a small, in fact, tiny, one-bedroom apartment for $425.00 a month, heat included, not far from Wrigley Field. The hoary Music Box Theater was within walking distance, still a major cultural center of the area. A mom-and-pop hardware store was among the retail establishments.
 

Music Box Theater
Image Source: https://musicboxtheatre.com/about-us/theatre-history

The Southport Avenue strip was dead at night. Signs of gentrification were occurring, mostly originating from well-heeled types who could afford to buy and rehab the large vintage dwellings that once housed working-class, white ethnic families.

One could hear wild metal and punk bands at the nearby Cabaret Metro, and the gay bars of Halsted Street were a cab ride away. Hustlers worked some corners to the east on Broadway. And, just a couple blocks to the north of my pad, the bar El Gato Negro, (picture at link) a dance club with a primarily Latino and trans clientele, was the scene almost every night of brawls. Yes, chair-throwing and punches.

I'm working with a cliché here, I admit. The strip has changed. It's all spas, boutiques, specialty restaurants and bars, geared toward the new well-heeled white jock/cheerleader types Chad and Brad and Taylor and Justine, many of whom are now pushing strollers. I am stereotyping; in fact, many of those who can afford to live in gentry-land make big money in the tech industries, as well as the more traditional legal and medical fields.

These new cityscapes of wealth don't possess the size and power of Silicon Valley in California, but the comparison is potent. Those who make money expect certain goods and services, and they are willing to pay for them. A $425 a month non-rehabbed apartment with a flower-power vinyl kitchen floor doesn't fit into this cut glass, opulent, homogenized landscape. The same apartment now goes for $1,350.00 a month (considered a bargain), and the kitchen and bathroom approximate the vast stainless steel and marble and quartz rooms in the million dollar condos where cooking often comes from a delivery box.

The situation in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the United States, is like this Chicago urban experience on steroids. Having just finished Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, where Anna Madrigal owns a gorgeous building with its own garden and can welcome new tenants with a joint on the door, the article that claims, “readers' first San Francisco rent prices will make you cry,” really wounds. Deeply. Bohemian paradise lost.
 

Barbary Lane
Barbary Lane

Here are few first hand accounts from that piece:

“1974 – $145 for a beautiful one bedroom apartment on pacific between Fillmore and Webster!! elevator had gate you had to to open and close. no bay view but all i had to do was walk to the corner and gaze at the most beautiful city. that was then. possibly 2340 Pacific? (those were the ’70s after all.)”—cicinla

and

“1975. Hyde and Sutter. 6th floor Studio with built-in antique (lukewarm) refrigerator, 180 degree view over the city. Furnished it with treasures out of a dumpster on Larkin. $105.00 a month. Now goes for $2195.00.”—George Reeds
 

San Francisco, 1970s
San Francisco, 1970s

and

“My first apartment was $245 a month on Dorland Street off Dolores in 1977. A spacious one-bedroom with a large kitchen with many glass-fronted cabinets and a huge bathroom containing a linen cupboard with drawers underneath and completely tiled. Night-blooming jasmine grew on the hedges in the backyard and their scent permeated the place when I opened the windows in warm weather. I loved it.”—Carolyn Zaremba

The cities are becoming suburban. The cities are living exhibits of profound income inequality and racial segregation. Yes, true, brutally true, but what I find worrisome is the association of those who had to flee from where they live with not just crime, but with activities that don't gel with a variety of norms, ranging from heteronormativity to late capitalist exploitation. I admit I've made that connection earlier in the blog, but does a “nice, safe” neighborhood necessarily mean an expensive, and usually segregated one?

Even gays and lesbians, who have earned a reputation as being one of the first urban pioneers (one might say colonizers) to take some previously nitty-gritty areas like Castro Street and Halsted Street, and make them safe spaces (in the meantime doing themselves the physical labor of rehabbing), aren't always the direct beneficiaries of their labors.

Now younger LGBT persons are once again trying to make their living on and in the physical and economic margins, but often without that funky edginess their ancestors experienced in the nitty-gritty, big bad city where there was an all-night unique diner on every corner and your eccentric landlady with her purple wig who you knew personally might invite you over for a nightcap.

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September 12, 1985: Remembering the Infamous Carol's Speakeasy Raid in Chicago

posted by Madame Bubby


The raid on Stonewall of course has become an iconic event because of its social and historical ramifications, but recently LGBTQ historians, including many who publicize history on social media platforms such as Twitter, have called attention to similar events before and after Stonewall. Often the goal of such histories is uncovering marginalized narratives of oppression and liberation that can frame our own interpretations of not just those people and events, but also give a valued context for the present-day legal, social, and cultural challenges to honor and justice that LGBTQ persons still face.

One raid which attained notoriety, mostly because it showed how the politics of the gay Chicago community was becoming very much intertwined overall with mainstream politics, occurred on September 12, 1985.
 

Carol's Speakeasy poster
Image Source: http://chicago.gopride.com/entertainment/column/index.cfm/col/2523

A group called NEMEG, Northwestern Metropolitan Enforcement Group, which consisted of officers from various north and northwestern suburbs, raided a popular gay bar, Carol's Speakeasy, located at 1355 N. Wells Street (that strip still at that point in LGBTQ Chicago history was the center of a vibrant gay nightlife). NEMEG was ostensibly looking for evidence of drugs and drug dealing.

According to David Boyer of Touche and Bijou and a noted figure in Chicago's gay community, who was then employed by Carol's (his first year as manager), the bar was hosting a wrestling promotion night: “We had put out mats on the dance floor and guys would challenge each other to wrestle. Had about maybe 50 or so people in the house.”

Also according to David Boyer, whose account I quote and paraphrase for much of this blog and which generally corroborates what even the conservative Chicago Tribune reported, the Chicago police were not involved; and, as one shall see, this is a most significant, telling detail.

David describes how this, I would claim, vigilante group “stormed the front door, guns drawn,” and that they also broke in through the back. These persons were not wearing any type of identifying uniform, and did not even identify themselves.

Everyone in the bar was forced to gather together and lay face down on the dance floor for a period of several hours. NEMEG members would hit or shove the face of anyone back down to the floor if they even unintentionally looked up.

NEMEG meanwhile searched the offices and serving areas behind the bars, looking for drugs. David mentions that they were even throwing around match books, claiming these contained packages of drugs.

In a manner reminiscent of pre-Stonewall raids, these persons took each person, questioned them, and, most significantly, photographed them. Everyone eventually was forced to leave the bar; no one was arrrested. David Boyer refused to leave after identifying himself as the manager, but they still did not inform him of their identity.

After what seemed an interminable time of chaos and violence, Chicago police did show up, but they did nothing to stop what was happening. Nothing; one could claim they were deliberately ignoring the many legal violations that were occurring for reasons ranging from homophobia to some unwritten code that forbade them from “telling” on their suburban officer comrades.

NEMEG did claim they found drugs on the premises, but they could not determine who brought them.

According to David, at the same time the raid occurred, a couple of employees were arrested at their homes and charged with drug dealing.

This incident did not end up being a narrative memory of injustice and degradation.

By the middle 1980s, the gay community in Chicago had gained enough political power, even during this uncertain time when AIDS was beginning to decimate its members.

Thus, those affected by this raid filed a civil lawsuit against these suburban officers, focusing on clear violations of the law, such as not identifying themselves as police and forcibly taking photographs of the bar patrons.
 

Windy City Times article about Carol's Speakeasy lawsuit
Image Source: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Windy-City-Times-30th-anniversary-issue-Coverage/52880.html

According to a report in the September 16, 1986 of the Chicago Tribune:
 

"This is one of the most massive violations of civil rights we have seen in Chicago in the last decade," said Harvey Grossman, Illinios legal director of the ACLU.

"Over 50 men were subjected to this course of conduct. They were all ordered to lie on the floor; they were subjected to illegal searches; they were interrogated against their will and required to disclose information about their backgrounds; they were all photographed and none was arrested.

"What the agents did was to take the occasion of serving an arrest warrant on the bartender and turn it into a raid on all who were present at the time," Grossman said.

By 1989, the parties reached an accord, according to a report in the August 18, 1989 issue of the Chicago Tribune. Harvey Grossman in this article makes a telling point: "Although gays have long been subject to police harassment, this is the first time a group of gay men has successfully joined together to obtain damages from law enforcement agencies," Grossman said.

The above is a story of injustice, but also a story of moral courage and faith that the justice system does indeed work, even against those who are supposedly responsible for upholding that its laws are enforced equitably and honorably. In this case, the human rights of the manager and patrons of Carol's were dishonored and dehumanized that night, and though the terms of the settlement did include financial compensation, the real issue is that no one is above the law, and this law is based on the premise that persons are innocent until proven guilty.

Currently, one cannot assume in the case of vulnerable, marginalized populations that their human rights will be respected, and that the justice system will uphold them. I think it's important, overall, to frame this raid as a #NeverAgainIsNow moment that the LGBTQ communities need to take to heart, not only as a warning, but as call for persons to emulate the moral courage David Boyer showed that night.

Sources: Chicago Tribune reports (see hyperlinks); eyewitness account from David Boyer received via email; https://slate.com/human-interest/2016/02/queer-clout-in-chicago-telling-gay-history-beyond-stonewall-and-the-castro.html

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Grass, Weed, Pot, Or Any Other Name

The early 1970s. An affluent suburban landscape with plenty of space between spacious homes that today would be characterized as vintage. The high school that serves part of this district is a 1960s building with only two floors, bright brick on the outside, gleaming white tiles in the hallway, and wide windows, quite progressive compared to the multistory, dark brick, and overall prison-like structures that were the norm in previous decades.

Yet across the road a ragged piece of what might originally been a forest preserve served as a hangout to the cliques in that high school called “freaks” or “loads.” (I was never sure about the difference between the two in my marginalized social status.) They wore flannel shirts, faded Levis, and big boots (the girls too). They sported long hair (and I remember so many blonds). They really made a point of being distinct from the Protestant WASP jocks and cheerleaders that pretty much ran the school and who probably ended up in that day’s one percent.

And they smoked in that area, which everyone called The Hole. Now I’m not sure if any other type of activity was going on (given that name), because I was afraid to check it out, but it was common knowledge that smoking was going on, and not just cigarettes. Yes, they smoked what many at that time called grass. Diane, a girl on my French class who identified as a load, confirmed that information. Diane was a load (and I got the feeling she may have dealt the substance in hindsight).

Flash forward to college. I was a virgin in the world of illicit substances, until Denise and Punky and some other girls introduced me to the joys of smoking pot (we called it that name by that time). Denise always seemed to have it, because she got it from some big black guy named T.J. Punky too, because she was a punk gal who knew artsy guys on the North Side of Chicago. Denise and I smoked something called “Sense A Million,” which was supposed to be quite potent. I remember vaguely wandering through tunnels that connected the buildings on the campus and making claims that the overhead lights were beautiful and brilliant.

Fast forward to my young adulthood, gayling in the city both before and after coming out, and once again pot seemed to be central to my social activities. The lady who cut my hair used to deal (I had to call and ask for shampoo), and one year she gave me a leafy pot “bud” for Xmas. Another friend used to get it from some unknown dealer in the artsy neighborhood, and often weekend consisted of our own private “pot parties” at my place. We made pizza from scratch while high during the munchies phase (while the pizza was baking, we ate the standard Doritos and donuts).
 

Bag of Doritos

One time this friend and I went a jack off party completely stoned. On the way to the party, we started putting the words “lava lamp” or “planet of the apes” into various movie titles. Think: Our Lady of Planet of the Apes, On A Clear Day You Can See Planet of the Apes, or my favorite, Hello, Lava Lamp. When I came up with that one, I collapsed onto someone’s grassy front lawn, laughing so hard I could not breathe. Needless to say, my wiener did not function very well at the jack off party, but I did end up that night taking home a hot black guy who dressed like a cowboy (who was also stoned or drunk and as a result, a limp dick).
 

Lava lamp

In my more mature years, financial exigencies have prevented me from enjoying the vicissitudes of this marvelous substance.

Based on the above, I associate pot/weed/grass with a time when social activities didn’t depend on technology. Yet even though one could argue that getting stoned wasn’t exactly the best way to connect, when everyone is stoned … or even just two persons … I found that in some persons a sense of humor arise that were not always present in other situations, even a repressed poet or musician.
 

Happy person smoking pot

Overall, I found the best “pot highs” to be a different release of inhibitions than being drunk; senses were heightened, and sometimes very amazing creative thoughts appeared and disappeared. No violence, no teary confessions, no hangover. Everything is fun, silly, and everything tastes good. Joy. Unabashed, uninhibited joy.

Maybe the cock doesn’t rise up literally when one ingests pot, but the Romantic poet Coleridge’s imaginative “fancy” did from the depths of my cannabis-intoxicated soul. That same poet wrote the famous dream-vision poem Kubla Khan under the influence of opium.
 

1979 Coleridge opium induced vision

Maybe that could be a motivation to finally legalize that marvelous grass, weed, pot, or any other name.
 

Pot leaf
 
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Dormitory Daze

 

1980s dorm room

 

I lived in the dormitories during my undergraduate days for one year; I then lived in rental housing close to the campus (a small Catholic liberal arts college), but I spent more time on campus than in my humble room with a hot plate.

I was pretty naïve, having grown up in the Catholic ghetto where sex and especially homosex was a no-no until the marriage bed, even though I knew in high school that some of my bigger and stronger and definitely more jockish compatriots were screwing girls.

However, my first year in the dormitory was something of a daze (that freshman year is more of a social rather than academic transition), but I did notice one particular social norm in the dorms: heterosexual couples would move in together; the double bed in the guy's room signified that he had a steady girlfriend.

Now, some of the female students had outside campus boyfriends; in fact, one student, a bit older than the 18-19 year old age range, had three children already by a rather large in size black guy named Wade. I was floored (my naivete) at this situation, not so much the interracial part, but that she had sex. And had children. And she wasn't my parents or a friend of my parents.

Gay sex? In the early 1980s (and AIDS had not really manifested itself in suburban Chicago at that time) not so much, though one guy who was had transferred to another school named Howard was supposedly gay. The evidence? He did not wear underwear beneath his jeans. Huh?

The underwearless guy dated a heavyset girl, who was also dating another guy who ended up being gay. (The cliché in this case is true.) I went with them to see Victor, Victoria. I still didn't get what was going on.

I did get that Janice was a butch lesbian, but one of her girlfriends, Yvette, was "experimenting" and went back to boys. A friend of mine and I met up with them after a Stevie Wonder concert (in his hotel room, because a sister of a student at the college was one of his backup singers).

Janice and Yvette were African-American, and I don't want to perpetrate any stereotypes, but those girls were wild. And fun. And accepting of everyone (so unlike some of the pre-"bro" jock types around there who muttered fag under their breath when I walked by).

I even went to a couple of what were called "sets," (dances, to hypnotic music which I guess was a predecessor of what today is called "house music") and I even was invited to a meeting of the African-American club.
 

1980s African-American set

(I also went to a disco with a nun until 4 a.m. I vaguely remember dancing with an African-American guy and his girlfriend. The guy told me I was moving around too much. This incident occurred my senior year.)
 

1980s Chicago ad for a disco

But I didn't accept a possible interracial (I being the only white guy) fourway with Brenda (who flunked out after the freshman year), Sandra, and a real hot guy from off-campus after I hung out with them one night. I was invited to come to the bed, but I chickened out.

The closest I came to any type of sexual experience was jacking off with a pair of T.J.'s cowboy boots. T.J., an off-campus friend of another African-American friend of mine, Denise (you could get drugs from him), crashed in my room one night while I slept platonically with Denise in her room. We were all drunk. He left his big sweaty Dingo boots there and I had some fun.
 

Cowboy boots

Even though I didn't have sex in college of any kind with anyone, I must admit the experience exposed me to, at that time, the rather frightening, often confusing, but in the long term ultimately liberating world of guys and girls interacting on various levels of the sexual spectrum.

By the time I came out as an adult, AIDS was in full swing. I sometimes wonder if I had dared to be intimate with anyone if I would have contracted it and possibly not have survived.

Yet coming out was my realization that sex does not equal death. Sex is life at its most elemental level, but for me, it is an integral part of a lively intimacy with another person.

Without an openness to that intimacy, I would have dried up inside. All those people I knew in college showed me that a lively juice in me was there, ready to bubble forth. Ripeness is all.
 

1985 Chicago pride parade
1985 Chicago pride parade
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