Gay Life Tips from a Retro Gay Sex Book!

posted by Madame Bubby

Gay Sex: A Manual for men Who Love Men old edition book cover

In 1991, Jack Hart published a book Gay Sex: A Manual for Men Who Love Men. Now, given the conditions of the time, when AIDS was still killing so many gay men and the Religious Right still holding power in a post-Reagan political and social climate, the book is both timely and groundbreaking.

By that time, safe sex was the norm, and I think the book reflects the want and the need for sexual activity that doesn’t always end in the ultimate, and to be honest, at that time, deadly fuck.

The book is divided alphabetically, and most significantly, it just doesn’t cover mechanics. It covers the complex thoughts and feelings that both cause and affect sexual relationships. It assumes a freedom to explore gay sex and perhaps find love.

For example, the letter L is divided into these categories: labels, leather, legal matters, legal trouble, loneliness, love, love at first sight, and lubricant. Those categories certainly cover a wide range. In this case, one could even claim the L section really covers life at all levels.

Here are some helpful and insightful quotes that transcend time from that section:

“Labels… The fact is, labels are useful. Without labels, we could end up at the Irish parade instead of the Gay and Lesbian Parade. Just don’t let labels get the upper hand. At one point in your life, you probably assumed you were straight. That label, however unconsciously it was adopted, limited your ability to explore your attraction to other men. You may now identify as gay. That’s fine, but if you find aspects of your personality that don’t fit that label, it’s the label that should be redefined – not your personality.”

“Legal matters… Sign power of attorney agreements, providing the authority to make the decisions and sign documents for one another should one of you become incapacitated. It’s important to have a will, and also a Living Will, which indicates what you want done if injury or illness leaves you unable to indicate your own desires.”

“Loneliness… The best antidote for loneliness is not finding a lover, or a date, but in doing things you enjoy, with other people, and through that, finding some new friends. Unfortunately, no one will ever believe this basic truth from reading a book. Some spend years learning it the hard way, and others never learn it all.”

“Love at first sight… There’s nothing wrong with that feeling. It’s enjoyable, and psychologists have even come up with the term limerence for that swept-off-your-feet sensation. But if you assume that a relationship has to start that way, you’ll miss some good opportunities that simply don’t announce themselves quite so loudly.”

“Lubricant… It’s best to use a lubricant that comes from a tube or squeeze bottle. Anything in a tub or jar easily becomes a repository for germs, as your fingers dip in and out."

Now, based on these quotes, one might think, yeah, we know, and we’ve come a long way since then. Perhaps in some matters, especially social and legal rights and recognition, but the complex feelings and actions that feed into one’s variegated social identities remain, transmuted as their context transmutes.

In fact, one could even claim that labels and loneliness have taken on even more complex, and perhaps, problematic dimensions in a life that now encompasses both cyber and physical space. There’s much more going on than choosing the right lubricant which can now be delivered to your door in a few hours for the hook up you scheduled on Scruff.

Perhaps the key words here also begin with the letter L. We physically lost a generation to AIDS. Let’s not socially and psychologically lose a generation to labels and loneliness.

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No More Porn on Tumblr! Why?

I wonder if the announcement that Tumblr was banning pornographic content was perhaps inevitable, but not for the official and unofficial reasons currently being disseminated by the media.

The surface reasons seems to be tied into the confluence between technology and profits. The IOS App Store would no longer allow the Tumblr App because of an isolated child pornography incident. Since most Smartphone users rely on Apps, not allowing it would seriously lessen Tumblr’s overall use and scope. But why target Tumblr? Was it simply the, according to some sources, the 20 percent porn content?

It may seem that Tumblr was directly put between the proverbial rock and hard place, even though the microblog is a free service. An article in The Verge succinctly paraphrases the new policy:

“Banned content includes photos, videos, and GIFs of human genitalia, female-presenting nipples, and any media involving sex acts, including illustrations. The exceptions include nude classical statues and political protests that feature nudity. The new guidelines exclude text, so erotica remains permitted. Illustrations and art that feature nudity are still okay — so long as sex acts aren’t depicted — and so are breastfeeding and after-birth photos.” The wording of Tumblr’s announcement seems to both evoke and invoke arguments about obscenity that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.

LGBTQ sexual pioneer Chuck Renslow started out as a physique photographer, and he definitely was pushing social boundaries during the 1950s with his homoerotic (as close to nude was possible, and one could often see that the posing straps were painted on) photos. He, like many other in this line of work, were “coding” their visuals, because it was one of the few ways gay men could experience their erotic desires and fantasies safely and privately. Many outfits mailed nude photos and films in plain envelopes, but these were often confiscated by the Post Office and the perpetrators, both the senders and receivers, punished.

Some of these incidents ended up in the court system. Renslow’s case ended in victory, as the judge made the ruling that if one deemed these photos obscene, so would certain masterpieces of art, especially from the Graeco-Roman period.

The Manual vs. Day case, which went to the United States Supreme Court, held that magazines consisting of semi-nude or nude males are not obscene and the Post Office cannot interfere with their dissemination through the mail. The case is notable for its ruling that photographs of nude men are not obscene, an implication which opened the U.S. mail to nude male pornography, especially those whose audience was gay men.

Tumblr of course is certainly not contained physically in brown, unmarked envelopes, but what is interesting is that Tumblr seems to be agreeing with that 1950s judge. Agreeing to some extent, yes, but also opening up once more some of the time-worn arguments about the complex relationship between sexuality, artistic expression, violence, and how this relationship builds and shapes an audience.

Going back to my initial statement, it seems inevitable that something of this nature would happen, because it’s obvious our means of communication have changed drastically since the days of postage stamps and nudie photographs and envelopes, and later, moving images of sexual acts in theaters that charged admission only to adults: physical mediums that exist in a controlled spatial situation.

What Tumblr and those who support restricting what they deem porn (for them, porn equals genitals which equals sexual acts) fail to recognize is not of course the nanosecond dissemination of mostly amateur depictions of sex which could result in more potentially dangerous situations: no, they fail to recognize the aesthetics (which tie into social contexts, of course) of a wide variety of LGBTQ pornography from the 1970s and 1980s, especially.

For example, Al Parker responded to the AIDS crisis by combining sexual acts and documentary in his film High Tech. Jack Deveau offers what one could claim is a documentary of gay life during the "hippie" era in Left-Handed. So many others of that period usually offer narrative structures: the sex acts aren’t just sex acts per se, but components in forms that explore the larger social issues of the time. And even some of the J. Brian films, which were not made to specifically address any social or moral issues, could be seen as living documents of gay sexual history.
 

Three cast members in High Tech
Three men using vacuum pumps in High Tech

Stars of Left-Handed
Stars Ray Frank & Robert Rikas in Left-Handed

The question remains as to how one could apply any standard of evaluation to any medium which communicates the erotic universally, but it seems a rather generalized case could be made that the older the porn, the more chances it could be determined to be aesthetically or historically significant. But the burden of proof would fall on the user, and in today’s lightning-paced communication environment, time is an enemy, rather than, as before, space.

Yet at this juncture, it seems like the only possible solution here is diversification. Perhaps Tumblr’s free-for-all ethos caused this implosion. Given the fluid nature of social media, those who used Tumblr, especially LGBTQ persons who still exist in various states of marginalization, will have to regroup, and unfortunately, some might claim, not return to closets or ghettos, but establish in their own tech-savvy ways other spaces for erotic expression.

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The Movie Philadelphia: Sanitization of the AIDS Crisis?

Philadelphia release poster

I remember going to the movie theater with a friend in 1993 to see the much-hyped movie Philadelphia which purported to be the first “mainstream” movie to address the AIDS crisis. Tom Hanks starred as a closeted (at work) upper middle class lawyer, Andrew Beckett, who is fired by his prestigious law firm because he is suffering from the disease. Denzel Washington starred as an African-American lawyer, Joe Miller, who overcomes his own homophobia to serve as Beckett’s attorney when he decides to sue. Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in that movie.
 

Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in Philadelphia

I won’t go over the plot details, but in hindsight, I do wonder, as many critics have noted, if the movie did indeed the sanitize the ultimate rawness of the crisis, not just because of its target audience, but because of deeper issues that connect to race, social class, and gender/sexual orientation.

I did mention Beckett’s profession, a lawyer, but he practices in a “good old boys” corporate law firm. The point may be that AIDS can affect anyone. In fact, the film does make this point in a quite moving moment when an AIDS victim from a blood transfusion who testifies at Beckett’s trial proclaims in a voice of soft empathy, “I am not different from him.” But Beckett possesses access to quality health care; he can even afford a specialist in cosmetics to help him cover his lesions; and he lives in an expensive loft with a life partner. His family is loving and supportive; in fact, when he visits his childhood home, Norman Rockwell should have been there to paint the landscape and the event.
 

Joanne Woodward in Philadelphia

But, and here’s the rub, there’s an implication that this white picket fence life would have continued had he not descended into the gay underworld of adult movie theaters. There’s a scene that shows him encountering a stranger sexually in one of those establishments, and one could too easily infer he is reaping what he has sown. But it’s more than that, as the movie’s message is to not blame the victim, but I think the contrast here between the “good life” of Andrew Beckett characterized by monogamy, a loving family, and, until he gets fired, a career in a white heterosexual male world, and the “rough” life of so many other gay men, characterized by promiscuity, family rejection, and marginalized employment, is obvious.

The lesions on Andrew’s face thus expose the awful truth which might not have come to the surface if they had not appeared and led to his loss of livelihood and his subsequent fight for justice and ultimately, life.

And the irony that his advocate is a homophobic African-American man from a lower social and professional class hinges upon the racial and class divides that affect not just Beckett, but other characters in the movie. For example, in the trial, an African-American paralegal, comments that the managing partner in the firm, played with true good old boy condescending assholery by Jason Robards, asked her to remove her long, dangling earrings because they were too “ethnic:”
 

Jason Robards in Philadelphia

Joe Miller: Have you ever felt discriminated against at Wyatt Wheeler?
Anthea Burton: Well, yes.
Joe Miller: In what way?
Anthea Burton: Well, Mr. Wheeler's secretary, Lydia, said that Mr. Wheeler had a problem with my earrings.
Joe Miller: Really?
Anthea Burton: Apparently Mr. Wheeler felt that they were too..."Ethnic" is the word he used. And she told me that he said that he would like it if I wore something a little less garish, a little smaller, and more "American."
Joe Miller: What'd you say?
Anthea Burton: I said my earrings are American. They're African-American.

Touche! Anthea takes back her dignity with humor, but ultimately, her race and gender determine her station in a world dominated by powerful, white, heterosexual men.

Gender/sexual orientation, race and social class actually collide but don’t coalesce in the famous scene when the desperately ill Andrew Beckett sings along to Maria Callas singing the aria “La mamma morta” from Andrea Chenier. The aria ends on a note of transcendent love, the “sublime Amor” that ends up for the heterosexual main characters as a pact of death. Beckett is alone, tethered to an IV, and Joe Miller is a spectator: he deals in messy personal injury and death for the public, but his personal life is the heterosexual ideal of monogamy and procreation, not the messy and dangerous homosexual intoxication of love and sex and death.
 

Opera scene in Philadelphia

Overall, I obtain a mixed message from this movie in hindsight. At one level, it attempted to show that AIDS was a disease that affected everyone and that people suffered discrimination for simply contracting it. But I also found some implications in the film that showed not just how the divisions of race, gender/sexual orientation, and social class can profoundly affect the fate of a person with AIDS, but that the movie affirms these divisions in a way that clashes with its supposed message of inclusive justice.

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