Solo Sex

Posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

 

As many of us are currently spending a lengthy stint without sexual partners as we practice social distancing during this pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on eroticism that does not involve physical engagement between people.

Non-in-person sex work (via phone or the internet) and viewing pornography can play a huge part in helping folks through this necessary dry spell - though, of course, the coronavirus relief package explicitly excludes applicants who earn money from performances, services, or depictions “of a prurient sexual nature” from being eligible for loans. (There has been an increase in internet censorship and policing of consensual sex work and sexual materials under this administration done in the name of decreasing sex trafficking and exploitation. SESTA/FOSTA, which passed in March of 2018, directly led to the shut down of sites that enabled sex workers to operate more safely, porn companies and performers having their personal data deleted from their private drives, and the major social media platforms increasing their content restrictions and banning countless users. The currently-proposed EARN IT Act looks to extend internet surveillance under the same guise, further putting at risk sex workers and other marginalized groups who would likely be targeted and increasing the possibility of additional sexual content restrictions on social media platforms, as well as compromising the privacy of all internet-based communication and data.)

There are countless ways of sexually engaging with others through distance, many via technology - such as swapping nudes, dirty talk (see our recent blog discussing the Old Reliable audio collection), video chatting, sexting, video games, and even internet-controlled sex toys - through which each individual involved may be physically alone. And, of course, there is also a wide array in the realm of sexuality in which the inspiration for excitement doesn’t necessarily come from another person at all: object fetishism, autoeroticism, and more. A plethora of imaginal and tactile erotic experiences can be explored while physically by one’s self.

One fascinating cinematic look at solo sex and object fetishism exists in Czech artist Jan Švankmajer’s 1996 film Conspirators of Pleasure, which follows several characters’ independent fetishistic rituals. One man builds a masturbation machine with many motorized hands attached to televisions, which he operates during broadcasts of a lusted-after news anchor. Another man creates homemade sex toys - rolling pins covered in materials of different tactile natures like tacks and fur - which Švankmajer live-action animates rolling all over the man’s body. A couple of neighbors create effigies of each other, which they violently torture.

 

Stills from Conspirators of Pleasure
Images from Conspirators of Pleasure

 

In some of these scenarios, the object of desire is a person represented by the masturbation object, while in some, the contraption and/or tactile materials seem to be the objects of desire, themselves. But in each scenario, the rituals are performed in isolation.

Though best known as an animator/filmmaker, Švankmajer works in a wide array of mediums, including poetry and sculpture, and uses all to grapple with tactilism. From 1972 until 1979, he was banned from directing films by the Communist government of Czechoslovakia, who considered his films subversive. During this span, Švankmajer went into extensive exploration of the sense of touch and tactile art, including writing a book, Hmat a Imaginace (now translated and available in English as Touching and Imagining), “of which he produced five copies in 1983, all with ‘tactile’ covers. Featuring rabbit fur along the spine and a hand shape cut out of sandpaper on the front, these copies circulated as samizdat, that is works which were clandestinely produced and distributed to evade officially imposed censorship.” This book details Švankmajer’s Surrealist experiments with touch and tactile art and “is a kind of alchemist’s philosophical treatise.”

 

An original copy of Hmat a Imaginace
An original copy of Hmat a Imaginace

Švankmajer tactile poem and sculptures
A Švankmajer tactile poem and three tactile sculptures

 

Upon his return to filmmaking, he brought what he had learned about tactilism into the medium through content, concept, and technique, trying to create synesthetic experiences for viewers. “Film animation is just another alchemical aid to the performance of a magic ritual in which Švankmajer summons the immanent vitality that resides in the inert material... This capacity for metamorphosis extends to moving images… Švankmajer’s work explores the idea that both direct and indirect tactile experience is mediated by the ‘tactile’ imagination.”

The development of a new personal relationship to touch is described in Švankmajer’s poem “The magic ritual of tactile initiation,” featured in Touching and Imagining, which concludes:

Make the cold warm and the soft hard!
Make the loose compact!
Make the course slimy!
Make the hurtful pleasurable!
And vice-versa!
So that the eye will not perceive and give touch timely warning, constantly confuse his utilitarian habits of touch by disorientation, mystification and panic!
Bear in mind that our entire body is a unified erogenous zone!
Do not smooth down the crumpled sheets!
In winter kick off the bedclothes!
On hot summer nights crawl under a heavy quilt!
Do not scorn masturbation!
Do not have your old shoes re-soled!
Do not urinate before going to bed!
“Be repulsed by all objects yet touch them all!
Learn to love insects!
Tire yourself out!
Only when Touch is freed from its utilitarian context, not constantly forced into a self-conscious moment, will it reach the point where it transmutes the barrier of its identifying existence, and without being aware of it, becomes the language of the poet.


Eroticism is frequently a focus of Švankmajer’s work, as he observed that “if there does exist one aspect of human perception where Touch still has a position dominant over all others senses, it is in the field of eroticism.” The realm of pornography extensively explores “indirect tactile experience” and the sensations this depiction evokes in viewers, also striving to inspire corporeal responses.

Countless approaches to solo sex can be found in pornography. Object eroticism is certainly common, from fetish magazines eroticizing attire and materials such as leather and rubber, to the use of sex toys and such things as household items, balloons, and food as tools for self-pleasure.

 

Stills from Mansize & Food Sex
Stills Michael Zen's Mansize (top) and the Bijou Video compilation Food Sex (bottom)

 

The object in question’s sexual appeal may stem purely from the physical sensations it creates and one’s tactile relationship with it, or from a more symbolic place of connection or memory. And inanimate objects, themselves, can seem to carry inside them their own energetic life. As Švankmajer said, “a strong emotion leaves an indelible imprint on the objects touched.”

Erotic inspiration can be found in the natural world. Director Peter de Rome’s lovely short porn film, Green Thoughts (1971), features a man who becomes stimulated by the plants in a conservatory. Porn star and sex educator Annie Sprinkle has recently been spearheading an “ecosexual” movement, reframing nature as “your lover, not your mother” in an effort “to make the envirnomental movement more fun and diverse.”

 

Images from Green Thoughts
Images from Green Thoughts

 

Acts of self-pleasure may be performed not just as the result of the absence of a sexual partner, but because one’s own self or body or personal sexual technique are, themselves, the source of excitement. Many Bijou titles feature examples of this: enthusiastic solos, autofellatio practitioners, people jacking off to their own reflections, fantasies of self-fucking (brilliantly staged in Jaguar’s Grease Monkeys and in the short film Double Scorpio featured in Hand in Hand’s Private Collection), and intricate autosadism rituals (as in the Jason Steele segment of Big Bear Men and the sounding demonstration in another Private Collection short, Penetration).

 

Nick Rodgers seducing himself in Grease Monkeys
Nick Rodgers seducing & fucking himself in Grease Monkeys (1979)

Jason Steele in Big Bear Men (left); sounding film Penetration (right)
Jason Steele in Big Bear Men (left); the sounding film Penetration (right)

 

One of the true masters of inventive autoerotic practice in porn is “Sultan of Solo Sex” Scott Taylor. Taylor never performed a full partnered sex act in any of his films (the closest is perhaps in Surge Studio’s Strange Places, Strange Things, in which he and another man wildly enlarge and distort their cocks together with vacuum pumps), but he did many solo jack off sessions, as well as self-sucking and creative bodily play. In the Steve Scott masterpiece, Turned On! (1982), Taylor performs a remarkable display of dance and movement, in which he stuffs his own cock and balls up his ass. Al Parker stated, in a Manshots interview, “Even though Scott only has sex with himself, I think he is one of the most erotic people in this business, because you can’t pay somebody to be as crazy as Scott Taylor is in a movie.”

 

Scott Taylor
Scott Taylor


Scott Taylor in Turned On!
Scott Taylor's performance in Turned On!

 

Another artist of self-fucking in classic porn is Chris Burns. Having well-earned the title “the Ultimate Bottom,” Burns certainly can take it from others, but just as aptly can dish it out upon himself. In Steve Scott’s Dangerous (1983), he exchanges dirty talk over the phone with Rick Faulkner (who beats off in a phone booth) while he shoves massive dildos up his ass. Jason Bleu’s fascinating S/M video, Black on Red (1987), takes us into the interior life of the submissive, as Burns literally bends over backwards to punish himself at the feet of and worship a mature dominant, who stands over him throughout the tape's runtime, nearly silent and umoving, like a remote God. Burns, here, performs nearly all of the actions upon himself, shoving more enormous toys (as well as enema tubing) up his ass, putting sounding rods in his dickhole, piercing his nipple, and shaving his pubic hair off with a straight razor.

 

Chris Burns in Black on Red
Chris Burns in Black on Red

 

Not requiring a partner to explore one’s own body and sexual interests can be a liberatory element of sexuality. Illustrations of this can be found in some of the feminist pornography of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which encouraged women to learn about their bodies and personal sexuality - for example, the classic 1992 instructional, How to Female Ejaculate, and the odes to self-pleasure in Annie Sprinkle’s Sluts and Goddesses: How To Be a Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps. I’ve personally found developing solo kink practices to be useful and exciting. I taught myself how to do play piercing by practicing on my own body, with the help of online technique/safety tips and instructional video examples. This was a helpful way to learn (without risking fucking up an early attempt on someone else’s body), but maintaining this as a solo practice has also served as a way for me to engage with sadism and masochism on my own, without being reliant upon a partner for outlets.

Some porn makers depicted solo practices as a part of the exploration of various types of safer sexual expression during the AIDS crisis. Artist Michael Goodwin, whose late '80s Goodjac video series focused on handjobs and masturbation, brought creativity, playfulness, and enthusiasm to his documentation of solo sex.

 

Solos from The Goodjac Chronicles & Goodjac Too
Solos from The Goodjac Chronicles and Goodjac Too

 

And we can take eroticism outside of the tactile entirely. There’s the far-reaching imaginal realm of fantasy, which can draw eroticism from endless places. There are erotic responses to music and other audio, such as the visceral and abstract sound textures and vocal intimacy explored in ASMR videos, popularized over the past decade, which for many enthusiasts are not erotic, but can be for some. And there’s spiritual yearning, which can often take on an erotic coloration.

One may find eroticism with and without other people; erotic touch with and without other people; eroticism with and without touch. Perhaps we can use this time away from parntered sex to find ways to connect with our own erotic imaginations and to deepen our relationships with our own bodies, whether by nurturing their health (as a part of the project of collective health) or developing our solo sexual practices, whatever the tools and objects of erotic excitement may be.

Tags:
pandemic social distancing solo sex autoeroticism self-pleasure eroticism phone sex pornography porn companies politics Covid-19 coronavirus internet surveillance censorship social media sex work sex workers sex workers rights SESTA/FOSTA EARN IT Act internet sex cyber sex internet censorship marginalized communities sex and politics Old Reliable Old Reliable audio dirty talk object fetishism fetishism sexting cybering nudes sex toys Czech film Conspirators of Pleasure Jan Svankmajer film art art theory animation film history art history Surrealism sex machines alchemy tactilism tactile art sculpture poetry 1970s 1980s 1990s Communism touch synesthesia vintage fetish magazines fetish magazines leather rubber balloons food Food Sex Mansize Michael Zen Peter de Rome Green Thoughts ecosexualism The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome Annie Sprinkle sex educators environmentalism environmental movement solo masturbation autofellatio Grease Monkeys Jaguar Films Double Scorpio Penetration Private Collection Hand in Hand Films Surge Studio Big Bear Men Jason Steele autosadism automasochism Nick Roders Jack Deveau sounding kink fetish S/M BDSM fetish porn S/M porn Scott Taylor Strange Places Strange Things vacuum pumps Steve Scott Al Parker Turned On! Turned On dance Chris Burns Jason Bleu Black on Red Dangerous Rick Faulkner shaving piercing play play piercing needle play piercing dildo enemas vintage gay porn classic gay porn vintage porn classic porn feminist porn lesbian porn queer porn art porn Pink Label 1970s gay porn 1970s porn 1980s gay porn 1990s porn 1990s gay porn 1980s porn stars 1980s gay porn stars How to Female Ejaculate female ejaculation Goodjac Michael Goodwin The Goodjac Chronicles Goodjac Too AIDS crisis ASMR erotic art erotic poetry erotic audio fantasy sexual fantasy sex and religion sex and spirituality bodies health sadism masochism vintage porn stars classic porn stars porn stars sex education feminism balloon fetish
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Porn Remastering Pt. 1: Simple Restorations

Posted by Guest Blogger Miriam Webster

 

I’ve been working on remastering many of the Bijou Video titles for the past 11 (nearly 12) years and I’ve yet to write a blog about the process! I’m currently working from home and therefore not on additional restorations during this bizarre point in time in which we’re living. (Hoping many of you are also able to stay at home as much as possible or are as safe as you can be if you’re someone who has to be out there caring for others). Taking this opportunity now to fill you all in on how we approach remastering these classic porn titles.

Often the movies that wind up looking the best in the end, when the customer watches them on DVD or on our streaming site
are much simpler to work on than the movies that wind up still rough around the edges. We try to find the best possible sources to use, but finding great copies of some movies can be tricky and there are many variables at play. Some of the movies were originally shot beautifully and we have well-preserved film prints or negatives available - or, if they were originally shot on video, well-preserved copies on VHS, Beta, or ¾” or 1” tape. This is the best-case scenario. Sometimes, however, there are not many options available as a source for a particular movie and the available ones have not held up well over time. Maybe we have a heavily projected film print that’s scratched and dusty. Maybe it’s a VHS tape with some tracking issues. Maybe it’s a video copy that’s missing chunks of the movie because it was released on video at a time when certain acts were heavily censored (like fisting) - and optimally, in that case we have another source from which to pull those missing sections.

Our goal is always to put out the best possible version of a movie, given the sources and resources available. We're often redoing restorations of the movies in our catalog when better sources turn up and will continue to do so.

One collection from which we have excellent copies of many movies is Hand in Hand Films (all of which you can find at both BijouWorld and BijouGayPorn), an important early gay porn studio and distributor. Bijou Video bought their collection in 1988 and many of our Hand in Hand releases (including The Idol, Drive, A Night at the Adonis, and Centurians of Rome) come from digitizations of well-preserved original film prints or negatives. We were recently able to remaster a beautiful, high quality scan of a well-preserved film print of one of their movies: Tom DeSimone’s Hot Truckin’ (1978), starring Gordon Grant and Nick Rodgers. (Available on DVD and
streaming.)

 

Hot Truckin' before/after images 1
Hot Truckin' Before/After color correction images

 

This film fit all of the ideal scenario categories: it was originally well-shot by DeSimone, whose movies were extremely professionally made; the print, while initially looking very red (which often happens to aging film prints), wound up still containing a lot of color information when I brought it into our editing software and began tinkering with it; and the digitization was a recent, well-done one and extremely high resolution.

 

Hot Truckin' before/after images 2
Hot Truckin' Before/After color correction images

 

Working with a film transfer usually yields better color results than a video transfer, as there is often more color information present (unless the print truly has deteriorated to a dramatic degree). Though this project was satisfying and relatively simple in that the source held up well and responded well to color adjustments, there were still a number of stages to go through in working with it.

 

Hot Truckin' before/after images 3
Hot Truckin' Before/After color correction images

 

I had to first sync the image to audio from our previously-released video source of the movie, because this print was image only. The transfer included a little bit of room beyond the frame, so I adjusted the scale to remove the excess edges, then cut every shot apart to prepare for color correction (and occasionally made cuts and transitions within shots where shots contained a shift in color or lighting with different adjustment needs). I went through every shot and adjusted the color to make it look as natural as possible. I removed splice lines (thick lines across the frame from where shots were edited together on film). The splices, in this copy, made the film jump in the gate momentarily, but since the transfer contained a little extra room beyond the frame, I was able to adjust the position of the image during these moments to reduce or eliminate the jumps. This print had minimal dust and scratches, but I removed the handful of large scratches that were present. This print did not yet have the opening credits laid onto the footage, but had them separately over black before the start of the film for someone to later superimpose. I was able to reference the previous video release for the correct placement and fades into/out of these credits and replicate these digitally.

 

Hot Truckin' still with credit Directed By Lancer Brooks
Credit for director Tom DeSimone's pseudonym, Lancer Brooks, in Hot Truckin'

 

A recent release from a video source, Joe Tiffenbach’s Tall Tales (1986), was also a relatively straight-forward restoration process, if a less glossy final product than Hot Truckin'. Tall Tales was made during the video era and shot on a cheaper format and all in a room full of yellow and green decor. Often, older video sources make skin tones overly yellow, so this initially appeared to be pretty far in that range, between the decor and image quality. However, the VHS copy we used had held up well, with well-preserved sound and image and not much video noise or tracking to worry about, and it was luckily pretty responsive to color adjustments. We digitize video sources in-house, so I transferred this tape. I ran it through a plug-in to reduce video noise, then cut apart every shot and adjusted the color to make skin tones look natural and to find more of a color range beyond the yellow/green scenario. I made sound adjustments to reduce audio noise and enhance clarity. Next, I watched through the full movie to fine-tune it, cutting out the handful of significant tracking glitches and further tweaking the audio (this movie had recorded the dialogue at very different levels, so I had to manually balance these). This was all a fairly quick process, as far as restorations go, without a lot of major troubleshooting. I was able to make improvements to it and wind up with a decent product, so it also fell into the camp of being satisfying to work on.

 

Tall Tales post-restoration images
Post-restoration images from Tall Tales, available on DVD and streaming

 

Read the second installment in this restoration series, discussing more challenging restoration processes, whether this is from source deterioration, needing to cobble together multiple sources, or other issues. And now the new Part 3!

 
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Christopher
I'm so happy to know that someone is doing remasters of vintage gay porn! It is my favorite kind of gay porn. I would rather watch... Read More
Sunday, 26 April 2020 15:09
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Joe Tiffenbach: The Early Years

posted by Madame Bubby

By the 1970s, the golden age of gay porn in the heady days in the aftermath of Stonewall, already Joe Tiffenbach was achieving a type of iconic status as “grandaddy of gay porn.” Who was this person who encompassed in his life many different roles in the LGBTQ community? In many ways, his life and work is a microcosm of the lives of many gay men since WWII.

Joe's varied career warrants an IMDb entry, and what it says is quite telling if one applies a historical and social context. Joe Tiffenbach, Jr. was born on December 23, 1923, the son of Joseph and Mary Tiffenbach, somewhere in Los Angeles County, California. He was to remain in California for the rest of his life.
 

Joe Tiffenbach's grave
Source: findagrave.com

Joe enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943; I don't know if he ever saw combat, but one could perhaps surmise his experience in the army, like that of many gay men during this period, may have exposed him more fully to other gay men. California at that time was to some degree a mecca for gay men, because many could obtain employment at different levels in the movie industry. The closet door was closed, but in that closet many gay men were able to thrive in the creative fields while participating in the sexual underground.

After leaving the service in 1946, Joe went to college (probably on the G.I. Bill, which opened up many opportunities for persons of all social classes during that period). While in college, a friend introduced him at a party to an important figure in LGBTQ history and Old Hollywood history, William “Billy” Haines. William was a star at MGM during the silent era of the 1920s. He became a lifelong friend of Joan Crawford, with whom he starred in some movies. He ended up leaving the industry in the early 1930s because he dared to defy the all-powerful Louis B. Mayer by refusing to hide his homosexuality and living openly with his life-partner, Jimmy Shields.

Subsequently, William became a famous interior designer (he designed the interior of Joan's home in Brentwood, the location of the “Mommie Dearest” incidents). His wealth and social status enabled him to make his home a center of LGBTQ culture during that period. In other words, Joe entered the realm of that era's A-list gays!
 

Joe Tiffenbach's grave
Joan Crawford, Billy Haines, Jimmy Shields, and Al Steele
Source: https://garbolaughs.wordpress.com/2011/06/23/william-haines/

At Billy's home that evening, Joe also met John Darrow, a former actor turned Hollywood agent, and John's lover Chuck Walters, a director and choreographer of many famous movies with stellar casts, including The Unsinkable Molly Brown with Doris Day and High Society with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly.

What happened next sounds like the beginning of a stereotypical rags to riches movie plot. John and Chuck got Joe a job in the 20th Century Fox mail room after he finished college. He didn't exactly obtain the riches, but he ended up beginning a career in the mainstream film industry, producing travel films and obtaining various production jobs on studio shoots for major films. If he didn't enter the upper echelons of Old Hollywood, he was certainly “in the know,” and definitely had made connections with some of its more openly gay figures.

While Joe was working in the Hollywood studios, he was also participating in California's gay sexual underground. Beginning in 1950, he began posing for Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild publication, Physique Pictorial. Ostensibly a bodybuilding/beefcake magazine, Mizer was really producing homoerotic material. The muscle beach movement that burgeoned in California (that produced such sword and sandal/muscle icons as Steve Reeves and Dick DuBois) during that period served as a kind of “coded cover” for his images of semi-nude men, often photographed nude with the posing straps painted on before publication. (Not all Mizer's models were gay, but gay for pay was of course not a novelty in this subculture where, according to uber-hustler/pimp Scotty Bowers, Old Hollywood stars, living in the closet of fame and fortune, were able to pay for gay sex.)
 

Physique Pictorial, August 1952 cover
Physique Pictorial, v.2 n.3, August 1952
Source: https://bijouworld.com/Vintage-Physique/Physique-Pictorial-v.2-n.3-August-1952.html

Joe posed for the magazine for some time, as well as for other “physique photography” studios such Bruce of L.A. Then, in what seems to be a pragmatic move, in the 1960s he began taking his own physique photos. And in the more sexually liberated climate of the 1960s and after the famous MANual Enterprises, Inc. vs. O'Day case which established that such photos were not obscene, he began photographing and filming gay erotica.

In 1969 Stonewall occurred on the other side of America, and also that year, Richard Amory produced a groundbreaking soft-core gay erotic film called Song of the Loon (available from Bjiou Video). Joe, though uncredited, was one of the cinematographers. Joe would enter this era of gay liberation as a pioneering participant in gay erotic filmmaking, utilizing his extensive Old Hollywood background in photography and cinematography.
 

Images from Song of the Loon
Song of the Loon (1969)

Part two to follow next week, detailing Joe's involvement in other gay porn films and also his contributions to a couple of famous gay porn magazines.

Find two 1971 Jaguar classics directed by Tiffenbach, The Baredevils and Sudden Rawhide, through Bijou Video, as well as one of his much later directorial efforts, our newest release, Tall Tales (1986), starring Morgan Hunter, Cory Monroe, Gino DelMar, Dane Ford, Matt Forrest, and Chaz Holderman.

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Christopher
I hope you are well! I just found this blog, and I am really loving the posts. Joe Tiffenbach is certainly an interesting subject,... Read More
Sunday, 26 April 2020 14:57
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Bawdy Gay Latvia!

posted by Madame Bubby

Surprises abound when sifting through the wealth of LGBTQ archival material at Bijou Video. I picked up an issue of a 1970s vintage gay porn monograph or serial (not sure) called Hard? A Pictorial and Literary Study, which is comprised mostly of explicit gay sex photos, with a running text by one Dr. Jack Muller. In other words, to pass the censors, even at that time when restrictions on such material were easing up, the publication is billed as “Educational Material for Adults Only.”

Muller gives in this issue an ambitious history and analysis of pornography. I found his discussion of censorship and homosexuality and its expression interesting, and it correlates to some extent with my previous blog on this subject.

It's painfully obvious the Church/Empire nexus that began under Constantine drove any type of sex other than heteronormative procreative sex into the shadows, while at the same time creating single-sex environments, such as monastic communities. that contained homoerotic “meta-structures.” In fact, bawdy, ribald literature, though mostly heterosexual, was preserved, but also originated in medieval European monasteries, whose inhabitants were copying manuscripts of sexually explicit materials by Roman poet Ovid and others. (And in many cases not just copying, but “enacting” the actions depicted in the texts with each other.)
 

Ovid Manuscript
Ovid Manuscript
Source: http://dcc.dickinson.edu/ovid-amores/manuscript-tradition-ovids-amores

Meanwhile, on what was then the edge of European civilization, Constantinople (the Eastern Orthodox Church) and Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) each fought for the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity, but as was the case in Europe, it was often difficult to discern a boundary between “pagan” or “heathen” cultures and the institutional dynamics of the Church. (In fact, the binary of pagan versus Christian is actually a later interpretation, a narrative built on the idea that the Church was one monolithic entity opposing an inaccurate lumping together of the pluralistic, syncretistic religious universe of the ancient world as paganism.)
 

Map of Latvia in the Middle Ages
Map of Latvia in the Middle Ages

The Slavic Lithuanians actually did not officially convert to Roman Catholicism until 1387, as a condition of union with Roman Catholic Poland. The motive was political, a top-down move by the rulers (as was the case previously with European countries).

Latvia, Lithuania's neighbor to the north, was also a late convert to Christianity, the process occurring in the 12th - 13th centuries; in fact, the local populace in the countryside maintained their pagan belief systems for several centuries, with pockets of paganism surviving in Latvia up until the 17th century.
 

Krisjanis Barons
Krisjanis Barons
Source: https://www.europeana.eu/portal/en/record/92085/lnb_zl_17879.html

One form of erotic expression that survived in Latvia was the daina, and thanks to the writer and editor Krisjanis Barons (1835-1923), part of the “folk-nationalist” movement the Young Latvians (at that time Latvia had been absorbed into the Russian Empire), these were written down and systematized in several volumes.

The dainas were short, rhymed verses in sing-song meters easy to remember orally, reflecting on the cycle of life and death; humans live as integral, organic participants in a natural landscape, and this landscape of course includes sexual activity. Love, the selection of a partner, and marriage with that partner are common themes, and mostly heterosexual, but Dr. Muller, using a book by by Bud Berzing, Sex Songs of the Ancient Letts, quotes several which are blatantly describe homosexual acts.
 

Cover of Sex Songs of the Ancient Letts

One wonders, though, if these elements might have been, given the overall patrilineal emphasis in Latvian culture (even before the dominance of the Church), sung to mock and even abuse, especially foreign oppressors like the Teutonic Knight and Order of Livonia Germans who colonized Latvia in the Middle Ages:

It's a German with an aching head,
While my dunghole's hurting bad;
Come on German, place your head
Close to my dunghole.”

And:

“This boy, a pal of mine,
Has a two-headed pecker;
When he works in the drying barn,
He don't need any fork.”

“Come, laddie, rake some hay,
I got a place for stacking it,
I need one handy guy
To drive a stick in it.”
 

Latvian gay poetry in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study
Latvian gay poetry featured in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study

These types of verses (which were sung out loud at weddings and other events that celebrated life cycle moments) shocked a seventeenth-century German bishop named Paul Einhorn. He wrote, in his Historie lettice in 1649, “Afterwards such improper, brazen, and flippant songs were sung without interruption, day and night, that even the devil himself could not have devised and put forth anything more improper and lewd." The early modern European emphasis on enclosure and boundaries in a time when nation-states were trying to figure how religious institutions fit into their political and social goals spelt doom for many ancient customs that found profound value in the physical cycles of nature.

This was the time when the English Puritans banned the “heathenish” Christmas (albeit temporarily), Counter-Reformation popes covered up nudes, authorities everywhere burned witches and heretics and homosexuals at the stake, and Louis XIV proclaimed that he was the state, which meant vicious persecution and exile for the French Protestants (Huguenots). And a German bishop couldn't deal with euphemisms for genitalia!

It's interesting that it took a nationalist movement of resistance to rediscover and disseminate these songs, which have survived to this day even as new theocratic, nationalistic empires like Putin's Russia (and remember, Latvia had been part of the former Soviet Union) try to censor, subvert, control, and for LGBTQ persons, eliminate sexual expression.

SOURCES:

Wikipedia, entries on Krisjanis Barons, religion in Latvia, Christianization of Lithuania

Encyclopedia.com, entry on Dainas.

Muller, Jack, “How to Be Circumspect,” in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study

Berzing, Bud, Songs of the Ancient Letts

Dryer, Richard. “Ovid in the Middle Ages,” at http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~aranar/genealogy/ovid.htm

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Censored!

posted by Madame Bubby

Lately many libraries (probably more boards that run libraries composed of evangelicals or traditional Catholics, now in alliance against anything that doesn't endorse “heteronormativity”) are censoring LGBTQ-themed books, especially that bestselling book by John Oliver, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, about a certain male bunny named Marlon Bundo who discovers the love of his life, who happens to be another male.
 

Marlon Bundo book cover

We seem to be going around in a circle where instead of a person, a book or any artistic creation is branded with as scarlet letter. Here are some the more extreme, even ludicrous instances of censorship against LGBTQ-related artistic creations:

Michaelangelo was homosexual, but he worked for a papacy which was becoming increasingly puritanical as it attempted to restrengthen itself in response to the Protestant Reformation. Male nudes appeared in his fresco The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. In 1559, five years before the artist's death, the Vatican hired someone to paint loincloths on the more risuque ones. Poor Daniel de Volterra became “the breeches maker.” In 1563, after the Council of Trent really started to crack down on any nudity in religious art (or any art, in fact), there was even talk of destroying it. Luckily, it did not happen thanks to protests by nobles and other artists. The Church had to back down. (It needed money.)
 

The Last Judgment

Then, much later, in 1933, a time of reaction to the Roaring Twenties, a shipment of art books containing images from The Last Judgment was seized by U.S. Customs as obscene material (someone who worked there had never heard of this painting; shows the importance of an liberal education, in my opinion). A few days later, the Treasure Department admitted the mistake and turned over the books.

Also during the 1930s, the screen version of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour was reworked, even bowdlerized, to omit any references to lesbianism. The lesbian character became a heterosexual, making the love triangle heteronormative. In fact, the Code, now in full force, even forbade meniton that the movie, called These Three, was based on the play.
 

The cast of These Three
The cast of These Three

In 1961, the Motion Picture Association of America relaxed the code mentioned above, which forbade any portrayal of homosexuality on the screen. But, in 1962, it still did not approve of the film Victim, because it actually metioned those “H” words, homosexual and homosexuality, on screen. Its star, Dirk Bogarde, was gay, but given the overall social climate of the period, he had to keep it in the closet. (He came close to really revealing his sexuality when he sported tight leather pants in the campy Western, The Singer Not the Song.)
 

Dirk Bogarde in Victim
Dirk Bogarde in Victim

In 1979, when the sexual liberation movements were in full swing, right before the age of AIDS and the ascendancy of Reagan/Thatcher and the Religious Right, British customs officials seized and burned 100 copies of The Joy of Gay Sex. They ignored 200 copies of The Joy of Lesbian Sex, but in 1984 they seized and shredded both books.
 

Cover of The Joy of Gay Sex

I wonder if the real issue here is fear combined with a substantial dose of ignorance. It's not like these creations are going to appeal to children, though I am certain some fanatics would use the for them appropriate religious imagery of The Last Judgment to scare children.

The irony here is those who would use power to limit knowledge and impose rigid boundaries, even though knowledge itself is power. When used wisely, it is a power that acknowleges limitation but at the same time understands that the world and those who dwell in it will always be more than we know.

Source: Leigh Rutledge, The Gay Book of Lists

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