Condoms Before the Days They Were Rubbers!

posted by Madame Bubby

When I was in sixth grade (I didn’t go to a middle school or a junior high), the tougher boys were joking about rubbers. I did not make the connection to condoms until high school, climaxing in the time when, believe it or not, my dad gave me one to put in my wallet. He thought I needed one because I was hanging out with some girls (little did he or, most significantly, I know I was their gay friend, and one of the girls, nicknamed “Inch," was a lesbian).

I digress. Condoms weren’t always rubber. Before the invention of vulcanized rubber in the 19th century, condoms were made usually of some kind of linen smeared with chemicals or, ew, animal tissue or bladder. What’s interesting is that since ancient times they were used as both a means of birth control and a protection against STDs. (Ironically, usually birth control and/or abortion was the province of the woman, who was blamed for issues is in this area, even though, by the Middle Ages, the established view was that the woman was merely the physical receptacle of the life-giving, soul-containing male sperm.)

Some interesting facts about pre and early modern condoms and condom usage:

There’s a legend that the King Minos of Crete, subject to so many curses, used a goat’s bladder as a female condom to protect his partners because he suffered from a strange affliction; his semen was filled with snakes and scorpions.

Those short loincloths Greek and Roman guys wore (mostly those of the slave and laborer class), that in the sword and sandal movies showed off hot, muscular legs, often consisted of little more than a covering for the penis. If someone in a higher class wore one of these “lower class” outfits, some have speculated they may have served as form of condom.
 

Ancient Greek man in short loincloth
Ancient Greek man in short loincloth, Source: Pinterest

Sexual norms changed during the Middle Ages with the rise of Christian theocracies, and the emphasis on sex and procreation tended to put condoms under the radar, so to speak, and we also lost some knowledge of their substance and use during the ancient world. Some writings by Muslims and Jews, who during this period in some areas comprised the majority of physicians, mentioned soaking a cloth in onion juice or other perceived spermicides.

The syphilis outbreak that began among French troops in 1494 prompted an Italian guy named Gabriele Falloppio (from whence we get the name fallopian tube) to pretty much invent the first item we now can define as a condom. He invented a linen sheath sized to cover the glans of the penis, tied to it with a little ribbon, smeared with spermicide. He claimed to have saved the lives of 1100 sailors with the device. Sailors. And with that word, one I think can pretty much imply that these guys weren’t always going after the clichéd wenches.
 

Gabriele Falloppio
Gabriele Falloppio, Source: Sciencemuseum.org

During the Renaissance, condoms were also made of animal intestines or bladders. By the 18th century, they were available in all shapes and sizes; one could buy them especially at the ubiquitous barbershops, which weren’t just places for haircuts. The barbers performed various surgeries, dental work, and especially bloodletting.
 

Retro Durex condom
Condom made of animal intestine, Source: mirror.uk

During the above periods, the upper, and later the burgeoning middle classes, were the ones who used condoms. The lower classes couldn’t afford them, and they also lacked education on STDs.

Now the omnipresent and mostly all-powerful Catholic Church during this time wasn’t exactly keen on the use of condoms as birth control, of course, but it was yet to make its views on the subject official in the Pope’s encyclical Humanae Vitae with the advent of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

And in the early 19th century, after the invention of the rubber condom which increased usage and convenience considerably, the notorious Comstock Act pretty much made life miserable for anyone who wanted to use any form of contraceptive, much less educate oneself on the issue.
 

Retro Durex condom
Retro Durex condom, Source: sexinfo.soc.ucsb.edu/article/history-condom

The deadly AIDS epidemic of course made the condom a matter of life and death, with the holy haters decrying what condoms had always been used for, saving lives, in favor of reviving the scapegoating of anyone with STDs.

By the way: there was no “Earl of Condom.” The etymology of the word is indeed unknown!

Source: mostly Wikipedia’s article on the History of Condoms, combined with some of my own knowledge of gender/sexuality history

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Down and Out in Paris and London: Where the Gays are Not Out

posted by Madame Bubby

Ok, George Orwell. I had to read Animal Farm in grade school, 1984 in high school, and of my own volition, I read and even identified with the main character the infinitely dreary Keep the Aspidistra Flying (yes, nerdy guys with aspirations to writing and other academic pursuits really shouldn’t try to escape their heteronormative lower middle class roots). And, more significantly, I even snuck a read at my dad’s worn copy of Down and Out in Paris in London.
 

George Orwell
George Orwell (Source: idmb.com)

Supposedly based on Orwell’s own experiences, this book, written in 1933, narratives the life of a down and out academic/artist type who out of necessity has to take first, a job as a dishwasher in a hotel and then a restaurant in Paris, or plongeur (sounds like plunger, very apropos). Then, arriving back in England, he ends up in the heart of “tramp” culture (homeless persons) and suffers from the futile attempts of both government and private institutions to either contain or reform the organic connection between poverty and society.
 

1930s Paris
1930s Paris (Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14372195)

When I read it as an adolescent, I was more fascinated by the seedy details (especially about food preparation, as in, let’s wipe the sawdust off the toast dropped on the floor so the hotel guest can get the breakfast quickly), the suspense that occurs as the persona struggles to obtain basic necessities, and even the threat of and eruptions of violence.

Yet, now, re-reading it, I noticed the author’s virulent homophobia. Yes, definitely a product of the time and place, but even though it isn’t a main theme, it shows up at various cringeworthy points in the narrative in language of contempt or titillation. Orwell assumes this underbelly of society at that time is the place where such persons can pursue their “perverted” desires, which in most cases exploitation of the even less powerful.
 

Down and Out in Paris and London book cover

For example, in recounting his experience as a dishwasher at a hotel in Paris, he titillates, but does not give details, about the “old debauchees who frequented hotels in search of pretty page boys.” The “French episode,” of course, focuses more on illicit heterosexual sex; it’s a given that most of the men will have “mistresses.” Yet, and for Orwell this fact is an indictment on the condition of poverty, no one seems to be married, except for the couple who deceptively sells packets of pornographic postcards to tourists. Deception, because once the buyers open the packet, no dirty pictures, but instead pictures of common Parisian tourists destinations. And the buyers of course are too embarrassed to complain!
 

Men asleep on Southwark Bridge
Men asleep on Southwark Bridge (Source: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/lodging/)

In the “English episode,” however, the attitudes of contempt and disgust toward homosexuality really come to the fore. The persona in his journeys among the tramps ends up at some place called a “spike.” These prison-like places (inmates are locked in for the night) apparently served as shelters for the homeless population during this period. He gets an involuntary roommate for the night in a room with no beds:

About midnight the other man began making homosexual attempts upon me – a nasty experience in a locked, pitch-dark cell. He was a feeble creature and I could manage him easily, but of course it was impossible to go to sleep again. For the rest of the night we stayed awake, smoking and talking. The man told me the story of his life – he was a fitter, out of work for three years. He said that his wife had promptly deserted him when he lost his job, and he had been so long away from women that he had almost forgotten what they were like. Homosexuality is general among tramps of long standing, he said.

There’s definitely an awful truth here, but it’s not the dynamic of same-sex sex occurring in prison or prison-like settings. It’s his view that such relations are perverse, and as Orwell later argues in the book to the point of a tirade, that the lack of stable relationships with women drives these men to such antisocial acts. What’s kind of queer about this account, though, is that the persona doesn’t attack the guy or even kill him; he ends up forming a sort of bond, however forced because of the situation. But then, the fact that the guy is definitely not an effeminate type but really a manly man out on his luck makes such bonding acceptable.

Later, in one the awful cheap lodging houses where the persona spends the night, he encounters an extremely drunk older gent who claims to be in the same social class as him, an “old Etonian” or “public school boy,” that is, someone of the more genteel class with an education. The social bond does not occur here, because the guy is too drunk to even offer him his cherry brandy, and the other occupants of the room yell at him to go back to his bed and shut up. The older gent keeps talking to himself, muttering, (quite tellingly given the persona’s reflection on the incident) “M -- , you are past redemption,” before finally passing out, and thus giving the persona time to write a description and an assumption rooted in a stereotype:
 

Common lodging house
Common lodging house (Source: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/lodging/)

He was a man of about fifty, with a refined, worn face, and, curiously enough, quite fashionably dressed. It was queer to see his good patent-leather shoes sticking out of that filthy bed. It occurred to me too, that the cherry brandy must have cost the equivalent of a fortnight’s lodging, so he could not have been seriously hard up. Perhaps he frequented common lodging-houses in search of the “nancy boys.”

Yes, here is the stereotype. Wealthy drunk “old queen” slumming and exploiting the effeminate types who are probably selling their bodies to survive. Yes, that exploitative dynamic was definitely occurring, but the author reveals an almost laconic contempt for this person, in fact, anyone in the sexual underground of the period. Apparently, in this case, they are too queer to be redeemed from a world sullied by a hopeless cycle of poverty that degrades human self-respect and dignity, as the narrator is so intent on exposing in this book.

The word queer, for Orwell, true again to his time and place, doesn’t equate with LGBTQ; for him, it means anything, yes anything out of that ever elusive and illusory life of Father reading the paper and Mother sewing and the dog and two children playing in the living room in front of the fire, what he claims in The Road to Wigan Pier is a rare place of goodness and security in a world built on various forms of exploitation. For him, it seems the exploited will only find salvation in a future utopia, which somehow will take the raw materials of the Industrial Revolution and shape them into a world of infinite leisure devoid of any contact with the dirt and chaos and violence and perverted gay sex of Down and Out in Paris and London.

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Queens and Rough Trade: The Enigma of James Pope-Hennessy

posted by Madame Bubby

London in 1974 was a turbulent place. The 1970s inflation global crisis was in full swing, and thus the average Briton was suffering more than usual difficulties in making ends meet. Disillusionment with the welfare state was beginning to show, and the monarchy, not immune to criticism but still beyond the reach of the tabloid culture, was viewed as either dowdy and out-of-touch or useless and decadent (compare Queen Elizabeth to her sister Margaret).

On January 25, the New York Times laconically reported that James Pope‐Hennessy, the writer, died in a hospital of injuries received in a knife attack at his home. He was 57 years old. The police said they believed he was the victim of a gang that raided his house in Notting Hill. His valet escaped from the house and raised the alarm. Mr. Pope‐Hennessy was found bound and gagged with knife wounds and head injuries.
 

Pope-Hennessy murder headline

James Pope-Hennesy was gay, or rather, using the term more suited to his cultural milieu, homosexual. Born on November 20, 1916, the son of an army general and an author, he was most famous for his still seminal biography of the current Queen’s grandmother, the indomitable Queen Mary (yes, the ship was named after her, and her fabulously jeweled tiaras will soon become the properties of Kate and Megan). He began writing after choosing not to pursue, like most males of his class, an education at Oxford.
 

Queen Mary book by James Pope-Hennessy

Lately some interest in his career has resurfaced, as notes he made while researching his famous biography have been published by another Royal historian, Hugo Vickers. In these notes, James reveals a detached yet deliciously insightful perspective on who were the celebrities of that day and those who interacted (or didn’t) with them.
 

Book - The Quest for Queen Mary

For example, his description of Queen Mary’s mother, Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck, a granddaughter of Geroge III of American Revolution fame (Fat Mary; she was, unusually so in a day where one mostly burned off calories despite a high calorie diet) waving to the adoring crowds. The Duchess of Teck with her popularity and tireless charity work, as well as her spontaneity and love of children, made her a kind of proto-Diana without the physical beauty:
 

Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck
Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck

The eye-witnesses recall the Princess’s quick, graceful movements, despite her bulk; the nimble way she stepped from a carriage, the easy gesture with which she would give her hand to be kissed. It was part of her charm that she herself made jokes about her weight and would allow small relatives to test it on her velvet-covered scales…

Or, his description of the Duchess of Windsor, which one could argue is horribly elitist, remains quite vivid, and given James’ penchant of detail, accurate in its evocation of her unique appearance and personality:

I should be tempted to classify her simply as An American Woman par excellence, were it not for the suspicion that she is not woman at all. She is, to look at, phenomenal. She is flat and angular and could have been designed for a medieval playing card. The shoulders are small and high; the head very large, very large… the expression is either anticipatory (signaling to one, “I know this is going to be loads of fun, don’t yew?") or appreciative – the great giglamp smile, the wide, wide open eyes, which are so very large and pale and veined...
 

Duchess of Windsor
Duchess of Windsor

All in all, he evokes in words a non-PC world long-gone, of which the Queen is perhaps the last representative, of shooting parties, armies of servants, German princelings, hyphenated last names, gilding, and real, painted, yes painted, pictures that hang in actual homes, not museums or galleries. And lots of smoking and drinking.

But all the while, despite his success, he was drinking and spending (he mentions in his notes of knocking out two Blood Marys in quick succession, and that was just the beginning of a long, long day and evening) prodigiously, and apparently, picking up rough trade or other unsavory characters. Despite the originality of his writing style, his personal life seemed to have followed the pattern for many well-heeled gay men of that time, split between the grand (and one might say campy) artistic and café society circles and the sexual underground of back alleys and dark bars.
 

Gay London, 1950s/1960s

And, to add another layer to the portrait, he went to Mass. He was staunchly Catholic in a culture that moved in his lifetime from the establishment Anglican of the deeply religious current queen, her mother, and grandmother, to a secular nihilism.

By the early 1970s, despite his social and literary successes, James was broke, and he had lost his somewhat dashing good looks (I find the photo of him by the campy gay photographer Cecil Beaton enticing), but he had just gotten a cash advance for a new book on the late Noel Coward (one can see a confluence in this paragraph of three “old queens.”) James’ killers assumed the money was in the house, but they were wrong.
 

Younger James Pope-Hennessy
Younger James Pope-Hennessy

After the murder, over the next few days three men were arrested and charged with the murder.  They were: John James O’Brien (aka Sean Seamus O’Brien), 23, Ladbroke Grove, Edward John Wilkinson: 22, Arlington Road, Southgate Terence, Michael Noonan: 25, Tisdall Place, Walworth. They eventually stood trial and were each found guilty of murder and burglary.  

But it turns out that these guys hung about in the rough trade or rent boy set of those days, “Dilly Boys.” O’Brien had been living at Pope-Hennessy’s flat for a few months prior to the incident.  He had been in a sexual relationship with both Pope-Hennessy and his valet Leslie Smith (who also lived there).  In fact, Pope-Hennessy and Smith were both users of the ‘rent boy’ scene in Piccadilly.
 

A Dilly Boy
A "Dilly Boy"

And what was even more humiliating, it turns out that James did not die of actual stab wounds, but from choking on his own blood from a lip wound suffered in the attack.

According to Smith, he was lying on the floor with three men standing over him.  One was hitting him with a ‘wooden thing’ whilst the other two were holding him down by his arms.  He then heard one say “Kill him, Chris,” and “You are going to die."  Standing over him with a knife, one said, “Do you want this in you?"

Smith escaped, but by the time he returned with the police, the perpetrators had fled.

James’ legacy as a writer remains untarnished despite his frankly sordid end, but one wonders in these days of unsafe Grindr hookups, social media shaming, and Instagram if something of the schizophrenic split between talent and celebrity and public and private James suffered has resurfaced, but in a more virulent way.

I think the appeal of James to me is his way with words, painstakingly detailed but not pedantic, which really stands out in a time when reality becomes a nanosecond photo or a quick video on a smartphone. James struck, in his life and in his death, to the heart of realities that were built on illusions. Can we do the same?

Sources:

James Pope-Hennessy, Queen Mary

Hugo Vickers and James Pope-Hennesy, The Quest for Queen Mary

https://scepticpeg.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/the-soho-connections-murder-of-the-royal-biographer-1974/

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Great Non-Sex Moments in Classic Gay Porn Films

by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Sex scenes are, as one would expect, almost always the focus of porn films, but – especially in the the heyday of story porn and artistic/experimental porn, the 1970s, when many porn films truly were films – there were a large number of notably interesting non-sex scenes present in what was being produced. Sometimes these sequences were lead-ins to sex scenes. Sometimes they served to advance the film's narrative, or flesh out a character or an interpersonal dynamic, or talk about gay life and relationships and communities of the era. Sometimes they are notable because they capture something that is historically interesting. Following are several examples from the Bijou collection.
 

The Night Before (Arch Brown, 1973): Lady in Red / Dance Scene

Main character Hank (Coke Hennessy) goes for a stroll with a package he picked up on his way to deliver it to its recipient, the man with whom he recently got involved. In the park, he sees a woman wearing all red dancing and The Lady in Red suddenly comes on. He joins her in dancing for a brief, goofy moment. He then sits on a park bench and unwraps the package. Inside is a large print-out of a cover of The Advocate featuring a photo of two men taken by his lover. As Hank studies this photo, it comes to life and we see the men (Tim Clarke and Jeffrey Etting) perform a gorgeously choreographed nude dance number set to an operatic David Earnest score.
 

The Night Before images

 

Casey (Donald Crane, 1971): Casey talks to his fairy godmother

In several sequences from Casey Donovan's first film (shot before but released after The Boys in the Sand), Casey speaks to his fairy godmother, Wanda Uptight (also played by Donovan, in drag), who has appeared in the mirror to give him some harsh, but insightful advice on his habits and love life (or lack thereof). Wanda first appears after Casey wakes up by jerking off in bed unsatisfactorily, then sings to himself in the bathroom as he washes down a series of vitamins with a swig of Southern Comfort, lights a joint, stares hard at his reflection, and shouts “Faggot!” at himself. Wanda appears over his reflection, startling him, and she dishes out some tough love, chewing him out for not taking care of himself, chasing cock constantly, and not knowing what he really wants. Their very clever dialogue, expertly delivered by Donovan, is both funny and incisive, representing Casey's internal conflict around love, sex, and self-acceptance. (“Anybody who can wash down raw liver substance and vitamin B complex with Southern Comfort is depraved!” “Three nights a week in a Turkish Bath! You'll dehydrate yourself!” “No one digs anyone. It doesn't matter if it's number one or two thousand and two – where does it lead?”)
 

Casey images

 

Adam and Yves (Peter de Rome, 1974): The final film appearance of Greta Garbo

An American man, Adam (Michael Hardwick), and a French man, Yves (Marcus Giovanni), play mysterious sexual mind games throughout their brief, but intense, Parisian love affair, including the rule, enforced by Yves, that they may never know each other's names. The sights of Paris are a fascinating backdrop, but the most surprising and historically notable moment in the film comes when Adam recounts an incredible time when he saw Greta Garbo from the window of his apartment. Director Peter de Rome accompanies this story with the actual last-known footage of Garbo, herself, shot from his own window on super 8 film.
 

Adam and Yves images of Greta Garbo

Garbo in Adam and Yves

 

Ballet Down the Highway (Jack Deveau, 1975): Sloppy strip tease

Closeted truck driver, Joe (Garry Hunt), falls hard for ballet star Ivan (Henk Van Dijk) early in their ill-fated affair, but is intimidated by Ivan's talent, fame, wealth, and gorgeous physique. Ivan belongs to a world where he can comfortably be out and Joe does not. Ivan lives in an expensive apartment and gets fancy Dutch music boxes delivered to his vacation home; Joe gets drunk in a blue collar bar in the rumpled suit he wore to go see Ivan perform in the ballet (which he was too proud to let Ivan get him into for free) and is heckled for being gay by his buddies. Totally wasted after a night at the bar, Joe calls Ivan, who is irritated with him, then shows up to Ivan's apartment anyway. He changes Ivan's radio from a classical station to something faster with saxophone, saying he wants to dance, groping Ivan, and complimenting his beautiful body. Ivan pushes him away and Joe, hurt, mocks Ivan as insists he is a good dancer, too, and proceeds to do a drunken, sloppy strip tease in Ivan's living room, dropping pieces of his suit on the floor, smirking, sniffing his own sock, and finally pretending to drink out of his shoe while sprawled across Ivan's floor. All the while, Ivan ignores Joe and plays solitaire.
 

Ballet Down the Highway images

 

L.A. Tool & Die (Joe Gage, 1979): Fight scene, Vietnam flashback, work/getting to know you montages

Joe Gage's L.A. Tool & Die is full of strong character-building sequences. Early on, we see the hero, Hank (played by Richard Locke), hanging out in a gay bar and trying to cruise a handsome stranger (Wylie, played by Will Seagers). In the bathroom, Hank runs into a homophobic man who works for the bar owner. The man calls Hank a cocksucker, to which Hank grins and calmly responds, “You'd better believe it. The only thing I like better than sucking cock is kicking ass.” He tosses the man out of the bathroom and roughs him up a bit. The man, no match for Locke, runs away as Locke smirks, having not even gotten worked up or broken a sweat.

In a later scene, Wylie is taking a break from his cross-country drive to walk along the beach at sunset. In a close up, we see that he's crying. Gage cuts to a flashback of a younger Wylie in Vietnam, holding his dying lover in the battle field. His lover tells Wylie that he doesn't think he's going to make it and that he must promise not to forget him, but also to love somebody else some day.

Near the end of the film, Hank and Wylie reunite when they both get jobs at L.A. Tool & Die. Hank learned that Wylie was traveling there for work and decided to do the same. Two beautifully-cut montages and a dialogue sequence show the two men getting to know each other while working and taking breaks together. Wylie appreciates Hank being patient with him; he has been reluctant to get involved with anyone, but is clearly warming up to Hank. Throughout the film, Locke imbues Hank with an easy, warm sort of charm and a sexy, confident swagger and Seagers gives Wylie both a sweet, shy vulnerability and a quiet strength. The two men have enormous chemistry and the actors and characters compliment each other well, their connection and relationship feeling believable.
 

L.A. Tool & Die images

 

Wanted: Billy the Kid (Jack Deveau, 1976): I'll Be Your Mirror

New Yorker Billy (Dennis Walsh) is an unsuccessful actor and quite successful hustler. Between memorizing lines and gossiping with his friend (Megan Ross), seeing tricks, and exercising, Billy takes a quiet break to smoke a joint and listen to a song. It's a slow, folky original composition (“I'll Be Your Mirror” - lyrics by the film's writer, Moose 100, and music by Hand in Hand Films composer David Earnest) and the camera is fixed on Billy throughout its duration, as he sits, contemplative, smoking, listening, and occasionally mouthing along to the lyrics. He is broken out of his reverie by a phone call from a regular, and they swap some elegant dirty talk.
 

Wanted: Billy the Kid images

 

Confessions of a Male Groupie (Tom DeSimone, 1971): Party scene

This early Tom DeSimone film is possibly the ultimate hippie porn, focusing on a community of friends in Hollywood and their love of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Barely a sex film and more of a portrait of the era, the movie soaks up the atmosphere of the time and place as The Groupie (Larry Danser) moves to the area from a small town, becomes best friends with party girl Sweet Lady Mary (Myona Phetish), and cruises the members of a rock band (The Electric Banana). The climax of the film is a wild party sequence starring a large number of friends and acquaintances of DeSimone's. The attendees – all genders covered in glitter and sequins – laugh, smoke joints, swing on an indoor swing set, playfully horse around and wrestle, cuddle, embrace each other, and dance. The crowd includes a trans couple who were the subjects of two Penelope Spheeris short documentary films (I Don't Know and Hats Off to Hollywood).
 

Confessions of a Male Groupie images
Jennifer and Dana in Spheeris' Hats Off to Hollywood

Even with its surprising turn into a cautionary anti-drug film (after the wild hedonism of the rest of its run time), Confessions of a Male Groupie – and this sequence in particular – is a fascinating document of a real community of queer friends and lovers in the early '70s.
 

Confessions of a Male Groupie images

 

You can find all of these movies (except for L.A. Tool & Die, though some scenes from it are available in our compilation, The Best of Richard Locke) on DVD at BijouWorld.com and streaming at BijouGayPorn.com.

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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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