Coming Out in 1977: Viewing the Family Series Episode "Rites of Friendship"

posted by Madame Bubby

Family cast

I am surprised I did not remember this episode, as this series was approved viewing in our family (but then, maybe this particular episode was censored by the parents, as was the now legendary Maude obtains an abortion episode).

Family began as a six-part miniseries, and then it expanded to several full seasons, running from 1976-1980, corresponding perfectly timewise to my puberty. The Lawrences, an upper-middle class family in Pasadena, California, endures many joys and sorrows.

The central focus of the show is the inimitable Sada Thompson, who captures the unique combination of reserve and empathy of the family’s matriarch, Kate Lawrence (and she is always impeccably coiffed, definitely a throwback to June Cleaver). James Broderick, the father of Matthew Broderick, plays Kate’s husband, Doug. Meredith Baxter Birney plays their “troubled divorcee single mother” daughter Nancy; the hot Gary Frank (an early crush of mine) plays their nonconforming (mostly, you will see) son Willie; and Kristy McNichol plays their energetic tomboyish younger daughter, Letitia (aka Buddy).
 

Sada Thompson
Sada Thompson

Though one might claim the overall WASP social class of this family limits the show really serving as an accurate lens for many of the more troubling social issues of the time, the show dared to address in a realistic, often unflinching manner alcoholism, adopted children looking for birth parents, extramarital affairs, and in this groundbreaking episode, homosexuality.

The main plot of this episode is actually quite straightforward: Willie’s best friend from elementary and high school, Zeke Remsen (played by the hunky Brian Byers), returns home from college. He gets arrested in a gay bar for fighting with a cop (genteel shades of Stonewall, perhaps). Doug, a lawyer, manages to bail him out, and eventually get the sentence waived. Of course the incident forces a coming out for Zeke, an extremely attractive “straight-acting” basketball jock. (Note that the character doesn’t fit the gay stereotype of the period, and that fact shows overall genteel social milieu of the show.) Doug and Kate are sympathetic in perhaps a rather noblesse oblige way, but, most significantly, Willie starts to shun, at first coldly and then angrily, his childhood best friend.
 

Brian Byers

However, Zeke’s father coldly, even casually, disowns him after Doug shows up with Zeke to obtain some needed information for the court case. Doug and Kate, I think, would make excellent candidates for PFLAG. Kate reveals, in a particularly touching scene, that Zeke is a person who needs love, a mother’s love, and not in a sentimental way. Her moral imperative here is striking, even more so after her rather sardonic comment to Nancy, “at this point I can’t think of worse things.” She is a product of her generation, but the concern is genuine, even though she feels powerless and disoriented.

But rather than rejecting or concealing, she opens up in the only way she can do, she must do: love. And food and shelter, too. For her, one can’t separate these basic human needs. And she’s not afraid, because of this imperative, to call out Willie on his behavior toward Zeke. She really cuts to the heart of the matter in her indomitably classy way when she claims Willy will suffer a “meagre existence” because of his refusal to just accept Zeke as a person.

Yet the main relationship here is that between the renegade Willie and Zeke. Willie resents that Zeke had not told him, but now he knows, Zeke rightly accuses him of treating him like he suffers from a “social disease.” During that period, in the throes of all types of sexual liberation, the Eisenhower era social norms were really starting to crumble, and with crisis more overt scapegoating tends to occur.

Now, one could easily argue that Willie’s reaction is his discomfort with his own orientation, and in one of the episode’s final scenes, Doug picks up on this, claiming, and unfortunately this idea represents one of the common psychological views of the time, that all boys experience these “feelings,” but grow out of them, that is, normal boys, a “rite of passage.” A rather cringeworthy statement in hindsight, but Doug admitting to his son that he crushed on one of his classmates one could claim is rather groundbreaking.

But the ultimate lesson here is that heterosexual boys grow up to get married to girls. Gay males don’t and thus they tend to get into all sorts of personal and social troubles. (And the token confirmed bachelor the family knows, Emory Pope, we find at the end gets married. To a woman. Oh well. It’s 1977.)

But ironically, Zeke ends up being the mature one (and Buddy too, in a tear-jerking moment which I think shows one needs to be carefully taught bigotry, it is not innate), rather than Willie, trying to reach out to him, but failing miserably. Only after the conversation with Doug does Willie realize not just how selfish and immature his behavior has been, but that the real issue here is friendship.
 

Willie and Zeke
Willie and Zeke

And friendship here is not a double entendre for anything else. It’s a series of passages that acknowledge the past, embrace the present, and hope for the future. Willie knows he will not be able to get back the friendship of his childhood, but the show ends with a hope that his childhood friendship can grow into the friendship of his adulthood.

And an ironic P.S.: Both Meredith (now just Baxter) and Kristy McNichol are lesbians. Baxter came out late in life, while McNichol has been open for some time.

The entire episode is currently here on YouTube.

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RetroStuds of the Past: Focus on Dave Connors

Dave Connors

Connoisseurs of retro gay porn are perhaps familiar with Dave Connors because of his starring role in One in a Billion, enjoying his big balls and big dick. (In fact, I can't think of another stud's privates who one could so aptly call “meat.”) In the movie, big businessman Dave can magically hear what others are thinking, which add some flavor to a day of kinky adventures. All seem to want to taste what is really magic, his meat.
 

Dave Connors in a buisiness suit

Dave Connors' huge cock

Art can reflect reality, and in an interview for Stallion magazine, Dave jokingly admits there are disadvantages to being “super hung:”

Connors: People have used any ploy and every ploy to get me into bed.
Stallion: How did they find out about what you were packing?
Connors (laughing): People talk! It's not something I can keep secret.
 

Dave Connors interview in Stallion magazine

According to the interview, Dave was born in Florida, and he was inhibited as a child. He came out at the ripe old age of twenty-one:

“I finally came out at twenty-one in the Marine Corps. I had a lot of friends – and I could never understand why now, I know, at least I know what I missed – although I did have some very nice encounters in the service.”

But the path to pornhood was not smooth for Dave, as he claims he lost that Marine-induced “self-discipline” to drugs, and then gained it back in prison. Yes, prison.

By the age of 39, Dave had already made several porn movies, but he claims his experience in One in a Billion was enlightening, as it was his first experience with sync sound. And Dave did not have to lie on the casting couch to obtain his meaty part in that movie; he asked Al Parker, Parker had an idea, and voila!

Now, for a country boy from the sticks of Florida who looks like naturally strong, like he could wrestle a couple of alligators, he certainly fills out a business suit well. His career climaxed in the yuppie eighties, and in some ways he embodies that look: clean-cut, chiseled jaw, a “dirty blond” with just a hint of bad frat boy now grown up to dominate board rooms.
 

Dave Connors at 35

Some of the more famous films he made include The Biggest One I Ever Saw by Giant Films and Dirt Bikes for Falcon.

Tragically, at the time he was shooting what was to be his last film, Wakefield Poole's One, Two, Three, Dave succumbed to AIDS.

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Coming Out to Boots, Cummin' into Boots


Happy National Coming Out Day

Thursday, October 11 was National Coming Out Day. For most LGBTQ persons, coming out on a most literal level means embracing one’s sexual orientation, but the sex is still sex, that is, genital contact with a person. Fucking. Well, not always, but that’s the usual direction. Some members of the community call that “vanilla,” which implies sweet, even bland. I think that’s a rather faulty assumption, but the term is used in juxtaposition with another variant, and some might say, deviant, form of sexuality. Leather. Fetish. BDSM. Think: Dark vs. light. Day vs. night. Mild vs. wild.

Yet that binary doesn’t really fit uniformly. I was going to say bare foot versus boot, as that binary particularly applies in my case, but foot fetishes are quite populary in “non-vanilla” circles, along the entire sexual spectrum. Still, most sex involved getting naked, and the footwear goes off. Not with me. When I came out, I was already cummin’ into boots.

This fetish seized me before puberty, but I didn’t really seize it openly until I came out when I was a young adult. I was lucky, or perhaps even unlucky, because obsessions can distract, that when I was younger, guys were wearing boots. One of the most popular boots when I was in high school was the Frye campus boot, and pretty soon afterwards the “urban cowboy” craze erupted. Cowboy boots ruled the halls when I was in college and my first graduate school.
 

Frye boots ad

A book that first articulated for me this dynamic was The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, (long out of print and now going for outrageous prices on Amazon). I found it in the local public library, and I was drawn to the discussion of the effect of the black male motorcycle/harness boot on the fetishist, and that such effects based on the overall nature of the boot itself even non-fetishists are aware of. The author emphasizes its blackness, the heavy heels, the loud clicking sound. Through this imagery and the pictures he choose, the author associates this boot with the taboo-breaking motorcycle gangs of the 1950s; sex and power coalesce.
 

The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe cover

But not the effect is not just power and authority, which need not be necessarily of a sexual nature, and the cowboy boots was designed for a horse-riding person.

The boots themselves embody, invite their wearer to break boundaries. A person submissive in daily life may wear boots sexually, and vice versa. Of course.

And the foot itself is a boundary, and it is the only part of the body that touches the ground. The boot protects the foot from touching the ground, but in doing so, makes the wearer more aware of that boundary.

And, the boundary reversal here is stunning. The bottom of the body becomes more powerful than the top, the head. The ground becomes the sky. And even if the head is the source of that sexual power, it physically climaxes not once in the genitalia, but with each stomp far below.
 

Buy on ground licking boots

I’ve noticed lately the stomping originates from women more than men. I rarely see younger guys, or guys for that matter, at least in my geographical area, wearing the type of more overtly fetishistic boots like harness, engineer, or cowboy boots. If they do wear boots, they wear rather quiet lace-ups, fashionable variants of work boots or brogue dress shoes. And one almost never sees a guy with pants tucked into boots; this look is generally viewed as eccentric, even effeminate in circles outside the fetish community.
 

Vintage ad for 1950s black engineer boots

I wonder why. Something more is going on than the vicissitudes of fashion. I could explore that trend in another blog, but in the meantime, I’ll be the guy who wears cowboy boots with dress pants, drowns out the high heels of the ladies in the subway tunnels, and, unfortunately, only at leather events or in my private sex life, tuck my leather pants into my thigh-high Champion Attitude boots.
 

Thigh high Champion Attitude boots
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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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