Pot Luck or Unluck?

Dumpy office potluck

In 1592 Scotland, not exactly the jolly tearoom in a time of turmoil, someone used that word potluck to refer to a meal served to a guest the host did not specifically prepare for. In other words, I didn't expect you, so it's luck of the draw what I've got in the pot. And given economic conditions in Scotland at that time, you would be lucky if you got a bit of boiled oatmeal.

Fast forward centuries later, and the word now refers to an event where everyone brings a different (one hopes!) dish. Thus, supposedly, one can enjoy a choice, but at the same time, unless the host or hostess decides to notify in advance who is bringing what (often the etiquette these days), it's the luck of the draw what is in all those pots (really, tupperware, chafing dishes, foil trays et al). Or, in the case of some office potlucks, what's in the 2-liter bottle of soda and bag of chips someone (usually a male) picked up at the downstairs convenience store at the last minute.

I was reading on an admittedly snarky LGBTQ board about an event called the lesbian potluck, and apparently such an event was and is so popular it has become a stereotype. Apparently gay men, in contrast to lesbians, tend to eat out or cook at home specific menus, or if their culinary skills are less than stellar, hire a caterer. Perhaps this set up allows more time for extra-food events such as sex upstairs (or in the slings in the basement) between most of the guests. Or more time to finesse with the crudites and the specific décor.
 

Fancy crudites

Lesbians, however, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, prefer to view these meals as community bonding rituals (I've heard winter or summer solstice ones are popular). They will eat in, but the food comes from other lesbians, lovers, and sometimes, to add drama to those events, an ex-lover or two. I must admit I've never been to one, but I've heard stories, alas. Let's just say perhaps reverting to Prohibition might be a good idea at some of these events.

Yet potlucks were often, in the days of the closet, a way for both gay men and lesbians to meet each other in a private setting free from the threat of the police. I remember visiting Kentucky as late as the early nineties, and the main events for LGBTQ persons were potlucks. They took those Southern Bible Belt church potlucks, it seems, and made them their own way of forming community. (I do hope perhaps that they offered more than baked beans and casseroles with a cream of mushroom base!)

And in the case of lesbians, the potluck often became a way for lesbians and/or early feminists to say, we are cooking for each other, not for men aka husbands and children, and not just in a kitchen in a house owned or supported by a man. And at the same time, these early lesbian potlucks were able to embrace environmentally friendly and nutritious diets, especially, macrobiotic, vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options. Oy veh. Lentil salad, anyone? More lentil salad, anyone?
 

Lesbian potluck

To be honest, my potluck experiences have been less enjoyable than most. I remember the dictatorial hostess of one I attended criticizing my pumpkin tart (she claimed it was undercooked). Another friend went to the same event and brought a plain lettuce and cherry tomato salad, which the hostess insulted as well (that friend admitted she did not have time to do much and frankly did not want to). Still, the hostess committed a major etiquette faux-pas. (She, a straight woman, much later married a gay man. No comment.)

And then, at the Bijou office a few holiday seasons ago, there was the year of the cookie exchange that accompanied a potluck. I made a vegetable lasagna that year as well that but I should have used regular cheese (the fat free cheese does not melt), and I cut down on the spices. It was bland, but one person just sprinkled a bunch of oregano and garlic powder on it. (At least he did not insult it!)

But I digress. That infernal cookie exchange. So many rules. Let's just say participants had to bake not just say, one batch of cookies as for a potluck, but several batches because one would ultimately exchange your batch with the respective batches of the others. Thus, you would come home with several different types of cookies. But only after you baked Lord knows how many batches of your cookie. In a panic, I called my mother and a friend. They said do drop cookies. I tried a drop cookie cake mix recipe. I burnt two batches. Never again.
 

Burnt cookies

Maybe pot lucks are like life in general. Maybe one should be lucky one can fill a pot, or even own a set of pots, and not just one to piss in (and no, the watersports party is not an event with food).

So, here's to a holiday season and a coming year full of pots, luck, food, sex, and love. Not necessarily in that order.

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The Gay and Lesbian Softball League Phenomenon

Gay softball players in Chicago

As in most sports, my youthful experience was negative or at least ambiguous. Perpetrating the stereotype that lesbian or “masculine women” and nuns (often equivalent in many eyes to lesbians) play softball, the principal of the Catholic school, the formidable pantsuit-wearing Sr. Judy was obsessed with softball. She claimed I was not playing with enough enthusiasm (she wielded the same accusation during volleyball practice), and I was banished to right field. I purposely let the ball hit me when it flew toward me, and I was banished to the sidelines. And I thought softball would be easier than baseball, because the ball was bigger and softer and supposedly easier to hit and catch. Oh well …

Fast forward several years later, and a work friend told me her easygoing, sports-loving husband saw a group of guys near the lake playing softball. He, like many (or most) straight males, was socialized to join guys playing games outside, and he asked if he could join them. He played with them for a while, really enjoying himself, but after a guy patted him rather too enthusiastically on the ass, he realized he was playing with members of the local gay softball league. He was not homophobic about it, but he was just surprised. Or maybe just a tad homophobic, perhaps, because he was subscribing to the stereotype that gay men did not play sports.

Instead, lesbians did – especially softball. This stereotype persisted, even as recently as the time Elena Kagan was nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court. The Honorable Ms. Kagan was not married, and she played softball. Therefore, she must be lesbian.
 

Elena Kagan playing softball
Elena Kagan playing softball

And around that time, in an article in the New York Post, the token straight gal (gay teams have rules limiting the number of straight players) on an all-lesbian softball team, says (I don't think she was being homophobic, but I wonder) that her teammates were “so husky you might wonder whether they have a beard to shave.” Yikes. And she says one teammate offered her a toaster to “switch hit.” (What brand? I might do it for a four-slot Kenmore that takes bagels.)

It's a shame that stereotypes obscure the truth about these leagues, that “LGBT sports clubs and events provide an opportunity for individuals to experience a sense of pride, a safe and welcoming environment, and feelings of belonging to the larger gay community” (Sara Mertel in her dissertation on the sociology of an LGBT softball league, summarizing an article by Elling, Knoop & Knoppers). I consider these leagues comparable to the gay chorus movement, which has allowed gay men to teach and learn as musicians on both amateur and professional levels in an inclusive environment. Talent is talent, art is art, but in this context, they become vehicles of liberation and, some might, argue assimilation.

In fact, in the early heady days of gay liberation, gay and lesbian softball leagues sprang up very quickly, beginning in San Francisco in 1974 with the formation of the Community Softball League, which eventually included both women's and men's teams. These teams actually competed against each other and, quite telling, against the San Francisco Police softball team (quite a revolutionary moment, to say the least, given the history of victimization by the police).
 

Gay team vs. police team San Francisco softball game
Gay team vs. police team San Francisco softball game

In 1978, an international organization called NAGAAA (North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance) was formed to govern the many leagues participating in gay sports. According to a piece in Outsports, this organization was a realization of the vision of Chuck Dima, a New York bar owner, who orchestrated a tournament where the gay softball teams from San Francisco and New York played each other. The first women's team competed in 1979. Today, the NAGAAA incorporate 41 individual softball leagues, and hosts the Gay Softball World Series, first held in Los Angeles in 1980.
 

Gay softball game in San Francisco, 1977
Gay softball game in San Francisco, 1977

Now, ironically, the gay softball world faces another challenge, and it's not the holy haters. In 2011, three guys on their gay softball team sued the NAGAAA after they were determined to be non-gay (one was apparently bisexual), and their team was stripped of its second place finish. The National Center for Lesbian Rights backed the men. The Court upheld the straight limit, dismissing the discrimination claims. In the settlement, the players were reinstated and their second-place finish is now fully recognized, while NAGAAA maintained the Constitutional right to limit the number of straight players on a team.
 

NAGAAA North American Gay Softball Division logo

There's the tension: assimilation and identity in a world that doesn't just tolerate LGBTQ persons, but even sees them as exemplars of strength and talent. I don't think I will go out and join a gay softball league (I might get banished to the benches too based on my skill level). But I would certainly watch, and not only the softballs. Or maybe, just maybe, the hot young studs would let me be the “water boy” … hmm …

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LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ONE'S GAY TWENTIES

“His friends decided that Ken had fallen into the trap that had snared so many beautiful gay men. In his twenties, he had searched for a husband instead of a career. When he did not find a husband, he took the next best thing – sex – and sex became something of a career. It wasn't love but at least it felt good; for all his time at the Cinderella ball, the prince had never arrived.” – Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On

I've heard about (and read about) that adolescence for males especially extends until one's late twenties these days. Now, these days is kind of vague, so maybe I am thinking more about millenials, but the reasons for this extended adolescence aren't just psychological stereotypes (guys take longer to grow up than girls, and some never do), but also economic. The rising cost of living and increased compeition for jobs that can launch one into a secure middle-class income are factors that often keep the guys living in their parents' basement playing video games.

The game many guys played in their twenties in the 1970s was the sex game (not that guys haven't done it since time immemorial). Guys had been playing it more brazenly in the 1960s, and many women played along, and as they did so, started to make their own rules, and the win did not always have to occur before an altar.

Gays and lesbians, who for so long had to play in the closet, emerged militantly in the heady days of the seventies, especially in urban meccas. Some lesbians found a home (spiritually and physically) in various waves of feminism, but many gay men fled their tastefully decorated homes and entered palaces – sex palaces, bathhouses, movie theaters, back rooms of bars. I am not saying that no one was looking for love, but the love that used to dare not speak its name was more often than not during that time more like a moan in an orgy room. It was as if men became fertile, and multiplied (not in the procreative sense).
 

Gay men in the 1970s dancing

Steamworks, Chicago bathhouse poster

In the quote above, men like Ken (one of the first victims of AIDS), certainly grew from strength to strength, but for many men at that time, coming out still mean choosing between one's sexuality and a career. Thus the gay life became for many guys a sex life in specific, segregated milieu. Their Land of Goshen was ironically a release from bondage. Until the plague …

When AIDS started smiting these men down like that last plague of Egypt, gay men rallied together, but there was no singular Moses like Harvey Milk to guide them. They survived united, and survived divided. For a while the sex palaces remained open, despite an uncaring Pharaoh like Reagan and his Moral Majority priests with their rhetoric of sin and punishment. Yet that plague, with its relentless physical linkage of sex and death, changed everything.
 

AIDS activists hodling banner that says Fighting for Our Lives

Ken's generation saw death daily; the succeeding generation (in their twenties during the height of the plague) saw death, but many of them survived to explore and enjoy if not a cure, then a way to live, not die. The life was not just medical, but eventually legal, climaxing when Love Won in 2015. 2015 brought out the monogamous couples who had found their princes even before the days of liberation and the plague.
 

Person holding gay pride flag at protest in D.C.

Did the plague in some way make many gay men grow up? Not that gay sex, or any sex for that matter, is in itself an immature, irresponsible act? By its very nature it breaks boundaries, liberates, and orgasm is “the little death.” Growing up is experiencing sex, but maturing is understanding sex and the wisdom to know when sex and love intersect, and when they don't.

For gay men, this process was always more fraught because it did not conform to the social norms that heterosexual men and women usually conform to: in one's twenties, one finds a mate and a career, not always in that order, and it's no longer an either/or proposition. One produces children. One's career climaxes as one's children grow up. The cycle continues. Within that norm, one can usually choose.

Yet gay men who lived in the 1970s, who had lacked so many choices, plunged into a world with a bewildering variety of choices. Now with other freedoms (and in this day and age, still endangered) available beyond sexual choice, are gay men in their twenties at another crossroads?

I just hope many of them realize their prince is not an image on Grindr, and that even the image of a prince doesn't last. But if you are lucky, your prince may grow up to be a king.
 

Grindr profile image
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Inside Those Secret XXX Places …

Te'Jay's Adult Books sign

I used to see when I was traveling by car (including places with my parents when I was a child) places with signs like XXX, adult, bookstores, Girls! Girls! Girls!. I was blissfully ignorant, being more concerned at that point in my life with Star Trek and J.R.R. Tolkien, but I do remember now that we lived down the road from a notorious strip of what used to be called go-go joints. I later found out they were owned by the Mafia, and what looked like apartments above them were actually places where the johns could take the girls.

This underworld really invoked no curiosity, until right after high school my friend Nancy expressed an interest in going to an adult movie theater. Nancy's mother, far more hip and liberal than my parents, warned us that people might masturbate in there. The place itself, in the suburbs, didn't look much different than a mainstream movie theater. It was clean, physically, and the clientele wasn't the scuzzy people Nancy's mother thought would be whipping out their dicks. In fact, the people in there I noticed were more my parent's age. And the movie of course was heterosexual, but I saw oral sex for the first time (I was shocked at the size of the erect cocks, not in my experience at all), and an orgy scene. I was disappointed the guys were not doing it with each other. I also asked the ticket taker if they showed any S & M movies. He was cute, bearded in a kind of shaggy seventies style, and he said “No.” So, that was it, I guess. For now …
 

Image from A Night at the Adonis
Image from A Night at the Adonis: DVD / Streaming

When I moved to the city, like many suburban gay guys did, to explore sex, I discovered gradually a deeper, more physically threatening underworld. The XXX adult bookstores prevalent at that time on Rush Street band State Street north of the Chicago River beckoned, and I even went to one during my lunch hour. I bought three of those pulp jack off books we sell on our website, all with S & M themes. About that time, I also remember going with Nancy again (by the way, she is now a doctor, interpret that development as you wish) to one of those stores. I was shocked by the titles of two books, Carol's Strange Choice (the family dog) and Widow Loves Farm Animals. Yikes! Moving on …

At this point I was feeling both titillated and shocked, but never really comfortable, like I was where I belonged. I graduated to a couple of places called bookstores which had peep show booths and glory hole booths, but I didn't actually do anything in them. The back room of a bar called Touché (the old one at Lincoln and Diversey) was the first place I actually fooled around with a guy in public, and it seemed like the places where I was exploring my sexuality were becoming more and more “divey” in the physical sense: dirty wooden floors, spilled beer … that unique scent of a bare cock and balls, skin and sweat and funk. Subsequently, I got to know floors quite well … the AA Meat Market, and several leather bars in New York City.
 

Vintage ad for Touche at Lincoln location

But the gay adult movie theater was still an unexplored place. I finally made it there, most unfortunately, long after its halcyon days, the Bijou Theater on Wells Street in Chicago. I went on a tour with the group Masters and Slaves together (it seemed clean and quiet, and I didn't make it to the upstairs maze. Yet. That happened a few years later when I went to a leather event at the theater, and I was one of those people (albeit dressed in leather) Nancy's mother warned us about. I do wish, however, that the event continued in my apartment.
 

Vintage Bijou Theater ad and exterior photo
Bijou Theater upstairs maze and dungeon
Bijou Theater upstairs glory holes
Bijou Theater exterior and interior

Now that sexual exploration begins and ends with the Internet and social media apps, those secret XXX places can exist in one's phone and in one's home, but I think, overall, one loses some of that complex reaction to a physical place where the most physically powerful and also vulnerable of acts takes place.



Man smoking outside adult theater, 1970s
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