Stonewall 50 Is Here, But I Remember Stonewall 25!

posted by Madame Bubby

In 1994, I attended the Stonewall 25 celebrations in New York City. And, most significantly, it was my first visit to New York City. And even more significantly, it was the beginning of my intense journey into the world of BDSM relationships.
 

New York City, 1994

That year, I had pretty much abandoned the more “vanilla” activities of the LGBTQ world. My forays into, for example, singing in the choirs of Dignity and with the Windy City Gay Chorus were socially and artistically disappointing. I had been to IML a couple of times, and because I was working at a mundane office job that was not demanding outside the actual hours I had to suffer there (I should have been attempting to complete my academic ambitions, but that's another story), I spent much time on the weekends in bars. One might say, I was in my “slut” period. I was really looking for kink and romance, but that goal proved to be elusive.

Thus, looking for some excitement and still longing for connections in the LGBTQ community, I jumped at the opportunity when a couple of friends on the gay choral circuit invited me to go with them to New York. I worked some overtime so we could split one room four ways in Midtown Manhattan.

Upon arrival, in keeping with my life's trajectory at that point, I pretty much abandoned my friends' events (seeing Barbra Streisand, no thank you). The first night in New York City, I took the subway by myself down to Chelsea. I walked into a bar called Rawhide. Several persons in that bar lusted after me in my tight Levis and snakeskin cowboy boots. I smoked a joint with a guy I met outside. Yes, That Boy had arrived. Admittedly, the city was in a feverish celebratory mood, and perhaps what happened to me was a product of that feeling, but as usual, I never received such attention in my hometown.
 

Rawhide bar, NYC
Rawhide bar, NYC

I ended up at the Eagle and arrived back at the hotel room at 4 a.m., much to the consternation of one of my friends, who had previously decided I was on the path to gay perdition because I was into leather and did not like Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand. (At least I liked opera, but he did not think I loved La Divina aka Maria Callas enough.)

The next days were frenetic, but in a good way, as I, like Agnes Gooch the sponge of Auntie Mame, lived, lived, lived. Impressions: Chinatown, the fish on the streets. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a wonderland of the Old Masters (I had to show my friends how to get there, as I figured out the subway they were so scared of pretty quickly). Bodegas, fruits, flowers on the street. Buying food at D'Agostino's. People, people, so many on the sidewalk like in the movies. Vibrant, no one cared who you were or what you did. Little evidence of the segregation and compartmentalization I experienced in Chicago.

The Saturday night before the big parade the next day (we marched with the Illinois contingent), I said, I am going to go that Leather Ball in the Armory, by myself, and I don't care how much it costs. Let my roommates go to their vanilla choral concert. I put on my chaps, paid at the door an astronomical fee to get in because I had not reserved in advance, and entered a vast space of pounding house music and surprisingly, perhaps because I had arrived early, lots of space between bodies.
 

Lexington Avenue Armory
Lexington Avenue Armory

After about a half an hour, I saw him. He had been looking at me, and I at him. He certainly was no party boy, faux leather type. African-American, mature, bearded, glasses. Holding a rope. Cut off jean shorts. Worn beige work boots. Not exactly a Tom of Finland look or outfit. Perhaps that was the appeal. In less than fifteen minutes, I was tied to that rope. Yes, some enchanted evening does happen.

I spend the rest of the evening on that rope and at the boots. It was kinky, but also romantic. Lots of smiling at each other and at the straight BDSM couple at the ball (the girl was on a rope like me). At about 2 a.m., he took me to a pansexual sex party in an apartment with orange and green walls. I felt like I was in a Fellini movie. An orgy of naked grungy bodies in one corner, a coked up guy who was supposed to be guarding the door, an extremely large woman on a folding chair.

I arrived back at the hotel room at 5 a.m., much to the consternation of the friend mentioned above.
 

Giant rainbow banner, Pride/Stonewall 25 parade, NYC
Stonewall 25 banner

After all the above activities, and the massive parade (which I managed to walk in cowboy boots) the next day, the return to Chicago was extremely disappointing. The physical space of my hometown seemed to me flat, with too much arid space between buildings, and a ramshackle public transit system. Provincial, I kept saying.

New York had called because the man, the first master, was there. And I would return there, and he would come to me. My ritual initiation into serious BDSM. The scouring of body and soul. We were the one to each other.

I often dreamed of living there, but for practical reasons, mostly financial, that never occurred, but for a few years I could enjoy a world that for me resembled one I had only seen in movies. New York and Stonewall 25 were an escape, but also the beginning of a real life which showed me, contrary to what I was hearing from so many persons I knew at that time, that romantic love and BDSM can exist together in the diverse spectrum of human relationships.

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The Wonderful Land of Twitter

posted by Madame Bubby

Twitter logo

The Tweeter in Chief make may make some think the social media platform of Twitter is a hellscape. I suppose that depends on who you are and your previous level of social and intellectual engagement.

In my case, and perhaps my perception will change (not that I would enter #MAGA land; I currently find the #Resist echo chamber comforting, and who wants to hang out in Mordor), but I feel I have entered an enchanted forest.

I decided to activate my personal twitter account which I had opened a few years ago partly out of boredom and partly out of a what I felt to be a pressing social need to spread pro-labor union information.

Three weeks later, a world famous opera singer and I are following each other. Her name is Karita Mattila. She is a world famous soprano. Every gay man needs a diva to worship, and it took only one day for me to join her circle of Twitter buddies. And of course, most of us are gay.
 

Karita Mattila
Karita Mattila

A Reform Jewish rabbi, Danya Ruttenberg, has engaged me and like my tweets which have ranged from a discussion of a Hebrew term in Leviticus and the psychosocial pereceptions of clergy.

Wayne Kostenbaum, a nationally acclaimed gay author and I have gotten to the point where we have exchanged direct messages. He thinks I am cute.

I am now tweeting on a close to equal level with other academics in the fields of English and religion. I don't feel excluded like I did on some of the more traditional listservs or in real life.

And, let's just say, already I have moved from tweeting to direct message to texting with a hot young number in grad school in English literature. In one day.

On the lighter side, I am now part of the Old Hollywood club on twitter. I spent last afternoon tweeting around with a wonderful person, joking about the dowager/old lady roles in 1930s Hollywood. Perhaps not the same dynamic as actually being with the person physically, but how long would it take one to physically find someone who would know who Dame May Whitty was?

You are what you make. I wouldn't have been able to do all this if I hadn't already been an exciting, diverse, intellectually curious person. But the fast-paced medium of Twitter has enabled me to somehow share my interests in a more integral way which actually seems to contradict the nanosecond pace and spatially diffuse nature of the platform.

And Bijouworld's Twitter is currently mushrooming, especially since The Rialto Report tweeted:

“We’re proud to announce that Valparaiso Pictures/Permut Presentations have snapped up the screen rights to our article “Centurians Of Rome: How a Bank Robber Made The Most Expensive Gay Porno Of All Time.” We look forward to bringing it to the big screen!"

In one day, we gained 55 followers!
 

Centurians of Rome images and bank robber/film financer George Bosque
Centurians of Rome images and bank robber/film financer George Bosque

Now, I don't want to live on Twitter (perhaps the initial beginner's excitement will die down), but I feel the same way I felt when I discovered the internet back in 1998 and made some interesting connections on listservs (many of which have fizzled out slowly, given the more socially restrictive nature of the medium and just the fact that people do change).
 

Twitter logo bird holding sign that says: Yup, I tweet too much! Get over it!

Whatever happens, I will enjoy and perhaps be in a better position to learn if the cyberexperiences don't always develop in a socially and psychologically healthy way.

And follow Bijouworld on Twitter. Our always “kick-ass” account is really hopping now, revealing we are truly leading now in the fields of gay sexuality, LGBTQ history, and film studies.

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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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Turn Down That Music!

“Turn that stereo down or I am calling the cops!”
 

Old lady neighbor banging on ceiling with broom

Sometimes I listen to the police scanner (it's legal). Noise complaints abound, as would be the case in densely populated areas where multifamily housing is predominant.

And let's face it, the construction of most residences isn't exactly designed to withstand the decibels of many sound systems, from the old-fashioned stereo receiver or boom box to streaming on computers and Amazon Echo and what-not.

That bass beat, probably more insistent and all-powerful than even the dreaded leaf blower, can cause floors and walls to vibrate and created a scene of physical and emotional horror for those forced, yes, forced to listen to it. No, I do not exaggerate.

Yet, before the advent of such systems, most noise complaints resulted from domestic arguments (still the case) or babies crying.

(And come to think of it, probably not too many sex noises before the days of sexual liberation. And I haven't heard a complaint about that on the police scanner … yet.)
 

Note that says We don't give a fuck if you fuck... But why the fuck do you have to fuck so fucking loud? Fuck!

Anyway, it turns out that a woman known only as Eva N. in Slovakia tormented her neighbors for 16 years, not with rap or heavy metal (the usual means of sonic torture, but apparently loud classical music has been used to disperse loitering teens), but with opera. Specifically, Verdi. She supposedly put one aria from the opera La Traviata sung by opera superstar Placido Domingo on a timed loop from 6 am to 10 pm every day (she apparently was careful to not intrude on legal quiet hours for her jurisdiction).
 

Neighbor pointing at The Opera House

Why? According to the story which went viral, she was exacting revenge on her neighbors for a barking dog which also at one point bit her. The dog is now mercifully deceased. She no longer lives in the house, but she kept the music going. (I wish I could read her blog, but it is in what looks like Hungarian.) She has finally been detained and arrested, and the music stopped, but not after some difficulty. Apparently, because of the way she had set up the music on a timer, the authorities had to turn off all the electricity for the block to stop the music.

Neighbors called the house the Opera House or the Singing House. One woman said she liked Placido Domingo, but that this situation was ridiculous.
 

Placido Domingo singing
Placido Domingo

I also found another YouTube video (it has since disappeared from the internet) which seems like the selection is not from La Traviata (which doesn't really have a loud tenor aria), but the fiery, loud vengeance aria "Di quella pira" from Il Trovatore. It makes more sense it would be that one, given her goal of sonic revenge.
 

Cartoon of opera singer loudly singing

What does this story have to do with me, or for that matter, porn? I was guilty of the same action. And yes, with opera. I did it to blast out punk-loving and heavy metal-loving neighbors in one of my first apartments. My sonic weapons were primarily Verdi (the Act I ensemble from his opera Macbeth and the soprano-mezzo cat fight duet from La Gioconda. I was given a telling-off by the management company. I had to move. I was young. (At least I didn't put them on an endless loop, then leave.)

And I was also guilty of loud sex noises. I moved into another apartment, and the maiden lady (I am being kind) accused me of doing sits up exercises in bed. Yep, I was jacking off and screwing my first boyfriend on a futon I had on the floor. Poor soundproofing, as usual. I had to move. (Why was she listening?)

I was young.

Eva N. is not young. Is that the point? Maybe it's true to some extent that good fences make good neighbors, as proclaimed by Robert Frost. But if the fence (and one should think of the fence as more psychological than physical) is ramshackle, good can become bad, and a boundary based on respect can become a pit of contention.
 

Good fences make good neighbors

I would argue that good neighbors build good fences but also are willing to build a bridge over that fence. So often in dense cities a neighbor is only a slamming door, a pounding footstep, a flushing toilet. Not a person who goes to work and laughs and loves.

In the ideal good old retro days that some people have mischaracterized as some kind of white person's pastoral paradise, people knew their neighbors. I must agree that in many communities, this situation was true.

I was raised by my mother to get to know the neighbors, and, if possible, cultivate some level of friendship. My mother is still friends with neighbors that she knew more than fifty years ago.

It does take a village to raise a child, mold a mind, open a heart. And to also know when to turn the music down. Or at least invite the neighbors to your party.

(And maybe, as is the case in some porn fantasies, invite the cute upstairs neighbor to a really private party.)

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Bisexual Boxer Emile Griffith and a Deadly Fight

Emile Griffith

On March 24, 1962, bisexual (or gay) boxer Emile Griffith knocked out his opponent, Benny Paret, at Madison Square Garden. In round 12, Griffith trapped Paret in a corner; by that time, his opponent had stopped punching back. Griffith held his opponent's shoulder to keep him in position while using his free hand to hit Paret.
 

Griffith knocks out Paret

The audience was shocked; the famous author Norman Mailer, who wrote about it in his essay, “The Death of Benny Paret,” claimed it was the hardest he had ever seen a man hit another man. At this point, the referee, Ruby Goldstein, stepped in, an awarded Griffith a win by a “technical knockout.” Paret slid to the floor; he was carried out on a stretcher and died ten days later in a hospital.

There's a back story here to this admittedly brutal incident, and it ties into the intense homophobia of the time, and the double life Emile Griffith had to lead. He visited the gay bars during that period, and he even hung out in the then-seedy Times Square where, the time before the fight, according to Donald McRae's book A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith, he “laughed and danced with the Hispanic gay crowd and the old drag queens.”

Before this fight, Emile was able to live this life: be a man's man in the hypermasculine world of boxing, and apparently hold court with the queens of the period on women's hat styles (in fact, he started out working in a women's hat factory, and his shirtless physique (he requested permission to work that way in the heat) caught the attention of the owner, who got him involved in the world of boxing).
 

Emile Griffith news clipping

But, in the weigh-in before the fight, Paret called Griffith a maricón, which means faggot. Members of the press and officials from the New York Boxing Commission witnessed this exchange. And, in pre-fight interviews with the press, Paret's manager portrayed Griffith as effeminate and thus an unworthy opponent for the hypermasculine Paret. Paret also touched Griffith's ass when he called him the slur, apparently enraging him.

The consequences of this homophobia were indeed deadly. Even though Griffith told a television interviewer that he was proud to be the welterweight champion again, and expressed hopes for Paret's recovery, Paret's death resulted in insults and hate mail. And many sources claim that even though Griffith continued to box for 15 more years, he lost his enthusiasm for the sport. Emile blamed himself for the incident; it always haunted him.

Griffith married a woman in 1971 by the name of Mercedes Donastorg. After retiring from boxing in 1977, he worked as a corrections officer at juvenile detention facility in New Jersey.

But Griffith was still struggling with his overall identity. In 1992, he was viciously beaten in New York City after leaving a gay bar. He was in the hospital for four months with serious kidney damage, and under the care of his adoptive son, began a slow mental and physical decline, but also some serious soul-searching.

He told Sports Illustrated in 2005, “I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.”

Yet, another reporter for the New York Times, Bob Hebert, about that time, asked him if he was gay, and Griffith struggled to answer. He said he no longer wanted to hide, and he wanted to ride that year in the New York Gay Pride Parade.
 

Emile Griffith older

Other interviews with him do emphasize that he did not like labels about his identity.

Yet the one label everyone remembers him by I think should not just be that deadly fight, but his place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame; no other boxer in boxing history had fought more championship rounds, not even the great Muhammad Ali.

Emile Griffith died on July 23, 2013 at the age of 75.

There's a complex legacy here in Griffith's struggles and triumphs, and documentaries and plays and books and even an opera have struggled to understand and express a turbulent double life that exploded savagely in a literal arena which glorifies a violence it claims to sublimate.
 

Ring of Fire, a film about Emile Griffith
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