What Was Your First Gay Movie? Please Share!

posted by Madam Bubby

 

A friend of mine told me he used to sneak into gay porn movie theaters in the seventies and eighties. At that time in New York City, where he lived, such establishments were plentiful. Specifically, he remembers first seeing Fred Halsted in leather in the movie L.A. Plays Itself (newly restored by MoMA and re-released on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming and never forgot the experience, both watching the movie and the “extracurricular experience” that occurred in the seat next to him. Minus the hanky-panky in the seats, the grandparents and even great-grandparents of the current generation can tell a similar story, going to the movies to see a particular movie star they idolized, even seeing a movie that changed their lives and made them decide to go into show business. 

 

Fred Halsted
Fred Halsted

  

Now that most guys can get their porn over the internet, in fact, any movie via streaming and youtube, the “big event,” almost like a coming out to oneself (or in some cases, others as well) of going to see a gay movie may have lost its social and psychological importance. By gay movie, now, I don't just mean a gay porn movie. It could mean any movie with an overtly gay character or a gay theme. More of these movies were appearing in the seventies and eighties, following the wake of the groundbreaking Boys in the Band. Check out Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet (the book and the documentary film) to find out more about some of these movies, such as Sunday, Bloody Sunday and Making Love.

 

The Celluloid Closet book cover

 

One of these movies was my first gay movie: Victor, Victoria. I saw it when it first came out, in 1982. I didn't know at the time about the movie's gender-bending and gay content, nor did I know that the person who asked me to go (who was ostensibly dating a female friend of mine) was gay. I got more of the humor about opera and singing and cockroaches in restaurants than its complex, contradictory messages about who is really a man or a woman in this movie about a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.

 

Victor Victoria poster and image
Victor/Victoria

 

Overall, the movie seemed more escapist for me at that time, an escape into a fictitious Paris of the 1930s where you could be gay (even though that term was not used at that point, and I still tended to see that word as meaning happy) and go to fancy nightclubs and live in art deco hotels. Maybe all the singing and costumes appealed to a stereotypical “gay” sensibility in me, but I'm not sure. Other than the initial poverty of Julie Andrews and Robert Preston before they concocted their brilliant scheme, the movie was nothing like my current reality of being a college student in a sheltered Chicago suburb that seemed leagues away from what was happening on Wells Street, the center of gay nightlife in Chicago at that point and where the Bijou Theater was showing gay porn films starring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler. Looking in hindsight, I see a profound disconnect between what I thought I knew and what I really didn't know about sexual identity, not unlike the appearance versus reality conflicts the characters in the movie experience.


What was your first gay film? Reply to this blog and share with us! 

 

 
 
 
 
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Carlos
Hi, about the subject, the first gay movie I saw, there were two actually, I don't recall which one was first but I saw them about... Read More
Friday, 28 January 2022 19:12
DAVID MCKELLAR
The first gay film I saw was 7 In A Barn by J Brian, around 1972. I screwed up my courage to go in and see it. What an experience... Read More
Friday, 28 January 2022 20:40
Lawrence King
My first gay movie was actually an ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK. "That Certain Summer" with Hal Holbrook and Martin Sheen. Funny how pla... Read More
Sunday, 30 January 2022 07:18
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September 12, 1985: Remembering the Infamous Carol's Speakeasy Raid in Chicago

posted by Madame Bubby


The raid on Stonewall of course has become an iconic event because of its social and historical ramifications, but recently LGBTQ historians, including many who publicize history on social media platforms such as Twitter, have called attention to similar events before and after Stonewall. Often the goal of such histories is uncovering marginalized narratives of oppression and liberation that can frame our own interpretations of not just those people and events, but also give a valued context for the present-day legal, social, and cultural challenges to honor and justice that LGBTQ persons still face.

One raid which attained notoriety, mostly because it showed how the politics of the gay Chicago community was becoming very much intertwined overall with mainstream politics, occurred on September 12, 1985.
 

Carol's Speakeasy poster
Image Source: http://chicago.gopride.com/entertainment/column/index.cfm/col/2523

A group called NEMEG, Northwestern Metropolitan Enforcement Group, which consisted of officers from various north and northwestern suburbs, raided a popular gay bar, Carol's Speakeasy, located at 1355 N. Wells Street (that strip still at that point in LGBTQ Chicago history was the center of a vibrant gay nightlife). NEMEG was ostensibly looking for evidence of drugs and drug dealing.

According to David Boyer of Touche and Bijou and a noted figure in Chicago's gay community, who was then employed by Carol's (his first year as manager), the bar was hosting a wrestling promotion night: “We had put out mats on the dance floor and guys would challenge each other to wrestle. Had about maybe 50 or so people in the house.”

Also according to David Boyer, whose account I quote and paraphrase for much of this blog and which generally corroborates what even the conservative Chicago Tribune reported, the Chicago police were not involved; and, as one shall see, this is a most significant, telling detail.

David describes how this, I would claim, vigilante group “stormed the front door, guns drawn,” and that they also broke in through the back. These persons were not wearing any type of identifying uniform, and did not even identify themselves.

Everyone in the bar was forced to gather together and lay face down on the dance floor for a period of several hours. NEMEG members would hit or shove the face of anyone back down to the floor if they even unintentionally looked up.

NEMEG meanwhile searched the offices and serving areas behind the bars, looking for drugs. David mentions that they were even throwing around match books, claiming these contained packages of drugs.

In a manner reminiscent of pre-Stonewall raids, these persons took each person, questioned them, and, most significantly, photographed them. Everyone eventually was forced to leave the bar; no one was arrrested. David Boyer refused to leave after identifying himself as the manager, but they still did not inform him of their identity.

After what seemed an interminable time of chaos and violence, Chicago police did show up, but they did nothing to stop what was happening. Nothing; one could claim they were deliberately ignoring the many legal violations that were occurring for reasons ranging from homophobia to some unwritten code that forbade them from “telling” on their suburban officer comrades.

NEMEG did claim they found drugs on the premises, but they could not determine who brought them.

According to David, at the same time the raid occurred, a couple of employees were arrested at their homes and charged with drug dealing.

This incident did not end up being a narrative memory of injustice and degradation.

By the middle 1980s, the gay community in Chicago had gained enough political power, even during this uncertain time when AIDS was beginning to decimate its members.

Thus, those affected by this raid filed a civil lawsuit against these suburban officers, focusing on clear violations of the law, such as not identifying themselves as police and forcibly taking photographs of the bar patrons.
 

Windy City Times article about Carol's Speakeasy lawsuit
Image Source: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Windy-City-Times-30th-anniversary-issue-Coverage/52880.html

According to a report in the September 16, 1986 of the Chicago Tribune:
 

"This is one of the most massive violations of civil rights we have seen in Chicago in the last decade," said Harvey Grossman, Illinios legal director of the ACLU.

"Over 50 men were subjected to this course of conduct. They were all ordered to lie on the floor; they were subjected to illegal searches; they were interrogated against their will and required to disclose information about their backgrounds; they were all photographed and none was arrested.

"What the agents did was to take the occasion of serving an arrest warrant on the bartender and turn it into a raid on all who were present at the time," Grossman said.

By 1989, the parties reached an accord, according to a report in the August 18, 1989 issue of the Chicago Tribune. Harvey Grossman in this article makes a telling point: "Although gays have long been subject to police harassment, this is the first time a group of gay men has successfully joined together to obtain damages from law enforcement agencies," Grossman said.

The above is a story of injustice, but also a story of moral courage and faith that the justice system does indeed work, even against those who are supposedly responsible for upholding that its laws are enforced equitably and honorably. In this case, the human rights of the manager and patrons of Carol's were dishonored and dehumanized that night, and though the terms of the settlement did include financial compensation, the real issue is that no one is above the law, and this law is based on the premise that persons are innocent until proven guilty.

Currently, one cannot assume in the case of vulnerable, marginalized populations that their human rights will be respected, and that the justice system will uphold them. I think it's important, overall, to frame this raid as a #NeverAgainIsNow moment that the LGBTQ communities need to take to heart, not only as a warning, but as call for persons to emulate the moral courage David Boyer showed that night.

Sources: Chicago Tribune reports (see hyperlinks); eyewitness account from David Boyer received via email; https://slate.com/human-interest/2016/02/queer-clout-in-chicago-telling-gay-history-beyond-stonewall-and-the-castro.html

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What Exactly Is A "Dive" Bar?

What Exactly Is A "Dive" Bar?

 

I've seen them on television and the movies, and I've even been in them (well, when you're from Cicero, Illinois, you've got to do something), but what exactly is a dive bar? Or more specifically, a gay dive bar?

The ones I have seen on television and the movies sometimes seem like parodies of these places which in some cases are identical with what used to be called neighborhood taverns. You know, the place where working class guys like Archie Bunker and Ralph Cramden would hang out at; remember Kelsey's on All in the Family?
 

All in the Family

Or the one in Valley of the Dolls that Neely O'Hara (on a booze and pills binge in San Francisco) gets kicked out of; this scene (starting at 1:17:16) pretty much parodies the “dive;” tacky or nonexistent décor, which sometimes involves dark wood paneling; aggressive, bawling customers who begin with beer and end up doing shots; lots of smoking; and a jukebox, all as a backdrop for the inevitable fight.

In some neighborhoods of Chicago, in the early part of the last century, there were often three of these places on every block to accommodate thirsty workers from various manufacturing jobs who wanted in to delay going home to overcrowded two- and three-flats filled with screaming children and nagging wives. They weren't necessarily dives, but they weren't doing a high-class clientele, but the local “average Joe.”

Now gay bars, of course, for the greater part of the last century, had to take often extraordinary measures to just survive. The couldn't exactly be open watering holes for Mr. and Mrs. Bunker. (Well, other open holes existed there, but that's another blog.) And to survive often meant being a dive (or pay off the police or the Mafia), because that's all you could afford being, plus looking “rough,” though it could attract a less “classy” clientele, often kept away bigots.Leather Bar, 1978


Early leather bars like the Gold Coast certainly were dives physically, but in cases like that, the “dive” look was a deliberate part of their appeal: rough sex, rugged guys, bikers. The old Touche bar in Chicago on Lincoln Avenue perhaps was more strictly kink and leather (think piss trough), but the beers stacked up by the entrance and the generally seedy surroundings (I remember the floor was dirty, and it was caked in; no comment on how I would know such detail) certainly proclaimed “dive.”


Wells Street, Chicago, 1970s

The Glory Hole on Wells Street when that street was the gayborhood was perhaps more of the pure “dive:” not only the totally rough, thrown-together look, but the backroom (and bathroom) for quickies and more. Perhaps some of the bars that used to bill themselves as “leather and levi” rather than strictly leather (with a dress code) could be defined as more strictly dive, like the now-closed Rawhide in Chelsea, or still thriving, the Second Story Bar right off the Magnificent Mile (yes, it is still there!) and the Granville Anvil on the Far North Side of Chicago, somewhat distant from the trendy, touristy Boystown.

In fact, the Granville Anvil bills itself as a dive bar. From what I gather, based on their Yelp reviews and Facebook page, they've “spruced up” the décor. Did the owners take out the paneling and the plastic flowers covered with dust hanging in baskets from the ceiling, I wonder? I know, because I was there in the nineties, and yes, there was a jukebox playing Cher's song “Half-Breed,” and also, there was a fight in the bathroom. I was indirectly involved. The friend I went with was in the fight. I found out he was pissed because some guy would not leave me alone (those were the days), and then started bugging my friend as well. That night, I also won some lottery tickets as a prize for getting Bingo. I didn't win the lottery.
 

The Granville Anvil

I wonder, in these days when other “divey” places like 24-hour grills and diners have disappeared and were replaced by big box stores and chain restaurants, if the authentic dive bar can survive. Neighborhood taverns evolved into sports bars, and hipsters have set up “divey” places as part their deconstruction of retro; but what will happen to the gay dive bar? I have a feeling it's been replaced by the seedy underbelly of craigslist, minus, so sadly, the both fun and dangerous social interaction in a place where ultimately, a gay man could both hide from and enjoy himself. And share that identity struggle with others over a shot of whiskey while listening to Judy Garland singing “The Man That Got Away” on jukebox that still played vinyl.

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Where Is the Gay Ghetto Today?

 

I was looking through a 1982 book (yes, that's a while ago) by Dennis Altman called The Homosexualization of America, which discusses the birth and development of a specific “gay culture,” tying it into developments in the 1960s and 1970s such as the women's movement and the marketing of sex in popular culture.

This description of a typical gay neighborhood from that period really got me thinking, especially from a twenty-first century perspective: 

“Such areas are marked by a certain sameness: they seem at first to be populated almost entirely by men under the age of forty-five, dressed in a uniform and carefully calculated style and dedicated to a hedonistic and high-consumption lifestyle. The main streets of what are often termed the ghettos—Christopher Street and Columbus Avenue in New York, North Wells in Chicago, Castro and Polk in San Francisco, Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles—are lined with shops selling high-camp postcards, coffee pots, pillowcases, T-shirts, and even food (in the ice cream parlors and “Erotic Bakeries”), with dim noisy, and smoke-filled bars, and with the new-style gay restaurants, full of potted palms, with large front windows and health-food menus.” 

 

1970s Chicago


Now, specifically from a Chicago context, North Wells is no longer a gay area (and hasn't been for some time), and Boystown on Halsted Street, though it does conform to some of the description above, seems to be watering down its wild gay nightlife image. Both areas have been solidly gentrified (think strollers, tourists, and sports bars) for some time now. In fact, many gays, having been priced out of these areas, have moved north to less expensive areas like Rogers Park, or, in the wake of increased social approval, moved to the suburbs where many of the jobs have gone and to raise their own families. 
 

Halsted Street, Chicago

 


 

 

 

But what gets me thinking even more deeply (after laughing at the visual in the quote above of “potted palms”) is the queston of whether physical geography really does matter anymore when we are thinking of a gay neighborhood or even a gay culture.

 

After all, it's obvious that connections via the Internet and social media can easily transcend physical limitations and socioeconomic boundaries. A gay guy living on a farm in a “red state” area might of course want to visit a gay-friendly urban area in a “blue state,” but if he's got Internet connectivity, he wouldn't feel as isolated. And urban gays are at at point now, where instead of hanging out at bars or cruising bathrooms, they can hook up instantaneously via Grindr. The “hedonism” Altman observed can end up becoming “virtual” rather than real! 

It's ironic though, as members of the LGBT community are trying to jump through (and quite successfully) one of the last social hurdles in their journey toward full acceptance as equal citizens, same-sex marriage, that face-to-face interaction seems to be an option, not a necessity. As what were once gay ghettos disappear, I do wonder if the very real and nitty-gritty sense of community which gave birth to Stonewall and banded together to confront the decimation of the AIDS crisis will disappear as well. 

 

1970s Chicago
 
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