Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Dishonorably Discharged from the Gay Brigade

Way back in the deep dark ages of gay consciousness I was absolutely voracious about consuming any gay-themed words, books, or images I could seek out (and back in the early seventies this took some seeking indeed). To give you an idea of how uncritical I was, I actually checked Gordon Merrick's 1971 The Lord Won't Mind out of the Middletown Public Library and read it with a passion I can now only muster for the latest edition of The Collector's Encyclopedia of Fiestaware. How bad was this novel? This is the accurate summary from Wikipedia:

Charlie Mills and Peter Martin are both young, handsome and well-endowed. They meet and fall madly in love.

I recall nothing else about the novel myself. At the time (and to this day) I cared not a whit for the endowment part, or for love stories for that matter (give me a comedy of manners any day), but it was homosexual love! Wow!

I avidly read jill johnston's tedious lower-cased column in the Village Voice (my parents had a subscription), because it spoke of lesbianism. I watched Lance Loud on An American Family. My ear was so finely tuned to the faintest whiff of homosexual reference that in ninth grade I asked my English teacher about a possible homosexual relationship between David Copperfield and Steerforth (something I have no recollection of doing but when I saw said English teacher about 10 years ago she reminded me of this, and my friend Claire remembers this as well).

Clearly I had a great gaping need.

By college I snatched up magazines with pictures of Leonard Matlovich on the cover. I watched Soap (which required finding somebody at school with a tv) because there was an actual gay character. I read The David Kopay Story despite finding football more tedious than watching cactus grow (unless I was playing in the band). After moving to Boston in 1979 I made regular pilgrimages to the Glad Day bookstore and bought absolutely any gay-themed book available in paperback. I even went to see Ryan O'Neal in the dreadful Partners because he played a policeman going undercover as a gay man.

Really, I mean it when I say I would consume anything at all, even the Dave Brandsetter mysteries (about which I only remember one particular image in one particular book and not a single other thing). If it was gay, that was good enough for me. I still have an enormous collection of old Christopher Street magazines, and the first dozen or so issues of "Gay Comix" (which contain some wonderful pieces, so that wasn't such a trial).

In any case, I felt obligated.

I can pretty much date my liberating realization that I did not, in fact, have to read every gay book on the market (fiction and non-fiction) and see every tv show and movie with a gay character: Philadelphia. I read so much about that film, and felt I should see it, and heard good things about it, but I just couldn't bring myself to make the effort to go. This was hard for me, strangely enough, but whenever I would consider going I would realize that I simply didn't care about the movie. And this was at a time when people were still expecting me to have an OPINION about every gay movie on the planet.

I still do my best to follow artistic representation of homosexuality, and boy do I love gay film festivals, but that sense of holding down the fort is long gone. I might not even have seen Brokeback Mountain if my father hadn't liked it so much (although that would have been a mistake because it became too much a part of popular discourse for me to remain ignorant).

I was thinking about this last night because there is a new reality tv show called Gay, Straight, or Taken that debuted last night. I was sitting in my living room checking out the evening's listings, saw this was coming on, had nothing else I specifically needed to be doing at the time, and I couldn't even muster enough interest to turn on the television set. Instead I opened up a book (The Sex Lives of Cannibals which isn't really about sex or cannibals and has nary a gay hint) and sipped some Spanish wine while I did a load of laundry and it was a delightful quiet evening.

I say this is progress, although I don't know if the progress is personal or political or both.
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