Towards A Gay Culture

SO… we have come out from under our stones. Some of us are now satisfied with what we are. Others of us still feel the urge to push the gay movement forward – but in what direction? At this moment in time, two approaches dominate.

The first, deriving partly out of the liberal-reformist elements of GLF, and the activist elements of CHE, focusses on the issues of civil rights. Not one of the minimal demands of the GLF Manifesto has yet been realised. It is obvious that where we do not simply fake them, as when we ignore the antiquated age of consent, and thumb our noses at the law, then a lot of work has got to go on pursuading those who make the laws and determine the policies that derive from them, to take gay people seriously into account. This needs to go on at all levels of society.

The second, deriving mainly out of the more radical elements of GLF, focusses on what we can call ‘the politics of experience’ as they are manifested in the interpersonal relations of a small group. The importance of the latest edition of Come Together (no 14) is that there is here a serious attempt to report on a sustained effort to explore in actual behaviour some of the further-reaching conclusions of the Manifesto. But this is an introverted trend. It moves further and further away from what most gay people – most people, even – are willing to attempt.

The demands it makes lead almost necessarily to a total exclusion of other concerns which, while not bearing in any sense on gay liberation, have their own importance for those involved in them.

The significance of these trends must not be minimised, either by invidious comparison of one from the standpoint of the other, or by a cynical debunking, from the sidelines, which may give the illusion of being above any shit-work, but serves in the main to demonstrate a crass and insensitive complacency

These two categories correspond more or less to two of the three categories outlined by Jeff Weeks in his article on the GLF movement some weeks ago (GN6). His third category, Gay Socialism, has yet to make itself felt, even though it transcends both the others, as far as he is concerned. The people who could be to us what Juliet Mitchell and Shulameth Firestone are to the Women’s Movement are around – we can only suggest they get on with the job of providing us with our own definitive texts.

But what Jeff Weeks’ analysis missed is another trend which has yet to be named. This is a broad trend which shows itself in the accumulating written week-to-week, month-to-month experience of an increasing number of people who neither identify nor wish to identify with any of the particular dominant strands that can be discerned in the gay movement. It is beginning to fill the great vacuum between the limiting rip-off porn, and the limiting technicalese of certain professions which do well out of calling us deviant, examples of it are the less specifically committed articles to be found in back numbers of Come Together, in Gay News as a whole, and in Lunch.

They document the immediate past and the ongoing present. They represent a self-pronounced perspective on ourselves which does not so much seek identity, as assumes it. We no longer have to preface what we say with any remarks of justification addressed to some named or nameless majority. This in itself is an immense step forward.

But all of these journals tend to evoke a sense of transitoriness. The necessary brevity of each item in their contents is a major factor, flashes of occasional insight incapable of being transformed into sustained exploration.

Interestingly enough, there are stirrings elsewhere, that seem to be a response to recent changes in the gay sense of self. Over Christmas I came across and read a book by Dirk Vanden (‘All Is Well’ Olympia Press), a self-confessed gay-pulp author, which seems to be a prelude to what is to come.

‘All Is Well’ is basically concerned with the progression of one man from a state of extreme sexual repression to a form of liberation. The first state has introduced tremendous mental blocks which effectively divide the man’s consciousness into two parts. The first rigidly defines the limits of his sexual-emotional life – even his masturbatory fantasies are confined to memories of sex with his estranged wife. His relations with his son are distant and authoritarian.

On the other hand, a frustrated unconscious side begins to emerge from the first page in the form of apparently external threats to the man’s life-style – poison pen notes, later combined with pornographic photographs and actual threats on his life. Certain key events lead to an integration of these two partial personalities. The puritan Robert fuses with the immature sexually destructive Bobby to become the liberated Bob.

Vanden’s idea of liberation leaves a great deal to be desired. It is a variation on the theme of prick-power, coupled with a curiously amorphous mysticism which envelopes the final pages. The latter can be criticised both for its failure to recognise a continuing context of oppression – all is not well, insofar as this is ignored, and its lack of general viability. Finally the book is a very patchy literary product.

But what is important is the altogether positive stance it ends on. Contrast this with the end of ‘The Boys In The Band’, for example, where the principal character sidles off to early morning mass. Nemesis, in the form of the knowledge that deep down he is not ‘glad to be gay’, has caught up with him, and he makes appropriate reparation. Vanden’s character is moving onward when the book ends.

There needs to be more, and better examples of this longer-term stuff, since it so effectively extends the difference already demonstrated by current short-term journalism between what we thought we were, and what we think we can be.

If the work is a play, there can be interesting side-effects. Bruce Bayley recently wrote and directed a play at Kingston Polytechnic which deals in a surrealist manner with gay issues. From his account of the difficulties of production and their gradual resolution, it is quite clear that there were valuable outcomes before the first night. The very act of needing to play roles which went against cast-members’ assumptions of personhood and sexuality proved a useful consciousness-raising experience for them.

Vanden’s book and Bayley’s play provide just two examples of where energies can be usefully directed. Both are additions to the developing gay sense of self. It seems to me that we need to aim consciously at creating a gay culture which not only differentiates and sensitises our responsiveness to what we are and can become, but also augments straightforward political statements and activities.

A contemporary gay culture also needs to discover and understand its roots. Most of us know nothing of homophile movements in the past or their articulate representatives. In the present, extensive critiques of the treatment of homosexuality by writers, filmmakers etc, just do not exist. We need to start up historical and cultural studies of this kind. We need to find whatever there is to find, and make it readily available.

In practical terms, this would be possible in very small groups – the current standard unit of the gay movement.

University gay groups at a loss what to do might consider these suggestions seriously. They have the access to materials, and, at least in principle, the time to pass them on. But for other groups there are other sources of information – the local library used effectively can be one of them. Finally, no group whatever its size or location has a monopoly on creative skills, though making a film is obviously a highly specialist activity.

Every movement in the past – and Black Liberation is a recent example – has recognised the need to create and elaborate an authentic culture where only distortion and/or ignorance has prevailed before. It is needed as a primary basis for a real and continuing awareness among members of that movement. It is this superordinate task which defines the essential unity of the gay movement, whatever internal differences of opinion may exist. Recognising this as a conscious aim will make us generally more positive towards, though not necessarily less critical of, those activities or ideas which we would not carry out or hold ourselves. It will redefine the apparently divisive tendencies that seem to be generated as different paths taken in essentially the same direction.

Undergrinspoon Movies

While the lovely JD Grinspoon is just collecting her things together for her nightly troll down Wilton Road, I just thought I’d pop in and tell you all of the wonderful gay movies they’ve been showing in London.

The ICA is a haven for us gays with weekend doubles of Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys (1968), My Hustler (1965) and Chelsea Girls (1966) showing regularly along with Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), the gay movie that started all the gay movies.

With the exception of some commercially financed and marketed ‘gay’ movies, such as The Boys in The Band, I Want What I Want, Fortune and Men’s Eyes, Some of My Best Friends Are… no gay movie has been given a reasonable circuit showing (ie nationwide) by Rank Voyeur Services or Electricity Means Income Theatres – with the possible exception of The Killing of Sister George – which was a cop-out in every way, I feel.

Warhol’s delicious Flesh (1968) was given a reasonable length screening at the Essoldo, Chelsea, but now the Essoldo group has disappeared into the Classic group, a group that’s learned that there’s gold in them thar safe programmes and bingo halls, when they’re not busy turning perfectly good cinemas into Tatler wank clubs.

Trash (1969) has still not been given a proper public showing in Britain. Stephen Murphy, the secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, and Jimmy Vaughan, the movie’s renter in Britain are still haggling over the cuts that should or shouldn’t be made. None should. Not that Trash is a specifically gay movie, but its star, Joe Dallesandro (see This Months Rent) is enough to keep this boy’s eyes glued firmly to the screen.

What happens with these beautifully made movies is that they say too much for people like Murphy, who’s besieged on one side by liberals and on the other by “responsible Christian gentlefolk”.

Flesh sat on the censor’s shelves for a couple of years before it was finally given an X-certificate. It deals with Joe, who has to go out and hustle on 42nd Street to earn money to buy his girlfriend’s girlfriend an abortion.

Trash has been sitting around since last year when it was given a limited showing at the London Film Festival. As all showings then were booked solid within a few days of the announcement, very few people ever got to see it.

What’s put the shits up Stephen Murphy isn’t a scene where Joe, a trash-picker from the very worst of Greenwich Village in New York, fixes with heroin — a horrifying scene which made my boyfriend pass out at the time – but a scene where Holly Woodlawn, a drag queen, jerks off with the aid of a beer bottle because Joe’s incapable of anything approaching sex, he’s too full of junk!

This was the scene which provoked the usually staid, prim and generally harmless Margaret Hinxman, the alleged movie-critic of the Sunday Telegraph to exclaim: “I think it’s disgusting, and it should be banned. What I thought was really horrible was the bit where the girl masturbates with the beer bottle.”

Holly Woodlawn is a drag queen.

Chelsea Girls, which has been running at the ICA Club for rather longer than this reporter cares to remember is a very lengthy (210 minutes) and alternately boring and screamingly funny piece of Andy Warhol’s dissection of Amerika.

Flesh and Trash were made under the banner of the Warhol workshop and directed by Paul Morrisey, who’s brought big-pic production values to the workshop. His movies are “better-made” than Warhol’s own but no less interesting.

Chelsea Girls, My Hustler and Lonesome Cowboy all predate the arrival of Morrissey at the Warhol workshop. The movies are bittier, not so technically well-made, but often funnier.

As I’ve said, Chelsea Girls was for me, largely a bore. I found I started watching the screen with the soundtrack and then drifting off onto the silent screen alongside it. Often the dialogue on one screen doubles for both. In places then, it was funny. But, I would add that 75 per cent of the audience left by halftime.

My Hustler was very disappointing. I’d wanted to see this movie about hustlers on Fire Island, starring Paul America, for years. When I saw it, it looked like two reels rescued from the centre of a home-movie. Paul America is almost enough to make up for the disappointment.

Lonesome Cowboys comes last because it’s the funniest movie ever made perhaps. Obviously the entire cast and crew were stoned out of their heads when they shot this — everyone’s having so much fun. So many lines were fluffed, so much is ad-libbed. More than anything else it’s got a nice gay story-line. This group of cowboys ride into town, and they’re immediately picked up by the local equivalent of Barbara Stanwyck — Viva and her pimp, Taylor Mead.

Needless to say the cowboys are fucking each other from one end of the range to the other. So they tell anyone they meet they’re brothers, to try and create a good impression.

Their usual group sex activities are interrupted somewhat by Viva trying to get off with each of them in turn. The result is hilarious. Boys to watch are Joe Dallesandro and Tom Hompertz and anyone else that takes your fancy.

That brings us to Kenneth Anger — who GN will interview as soon as possible.

Anger was making movies at the age of 16. They’re still not certificated although his Scorpio Rising is the untimate in motorbike/S&M flix which uses intercut pieces of movie footage of Brando and Jesus to make the neo-Nazi cult thing not just frightening but funny.

MESSAGE TO ALL OUT OF LONDON GAYS: These movies are only on display at the ICA because the place has found a loophole in the censorship law. As a non-profit-making charity it may show uncertificated movies for two days or less without harassment.

If you can’t work the same fiddle in your area, join a film society and demand that they’re shown, the BFI, the film society’s fairy godmother will back you to the hilt. These are the movies film societies should show. Not middle of the road, harmless pap like Elvira Madigan.

Peter Holmes

Forthcoming Attractions

At the time that GN9 went to press Censor Murphy and Trash’s distributor in Britain were still deadlocked over what — if any — cuts should be made from the movie before Murphy will grant it an X-certificate.

Inside sources at the censors’ board tell GN that it’s not the drug sequences that are worrying Mr Murphy – for instance, a full-frontal heroin-fix – but the sex-deviance angle that emerges most when Holly Woodlawn masturbates with the beer bottle.

Had this latest in the series of deadlocks not happened the Classic group had planned to open Trash at the Classic Curzon, Chelsea, some time in late September.

Before Gay News was even a newspaper, a German movie-maker called Rosa von Praunheim asked the GN collective if it would distribute (in the UK) his movie called It Is Not The Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But The Situation In Which He Lives.

It Is Not The Homosexual etc is to get its first London showing at last — at the National Film Theatre, which means it’s a members-only do. It shows on Wednesday October 25 and Thursday October 26. After each showing there will be a discussion about the movie, in which people in the audience can take part. People invited to take part in the discussions include the director, Derek Malcolm, George Melly, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, the Gay Liberation Front and Gay News.

Big Boys Only

19721001-04LEEDS: The city is getting its first ‘adults only’ play in the shape of Mart Crowley’s ‘Boys in the Band’.

The play, which starts as a comedy and becomes tragic as it moves on through the lives of a group of homosexuals is being performed in Leeds by the city’s Cosmopolitan Players, who usually put on trivial farces and such diversions.

The Boys In The Band is the first time that an ‘adults-only’ restriction has been put on any play at the Civic Theatre, where the play is being staged this week, according to Mr Fred Mower, who’s been designing sets for the Civic for the last 20 years.

Mr Nigel Peacock, a member of the Cosmopolitan Players said he wasn’t worried that the restriction might reduce the group’s box-office take.

In fact, Mr Peacock, who has a part in the play, feels that the ‘adults-only’ restriction may attract audiences.

He said: “Certainly with films, an ‘adults-only’ billing seems to attract audiences, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work with plays.

The Leeds production will not be pulling any punches. “It will all be there, as written,” Mr Peacock promised.