Homoeroticism, Midnight Cowboy, Personal Essay

Enemy: A love story (with apologies to I.B. Singer)

By Scott Ross

I dislike him immediately.

As the sixth-grade best friend of one of my best friends, Michael is in some sense a rival. But what I detest is the arrogant superiority he wears like a second skin. Perpetually carrying a massive paperback edition of War and Peace I wonder if he ever actually reads, he disdains me as much as I loathe him. Knowing of my interest in cartoons, he accosts me once on the playground with a sneering, “Ah — Monsieur Mickey.” A few months later, his is the only name I recognize in the posted list for my upcoming 7th grade homeroom class. And against the odds we become inseparable.

Health-class this year includes sex education. After one late session, which covers V.D., Michael asks me to stay with him after class while he asks Mr. Newman a question.

Health is just before lunch. A good time to linger and speak to a teacher. When our classmates have all left , Michael asks Mr. Newman whether homosexuals can contract venereal disease. Mr. Newman assures him that they can. After we leave the classroom, I ask Michael why he brought that up. He doesn’t answer.

I’m not repulsed, or disgusted, or suspicious — merely puzzled. I’m also, sexually, not so much confused as misguided. Since I believe (as I had been taught) that men and women (or boys and girls) naturally gravitate together, it never quite occurs to me that anyone I might know would be any different — myself included. When I masturbate, I do so with pornographic cartoons I’ve drawn myself, despite one set having been discovered by my parents the year before. My drawings are utterly heterosexual, in that they contain both men and women. And anyway, it’s not the genitals per se that arouse me. It’s the sheer, trembling excitement of contemplating sex.

Yet that same year, and before Michael’s question to Mr. Newman, I find myself opening dictionaries and surreptitiously searching for the word “homosexual,” experiencing a nameless thrill at reading the definition “one attracted to his or her own sex,” and feeling something else, something I can’t pin down or put a name to. It’s only with time that I realize I am searching for my own identity in those dry, dusty pages — just as only the passing of years reveals to me why my infatuations are all with other boys: Bobby, Terry, Scooter.

Michael?

And there’s something else. Despite a couple of close friends, I am deeply, agonizingly lonely, and that is what I believe (if I believe at all) these small obsessions are about.

By this time, through the machinations of some Board of Education members, who think (wrongly, as it turns out) the move will benefit their own children once the planned new school (which never materializes) is built, the local classes of 7th through 9th grades — what we then called junior high, and which is now referred to, curiously to me, as “middle school” — are divided into two districts, and split. One half of Garner will go here, the other there.

Michael is “here”; I am “there.”

While I see and speak to him over the telephone from time to time, I have the uneasy sense that our friendship has largely lapsed. And, despite a pair of very good friends — one of whom is still my best friend today — I am desperately unhappy: Taunted and abused by bullies of both sexes, and aching for something I cannot name. (In my 30s I will date the initial onset of what is now my chronic clinical depression to this period.)*

When my sophomore year begins, at the senior high school, and Michael and I are “reunited,” the happiest period of my academic life begins. In my need to cast off an identity I associate with unhappiness, I ask family and friends to call me by my middle name. The one I have gone through life so far with, “Tim,” has for the last year or so grated on my skin the way my clothing has when I briefly experience that odd, thankfully brief, stage in my physical development in which I have to get my trousers from the “Husky” section of the J.C. Penny boys’ department. Having always been thin, this development makes me feel acutely self-conscious. Curiously, and without any overt changes on my behalf, it ends as quickly and inexplicably as it begins, and I am my normal, skinny self again when 10th grade rolls around.

(Reading the preceding paragraph again I realize that my sudden weight-gain was not exactly “inexplicable.” In my 8th grade year, I was tormented, daily, on the bus ride home by a senior high school with the last name — I am not, as Anna Russell used to say, making this up — Raper. Being weak, and passive, and uncertain, and frightened, I took the abuse, silently. One afternoon as I was walking up the aisle to the exit, young Mr. Raper grabbed me by the shoulders and slammed me, hard, against the side of the bus. I ran home where, coincidentally, Michael was waiting. As I was telling my mother what happened I suddenly burst into tears. All the silent rage and humiliation of a year’s worth of constant bullying came to a head in that moment, I think. In any case, I vowed I would never ride that bus again. And I never did. In the mornings my parents would drop me at the halfway point on their way to work and I walked the rest of the way. In the afternoons, I walked the entire way. Although the distance was only slightly over a mile, the twice-daily walk (in all weathers and conditions) must have made me ravenous. From the time I arrived home until my parents came home and dinner was prepared, I ate pretty much constantly. Anything. Cereal, cookies, apples, bananas, glasses of milk with thick spoonsful of honey or Nestle’s chocolate. Whatever was available. While I almost certainly walked off much of that the following day… well… no wonder I had to get my clothes in Husky.)

During the summer following our junior year, I begin working for the food shop Michael’s father owns at the largest mall in Raleigh. One evening Michael asks me to stay the night with him, as we are expected, early the next morning, to get to the airport to pick up a package. I have never before slept in the same bed with anyone outside my immediate family, and then not since childhood. We’re wearing our briefs and nothing else, and as the night goes on I am acutely aware of Michael’s body beside mine. The next day I tell him that lying beside him gave me an erection.

The revelation makes Michael distinctly uncomfortable, but I press him on it, because my feelings are raw and new, perplexing and, to me, somewhat incomprehensible. Finally, a day or two later, he reveals himself to me but — typically of Michael — in a manner so ambiguous I’m as puzzled as I was before, if not more so; my naiveté about sex is as profound at 17 as it was at 12. Finally, at my urging, he becomes more explicit, telling me about his previous emotional and sexual attachments, which included both that mutual friend from sixth grade and, later, while I was exiled to the other school, a boy I did not like called Tony. A Demascan Road moment for me, in which I suddenly realize not only that I am gay but that he is as well, and that I love him in a way far different from the brotherly love our friendship has previously represented. The next few months are as rocky as any I’d known. For some reason — an uncomfortable awareness of feelings he doesn’t reciprocate? concern that he will be “tainted” by association? — Michael repeatedly discounts my identifying myself as gay when I say I am.

Two observations, by others, occur to me as distinctly applicable. In his memoir Palimpsest, Gore Vidal notes of the perfect complimentariety of his boyhood love affair with Jimmy Trimble, “Everything I wasn’t he was, and everything he wasn’t, I was.” It was a phrase that seemed to leap off the page when I read it, placing Michael’s and my relationship in broad relief. The second is Stephen Sondheim’s encomium for his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein: “If he’d been a geologist, I would have become a geologist; I just wanted to be what he was.” When Michael converted to Catholicism at 16, I naturally followed suit. To paraphrase Sondheim, if Michael had converted to Judaism, I would have converted to Judaism. I just wanted to be what he was.

It is this new, self-imposed Catholic identity that drives the wedge between us at the last — that, and Michael’s own intense, warring guilt at being unable to reconcile his sexuality with his chosen religion. Through that autumn, as I struggle with both my Catechism and my increasingly obsessive feelings of love, my 15 year old’s depression recurs, and deepens, made all the more unbearable by Michael’s chiding of me for both; he sees what I now recognize as a major depressive episode as “brooding.” Prideful. A sin.

The split arrives courtesy of a two separate incidents that feed Michael’s own growing discontent.

The first occurs in the wee hours of a bitter January morning, just after my birthday. We have been to a late show, in Raleigh, of Midnight Cowboy (for which, curiously, Michael later blames what happened next; but then, Michael’s reasoning is, was and likely always will be curious.) After the movie, we go back to Michael’s home. His parents have converted one area of the downstairs den (previously the basement) into a bedroom, giving Michael more or less free access through an outside door. We have recently purchased a nickel bag of pot from my friend and theatre colleague Amy, which Michael now augments with Lowenbrau and vodka. (The vodka is for him; I could not, and still cannot, bear the taste of hard liquor, neat.) When we are both good and juiced, he suggests we go to a secluded place in the woods near him home and light up the weed. (Neither of us had ever smoked marijuana.) We stagger down the street in each other’s drunken arms, giggling, and he leads me to his “private spot,” deep in the surrounding woods. A friend has given me a pipe for Christmas and we use it to smoke the pot, passing it back and forth until we are well and truly buzzed, on top of already being blitzed.

Pot, I will discover, generally does two things to me, in succession: Makes me first amorous, then sleepy. Accordingly, I lay with my back to a pine tree and close my eyes. They fly open again when I realize that Michael is on top of me, kissing my lips. We roll together on the pine straw-strewn forest floor, somehow managing to remove our clothing in the process. (This is in January, please remember.) He lies on top of me and we belly-rub until we both ejaculate. What should be the joyous consummation of my fondest wish is irreparably sullied in one, careless moment, as Michael, in the throes of erotic passion, calls me Tony.

“It’s Scott, Michael,” is my feeble response.

(Years later, when I see From Here to Eternity, I will identify that moment with the end of the famous beach scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, which most people remember as a steamy romantic interlude but which actually ends with Lancaster’s cruelty driving Kerr away in humiliation.)

When we are both sated and reality, or some form of it, returns, Michael abruptly rises and clothes himself in cold silence. I am as puzzled by his shift in mood as I had originally been elated at our finally coming together. I am also, suddenly, aware of the temperature, and begin to shiver, my teeth chattering all the way home as Michael reluctantly leads me by the hand out of the woods. When we get back to his bedroom he immediately takes a shower as I sit nodding in a chair near the bathroom door. (In his typical, ineluctable manner, he’s just ordered me not to fall asleep, and in my stupor I think there must be some reason I shouldn’t. What do I know from marijuana? Maybe it’s dangerous to drowse after.) When he is finished I remove my contact lenses and we sleep.

When we awake next morning he coolly says he is going to Mass. I say I don’t feel up to it — I’m bleary, cotton-mouthed and, essentially, still drunk. He gives me a stony look and observes that I ought to go. I decline, and he drives me home. It is perhaps 7.00 in the morning. Before getting out of the car I ask him if he’ll call me later.

“Maybe,” is all he can manage.

My ecstasy has long since passed, but his coldness remains. When he does speak to me again that afternoon, he informs me in no uncertain terms that what has happened between us will not reoccur.

The second major incident begins with the brief memoir that is our first Psychology class assignment of the new semester. Mine is as unguarded as Michael’s is slippery, and our teacher, Miss Watkins, calls me into her office to discuss the paper, revealing that she’s already talked to Michael about the disparity between truth and fiction in his own. Since she is a very special woman, one of our two most beloved Senior year teachers, this intrusion bothers me far less than perhaps it might, or should, have. But the upshot is that Michael, with his usual flair for the over-dramatic, informs me coldly that I have brought about “a schism wider than the Reformation.” We are no longer friends. Period.

Sometime in the spring, Michael wins a current-events essay contest whose first prize is a trip to the U.N. At the time of his visit I am busily engaged as stage manager for the spring musical. (The advent of which he uses as an excuse to get rid of my presence in his father’s store.) I am taken aback one afternoon late in the spring when he appears at the stage door and asks to see me. We go into the drama director’s office and he tells me how, while in New York, he has seen A Chorus Line on Broadway and has been so moved by the gay dancer Paul’s monologue it has forced him to confront the truth about himself. He apologizes for his behavior, we embrace, and the sides of the “schism” blend into the earth once more.

Sex and love are two separate things with Michael — at least where I am concerned. While he loves me, he is never in love with me. The distinction — which to his credit he never conceals —allows him to engage in sex with me, off and on, for the next two years. But it leaves me as unrequited, as uncertain of myself, and as self-conscious of what I sere as my physical imperfections as I had been that cold January morning.

Michael and I are on-again/off-again for some time — and always at his whim. I know now (and I knew then) that I permit his sexual usury. But my self-regard is so low, and my love for him so high, I follow whenever he beckons. Something in me, aside from simple biological need on his part, must be at work, but more than once he tells me he is simply not physically attracted to me. This instills, quite naturally a belief in myself that I am irredeemably unattractive. Now, when I see photos of the boy who was me at 18, 19, 20 I think, What a cute kid. Which thought is usually followed by, Why did no one ever tell him that?

Alas, when I look into a mirror now I see — as I did then — only flaws, with, now, an addition: The cruel gravity of middle age.

There is more to the story, but it’s less important than the primal fact of it. Although he could be, not deliberately but instinctively cruel, and damaging to my fragile ego, and while his body excited me (especially clothed, which doubtless makes little sense; but to me, Michael’s bubble-like ass never looked better, or more alluring, than when encased in tight corduroy) what I loved most about Michael was that I had more fun with him than with anyone else. He could be marvelously silly, in an impromptu fashion that did not eschew the ridiculous pleasures of slapstick — seeming to crash head-first against the nearest wall was a particular delight for him. It was this as much as anything that led me to cast him in my first play, which was performed at the senior high that year. He was terrible. He was certainly no actor; whatever divine inspiration overtook him in his life off the stage he simply could not channel in performance.

In Palimpsest, Vidal also maintains, apropos his young self and Jimmy, that one is lucky ever to find love, and that having found it once, one should not expect no encore.

I was never in love before I fell for Michael, and I don’t know that I will ever again experience such staggering depth of feeling for anyone else. At least, I haven’t so far. I realize of course that adolescence expands the contours of everything it touches. Love is bigger, fuller, more passionate, more intense — and when it goes awry, more devastating — at 18 than it can ever be again, especially when that love is one’s first.

Interestingly, I have no photographs of Michael. The only one I ever took — of him sleeping in my bed, naked under the sheets — did not come out when I took the film in to be developed. That’s weirdly appropriate, I think — the perfect metaphor for phantom desire.

The author. May, 1979.

The author. May, 1979.

Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross

*I misspoke. My first encounter with “the mean reds,” as Capote called it, was when I broke my wrist at age 6 or 7.

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Homoeroticism, Personal Essay

Masculinities

MAS·CU·LIN·I·TY

maskyə linitē noun 1. possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men. “a need for men to prove their masculinity through domination over women”

synonyms: virility, manliness, maleness, machismo, vigor, strength, muscularity, ruggedness, robustness; testosterone

[Note: There is no second definition, as far as Google is concerned.]

mas·cu·lin·i·ty

n. pl. mas·cu·lin·i·ties 1. The quality or condition of being masculine. 2. Something traditionally considered to be characteristic of a male. [The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition 2000. Updated in 2009.]

“Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts, there are different men, who act in different ways.” — Toddy (Robert Preston) in Victor/Victoria, 1982.

Victor Victoria - Toddy and Victoria

By Scott Ross

Although my basic personality is neither notably effeminate nor excessively “manly,” I have long been bothered by traditional notions of what constitutes masculinity. At base (so to speak) it seems to me that being masculine means having male genitalia. Anything else we say is just tradition — tradition created, I should add, by men — and stereotype.

A male can be sexy and alluring in any number of forms, and with any of a myriad of behavioral characteristics. There are big slabs of hairy, over-fed beef to whom I would not give the time of day, and little wispy bois who do everything but fly on fairy’s wings I want to take into my arms and have my way with as long, and as often, as they’ll let me. I’ve been drawn to humpy guys with developed chests and raspy voices, and to skinny, femme-y twinks the arcs of whose contours, from the neck to the hips, for all intents and purposes describe a straight line. There are bois with long, limpid hair who leave me weak at the knees, and guys with crew-cuts who almost make me want to bottom.

What makes me uneasy is the hyper-masculine — the strut and attitude that says, This is how a man looks, and acts, faggot. Fun for fantasy and role-play, perhaps, but in real-life, machismo is a crashing boor. And a pose, as much as the drag-queen who dolls himself up to look like Cher except that in her case, she’s playing out a conscious, gender-kidding performance — and she knows it, and wants you to share it, and enjoy it for what it is. In the case of the uber-male, what I see, aside from arrogance and condescension, is barely concealed horror, even if it’s far from conscious.

Such men can, if they are endowed with enough good looks and curves in the right places, attract plenty of erotic attention, but they’re as phony as a queer dollar-bill. It’s why so many heterosexual men are such eye-rolling bores — and boors: They live in terror of being thought (gasp!) feminine, are convinced every gay man who as much as crosses their paths is secretly slathering at their image, and dwell in perpetual terror of the erotic possibilities of their anuses. Why does it take so much persuasion by bright, open-minded women, to get their men to even consider an anal toy or a forefinger up their butts? “If I like it, I’ll be gay! I’ll be (ptttuuiii!) a woman!”

No, boys. Most of us fags don’t want to be women… although we may admire many women, and be comfortable integrating our twin-spirit gender identities. We like our cocks and our balls too much to lose them, thanks all the same. We like what they do, and what can be done with them. And it will perhaps further shock you to know that some of us — maybe a whole lot of us — don’t like being penetrated. We’re tops, not because we feel superior to bottoms, or because we’re terrified of being thought less than utterly perfectly wonderfully masculine, but because we’re physically uncomfortable with a penis in our rectums. Period. And, trust me, we’re not walking around with endless erections over your splendors. Get over yourselves.

And while we’re at it, narrow-minded queers can get over themselves too. No one says we have to be, or to look, or to behave, one way or another or another, unless we’re comfortable doing or being or behaving so. I don’t swish and I’m not sure I could camp if my life depended on it. I don’t say that with any pride, or implicit contempt for those who can, and do. It’s just a fact of me. If the fact of you is that you’re a little nelly, or even very nelly, so be it; I’m old enough to have lived through that awful “clone look,” and style, of the late 1970s and early ‘80s. It was a sexless, because over-sexed, bore, and it more or less permanently turned me off of facial hair. Especially mustaches.

My libido embraces all kinds and types of gay (and a few straight) guys. Some are athletic and toned, some are willowy and supple. Some look as though they’d fuck you until you could barely move, and some suggest by their looks and attitudes that they’d speak with pronounced lisps and wave their wrists around more than Bette Davis on a bad day. I love them either way. I love them in every way.

Meanwhile, I’ll let Blake Edwards’ Toddy have the last word…

Toddy: Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts, there are different men, who act in different ways.

Victoria: I mean, as opposed to the way women act.

Toddy: I am personally acquainted with at least a dozen men who act exactly like women… and vice versa.

Victoria: But there are some things that are naturally masculine.

Toddy: Name one.

Victoria: Peeing standing up.

Toddy: There’s absolutely no rule that says a man can’t sit down.

Victoria: Men have Adam’s apples.

Toddy: So do some women.

Victoria: Name one.

Toddy: Nana Lanoux.

Victoria: Nana Lanoux? Who’s she?

Toddy: The last woman I slept with.

Victoria: When was that?

Toddy: The night before the morning I decided to become a homosexual!

Victoria: Did Miss Lanoux have a big Adam’s apple?

Toddy: Like — a — coconut!

— From the Victor/Victoria screenplay by Blake Edwards

All other text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Gay History, Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism, Personal Essay

I didn’t buy it for the articles: After Dark magazine, ca. 1978-79

By Scott Ross

Actually, the articles on theatre, movies and literature were often quite good. But I discovered After Dark magazine, at 17, because my best friend, with whom I was desperately in love, turned me on to it. (He also, through my intense attraction to him, helped me codify what I’d been feeling about other boys for so long. It was not a self-revelation he relished, but that’s another story, as they say, for another time.)

Michael and I bought our copies of After Dark at the newsstand (anyone remember those?) across from the North Carolina State University campus, and compared our reactions to the (many) photos of hot young guys in various states of undress. Michael liked the athletic ones; I preferred the boyish boys. I still do.

After Dark June 1978 5396949394_cfd2d16942

The June 1978 issue featured  piece on Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, which I was lucky enough to see a year and a half later, on my first trip to New York. Anne Reinking was out that matinee, as was her wont. But there were plenty of great dances to watch, and gorgeous dancers. Especially Timothy Scott. Who would, alas, be dead 9 years later.

Although After Dark was not specially gay — it evolved, curiously enough, from Ballroom Dance magazine(!) — each issue was chockful of homoerotic photos, and its subtitle, The Magazine of Entertainment, certainly made it of interest to a gay male audience. Some have said that the emergence of an unfettered gay press (The Advocate, Christopher Street) made After Dark, begun in 1968, a victim of its own times, and timidity. But there was plenty to recommend it to teenage gay boys like Michael and me. Where else, at our age, could we have gotten our sweaty hands on a magazine with so many sexy, gorgeous (and undressed) young men in it? After Dark, like my well-thumbed paperback copies of The Front RunnerThe City and the Pillar and Myra Breckenridge, fueled my 17-year old’s masturbatory fantasies quite nicely, thank you.

Among my favorite After Dark images, which still reside in a clip folder in my filing cabinet:

Bluth-Toby4

Accompanying an interview with “Toby” Bluth (brother of the animator Don) was this beautiful sketch. Three or four years later I would be in love with another young man, allegedly straight, who looked very much like Toby’s sexy boy, right down to the long blond mane.

David Vance - Innocence

This ad for David Vance’s lithographs ran in issue after issue. I wanted this boy badly at 17.

Peter Reed SF's Pacific Ballet principal Duncan IMG

Kenn Duncan’s photos of divas and beautiful young men appeared often. Above, Peter Reed, principal dancer with San Francisco’s Pacific Ballet.

John Meehan American Ballet principal Duncan IMG_0003

Kenn Duncan’s incredibly erotic portrait of American Ballet principal dancer John Meehan was an instant turn-on for me. I used his magnificent ass for fantasy fodder more times over the years than I can count.

Duncan dancer IMG

A Kenn Duncan portrait of another principal dancer of the period. I’ve lost the caption, so I don’t know who he is, or with which company he danced. But his laughing face, and the position in which Duncan photographed him, so indicative of how I wanted to find this boy in my bedroom, revved my adolescent engine into overdrive.

There’s a great deal to be said for openness, in life, in art and in glossy magazines; I wouldn’t go back to those days of fumbling subterfuge for anything. And yet, After Dark, for all of its reticence, was the right publication at the right moment for a generation trembling on the cusp of full sexual integration. It served its purpose. It certainly provided a safe erotic outlet for this anxious adolescent. However coy it may have been, it holds a special place in my heart for that.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Homoeroticism, Personal Essay

Disturbance in the Force: My adolescent crush on Mark Hamill

By Scott Ross

For a 17 year-old slowly coming to terms with his sexuality, Mark Hamill’s presence on screen in Star Wars provided some rather sweet, projected puppy-love.

Hamill’s appeal came via a mix of elements: His strong, dimpled chin contrasted with his boyish cuteness and short stature (the latter always a strong attraction for me, as was his slight overbite.) In his mid-20s, as he was when Star Wars was filmed, Hamill could still pass nicely for a young man in his late adolescence. The chief quality of his performance in the movie is a brash, youthfully naive enthusiasm, but there is a buried gravitas in his acting that made him exceptionally effective as Luke Skywalker yet lent him a vulnerability that made you want to take him in your arms and comfort him. (Luke goes through a lot of loss in two hours’ screen time.)

There are moments in the movie, such as the one below, during the binary sunset on Tatooine in which Luke’s face reveals his longing for another life, where George Lucas presents Hamill almost as a fetishized object of breathtaking beauty.

Hamill’s face held a classical quality. The nose, in that pre-auto accident period, was acqualine, the lips sensual, the cheekbones chiseled. The mop of fine, but thick, sandy hair completed the image.

In his boy-next-door way, Hamill projected strong erotic/romantic appeal to a love-starved teenage boy wrestling with what he had long suspected about himself but was only now beginning to acknowledge, accept and, ultimately, embrace. He was surprisingly sexy.

After the accident (January, 1976 – well before Star Wars was released) the nose was blunter, a bit pug-like. And, of course, Hamill’s face was aging, as it naturally would during the period of years between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. But the eyes were still the same, bright and inviting and remarkably deep.

During his preparation for the rigors of Empire, Hamill’s physique filled out nicely. He was no Swarzenegger, thank heaven, but his upper body was now more pleasantly muscular.

One of the strongest memories Hamill held for me in Empire, and which I am more than a little astonished I cannot find a good photo to represent in this age of seemingly endless cyber-sexuality, was how perfectly his small but arousingly well-shaped bottom fit into those tight trousers he wore on Degobah while training with Yoda. Oh, well. The on-set picture below will have to suffice. It gives a reasonably good representation of Hamill’s pert, curved gluteas maximus.

At a romantic 17, Hamill’s Luke was a boy I just wanted to hold; at a hornier 19, he had become a young man I wanted… for other things.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Homoeroticism, Personal Essay

Another early crush: Christopher Knight

By Scott Ross

The teenage girls all went for Barry Williams. But for a nascent if un- (or perhaps pre-?) conscious gay-boy, Chris Knight was my eye-candy of choice. Maybe it was the cute nose, or the sweet, toothy smile — I always was a sucker for a slight overbite — but around the time I was a sexually confused 14 or 15, after-school re-runs gave me a chance to sigh, however silently, over Chris while awaiting the appearance, in sitcom-land, of my One True Crush… David Cassidy.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism

How to Win Boys: Unintentional(?) homoeroticism

You make them like you by fishing? Or do you fish FOR them?

Where was this book when I was a naive teenager?

“Not HERE, Fred! Wait ’til we get back to the dorm! Geez!” (And on the cover of a magazine called “Straight,” no less!)

Google images for Bowery Billy some time; he gets tied up a LOT.

I wouldn’t dare comment on this.

Tattoo bondage? Oh, those Hardys!

The Hardy’s faces suggest they’ve heard a great deal about that old queen in the basement…

Just LOOK at all those flagrant, queerie queers!

Hey, kids: The Hardy Boys called. Meet them where the clock ticks.

For YOUR little fag-in-training.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism

Hidden connections? Or, destroying Superman with a vibrator

“A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one.” — Heraclitus of Ephesus

By Scott Ross

Somewhere in Gerald Jones’ pop history Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Jack Kirby admits that as an adolescent in the 1930s he masturbated to the homoerotic imagery in superhero comics. Since I’ve long suspected there is an unacknowledged connection between the hyper-masculine anatomy of the Marvel/DC universes and rabid fan-boy mentality — made explicit by Michael Chabon in The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay — Kirby’s statement (I don’t have Men of Tomorrow at hand, so I can’t quote him verbatim) did not surprise me, although it’s the only such confession by a heterosexual member of the comics fraternity I’ve encountered.

The young Jack Kirby with fellow comic mavens.

Alan Moore, an exception to every rule, frequently attacks homophobia. In addition, his The Mirror of Love consists of an epic poem on same-sex romance, and there are positive gay characterizations in his superb Top Ten series. Participating in a panel on homosexuality in comics (the first part of four segments is at http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&old=1&id=11165) Moore noted, “I was never tempted to sort of suggest a gay relationship between Batman and Robin. I mean, come on, that has been the subject of infantile jokes, many of which I laughed at when I was at school. It’s not really saying anything interesting or important. It’s an attempt to shock and outrage, and it’s very middle class.”

Of course, we’re living in a very different world from the one Stan Lee and his compatriots grew up in and, later, worked through. It was the era of that infamous charlatan Frederick Wertham (M.D.) whose specious, hysterical and largely fabricated attack on the comic book, Seduction of the Innocent, led to Congressional hearings and the formation of the Comics Code Authority, the “funny book” equivalent of the equally purblind and woebegone Motion Picture Production Code (and its hypocritical offshoot, the MPAA Ratings Board.) Aside from “openly gay” artists like Howard Cruse (does anyone ever say “openly straight”?) or the, essentially one-joke, re-imagining of The Rawhide Kid in 2003, and the gay-bashed Terry Berg in Green Lantern, there is the celebrated (and now “gay-married”) Kevin Keller of the Archie comics.

Since I’m not by any means a superhero expert — my comics of choice as a child were of the “funny animal” variety (Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Looney Toons characters. Terrytoons, the Harvey line and, later, those strange Charlton Comics) — I’m sure there are other, and better, examples. The point is that subterfuge no longer seems necessary, or desirable. Especially, perhaps, for a more knowing, ironic, audience, one that sees what Moore calls the “infantile” in anything remotely double-edged, intentional or not.

Which brings us to the nub, as it were: The many, and often jaw-dropping, period comic book howlers that increasingly show up on the ‘net. Even if we grant that changes in slang and other verbal nomenclature can alter the meaning of much — the very word “gay” had, to the wider culture, a much different meaning in the West even as recently as 40 years ago — the fact that these allegedly unintentional double entendres were perpetrated by adult men, who had to have known what they were doing, and writing, makes me question just how “innocent” these “boners” are.

No other comic book enjoys (if that’s the word) a greater reputation as a sexual eye-raiser than Batman. Panel from the story “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors.”

Bruce Wayne and his “ward” Dick Grayson. (What ABOUT them?)

Bruce and Dick at home.

Only a few seconds? Where’s the fun in that?

Just catching a few moon-rays. In the nude. Maybe Wertham was on to something after all.

The 1960s television incarnation of “Batman” included one of these suggestive images in every episode.

“What? Don’t ALL adoptive father-figures sleep in adjacent twin-beds with their wards?”

That Robin. Always going for the seat of the problem.

(Why, as they used to ask in Esquire’s Dubious Achievement photos, is this man laughing?)

Well, THAT’S a novel approach, I guess.

Moose clearly has some ideas about that.

Spanking is a recurrent theme in comics of the pre-modern age.

That has got to be SOME vibrator!

So, is Superman arriving… or leaving? And was he indeed faster than a speeding bullet? (The original dialogue balloons have been removed from this facsimile for maximum salaciousness… though not by me.)

How many inappropriate words and images can you cram into one cover, anyway? (And just when did Jughead have a son? And by whom?)

You can ask me, if you like.

A REALLY long time…

Does Robin know?

Jimmy Olsen takes a walk on the wild side.

Kid Flash and Superboy enjoy… well, modesty forbids. (And is it just me, or do those vertical lines recall a men’s room stall? It’s just me, huh?)

Which of his adventures is that rope a souvenir of?

I don’t know who Toro and Torch are, but that double-bed is a definitive improvement over Batman and Robin’s twins.

Cruising, Smallville style.

What the HELL???

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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