Straight to Hell is the storied chapbook/zine, active in the 1980s, that reprinted true-life homosexualist experiences. Its editor, Boyd McDonald, was a cautionary tale yet a model for a legitimately alternative way of life. He lived in what was essentially a fleabag boarding house, on a budget of next to nothing, for years if not decades. Yet McDonald was well known and widely read in high places and low places, which indeed was a theme of his, as we shall see.

Oliver Sacks should have read Straight to Hell

While one can find a few mostly legitimate online reproductions of stories submitted, I own not quite enough actual back issues of Straight to Hell. They are perfect bedside reading for any eldergay who thinks bodies are real and so is gay. Though in fact McDonald objected to “gay” as it was commonly expressed, and departed from house style at one point to publish an infamous editorial (Nº 48), complete with cartoon, denouncing the “Wax Fruit.” He and I certainly would have agreed that nothing is worse than a gay intellectual with a big dick.

Now we have Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to Oldies on TV, reprinted by the preposterously named Semiotext(e) from the 1985 original. This thing was half-assedly OCRed, with errors all over the place (“annpits” for armpits, “peekers” for peckers), and contains an actual design credit (Hedi El Khoulti) despite looking like a Word for Windows printout in Adobe Garamond with no ligatures.

Rather in the vein of Mr. CRISP, who spent a lifetime in the “forgetting chamber” and would write about same for Christopher Street, McDonald would watch old movies as reruns on a black-and-white TV and bang something out on a typewriter for that same magazine. Both cinéastes understood that a star’s role is to be larger than life, unattainable, and in no respect a mere actor (or, worse, an “actress”). McDonald further posits that the function of cinema is to depict women. (The role of the actress is to look pretty.) Men, being pieces of meat (“eating stuff”), are strictly optional, and have value to Boyd only insofar as his imagination of their rods and bungholes took him.

(I return again to Locke, which does not necessarily even constitute cinema and shatters paradigms left, right, and centre through its value proposition: Watching Tom Hardy drive a car for an hour and a half.)

  • p. 19: Introduction by William E. Jones, who has actually written a book about Boyd McDonald that I cannot wait to read.

    Later, the Production Code and the assumptions behind it defined the targets of Boyd’s satirical writing, whether the subject was a film or not. Especially important to him were two related effects of the restrictions on popular cinema: First, the homosexual was obliged to construct a life for himself without the aid of self-affirming images; and second, the benighted majority was lulled into a complacency untroubled by any thoughts about the homosexual.

  • p. 20 (McDonald):

    Motion pictures are for people who like to watch women; the men in pictures, as Bette Davis and Kael herself have said, are not men. There’s better stuff on the streets, any street; the streets are my cinema, the male whores my Brandos of the boulevard. The only time I see on the streets men like those who appear in pictures… is when by coïncidence I pass, just as it is letting out, a dancing school.

  • p. 29 (Jones):

    All of the women Boyd admired were adept at delivering a wisecrack, and this ability, learned from countless hours of movie-viewing, found its way into his writing and conversation. He did not want to be Barbara Stanwyck, but he aspired to the contemptuous way she treated men, who were, after all, only sex objects. […]

    This is functionally identical to Daniel Harris’s analysis in The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture. (Where is he now?)

    The actresses of the era had to strike a balance between frank sexual interest, which was unacceptable, and complete passivity, which did not hold the attention of spectators. Wisecracks and double entendres enabled women on screen to be less subdued, and they offered a way of rebelling against convention for the homosexual, whose desires could not be openly expressed in private…. Among many… homosexual men in the 20th century, identification with film actresses – their transports of emotion, how they moved and spoke, what they wore – was so profound and complex that few who experienced it were able to analyze or explain the phenomenon to outsiders.

  • p. 55, about Richard Conte:

    Conte… did appear in other pictures as a war hero; hoods and soldiers were his specialties. In thus demonstrating how similar these two occupations are, Hollywood unwittingly told us something. Had Conte portrayed athletes also, his career would have encompassed the three principal non-sexual ways in which American men try to be, or seem, or feel heterosexual, to experience and display heterosexuality.

  • p. 108:

    There were two Elvis Presleys onscreen (and undoubtedly in life). The one is lovable, the other merely desirable… It is a rare type, the sweet heterosexual, the man who doesn’t beat women and children, but obviously genuinely enjoys them. In It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), Elvis is obviously amused by the tot, Ginny Tiu, and in his first scene in his first picture, Love Me Tender, he shows what is widely regarded as the most beautiful, most untheatrical smile ever recorded to film.

    I can’t do those.

    I’ve seen only two comparable portrayals of this rare heterosexual type (rarer in life than on screen)…. My search for this rare type is one reason I escape into old movies. There is no personal reason why I should care what today’s heterosexual men are like, but for the sake of women, I wish their men could be a little less shitty.

    It’s reached the point where I hate to think of the young girls I know growing up and having to deal with “straight” boys and men. A typical one, President Kennedy, demonstrated the horrible irony they’re caught in: He injured himself in the secondary heterosexual activities, football and war, so that his back hurt when he carried out the primary heterosexual act in bed and he wasn’t able to give a full-blast, flat-out fuck. Homosexuals and sluts, because they have enough sex with enough straight males to know that nothing is to be expected of them, are less disappointed in them than are women who want to be nice and have a romance with a nice “straight” man. Such women might as well forget it; I’m sorry. The only thing in this culture capable of awakening a “straight” male’s full love and respect is a football player.

    McDonald also enjoyed dismissing fin-de-siècle Hollywood product, which he didn’t even go to see but made an exception for in the case of All the Right Moves, as “heterosexual training films.”

  • p. 114:

    Like huge stars in general, Russell, Grahame, and Mitchum played themselves rather than bothering with some writer’s or director’s conceit. The three not only do not especially need such things as shooting scripts and directors, it is even an impertinence to assign someone to “direct” them. […]

    Her first meeting with Mitchum in Macao had been prefaced by an even more sensual, but less direct, encounter. Russell, on the lam, needs new nylons, OK? Without any effort, she acquires a pair from a convenient salesman aboard ship, OK? She dons them on deck, deep-sixing the pair she’s wearing (the only incredible detail in the whole picture is that the carefully groomed star is supposedly wearing dirty stockings). They land a deck below on a face that looks made for them (Mitchum’s). It is a stroke of genius, one that shows how fine art can out-porn pornography. The nylons on Mitchum’s face do not seem tasteless; on the contrary, since Russell had established that they needed changing, they were probably tasteful, but not too tasteful, as dirty underpants, had she removed them in a porn pic and dropped them on his face, might have seemed to the queasy.

  • p. 188:

    But at least Burton was a drunk – you have to give him that – while Beatty ate wheat germ. Men who eat wheat germ are bad news.

    Look where it gets me.

    Even with wheat germ he remained pale. He complained about a visit from Collins’ mother, even though it was Collins’ house, and he would characterize a script as “crap,” thus betraying a hopelessly middle-class mind. The upper classes, especially in England, use “shit” for such things as movie scripts, and even the producers have a standard phrase, “piece of shit,” for certain types of pictures.

  • p. 203–4:

    I admire – greatly – both the strippers and the audience. They were directly, honestly, fearlessly, wholesomely, powerfully homosexual. It is a kind of homosexuality I have always enjoyed ever since I came to New York, a kind that neither the prissy queens of the Gay Liberation Movement nor the threat of disease have managed to kill, or even noticeably reduce.

    I often regret these days that I did not, in the days when I was eligible, become a stripper and whore, rather than prostituting my mind. In what I see as a conflict within the gay life between queens and commoners, I take the side of the commoners, and not because it is clearly the winning side, but because it is more attractive. I am drawn to the dancers and their audience more than I am to the queens. Apart from the æsthetics, we know, do we not, who is more intelligent: Men who have sex or queens who represent themselves as being above it. A one-second glance at them shows whether they are above it or just out of it. Homosexuality is the only culture I know of whose queens are middle-class and whose commoners are upper-class as well as lower-class….

    The middle class are not coarse, merely common…. In the long run, the only real dignity and respect come from the simple truth, including truth of sex.

Well, here’s a truth that rocks the world of every negatoid eldergay who lived through AIDS unscathed. Modern medicaments have proven what we didn’t want to tell ourselves all along, namely that raw rods in raw bungholes is real gay sex and what we were stuck doing for 25-odd years definitely isn’t. To accept this also requires acceptance of the chaotic and uncontrollable nature of male sexuality, and for that task a gay intellectual with a big dick is hung like a hamster.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2016.01.18 16:05. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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