Tag Archives: lgbt history

A Cannibalistic Dissection Of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

28 Oct Rocky Horror Picture Show

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A week before the writing of this, FOX aired a remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, subtitled Let’s Do The Time Warp Again. I’m not averse to the idea of seeing it, but I’m not going to go out of my way either. Not for any particular reason politically, just simply because the original is so clearly and deeply rooted to a particular time period it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to update it. I’ll have more on that in a moment.

The main (and only) thing I need to know about the remake is that it showcased front and center a black trans woman, on the same channel FOX News is broadcast from, during a time when the right wing has dedicated themselves to a war against trans bodies. Regardless of any other merits or flaws in the project, I still find that deliciously subversive in a way the original never dared.

If you were hoping for more talk about the remake, I do apologize. There are plenty of other people talking about it, I swear. I’m not writing yet another thinkpiece about how problematic or transphobic or whatever the movie is. Plenty of other folks covering that ground. I’m not interested in RHPS creator Richard O’Brien’s bizarre and absurd notion that he can decide how much of a woman he is but nobody else can. Just yet another tired old has-been queen desperate for attention and latching onto trendy notions of “edginess” and “anti-political-correctness” as far as I’m concerned. The fact that he hates the remake makes me want to enjoy it out of spite tho.

What will I be talking about then?

Well lets start by talking about the Hays Code (and later rating systems) and the role of pulp sci-fi on queerness. Stories of alternate sexualities and gender explorations were all over the place in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but due to publisher restrictions had to be formatted in a certain way. It was honestly surprising how far they were capable of going, as long as they didn’t directly show intimacy and all queer characters were punished at the end for their transgression from conservative mores. Here’s a sex-change sci-fi story from a 1953 comic book that covers the bases pretty well, with an exception I will elaborate on in a moment.

Rocky Horror Picture show even opens with the song “Science Fiction/Double Feature” which waxes nostalgic about shiny underwear and phallic Triffids, name-checking classic titles and names from films that would have been staples of a sci-fi obsessed 1975 audience’s childhood. Self-aware nods to these tropes echo throughout the film.

Lets line them up and see how the beats play out, shall we? We have aw shucks traditional protagonist(s), an audience insert for voyeuristic heterosexuals or questioning/curious queer folk:

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The protagonists find themselves stranded from the values and culture they took for granted, in a lawless anything goes environment:

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This leads to an awakening where deep, transgressive desires are brought to light and actualized… but at what cost?

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And at the end all transgressions are punished and the moral is driven home that some doors should never be opened:

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The spectre of conservative Americana glares disapprovingly at the dissolution of traditional values throughout the film. Not just figuratively, but directly and literally symbolized by multiple repeated vignettes evoking the sullen stoic gaze of the iconic Grant Wood painting American Gothic (a now campy and frequently satirized artwork that history forgets incited Rural Iowans to send the painter threats of violence).

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However, you will note that there is something missing from this one-to-one comparison between the sex-change comic book and Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is because in sex-change stories, the antagonist is the clothes or the transformation itself. This is as true in Glen Or Glenda in the 1950s as it was in The Danish Girl in 2015. This story has an antagonist with a distinctly more visceral presence, a hyperqueered fantasy to Brokeback their mountains and tempt them away from their traditional lives.

Enter Frank.

Frank is a transgressive nightmare, a culmination of everything feared about the sexual awakenings of the late 1960s/early 1970s. It goes well beyond the crossdressing and sexualization; Frank was meticulously designed to provoke. He literally hunts down, murders and later cannibalistically devours Eddie, a symbol of naive notions of 1950s “safe rebellion”. Eddie’s entrance, to the song “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul“, reflects an entirely different sort of nostalgia filled with sock hops instead of gruesome horror movies. Frank nonchalantly eulogizes Eddies murder by his hand as “a mercy killing! He had a certain naive charm, but no… muscle.”

Indeed.

When Frank displayed a pink triangle on his labcoat, the symbol was still viscerally shocking and radical. The book The Men With The Pink Triangle, documenting homosexual men’s experience in Nazi concentration camps, had only come out a couple years before. The infamous Paragraph 175 of German Law under which those men had been imprisoned was still on the books.

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Frank also dons a Lewis Leathers Aviakit Plainsman biker jacket adorned with badges from the Hell’s Angels and other recognizable biker gangs (including patches with the distinct Nazi Deaths Head and Eagle iconography of the Angels). This wasn’t the “making toy runs for sick kids” Hell’s Angels, this was the “locked Hunter S Thompson in the trunk of a car for several days” Hells Angels. This also presents contrast to Eddie’s sanitized pompadour-and-motorcycle schtick as the corny posturing it was.

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Frank’s fawning over his Frankenstein Atlas, Rocky, was another uncomfortable tribute/unmasking to the underlying homoeroticism in body-building culture, a subtext simultaneously acknowledged yet dismissed within said subculture. With Rocky as the dense and sweetly naive foil to Frank’s sexual innuendo, it’s presented as yet another affront to the values of yesteryear.

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Enabled through Frank’s brazen transgressions, the protagonists find themselves freed from convention to explore their own desires. This is illustrated in the floor show scene where the players vocalize their inner conflicts onstage. Columbia is full of regret and heartbreak, Rocky and Brad have newfound sexual urges that neither can quite figure out, and Janet feels empowered by the whole experience. Shortly afterwards, Riff-Raff and Magenta stage a mutiny to topple Frank as leader. Riff-Raff’s accusation says it all:

Frank-N-Furter, it’s all over
your mission is a failure
your lifestyle’s too extreme

Ironically, after forty years of cultural advance, a film that sought to deconstruct stifling tropes and liberate expectations has for the most part been relegated to yet another formulaic exploitation. It has a historical place, as a love-letter to the queer-coded villains of Hollywood’s golden age, but at this point Frank has joined them. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a fun ritual for voyeuristic straights, closeted drama club queers and assorted connoisseurs of camp and kitsch and likely will be for at long as movie theaters continue to exist. However, the cultural critique is a bit toothless and obvious now, the references collecting dust, and subtext lost under performative rote.

And maybe the ritual is the point now, a sort of mystery cult initiation for average folks looking for an excuse to buy a corset. But I believe an occasional reminder of what it all means couldn’t hurt either.

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Honestly, Who Actually Gives A Damn About Hitler’s Penis? And Why?

22 Feb

hitlerspenis1Above, faked footage of “Hitler’s Jig

So, like, no offence but Hitler is a piece of shit. Cool, we got that out of the way.

He occupies a particular place in history as a reviled and defeated political force, as well as the public face to unfathomably horrible human atrocity. There is an instinct when discussing him to relegate his humanity to some sort of “othered” status. “Normal” people would be incapable of what he has done, people say, somehow missing the irony of assigning aberration to a political regime devoted to exterminating aberration. More curious, however, is how folks choose to relegate Hitler’s otherness.

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The current lascivious sexualized detail is his life folks are gleefully poring over is an atypical urethra formation that affects as many as 1 in every 250 folks born with penises, and an undescended testicle (a commonly associated malady). But why in the world should that matter? The frequent assertion is that it “could explain things”, but what exactly?

Gratuitous exposes assigning various sexual deviancies to Hitler gloss over the devastation his reign had on homosexual and gender-non-conforming people. 100, 000 gay men were arrested during the Nazi Regime, 50,000 of which were jailed and up to 15000 may have died in concentration camps. Records of transgender folks involved in these arrests is difficult to ascertain because they were lumped in with homosexuals, but it was enough to be contemporarily remarked upon. Alongside human cost, the Nazi Regime also destroyed the records of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute For Sexual Science, annihilating invaluable decades of compassionate scientific research and political works on homosexuality, gender-non-conformity and transsexual surgery.

It’s one (fairly complicated and not particularly admirable, tbh) thing to attempt to remove Hitler’s humanity rhetorically, it’s another to disdainfully invite others into the crossfire who suffered under him as well. One would think that after meditating on the man’s horrible quest for ideological, racial and sexual purity through terror, one may choose not to engage in similar demonization of historically marginalized individuals.

The Effeminist Manifesto Is A Forty Year Old Pile Of WTF.

24 Jan

In preparation for my cross-country move from Austin to Portland during the summer of 2013, I found myself begrudgingly paring down what was previously my impressive (if I must say so myself) personal library of counter-cultural literature and publications. Part of that daunting task included rooting through the stuff that was not worth salvaging or selling (usually because of damage sustained from previous moves) and tearing out articles of interest to revisit.

While digging through an old Whole Earth Catalog (I think) from the early 70s I noticed this gay culture manifesto that included the word “f*ggot” like 50 times.

What the shit is this? I thought to myself. A quick scan showed it to be a call to arms for effeminate men to reject the masculinism in gay culture. “Fuck. Yes” I thought to myself and put it in the keep pile. I chatted up this discovery with my partner at the time, another trans woman who I’d met on a fetish site, without having any idea of the irony. No joke, I even think we were going out to a drag show that night.

What I’d stumbled across was the fierce anti-trans, anti-BDSM, anti-androgeny, anti camp and gay culture Effeminist Manifesto.

Founded by Steven F Dansky, John Knoebel, and Kenneth Pitchford (husband of old-school proto-TERF Robin Morgan), The Effeminist Movement was a short lived, tightly-knit and controversial group mostly centered around their publication project Double F. The movement, in their own words, “did not seek to the legalization of f*ggotry, quotas or civil rights for f*ggots” but instead spent the majority of their time declaring members of the Gay Liberation movement and other counter-cultural movements “enemies of feminism” and seeking to discredit and slander them. Anyone familiar with a certain branch of radical feminism would immediately recognize these tactics.

Looking over this document, I find myself torn because when I read things like:

F*ggots and all effeminate men are oppressed by the patriarchy’s systematic enforcement of masculinist standards , whether these standards are expressed as physical, mental, emotional or sexual stereotypes of what is desirable in a man.

…This means rejecting of objectification of people based on such things as [physical or facial features], genitals, ethnicity or race, physical or mental handicap or lifestyle…

…Even as we learn to affirm in ourselves the cooperative impulse and to admire in each other what is tender and gentle, what is aesthetic, considerate, affectionate, lyrical, sweet…

I’m like “this is awesome, these are things that really need to be put out there; wish the other 85% of this thing wasn’t crap”. The rest being this campaigning of a sort of compulsory celibacy akin to political lesbianism, but for gay dudes, rejection and dismantling of gay culture altogether, and this realization of the innateness of maleness and femaleness that is “outside of gender”. I have to admit I find myself scratching my head over that last one.

It’s a pretty common argument in that branch of radical feminism, this whole baffling idea that gender is wrong but people should still be categorized by estimated reproductive role and viability. I say tomato, you say transgender identity is a form of cultural appropriation. *shrug*

I really wish there was a situation where all possibility of open, frank discussion of the navigation of gender by people with a lifetime of gender-non-conforming history hadn’t already been hijacked rhetorically by strict binary narratives we have to repack our lives into in order to express ourselves in order to be understood.

Really tho, it’s not too far off from the complications of explaining the social navigation of monogamous bisexuality, something else I’m all too familiar with.

I will say this tho, I kinda wanna reclaim Eonism, which is the term they use in this when talking about trans folks. Even though I’m well aware of the etymology, it still also sounds cybernetic. So any anti-trans jerks reading this should feel free to call me that all you like.

Schematic Of An Electronic Gay Aversion Therapy Device, 1971.

2 May

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I can’t really find much background for this specific image (that I found in this Buzzfeed article), but I found it interesting. If it’s hard to make out the labels, it appears to be a control unit running a pair of slide projectors (one full of images of naked men, the other full of images of naked women) and what looks like a randomizing engine to decide if electric shocks would be applied to either the left or right leg (presumably to keep the subject unprepared). It’s kinda eerie.

BONUS:

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This is an letter sent by notoriously homophobic LAPD chief Edward Davis in response to being invited to Gay Pride Week in 1975, where he responds that he’d rather advocate for “Gay Conversion Week”.

via Letters Of Note.

Them Lavender Mafia Conspiracy Blues: The Threat Of “Homintern” Infiltration. Giggity.

29 Apr

So, in-between endlessly laughing about preachy nimrods wringing their hands about the threat of “cultural marxism”* regarding LGBT rights, I came across a term I hadn’t seen before: Homintern.

A play on words similar to the abbreviation Comintern, it was a reference to an imagined elite class of gay artists that exerted control and influence over popular culture, and something something communism because why not. It was a term used frequently in the National Review all through the 1950s and 1960s because of course it was. William F Buckley warned against their machinations on his television show Firing Line.

Behind it all is this conflation of queerness, cultural marginalization, and artistic credibility which is already hard enough to deconstruct anyway if it wasn’t used so patronizingly. And yeah, I’m aware that it likely started as a campy joke in the first place, but it’s not like it’s the first or even last time jokes made by a marginalized culture regarding their interaction with the privileged culture were turned against them.

*PROTIP: If you use the phrase “cutural marxism” unironically, I automatically lump you in on an intellectual level with the people that think Onion articles are real. Same with the term “misandry”.