Monday, November 24, 2003

Once again it's been almost a month since my last entry, so after I get the usual apology (in which I blame my absence on my ever-hectic Bruce Wayne life) out of the way, it's back to bat-business.

I've been meaning to fill you in on what happened on Halloween night. As you may recall from my last entry, I took my bat-self public to an unprecedented degree this year, not only dressing up to answer the door for trick-or-treaters but constructing an entire front-porch "spookhouse" -- really more of a funhouse, since the emphasis wasn't so much on scaring people as on creating an entertaining environment with a few scary touches. I spent most of the night of the 30th and half of Halloween day building the thing, and what was nicest about that was the opportunity to work outside the house in the bodysuit-and-utility-belt ensemble I usually only wear indoors. Naturally I was careful to avoid the mask and cape during daylight hours -- not out of fear of looking foolish, but because I didn't want any neighborhood kids to see me yet.

The downside of my master plan was that I found myself still out running errands in the afternoon and into the early evening -- the very time when the youngest children would be most likely to arrive on the scene. (In my haste at that late hour, I couldn't find any bags of candy in the nearest store, which led to a major innovation: I bought a whole bunch of cheap art supplies -- crayons, watercolors, balloons, etc -- and gave those out, along with various bat-themed toys -- instead. To my surprise, it went over incredibly well. So allow me to pass along this tip to any of you who are as annoyed as I am by the whole junk-food aspect of trick-or-treating: you can think outside the candy box and not have to worry that your lawn will be covered with toilet paper the next morning. On the other hand, I only gave out one streamer and one box of chalk to one thrilled adolescent before I realized maybe those two items weren't such a good idea for the older testosterone-fueled set.)

When I finally drove up to the house after my shopping expedition, I saw at least 4 groups of kids I wasn't ready for walking up to the door, and I told their parents to stop back by in 15 minutes or so for something worth the wait. Then I ran indoors and scrambled to suit up and put the finishing touches on the installation. (I later heard from a neighbor that the darkened, abandoned porch only heightened the mystique for the visitors who arrived before I did.)

There was a steady stream of trick-or-treaters for the next two and a half hours, and the setup was a smashing success if I do say so myself. Both the kids and their adult chaperones were impressed, and the bully factor was lower than ever. A few of the older boys and girls seemed disappointed that the spookhouse wasn't scary enough, but again that wasn't really my intention. I was mainly trying to recreate the look and feel of the Villain Hideout sets from the TV show, complete with a few captured-bad-guy dummies and references to the standard Rogue's Gallery, and to augment that with a CD of Neil Hefti's soundtrack music. I put bubble wrap on the ground thinking that would spook a few people, but it turned out I was the only person unsettled by it while I was busy moving around. The kids, on the other hand, loved it, and there were at least 4 spontaneous dance parties when groups of them hopped up and down in time to the "da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-BATman" theme song.

That was great (one man's fear is another man's fun), but the high point of the night came for me when a little girl--I'll guess she was 8 or so--ventured up the steps and timidly peered into the plastic-curtained room. I could tell from the way she talked and moved that she was one of those bright nerdy kids not too unlike the kind I had been at her age, and she was clearly terrified of the horrors awaiting her in the primary-color-ed set. "That guy's going to jump up and grab me," she told her dad as she pointed at a black-clad dummy slumped in a chair. "No he's not," said her dad, and I added (in my best reassuring Caped Crusader voice), "I assure you this villain has been subdued; he's harmless." Her father and I promised to protect her in case anything bad happened, but she was already lost in her own fantasy, and begged her dad to hold her hand while she moved in closer to investigate. I could see was taking a huge step in confronting her own fears by facing this one down, and that process was one of the most amazing things I've ever witnessed. After she held her breath and touched the would-be villain enough to realize he wasn't real, she got more and more assertive. "Go poke him," she ordered her dad. "Beat him up! Do it!" Suddenly she was transformed from coward to aggressor, albeit still hiding behind somebody else. Her dad refused to do her dirty work for her, so she was obliged once again to march up to the now presumably inanimate object. This time she was as fierce as Batgirl. I gave her an extra-special goody bag as she and her guardian headed off into the night to face and defeat still more imaginary foes.

After all the kids left, I hung out by myself in the lair and shot a little video footage there. Later still, in the wee hours of the night when all my neighbors were asleep, I moved into the backyard to tape more scenes of outdoor bat-fun. (As I've noted before, Halloween is the one night of the year when such behavior is easily explainable, so I was determined to seize the opportunity.) Rolling around in the grass, leaping and tumbling on the lawn, I was 6 years old all over again -- only now I'm old enough to actually be the grownup character I used to pretend I was, my adult body even older than Adam West's was, my real life more complicated than the ones I used to read about in comics and watch on TV. I'm sure I would have looked crazy to anybody who might have seen me, but in that joyous moment I honestly didn't care.

A good two or three weeks later, there was a knock at the door. My partner answered it. I didn't hear the conversation, but he later told me it was two girls selling Girl Scout cookies. "One of them said we had the scariest house in the neighborhood for Halloween, and she told me all about it." From his paraphrase of her story, I was positive it was the same kid who'd poked the dummy. I'd already felt great about inadvertently helping somebody else confront a fear, but hearing that the experience had stuck with her all this time was even better.

Friday, October 31, 2003

I used to think Halloween belonged to scary people -- not scary in the fun sense, but bullyish kids and drunken adults. I avoided costume parties; anytime I ended up at one, I was the guy with the "Hello My Name Is ---" sticker as his disguise. For the last several years as I've grown more and more comfortable with my shadow self, however, I've come to realize that there is a value in this day of overturned norms, of fears brought to light, of gifts dispensed to children from the neighborhood in exchange for their donning masks and embodying their own dream selves.

Plus -- lest I get all warm and psychobabbly on you -- the days before October 31 are great for buying stuff you might be embarrassed about purchasing any other time of the year, and starting November 1 (if not earlier) you can get most of it half price. In short, it's the fetishist's Christmas.

About six years ago, I got the idea to greet trick-or-treaters dressed as Batman. By this point I'd shared my fascination with the character with my partner and before him with my therapist. It seemed like the next logical step was to go public -- albeit in a completely safe way, on the one day when you can walk down the street wearing pretty much anything short of a dildo without anyone questioning your sanity. So I put on my homemade suit and steeled myself for the first ring of the doorbell.

Now, I know you're expecting me to say that this was a cathartic experience and it cleansed me once and for all of any lingering self-doubt and gave me a chance to offer something of myself to current-day children and let the circle be unbroken and all that shit. And the truth is ... it was okay. Just okay. Some kids thought the outfit was cool, some parents laughed in a knowing way when their offspring responded to me like the real thing-- as if I were a department-store Santa -- and the bullies were just as obnoxious as ever. After the initial fear of looking foolish subsided, it just became sort of routine. I felt mildly embarrassed from time to time, but there's nothing like a cowl to mask your actual expression.

I'm pretty sure I didn't suit up the next Halloween for one reason or another, and from then on it's been a year-to-year, on-again/off-again situation. When I'm tired or have work to do, I don't bother. But this year I felt the inspiration to do something really special, so I gathered together a ton of lights and props and sheets of translucent plastic lying around the house -- lots of the stuff I use during fantasy play, or at least the PG version thereof -- and created a "Supervillains' Hideout" on the front porch, and a batcave entrance in the foyer. The littlest kids with the coolest costumes (including the inevitable junior Batmen and other superheroes) will get special goodie bags with batarangs, glow-in-the-dark bats, and other primo swag, which is also a great way for me to get rid of some of the duplicate toys friends have given me over the years. (The best and worst reason to come out about your sexual tastes to your friends is you end up festooned with thematically related presents for the rest of your life. It's funny and fun and all, but after a while you can only handle so many plastic handcuffs and kitschy cop figurines and bat-bandaids.) Most visitors will get the usual candy, but I really want to steer away from that and toward things like toys if I can get away with it. (My own definistion of a "treat" is pretty broad, but younguns tend to get dogmatic about such matters.)

And the bullies who show up at the door -- the ones who arrive close to 9PM with no costume, looking like they're about to enter college and/or toilet paper your house? I found a big supply of cheap domino masks, and I"m half-seriously thinking of handing those out to the slackers and making them wear them before they get anything at all. You want a treat, you gotta do the trick. I finally did, and what a treat I've ended up with!

Sunday, October 05, 2003

[My first-ever link-free blog entry!]

Holy moly, Batman: almost a month has gone by since my last post, and that one was mainly an apology for not having written in so long. What can I say? I was gonna blame my Bruce Wayne self being so damn busy for so damn long lately, but come to think of it the Bat-self has been pretty booked up, too. Suffice it to say I'm having a great, intense time on many fronts simultaneously, but this particular front--the blog combined with my "Secret Room"--has not seen a lot of action as a result. But they will, they will... I have so much I want to say here, and only a limited amount of time to say it at the moment.

Enough excuses. Time to write about something substantial, like the cosmos. Last week I spent at least three, maybe four days wearing one of my batsuits, morning, noon, and night. When I was home alone, I wore the whole thing--mask, tights, gloves, boots, etc. When I had to venture outside, I removed the more obvious elements but kept the bodysuit on. (Naturally, this meant no showers for several days, and it's a miracle nobody complained out loud about my not-so-fresh aroma.)

I've actually done these marathon costume sessions many times before over the last seven or eight years. There is nothing quite like the super-relaxed feeling of waking up in that costume/uniform, sensing you are one with the cosmos, celebrating that and then getting to work. And when I say "work," I mean both the job of pretending to be Batman and the job of actually being myself. My utility belt used to be filled with toy props, but over the years I've come to replace most of them with more functional items so that I can write, vacuum, do laundry, whatever, as efficiently as possible. In fact, these days it's much easier to accomplish most tasks with the belt on than with it off.

Now, while wearing the outfit from dusk till dawn and beyond is not a new sensation for me, the idea of doing this while my partner is around is. I think by now he's used to many of my eccentricities, and takes them in stride. It feels like a small but significant landmark in our relationship that I can show this long-hidden side of myself to him. Not the one who dresses up to have sex--he's quite familiar with that one, believe me--but the one who dresses up to do the more mundane tasks of life. I'm not sure he understand it now that he's seen it a few times, but he's clearly okay with being slightly confused.

I mention all this not out of some desire to air all my dirty bat-laundry, but because at least half of my 5 or 6 readers have written to tell me that I'm lucky to have a spousal equivalent who can appreciate and sometimes revel in my otherwise embarrassing fixation on superhero sex. Damn right I'm lucky! Only I say it's not about luck, it's about taking a risk -- every time I show some new side of me to him, I run the risk that he'll not like what he sees and head for the hills. Hasn't happened yet, and at this point I strongly suspect it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

My point is this: If I can do it, so can you. What do you have to lose in revealing more of yourself to the man or woman you love? No matter what your secret, if you have a dream that you can't fully accomplish by yourself (like being captured by a cop/superhero or capturing one yourself for starters, but really, you can fill in the blank for yourself here), consider taking that scary leap of faith into the unknown. I can't guarantee you'll get the results you wanted, but I'm almost positive the leap will land you somewhere interesting at the very least.

Monday, September 15, 2003

I have dreams of writing about current events in a timely fashion here, and it really hasn’t worked that way so far. By now I’ve got a backlog of subjects, and I trust you won’t mind the slight delay in posting them. Perhaps I’ll try to make up for lost time by offering up two or three entries in rapid succession.


[Cleaning Out My Closet, #1:]
WATCHING THE DETECTIVES



Damn. National Night Out came and went this year (August 5, to be precise), and I didn’t get a chance to spread the word about it or attend any events in my area.

For those of you not familiar with the concept, NNO is an annual project (held on the first Tuesday in August, as far as I can tell) designed to encourage greater cooperation between cops and neighborhood residents in the fight against crime. In many areas, this means tours of police stations, demonstrations of equipment, cookouts, parades, you name it. A couple of years ago, I got to wander through cells, peek into offices, and otherwise get up close and personal with the men in uniform who serve and protect my neck of the woods.

Not this year, alas. Real-world obligations kept me away this time, but I still consider the day a holiday for myself and my fellow coplovers. Moreover, since police are notoriously camera-shy, NNO is one of the few opportunities (along with parades and street festivals) to photograph them head-on. In fact, there’s even a photo gallery at the national site, along with an invitation to contribute more pictures.

I still have mixed feelings about taking snapshots of hot men in uniform. It’s been a hobby of mine for a while now, and my inherent shyness keeps it pretty benign and discreet. (Which explains the high percentage of butt shots in my repertoire.) One of the more positive side effects of my preoccupation has been a greater interest in photography – I find myself inspired to learn more about the medium, which has had ramifications in my Bruce Wayne life as well.

At the same time, a part of me wrestles with the ethics of taking pictures of cops, let alone sharing them online. (I haven’t done the latter very much, though mostly for technical reasons.) I realize what I’m doing might strike some people as exploitation and/or violation of privacy, and I can’t help wondering how my subjects would feel if they knew that I and many other men collect and sometimes distribute images of them without their knowledge. My hunch is that a few particularly homophobic ones would be freaked out, while the rest would be mildly amused. Through my partner I know a handful of straight male law enforcement officers, and I find myself slightly embarrassed about my fixation on their profession (which doesn’t really extend to them in particular). My hubby himself doesn’t seem to mind – though I’ll never forget the day he described a Special Olympics style event at the place where he works and pointed out that lots of the “special” kids wanted to take his picture.

From a broader perspective, most of the qualms I have about photographing cops also apply to the mass media in general, which are rife with images used out of context or without permission. It pisses me off when the nightly news exploits everyday citizens, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from getting turned on when the camera is in my own hands.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

I'm not normally a big fan of Andrew Sullivan's political views (but boy, is he a cutie--anybody see a pattern developing here? Maybe it's not just cops I lust after but conservatives in general. Yikes!). So imagine my surprise when I visited his blog and found an essay of his from Salon on bear culture that I found myself mostly agreeing with. I really like what he has to say about bearness in relation to masculinity, to more "mainsteam" gay culture, and to class, for starters. (I could do without the quote from the insufferable Camille Paglia, but nobody's perfect.)

My generally hairless chest and scrawny frame mean I'm not a bear myself, and while there's much overlap between bears and my particular taste in men, I'm not strictly speaking a bear-lover. (For the record, I tend to go for men who are at least 30 and have very little hair on their heads, which often means they have a good deal on their chests and sometimes their faces. A little heft can generally be a plus, but it's not a prerequisite by any means. I'm basically talking Andrew himself, in other words--but you can slap a uniform or some spandex on just about anybody, including a few women, and get my attention--which does indeed make me a true fetishist, according to the Wikipedia. But I digress.)

What I truly cherish about the whole bear phenomenon is the way it opens up new dimensions of sexual attractiveness within, or rather outside, the old-school gay male ideal--which was always far more restrictive and oppressive than the straight-guy definition of beauty, if you ask me. Watching a couple of twig-like twinks with smooth chests going at it in a porn tape does about as much for me as watching hetero porn. For years I felt like a total exile from Gayville because the men who turned me on were ignored or even laughed at by "real" gay guys. It was only when I started visiting leather bars that I grasped the appeal of going out, because most of the gay bars I'd been to up to then were full of the aforementioned pretty boys, and it was exciting to see men who weren't afraid of their masculinity or their age or the natural dimensions of their bodies. (Saddest moment on Queer Eye so far? The scene where the adorable crew member gets his back hair waxed away and his chest hair "manscaped." Refuse and resist the tyrannical cult of artificially prolonged youth, Fab Five!)

Admittedly, this whole bear business has already mutated into a body fascism of its own, and I'm really not into the marketing of teddy bears and related knick-knacks, but that's a subject for another day. What matters to me here is the larger issue: if gay culture, and perhaps eventually the larger culture of which it is a subset, can make a space for bears, then it can make room for all kinds of things. And embracing genuine diversity can only be good for all of us.
All the recent talk about the new GWBush action figure and about Ahhhnuld (that's Mr. Freeze to you bat-lovers) running for governor has prompted a couple of nice articles on "faux heroism," one by Mark Morford for The San Francisco Chronicle and the other by Garrison Keillor for Time.

Earlier today I was thinking to myself that, although the name of this blog is "Heroes and Villains," I've written far more about the former here than the latter. And when I first started this journal, I intended to focus primarily on the political (as well as spiritual) dimensions of my erotic fantasies, though I veered fairly quickly into other, vaguely related terrain.

For the record, I pretty much consider GW a villain when you get right down to it. (Lord knows he'd consider me one--since he's vowed to enact legislation that would ensure I could never, ever marry my boyfriend, and since I don't buy his line about how "you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.") I'm as appalled as Morford and Keillor are by the current cheapening of the concept of heroism. Our understanding of that concept -- and I'm certainly including my own understanding here -- is shaped to a disturbing degree by pop culture, including comics and action-adventure movies, where courage, ethics, and integrity seem less important than physical strength, machismo, and rugged individualism. Costumed crimefighter fantasies aside, my real-life "heroes" include the leaders (and rank-and-file) of the civil rights movement, along with the men and women who fought for rights and representation for women, gay people, and workers, particularly in times when the price for doing so was imprisonment and sometimes death. Give me Abbie Hoffman or one of the Berrigan brothers over Bruce Willis anyday.

'Course, since I'm among friends here I gotta admit I would take Bruce to bed over Abbie anyday if I let my dick make those kinds of decisions for me, and several of the men in GW's administration (including the Prez himself) would totally float my boat if their politics didn't turn my stomach first. The image of Bush in that flight suit was blatantly offensive on every level, but you know how I feel about a man in uniform...

As I've noted here before, lefty pals often ask me how I can reconcile my love of cops with my disdain for their worst behavior. To be honest, it doesn't usually cause me that much angst, since I can still pretty clearly distinguish between fantasy and reality (unlike, say, my fellow citizens who believed the Iraqis engineered the September 11 horrors, or the guy I heard on talk radio today who seemed to think that the leader of North Korea was the last remaining despot on the planet). I'm down with dialectics, and contradictions are my bread and butter. I might think about using that "Elite Force Aviator" action figure as a sex toy, but I'll do anything in my power to oppose the guy it's modelled on.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Writing my last entry here (re gay superheroes) led me to Fran├žois Peneaud's site The Gay Comics List, which is a wonderful resource for (primarily) indie comics with gay content. My fellow batfans should also check out his experiment with politically conscious fanfic, "Batman & Robin: Dual Lives," which is posted in the story section of Gay League, another gay-themed comics fan site worth exploring.

Skimming the links page of GCL refreshes my memory of lots of comics I've loved over the years, the first and foremost of which is Dykes to Watch Out For. It's got absolutely nothing to do with what I usually write about here (like bondage fantasies about beefy male bodies in tight-fitting outfits), but the epic scope of this ongoing serial is just stunning. I really wish somebody would film this thing! The Mostly Unfabulous Life of Ethan Green is the closest thing to a male equivalent I know of, and while I don't like it as much as DTWOF (and I honestly don't keep up with either on a regular basis), the storyline is still fun and some of the characters are pretty hot in my book. Then there's Meatmen, which I remember fondly (along with the classic Gay Comix of the late 70s and early 80s) as one of the first places where my taste in comics and my taste in sex were explicitly (sometimes very explicitly) linked--ie, where I could have a laugh and get my rocks off at the same time.

It occurs to me as I write this that, as with most other forms of art and pop culture, I'm not inherently drawn (pardon the pun) to a comic strip or book simply because its characters and/or creators are gay. I've seen some pretty badly drawn, unfunny strips over the years, and I'd rather spend my time reading something like The Boondocks, which on the surface has little to do with my own daily life, or some conventional (heterosexual/asexual) superhero fare, where I'm free to sexualize the characters as I please. Even so, I'm delighted that sites like GCL and Gay League offer the service they do, and I truly wish they'd been around 20 years ago, when I was feeling pretty much alone in my interests. With any luck, at this very minute some queer adolescent is discovering through them things which will change his or her world.

Friday, August 22, 2003

QUEER EYE FOR THE SUPER GUY



In the August 8 issue of Entertainment Weekly, a producer makes explicit what was clear from the get-go about the Bravo series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: that its quintet of lifestyle consultants, the Fab 5, are intended as gay superheroes. (There’s even a nice illustration of a rainbow-tights-clad masked avenger accompanying a related article—not really my type, but I’d still do him.) I’ve been loving the way Ted, Carson, and company race to the rescue of style-impaired mortals as the campiest crusaders since a certain 1966 series. The show is even as rigidly structured as William Dozier’s Batman: opening background info, initial meeting with “victim” packed with catty comments, field trip to spa/clothier/grocer, return to transformed abode, disembodied viewing of the big night from Fortress of Solitude, final toast.

I’ve thought for years about fashioning an out comic book character (as opposed to a gay rewrite of the Batman mythos) myself, either in personal fantasy (which I guess I’ve already done) or in some more public fiction. I haven’t been that happy with most of the existing attempts – that “Northstar” dude doesn’t really do it for me, asethetically speaking, and I can never remember which “Flash” villain is supposed to be a 'mo. (Ah, yes, the Pied Piper, who is also a commie, I hear. Flash’s suit gets me hot, but his comics have always left me a little cold.) I was intrigued when two characters on the American version of Queer as Folk created a hero called Rage, but then the show is so horrendously terrible on the whole that I can’t really care. (Throughout the first season I kept waiting for Michael’s childhood comic-book crush, Captain Somebody Or Other, to enter the narrative, but no such luck. Again, I assume the writers would just fuck it up anyway.) Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure some of the characters in Alan Moore’s classic Watchmen are gay, but it’s been a long time since I read that one. (If you haven’t read it yet, let this be your cue. Almost as good is Peter Milligan’s graphic novel Enigma, which directly addresses some of the stuff I’m talking about here.)

So you can imagine my excitement when I finally picked up on Warren Ellis and Mark Millar’s The Authority, a truly demented variation on/spoof of the Justice League of America, a few weeks ago. I know I’m several years behind the curve on this one, since the comics first appeared in 1999, but hey, I’m just not an Early Adopter. And as a result of holding off, I was able to buy three of the softcover compilation volumes at once – a good thing, since the minute I finished the first one I was hungry for more.

If you don’t already know the basic story, here’s an article from The London Times (inexplicably reprinted by the apocalpyse-minded Christadelphians) that gives you a taste, along with a more recent interview in a gay publication. The Authority is a group of super-powered individuals who save the world on numerous occasions (but not always; sometimes they leave the mortals to solve their own problems). Among its members are Apollo, a blonde-tressed, solar-powered Superman equivalent, and The Midnighter, a leather-clad ass-kicker who can predict his opponent’s every move. (The latter’s incredibly sexy mask and outfit give him the clear advantage in my book; if this guy had been around in the 1960s, I might never have given Batman a second glance.) At first they just seem inseparable and stand-offish, but by Volume Two of the collected adventures, The Midnighter is massaging Apollo’s shoulders while they watch Friends and saying, “God, I just love you to bits sometimes.” (Those are their only names, by the way; they don’t have alter egos or everyday monikers, much to their colleagues’ annoyance.)

What’s so striking about these two (beyond their irresistable looks) is how thoroughly they disrupt gay stereotyping. Both men are extremely violent; they dish out enough macho swagger to make Schwarzenegger blush. At the same time, by Book Four they’re raising a child together, and anytime one of them gets hurt, the effect on the other is heartbreaking. The balance between aggression and tenderness is a total turn-on for me, and their relationship seems completely true to a lot of leathermen’s partnerships. As a bonus, those of you who share my fondness for unmasking scenes and bondage will be particularly excited by Book Four, which features the original members of The Authority being replaced by corporate-controlled surrogates. Not only do all of the true Authority team meet horrible (if temporary) fates, but The Midnighter’s stand-in, adamantly heterosexual “Last Call,” finds himself bound and trapped in a birdcage with a ball gag over his mouth. (I should also put in a word for the one of the two other — hetero — male members of the original group, barefoot Jack, who’s yet another hottie.)

It’s not clear to me exactly what role a homo hero’s sexuality could or should play in his adventures, but I suspect that’s because hetero crusaders don’t often “use” their erotic inclinations while doing their jobs either – unless you count James Bond. Apollo and The Midnighter’s gayness isn’t really part of their superpowers, just a key dimension of their personalities, among many others. On the other hand, perhaps there is a stronger link than that. As a recent article originally printed in The San Francisco Bay Guardian (which I found out about via InSequence) points out, many superheroes and gay civilians share a talent for secrecy, double identities, and quick-witted resourcefulness. That’s obviously part of the lure for folks like me: the fantasy that the very thing which sets us apart from our peers also makes us special.

Whether you call it “x-ray vision” or a “queer eye,” the point is this: it’s a feature, not a bug.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

I'm intrigued by a recent news item about a British zoologist who proposes that gay people are more highly "evolved" than their hetero peers because they remain in the state of infantilism longer -- ie, the playful, creative phase which most adults are encouraged to grow out of sometime around high school graduation.

I'm not entirely convinced by the argument, but I appreciate the way it turns conventional thinking on its head. Thanks to years of cultural bombardment, one of the things I've always wrestled with as a gay man, particularly one with, er, artistic tendencies, is the lingering suspicion that I haven't fully matured (and presumably never will) because I won't be meeting some nice girl, settling down, and raising a family. And on those occasions when I find myself in a gay club after midnight with a roomful of bare-chested men who are dancing the night away, I can't helping thinking how different their/our lives are from those of most adults in mainstream culture. So this scientist Clive Bromhall's assertion (apparently fleshed out in his new book The Eternal Child) essentially celebrates that difference rather than bemoaning it.

Following that same logic, it seems to me, fetishists must be at the very peak of the evolutionary ladder, since most fetishes are drawn from unresolved childhood attachments. I spend an embarrassing percentage of my waking hours in the realm of comic books, cop fantasies, superhero-themed tv series and movies (like tonight's cable-tv-facilitated choice between Spider-Man and The Phantom), and costumed play. How delightful to be able to claim that being so in touch with my "eternal child" is not a symptom of arrested development but a sign of my higher state of consciousness!

PS. Speaking of comics, the minute I finished The Long Halloween, I raced back to the store to pick up the sequel, Dark Victory. That one's not nearly as good -- it's sort of like 2010, the completely unnecessary followup to 2001 that tied up every conceivable loose end from the original, when a little ambiguity and unfinished business is really not such a bad thing. Still some excellent artwork -- and the writer, who shares my preference for a solitary Batman, still finds an interesting way to incorporate young Robin. (Tip: don't even think of reading Victory before Halloween.)

Coincidentally, there is much in both books, and other recent bat-lore, about Bruce Wayne's own obsession with unfinished business from his childhood. Pretty much every serious bat-story these days seems to feature a flashback to the traumatic night when his parents took him to see Zorro and wound up murdered. Everything Wayne does from that night on is devoted to avenging their deaths. Like me, he dresses up in funny clothes and spends the wee hours of the night doing things his neighbors would never dream of -- and yet he still seems pretty unquestionably adult (as fictional characters go, that is).

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Storytime

I realize I'm getting pretty erratic about posting entries here. I think it's because I approach them as mini-essays with lots of links I have to look up and code in; blogs where people just list what they ate and what mood they're in don't do a damn thing for me. So I wait till I've got enough to say and enough time to say it, and lately neither has been the case. Someday I'll finish up the 3 or 4 other scraps of unfinished entries I've abandoned and post them. Not today, though.

On the bright side, I did manage today to dredge up and polish (more or less) a piece of fan fiction I started writing months ago. It's called "Along Came a Spider," and you can find it on my story site. There are plenty more waiting in the wings, just waiting for their moment.

In vaguely related news, today I finally bought and read the trade paperback version of the Batman saga The Long Halloween, which is excellent. The visual design is elegant and Tim Sale's artwork is particularly stunning. Not much in the way of deathtraps or other elements that trigger my fetish-y side, but Batman looks great throughout, and at least loses his cape in a skirmish with the Joker (and I always like it when he's depicted with stubble!). Mostly it's just a very well-told story that evokes film noir, the Godfather movies, Silence of the Lambs, and other pop-culture crime lore. There's even a fan-run website devoted to parsing the comic's multiple allusions, though the site's creator cautions against studying it too carefully before you actually read the book.

And speaking of comics, I also just read three volumes of The Authority,, which I can't recommend highly enough (okay, there are things I can recommend more highly, like The Watchmen, but I digress). There is much I want to say about that one, but this truly is a matter which must wait for another day.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION



Okay, so it hasn’t technically been a “vacation” keeping me from posting entries here lately, more like a series of major computer problems and a couple of quick out-of-town trips. But during my absence, a few good things have happened.

*This here blog got a very nice mention in Teresa Ortega’s wonderful comics blog, “In Sequence: Comics, Graphic Arts, Obsessions.” (Come to think of it, those are pretty close to my own interests, only in a slightly different order of priority.) I came across her site a few months ago thanks to its appearance in “QueerFilter,” a list of weblogs by and about queers of various persuasions. At the risk of indulging in what SPY magazine (R.I.P.) used to brand logrolling, I strongly recommend Teresa’s blog to anyone interested in comics of all kinds, because it contains some of the best writing about them I’ve ever seen. Everytime I check it out, I learn about something new I just have to read or a site I need to visit. And it’s not just about comic books, either: I’m equally drawn (pardon the pun) to her critiques of Bush’s foreign policy and related matters.

*Teresa’s link to my site got picked up by ”Journalista!”, a more mainstream comics site I didn’t previously know about but have become instantly hooked on. (When I’m not jerking off to images of a bound Batman, I’ve been known to admire the work of folks like Harvey Pekar, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge – you know, the stuff I was supposed to have grown into after abandoning superheroes in adolescence.) I can’t quite tell whether the entry about my blog is entirely favorable or not, but I’m flattered all the same. So, welcome heterosexual comics fans – consider me your Queer Eye for the Tights-Clad Guy.

*Meanwhile – inspired in part by Teresa’s writing about it – I finally got around to reading Michael Chabon’s epic novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Like Teresa, I was skeptical at first about all the hype, but I must say this is one hell of a book, the kind you can’t put down and don’t want to see end. I’m trying not to spoil the plot’s many surprises, but I have to gush about the way Chabon weaves gayness (along with Jewishness and New York Cityness and even surrealism) into the very fabric of the story, acknowledging it as an integral part of the history and psychology of comics in the process. And there’s just something totally brilliant about a superhero named “The Escapist.” (I’m tempted to spell out the many connotations of “escapism” that the book explores, but maybe I’ll let you discover them for yourself instead.)

The reviews I’d read had led me to assume this was a comic novel, so I was surprised when a friend warned me that it makes an abrupt shift into darkness. I told him I couldn’t see how that was possible, given that it starts in pre-Holocaust Europe, and he replied, “Well, that’s the light part.” And I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right. At the same time, even the saddest turns of fate (I started sobbing as I tried to summarize the plot to my partner) are still accompanied by lines that make you want to laugh out loud. (I hear that he’s writing the screenplay to Spider-Man 2, a promising development if ever there was one.

Folks, if you’ve ever cared about comics – if they’ve shaped your dreams, sparked your imagination, or stimulated your genital of choice — you simply have to read Chabon’s novel. And check out Teresa’s blog while you’re at it—she knows things you need to know about, and she tells you about them in an intelligent and articulate voice. Plus, like Chabon, she’s great with the queer stuff most writers don’t know how to handle.

How’s that for a reciprocal plug?

*Last bit of good news: I finally have a computer that won’t snap, crackle, pop, or tick like a time bomb, so “Heroes and Villains” is back in business. (And I promise I’m on the verge of a major revamp of my “Secret Room” site, too.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

My forays into comics stores have really dropped off lately, but I was in one the other day and picked up issue #168 of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, written by Bill Willingham. (I'd never heard of him till then, but I gather he's been around a long time and his "Fables" series for Vertigo are highly regarded. You can learn more at his own website.) In its early days (which have been anthologized in various trade paperbacks), LOTDK was excellent -- well-written, thoughtful superhero stories a grownup didn't have to feel embarrassed about reading. That's not the case so much anymore, but I still browse through the current issues when I come across them in my unending search for random images of bondage, sadism, unmasking, and semi-nudity (like the spread in #166, for instance, featuring Batman removing his badly torn cape and tunic to expose his magnificently muscled and hairy upper body--in broad daylight, no less, as Gordon stands next to him and the Batmobile).

It was the cover of #168 that first caught my eye: an ultra-dark, shadowy image of Batman sans cape and belt, with the body of a defeated thug suspended on a hook behind him. The title is "Urban Legend," about which I'll have more to say in a couple of paragraphs. The first page has our beloved costumed crusader falling to the ground from a high building, and he spends the rest of the story suffering from bruises, broken bones, and a bad case of amnesia. The people he encounters all address him as "Batman," which confuses him at first; it's only when he sees his masked face reflected in a fountain that he realizes who he is, and only when he sees a newspaper headline that he realizes what he must do next.

Okay, if you have any interest at all in reading this story, which is very well done AND has a few images I found pretty hot, STOP RIGHT HERE. Go to your local independent comics store and buy the issue. SKIP THE REST OF THIS BLOG ENTRY. SEE YA NEXT TIME.

That probably got rid of at most one person, but the stuff I want to talk about regarding the story hinges on revealing its surprise ending. I really wish I hadn't thumbed through the entire issue in the store and learned the last-minute twist before buying the damn thing, but so be it. I couldn't help myself when I saw the bad guys slice through the bat-logo chest insignia (something they do all the time these days, much to my delight, probably since it's another sign of Batman's defeat and humiliation) and then lift his mask, to reveal … a pot-bellied, balding middle-aged guy. (Which, by coincidence, turns out to be exactly the kind of man I'm attracted to in reality.) The "real" Batman swoops down, rounds up the gang members, and explains to the other guy in the batsuit that the impostor is actually a stock analyst who had put on a rented outfit for a bit of erotic role-play with his wife, then fell off the balcony of their apartment. "Do me a favor," Batman says at the end. "The next time you want to spice up your married life, dress like Superman."

It took me at least 2 days to "get" the title and realize that the "Urban Legend" in question was not just the story of Batman (unlike the TV version, for the last decade or so the comic-book vigilante has become such a creature of the night that many people don't even believe he exists) but an allusion to the widely circulated real-world story, probably apocryphal, about a guy who puts on a batsuit to make love to his wife, only to fall prey to some form of comical accident which embarrasses the hell out of him and amuses the boys down at the precinct.

I'm fascinated by the notion that the folks down at DC, or at least Mr. Willingham, would work a slightly raunchy reference to costume fetishism into the official canon: Wow, they know we're out there! (Reminds me of how exciting it used to be 20 or 30 years ago to find a gay character in a book or movie, even if the portrayal was totally off base.) Granted, we're basically a joke to them, but it's still a sign that Batman has come a long way since the days of Ace the Bat-Hound.

The story also does a nice job of satirizing some central tenets of the bat-saga while simultaneously giving readers a sense of what it might feel like if their innermost fantasies followed them into reality--a realization that nags at me every time I find myself behaving like a complete wimp in daily life. Despite some fairly mediocre reviews from folks who follow comics, I was perfectly happy with "Urban Legend" -- even if I found something a little too close to home in its punchline.

Friday, June 20, 2003

(Masks, postscript)


Just a quick note to thank mystery reader "David Still" for writing this:

Talking about identity and alter-egos, you should try me sometimes.
-David


And, after a little bit of apprehension (I assumed at first it was just some guy hitting on me), I did. If you haven't done so already, you can try him, too, at davidstill.org. You'll probably figure out what's going on right away, and maybe you'll love it as much as I did.

Reminds me a little of "Karen Eliot" and "Monty Cantsin," two other identities that were up for grabs back in the 1980s courtesy of the Neoists. Before them, both Abbie Hoffman and the Diggers used the name of notorious mad bomber "George Metesky" as an alias. (In tracking down the links above, I stumbled across an interesting collection of even more pseudonyms or "nyms" worth checking out.)

In the world of the comics, I'm pretty sure that The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, and No Man's Land (or at least one or two of them) include a scenario in which lots of everyday people take up the bat logo; they "become" the Batman just as anyone can now "become" David Still. (The "real" David, if there is such a person, is pretty damn cute, or at least the man whose pictures are used to represent him on the site is, at least to me.) Of course, in the real world with its proliferation of internet screen names, it's hard for more than one person to claim a single identity--as the 59 other Batfans before me are no doubt well aware.

Friday, June 13, 2003

(Masks, 3)
PEELING IT ALL AWAY



Having already written here (in part one of these last three connected entries) about how exciting I think masks are, I feel obliged to acknowledge that I find them even hotter when they're taken away. Whether removed by force or lifted by choice, the discarded mask is the biggest turn-on of all.

Unmasking, or the threat of unmasking, is one of my favorite bat-fantasies. The removal of the disguise is the money shot for me, as it were. I have this cockamamie theory that it has something to do with the fact that for years the only "Batman" episode I hadn't seen was #6, which is the second half of the saga in which the Joker (dressed as the protagonist of Pagliacci) has our heroes cornered and is about to remove their masks on live television. While I could figure out the resolution to the cliffhanger (I mean, who couldn't?), I didn't see it with my own eyes until at least a decade after I first saw episode #5 -- which gave me at least a decade to cook up my own twisted endings to the duo's tantalizing predicament.

The web the garden of special-interest delights that it is, there's at least one site specifically devoted to what its creator calls "Identity Rape". I guess that designation, creepy as it is, accurately pinpoints the nature of the attraction. (It's an equal opportunity site, with pages for both genders; obviously I prefer the one devoted to male heroes, but a little pronoun change or two can work wonders for the ladies--though I gotta say, the "rape" business is a little more disturbing in that case.)

What's so exciting to me about the threat of Batman (or any other mystery man) being forcibly unmasked is the notion that in a single moment, his entire life will be changed. It's literally a fate worse than death, because it implies that all his hard work to keep the secret will have been in vain. The unmasked Batman thus faces debasement and embarrassment on top of all his other troubles. (A reader of several of my bat-stories once noted in passing that I really seemed to be into humiliation. I was all prepared to object until I actually did a search for the h-word and realized just how often it appears in my fiction. Oops: I've been revealed!)

A friend I've made through this blog shares my fascination with this scenario, and here's how he depicts the situation:

"There is something hugely erotic about imagining Batman being overpowered by a villain and being unmasked. It's not just being seen for who he really is. But, it is having something vital taken from him by force by another. I believe that it has been an unuttered truth that, if Batman were ever to be unmasked, really, he would cease to be Batman. He'd just be this rich fellow hanging around a lonely old house with an old butler and a school boy. It seems to be the Batman persona itself that is his strength: so long as he is free to go about unseen -- a pure Batman persona, uncluttered by Bruce's childhood traumas or mortal neediness -- he is free to play the part of the hero. Bruce Wayne and Batman. One precludes the other. For the two to be seen as the same would, perhaps, result in a more well-rounded Bruce, but it would surely kill off Batman."

On the other hand, on those rare occasions when Batman deliberately chooses to expose his Wayne-self to someone (which happens WAY too often in the movies, BTW-- not just with Batman but Spider-Man and Daredevil as well), he's taking a huge leap of faith, which can also be pretty exciting under the right circumstances. He's taking a risk -- one which, of course, also puts the other person at risk as well. (I was intrigued by a story in the comics just a few years back in which Batman finally lifted his mask in front of Commissioner Gordon -- who averted his eyes, if I remember correctly, preferring not to change the nature of their relationship. Of course, if Gordon hasn't figured out by now who's under that cowl, he has no business being Police Commissioner.)

In part 2 of this trilogy of blog entries, I wrote about my adoption of multiple e-mail personae. I actually exposed myself to 3 of my friends as the evil mastermind behind some of the weirder messages they'd been getting lately, inviting them to join me in the project. I felt a great sense of intimacy with them when I did so. On the other hand, a fourth friend figured out it was me on his own and inadvertently outed me (and I use that term on purpose, of course), which pissed me off a lot--that's the last time I tell HIM a secret! (This same guy, who knows about my secret fantasy life, freely blabs about it to anyone who will listen, much to my annoyance.) It's sort of like whoever it was who unmasked Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors, I guess. There's an etiquette involved in disclosures, which is how Alfred the butler has managed to keep his job for so very long.

I am sensitive to this etiquette because I've also been on the other side of the power dynamic. A couple of years ago I figured out that a friend of mine was a key member of the Guerilla Girls, the real-life masked vigilante activists. (The GGs describe themselves as "feminist counterparts to the mostly male tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Batman, and the Lone Ranger." Not unlike the Justice League/Society of America, they seem to have splintered into several factions, including this one and this one.) Suddenly I knew exactly how, say, Jimmy Olsen would feel if he finally pulled his head out of his ass about the peculiar habits of his old pal Clark. Because she didn't come right out and tell me, I feel like it's my role to continue to pretend not to know that it's my friend beneath the gorilla mask. In this sense, I am a bit like Peter Maass, who realized that "Salam Pax" was somebody he knew but chose not to name names. His testimony is enough to prove there really is a Salam Pax (since many people suspected the whole thing was a propagandistic hoax) but not enough to undo the anonymous crusader's good deeds (although he does provide enough information that a supervillain could track the guy down, come to think of it).

Every time I don my batsuit, I'm afraid that I'll be found out -- by a housemate, a neighbor, a random stranger. And I've had more than a few close calls in my day. (Once I had myself tied up in my second-floor apartment and the doorbell rang; I quickly freed myself, changed into street clothes, and answered the door. It was the cops, responding to a report of a burglary on the first floor. Guess things could have been much, much worse.) Nowadays I try to keep a pair of oversized sweats which can slip over my tights nearby so I can switch outfits in a hurry. But there's always the thrilling possibility that something will go wrong and I myself will be as embarrassed -- as out of control -- as the unMasked Manhunter. That risk is certainly a part of why I do it in the first place, and why I write about it here, too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

(Masks, 2)
ANONYMITY, ALTER EGOS & THE INTERNET



To paraphrase an overparaphrased New Yorker cartoon, On the Internet, nobody knows you're a superhero. Or, to be more precise, nobody knows you're both a superhero and a mild-mannered reporter.

I love the fact that we earthlings have created a zone, equal parts fantasy and reality, where we can explore our most private desires in the most public of forums. Sure, that privilege can be abused to deceive and cheat innocent parties, but since I'm neither the parent of an impressionable child nor the potential purchaser of a bridge in the middle of a desert, I prefer to accentuate the positive and celebrate the free reign of anonymity. We're living in the golden age of make-believe. To quote (out of context) the chorus of a song by Hamell on Trial, "We can be who we want to be."

I doubt that anyone reading this thinks my "real" name is either Bruce Wayne or Wayne Bruce. And I take pains not to disclose enough details of my actual life here that someone will later be able to expose me as a perv should I ever manage to construct much of a public self. My motivation isn't fear of embarassment so much as a love of concealment -- the risk of discovery is part of the thrill of superhero lore for me, and the more public you are about your shadow self, the bigger the risk and the more you have at stake. (I learned this dance of exposure and retreat early: My mother was a very guarded person, always taking pains to tell me not to share family business with even my closest friend. At the same time, though, mom was also very outgoing, a natural performer who felt empowered to tell her audience just about about anything about just about anyone if it would provoke a response.) One of the readers of this blog -- somebody I will always picture as Superman since that's the way he appears online -- asks in a recent e-mail, "Why does a professional guy who's pretty quiet and shy in real life love being a cyber-exhibitionist?" He's referring to his own experience there, but I can certainly identify. (By the way, my super-buddy tells me he wants to hear from other men with similar feelings or interests, and you can contact him here. And if you have any thoughts on the question he poses you'd like to share with other readers of this blog, feel free to e-mail me, too.)


The web provides us with such wonderful opportunities to maintain secret identities, some of which really do take on lives of their own. The most famous of these recently is "Salam Pax," creator of the blog "Where is Raed?" and surely the first superstar of this budding medium. Then there's "Mouchette," allegedly a 13-year-old girl but actually the invented persona of a mystery artist who promises to reveal his or her true identity eventually. In fact, the Mouchette site is almost entirely about this riddle, as far as I can tell. (I find the actual project more annoying than titillating, but I still applaud the premise.)

Shortly after 9/11/01, I started playing around with the political possibilities of multiple selves, creating free e-mail addresses for fabricated beings and "letting" them send messages to hundreds of people, some of whom I barely knew. Some were overtly activist-oriented and others were (and I mean this in the best possible way) idiots, passing along blatantly idiotic rumors with an undercurrent of pointed satire. (Ex: I hear Target is giving away everything that's red, white, and blue in the store -- which makes sense, because who would dare to profit off an international tragedy by capitalizing on patriotism?) My humble goal was to launch a worldwide movement -- a meme, to use current terminology -- from my own home. My own little bit of masked vigilante crimefighting, if you will. It didn’t quite take off on a global scale (since it would have required much more effort than I was willing to put into the project), but I got some nice results, the most surreal of which was a person who responded to one of my fictional characters (one of the idiots, a pro-war zealot) by forwarding her an e-mail from one of my other characters (an anti-war activist), saying, "Read this; you could learn something from it"). I learned a certain amount from the prank and I'm pretty sure I could pull it off more successfully during America's next war, but in the meantime I encourage you to try this trick at home.

One of the nicest things about the anonymity of the net is the way it allows us to perform altruistic acts in secrecy. We can offer gifts to the universe without expecting direct repayment. That's the impulse behind so many of the wonders of the web: file sharing, open source software, elaborate sites devoted to a single subject, and blogs like Salam Pax's (and this one), for instance. I have in mind a story by Pablo Neruda, quoted at the end of Lewis Hyde's mind-expanding book THE GIFT, in which the poet recalls his boyhood in Mexico. Young Pablo approaches a fence with a hole in it; a hand materializes (get yer mind out of the gutter--this ain't no gloryhole) and offers him a little toy sheep. The adult Neruda writes: "To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvellous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and weaknesses -- that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things."

That last line, about the unknown ones who watch over our sleep: I can imagine no more vivid description of my beloved Caped Crusader, and no better illustration of how any one of us can become the Batman in our everyday lives.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

(1) ON MASKS AND DISGUISES



Just rediscovered "Dressed for Success," an internet essay by some guy named Meesh written in those crazy hazy days in the aftermath of 9/11/01. In it, Meesh! (responding to a brash statement apparently made by the otherwise wise and wonderful Grant Morrison in shock after the collapse of the Twin Towers) offers 10 reasons why America still needs costumed superheroes and why superheroes still need their costumes.

Some of the reasons: because disguises are cool, they're practical, they're intimidating; because comic book stories reconnect us to our childhoods, etc. You can read the entire list for yourself if you like; it's a nicely written essay (and Meesh!'s entire "Comics of the 80s" site contains both food for thought and lots of sexy comics panels). But what I want to focus on is this part:

"Any first-year anthropology major can tell you about the symbolic significance of masks among primitive tribes; how the wearer of a mask becomes something greater than himself once he puts the mask on. In other words, the simple act of putting on a mask or ceremonial costume allows the individual to sublimate his own personality and assume a new, more potent identity. I submit that this psychological 'trick' is an invaluable tool to our modern-day super-heroes, as well.

"Think about it. You're a rational human being, whose body and mind have been honed to near perfection. You have a plausible motive and the means to become your own one-man army on crime and corruption, and yet there's something holding you back from leaping willy-nilly into the fray. You recognize it for what it is: doubt. And you recognize that doubt as the one thing that will someday get you killed. So what do you do? Answer: Get yourself a talisman -- something that separates your 'secret-identity' self from the being you become when you go fight crime. And what better talisman can there be than a costume that literally covers your 'other' self?" [italics are author's]

As I see it, those same issues apply whether you're a one-man army or simply a kink-loving queer on your own personal journey. Your armor can be leather, rubber, lycra, fur, a uniform, whatever turns you on. My batsuit is a place to hide from the "real" world, but also a chance to expose a side of myself I once kept hidden. I can relax in it, but also confront some of the things I fear most (death, self-doubt, loss of control) on my own terms, albeit in a metaphorical way.

I'm using the ideas of costuming and masking interchangeably here in an effort to engage those of you whose specific erotic interests are slightly different than my own, but I guess it's important for the purposes of this discussion that the guise you adopt be one which alters or conceals your everyday appearance, and masks tend to do that best of all. (Let's not get into the amusing conceit that nobody recognizes Clark Kent once he removes his glasses, musses his hair, and slips into a change of clothing -- a subject best covered by a "Saturday Night Live" routine with The Rock playing Superman, who turns out to be the only person fooled by his half-assed attempt at deception.)

When you've got something obscuring most of your facial features and the color of your hair (along with garments you don't usually wear), you grant yourself temporary permission to transcend the limitations of your body--your personal history, the judgments others make about you based on your appearance, etc. Drag queens and leathermen know plenty about this kind of transformation; mere mortals only experience it at Halloween.

I find it interesting that masks are outlawed in many localities. That's generally because they're associated with crime (from robbery to anarchic confrontations with teargas-wielding riot squads), but it strikes me as a way of forcing everyone to limit themselves to a single, inescapable public persona. We're suspicious of masked men (as the Lone Ranger knows all too well), who are thought of as con men or liars. But I see the mask as bearing a different kind of truth.

There are times when I think of Bruce Wayne as the ultimate closet case; he's spent at least as much of his time and money trying to cover up his secret nighttime obsession as he has fighting crime. There is always much confusion about which is his "true self" and which is the phony one. (Although that implies one has to be more authentic than the other, and I suggest that each role has its own crucial place in his life.) One of the things that fascinates me about the myth (aside from the tights and the bondage, of course) is the contradiction at its very core: the vigilante hero's calling obliges him to adopt a disguise and work outside the usual channels, but instead of allowing him to disappear into the night, his getup screams for attention. It makes him both a target and a celebrity. (The official constructors of the myth keep going back and forth about that last part: on the TV show. in the movies, and in the comics of the 50s and 60s Batman is very much a public figure who is not above making personal appearances in broad daylight, while the earlier and later comics (and the animated series, if I remember correctly) depict him as exclusively nocturnal and often something more like an urban legend. Either way, though, his striking and unconventional appearance can't help but call attention to itself, and it would do so even more if a real-life Bruce Wayne tried to pull off something so outrageous.)

If you're interested in the deeper meanings of masks, allow me to recommend a couple of bat-tales which explicitly address the subject, both of which are available in softcover book form from DC. The first half of the story arc compiled as Robin: A Hero Reborn (by Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle and Steve Mitchell, first published as issues 455-7 of the Batman comic) is built around compelling quotes from The Encyclopedia of Magic and Superstition (no author cited) as it portrays Tim Drake's decision to don the mask of the new Robin --AND it contains some very hot images of Batman bound and suspended upside-down by the Scarecrow, to boot. Bryan Talbot's story "Mask" (originally in issues 39-40 of the once-excellent Legends of the Dark Knight comic books, later republished as Batman: Dark Legends) is a beautifully told adventure about a villain fucking around with the sanity of a captive Bruce Wayne.

Probably the best, most detailed discussion of the deeper implications of masking that I've ever seen is Walter Sorell's book The Other Face: The Mask in the Arts. I stumbled across it in my public library years ago and I'm sure it's long out of print, but it's well worth haunting your local used bookstore in search of a copy. I'll end this entry with a typical passage from it:

"The mask is the beginning, trauma, and essence of all metamorphoses, it is the tragic bridge from life into death, it is the illusion of another reality, or the disguise with which man reaches reality on a higher plane, stronger in its awareness, clearer and more concrete in its expression than the elusive image of reality itself. The mask contains the magic of illusion without which man is unable to live."

Thursday, May 29, 2003

The other day I revisited LTHR EDGE's webpage. I can't remember how I first found out about this one, but it's long been a favorite spot to check out. I find it incredibly sexy, not just because of its content -- which is certainly hot enough if you're looking for kinky pictures and stories -- but especially thanks to its design. It looks great (black & white, nice fonts, ample white space), and it's so much more than just a collection of words and images to jerk off to. Among other things, it's a treasure trove of information and ideas about leathersex, which will at least get you thinking, whether you always agree with the author or not. So let's just say I find it a turn-on on both the aesthetic and the erotic level.

Anyway, on my most recent visit after a prolonged absence I noticed that "Edge" is actively encouraging leathermen and other kinky folks of varying genders and sexualities to start blogging. In addition to a page of links and how-to-blog advice on his own site, he and a few cohorts have launched a project called "100 Bloggers," the goal of which is to get 100 newbies to start keeping weblogs by Pride Weekend 2003. He spells out his reasons eloquently, and while there are too many to repeat in this space, I'll simply quote a few relevant ones below and refer you to the page dedicated to answering the question "Why?" for the rest:

*"A new generation needs mentoring. Every day, horny young people find the Web and discover that their vague fantasies of leather are realized in a million ways in a million webpages. Blogging records the real lives of real leathermen so that those young leatherfolk can find out what it's really like to be a leatherperson. Think of it this way: someone, sometime, somewhere helped you. Now it's your turn. And all it takes is for you to talk about your life."

*"No one should feel alone. I imagine it's happened to all of us at some time or another: you imagine that NO ONE could be feeling the way you feel, desiring the things you desire, experiencing the things you experience. That sense of isolation is antithetical to the very concept of community. In creating blogs, we leave behind places and spaces for others to come along and see themselves and realize they're NOT alone."

*"YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER. The biggest reason to blog is because you have something to offer, even though you may not think you do. You're a part of this community, and your thoughts, experiences, insights, and feelings are not just valid but valuable. ..."

All of these remind me of my own motivations for starting "Heroes & Villains" (just a few days too early to be included in the 100, though I'm listed as one of the "already converted"). I'm not totally sure I agree with a couple of Edge's other encouragements--that there's no need to be a good writer so long as you remain true to your experience, for instance--because I really don't think the world needs another outlet for badly executed, self-possessed literature. I mean, we've already got high school poetry, zines, several strains of performance art, memoirs, mediocre singer-songwriters, and the films of Kevin Costner, for starters, and during the brief lifespan of blogging I've come across far too many online lists of what people ate, cut-and-pasted song lyrics, and bitch sessions about how much somebody hates his/her job/boyfriend/family, and so on. And it troubles me that the most frequently used word on most blogs (including this one) is "I." On the other hand, I do believe on some fundamental level that our stories -- when told well -- have meaning, not only for ourselves but for the people around us. (That "we" includes everybody, not just queers and kink enthusiasts, though lesser-told tales often have the greatest impact.) As I've said a million times before, if only the internet had existed when I was in high school in a fairly small town, feeling isolated and freakish for the way my dick was behaving, maybe I could have spared myself a decade or three of self-loathing and jumped right into the good stuff.

So, whoever and wherever you are, I, too, encourage you to check out the how-to resources at "100 Bloggers" and consider starting a weblog of your own if you haven't already. If you do, please let me know about it. I've already had a wonderful time exploring the thoughts of total strangers/fellow travelers via such blogs as Singletails, Leather Adventures, Bound and Determined, Leather Egg, and of course Edge's own "Edge Diaries" -- all of which feature interesting writing about kinks of various kinds, many with a focus on politics and spirituality, much like I'm aiming for here. I already know I'm not alone, but it's nice to get a better sense of just who my new neighbors are.

Monday, May 26, 2003

(An entry in honor of Memorial Day:)

The change of season always throws me. I love reasonably warm, sunshine-filled days as much as anybody, but my fantasies tend to be dark (in more ways than one) and prone to fulfillment in the middle of the night. Some of the happiest, most relaxed and contented hours of my life have been those I've spent in full bat or cop regalia in the deepest reaches of my basement, far from windows which would let me know whether or not the sun has risen again. In a perfect world, I'd stay down there in my makeshift batcave for days on end (and I sometimes have) -- but then there's another side of me that either wants or needs to re-enter the daylight world, a transition which pretty much requires that I cast aside the black lycra/rubber/leather armor and resume my public identity.

And that's why god made biking and exercise culture, I'm convinced. I was ecstatic when spandex hit the mainstream exercise world in the 80s -- I was never one for the gym before that, but eventually my love for the outfits led me (in a halting way, strictly on my own terms) to the workout lifestyle. It dawned on me sometime in the late 90s that since I'd been raiding sports stores for years in search of batsuit items to wear in secret, I might as well adopt some of them in my Bruce Wayne existence. So it is that I'm sitting at this very moment in lycra cycling shorts, having cast aside my tight-fitting, leather-palmed bike gloves and waist-hugging fanny pack (a poor but serviceable replacement utility/duty belt) after a long, satisfying ride. It's my way of walking in two worlds at once: I can appear in public (still a bit shyly) in socially acceptable attire, which also constitutes a daytime version of my favorite nightwear. All I lack is a lycra top that doesn't call attention to my ever-expanding gut.

I don't exactly have the physique to pull this stuff off convincingly, but I don't really care. Years ago, a leatherman friend of mine pointed at a middle-aged shlub in form-fitting tights jogging down the sidewalk and clucked, "Some people just weren't born to wear spandex." I'm not sure I agree. We don't all look like superheroes (or supervillains), but that shouldn't stop us from acting like them any time we please. One of the things I like most about leather bar culture is that the clientele appears to be considerably less body-obsessed than the rest of gay male society. Maybe that's just an illusion (bear lovers can be just as fixated on flab and fur as twink afficianadoes are hung up on abs and hairless chests), but if so I'm maintaining the myth as long as I can. While I've seen my fair share of greek gods in bars with names like The Eagle and The Lure, I've also seen guys with beer bellies, nerds, men in their sixties, and more than a few people with visible disabilities.

Online lycra fetish forums (of the sort you can find here) invariably include discussions about how intimidating it is to wear the stuff in public. Part of me feels like, "Come on guys, get over it: You're not talking about capes and masks or harnesses and chaps, but stuff that was always intended to be seen and worn in broad daylight in middle America. If you didn't feel the erotic charge, you probably wouldn't think twice about dressing this way." But when I'm honest with myself, I realize that I experience that same self-consciousness all the same, as if my secret alter ego is about to be uncovered if I hop on my bike in black cycling shorts or jog around the block in tights. This stuff carries a baggage for me -- and my kinky brothers and sisters -- it simply doesn't carry for other people. And that's part of the appeal.

Come to think of it, I've also received my fair share of taunts yelled from passing cars and asshole adolescents for the way I'm dressed. A couple have even tossed out semi-incoherent references to Batman and his ilk. It's another aspect of the masked superhero mythos that fascinates me: the costumed crimefighter's insistence on adopting a guise that makes him (or her) a figure of fun. Batman says his get-up is intended to strike fear into the hearts of criminals ("a cowardly, superstitious lot"), but in reality it's far more likely to make him a target for rednecks. It's a disguise which both conceals its wearer's identity and proclaims it to the world.

More to be said on that last point later. For now, it's time to shed the shorts and slip back into street clothes for a few hours. Such is life: one costume change after another.

Friday, May 23, 2003

A random websearch the other day reminded me that I wanted to mention the essay "The Problem With Batman's Crotch" here, but I couldn't remember where to find it. So just now I did a new Google search for the phrase "Batman's crotch," which I hoped would yield all sorts of exciting treasures hitherto unknown to me, but no such luck. Okay, I did come across a site paying tribute to Catwoman which is packed with plenty of stills certain to titillate batfans of all genders and persuasions, plus a bit of fan fiction written by a pee fetishist (though I'm pretty sure I've seen that one before). Oh, and exploring the "Crotch Problem" essay somehow led me to another of those omnipresent web quizzes, this one designed to answer the question "Which Superhero Are You?" (Evidently I'm Superman -- there it is again! -- though I blame that on my choice to spread the word about donating to an animal shelter in one question, because when I retook the poll and opted to remain anonymous, I turned out to be Spider-Man.) (Can you tell yet that I'm avoiding doing any actual work this evening?)

But back to Batman's crotch. It's a smart and funny little essay about an issue most straight fans (I presume the author is hetero) don't dare touch--how to handle (all puns intentional so far) the midsection of the superhero. I've always been a little baffled about that extra pair of briefs atop the tights on Batman and Superman and many of their costumed cohorts. Not that I'm complaining, mind you: the more lycra, the better, I say. But when I started assembling my own outfit, I wondered what the purpose of the additional material was. I'll leave you to read Michael Hutchison's theories for yourself and just say that after much personal exploration I think it has something to do with modesty and aesthetics, something to do with protection (mighty delicate equipment down there), and finally it provides an additional hiding/storage place for supplies. On the other hand, the briefs mean one more layer to be removed when it's finally time to disrobe for one reason or another. (Which reminds me of a fetish-friend's fan fic about a sex scene explaining how Batman accesses the batcock when he needs to pee or wants to poke Robin--I think a zipper was concealed beneath the briefs.) (Another urine reference! I promise you: the bladder is not my scene... although anything crotch-related has got potential.)

The rubber suit from the movies, like a short-lived outfit in the comics, lacked the briefs, and I like the all-black look almost as much as its classic grey-and-blue predecessor. But when I've tried eliminating the trunks from my own (black) suit, I've just felt ... naked.

There you have it: everything I can possibly think of to say about batbriefs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Read another Tagame story today, this one called "Jujitsu Kyoshi" (aka "The Judo Master") via the Yahoo group "Woody's Tagame Scans." No cops this time, but still incredibly hot and hairy. The group moderator -- Woody -- posts the following comments about the story in group message #291, which I'm excerpting here (without his permission, but trying to give credit where credit is due). I'll give you his plot synopsis first so you'll have some idea of the territory if you don't know the artist's work, but the part I'm most interested (re race/ethnicity and sexuality) comes after that so I'll italicize it:

"The first part seems to involve our protagonist seeing something on a television that starts him reminiscing (erotically) about a past encounter, only to later run into one of the perpetrators of the sexual humiliation that resulted from that encounter, who then seems to set him up to be kidnapped into sexual slavery, where after his training is complete (at some later date - and I presume at the request of his master) he then writes back to the perpetrator of his kidnapping to tell him of what has happened and how he likes his new life as a sex slave, only now we find our perpetrator regrets his actions and remembers fondly the good times they'd shared back when he was his Judo Master. [...]

"In the second half of the story, note the use of a grey haired (presumably American) black man as the Trainer/Master that our protagonist (who also as per usual, is well muscled, hunky and very un-Japanese looking) is enslaved by - another marker pointing to the sorts of racial conflict sprinkled through much of Tagame's work. Also note this is another story where the protagonist is the big butch alpha male type that is eventually reduced to the docile sex toy for the amusement of others.

"As I've said before, none of these themes are accidental in Tagame's works--and the undercurrents of humiliation & degradation of what would typically (to those that know Japanese culture - I don't claim to be one of those people) be a figure of unshakeable authority are designed to show the sort of eroticism that is especially powerful in these eastern cultures.
"


Woody's comments provide so much food for thought for me that I don't know where to begin. I do know that the Tagame stories I've seen so far are light years away from most of the Japanese visual style I've come across elsewhere: wispy, androgynous faery-boys with feminine eyes and bangs and wings and crap like that, which holds zero appeal for me on any level, aesthetic, erotic, or otherwise. Tagame's men are big and burly and clearly Anglo-looking; they exude authority, and it really gets me hard to see them humbled and literally brought to their knees. (He's been called "The Tom of Finland of Japan" -- but shouldn't that be just "Tom of Japan"?) Until I read Woody's remarks, I hadn't connected the imagery and storylines with Japanese attitudes about power and control -- though I should also say that I think of those attitudes as mighty close to my own. In real life I am fairly meek, more prone to obeying the law than breaking it (except in cases of civil disobedience), intimidated by cops, etc -- but in my fantasies the tables are turned. Sometimes, that is.

I also can't help connecting Tagame's storylines with fascism, and my mind leaps from Japan to Germany, another culture with its own rather intense connection to power. (I'm sure there's some kind of subtext in the story about American soldiers occupying Japan after WWII, to say nothing of the black master overpowering and dominating the white ex-master -- it's one huge struggle for dominance!) I'm not proud of the way I get a little woozy at the image of jackboots and Nazi uniforms and the like -- particularly since I realize I'd have been a prime candidate for the pink triangle and probably the ovens -- but I have to acknowledge the attraction even as I abhor its real-life manifestations. Sure, sure, I know all about eroticizing the oppressor, although I must point out that in my own lifetime I haven't been particularly oppressed by government-sponsored goon squads. (Not yet, at least--though I gotta say it looks more and more like we're heading in that direction. But I digress yet again...)

Speaking of eroticizing oppressors: if you buy that line, then how come I don't find the Taliban the least bit sexy? They were/are every bit as homophobic and authoritarian as the Third Reich, but they leave me stone cold on the fantasy front. I blame the lousy fashion sense. (Saddam, on the other hand, has/had better taste in uniforms and a bulky hairy body that cries out to be hogtied and shoved into a toilet by a Tagame torturer...)

Okay,THIS is why this journal must remain anonymous--there's no way I could say any of this out loud under my own name!

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Met somebody this evening through my day job who must be about my age because his cultural references were pretty similar to my own, including the watching of the Adam West "Batman" series on Wednesday and Thursday nights as a kid in the mid-60s. Later in the conversation, he and other folks in the room made several friendly jokes about how I probably had a batsuit in the car or spent my nights in a bat costume, sitting in my room in the dark. While the car scenario is a bit off the mark, I really DO spend as many nights as possible in the outfit, and darkness is often part of the picture. So I did what Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker or Don Diego would surely have done in the same situation: I laughed and played along. Sometimes the best disguise is the most obvious and least likely one.

In a similar vein, another person I know told me not long ago that he'd uncovered my secret identity -- that I bore a striking resemblance to Clark Kent and a certain comic book hero. (Right fantasy, wrong character, kid.) Wow, am I exuding superhero vibes these days, or are my desires just that transparent?

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Spent way too much of the day checking out the page-by-page scans of a Japanese comic called "The Trophy" at the "Tortured Cops" Yahoo Group. It's by an artist named Gengoroh Tagame, who has an image-packed website of his own and is also the subject of another Yahoo Group which contains vast amounts of his work. Fairly extreme stuff, some of it, but a lot of it is right up my alley. Not an alley I include on most public maps of my psyche, mind you, but then the darkest and most hidden passageways are often the most exciting.

In "The Trophy," a burly cop is kidnapped by a high-ranking government official who subjects him to all sorts of indignities, including drinking his own semen. A second bear-cop comes looking for him and winds up in the same sorry state. The two men are forced into a series of degrading "contests" for the amusement of their captors. It's one of the sickest and sexiest stories I've ever seen. (As a sidenote, I find it interesting that most of the characters have western features despite their Japanese names. A few of the "bad" guys seem more overtly Asian, which raises lots of questions about ethnicity in porn. And about my own tastes--the casts of some of the other Tagame stories I've seen look more Japanese than these guys, and they just don't turn me on in quite the same way. I think some of it has to do with body hair, which seems to be more of a Western trait; the two captives in "The Trophy" are incredibly hairy, and the villain calls particular attention to the stubble on one guy. I hope to write more about race in a later post, although it's a pretty troubling subject for me. But I digress...)

People often assume that a cop fetish automatically involves wanting to submit to an authority figure, and sometimes that's the case for me, but just as often (or maybe more so) I envision the uniformed officer as a captive, a slave, a victim. It's the same with Batman and other costumed crimefighters: what gets me off is seeing them in their moments of greatest vulnerability, on the edge of degredation, despair, or even death. Ideally, they rebound and free themselves (or are set free by their colleagues) at the last possible moment. Come to think of it, the fantasy of a last-minute escape or rescue is partly just a guarantee that the cop/superhero can live to be trapped another day. It's a little like Sisyphus (or, okay, Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day"), doomed to repeat slight variations on the same struggle time after time. Sometimes I'm the captured hero, sometimes I'm the capturer.

Today, seated helpless in front of my computer while the hours ticked by and I avoiding paying work, I was a bit of both.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

ORIGIN STORIES (Part One)


I have this theory -- and I'm sure I can't be the first person to propose it -- that more future perverts were created on January 12, 1966 than any other day in human history. That's the night, as all true Batfans know, that a certain TV series made its worldwide debut.

Like countless other pre-teens that evening, I fastened a terrycloth towel around my neck with a safetypin and prepared to battle the bad guys. (I don't remember the rest of my outfit -- pajamas, I'm guessing -- but I know that for many years to follow I literally dreamed about finding or receiving a yellow utility belt just like Batman's. I still don't have one; my current costume employs a police-issue Sam Browne duty belt which is just as appealing to me, and probably more functional.) And of course I was glued to the set week after week, absorbing in the process all kinds of notions about the superhero lifestyle -- the concealed identity (Bruce Wayne as ultimate closet case), the sleepless nights of crimefighting, and above all, the lure of the deathtrap.

The 1960s were a golden age of televised S/M: in addition to Batman's weekly brushes with bondage and mayhem, there was "The Wild, Wild West," "Get Smart," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "The Avengers," and an endless parade of Saturday morning superhero cartoons, all of which prominently featured masculine heroes being tied up, tortured, and narrowly escaping. The fact that many of these returned in syndication during my adolescence in the 70s, at the very moment that I was growing more conscious (if terrified) of my unique sexual interests, only heightened their erotic power. (The James Bond movies and various ripoffs and parodies like James Coburn's "Flint" series, added further fuel to the fire in my loins.)

Part of the appeal of "Batman," at least in its first two seasons, was the ritual nature of its structure. Week after week, the show was exactly the same. Part One of a two parter always, without variation, contained this sequence of events: opening appearance of guest villain, Gordon's call to Batman, animated title sequence, Batman's visit to police headquarters, first skirmish with villain, brainstorming session in Batcave, second skirmish with villain leading to deathtrap. Part Two: recap, title sequence, escape from deathtrap, more Batcave brainstorming, third skirmish, defeat of villain, epilogue.

This was all so predictable that, when the shows were rebroadcast once more in the 80s and 90s, I knew exactly when to set the VCR to pick up the juicy parts. (For a while, I was only interested in taping what in conventional porn would be the money shots: the capture of Batman and the explanation of what horrible thing was about to happen to him. I had no desire to record his escape or the rest of the episode. Only in very recent years did I bother to tape complete programs.) "Wild, Wild West" follows a similarly rigid outline, and after a while I got pretty good at guessing when ANY of the aforementioned shows was heading toward a bondage scene. There are entire schools of literary theory built on investigating narrative structure, but I picked it all up intuitively as a horny, repressed 14-year-old.

I've long connected the rituals of the "Batman" series with what goes on in a church service. Once you've been to mass/synagogue/whatever a couple of times, you've got the basic idea: opening greeting, song, reading, song, reading, song, sermon, communion, song, closing remarks, yadda yadda yadda. There's something comfortable about an unchanging framework. Of course, as a young churchgoer, that very predictability encouraged me to zone out almost the minute I hit the pew. Everything was so rote that I only reflected on the meaning and purpose of it all after I quit attending religious services for decades and then dropped in on one every once in awhile with fresh ears and eyes.

But back to bat-play. There is more to be said about those early towel-cape "sessions" (to use a word that never would have occurred to me at the time), and maybe I'll write about them in a later entry, but I really don't remember that much about them. What's much clearer in my mind (if still a bit fuzzy after 30 years) is the second phase of my evolving secret life, when I must have been in junior high, having a horrible time from 8AM-3PM and a much more delightful existence after school, when I reached into my closet (that most symbolic of rooms) and produced a mask, some dark-colored pantyhose, gloves, and other costume elements and entered a fantasy world in the hours before my parents came home or after they left for an evening outing. There are only a few images I can conjure up from this era: another, deeper hall closet which served as the set for many an adventure; tying myself to the stairs which led to our attic; exploring that attic and the garage beneath it; and being deeply ashamed of myself for doing any of this at an age when I was supposed to have abandoned dress-up and make-believe, let alone popping a boner or discovering precum in my pseudo-tights when I did it.

There were two scary moments of near-detection which live on in my memory: one night I tucked my costume between my mattress and the box spring (instead of returning them to their hiding place) and left them there when I headed to school the next day, only to discover when I got home that my bedroom had been thoroughly cleaned, which could only mean someone must have found me out, even though no one ever mentioned it. Another time I had been experimenting with a jar of my mom's cold cream to try and duplicate the way the Green Lantern's mask seemed to stick to his face without the benefit of an elastic band or strings. Once again, I was careless in cleaning up after myself and this time my mother asked me what was going on. (God knows what I told her; I do know my alter ego remained a closely guarded secret.)

I don't remember when or why I stopped suiting up. I'm guessing it was early in my high school years, which, though frought with the usual adolescent angst, were still incomparably better than junior high: I finally had some solid friends, and with them other ways to fill my afternoons and evenings. And I'm pretty sure I just resolved to "grow out" of my batlust, to shed it along with the other debris of childhood -- exactly the way a lot of deluded gay people vow to "outgrow" their homosexuality by getting married or otherwise denying their true selves. I continued to linger at the comic book racks whenever I had a chance, worried somebody who knew me would catch me, and I was still glued to the TV in search of images that would excite me in a way the senior prom simply never could.

Meanwhile, my Bruce Wayne self was growing (ever so slightly) in confidence and popularity. I was evolving from orphaned victim to playboy socialite (at least as much as that's possible for a middle class kid in a small town high school). My bat-self lay dormant, waiting for the right moment to emerge in its fullest glory.