Wednesday, April 30, 2003


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.

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