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.)