Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Getty Consternation Institute

Tom the Big Boss, Sort of
Marina del Rey, California, July 1989

In May 1989, when my doctoral dissertation committee rejected my third dissertation prospectus, I walked out of the conference room, drove away from USC and never went back.

I'd been planning on an academic career for four years -- what was I going to do now?  I thought back to Augustana, where I wanted to become an editor or translator, and got a job as an editor at the Getty Conservation Institute (founded by oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, whose grandson, Paul Getty Jr., was the object of some of my junior high fantasies).

It turned out to be the worst job in the world.

The 10 things I hated most about it:

1. There were a lot of heterosexist employees.  I got "Isn't that woman hot?", "What kind of girl do you like?" and "Would you kick that actress out of bed?" as often as in high school.  Tom the Big Boss was particularly obnoxious about it. And of course, no one in the 1980s was out at work.

He was tall, thin, bespectacled, a scholar, not one you would automatically assume to be heterosexist.  Not a bad physique (and yes, once I did get a peek in the men's restroom.  Not bad there, either).

2. Tom also used physical assault as a greeting.  Every time I saw him, he punched me -- hard -- on the shoulder.  I ended up being bruised every day.  And I couldn't say anything, because he was the boss.

The Getty Consternation Institute
3. It was not near the very beautiful Getty Museum, but in a warehouse district on Glencoe Avenue in Marina del Rey, with nothing nearby, no restaurants, no parks, nothing.  I had an hour for lunch, but with no place to go, I had to sit in the lounge eating my sandwich, and they always found me and said "We need this right away!  Your lunch can wait until later!"

4. The Getty Conservation Institute were involved in the preservation of art and archaeology around the world, so I figured I'd be getting around the world to edit articles on rock art in Australia. the Tomb of Nefertari in Egypt, the Mogao Grotto in China, or the Prado in Spain.

No, it was Tom who jetted around the world, having expensive dinners with the Minister of Antiquities of Peru or the Cultural Ambassador of Greece.  I worked for a subsidiary boss, Kathy, editing the abstracts of articles like "Functional Polymers for Chrome Fixation" and "Nitrogen for Biodeterioration Control on Museum Collections."

5. Every editorial change, even correcting typos, required me to fill out a form and get the boss's approval.  By the end of the day, there was a large stack of forms for Kathy and then Tom to approve.

6. Then I had to type the abstracts into an online database, get that approved by the boss, and file everything, abstracts, corrections, and Kathy and Tom's ok, into a vast bank of file cabinets. I was a secretary!

7. Kathy had no qualms about stealing my work.  I wrote a 50-page style manual for the editorial department, and she put her name on it, took it to Tom, and received a note "Great job!"

8. Abstracts could be submitted in Spanish, French, or German as well as English, but I wasn't allowed to touch those, in spite of my graduate work in Comparative Literature.  One day Kathy was running around the office with a question about Spanish.  "I can help!" I exclaimed.  "Oh, no, you wouldn't know about it." "Oh, I know quite a bit about Spanish," I protested, but she wouldn't hear of it.  Eventually she called the Spanish Department at UCLA to find out.

The question was: what do you call the thing on top of the "n" in Spanish?

It's a tilde.

I started bringing Don Quixote or Cien aƱos de soledad, untranslated, to sit prominently on my desk.

Graduate Student Intern, Not Tom
9. With all of the foreign dignitaries and archaeologists wandering in and out all the time, it was like an international airport.  I got sick a lot. 

10. There were a lot of high-strung, crazy employees.  Screaming fits were common.  Probably due to #1-9.

I started looking for a new job immediately.  A year later, I still hadn't found a new job, but I couldn't take it anymore, so:

 I printed out new first pages of the Style Manual, with my name as author, and substituted it on all of the copies.

 I typed up a letter of resignation, in Spanish, and left it on Kathy's desk.  

And on the way out of the office, I stopped by Tom's office and punched him hard on the shoulder.

Next: I teach Gay 101 at Juvenile Hall.

The Turkish Bodybuilder

Ankara, Turkey, January 1989

In September 1988, everything was going wrong.  I passed my qualifying exams for my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, but my first committee nixed my dissertation topic, and my second committee was insisting that I llearn a new modern language.

My car was starting to fall apart from driving 100 miles per week in L.A. traffic.

Even with 3 jobs, I didn't make enough for USC tuition.  I owed $20,000 in student loans and my credit cards were maxed out.  I was thinking of bankrupcy.

Living in a gay ghetto, surrounded by 30,000 gay men, I hadn't had a relationship in months (Richard Dreyfuss  and the ex-boyfriend of President Reagan don't count.)

It was time for a change.

The Chronicle of Higher Education listed several job openings for the spring semester, including Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

The Middle East!  I remembered my long-ago plan to "escape to Arabia" with my junior high boyfriend Dan, and Todd, the Lebanese boy who was my "first time."

And it would be a good base for trips to Greece, Egypt, Israel, and the Balkans.

They wanted a specialist in Victorian literature.  I hated Victorian literature.  No matter -- I said I was writing my dissertation on Dickens and Balzac, and got the job.

On January 16th, 1989, I flew with two suitcases and a box of books from Los Angeles to Washington DC, then to Munich, then to Ankara, where a dozen college boys were waiting for me.  They asked about my trip, grabbed my luggage, drove me to my tiny furnished apartment on the campus, and though I was jetlagged, made sure I got a tour of the city and a refrigerator-full of groceries.

What I liked about Turkey:

1. Turkish is not an Indo-European language, so there are few cognates, not even for common words like "car" and "restaurant."  How much of this menu can you figure out?  It was a lot of fun to study.

2. Visiting the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, followed by iskender (lamb with tomato sauce and butter on pita) at the Uludag Kebabcisi

3. Whenever I needed anything, or even if I didn't, a dozen university students were eager to help.

4. Men and women were socially segregated, so it was not at all uncommon for a heterosexual man to spend all of his leisure hours with men
5. The Remzi Kitabevi (bookstore) had a huge English section.

6. Turkish homoerotic oil wrestling.

7. You could see Columbo, Star Trek, Head of the Class, and Perfect Strangers dubbed in Turkish.

8. There were lots of muscular, hirsute men who were not the least bit shy about physical contact.

9. Everyone was technically homophobic, but the homophobia was aimed at feminine or passive men, not same-sex activity itself.

Just as I noticed in India, cruising was everywhere: in the metro station, in the park, in the hamam (bathhouse).  Same-sex activity was an ordinary part of life for most men, their main sexual outlet before marriage, and often after.

10. Turkey invented bodybuilding, and nearly everyone I met competed in the Young Bodybuilders Clubs, the Gymnastics Association, or the Heavy Weight Lifting Association.  Like Halil, who had a girlfriend but still invited me to share his bed at a competition in Istanbul.

By the way, Kielbasa+

Kicking Out Ronald Reagan's Lover

West Hollywood, September 1988

For gay people, West Hollywood is a sacred site, a Mecca free from the homophobia and other injustices of the straight-dominated world.  Everyone visits at least once, often for an extended period as they try to find some way to stay.

When you are lucky enough to live in West Hollywood, your phone keeps ringing, as gay men you haven't talked to for ten years suddenly remember that you're close friends.

Still, it was a surprise, in August 1988, to answer the telephone and hear "Boomer, darling!  How are you!"

It was Oscar, the retired set designer from Des Moines.  My first boyfriend Fred and I spent a couple of hours with him back in 1980 -- a very tenuous connection!

"Darling, I'm making the plunge -- I'm finally going to come out and visit West Hollywood.  And I want to see you in particular!"

"Um...what about Fred?"  He had just moved to Pomona, in the San Gabriel Valley, with his boyfriend Matt.

"Oh, I'll be visiting him, too, but he lives so far away, and he has such a tiny apartment, whereas you have such a big house."

How did he know that?  "I'm just renting a room from Derek...."

"Whatever.  Would it be ok if I stay with you?  Just for a few days.  Or a week.  Two or three weeks, tops."

I couldn't think of any reason why not.  I tried.

Derek said it was ok, but he needed the guest room for another visitor, so Oscar would have to stay in my room.  In my bed.

Which means he would know.  In fact, in West Hollywood culture, it would be impolite to refuse. Particularly when you were sharing a bed.

As you know, I am attracted to guys who are dark-skinned, shorter than me, and muscular or husky.  Oscar was tall, thin, and pale.

1. Feminine.  Lots of guys in West Hollywood were attracted to guys with feminine traits.  But I wasn't. Rings, ascots, perfume, overmodulated voices, undulating limbs -- instant turn-offs.

2.  And 73.  I was often attracted to older guys.  When I was 20, I dated a 40-ish college professor.  But an age difference of 46 years?  A little much!

One Friday in early September, Fred, Matt, and I picked Oscar up at LAX, carried his dozen suitcases to my house, and took him out to dinner.  Then they scrammed back to the San Gabriel Valley, leaving Oscar gazing at me in expectation.

"I'm just getting over a cold," I told him, "So it wouldn't be a good idea to do anything tonight."

The "gettinv over a cold" ploy lasted for about three days.  Then I devoted about a week to a whirlwind of sightseeing, everywhere from the LaBrea Tar Pits to the Toy Tiger, a Silverlake bar for older guys.  I didn't enjoy being mistaken for Oscar's grandson or hustler all the time, but the ploy worked: every night, Oscar was so exhausted that the moment we got into bed, he fell asleep.

But sooner or later, he would be wide awake and ready know.

"How long do you think you'll be able to stay?" I asked one day over breakfast.

"Oh, darling, I'm as free as a bird.  I can stay until spring!"

Great! I went out and applied for a job in Turkey.

Maybe I could find him a boyfriend to move in with?  Or claim to have a kinky fetish, or to be a racist, or to have a secret boyfriend?

Then I remembered Oscar's story of dating future president Ronald Reagan, when they were both working for WHO Radio in Des Moines, back in 1936.

I knew Attorney General John Van De Camp, a long-time gay rights advocate.

He told me that Reagan was in town, spending most evenings socializing with friends from his Hollywood days, and he might be able to get Oscar and me invited, if we didn't tell anyone that we were gay.

I ran into the living room, where Oscar was reading Frontiers.  "Guess what!  You might be getting a reunion with your old boyfriend, Ronald Reagan!  The Attorney General is arranging it!"

He turned pale, and his jaw dropped.  "Ronald Reagan? How did you...."

"We just have to pretend to be straight.  You know, Reagan's a big homophobe."

He exhaled sharply.  "Oh, no, my dear, it would be too painful after all these years. Pretending that we didn't mean anything to each other.  Oh, no, it would be dreadful.  I couldn't abide it."

"Are you sure?  I mean, dinner with the President..."

That afternoon he packed his suitcases and called Fred to pick him up.  He spent the rest of his vacation in the San Gabriel Valley.

I'm still not sure if Oscar really dated Ronald Reagan or not.

Reagan was out of office a few months later, but for years I got rid of unwanted houseguests by offering to introduce them to the ex-President.   He wasn't very popular among gay people.

See also: Fred Hooks Up with Ronnie Reagan

Why Not Pick Up Russian?

Los Angeles, October 1988

I remember every class I took as an undergraduate at Augustana College (1978-1982), from Fiction Writing, which convinced me not to become a novelist, to Paleontology, taught by the professor with the handcuff parties, to Culture and Civilization of Modern Germany, with the professor who kept denying that modern Germany suffered from "the problem" of  Homosexualitat.

 I remember most of my classes at Indiana University (1982-1984), from Victorian Literature, with the professor who kept giggling "this author was a homosexual!", to Restoration Literature, where Viju and I tried to determine if our professor was gay.

But I remember almost nothing from the University of Southern California, where I was working on a doctorate in Comparative Literature (1985-1989).  Maybe because I was busy with Raul and my bed-switching roommate, cruising Richard Dreyfuss, and bankrupting the porn industry.

Or maybe because I hated everything about it.

Except for the cute fratboys, the statue of Tommy Trojan, and the reading room in the Philosophy Library.

1. The professors were very rich and very elitist, driving Porsches, reading The New Yorker (in Los Angeles), talking about their summer homes in Cabo.  One invited us to her house for pizza, and I thought "Finally, someone with regular tastes!"  Turned out to be goat cheese and arugula pizza.

2. The professors thought that they knew everything.  Unfortunately, what they knew was contradictory. One insisted that that all quotes in academic papers must be in the original language only, and another, that they be accompanied by English translations -- not a problem until they're both on your dissertation committee, ordering you to take the translations out and then put them in again.

3. They thought that graduate students were their personal servants.  One told me to go get him coffee.  Another wanted me to pick up his dry cleaning.

4. They were homophobic, insisting that I omit any reference to gay people from all of my papers.

5. They were insane. One went into a 5-minute tirade, loaded with personal invectives, whenever we said or wrote "the Renaissance mind."  We tried hard to avoid it, but it's such a common expression that occasionally someone goofed, and we had to listen to the tirade again.

6. Did I mention that they were insane?  My degree required a reading knowledge of French, German, and Italian, but my dissertation committee added "an ancient language."

So I spent a year cramming Latin.

Then when I changed my dissertation field from the Renaissance to the Symbolist Movement, the committee chair, Dr. Lazar, said "Oh, you should pick up another modern language.  How about Russian?"

"I don't think it's possible to pick up Russian in six weeks," I said.  "How about if I pick up a Russian instead?"

They stared, not comprehending.

"It's a joke.  Picking up a Russian...."

They stared.

"See, the phrase 'pick up' refers to meeting a stranger for an erotic encounter, so I said pick up a Russian...."

They stared.

I sighed.  "What about Turkish?"

My Terrible Dissertation Committee Forbids Me from Saying Gay

Los Angeles, May 1988

When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, I enrolled in the doctoral program in Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California.  We had to select two historical periods to concentrate on, so I chose the Renaissance and the 19th century symbolist movement.

I was also teaching at Loyola Marymount University, editing for Joe Weider's Muscle and Fitness, and living in West Hollywood (which takes a lot of time), so it took three years to finish my coursework, language exams, and comprehensive exams.  But in May of 1988, I was ready to write my prospectus, a 30-page paper that would be developed into my doctoral dissertation.

In May 1988, I gave my committee a prospectus on "Same-Sex Desire in Renaissance Drama." I concentrated on Il Marescalco, by Pietro Aretino, about a gay man who is required to get married, but finds that his friends have arranged for the "bride" to be a boy (it was not included in the 1972 Italian film I Raconti Romani di Pietro Aretino). 

No, no, no!  They cried.  You must not write about "homosexuals"!  Too controversial!  No one will hire you!

Back to the drawing board.  Maybe if I "hid" the gay people among other outsiders, such as Jews, Turks, and witches.

Whenever I was upset, I watched television.  It brought back soothing memories of my childhood, when I went to bed but my parents were still watching tv in the next room, and I felt warm and safe knowing that they were nearby.  So in between analyzing Renaissance plays, I watched The Simpsons, Married with Children, It's Gary Shandling's Show, 21 Jump Street, Alien Nation, Designing Women, Newhart, Who's the Boss, Roseanne, Head of the Class, Night Court, Wiseguy (with Ken Wahl, left), Twin Peaks, and The Golden Girls.

Juvenile programs were especially good at evoking that warm, safe feeling, so I watched  The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Hey Dude (with David Lascher, top photo), Pee Wee's Playhouse, Saved by the Bell, You Can't Do That on Television, Degrassi High, Out of this World,  Katts and Dog, and Tiny Toon Adventures, thus beginning a life-long interest in heterosexism and same-sex bonds in children's media. 

In September 1988, I gave my committee a new prospectus on "The Image of the Other in Renaissance Drama," comparing the image of the Jew, the Turk, the witch, and the "homosexual" in Aretino, Christopher Marlowe, and Calderon de la Barca.

No, no, no!  They cried. You compare the image of the Jew with the image of the "homosexual'!  Too controversial! No one will hire you!

 I was sick to death of my dissertation committee -- and the Renaissance.  So I got a new committee, and changed to the Symbolist Movement.  I had to "pick up a new language," so I  went to Turkey and Israel for six months, and returned in May 1989 with a prospectus for a new dissertation, "The Pastoral Ideal in Late 19th Century Fiction."  I compared The Wind in the Willows, Death in Venice, and Andre Gide's Pastoral Symphony, with a little Wilhelm von Gloeden thrown in.

No, no, no! They cried.  You claim that Thomas Mann, Andre Gide, and  Kenneth Grahame were gay!  Too controversial!  No one will hire you!

Without another word, I walked out of the committee chambers, got into my car, and drove away from USC.  I never went back. (Instead I got the Worst Job in the World.)

In 1997, I tried again, enrolling in a doctoral program in sociology at SUNY Long Island.  This time my committee let me write on a gay topic, as long as the word "gay" wasn't in the title of my dissertation.

Friday, March 6, 2015

I Save Alan from An Ex-Gay Cult

Bangkok, Thailand, March 1988

In August 1987, Alan the ex-porn star moved to Thailand to start a gay Pentecostal church in the Buddhist country.  His first attempt to become a missionary to hot Asian guys, in Japan, lasted only a few months, but this time he seemed successful  -- he sent several letters about "his church."  And in the spring of 1988, he invited me to fly out for a visit.

I couldn't really afford it.  Three part-time jobs weren't covering my tuition at USC, brunch at the French Quarter, celebrity-studded fundraisers, and trips back to Rock Island twice a year, so my bank account was low and my credit cards were sagging.

But how could I refuse?   

So I flew from LAX to Taipei, and then to Bangkok, arriving early Sunday morning.  Alan met me at the airport, beaming.  "Boomer, my brother!"

I was suspicious -- he had never once called me "my brother" -- but too jetlagged to say anything.

We dropped my bag off at his apartment, grabbed breakfast -- a disappointing bagel with bacon and cheese -- and then went to "his church."

The "Evangelical Church of Bangkok" met in a small square building on Sukhumvit Road.  There were around thirty people, mostly Westerners.  Male and female. Heterosexual couples with children.

Wait -- something was wrong here.

Alan and I sat on folding chairs with the others.  The hymns were in English, contemporary Gospel like"When We All Get to Heaven."

The preacher, an elderly American man, delivered a fiery, screaming sermon.  People prayed, raised their hands, got convicted, went to the altar, just like in my childhood fundamentalist church.

What was going on?

"Oh, I didn't start a church, my brother.  I didn't need to -- there's already a powerful ministry going on here in Bangkok.  God is doing great things."

"But...they're fundamentalists.  Are they gay-friendly?"

He laughed and patted my shoulder.  "Of course.  They love gays.  They'll work hard to help you find your way back to God."

"There's...there's nothing wrong with being gay," I said, utterly shocked.

"I used to believe that lie.  But when I was a stranger in a strange land, God helped me see the light."

Now I understood: in a strange country, with no friends, not speaking the language well, Alan was vulnerable, and fell prey to the homophobic rants of a "God hates gays!" church.

How could I restore him to sanity?  Theological arguments?  Biblical analysis?  Or beefcake?

"It's good that you found a church home, but you're ignoring your call," I said.  "God called you to bring homosexuals to repentance, so you should be out there among them, preaching in the bars and bathhouses, wherever they congregate to pursue their sinful lusts."

"Well...yes, God placed that burden on my heart, but I'm afraid the temptation would be too great."

"Nonsense -- you're a spiritual warrior!  We're going to Pattaya!"

Pattaya was the Amsterdam of Asia, overbrimming with gay dance clubs, saunas, bars, and clothing-optional beaches.  We went to the beefcake show at Boyz! Boyz! Boyz!, while Alan dutifully tried to start conversations about God's hatred of male beauty with hunky locals and tourists.

Since he was infinitely attractive to Asian guys and sundry Cute Young Things, they pretended to listen, while touching his shoulder, fondling his knee, pushing his hand against their baskets.

He pushed away one Cute Young Thing, muttering "Get thee behind me, Satan."

He tried to push away another, but finally let him fondle while he stammered "You of loneliness...and pain."

By the end of the evening, he was kissing his new boyfriend, a college student from Paris. And planning, yet again, to start a pro-gay Pentecostal church.

In France.

See also: When Your Boyfriend's Religious Homophobia Kicks In; and  Alan meets my ex-boyfriend Fred and his Cute Young Thing.

Fred and the Cute Young Thing Visit

West Hollywood, February 1988

If you sit at one of the tables outside the French Quarter on Santa Monica Boulevard long enough, every gay person you know will walk by.

David Johnson, son of the Professor on Gilligan's Island.  

David Cameron, whose mother starred him in the classic novel The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.

And, in the spring of 1988, my first live-in boyfriend, Fred.

We met during my sophomore year in college, when he was a ministerial student.  When he got a job at a church in small-town Nebraska.  I moved with him, but it was a disaster -- he cheated on me with the teenager downstairs -- so I returned Rock Island.

We kept in contact, mostly through mutual friends, and hooked up occasionally at Christmastime.  He stayed in horrible small-town Nebraska until 1982, then moved to horrible small-town Kansas, and in 1985 left the ministry for a job as a mental health counselor in Kansas City.

One morning in February 1988, my roommate Derek, my ex-boyfriend Raul, and some other people were having brunch at the French Quarter, when suddenly Fred strolled by on the sidewalk outside, accompanied by a Cute Young Thing.

The French Quarter

I did a few double takes, then rushed out and grabbed him by the shoulder.

"Boomer!"  He gave me a friendly hug.  "I would have called, but I have your old number listed in my address book."

In those days, whenever you moved, your phone number changed.

I dragged him and the Cute Young Thing back to our table to join us.  "What are you doing in town?"

He was visiting seminaries, planning to enroll in a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry) program to hopefully land a church in a decent town.  He had already interviewed at Yale and Vanderbilt, and now Claremont School of Theology, out in the San Gabriel Valley.

The Cute Young Thing (CYT), was barely out of his teens, slim with dirty-blond hair, an ostentatious diamond earring, a blue t-shirt, and tight blue shorts with a bulge that caused heads to turn even in bulge-heavy West Hollywood. I don't know where Fred found him.

He looked askance at our Crabcakes Benedict, Mardi Gras Omelette, and Strawberry Crepes, called us all "fatties," and ordered the Diet Plate.  Then he criticized the French Quarter as "bourgeois."

You don't often see such an annoying combination of hotness and snark.

We went sightseeing, and then to dinner and to the clubs, while the CYT kept up a constant stream of criticism:

West Hollywood was "tacky," the Pacific Design Center "tired," Beverly Hills "bourgeois."

I had a job at Muscle and Fitness as "a glorified file clerk for narcissists," I was getting a "worthless degree" at a "second rate school," my car was "tacky," and my clothing was "hayseed."

To add insult to injury, the Cute Young Thing kept cruising me.

The next day Fred had to do a sample sermon and have lunch with the committee, and somehow he talked me into taking the CYT out for more sightseeing.  I dragged Raul along to share the pain.

The criticism continued:  I was from the Midwest, "nothing but hayseeds and cows," and a "geezer" at age 27.  Raul was "fat," wore a "glorified pimp" outfit, and should "learn to speak English."

The cruising also continued, and the CYT had the nerve to suggest that we come back to his hotel. Behind Fred's back!

Something had to be done about this menace!

Fortunately, we had a plan.

We went back to the hotel, kissed and fondled a bit, and stripped the CYT out of his clothes.  Then we broke away.

"Whew!  That's some gut you got!"  Raul exclaimed, pointing at his six-pack abs. "How did you hide it? Sorry, man, I'm not into fatties."

"What?" the Cute Young Thing stammered.

"And what do you call that?" I said, pointing at his enormous package.  "I never saw one so small before."

"Maybe Fred likes them tiny?" Raul suggested.

"How does he even know it's there?  Sorry, buddy, I'm not into pencil stubs."

We got up and left the CYT speechless and staring on the bed.

Later that evening Fred called.  "What did you say to the CYT?  He insisted that I turn Claremont down!  He said the guys in West Hollywood are too fat and ugly!"

As it turns out, Fred and Matt stayed together for about 10 years, and we often "shared."

I never figured out what Fred saw in him.

Maybe you can?

See also: 8 Harvard Yard hookups; Matt's First Night with Fred and His Brother

Fall 1987: My Boyfriend Gets a BFF

Heinz flexes and cooks weiners
In West Hollywood in the 1980s, the boundary between friend and lover was fluid. A friend might invite you into his bed; a lover might cruise someone else. You might have a regular Saturday night date with a friend; you might not see a lover for weeks at a time.

So I'm not sure exactly when Raul and I broke up.

1. Maybe in August 1987, when my roommate Alan moved to Thailand to start a gay Pentecostal church.    I asked Raul to move in to help with the rent, but he refused: "too far from work" (he was now in customer service at a company on Wilshire). So I had to hustle to find a new place, with Derek on Sunset Boulevard.

2. Or in October 1987, when Raul's lease expired, and he moved into an ugly house with a German flight attendant or something named Heinz -- in West Hollywood, only two miles from my old apartment.

Heinz's Horrible House
3. Maybe when Heinz got to be really, really annoying.  He wouldn't let anyone walk in shoes or socks on his white shag rug -- we had to go barefoot.

He listened incessantly to a terrible German pop group -- "Come away wiz me tyu Molly-Byu, tyu Molly-Byu, tyu Molly-Byu."

He forced us to watch the Miss America pageant.  Why would a group of gay men want to watch the Miss America pageant?  "For the outfits!"

And he hung out with women.

In tv and movies, gay guys always have hetero girl bffs.  The writers think they're all feminine, so of course they want to hang out with girls.

But in West Hollywood in the 1980s, most gay men weren't feminine, and -- news flash -- preferred the company of men.  (Besides, a female friend would confound the fluid boundary between friend and lover).  So when Heinz started coming around with female friends, tongues started to wag:

He was trying to pass (Passing, pretending to be straight, was an unpardonable sin.)
He suffered from internalized homophobia.
He had been brainwashed to believe that men were incomplete without women.
He was secretly straight.

4. But most likely when Raul, following Heinz's example, got a female bff.  Gina from work, a secretary-aspiring actress who did two commercials and guest starred on a sitcom.

He brought Gina to Heinz's house several times, then to my house, to the bars, and to the French Quarter Restaurant, where the waiter asked if they were a couple (come on, this was West Hollywood!).

My other friends stopped inviting me places -- guilt by association.

But the last straw came in December, when their office had a Christmas banquet. Gina invited Raul. To be her date.

I was furious.  "Doesn't she know that we're a couple?  Or does she not care?  Gay relationships are meaningless, right?"

"You know I'm not out at work," Raul said.  "Going with Gina would be better than going alone."

"Surely you're not considering it?" I asked, aghast.

He was considering it.

I hate the holidays.

The story of Raul continues here, when my ex-boyfriend Fred visits West Hollywood with a Cute Young Thing.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Cowboy of Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island, Australia, June 1986

In West Hollywood, relationships happened fast.  After three dates, or hookup plus two dates, you were officially a couple, listed in address books together, invited to parties together, off-limits for cruising but available for "sharing."

But it was weird to be considered a couple after one hookup.

And even weirder to be invited to Australia.

I met the Carl the Australian Cowboy around Easter 1986: in his 30s, tall, slim, with a long face and a scruffy beard, wearing an incongruous plaid shirt and cowboy hatt. Not my type -- until he said "G'day!"

Australia was my childhood ideal of a "good place!"

He was a tour guide of some sort, just finishing up a two-week holiday that mostly involved camping at Yosemite National Park.

An outdoorsman -- definitely not my type!  But I wasn't bringing Carl home, I was bringing home Ken James from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Dominic Guard from Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Troy, the Australian soccer player who took off his clothes in class....

We spent the night together, and the next day went to church and brunch at the French Quarter, and then he had to go to LAX to return his rental car and catch the flight back to Sydney.

As we were saying goodbye, Carl brought his face to my ear and whispered: "What about if I get another ticket, and bring you along?"

Thinking he was joking, I said, "Sure!  Oh, wait -- I have a paper due next week!"

"When classes are out, then?  I work in the industry -- you can fly for free."

He was serious!  "Well -- I'm sort of committed to spending the summer in Japan with Alan."

 "All the better.  It's a short flight from Sydney to Tokyo. Why not pop down for a week or two on the way?"  He wrapped his arms around me.  "Or longer, eh?"

Sure enough, a week later a plane ticket arrived in the mail for me: Los Angeles to Adelaide, Australia, on May 27th.  Open return.

Fly across the world to visit a guy I just met?  What could possibly go wrong?

In case you ever get a similar offer, here are a few guidelines.

1.  Find his town on a map.  I didn't bother, figuring that Kingscote was a suburb of Adelaide.

It wasn't.  An hour and a half drive to Port Jervis, a half hour wait for a ferry, and then another half hour to Kangaroo Island.

2. Ask about the sightseeing itinerary.

Before I arrived, Carl told me about all of the sightseeing we would be doing.  Ayres Rock!  The National Museum of Melbourne!  The gay neighborhood of Sydney!

I got Kangaroo Island.

"I moved to Sydney when I was a youngster, did all the wild life," Carl said.  "To be honest, mate, it gets old fast.  I moved to Kangaroo Island to get away from all that. "

The kangaroos come right up to your door.  You can shake hands with them.  Who could ask for anything better?"

"Um...well, is there much of a gay community in Adelaide?"

"I only get out there once or twice a year.  Too much to do here on the island."

3.  Find out about the amenities in his town.  Kingscote, the only city on Kangaroo Island, was small, flat, and dusty, with a population that barely reached 2,000.  It had half a dozen restaurants, all seafood, no gyms, one art gallery, no museums, no bookstores, no movie theater.  For that you had to take the ferry to Adelaide.

"What do you do here?" I asked, dubiously.

"Why, it's the greatest place in the world!  We have penguins, seagulls, and kangaroos you can walk right up to and pet.  We have hiking, camping, swimming, diving...well, the water's a bit cold at the moment."

4. Ask about the living situation.  

Carl lived in a small square house right on the ocean -- you could hear it from the living room, and see it from the front porch.  Inside there were no books except some wilderness guides.  

And no tv!

"What do you do at night?" I asked.

"Oh, listen to music and read, I suppose.  But mostly I go visiting.  Aussies are big on entertaining."

5. Ask about the local gay community.

He was right about that. Every night we had dinner with a different grinning heterosexual couple who asked if I had a girlfriend back in the states.

"I'm not exactly out to them," Carl explained.  "Or to anyone, really."

"Are there any gay people on Kangaroo Island?"

"Lots!  I have one gay friend here, a bloke I grew up with, and there's a lesbian couple who run a gift shop for the tourists.  They have me over for dinner every week."

"That's not exactly lots."

6. Ask about his intentions.

I asked about the open-ended ticket, but Carl said "No worries.  I know you have to get to Japan sometime this summer.  But what if you like it so much, you want to stay?"

Since Carl arranged for my ticket, I felt obligated to put in at least a week.  Admittedly, it was fun to see the kangaroos, pet the seagulls, feed the penguins, have dinner with the lesbian couple, and "share" Carl's childhood friend.

Once I took the ferry by myself into Adelaide, for the South Australian Museum, some bookstores, a bath house, and an Indonesian restaurant.

But overall, it was a dreary holiday.  Made more dreary by the work visa application that Carl presented me over breakfast one morning.

"Now that you've fallen in love with the place, why not stay?  You can come work with me.  We can have a life together here, far away from the noise and crowds of the gay ghetto."

I wanted the noise and crowds of the gay ghetto!

After 10 days, I said goodbye and flew home.

I'm still waiting to go to Ayres Rock and Alice Springs.

See also: Finding a Boyfriend at the Horseman's Club; In Search of Australian Aboriginal Men

Raul and my Bed-Hopping Roommate

West Hollywood, September 1986

In the fall of 1986,  shortly after I returned from Japan, I was living with Alan, who dragged me to the gay Asian bar Mugi twice a week.  Our other roommate, Chaiyo, was from Thailand.  I was taking a class in Chinese literature at USC (as part of my doctoral study in comparative literature).  Three days a week, I drove downtown to my job at the Community Redevelopment Agency, which was in the midst of revitalizing Little Tokyo.

With all of that Asian influence, you might expect me to meet a lot of Asian guys.  But I didn't.  The problem was, they found Alan so infinitely attractive that I couldn't compete.  Even if he didn't do anything.

One day in September 1986, I brought an Asian guy home.  Alan was watching tv in the living room, so I introduced them casually as we passed through.

 "Wow, you're roommate is hot!" my date exclaimed. Sometime during the night, he got up to use the bathroom and "accidentally" stumbled into the wrong room, and into Alan's bed!

Alan didn't mind, but I wasn't yet comfortable with the West Hollywood custom of "sharing" with one's roommates.

Besides, "sharing," was only for committed partners, not casual dates!

Besides, "sharing" meant both of you participating!

Not to worry, there were lots of non-Asians around. L.A. was ethnically diverse.  In fact, it was 50% Hispanic.

50%!  I liked those odds!  On October 4th, 1986,  I went to the Plaza or the Silver Platter (I forget which) and met Raul from East L.A., a cook in a Filipino restaurant, short and slim with small hard muscles.

Was it safe to bring him home, or was Alan infinitely attractive to Hispanic guys, too? (This was before we started going to Tijuana.)

I decided to take the bull by the horns:  I invited Raul over for dinner Friday night "with my roommates."

He insisted on cooking -- "I'm a professional chef, I do all the work" -- chicken adobo, broccoli, and a Filipino rice cake called puta (no connection to the homophobic slur).

Raised in Iglesia Pentecostal Jesucristo, Raul was fascinated by Alan's plan to start a gay Pentecostal church in Thailand.  " can you be cristiano, if you are gay? The Bible says that God hates gays."

After dinner, Alan grabbed his Bible and his Greek New Testament and started explaining how they didn't condemn gay people at all, starting with the story of Sodom -- it's about lack of hospitality, not gay people.

I already knew all about it, so I quickly got bored.

Famous gay couples, Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan.  Chaiyo fled to his room to watch The Golden Girls.  Raul jumped up and took the place he vacated next to Alan on the couch.

Ephesians and Romans: incorrect translation from the original Greek.  Arsenokoitai means "male prostitute," not "gay man." Alan's arm was wrapped around Raul's shoulders.

In the Book of Acts, Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch, and invites him to spend the night.  Eunuchs were usually gay.  Adam whispered something in Raul's ear and tried to fondle his leg; Raul laughed and pushed his hand away.

I knew where this was headed.  "Hey, sounds like you guys have a lot to talk about," I said. "It's late.  I'm going to bed."

"Ok," Raul said, barely noticing me as he looked down at a passage in the Greek New Testament -- or was he looking at Alan's bulge?  "We will be done soon."

Yeah, right!  I thought.  I'll see you at breakfast!  

I went to my room, got undressed, and lay in bed with a book, fuming with jealousy.  I heard muffled conversation from the living room, then a burst of laughter.  Then an ominous silence...were they kissing?  And footsteps heading down the hall to Alan's room.  Someone used the bathroom.

Then my door opened.  It was Raul!

"Man, that, talk, talk," he said, stripping off his shirt.  "I mean, it was interesting, but come on, man! I'm on a date!"

He slid out of his pants and climbed in bed next to me.  "And he's so grabby!  If I didn't know better, I would think he was cruising me!  You weren't waiting too long, were you?"

"Not at all."  I turned off the light.

Alan and I Cruise in Japan

Osaka, Japan, July 1986

In March 1986, my ex-boyfriend Alan, the former porn star and current student clergy, suddenly announced that he was leaving the MCC: God had called him to start his own gay Pentecostal church.

In Japan.

Ok, there were 100,000,000 people in Japan, 3% Christian, maybe 1% of that Pentecostal, and 10% of that gay.  A target market of 3,000 people.

"Oh, no, there will be a massive revival.  Thousands of Japanese gay men and lesbians will be won to the Lord.  In a few years, there will be gay Pentecostal churches all over Japan."

He invited me to come along and become his co-minister.  I should have remembered moving to Omaha with Fred.  But...

Alan quickly landed a job teaching at an English language school in Osaka, and moved in April 1986, just as the new semester was beginning.   I applied for and received a scholarship to spend the summer at Kansai University.  On May 27th, I flew to Australia to visit a friend, and then joined Alan in Japan.

He lived on a very noisy, crowded street in the Kita Ward of Osaka, in a tiny apartment -- about 216 square feet, the size of an average bedroom in the U.S.

Every day between 8:00 am and 2:00 pm, Alan met with his students -- 8 to 10 per hour, talking about current events and writing essays.  I went to Gold's Gym, then to my class in Japanese Literature or to the Joto Library to study Japanese.

After dinner we cruised. I got the gay bars, restaurants, and discos, and Alan got the bath houses, bookstores, movie theaters, and Sakuranomiya Park. We were ostensibly looking for new converts for Alan's Gay Pentecostal Church, but Alan seems to have been mostly cruising.  Every night he brought a new potential convert back to our apartment: students, salary men, tourists.  For some reason, Asian men found him infinitely attractive (later, when we were roommates, he used this remarkable ability to steal my dates).

But none of the guys he brought him converted.

The Gay Pentecostal Church -- Kamisama no kyokai gei -- met every Sunday morning at 10:30 for Sunday school and 11:30 for the morning service.  With Alan and me, and sometimes whoever stayed over last night.

No one else.

We put up fliers in gay bars, restaurants, discos.  Alan announced the church at a meeting of Kansai Pride.

No one came.

In July we went to a Hadaka Matsuri, a Naked Man Festival.  It was the highpoint of the trip. Unfortunately, we missed the Penis Festival of Kawasaki.

At the end of July, when Alan's school closed for summer break, we returned to Los Angeles.  I knew he wasn't going to go back to Japan, and sure enough, in August he returned to his old job as a middle-school social studies teacher.  But soon he was talking about starting a gay Pentecostal church in Thailand.

"There will be a massive revival.  Thousands of Thai gay men and lesbians will be won to the Lord.  In a few years, there were be gay Pentecostal churches all over Thailand.  You should come...."

I said no to that one.

See also: The Day I Turned Japanese; Bed-Hopping in Japan

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Pentecostal Porn Star Hooks Up with a Norwegian Con Artist

West Hollywood, December 1985

Maybe the cold makes people want to hug, but I've found the wintertime to be good for starting a new romance: I started dating Fred the Ministerial Student in December, Verne the Preacher's Son in January, and my Celebrity Boyfriend in January.  Christmas is particularly erotic: kissing Brian under the mistletoe, meeting the bully in the gay bar, catching Cousin Joe in the act.

But you have to be careful if you're already in a relationship.  The last two weeks of December are a mine field, especially if you go back to the Midwest.

In the fall of 1985, shortly after I moved to Los Angeles, I liked Alan, one of the two ministerial students at All Saints Metropolitan Community Church (the gay church).  I'm a clergy groupie, and his former job as a porn actor sweetened the deal.

But it took a long time to incite his interest -- I was tall and rather muscular, and he liked small, slim guys -- so we didn't start dating until early November.

I assumed that we would be monogamous.  And we were.

For about six weeks.

On December 15th, a guy named Kristian appeared at church.  Small, slim, passive, smiling, handsome, early 20s. I could see Alan's face light up.

After the service, Alan practically knocked me over in a mad dash to get to him at the coffee hour.  I followed and heard his story.  It didn't quite add up, like that of my first West Hollywood boyfriend, Ivo the Bulgarian Bodybuilder who was insanely jealous of Michael J. Fox.  But I didn't question him:

1. Kristian was born in Norway, and moved to the U.S. with his parents at age 5.  His father was a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, and his mother wrote children's books.
2. He graduated from UCLA's Film School and was now working as a production assistant at Paramount.
3. He had totalled his car in an accident that wasn't his fault, so now he was taking the bus everywhere.
4. He had just broken up with his lover, and needed a place to stay until January 1st, when his new apartment would be ready.

"You can stay with me!" Alan exclaimed.  "I have two roommates, but you camp out on our couch."

Watching my boyfriend's eyes gleam with erotic anticipation, I offered Kristian an alternative plan: "I'm going home to the Midwest on Tuesday,a and I'll be gone for two weeks, so you can have my apartment all to yourself."

I know what you're thinking -- hand over my apartment key to some guy I just met?  But I thought: Kristian has no car, and Alan lives 5 miles away. It will be impossible for them to get together!

It never occurred to me that Alan could easily drive over and pick him up.

When I returned to Los Angeles on January 2nd, Kristian had moved out of my apartment and into Alan's bed.  " didn't plan on just happened," Alan told me. "Can we still be friends?"

During the few days he spent at my apartment, Kristian stole a pair of jeans, pawned my grandmother's silverware, and ran up $200 in phone calls to Norway.  Fortunately, Alan got my silverware back and wrote me a check for the $200, explaining that it was "a misunderstanding."  Kristian thought my grandmother's silverware was part of the deal?

By the end of January, Kristian had taken Alan for all he could and gone on to the other ministerial student at the church, and a month or so later he moved on to West Hollywood Presbyterian.  I don't know if he was a clergy groupie, or thought a minister would be a soft touch.

I did some checking: nobody with Kristian's name had graduated from UCLA Film School, or was working at Paramount.  I'll bet he wasn't even Norwegian.  He just let his soft, small, passive frame and killer smile work for him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Moving to West Hollywood #1: Is It Still There?

June 1985

During my year at Hell-fer-Sartain State, I mean Lone Star College in a far, far north suburb of Houston, all I could think of was escape.  I hated everything about Houston: the endless construction, the ridiculous traffic, the suburban sprawl, the humidity, and especially the rampaging homophobia.  I wanted a place where:
1. I wouldn't have to drive.
2. I wouldn't have to deal with constant homophobia.

That meant a Gay Neighborhood, and I had only heard of five, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Boston.

How to get to one?  Applying for jobs in publishing or translating never worked; I would have to go to graduate school.

So I applied to Ph.D. programs in
1, Renaissance Studies at Berkeley
2. Comparative Literature at Columbia
3. Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California
4. Romance Languages at Chicago
5. Romance Languages at Harvard.
(I was obsessed with Renaissance Italy that year.)

Only USC admitted me.  That meant moving to West Hollywood!

But I had a question: was it still there?

AIDS was announced to the world in an article in The New York Times in July 1981, but I don't remember hearing anything about it during my senior year at Augustana (1981-82).

During my two years at Indiana University in Bloomington (1982-84), I heard a few homophobes shrieking about a "gay plague!!!!" that was "God's punishment on homos!!!", but homophobes were always shrieking about something, so I ignored them.

It wasn't until  I got to Houston (1984-85) that I heard anything substantive, through the Montrose Voice and pamplets that the AIDS Foundation distributed: AIDS got its start among gay men, and 6,000 of them had died, but it was not a punishment, it was a disease, a virus transmitted through unprotected sex.

So I began using protection, and I gave up activities deemed particularly dangerous.

But what about the millions of gay men who had unprotected sex before they knew, who cruised as a form of recreation in gay ghettos, where thousands of partners were available?   Maybe the gay ghettos were deserted, the residents all dead or dying.

Was West Hollywood still there?

When my last final ended on May 17th, 1985, I drove right to the airport to catch a flight to Rome -- I wanted to see Renaissance Italian art and track down Giovanni, my high school crush.

When I returned on May 28th, I packed my car and drove the 1000 miles from Houston to Rock Island without stopping.  I spent the next month watching tv, walking the dogs, lifting weights, and visiting friends.  None of them were sick.

My friend Tom, who I visited in Los Angeles in 1980 (top), offered to let me stay with him in Van Nuys while I looked for an apartment.  Dick, the former bully who I met at a gay bar (left), offered to drive along as far as Denver.

We left on June 28th, 1985, the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Next: Moving to West Hollywood #2.


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