Archive for the ‘Peter Tchaikovsky’ Category

African Hate Words and What They Really Mean

January 22, 2008

“The faggot lovers Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz arrived in Kenya and were happily welcomed by homo activists in the Country. . . These two homos proved to be quite popular with Kenyan faggots and their supporters. The reception from these Kenyans was apparently so good, the two American faggots started contemplating plans of establishing the ‘Other Sheep’ East African chapter.” from Kenyans Against Homosexuality, a blog.

I grew up in an extreme environment of violence and hatred: the American Deep South in the 50s and early 60s, in Savannah, GA, where learning not to question was an important part of learning. I was lucky, though; because I grew up Southern, Jewish, impoverished (and incredibly queer), I was able, at an early age, to question much of what was going on. In fact, I soon realized there were two “realities” then: the “reality” of the way the world was, and the reality of the way people wanted the world to be.
This second reality is an “in our own image” world: in Savannah, it was all-white, totally straight, and very Anglo-Saxon-Protestant Christian. Most kids are brought up in an “our own image” situation, but it’s becoming harder with so many different images now. But I came of age in a seething furor over preserving that “in our own image” environment.
I now see a similar process going on in many places in the world, especially in black Africa: a strange, mirror-image of Savannah where white people were taught to fear and hate blacks and homosexuals were occasionally thrown into the mix as unseen bogeymen. Presently, we experience a condition of extreme hate actions and words directed against a target of ostensibly white or Western homosexuality being seen as something alien to and infecting the purity of black Africa. This is being done often under a Christian guise, which makes me question its real meaning.

First, I have no doubts that East African homophobia plays into an “in our own image” mindset, and that “image” is free from AIDS and “righteously” monogamous. Monogamy was a goal of Christian missionary work, though much of African tribalism bridled at it. Monogamy is still not considered manly for many African men: women are to be contested for, and the more you have, the more manly you are. In the old days, Christian missionaries could attack African male promiscuity with fire and brimstone; they can’t anymore. All they can do is scream at homosexuality and its “promiscuous” sex-outside-of-marriage sinfulness, while trying to ignore male heterosexual promiscuity, especially in urban Africa. There is also the specter of Islam, a very aggressively proselytizing religion, knocking loudly at the door. Islam for centuries was very “hush-hush” about homosexuality: in fact, it was often considered merely a private alternative to strictly controlled heterosexuality. But again, today with too many images in the air, Islam has become loud and harsh about a situation it used to tiptoe around. Therefore, the question in black Africa is: who is going to hate “queers” the most, Islam or Christianity, and of course guess who will suffer the most from this hatred?

A third specter comes up: AIDS, and the embarrassing fact that AIDS started out in Africa as a heterosexual disease, that came into the human population through eating bush meat, or the flesh of primates. This fact has been scientifically proven, but that does not soften the shame and embarrassment caused by AIDS, and how that shame will (hopefully) be obliterated if it is cast onto the bodies of African gay men and lesbians, who are coming out despite the oppression they are under.
All of this is a recipe for a living hell for many lgbt people in many areas of Africa, but the worst part is not being able to speak about it, being too “politically correct” (or “polite” as we used to say in the South) to see what is under the hate language, and exposing it. A lot of Africans will be frightened to death by homophobic extremism, and many will, literally, die from it, because it answers so many needs to cover up so much. I think we need to take the cover off this as soon as possible. LGBT people in Africa need to see that they are a real part of “in our own image,” and the world needs to show this with bravery, frankness, and sincerity.

More about how I feel about subjects like this at my website,

Tea Room Sex, A Blast from the Old Past?

December 4, 2007

Today I read a wonderful entry in Jesse Monteagudo’s email journal that he sends out his friends, and also posts in his own blog, about male public restroom encounters. It really made me think about what is happening here, and why we are so appalled at what has basically been going on since guys got together to pee in the back of the cave. Here’s Jesse’s journal entry, and at the end I include my own response, which I thought was interesting, too.

Sex and the Daytona Beach 9

Male homosexual activity in public bathrooms, for decades a fact of gay life, became big news in 2007, thanks to the misadventures of conservative politicos like U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Florida State Representative Bob Allen (R-Merritt Island) and the (mostly unfounded) complaints of Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle. Now come the “Daytona Beach 9;” nine men who were arrested for lewd behavior during a sex sting operation at a Sears Department Store bathroom in Daytona Beach Nov. 1. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the accused include “a former Daytona Beach city commissioner and a local high school teacher” who promptly resigned from his job. “The reason that we did this sting is we all go to the mall; our kids go into the bathroom,” said Police Chief Mike Chitwood, who could hardly contain his disgust. “That they could be susceptible to this type of behavior is absolutely a disgrace.” (Please note that I refuse to name the Daytona Beach 9. In my opinion, these men have suffered enough already.)

Public sex, especially sex in public toilets or “tearooms,” has always been controversial, even within our GLBT community. Almost without exception, bathroom sex is male masturbatory or male homosexual, proof perhaps of the male’s greater sex drive. (It is not my intent, in writing this article, to condone bathroom sex. In fact, due to its health, safety and legal hazards, I do not recommend it.) There are many reasons why a man would want to have sex in a public restroom. For some men, bathroom sex is a step in the coming out process; a relatively easy way for them to discover the joys of male love before moving on to gay social networks, commercial institutions, or even a life partner. For other men, tearoom trade is their main or only form of sexual expression. Many of these are repressed “closet cases;” men who can not or will not accept their homo- or bisexuality. For them, a quickie in a toilet satisfies their sexual needs but does not require them to be publicly “branded” as queer, which would be the case if they went to a gay bar, sex club, community center, church, etc. This was apparently the case with Sen. Craig, Rep. Allen, and at least some of the “Daytona Beach 9.”

What makes a public bathroom a hotspot for tearoom sex? Though opinions differ, a bathroom’s location often makes it a favored place for sexual activity. College campuses are ideal tearoom locations, if only because colleges are full of testosterone-charged young men who still question their sexuality. Public parks are also popular (ask George Michael) as well as libraries and department stores (like the Sears in Daytona Beach). Once a place gets a “reputation” there is no telling what might happen. A good example is a Home Depot store in Oakland Park, Florida, which in its heyday was notorious for its men’s room activity. How did that Home Depot become so cruisy? Certainly the store’s butch image attracted a certain type of gay man. Perhaps two guys hit it off at the paint section, went off to do their business in the bathroom, and then told their friends. And the rest is history.

Male homosexual activity, especially in public places, threatens a lot of people, which is why the media have a field day with sex stings like the recent one in Daytona Beach. The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s excited coverage of the Nov. 1 arrests is a case in point. The day after the arrests were made the paper (and its Web site) published an article (“Ex Daytona commissioner, teacher charged in sex sting”) which not only published the names, ages and professions of the accused but also their mug shots. The next day the News-Journal ran a second article (“Mall bathroom sex sting spotlights subculture”) that tried to analyze “a subculture in which adult men meet for sex in restrooms designated online as hot spots, almost in plain view of unsuspecting patrons.” In fact, the only explanation of this “subculture” came from police Sgt. Jeff Hoffman, who talked about “coughing, grunting, sharp zipper noises, … tapping on shoes” and other “signals” used by men to attract sex partners. Though the accused limited their sexual activities to masturbation, they were nevertheless arrested “because a bathroom stall doesn’t completely conceal a person” and, thus, “he has no expectation of privacy, making any sexual behavior unlawful.”

As if that was not enough, the paper followed this tidbit with a third article (“Activists say arrests a setback for gay community”) that claimed that “the entire local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is going to have a harder time than ever gaining equality and convincing people that only a tiny fraction among them is interested in sex with strangers in public places.” That’s a lot of responsibility to be placed on the shoulders of nine formerly closeted men. Not surprisingly, the News-Journal’s coverage of the arrests “generated more than 120,000 page views and hundreds of comments on the News-Journal’s Web site Friday. That’s more traffic than the entire site gets on a normal day.” Needless to say, most of the comments were even worse than the cops’.

The media justify their lurid reports by protesting that bathroom sex threatens the well-being of “innocent” bystanders, especially children. Leaving aside the question of whether or not witnessing sexual activity is more traumatic than watching a traffic pileup or a Fort Lauderdale City Commission hearing, the fact remains that an unsuspecting child is more likely to be hit by a bolt of lightning or win the lottery than run into sexual activity in a public john (unless he’s looking for it). As any vice cop could tell you, catching men having sex in restrooms is difficult, which is why they often have to resort to entrapment or other extralegal subterfuges. A sting operation like the one in Daytona Beach is newsworthy because it is so unusual.

The media will also deny that they are conducting a witch-hunt against gay or bisexual men. But a witch-hunt it is, and many of our brothers have paid the price for it. Thirty years ago, reporters used hidden cameras to catch men who gathered in gay bars. Today, the media use similar tactics to catch men having sex in public parks or public bathrooms. In fact, today’s accused have it even worse, for they are branded for life thanks to sex offender laws and the Internet. One does not have to condone public sex to agree that media coverage of sex sting operations is often sleazier than any crimes that the stings seek to prevent. We can feel sorry for the accused, which is why we agree with the Rev. Beau McDaniels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church, who “said she can understand why some local gay and bisexual people go underground. It’s a conservative area where people’s sexual preferences can ruin their careers, she said.”

“If people would learn to accept people as God accepts them, we wouldn’t have this issue,” Rev. McDaniels said. “When you’re told it’s wrong and bad, you hide. This will drive us deeper underground.”

I welcome your comments. You may reach me by e-mail at

Dear Jesse,

That was a great journal entry. I really enjoyed it, and thought it was marvelously written, very clear, mostly dispassionate, and “spot on,” as the kids say.

Most gay men who’ve had any experience and fairness out in the world don’t condemn bathroom sex; they may not like it, but to outright condemn it because “I’d never do it,” seems pretty ridiculous. It’s been going on since the early 19th century, at least, when public facilities became available. In fact, one famous “house of comfort” in Central Park was visited by Walt Whitman, and was notorious after the Civil War as a place to meet soldiers, sailors, workers, and other “tradesmen.” In England, it was very popular, especially during Edwardian times, and these places were referred to as “cottages,” so it was called “cottaging.” Since England had ferocious laws about picking up anyone in a bar (constant entrapment), the “cottages” were considered safer. Usually what went on there was not complete sex, just a dangling of equipment, a few winks, and then something was done outside. Although that was not always the case.

A lot of the uproar about bathroom sex, or tearoom sex, really comes from the feminization of our commercial culture. Women, back in the 19th century, were pretty much aghast at the idea of public facilities. They were things men used. Women did not use them; they used facilities in hotels or lady’s shops, if they had to “go” outside the house. Usually, they just held it in, so that women often suffered from terrible bladder problems. But it was considered unladylike to go to do “it” in a place open to the public, so the idea of one of these places being used for sexual as well as excretionary purposes was really disgusting to the WCTU crowd. Men usually laughed at what was going on. It was often considered simply a part of being a man, and the Paris pissoirs were infamous cruising places, and no one ever got busted in one. It would have been considered, in itself, a breach of privacy and manliness. If you did not want the advances of a man, you just let him know and pronto!

I think this attitude was pretty much in force in America, even up until after World War II, when public facilities really started opening up, and women started using them as well. So the old feminine disgust at anything else going on in these places except an “extremely private function,” snowballed. For women, the public bathroom was a place for primping, and anything other than that was totally locked up, with an attendant out in front to make sure it stayed that way. Since no real man ever primped, it meant that he had to get in and out of these places in a nano-second, and any dallying around was considered suspect. In fact, for two men even to go to the bathroom together was considered suspect. A few years ago, a friend of mine and I, who like to go together to piss, were caught by a waiter peeing at once in the same toilet. I thought the waiter was going to faint.

So we now have this idea that bathrooms, or as the Irish say, “shit houses,” are sterile, sacred places where only God, pissing and dumping can take place, and everyone buys into that. Now that the YMCAs of America have all gone co-ed, the parks are patroled to the level of state of prisons (New York’s Central Park is said to have one cop, plainclothed or not, for every 40 visitors), and people are way too tasteful or stylish to consider cruising department store johns (due to the armies of ribbon clerk queens who used to staff department stores, they were infamous), this form of sexual display, in all of its basic, crude, animal splendor, is really off limits. Decent, all-Americans would rather meet via the Web, where they can lie to their hearts content about their assets, age, etc. And there is that most sanitized of all sexual encounters, phone sex, which requires nothing more than a jack and a credit card.

In a way, it’s sad, but I’m sure that a lot of people will say that the Daytona Nine had it coming: they are a throw-back, and as everyone knows, we hate themThe author in his own bath.


In Love with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

May 21, 2007

I have a terrible confession to make. For years and years I have been hopelessly in love with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. I cannot even remember when it started, way before I knew anything about him—perhaps it was the first time my mother took me to the ballet in Savannah, Georgia, when American Ballet Theatre would hit town on one its yearly pilgrimages through the South, or the remains of the Ballets Russe would make a similar stop. The program was almost always the same—in fact, in a recent, wonderful talk the filmmaker Wakefield Poole did at the Donnell Library in New York, he explained it. Before he became a “pornographer” as he proudly calls himself, making the groundbreaking Boys in the Sand, with Casey Donovan, he was a young ballet dancer, touring with the always-touring Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo. “We always did the same ballets, to save scenery and costumes. There was ‘Graduation Ball,’ ‘Gaite’ [for ‘Gaite Parisian’] and the third act of Swan Lake.”

He went on to explain:

“The third act of Swan Lake made me know I was a dancer. All I did was stand there and move my arms a bit, but just seeing all those dancers in white with the blue light around them made me know that I was doing something very special and wonderful.”

Well, that did it for me, too. Just being this child in the audience (I think I was maybe eight or nine), and seeing this absolute magic floating on the stage—I was hit. I was smeared. I was . . . I was absolutely intoxicated with ballet and Tchaikovsky. I wanted to live inside it, and him. That feeling continued in my life, decade after decade, and I still have it. I cry my eyes out at the last act of Swan Lake—it has nothing to do with the story, but the fact that he is watching it, too. I’m sure of it. This handsome Russian man with all of his imaginative power, delight and wit is watching every single performance of it. I’m sure of it. I felt that way before I knew anything about him, when he was only some strange name most people can not spell, and his life seemed so remote as to be untouchable.

There are, I am sure, two Tchaikovkys: one is the popular composer who wrote all those engaging, marvelous ditties from The Nutcracker Suite and Sleeping Beauty, and lots of other music that seems almost destined to be lampooned, ridiculed, by a lot of highbrow critics, and even labeled as throw-away. But the really smart people will have nothing to do with that. The genius choreographer George Ballanchine said that Peter Ilyich was the world’s greatest composer for ballet, and if anyone knows, Ballanchine should. Yes, the smart people know that even under some of the sillier things he wrote, there was this brooding intensity; but under the other things—Tatiana’s fantastic letter scene from the opera Eugene Onegin, for instance; the Little Russian Symphony, among so many others—an emotional storm is unleashed and working. You are completely inside him and beside yourself. He has found the perfect expression of everything he could not express.

Then there are other things, like the wistful waltzes in Swan Lake, that seem so simple as to be simple-minded, but which truly haunt you. You realize inside them is the sadness of men who can never have what they want. And that was Tchaikovsky’s own sadness. He was gay—to use one of our many names for this—at a time when being that way was hell. It was knowing you were what was unnamable; it was knowing you were never going to be able to go, freely, inside that deep romantic heart of yourself and bring back the gold of your own feelings and lay it openly, kindly, at the feet of another man.

This was peculiar, too, in the fact that Tchaikovsky was so Russian and so loathed by so many of Russia’s other composers, because they felt that his never-descreet-enough homosexuality in their closed but gossipy society was an insult to a country trying hard to re-identify itself only a few decades before the Revolution exploded it. For two hundred years, Russia’s upper class had been under the dominance of French and English culture. It was impossible to be among the elite and not speak and write fluent French and adequate English—then Victorianism, from both sides of the English Channel, was considered the arbiter of the high taste. There were still the wild, hyper-religious masses of Mother Russia, but the enlightened upper classes rejected them as boorish for French or English refinement.

Countering this was an attempt at a “real” Russian music and culture based on folk tales and songs, coming from Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, and Modest Mussorgsky. They wanted a hairy-chested, back-to-the-people, two-fisted Russianism, and Peter Ilyich’s very existence represented a spit in the face to that. He was too “light”; a pansy with gossip swirling around him. He was drawn to younger men—sometimes servants, sometimes men of his own class—and as much as he tried, through a disasterous false marriage, to hide it, this attraction dogged him.

In 1891 he sailed to New York to open Carnegie Hall. He was one of the world’s most famous composers, and I keep wondering, would he have been happier in New York, if that could have been possible? New York was known to be a more open city than most of Europe. It had a fairly accessible underground gay culture. But it was impossible for him to stay. He came back to Petersburg, and died there, in 1893, of cholera—and the question has always been, did he willingly drink a glass of water that was contaminated with it? Did Peter Ilyich kill himself in this almost untraceable way, or was he forced to kill himself, as the only way to keep gossip about him (and possible blackmail) from emerging, in the way that it broke out and destroyed Oscar Wilde?

This question has been asked over and over again; Ken Russell in his way- over-the-top Tchaikovsky movie starring an unbearably handsome young Richard Chamberlain, The Music Lovers, gives us the idea that he was forced to do it. This was so, even though his brother Modest, who was also his manager, was known to be “queer as the proverbial goose,” but able to stay in the background.

What brought me back to Tchaikovsky was reading the Rev. Mel White talking about his own “engagement” with of all people the loathsome Jerry Falwell, who I’m sure would have forced poor Peter Ilyich to drink that water at the drop of . . . anyway, it was so terrible reading Mel White talk about himself in these words:

“After I put myself through exorcism, electric-shock therapy, then slitting my wrists, and going to the hospital, my wife finally said, ‘You know, you really have a life of your own. I like gay people, but I just didn’t want you to be one.’ Eventually I met and fell in love with Gary Nixon, and as soon as I realized that my sexuality was a gift from God and got over my fear and guilt, I wrote Stranger at the Gate, in which I told the leaders of the religions right that they are doing terrible damage and they must stop.”

Unfortunately, Peter Ilyich did not get that chance. But every time I go to the ballet and see Swan Lake or Ballanchine’s Serenade, or at Christmas, when I hear the NutcrackerCarnal Sacraments, I think of him, and imagine this handsome man sitting next to me, reaching for my hand.