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Remembrances of a Terrible Ghey
Where are Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg in all of this?
This essay was originally published in June 2013 on Pure Film Creative. It’s been interesting to reread my thinking at the time about the value of Pride in general. I had no idea then that gender-queer activists would drive us off the cliff.
I’ve added some bits at the end as an update.
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For the past few weeks I’ve been living in the Boystown area of West Hollywood, better known as Weho, an unintentional misnomer for the neighborhood; I’m sure it’s been observed before that BigHo might be more appropriate. This is a temporary arrangement that will likely last the rest of the summer, which we don’t mean the same way in Los Angeles. It’s been observed before by anyone who’s ever set foot in Southern California that we don’t really have seasons, rather three stages of the year that might be titles taken from a Gershwin songbook: A Little Less Than Summertime (With Spots of Rain); Summertime; More Summertime Than Usual (With Wind and Fire).
I’m inspired to compare everything to musicals because a pair of homos next door have been practicing show tunes on the piano all morning, as they do many mornings. They make everything sound like Les Miz or Ragtime. They jump from plaintive to jaunty like rapid-cycling manic-depressives. Right at this moment it’s, “I can’t live, if living is without yooouuuu… I can’t live! Can’t live anymore!” Of course this sends me off on a tangent about the futility of romantic love and why people keep singing about it like they can never learn the lesson.
That isn’t the gayest thing about my new 'hood. Most of the plentiful dogs are screamin’-at-ya gay, my hot butch roommate’s Chihuahuas in particular. I never thought I’d get along with Chihuahuas because I’m always afraid I’ll squash them by accident. But they’re not really dogs, they are themselves, and I appreciate that. They sort of remind me of my pet mongoose that I kept when I was in India, Wali, except they aren’t nearly as ferocious as he was.
Another very gay incident: Last week during Pride preparations, a neighbor shouted up to another, “Bring down a pair of black high heels! He doesn’t have any!” This is all very exotic.
I have lived many places in the world, I have even lived in the West Village, but I have never lived anywhere that is so classically gay it can now safely be called ‘old school.’ People who know me personally will find my current circumstance somewhat amusing; I am far from classically gay. This must be what it was like living within a four-block radius of Christopher Street during the 70s, except it’s spread out over what must be almost a square mile like pastel frosting on a cupcake.
I’m not one of those gay homophobes, no more than I’m racist. I identify as gay as much as I identify as a man or as tall or as bald or as nearsighted. I simply don’t like being part of any group, period; I have an instinctive drive to march to my own beat, and that beat is more like Ravel’s ‘Bolero,’ a progressive maddening march, rather than the boom-boom wailing-diva plastic pop house that classical Gheys prefer. I find no solace in sameness; it’s terrifying because it’s often dangerous, or at the very least narrow-minded no matter the point of view. Perhaps a shrink might say that I’m like a savvy lover who rejects before he is rejected by excluding before I am excluded. I could blame the parents, I suppose, but according to socionics the differentness is simply a part of my personality type.
In the week leading up to Pride I try to make like Christopher Isherwood and become an objective observing camera. I’m only three blocks away from the main parade route, up towards the Sunset Strip, ironically a completely straight tourist stomping ground. My attempt at bemused objectivity doesn’t last long. With the Porta-Potties and the white pavilions being erected on San Vicente Boulevard in the heart of Boystown, fencing in the spectacular new Weho Library like Lannister encampments outside a castle in Game of Thrones, I start to feel besieged. On Wednesday I tweet: “With Pride coming I feel like Naomi Watts sitting quietly in the deck chair with the ground quaking before the tsunami hits.”
I cannot get over that rainbow flag. At this point it will never happen. I don’t care what it symbolizes, I hate it: it’s the single most effective debunker of the myth that Gheys have good taste. Those clashing colors have never represented me. There are obscure African nations who send three reps to the Olympic games with better-designed flags than ours. And it’s everywhere now that the Pride tsunami is heading my way. They’ve even painted the crosswalk at San Vicente and Santa Monica in those colors, as if to warn straight motorists that they have crossed into the heart of Homolandia much the way a visitor to Rome might amble into the Vatican and notice the carabinieri are now Swiss guards. (Did I just compare Weho to the Vatican? A happy but appropriate accident, plaintive songs and cross-dressing alluded.)
Pride isn’t just a parade on the Sunday, it’s a whole weekend. I wasn’t aware of this until now. I’ve never been before, although I have attended the Halloween parade on Santa Monica Blvd. a couple of times, but that has an equitable balance of Str8s; the Sunset Strip and the Boystown portion of Santa Monica merge into a mini-Brazilian carneval that can be fun because it’s dazzled by flashes of true inventiveness, this being a town of vast wardrobe departments peopled with so many truly talented creatives.
On Friday night it all kicks off, and a friend invites me for drinks. We’re a bit like Mutt and Jeff: he’s 5’4” and Vietnamese and I’m a foot taller and not Vietnamese. Our difference suits my aforementioned personality type. Most of the bars on the main portion of the strip are too packed to get into, and I don’t do well with being packed, never have, not even when I was younger—I had to be dragged to nightclubs, and then only with the lure of getting smashed and high. And that gay boom-boom wailing-diva music makes me grind my teeth and jut out my lower jaw and brings to mind RuPaul as a demented genre-film serial killer. I don’t do genre films any more than I do packed. We end up at Gym Bar, which like its sister bar in New York is a place where guys go not to be in the mix of the younger and better-looking old-school Gheys, but close enough to get that sensual homosexual street energy and maybe cop some spillover from the classical gay bars after closing time. It’s a sports bar, but nobody really pays attention to the monitors behind the bar, unless it’s to watch a hot pitcher emerging from the dugout rubbing a hardball on his crotch, or even better a UFC match, which is soft porn for me, I’ll admit it. I have a hard time watching any sort of wrestling, pun fully intended.
The night ends relatively uneventfully for us, but not for many of the revelers up and down the street. Closing time in L.A. is 2 AM, and the boulevard is more of a sticky morass of screamers and desperate humpers than a tsunami, a pasta pot that has boiled over its lid and is now splashing and hissing all over the stove. Almost everyone is intoxicated, mostly on booze, others on harder stuff as well as booze—you can tell the tweakers from the way they walk down the boulevard just that little bit faster than everyone else, vibrating like tuning forks. Walter White from Breaking Bad is grimacing but counting his money and shaking his head: no matter what the arbiters of what’s in and out said a few years ago, this meth thing ain’t going away—sex on it is too phenomenal, and it is a correct stereotype that many Gheys are all about lots and lots and lots of phenomenal sex, hour upon hour, nameless partner after nameless partner, slings and porn and toys. I could get on my middle-aged high horse and moralize about how empty all that phenomenal sex makes you feel afterward, but, even though it does, that would mean I disapprove.
I wake up on Saturday morning and it’s in full swing down there in the Game of Thrones encampment besieging the library. The thud of the bass, the obvious auto-tuned Top 40—where does Will.I.am come up with this stuff?—is a minor earthquake shaking the hill. Within moments it has synced itself with the thud of my hangover; we drank a lot of a lot of different things last night. I realize I’m only a block south of Sunset. I know I’m making a lot of geological comparisons, but that’s what it’s like: this Pride thing is the flooding of a river of sound and revelry, a big one like the Mississippi or the Ganges. I’m appalled and a bit frightened, but now admittedly drawn to the organized chaos in this perfect summertime weather. I’m the sort of person who runs towards a disaster when it happens, not away. I end up going to the gym instead; provided it isn’t a hangover that is so like a major storm that I have to give it a name, working out is my favorite remedy to chase away boozy remnants.
I am determined not to go out Saturday night but resolved to go to the Parade the next day. I’ll go with my hot twenty-five-year-old roommate, and I’ll do something I’ve never done before in the middle of a major city: take my shirt off. True, I do take it off when Tuttle and I go hiking in the Hills, but few people see me. This would be an act of flagrant exhibitionism that I normally don’t engage in; I’m more the subtle exhibitionist, a peacock who keeps his feathers firmly attached if fully fanned. I tell my roommate that my justification for taking off my shirt is I have this spectacular tattoo on my back done by one of the world’s most prominent tattooists that nobody but my increasingly infrequent lovers get to see. Also, let’s face it, there are not too many years more I can appear shirtless in the middle of the second-largest metropolis in America without seeming like a completely gross old troll who should get himself some dignity.
My resolve not to go out lasts as long as it takes for my Vietnamese friend to suggest via text that we stop by for last call at Gym Bar again. We know not to bother with the other bars because it will only be worse than last night. By the time we get there, the beleaguered bartender is literally shouting out, “Last call!” as his last nerve splinters and he can’t even bring himself to smile at us, the regulars, such a madhouse has even this out-of-the-way joint become. We order two drinks each, and move onto the patio for a smoke. One of the more attractive features of Gym Bar is the fact you can smoke and drink at the same time in relative comfort, and if it’s not entirely comfortable—like maybe it’s that stage of the year when it’s A Little Less Than Summer (With Spots of Rain)—then they’ll light a space heater. I am wearing my trademark slouch beanie.
“I like your beanie,” slurs a handsome drunkard tottering next to me in the press of the crowd on the patio. And a conversation of sorts strikes up. “I’m a terrible Ghey,” he continues. It’s true, he’s not the traditional type. He’s masculine and bearded, and could pass for straight. A TV writer, probably—he reeks of writer’s bitterness. His cigarette is bent, which leads to a few lame phallic jokes, all slurred and barely understood over the din of the music and the rush of last call, during which he reveals that his dick is also bent. This leads me to cross my arms in defense.
I get this a lot. Being a terrible Ghey myself, other terrible Gheys seem to need to impress me with their uniqueness, their straight-actingness. It may be my imagination, but it happens too often to be coincidence. It has to be a Pavlovian response when trying to chat me up, especially when you’re staggering drunk and smoking a bent cigarette, and I’ve got my arms crossed, which is international sign language for ‘no way,’ and you seem to want to break through that barrier at all costs. I have to admit the guy is very handsome, and he takes his glasses off in an effort to make himself handsomer, I guess—I rather liked the glasses, they’re a lot like mine, but newer. He must be a staff writer on a show with a regular paycheck.
But he can’t be a very good writer because he bolsters his assertion about what a terrible Ghey he is by burbling, “I’m from Arizona and I ride horses.”
“And? Ever heard of the gay rodeo?”
“Well… I shuppose… But I ride them better and differently.”
And then perhaps because he can correctly sense I’m a hardass who’s going to continue giving him a hard time, and in admirable defiance of my international sign language for no way, he leans in and kisses me. I let it happen even though I’m not drunk enough for this public display of beard-and-lip rubbing. My Vietnamese friend is standing inches away, and that makes it weirder. But I’m caught: this is Pride, and I’m supposed to get into the spirit of it. As society gallops into a post-gay world, this festival has ceased to have political or revolutionary significance: it’s a bacchanal, pure and simple, and you’re meant to get drunk and high and have lots and lots and lots of phenomenal nameless sex.
He turns out to be forty-one, looks more like thirty because this is L.A. and none of us look our real age, and that pleases me because he’s relatively speaking my age and I haven’t kissed anyone less than fifteen years younger than me in—I actually count it there on the spot—four years.
Still, I can’t do this, but I tend to kiss passionately if I’m going to kiss at all, and the guy is well into it and won’t let go. And now I’m getting all middle class as usual and don’t want to offend, and I wish he weren’t from Arizona and understood that; I offer to take his number and call him for a date when he sobers up, even though as we leave the press of the crowd in the bar I can finally see him full figure and I note that he’s a typical bitter, slovenly writer who doesn’t go to the gym. I can’t look at back fat in bed. I’m too gay that way.
We ditch the kissing cowboy at Kitchen 24, a restaurant up the road. My friend comes back to my place to have a nightcap in the garden and pet my hot butch roommate’s Chihuahuas.
Then he dissolves into what remains of the night around 5 AM, and I sleep until 1 PM and miss the parade. Still, I go down to the boulevard for the aftermath that will continue again until 2 AM—the thud and boom-boom wailing Top 40 divas indicate it’s still very much in full swing. I’m not one for parades, anyway. I’ve seen two Pride parades in New York, and what can beat that? Apparently this one is also led by Dykes on Bikes; you would think the Lesbotrons would want to go last, what with the ladies-before-gents thing being so patriarchal and all. But politics always take a back seat to good ol’ fashioned American narcissism.
I don’t take my shirt off after all. My hot roommate isn’t there to pretend he’s my age-inappropriate boy, having dissolved into a night of his own that later turns out to have been wrecked with that other gay nuisance: high drama.
On the boulevard I see guys from my gym, all with their shirts off, aging circuit boys. They nod and smile. All around me are the descendants of Great American Gheys like Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, at least in spirit. But there is no poetry here, just cacophony and hedonism, or the desire for hedonism. Whitman might approve. He'd certainly appreciate the vitality.
I look like the Zigzag man updated: duotone beard, earrings, purely decorative tattoos that have no meaning or symbolism dappling my arms, slouch beanie artfully slouched, rolled up baggy linen pants like a French fisherman, Birkenstocks so old and stained they have ceased to look like Birkenstocks, more like dirty Dutch resistance fighters from the last world war. As I walk against the flow—west to east on the east-to-west side of the street—I am aware I look like nobody else, but I still don’t take my shirt off to show my expensive work of body art by Xed LeHead of London. This pleases me. I also wear no rainbow-colored beads, I dare to be alone in a throng, I am sober for a change (I’ll head to the gym after this, and there will be five people there—perfect), I wear no slogans, I have no ambitions for anything with this crowd. I’m sure I look proud, as I do at any given moment even if I seldom feel it, but certainly not of this.
Aye, but for the life of me I am a terrible Ghey indeed.
While I don’t agree with Republican-controlled states instituting bans on drag performances, gender-queer activists went too far with the drag storytime thing — I’ve been warning about this since Wokeism escaped the lab. The commercialization of drag has also removed it from its original subversive political intent and placed it in the line of fire with any other sort of entertainment.
Philosophically speaking, it’s no different from blackface: Nobody is born with the biological imperative to perform in front of an audience in an often-grotesque burlesque of the worst characteristics of an entire sex. It doesn’t deserve the protection of LGBT rights; it’s neither sexuality nor gender dysphoria.
A piece I wrote in late February 2023 dismisses the convenient “lensing” of the history of drag performance in Anglo culture, which I grew up with and participated in as an adolescent. So far it’s the most-read essay on Quibblers & Scribblers: Drag Is a Form of Blackface. So Now What?
Regardless of my ambivalence about Pride as a concept, its festive euphoria is impossible to resist when you’re in the middle of it. I’d say that 2019 was the apotheosis of WeHo Pride. It hasn’t been the same since.
It was also a different kind of Pride, heavily corporatized. But there was a far more important difference from the 2013 Pride I just wrote about, which was authentic, as it always was: I reckon 75% of the participants in this video I took aren’t lesbians, gays, or transsexuals, down to the White chick with the Black baby in the reveal:
These are a few images of the set-up for WeHo Pride in 2017. My roommate, Tyler, worked in a booth that year. The second image is one of a series I took. The other is the lead image for this piece.