..."the unkempt hair, the mustaches, the clothes"...A Prequel
Summer of 1976.
The dark and sullen, aviator-wearing, facial-hair-experimenting gentleman is me. The ball capped, plaid-shirt-wearing man I'm about to attack is Robert.
I'm all of 21. He's just turned 36.
The scene? The automatic photo booth located at the long gone 59th Street entrance to Woolworth's, just across the street from the both Bloomingdale's and the D & D Building. These days it's the current location of the Bloomberg Building.
The store smelled of fried chicken and mothballs, as many Woolworth's did. Look how clever and even fashion forward I was then! I managed to turn Robert's cap backwards between the second and third pictures. Actually, I'm moving in for the kill. My technique is not more different, to this day. The errant arm around the neck, the unfocused, in this case cross-eyed, stare. And whamm-o! Mission accomplished.
Robert and I spent 19 years together; a few of them as wonderful as this looks, some that were pretty damned miserable.
But that's actually not what I want to talk about today.
For the past month or so, I've been stewing over this slight bit of writing that appeared in the New York Blade. I'm almost sorry to focus any more attention than it already has received.
The writer, who was three years old when this picture was taken, had viewed a DVD copy of "Gay Sex in the '70s", a documentary about the first years of gay freedom, and was much chagrined by what he saw. In fact, he found himself scornful of the men portrayed.
With blinding hindsight, he asks how men in the 70's could have been so stupid. How could they have danced on the edge of the precipice, so unmindful, nay, uninformed of the unknown consequences, and thereby ruining everything for all the generations yet come?
His scorn for a generation of men he never knew is palpable. He feels like he's watching a "foreign film", which makes him wildly xenophobic, if that's the case. He's clearly revolted by "the fashions: the unkempt hair, the mustaches, the clothes". And of course, he's completely horrified by the film's depiction of the many modes of anonymous sex that were available then, and amazingly enough continue to be available, albeit in mutated forms, to this day. He compares sex in trucks to the Holocaust, which is specious at best, and pretty damned insulting to all parties concerned. He asks himself "how those men in the 1970's could have been so stupid", and surmised that they didn't know any better. Good one, Sherlock.
Mostly, he just can't make the deductive leap and imagine what it might have been like to live in that era. There's no empathy here, no understanding of the cultural events that might have lead men to celebrate their sexuality as an intrinsic part of their identities. Seemingly no attempt has been made to actually research this subject, beyond the viewing of the film, and perhaps a bit of Googling.
The men today are "more clean-cut and better groomed than they were 30 years ago", and he acknowledges that many of them engage in the same risky behavior that doomed their forebearers. The question begs: Just who is more stupid here? The men who had no idea what was in store for them, or those that have been fully indoctrinated in the last 25 years of AIDS culture.
I'm thinking the major problem here is that so many people have no frame of reference regarding the men who lived and loved in the 70's and 80's. They never known any, and they're making no attempts to seek out the survivors. I've had twenty year olds tell me how it's all so much better now, how we're much closer, much more real, and we really don't need that gay thing anymore. This is one of the great tragedies of the plague years: the loss of an entire generation that has never had a real chance to tell it's story. A culture disappeared. The majority of those men? Long gone. The remaining few? Shell-shocked.
I've been skating around the edge of this subject for quite some time. I've been conflicted about consistently blogging stories of those years, and being labeled a memorist. I have a pretty great life right now, though it's a dual existence. I carry those years with me at all times. I walk through a freighted city, heavily populated with ghosts.
I hope you'll indulge me in further explorations of our mutual pasts. I was there, in the bars, the clubs and yes, the piers.
Let that picture up there show the men we were. Some of you know the man I am.
Apparently, I've survived to tell the tale.
Watch this space.