I Sing the Body Electric

I’ve been reading a lot of history lately (nothing new there, really; my favorite non-fiction generally tends to be history), focusing primarily on New Orleans and Louisiana for the most part. As I read histories of New Orleans, here and there I find little bits, here and there, about the queer subculture in the long years and decades before Stonewall; little bits, here and there, more of asides in longer narratives than anything else. There were, of course, male prostitutes in Storyville back in the day–generally not housed or regularly employed in the houses, but should a customer be desirous of, shall we say, male companionship, the madams would send a runner down to a gay watering hole a few blocks away in the Quarter and find someone looking to make some quick cash…and they never failed to find someone willing to satisfy the “peculiar tastes” of the john.

Finding this, and other references to bordello activity by reformers protesting their existence and wanting them shut down, as “sodomy” quite naturally piqued my interest. As a port city that was, at one time, the largest port and largest city in the southern United States, a city that was also a blend of many different cultures and so forth, New Orleans clearly had always had havens for homosexuals in those dark times when we were outlaws. As I read other New Orleans histories, I do keep an eye out for these references, and mark the pages in order to find them easily again.

There’s a lot of stories untold there in the past, and I’ve been considering the possibilities of writing more historical-based fiction in New Orleans. I’ve already started a short story about a young gay man who occasionally picks up extra cash by working in one of the brothels at night “on demand,” and I think it has some terrific potential.

Queer people have often been erased by history, just as people of color and women have been, and while I will most likely never write non-fiction (you can’t make things up, which is the primary drawback for me), I do enjoy reading histories that focus on the gay community.

For example, David K. Johnson’s award-winning The Lavender Scare, about the purge of gay employees from the federal government in the 1950’s as intelligence risks (their sexuality left them open to blackmail from foreign spies; at least this was the fear) eventually led to my short story “The Weight of a Feather” (which I am still not convinced shouldn’t have been a novel); and as such, was quite delighted when Johnson released another scholarly look at queer American history this year, Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement.

I had, of course, known that “physique pictorial” magazines essentially were the original gay porn magazines; those images still can be found on the Internet.

buying gay

Johnson’s thesis holds that the mailing lists, and sales, of these magazines early on developed a cohesive gay market, and the recognition of said market gradually led to activism and wholesale societal change; that the magazines themselves created a sense of community by letting deeply closeted and frightened gay men know they weren’t alone; there were others like them, and helped them feel seen.

This further extrapolated into films and books, and gradually a gay rights movement.

The book is well written and deeply researched, as was The Lavender Scare (recently filmed as a documentary I am looking forward to seeing), and shed a light on a time I don’t know much about; few people know much about that time. One of the greatest tragedies of the community is how it was ravaged by HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s and 1990’s, until the development of the drug cocktails that first extended life, and eventually managed to make HIV a manageable infection rather than a fatal one; a lot of oral histories were lost as a result, and an entire generation of gay men was not only lost, but deprived the next generation of community elders and mentors.

I’ve been toying, over the last few years, with several ideas for noir novels with gay themes and characters set in the decades before Stonewall, and Buying Gay will, should I ever decide to do so, prove to be an invaluable source of material.

Well done, Dr. Johnson.

Kung Fu Fighting

Ugh. Tonight is the LSU-Alabama game, which means I will be incredibly tense all day. Sometimes I do wonder why I watch college football, as it really doesn’t seem like I enjoy it all that much…or maybe I enjoy the tension? Anyway, obviously, I am all in for the Tigers tonight, and win or lose, I will still be a Tiger fan. GEAUX TIGERS!

I also finished reading Mary Leader’s Triad last night, and started rereading Barbara Michaels’ Witch; I will probably discuss the Leader novel tomorrow.

We also watched, around our other shows this week, the latest James Franco film, King Cobra.

king_cobra_film_poster

The film is based on a true crime title (which has been in my TBR pile forever) called Cobra Killer: Gay Porn Murder and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway, about the true life murder of gay porn producer/director Bryan Kocis. I remember when it all happened; I also remember thinking this would make a great noir novel.

I have any number of ideas for noir novels set in the world of gay porn.

The crux of the case had to do with Kocis’ exclusive contract with a young porn star who performed under the name Brent Corrigan; the killers–Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes–were porn producers/stars who were deeply in debt and saw Corrigan’s popularity as a way to get out of the debt, by having him star in one of their films. Kocis was the fly in the ointment with his exclusive contract and his trademarking of the name “Brent Corrigan”; so they killed him. Grisly and dark; it has all the makings of a great noir, and I may still write it, you never know–as I said, I have any number of ideas for noir novels set in the world of gay porn.

It is an industry that sadly lends itself to noir.

The film, starring James Franco, Christian Slater, Garrett Clayton, and Keegan Allen in the leads, with Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald in supporting roles…is well done but not well written, if that makes any sense. The way it is filmed and edited and written tells the story from the moment young Sean Lockhart meets Bryan Kocis, ostensibly to intern in a film production company, only to find himself being turned into Brent Corrigan, gay porn star. The way the role is written you can’t really tell if Sean went to meet with Kocis knowing what he was doing; did he want to do porn for the money, or was he really interested in film making? He also kind of comes across as not particularly smart.

Clayton, however, is certainly pretty enough to be a twink porn star, if you’re into twink porn stars.

Garrett Clayton, late of the Disney Channel:

116435_016

The actual Brent Corrigan:

brentcorrigan051

The movie was, you know, just okay. I didn’t really come away from it feeling anything, or with any further insight to what happened or why; it was just kind of matter of fact. The strongest performance in the film, I felt, was from Keegan Allen, whom I used to watch on Pretty Little Liars; he managed to make killer (oops, spoiler, sorry!) Harlow Cuadra sympathetic; kind of a child/man who was both intellectually and emotionally stunted, whereas Franco’s portrayal of Kerekes left me wondering ‘was it the drugs, or was he actually a sociopath?” But Keegan Allen was terrific.

cobra2.png

The movie was entertaining enough; it held my interest, but as I said, it was matter-of-fact to the point it seemed almost like a documentary; this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then they were arrested.

Corrigan is not pleased with the movie, I suppose I should add, and plans to write his own book about what happened.

And that, really, is the key to all of this, and why I think the movie doesn’t succeed ultimately. I don’t know who Brent Corrigan is, or any of these people, any more than I did before I watched the movie.

One thing they did get right–almost so right it made me laugh–was how bad the acting in porn films are. They would show the start of the scenes, when the actors have to “act”–and they really got the amateurish line-readings down pat.

I do want to read the book now, though, because the story is, in and of itself, fascinating to me.

And now back to the spice mines.