1950s couple found safety in photo booth

In the midst of Toronto World Pride these rare photographs provide a glimpse of gay life in the 1950s.

According to Time:

Today, it might seem like any other informal, casual photograph of a young gay couple enjoying each other’s company. But this picture, in fact, reveals far more than that. It was taken in 1953, a time when purposefully vague statutes on morals, lewd conduct, or disorderly conduct in many states allowed the police to target and arrest gay and lesbian people for such transgressions as wearing items of clothing of the opposite sex, propositioning someone of the same sex, or even holding hands with a member of the same sex. This photo could have gotten these men arrested.

The image is part of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries – the largest repository of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer materials in the world. The picture was once owned by the young man on the right-hand side of the image above, Joseph John Bertrund Belanger. Belanger, for most of his life, was a devoted collector of LGBT history. Born in Edmonton, Canada, in 1925, he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was a member of the Mattachine Society – an early instance of what today would be called an LGBT organization — in the early 1950s. It is thanks to his passion and foresight that the image survives today.

What remains so remarkable and moving about this particular image is how quietly radical it feels all these years later. Belanger and another man have found a private safe-space in the unlikeliest of places — an ordinary photo booth – where they felt so at ease, and so themselves, they could kiss each other far from the prying eyes of a disapproving public.

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I Do: My thoughts

Netflix is a treasure trove of films, I’ve found myself lost for hours watching movie after movie, especially on rainy days.

I came across I Do while perusing the Gay & Lesbian section and noticed that included in the cast was Jamie-Lynn Sigler who I loved in The Sopranos, so I dived in and gave it a shot.

I Do is a story about a gay Englishman who learns that his U.S. visa has expired. To stay in the country he concocts a plan: He marries his best friend — played by Sigler — who recently broke up with her girlfriend, they then move in together and go about trying to prove to authorities that they’re in a loving relationship. Just as everything is running smoothly, he meets Mr. Right!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Alicia Witt also stars, those of you familiar with The Sopranos will remember her, as well as from her time on the hit 1990s television sitcom Cybil.

So my main problem with this movie is with its main star, David. W. Ross, who also wrote the screenplay.

Throughout the film he has an aversion to wearing a shirt and acting well. I really tried to like him, thinking perhaps it wasn’t bad acting, that I was simply misinterpreting his performance, but no, he’s a bad actor. His attempts to cry are ghastly awful, but on the flip side, the remaining cast is super awesome.

Oh yeah, and there’s a scene where Sigler, the lesbian, peers into the washroom to watch Ross take a shower. The only point I could surmise from that scene was that gay men think even lesbians want them, or Ross wanted the director to capture a shot of his bare ass for the film-going audience, which again, proves my theory that gay men are narcissists.

Watch if you want to cry, or if you want to laugh. There are some poignant scenes in here that highlight the inequalities gay Americans live with daily. So for that message, I dug the movie, a little.

A plague

Few in the gay community know who Larry Kramer is. It’s a shame that each new generation is learning less and less about an era that decimated our community and the individuals who worked tirelessly to find a cure.

Not just a playwright, Kramer continues to be one of our most effective activists. In 1978 he published a controversial novel called Faggots. The book received emphatic denunciations from elements within the gay community for his one-sided portrayal of shallow, promiscuous gay relationships in the 1970s. His main thesis begged the question: How can a gay man possibly find love when he’s more concerned with having lots of anonymous sex?

For a long time Kramer was shunned by one-time supporters who found his account of their lives distasteful. Kramer said about his inspiration for the novel: “I wanted to be in love. Almost everybody I knew felt the same way. I think most people, at some level, wanted what I was looking for, whether they pooh-poohed it or said that we can’t live like the straight people or whatever excuses they gave.”

Kramer researched the book by talking with many men, and visiting various establishments. As he interviewed people, he heard a common question: “Are you writing a negative book? Are you going to make it positive? … I began to think, ‘My God, people must really be conflicted about the lives they’re leading.’ And that was true. I think people were guilty about all the promiscuity and all the partying.”

After the backlash Kramer said, “The straight world thought I was repulsive, and the gay world treated me like a traitor. People would literally turn their back when I walked by. You know what my real crime was? I put the truth in writing. That’s what I do: I have told the fucking truth to everyone I have ever met.” Despite its negative response Faggots became one of the best-selling gay novels of all time and is taught in universities.

There’s no denying that gay men can be promiscuous. Not all of them of course, but there is a section of our community that is obsessed with appearances, money, drugs and sex. In that way they are no different from many straight people.

One of the biggest arguments I have with gay men is the idea of body image. Almost every gay guy I speak to strives to look like a specific type of man and it typically involves a muscular, well sculpted body. These men often resort to talking about health to justify their obsession with their bodies, but then you observe them smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol excessively and indulging in promiscuous sexual behaviour and you think otherwise. Clearly health is not a motivating factor in their lives, but vanity is.

And that’s okay as long they’re honest about it. But why lie? Possibly because they feel there is something wrong with being vain. Being self-critical is a skill that not everyone develops. But all of us should challenge the behaviours that we consider acceptable and how they contribute to the world, either good or bad.

I’ve had many long talks with gay men who will defend their sexual freedom at any cost, even if it means putting their health in jeopardy. Many young gay men are without fear of contracting HIV. They now look at it as a chronic disease that is treatable with medication. It doesn’t take much research to find that most people who contract HIV age at a significantly higher rate than most healthy people.

We have not only a responsibility to our own health, but to the health of those whom we have sex with. If we’re having sex with many different people who are also having sex with many different people, chances are that we’ll get a disease. It might not be anything as earth shattering as HIV, but that’s not much consolation.

I’m firmly aware, to this day, that sexual freedom does not equate liberation. In fact, it can rob us of our lives in ways we never thought possible.

I’m not really interested in shaming people for choosing to live their lives however they please, but I do support responsible choices to ensure the health of everyone.

Kramer saw first hand the ravages of AIDS, and Faggots foretold an impending catastrophe that crippled our community. It would be a shame if we made the same mistakes that can lead to another inevitable plague. HIV and AIDS has already taken so many innocent lives.

Outrage

This week is Toronto World Pride and it’s insane. There are so many people in the city right now. Church Street was closed Friday for pedestrian traffic and I can’t believe how packed it is. It’s estimated that 2 million people will attend the parade on Sunday. Yikes. Last night Nelly Furtado was at Woody’s! I was asleep.

On June 12 Ontario elected openly gay Liberal party leader Kathleen Wynne as the Premier of Canada’s most populous province. She is the first gay person to ever be elected as the Head of Government anywhere in the Commonwealth or English-speaking world.

Not one single traditional media outlet made an issue about her sexuality. Now that’s something isn’t it? We’ve reached a point in Canada where being gay is not a deal breaker.

I kept thinking about how different Canada’s media is in comparison to our southern neighbours who without irony, discuss the “special rights” received by any openly gay politician running for public office. They always make an issue about the private lives of politicians, especially if they’re gay.

Or do they? Maybe they’re silent too but for very different, and stranger reasons.

After Wynne’s election, and with Toronto hosting World Pride this week, I thought what better way to celebrate how far we’ve come by looking at how far so many of us still have to go.

Outrage is a 2009 documentary by Kirby Dick that shines a spotlight on several closeted American political figures who support and endorse legislation that restricts rights to the gay community.

The film examines the American media’s reluctance to discuss issues involving gay politicians despite many comparable news stories about heterosexual politicians and scandals.

Outrage describes this behavior as a form of institutionalized homophobia that has resulted in a tacit policy of self-censorship when reporting on these issues.

It’s a riveting documentary that I encourage you to watch. Like most movies I write about here, Outrage is available on Netflix

The “F” word

Proud

Sometimes there is such a thing as being too proud! Joking.

This past weekend, while walking on the street, I was called a “fag” from two separate groups of heterosexual men in moving vehicles. At the time I was wearing a purple tank-top from Topman and a pair of black short-shorts from Club Monaco. I looked VERY gay.

Years ago this would have brought me to my knees. In fact, I probably would have chased the car, yelled back at them, took my frustration out on a friend, or my partner, what have you, I would have wanted revenge.

When someone makes you feel unsafe, or uncomfortable, because they have an issue with who you are, how you’re dressed and how you walk, in the middle of a busy street where everyone may stare and laugh at you, well, that’s humiliating.

Nowadays, when this happens, and it rarely does, I raise my middle finger followed by a wave and an almost too-friendly smile. Maybe I should ignore them completely. Like so many, my ego begins to govern my life, I want to “tell them off” to show that I’m not weak. But again, if they think I’m weak because I’m gay, who cares? Chances are slim that my verbal bombs will change their minds anyway.

Last year the Globe published an article I had written about weddings that divided readers. Some thought I was spot on, others criticized me. I was fully aware that it was a controversial piece, and that Bridezilla’s would be angry. I thought I would be okay with the critics, but then, I realized — I WASN’T!

Foolishly I started to reply to the negative comments. I learned with the help of solid mentorship that that’s a “NO-NO.” What a stupid thing for me to have done! Just as I’m entitled to my opinion, they are entitled to theres. Months later, when I came to this revelation I went back and deleted my replies. Granted with egg on my face. A little egg.

Through mistakes I’ve learned that the best way to respond to negative, even hateful comments, is with no response. Just ignore them. Responding to people as deliberately offensive as Ann Coulter is giving them the attention that they crave.

But again, I continue to fail at this. I still react, my ego gets the better of me, like it does so many of us, and all I can see is a red screen of REVENGE! It traces back to reactive psychology, which is never good.

Whether hateful, offensive comments are intentional or not, they are not so much the obstacle I once saw them to be. If I still reacted the same way to being called a fag, as I did when I was 25, then the problem would be me, it would  come from within my own house, my own ego. I’m trying now to transcend language like this — rather than being OFFENDED!

Bitch, call me a fag all you want. I am a fag. A proud one!

Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. trailer

Legendary actor Robert De Niro had a gay father. I did not know this. In this new documentary De Niro discusses his late father’s work as an artist, as well as the elder De Niro’s life as a gay man. Though his father was out to his friends and family he lived a quiet life, mostly alone, struggling to be noticed for his talents.

There is a wonderful interview with De Niro by Out that you should read. It provides more context to the story. The documentary premiers on HBO June 9 at 9 p.m.

The Loving Story

You know those right-wing pundits on American “news” channels who despite all evidence to the contrary adamantly paint a picture of bestiality and incest in the event that gay people were allowed to marry? You know them. They’re usually only capable of framing simple, single-minded views from a sheet of key messages written by a communications specialist.

Well back in the 1960s these same arguments were applied to interracial couples. The Loving Story is about such a couple. Richard and Mildred Loving were married with three children when they awoke from bed one night, a flashlight shone brightly on their faces. It was a police officer, sent to arrest them for indecency. Apparently in the state of Virginia it was illegal for black and white people to marry.

The couple was forced into exile and told that if they ever returned they would be thrown back in jail. Well they didn’t just go away like they were told to do, instead they took their case to the Supreme Court. Paired with two young, but ambitious lawyers they sought social justice, changing the country’s discrimination laws forever. But it was not an overnight victory.

After watching the documentary I did a little research on the Lovings, who unfortunately are no longer with us physically. I wanted to know more about their views on civil rights and I was warmed by what I learned.

It’s a testament to the Loving’s nature, that throughout their lives, they were brave gay rights supporters. In fact, before her death, on the 40th anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia announcement, Mildred wrote of her support of marriage equality, citing the heartache that she and her husband suffered at the hands of ignorant, hateful people.

While The Loving Story doesn’t mention America’s gay inequality directly, the parallels are painfully obvious. Watch it when you get a chance, it’s on Netflix now.

Food porn and husbands

You'veChanged

For my birthday I received two cookbooks. The first was Bunner’s Simple & Delicious Gluten-Free Vegan Treats by Ashley Wittig and Kevin Macallister. The second was The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon.

Bunner’s for those of you unfamiliar is a successful vegan bakery in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto. And Oh She Glows is an equally successful vegan blog by an Oakville, Ontario resident.

Over the course of the last year I’ve taken vegan baking and cooking more seriously, and have decided to start my own blog chronicling the recipes that I concoct myself, or alter from others to suit my own tastes.

As a result I’ve been conducting a lot of research about vegan bloggers in an effort to find a gap in the market I can fill. Most food blogs are typically written by women, that’s obvious and I get the history and the reasons behind why women sensualize food and so forth.

But there has been one recurring theme in my research that kind of bothers me, only because it could perhaps inhibit my ability to reach a wider audience. Scratch that, what really bothers me has more to do with skewered gender roles than anything else.

These two cookbook which I refer to here are only small examples of many more similar examples of the differing reader expectations for male and female chefs.

What I’ve discovered is that despite the women playing a central role in the development and execution of the recipes, most food bloggers are a collaborative effort, the husband always plays an integral role in the process, and this kind of irks me a bit.

It’s not so much that he’s a baker, or a cook, but just a husband, who loves the author so much that he supports her every step of the way. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s super important to have a supportive spouse that’s for sure. But it requires further analysis too.

I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that in order to be successful women want to see female food bloggers happily coupled if they’re going to take them seriously as cooks and bakers?

This is hardly the case with male chefs, they rarely refer to their wives on their blogs, in their books, or on their television shows, and when they do she plays a very small role — she is not imperative to his success. She isn’t featured throughout the cookbook like husbands are. And if she is shown, the purpose is to demonstrate to the readers how attractive she is, or that she’s pregnant, an incubator for the man’s offspring.

Liddon’s blog and cookbook are laced with photographs of her husband, she refers to him constantly, as well as her wedding and pregnancy. Many pages in the book begin with “My husband adores this recipe…” That’s fine and everything, but why is he the authority? Why should I trust him if I’m to try this recipe?

Wittig and Macallister are a couple, so there’s that. They’re established so the sequel to their book will probably involve her pregnancy or their newborn child in some capacity, usually more than I would consider acceptable.

It got me thinking, as I launch my own food blog, why it’s so important for readers to know anything about a female chef’s private life. I get that food often involves a family, in my household growing up all 6 of us had dinner together each night at 7 p.m.

But it’s the establishment in the minds of readers that the bloggers have these absolutely perfect lives. The perfect wedding, the perfect husband, the perfect baby and all of it is made possible because of food!?? And marriage?

I get that’s it’s called marketing, but again, that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it. For starters, let’s talk about the enormous double standard here.

I was watching Mad Man, and smirked as the character of Peggy continues to rise in her corporate career, during a time where women were just skirts who flirted around the office for the amusement of men. She said something rather astute. Paraphrasing, it ran around the lines of though she’s proven to be better than all the men and saved the company from bankruptcy the most important aspect of her life in the eyes of her peers is her marital status.

And so that’s how I feel about these food bloggers. This is a symptom of our disdain for women in our culture, how they can only be valued by their appearance, and when that’s not enough, if they’re coupled with a child.

The male food bloggers are capable of being successful without pimping out aspects of their personal lives. Because they’re men, they can be an authority on a topic without referring to their female spouse as proof of their competency.

I’m cognizant of the fact that a vast number of women are interested in the private lives of other women. I get that they’re raised to believe that the most important day of their lives will be that one when they get to be a princess for a day and walk down the aisle of some chapel or what have you in a white dress — the centre of everyone’s attention, the apple of their father’s eye!

It’s telling of our patriarchal society that the food industry, which is dominated by women, is still significantly and insidiously influenced by a man’s approval.

As I’m reading these blogs I have to tell you that as a gay man, I’m not interested in knowing anything about these women’s husbands. I actually don’t care. In truth, I find it distracting and besides the point. They’re clearly all very talented women, so why can’t they just let their skills do all the talking?

Behind all this marketing of one’s life in an effort to sell books and make money we have to question the double standards that we’re told to believe is fact.

Miss Representation is a documentary that really illuminates the corrupt ways the media controls the female image. It’s meniacally (a word Julia Sweeney has taught me to use) important in our culture for women to overshare personal details about their lives, and to make it okay for their friends to talk about these details to other people too.

In the end women achieve tiny levels of success, but they never reach parity with men, because even in these blogs, cookbooks and food television series, men play a central role in the woman’s life story. It’s so very strange. A woman’s value is not determined by her skill, but on her relationship status, and there’s something very wrong with that message.

I’m left with something far more selfish and pressing, how can I break through the market if I want to lead and continue with a private life? In order to be successful, as a gay man, do I have to talk about those who I share my life with, even though I’m not comfortable doing so?

This world is full of obstacles for people who question the convention we’re taught to accept early on in life. For those on the fringe, it can be challenging not only to have our opinions heard, but to have them respected.

And then of course, it’s almost impossible for us to be considered successful if we don’t adhere to heteronormative views that have been constructed by heterosexual men and accepted by women.

Where I Am trailer

As a gay man I have been on the receiving end of some pretty nasty homophobia. I mean, every day I’m exposed to heteronormative opinions and ideas that don’t resonate with me personally. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Equality for gay people will be achieved the day that homosexual couples can walk down the street holding hands without fear of violence, verbal or physical. That day is far off.

Even as an adult I’ve experienced blatant homophobia. There was the time a group of young men threw rocks at me while hollering that I was a “faggot”. I was simply walking home from work.

There was the other time a group of girls ran towards me in a public space to tell me that I was a “cocksucker”, a “faggot” and a “girl”.

I’ve had to work with religious colleagues who make veiled homophobic slurs. The expectation is that I accept their behaviour, because complaining to HR only makes things worse. Religious freedom after all!

Yep, these things still happen.

This is daily life for many gay people. On top of all the other struggles regular people face, we also have to deal with rampant homophobia from people who are offended that we exist.

So when I watch a film like Where I Am, I’m reminded how behind our society is and how scary this world can be for gay people.

Robert Drake was an aspiring American writer when he was attacked in his home while living in Ireland. He had invited two young men back to his flat for drinks before they savagely beat him. He was left for dead, but survived the attack which left him with brain damage and the inability to walk.

12 years after his horrific ordeal he decides to return to Ireland. Like the cowards that they are the the two young men refuse to meet the man whose life they irrevocably changed.

During one emotional scene Robert breaks down. The reality of his new life is too painful to bear. But his indomitable spirit and resilience is inspiring.