Archive for K-L

My Beautiful Laundrette by Hanif Kureishi

We liked the feel-good, positive factor, some of us remembering the 1980s as a very bleak decade.

Some people belong nowhere and search for identity – the gay person as much as someone of an ethnic minority.

This film received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay in 1984. This was the first British film to openly depict a gay romance.

It is set in London during the Thatcher era and focuses on Omar, a young Pakistani man living in London, and his reunion and eventual romance with his old friend, a named Johnny. The two become the caretakers and business managers of a launderette originally owned by Omar’s uncle Nasser.

The plot addresses several issues of the time, including homosexuality and racism, depicted within the social and economic climate of Thatcherism. Also alienation, exclusion, conflict and and sense of belonging.

Race: Omar’s achievements come despite his minority ethnic status in 1980s British society, striking a chord with the neoliberal ideal expressed by his uncle, Nasser, who states there’s “no such thing as race in the new enterprise society.” Yet the beating which Johnny, Omar and his Uncle Salim face at the hands of white nationalists suggests otherwise. The reality of Thatcherism, far from heralding the erasure of racial distinctions, was that of escalating racist violence, provoked by increasing economic inequality and symbolic legislation.

Throughout the film, the fascists reappear. In one scene before their attack, where they stand, armed and waiting, around the laundrette. Never assume that xenophobic nationalism will forever remain on the fringe.

At the climax, one of the fascists takes a metal bin and hurls it into Omar’s laundrette window. Though they had previously found employment there, it was of a menial nature, presumably low paid, and failed to mitigate their repulsion at working for a Pakistani who, as one of them articulates, “came over here to work for us.”

Sex: British Asians were popularly regarded as dowdy, puritanical and family-focussed rather than hedonistic. Yet here, Omar has a relationship with someone who’s not his fiancée, with a man rather than a woman, and with a poorly educated skinhead of the kind many immigrants would have feared and despised in equal measure. This same-sex relationship is depicted explicitly – at a time when much of the conservative establishment decried homosexuality in the name of Victorian values, and when the popular press used the AIDS epidemic as an excuse to castigate gay people. Though occasionally fraught, the leads’ romance is mostly fun, certainly not tragic.

Contrasts: The movie is not concerned with plot, but with giving us a feeling for the society its characters inhabit. Modern Britain is a study in contrasts, between rich and poor, between upper and lower classes, between native British and the various immigrant groups — some of which, such as the Pakistanis, have started to prosper. To this mixture, the movie adds the conflict between straight and gay.

A critique of postcolonial Britain is achieved through Kureishi’s battery of conflicts—between whites and Asians, between whites and whites, between the Asian and African diasporas, between Asian brother and brother, between Asian parents and their adult children, between men and women. The fact that Omar and Johnny’s sexual relationship is not a source of social conflict, unlike that of Nasser and Rachel, is significant. It’s a masterful stroke of gay-straight taboo reversal that proposes that behaviour conventional society has historically vilified may be the most likely to promote harmony.

The two men rekindle their teenage relationship when they are alone together in the laundrette. It is illustrative of how they escaped the ethical and moral boundaries that both society and Omar’s family had imposed on them. When they are left alone in the laundrette, they are able to surpass Omar’s family’s cultural expectation of a heterosexual arranged marriage between Omar and Tania. Similarly, Johnny is able to detach himself from his racist group of resentful white working class peers and form a relationship with the supposed “other”

Newly employed by Omar, he acquires a sense of self-worth and—if not quite a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis—swaps his too-long-lived-in tribal uniform for a brighter, cleaner look. Observed by Omar in the moments before the laundrette’s opening, he mounts the table where customers will fold their spin-dried clothes and stands there like an Adonis, the brief pose showing that the slumped, disconsolate figure he was at the start of the film has regenerated himself. He has also become the film’s moral centre, for he cautions Omar, who has “big plans” for taking over more laundrettes, not to become greedy. The film shares Hussein’s belief that, for the children of immigrants, education is the key to social enlightenment and integration.

Early images of Johnny reveal that he is a youth in transition—one who rejects the system crushing his generation by rejecting the street violence that results indirectly from Conservative policies. Newly employed by Omar, he acquires a sense of self-worth and—if not quite a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis—swaps his too-long-lived-in tribal uniform for a brighter, cleaner look. Observed by Omar in the moments before the laundrette’s opening, he mounts the table where customers will fold their spin-dried clothes and stands there like an Adonis, the brief pose showing that the slumped, disconsolate figure he was at the start of the film has regenerated himself. He has also become the film’s moral centre, for he cautions Omar, who has “big plans” for taking over more laundrettes, not to become greedy. The film shares Hussein’s belief that, for the children of immigrants, education is the key to social enlightenment and integration.

The disgruntled Tania (Rita Wolf), Nasser’s daughter, is the pivotal female character. Kureishi introduces her as the Ali family conscience and scold, who despises her father for cheating on her mother, Bilquis (Charu Bala Chokshi). She’s also a disruptive comic force. She flashes her breasts at Omar to distract him from listening to her father smugly hold forth to his well-heeled cronies in his den. In a temper, she upends on Bilquis’s lap the witch’s potion she’s concocting to poison Rachel. “I’d rather drink my own urine,” she tells Nasser when he presses her and Omar to get married. Tania is not about to become a submissive Pakistani wife like Bilquis, so she leaves home. When last seen, she is standing on a train station platform. A touch of magical realism removes her from patriarchal control.

The laundrette’s “Powders” neon sign, which makes its exterior resemble that of a small cinema. The interior is deep, as are those of many repertory theatres, and a “widescreen” window separates the washing, drying, and folding area (the space where the “action” takes place) from the back office (a darkened space from which the action can be viewed). Looking at—and through—the window, Omar admires Johnny doing his chores and standing on the table. As Johnny and Omar have sex in the back room before the opening, they become an audience watching Rachel and Nasser dancing in the front. The laundrette’s paying customers contribute to the notion of its being an emporium in which secrets are revealed, stories evolve, and events come to a head. This visual self-consciousness extends beyond the laundrette: at home or in cars, the characters frequently look at other characters through windows or at their own reflections. It’s a hall of mirrors for existential self-interrogation that demands the audience enter in.

The laundrette works as some kind of melting pot: a place where race, gender, and sexuality do not play a role, and where one has the opportunity to reinvent himself.

They chose blue to paint the facade: on the one hand this is the colour of hope, on the other hand, the fact they have chosen a pale version might not only underline their sexuality, but also the fact that there is still a long way to go in terms of equality and acceptance – especially considering that this peaceful atmosphere is only found inside the building. Outside it, there is still a multiethnic working-class structure which is completely fragmented, each element fighting against the others.

This simple laundrette in a shabby neighbourhood represents the rise, fall, and return to former ideals in one everyday place. It seems like the characters have literally washed their hands clean in the end, or, as Oliva describes, “the intelligent metaphor of the laundry seen as a means of cleaning up the dirt of filthy society”.

At the end, Britain’s rich are still getting richer and its poor are still getting poorer. The beautiful laundrette has been trashed, Nasser and Rachel have parted, and Tania has evaporated. Only Omar and Johnny’s unity is hopeful—they’re left flicking water at each other in a final positive image, the cares of the day forgotten with its soapsuds.

p. 85 Nasser thinks of becoming a sadhu – isn’t that Hindu and he’s a muslim?

Omar’s father and uncle do, as it seems, represent the two stages of the laundrette: the hardship and wasted potential

The uncle, Nasser, symbolizes the self-made man who took advantage of the situation and managed to establish a flourishing business, by “squeezing the tits of the system”. He is not entirely fond of Britain, but is, however, aware of the new possibilities that he knows how to use for himself in the “damn country which we hate and love.”

Omar’s father takes a rather different approach, having given up on finding a job in his original profession as a journalist, and now lives on welfare, which he hates so much. Having a Pakistani father and a white, British mother, who committed suicide, Omar’s mixed identity is determined from birth. Not only is he mixed in terms of race, but he is also confronted with two conflicting male role models and two very different cultures. As Pascual further states, the trains that pass outside the family’s window might symbolise the fluidity of Omar’s hybrid identity’

When the launderette has its grand opening, he shows up after everyone else has already left. For the left-wing socialist, who spends all his time in their dark apartment, this might be a moment of both: pride and sadness. One the one hand, he might be full of joy, seeing how well his son has adapted to life in Britain and how he has managed to build up a successful business; on the other hand, he might be sad to see how Omar has turned into a capitalist, making the most of Thatcher’s England.

…“never indulges in the kind of patronizing sentimentality that turns the Pakistanis into either social problems or mere victims of English racism.”

Kureishi’s work was heavily criticised, most notably by Ruvani Ranasinha, as approaching all issues from a male point of view, while he has been accused of mistreating his female characters

 Many black people and particularly Asians, hated it. The reason for this, I think, is because they refused to look at the film in any other way than as a piece of realism, that is to say, a film that attempted an accurate representation of its subject

One segment of the Asian community, however, had an overwhelmingly positive response to the film: gay South Asians throughout the diaspora. Trikone, a magazine for the South Asian queer diaspora, devoted almost an entire issue to the film in 2001 stating “the kiss between Johnny and Omar has, to many a queer South Asian, become the moment they came out to themselves”. In the same issue actor Gordon Warnecke, who played Omar, recounts how many gay South Asians have told him they identified with his character and were grateful for the film. In fact, gay communities internationally—South Asian and otherwise—responded positively to the film and it continues to be cited as a favorite gay romance. (In 2004, the Advocate named My Beautiful Laundrette one of the ten best gay or lesbian films of all time.) Part of this popularity results from the fact that rather than depicting its characters as conflicted over their sexual identities—as, for instance, the British film Victim (1961) did—the film shows Johnny and Omar simply as two men in love. Some viewers praised the film precisely because of this ease, while others objected, claiming it was unrealistic.

The film depicts gray streets, nearly empty businesses, and people wandering aimlessly. Nothing is growing or thriving in this environment. Kureishi and Frears’ vision of Thatcher’s England is one of economic devastation with little hope for change. Only one space stands out in this sea of gray: the transformed laundrette.

The conflicts between their respective communities are not healed via their romance—except symbolically inside the fantasy space of the laundrette. Thus, My Beautiful Laundrette avoids the traps some other national romances fall into and demonstrates the potential of the queer national romance to re-imagine the nation, a potential critics have not recognized. Insofar as the imagined community of the nation is itself a kind of collective fantasy, the film is able to do real work through its fantasy—even if the utopic space of the laundrette and the relationship it enables are ultimately unsustainable. The film uses its audience’s desire to see this fragile space survive to create an emotional investment in a new conception of Britishness.  Queer romances contest homophobic nationalisms as they revise imperial fantasies of domination, re-imagining citizenship in radical new ways.

Quotations from the Introduction:

In 1967, Duncan Sandys said: ‘The breeding of millions of half-caste children would merely produce a generation of misfits d create national tensions.’

I wasn’t a misfit; I could join the elements of myself together. It s the others, they wanted misfits; they wanted you to embody within yourself their ambivalence.

I saw the taking up of Islam as an aberration, a desperate fantasy of world-wide black brotherhood; it was a symptom of extreme alienation. It was also an inability to seek a wider politi­1 view or cooperation with other oppressed groups– or with the working class as a whole — since alliance with white groups was necessarily out of the question.

therefore the fact that I couldn’t rightfully lay claim to either place.

This made me think about the close-bonding within the families and about the intimacy and interference of an extended family and a more public way of life. Was the extended family worse than the little nuclear family because there were more people to dislike? Or better because relationships were less intense?

I compared the collective hierarchy of the family and the permanence of my family’s circle, with my feckless, rather rootless life in London, in what was called ‘the inner city’. There I lived alone, and lacked any long connection with anything. I’d hardly known anyone for more than eight years, and certainly not their parents. People came and went. There was much false intimacy and forced friendship. People didn’t take responsibility for each other.

The great master as fallen. Now it was seen as strikebound, drug-ridden, riot­orn, inefficient, disunited, a society which had moved too suddenly from puritanism to hedonism and now loathed itself.

These were: the idea of secular institutions based on reason, not revelation or scripture; the idea that there were no final solutions to human problems; and the idea that the health and vigour of a society was bound up with its ability t tolerate and express a plurality of views on all issues, and tha these views would be welcomed

It was that the English misunderstood the Pakistanis because they saw only the poor people, those from the villages, the illiterates, the peasants, the Pakistanis who didn’t know how t use toilets, how to eat with knives and forks because they we poor. If the British could only see them, the rich, the educated the sophisticated, they wouldn’t be so hostile. They’d know what civilized people the Pakistanis really were. And then they’d like them.

Those Pakistanis who have worked hard to establish busines now vote Tory and give money to the Conservative Party. T interests are the same as those of middle-class business people

But what is the Conservative view of them? Roger Scruton in his book The Meaning Of Conservatism sets out the case against m respect and understanding.

Firstly he deplores all race relations legislation and tries to justify certain kinds of racism by making it seem a harmless preference certain kinds of people. He calls this preference a ‘natural off of allegiance.

The Labour Party has failed to show that it is serious about combating racism and serious in representing the black working class.

There is real defensiveness and insecurity, a Victorian fear of revealing so much as a genital of an idea, the nipple of a notion or the sex of a syllogism. Where sexual exhibitionism and the discus­sion of positions and emissions is fashionable, indeed orthodox, thinking and argument are avoided.

I would rather walk naked down the street than stand up for the National Anthem.

Two days after my return I took my washing to a laundrette and gave it to the attendant only to be told she didn’t touch the clothes of foreigners: she didn’t want me anywhere near her blasted laundrette

I was in a rage. I thought: who wants to be British anyway? Or as a black American writer said: who wants to be integrated into a burning house anyway?

In his 1941 essay ‘England Your England’ Orwell says: ‘the gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic’. He calls the country ‘a family with the wrong members in control’ and talks of the ‘soundness and homogenicity of England’.

Elsewhere he considers the Indian character. `maniacal suspiciousness’ which, agreeing, he claim Forster in A Passage To India, he calls ‘the be vice . . .’ But he has the grace to acknowledge in-] Counting Niggers’ that the overwhelming bulk 1 proletariat [lives] . . . in Asia and Africa’.

But this is niggardly. The main object of his praise is `tolerance’ and he writes of ‘their gentle manners’ that this aspect of England ‘is continuous, it sue future and the past, there is something in it that persists.

Tolerant, gentle British whites have no idea he tolerance is experienced by blacks here. No idea a hostility and contempt directed against black people state and individual alike in this land once describe being not one of ‘rubber truncheons’ or `Jew-baiters but of flower-lovers’ with ‘mild knobbly faces’. But in pm the flower-lovers are all gone, the rubber truncheons or Jew-baiters are at large, and if any real contemporary a given to Orwell’s blind social patriotism, then `tolerance’ must be seriously examined for depth substantial content.

In the meantime it must be made clear that black `tolerance’ in this particular condescending way It isn’t this particular paternal tyranny that is wanted, since ut is adjustments to British society that have to be made.

despite the efforts of touring companies and so failed to get its ideas beyond a small enthusiastic audience.

The film started off as an epic. It was to be like The Godfather, opening in the past with the arrival of an immigrant family in England and showing their progress to the present.

old shop we built a laundrette of such authenticity that  people came in off the street with their washing;

Quotations from the film:

 I don’t like to see one of our blokes [Johnny] grovelling to Pakis. Look they came over here to work for us. That’s why we brought them over, okay?

What chance would an Englishman give a leftist communist Pakistani on newspapers?”

“What chance a racist Englishman has given us that we haven’t taken it from him with our hands?”

“Families. I hate families.”

“And you must understand, we’re of different generations; different classes. Everything is waiting for you. The only thing that has ever waited for me, is your father.”

He adores you. I expect he wants you to take over the businesses. He wouldn’t think of asking me.”

“You tell him: you go to college. He must have knowledge. We all must, now. In order to see clearly what’s being done and to whom in this Country, right?”

Nasser: I thought you two were getting married.

Omar: Yes, any day now.

Tania: I’d rather drink my own urine.

Omar: I hear it can be quite tasty with a slice of lemon.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] In this damn country, which we hate and love, you can get anything you want. It’s all spread out and available. That’s why I believe in England. Only you need to know how to squeeze the tits of the system.

 

Nasser: [to Johnny] I’m a professional businessman not a professional Pakistani. And there is no question of race in the new enterprise culture.

 

Papa: You must be getting married. Why else would you be dressed like an undertaker on holiday?

Omar: Going to Uncle’s house, Papa. He’s given me a car.

Papa: What? The brakes must be faulty. Tell me one thing because there’s something I don’t understand, though it must be my fault. How is it that scrubbing cars can make a son of mine look so ecstatic?

Omar: It gets me out of the house.

Papa: Don’t get too involved with that crook. You’ve got to study. We are under siege by the white man. For us education is power. [Omar shakes his head at his father] Don’t let me down.

 

Johnny: [driving Cherry and Salim home, Omar stops by a bunch of street kids, one of whom is Johnny. Omar gets out of the car to talk to Johnny] [indicating his friends] Like me friends?

Omar: Ring us then.

Johnny: I will. [indicates the car where Cherry is getting very angry] Leave ’em there. We can do something. Now. Just us.

 

Omar: I’m being promoted. To Uncle’s laundrette.

Papa: [throwing a pair of socks to Omar] Illustrate your washing methods!

 

Johnny: [Omar is showing Johnny round the laundrette] I’m dead impressed by all this.

Omar: You were the one at school. The one I liked.

Johnny: [sarcastically] All the Pakis liked me.

 

Nasser: [Nasser bursts into the room where Johnny and Omar made love just moments before] What the hell are you doing? Sunbathing?

Omar: Asleep, Uncle. We were shagged out.

 

Salim: I want to talk to Omar about business.

Johnny: I dunno where he is.

Salim: Is it worth waiting?

Johnny: In my experience, it’s always worth waiting for Omo.

 

Johnny: Fuck me! What’s she doing with that mouse?

 

Nasser: [whilst having sex with his lover] Christ, you move like a liner.

 

Nasser: Yes… But first we must marry Omar off. [Cut to Omar and Johnny making love in the back room]

 

Johnny: Ain’t nothing I can say to make it up to you. There’s only things I can do to show you… That I am with you.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] Nothing but a toilet and a youth club. A constant boil on my bum.

 

Papa: [to Omar] Work now till you go back to college. And I’m fixing you up with a job with your uncle.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] Okay, I charge you basic rent. The key you keep.

 

Papa: [on the phone] Oh, one thing more, try to fix him up with a nice girl. I’m not sure his penis is in full working order.

 

Johnny: [to Omar] A laundrette as big as the Ritz. Oh yes.

 

Nasser: What are you doing, boy?

Omar: It will be going into profit any day now. Partly because I hired a bloke of astounding competence and strength of body and mind.

 

Gang Member: Why are you working for these people? Pakis.

Johnny: It’s work, that’s why.

 

Nasser: Where are those two buggers?

 

Papa: [to Omar] I don’t want my son in this underpants cleaning condition.

 

[first lines] Johnny: We’re moving house.

 

[last lines]  Johnny: Don’t you be touching me!

 

Omar: What are you going to do with me?

Nasser: What am I going to do with you? Turn you into something damn good.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] On the other hand a little water on the brain might clear your thoughts.

 

Salim: [to Omar] You’re one of us now Omar.

 

Nasser: What bloke?

Omar: He’s called Johnny.

 

Johnny: Today has been the best day.

Omar: Yeah, almost the best day.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] Bring Tania over here. Marry her. Well, what’s wrong with her? When I say marry her, you damn well do it. Be nice to her, pressure off my fucking head. Your penis works doesn’t it? Get going!

 

Omar: It took you a while to get onto us.

Salim: Wanted to see what you’d do. How’s your Papa? So many books written and read. Politicians sought him out. Bhutto was his close friend. But we’re nothing in England without money.

 

Papa: This damn country has done us in. That’s why I’m like this. We should be there. Home.

Nasser: But that country’s been sodomised by religion. It’s beginning to interfere with the making of money. Compared with everywhere… it’s a little heaven, here.

 

Johnny: We’ll just have to do a job to get the money.

Omar: I don’t want you going back to all that!

Johnny: Just to get us through, Omo. We’re going to go on. You want that, don’t you?

Omar: Yeah. I want you.

 

Omar: You know who I saw today? Johnny. Johnny!

Papa: The boy who came here dressed as a fascist with a quarter-inch of hair?

Omar: He was a friend once, for years.

Papa: There were times when he didn’t deserve your admiration so much.

Omar: Christ, I’ve known him since I was five!

Papa: He went too far.

 

Omar: Where did you go? You just disappeared.

Johnny: Drinking, I went. With my old mates. It ain’t illegal.

Omar: Of course it is, laundrettes are a big commitment. Why aren’t you at work?

Johnny: It’ll be closing time soon. You’ll be locking the place up, and coming to bed.

Omar: No, it never closes. One of us has got to be there. That way, we begin to make money.

Johnny: You’re getting greedy.

Omar: I want big money. I’m not going to be beat down by this country.

 

Salim: There’s some things between them I’m looking into.

 

Tania: I’m going. You can come.

Johnny: No good jobs like this around.

Tania: Omar just runs you around everywhere, like a servant.

Johnny: I’ll stay here with my friend and fight it out.

Tania: My family, Salim and all… will swallow you up like a little kebab.

Johnny: I couldn’t leave him. Not now. Don’t ask me to. You ever touched him?

 

 

Omar: When we were in school, you and your friends were kicking me around the place. And what are you doing now? Washing my floor and that’s how I like it.

Return to the home page

Advertisements

Leave a Comment

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

TEOESet in Hallencourt in the Somme, a small and isolated factory town of 1,300 people where Louis grew up, the book is a stark tale of his life below the poverty line, punctuated by his father’s drunken violence – the rage of the humiliated working-class male: racism, homophobia and casual daily brutality.

Eddy Bellegueule (Louis’s real name, which means “beautiful face” in French) is an effeminate child; as a “faggot”, “queer”, “poof”, as he is regularly reminded, he is even worse than an “Arab”, “Jew” or “black”.

Another oft-repeated phrase – “just who do you think you are?” – serves to remind him who he is, where he comes from and where everyone assumes he is going. Instead, Bellegueule forges a new path, via a scholarship and one of France’s elite university schools, writes everything down and changes his name.

Its unemotional style is similar to Zola’s work, though the author claims not to have read him.

It’s non-stop misery, like Gypsy Boy. It’s vidid, powerful. The writing is violent and there is no escape for the reader. There’s no humour, c.f. Oranges are not the Only Fruit.

He suffers not for doing something but for being something and looking like something.

The shed scene is unbelievable: not because boys don’t get up to this but for the seeming enjoyment of a ten-year-old, getting an erection whilst being raped. However, he seems to have wanted this to happen. On p., 130 he speaks of repressed desire, relishes the smell of the older boys and leaps at the chance of wearing women’s clothes and jewellery.

We wondered why he didn’t avoid the bullies. Well, on p. 25 he says that he didn’t want others to see him being beaten up because they’d then know he was gay. On p. 136 he speaks of fear of retaliation.

It jumps about in time a bit. Then again, people with a traumatic past get confused about chronology.

The only black person in a racist village is seen as OK because different.

There’s a vivid and memorable description of his first orgasm.

Were they really that poor in the 1990s? More like the 1950s. And homophobia was much less marked in British schools then.

Is it novel or autobiography? Was it written too son after the event? Not enough perspective?

One chapter title quotes the King James Bible ‘Stait is the gate’. A postgrad student, of English no less, though this was about sexuality.

Who is Tristan at the end? Is he a positive to balance the book’s negative beginning?

The French title has a different nuance: Doing Away with Eddy.

TEOE2Quotations:

‘Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me. In truth, confronting my parents, my social class, its poverty, racism and brutality came second. From early on I provoked shame and even disgust from my family and others around me. The only option I had was to get away somehow. This book is an effort to understand all that.’

From my childhood I have no happy memories. I don’t mean to say that I never, in all those years, felt any happiness or joy. But suffering is all-consuming.”

“from my eye towards my lips, ready to enter my mouth”

“As far back as I can remember I can see my drunk father fighting with other drunk men leaving the café, breaking noses and teeth,”

“into a plastic supermarket bag” and swinging it against some cement edge “until the bag was filled with blood and the meowing had ceased”.

“the still-warm blood” “it’s the best, the blood you get from an animal right when it dies”.

“Every day I came back, as if we had an appointment, an unspoken contact . . . There was just one idea I held to: here, no one would see us, no one would know. I had to avoid being hit elsewhere, in the playground, in front of the others.”

[S]he was already standing frozen, unable to make the slightest sound or the smallest gesture . . . Her gaze never left mine; I don’t remember what that gaze held. Disgust perhaps, or anguish – I can no longer say.”

“Don’t you ever do that again . . . ”

“Wasting petrol for this theatre shit of yours, really why should I?” Yet he does drive him.

TEOE 3“On the day when the amount of the allowance at the start of the school year was raised, my father, with a joy we rarely saw because he usually played at being the man of the house who could not show his feelings, shouted: ‘Sunday, we’re going to the seaside.’ And indeed we went, six of us in a car big enough for five. I rode in the boot.

It dont make sense, when he says we should kill all the ragheads but then when he lived in the Midi his best mate was a raghead.”

He wasn’t embarrassed, he didn’t feel the violence the prosecutor was exercising, the class violence that had excluded him from the world of education, the violence that had, in the end, led him to the courtroom where he now stood. In fact he must have thought that the prosecutor was ridiculous. That he spoke like a faggot.

There’s a revealing interview with the author here.

Return to the home page

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

The Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is his first novel (previously he’d written a collection of short stories) and deals primarily with the difficulties a young gay man, Philip Benjamin, 25, has in coming out to his parents: Rose, a copy editor and Owen, director of admissions at a private boys’ school (52 years old, married for 27) and with their subsequent reactions.

The title comes from an article read by Jerene about a child who emulates cranes as this was the only thing he would see out of his window from his cot, and his parents weren’t about. He was then sent to a psychaitric ward.

The novel is divided into four sections: “Voyages,” “Myths of Origin,” “The Crane Child,” and “Father and Son”

It is set in the 1980s against the backdrop of a swiftly gentrifying Manhattan. Philip, realizes that he must come out to his parents after falling in love for the first time with a man. Philip’s parents are facing their own crisis: pressure from developers and the loss of their long-time home to a housing co-operative. But the real threat to this family is Philip’s father’s own struggle with his latent homosexuality – on Sunday afternoon he visits gay porn theatres. Philip’s admission to his parents and his father’s hidden life provoke changes that forever alter the landscape of their worlds

Rose visits her son, who lives in a shabby neighbourhood. He says he likes to go to the East Village. One Sunday she takes a walk, goes to a launderette and bumps into her husband. Owen then goes to a gay pornographic cinema, where a man leaves him his number.

Philip and Eliot are in bed; Philip gets up to do the dishes. He thinks back to how they met through Sally. Owen gets back to his apartment, soaked through. Philip and Eliot then wake up; Philip seems keen on flatmate Jerene’s research on lost languages. There is then an account of Jerene’s childhood up to her coming out to her parents and being spurned by them. Philip and Eliot then talk about their experiences with men. Philip goes on to remember the way he would masturbate a lot and how he tried to ask girls out – and they refused. Finally, he recalls going to a gay pornographic cinema when he was seventeen.

Owen calls Alex Melchor but it’s a wrong number. Philip asks Eliot to introduce him to Derek and Geoffrey. Later, he goes to his parents’ flat to look at Derek’s books. Jerene is getting ready for a date. Philip meets Eliot’s foster parents for dinner, then they go to a gay bar where Philip meets his old acquaintance Alex Kamarov. Outside, Eliot admits to being unsure about their relationship; nevertheless they return to Eliot’s, where he teaches Philip how to shave properly.

Philip eventually comes out to his parents. His mother is tersely averse; his father says it is fine, though he starts weeping as soon as the young man has left.

Eliot doesn’t return Philip’s calls; when Jerene meets Philip for a drink, she admits there is not much that can be done. Later, Philip talks to his friend Brad. He then gets really drunk out on the town to forget. A few days later, he meets Rob in a bar and they return to the boy’s dorm room where they have sex. Subsequently, Philip does not return his calls.

Owen calls a gay hotline, then hangs up and calls Alex Melchor, who tells him to call someone else, and then Philip, hanging up before they can talk. Later, Philip runs into his parents and tells them he’s broken up with Eliot.

Rose says to Philip that she needs more time to ruminate. Owen calls a gay sex phone-line and starts sobbing. He then goes to a gay bar and meets another man named Frank; they go to Frank’s flat and have sex. When he gets home, it’s half past two in the morning, and Rose is hurt.

Owen invites Winston Penn to dinner, and attempts to fix him up with Philip. That night, Rose finally realizes that Owen is gay too. While Philip and Brad get into bed together, Rose and Owen have a big argument. Owen goes off to a Burger King until he calls his son asking for a place to stay for the night. Before Philip goes to find his father, he passionately kisses Brad. Upon Philip’s arrival Owen confesses to being gay, and they settle in for a sleepless night in Philip’s disorderly apartment.

It has been said that ‘the novel sums up the history of gay books themselves’: that is, from the pangs of opprobrium (Owen) to self-acceptance (Philip)

TLLOC 2Quotations:

”He moved like a crane, made the noises of a crane, and although the doctors showed him many pictures and toys, he only responded to the pictures of cranes, only played with the toy cranes. Only cranes made him happy. He came to be known as the ‘crane-child.’ ”

”How wondrous, how grand those cranes must have seemed to Michel, compared to the small and clumsy creatures who surrounded him. For each, in his own way, she believed, finds what it is he must love, and loves it; the window becomes a mirror; whatever it is that we love, that is who we are.”

“Hope had stolen into his life just as he was growing comfortable with despair.”

“Cautiously his foot explored, wiggled as it could, and finally felt warm flesh under the pants leg.”

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Faggots by Larry Kramer

FsThis book portrayed the 1970s New York’s very visible gay community in a time before AIDS. The novel’s portrayal of promiscuous sex and recreational drug use provoked controversy, not least amongst gay men.

The main character, Fred Lemish, is loosely modeled on the author. He wants to find a loving, long-term relationship but his desires are frustrated as he stumbles through an emotionally cold series of glory holes, bathhouses, BDSM encounters and group sex. He becomes disillusioned with the 1970s “fast lane” lifestyle dominating the gay subculture in and around New York.

Lemish also expresses discomfort with the widespread use of multiple street and prescription drugs helping to maintain the party atmosphere. Faggots details the use of over two dozen 1970s party drugs and intoxicants such as poppers, LSD, Quaaludes, alcohol, marijuana, PCP, cocaine and heroin.

Locales include Fire Island, a gay bathhouse called the “Everhard” (based on the Everard Baths, and a club called the Toilet Bowl.

Its fans see social critiques embedded in a Rabelaisian vulgarity while the other side might agree with critic Don Shewey’s claim that “Kramer’s clunky, careless writing ultimately renders Faggots unreadable….. “creates too many characters and gives them farcical names (Randy Dildough, Dordogna del Donga, and Miss Youtha Truth)… so you don’t take them seriously; but then he keeps bringing them back and asking you to care about them when you can’t even remember who they are.”

It has been in print since its original publication in 1978 but the author, post the advent of AIDS has recanted what was originally his celebration of casual sex. Then again, there’s a moral in the novel itself: the protagonist comes to the conclusion at the end of a weekend of high living that having so much sex makes finding love impossible.

Talking to Salon Magazine the author said: “I am a gay person before I’m anything else. I’m a gay person before I’m a white person, before I’m a Jew, before I’m a writer, before I’m American, anything. That is my most identifying characteristic and I don’t find many people who would say that… 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.”

Fs 2Quotations:

“There are 2,556,596 faggots in the New York City area.”

He had been dismayed at how many of the names he no longer remembered. Who were Bat, Ivan, Tommy, Sam Jellu, Beautiful Henry, Kelly Hurt (or Kelly hurt?), Joe Johns, François, Watson Datson, too many of the 23, not to mention the 87, were now unrecognizable and obviously equally as unmemorable as the how many–? 100? 200? 50? 23? Orgasms he had probably forgotten to tally.

And who the hell was Tiddy Squire? Or was it Ditty Squirt? Even his handwriting was not helpful. He recalled no Tiddy Ditty, nor what they did, nor how it felt, nor where they did it, though his notation exclaimed: “really Hot, must do it again!”

 “Give me all your gism, baby! Pile drive that ramrod cock right through my brain!”

“Dinky Adams’s ass was the first ass Fred had ever rimmed”

We have been taken in! Where others have not! We have risen to the top, to be in control, always providing we not be too obvious, not rub their noses. How many places allow us to be so creative? Where else could we be so much the unseen power! […] Yes! We have commercialized the human body! Yes! To Advertising!

“Why aren’t you using it on a girl?”

“Uncle Richie, I don’t think you’re very well-adjusted.”

Don’t you know that what you’ve, correction, we’ve just done is considered by ninety-nine and ninety-nine one hundredths percent people as abnormal, immoral, illegal, dirty shameful, wretched, that’s it, wretched, oh, oh, Oh…”

“Why do you always get so upset and run away? What I did doesn’t mean anything.”

Why don’t you say it, Fred? Yes, it does. To me. It’s deeds that talk and count. Action is character, old F. Scott said. Yes, it does. To me.

[Fred] blinks his eyes. He’s in the most beautiful garden, Fairyland. Here, among some sand and scrub pines, nestles, is growing, a huge symphony of flowers and planters and weeping tubs of willows and man-made stars of light and cupolas and gazebos and cozy swings for two and tiny benches for intimate picnics and breezy lanterns swinging out to say Hello.

“I said I love you!” Randy’s anger briefly spurted out. He hadn’t said that before.

“Oh, I know you said it. But doesn’t everybody just! It’s too boring…”

Yes, we were the quintessential faggots, Dinky. One cockteaser and one doormat. Afraid of love. Using our bodies as barter instead of our brains as heart.

Now it’s time to just be. Just like I have brown eyes. I’m here. I’m not gay. I’m not a fairy. I’m not a fruit. I’m not queer. A little crazy maybe. And I’m not a faggot. I’m a Homosexual Man. I’m Me. Pretty Classy.

I must go forward… to encounter all and to forge in my smithy the uncreated conscience of my sex”.

“Why do faggots have to fuck so fucking much? It’s as if we don’t have anything else to do. All we do is live in our ghetto and dance and drug and fuck – there’s a whole world out there, as much ours as theirs. I’m tired of being a New York City-Fire Island faggot, I’m tired of using my body as a faceless thing to lure another faceless thing, I want to love a person!”

Return to the home page

 

Leave a Comment

Perestroika – Tony Kusher

AIAPWe planned to discuss the script and the film of this but there was considerably less interest than expected so we aborted our plans – so this review is written in  personal capacity.

As a result of seeing some performances of his play of which he disapproves, the playwright makes some picky remarks about how actors shouldn’t play for laughs.

Act One is subtitled “Spooj” = cum,

Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov –  The World’s Oldest Living Bolshevik, who delivers the tirade that marks the beginning of Perestroika. Prelapsarianov criticizes the pettiness of modern American life, the pointless quality of life in the absence of a governing theory.

The Mormon Mother  –  A dummy from the diorama at the Mormon Visitor’s Center who is silenced while her husband and son speak. The Mormon mother comes to life, however, and accompanies Harper while sharing painful truths about life and change.

Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, the World’s Oldest Living Bolshevik, addresses the crowd from a podium.  – Marxism was grand and sweeping, Aleksii says, but modern America only lives for throwaway things and pygmy ideals.

Roy still bossing and phoning from hospital bed

Scene Six marks the first encounter between Belize and Roy, who, in some ways, are diametrical opposites but who, in other ways, are the most grounded characters in the play.

Belize serves as an intermediary who at various times connects or brings together Roy and Prior, Prior and Louis, Louis and Roy, Prior and Joe. Unafraid to confront those in power, like Henry or Roy, he holds his ground in conflicts and brings humor and gentleness to friends like Prior when they are in need. He is the characters’ sounding board and confidant, the person who comes closest to articulating Kushner’s ideal politics—not the confused liberalism of Louis but a generous and inclusive yet realistic progressivism. This progressivism highlights another bond between Belize and Roy—just as they are the most stable characters, they also have the most sharply defined, clear-eyed political ideologies in the play. Joe and Louis argue about exalted concepts like law and history, and Louis tells Prior his glorious ideas about justice. Neither Belize nor Roy, however, is taken in by fancy words. They understand what power is and how it is wielded without illusions. Roy’s vicious analysis of the “historical liberal coalition” cuts to the heart of one of modern America’s cherished ideals, the interracial cooperation of the civil rights movement, and yet Belize has the keenness not to respond with platitudes about freedom and democracy. Belize is humane, Roy monstrous, but both are pragmatists.

Belize’s respect and care for Roy is not based entirely on politics but also on the fact that AIDS humanizes Roy. In rare, fleeting moments—when he pleads with Belize not to leave him alone in the dark—the human being can be glimpsed beneath the ugliness and bravado.

BELIZE: Mr. Cohn. I’d rather suck the pus out of an abscess. I’d rather drink a subway toilet. I’d rather chew off my tongue and spit it in your leathery face. So thanks for the offer of conversation, but I’d rather not….. They have you down for radiation tomorrow for the sarcoma lesions, and you don’t want to let them do that, because radiation will kill the T-cells and you don’t have any you can afford to lose. So tell the doctor no thanks for the radiation. He won’t want to listen. Persuade him. Or he’ll kill you.

ROY: You’re just a fucking nurse. Why should I listen to you over my very qualified, very expensive WASP doctor? BELIZE: He’s not queer. I am.

Prior’s acceptance of a prophecy under the floorboards is surely a parody of the story of the finding of the Book of Mormon and the need for special glasses to read it.

I like the angel’s notion that “Not Physics but Ecstatics” makes the engine of creation run.

Kushner’s characters adopt a range of speech patterns, from the girl-talk and bantering of Belize and Prior to Joe’s legalese to the endless sentences of Louis’s hyper- intellectual diatribes. But all the characters are capable of taking on an unconsciously poetic sound when their thoughts transcend the everyday—when Harper meditates on the end of the world, for instance, or when Belize detects in the snowfall in Millennium the promise of “softness, compliance, forgiveness, grace.” This poetry is taken to an even higher pitch in the Angel’s speeches—it is consciously poetic, grandiosely poetic, arranged on the page with the short lines and metrical structure of verse. (This sometimes makes her speeches difficult to understand, particularly for audience-goers who do not have the benefit of referring to the printed page—there would be no way to tell whether “Lumen Phosphor Fluor Candle” are the four “divine emanations” of her persona, as Kushner explains mysteriously in his notes on characters.) The Angel’s poetry is at its grandest when she is speaking officially—proclaiming Prior’s prophet-hood, relating the history of Heaven, and so on. But when she is confused or distracted, a more casual speech peeks through—when Prior says he has never dreamed of the Sacred Prophetic Implements, the Angel stammers, “No…dreams, you…Are you sure?” It is a glimpse of vulnerability behind her imposing facade.

The Angel’s poetry is self-confident and impressive, and—fitting for the Angel of America—redolent of the greatest American poet, Walt Whitman. Sometimes the connection is direct: The Angel’s warning to Prior that he cannot escape—”Hiding from Me one place you will find me in another./ I I I I stop down the road, waiting for you”—parallels Whitman’s epic poem “Song of Myself,” which concludes with the lines, “Missing me one place search another,/ I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

It is easy to understand why Whitman appeals to Kushner. Whitman is universally acknowledged to have been gay, and his poems are filled with homoerotic images and tender depictions of same-sex friendships. He was also a passionate democrat, filled with affection and optimism for the American experiment. Louis’s dream of radical democracy in America, which Belize challenges but does not altogether overturn, could have come straight from Whitman.

There’s another biblical allusion in ‘You can’t outrun your occupation, Jonah.’ and realised eschatology in ‘There is no Zion save where you are.’

mox·ie  (mks)

  1. Slang
  2. Theabilitytofacedifficultywithspiritandcourage.
  3. Aggressiveenergy;initiative:”Hisprosehasmoxie,thoughitrushesandstumblesfromapent-upsurge”(PatriciaHampl).
  4. Skill;know-how.

guts, backbone, grit, gumption, sand

fortitude – strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity with courage

boldness, nerve [From Moxie, trademark for a soft drink.]

Roy admits that the world  he worked to accomplisth is unfair: The worst thing about being sick in America, Ethel, is you are booted out of the parade. Americans have no use for sick. Look at Reagan: He’s so healthy he’s hardly human, he’s a hundred if he’s a day, he takes a slug in his chest and two days later he’s out west riding ponies in his PJ’s. I mean who does that? That’s America. It’s just no country for the infirm.

And: BELIZE: Well I hate America, Louis. I hate this country. Ifs just big ideas, and stories, and people dying, and people like you. The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word “free” to a note so high nobody can reach it. That was deliberate. Nothing on earth sounds less like freedom to me.

On the clash of ideologies: Louis: This is interesting. I’m losing myself in an ideological leather bar. The more appalling I find your politics the more I want to hump you.

Just as you can remove the Jew from the ghetto but can’t take the ghetto out of the Jew: JOE: You and me. It’s like we’re back in Salt Lake again. You sort of bring the desert with you.

There’s a suggestion that the reasons why Mormons migrated is because of lack of love. It is God who lacks love in this suggestion but I would read it as the lacking in love of the people who persecuted the Mormons.

In one vision of the afterlife, dummies come alive and search. This is mirrored in a scene in the Mormon diorama.

Joe visits Roy in his hospital room, afraid at first that Roy would not have forgiven him for refusing the job in Washington. Instead, Roy asks Joe to kneel before him and gives him a father’s blessing, likening it to Jacob’s in the Old Testament.

Roy’s blessing of Joe in Scene One sets up a definition of the word that becomes particularly important in Act Five. “Life. That’s what they’re supposed to bless. Life,” Roy tells Joe. In other words, to bless is to give more life. Kushner attributes this definition to a Hebrew translation proposed by Harold Bloom, a Yale professor and literary critic. In Act Five, when Prior ascends to Heaven to confront the Angels, he demands a blessing of life from them. Roy’s blessing, by contrast, is freely given. It is an appropriate gift for him to offer, since Roy values survival above all else: he admires the pubic lice because they are hard to kill, and he is determined to remain a lawyer until the day he dies not because he hopes to accomplish anything specific but simply for the value of lasting. And yet life is the one thing Roy does not have.

It’s a common place that the Bible starts in a garden (Eden) and ends in a city (in Revelation) This is mirrored in a discussion of heaven: BELIZE: Like San Francisco. ROY: A city Good. I was worried . . . it’d be a garden. I hate that shit.

As Roy dies, he asks to be an octopus next time. This refers back to the way he dealt with lots of phone calls and putting people on hold when he was working. He also hopes that there will be plenty of work for him to do in the afterlife because he gets bored easily.

In heaven, they play cards because it is the only element of chance in a re4alm where everything is settled and predictable.

The lawsuit” against God surely echoes the urban myth that some rabbis put God on trial in a concentration camp – and found him guilty of abandoning his covenant with chosen people. Just so, Roy talks to an unseen client, the King of the Universe, promising to defend him against a lawsuit for abandonment. Roy tells his client he is clearly guilty but that he will make something up.

When Harper flies to San Francisco to begin a new life, she has a dream where the ozone layer was torn and ragged until the souls of the dead, rising from the earth, joined it and made it whole again. This echoes the Jewish notion of tikkun olam – mending the world.

Louis tells the story of the angel Bethesda, who left a healing fountain. Mikveh?

Kushner’s heaven has out gay men and democrats. Republicans and closets case have excluded themselves.

In his final words, the playwright quotes a song:

Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…..

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil,
this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and
their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

….Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are
crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the
distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised
and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

….You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are
millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor
look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the
spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things
from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

…..Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man
hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be
less familiar than the rest.

……And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the
women my sisters and lovers,

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and
children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at
the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d
babe, and am not contain’d between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one
good,
The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all
good.

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal
and fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

The big doors of the country barn stand open and ready,
The dried grass of the harvest-time loads the slow-drawn
wagon,
The clear light plays on the brown gray and green intertinged,
The armfuls are pack’d to the sagging mow.

I am there, I help, I came stretch’d atop of the load,
I felt its soft jolts, one leg reclined on the other,
I jump from the cross-beams and seize the clover and
timothy,
And roll head over heels and tangle my hair full of wisps.

My tread scares the wood-drake and wood-duck on my
distant and day-long ramble,
They rise together, they slowly circle around.

I believe in those wing’d purposes,
And acknowledge red, yellow, white, playing within me,
And consider green and violet and the tufted crown intentional,
And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not
something else,
And the jay in the woods never studied the gamut, yet trills
pretty well to me,
And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me.

…..The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her
tipsy and pimpled neck,
The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and
wink to each other,
(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you;)
The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the
great Secretaries,
On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with
twined arms,
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in
the hold,
The Missourian crosses the plains toting his wares and his
cattle,

As the fare-collector goes through the train he gives notice by
the jingling of loose change,
The floor-men are laying the floor, the tinners are tinning the
roof, the masons are calling for mortar,
In single file each shouldering his hod pass onward the
laborers;
…..This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make
appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipp’d slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

……In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

…..I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of
the stars,
….Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.

I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

2BK 2

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I’ve read most of this author’s books and e enjoyed them all. Maybe this one’s the best.

Older gay men remember the sacrifices they made and the battles they fought so that the younger generation could be themselves without constantly fearing other people’s reactions. There’s a lot of this in this book.

Kiss-ins were a powerful form of non-violent protest in favour of gay rights. Police could hardly arrest people, especially in large numbers.

Levithan’s story lasts only for around 48 hours, and within the time period a lot happens; a lot of important and moving events occur. With the evolution in homosexuality acceptance, but a definite and significant amount of people still being homophobic, the balance is perfectly measured in Two Boys Kissing. The omniscient narrators navigate the sense of freedom for gays compared with the past and knowing the pain and hurt associated with homophobia extremely delicately but with conviction and truth. The four separate stories of Harry and Craig, Ryan and Avery, Peter and Neil and Cooper seem to cover the general kinds of situations that gay individuals might be in, as well as being able to be applied to straight people too. For example, Ryan and Avery have mixed ideas about what their relationship could be, and where they might be going.

David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

These people who died of AIDS remind me of Isaiah’s suffering servant: We shit blood and had our skin lacerated and broken by lesions. We had fungus grow in our throats, under our fingernails. We lost the ability to see, to speak, to feed ourselves. We coughed up pieces of ourselves and felt our blood turn to magma. We lost the use of our muscles and our bodies were reduced to collections of skin-encased bones. We were rendered unrecognizable, diminished and demolished. Our lovers had to watch us die. Our friends had to watch as the nurse changed our catheters, had to try to put aside that image as they laid us in caskets, into the ground. We will never kiss our mothers again. We will never see our fathers. We will never feel air in our lungs. We will never hear the sound of our voices. We will never feel snow or sand or take part in another conversation. Everything was taken away from us, and we miss it. We miss all of it.

And these people show what the travesty of the Christian gospel has caused: Why can’t we close our eyes? We who did nothing more than dream and love and screw — why have we been banished here, why hasn’t the world solved this by now? Why must we watch as Cooper steps up to the railing? Why must we watch as a twelve-year-old puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger? Why must we watch as a fourteen­year-old hangs himself in the garage, to be found by his grandmother two hours later? Why must we watch as a nineteen-year-old is strung up on the side of an empty highway and left to die? Why must we watch as a thirteen-year-old takes a stomach full of pills, then places a plastic bag over his head? Why must we watch as he vomits and chokes? Why must we die over and over again?

The author says, of his inspiration: On September 18, 2010, college students Matty Daley and Bobby Cancielo kissed for thirty-two hours, thirty minutes, and forty-five seconds (longer than the characters in this book) to break the Guinness World Record for longest continuous kiss. I am just one of many people who were inspired by what they did. While the characters in Two Boys Kissing are not in any way based on Matty and Bobby, the story is certainly inspired by what they did. I am grateful to Matty for telling me what it was like, and for continuing to inspire. If you’d like to find out more about Matty and Bobby’s kiss, there was a documentary, Our Lips Are Sealed, made about it. There are also numerous videos of the kiss on YouTube,

The title of this book comes from Walt Whitman’s “We Two Boys Together Clinging,” which appears in the novel in its entirety. David Hockey did a painting of the same name.

And guess what? Some parents wanted the book pulled from the library at Fauquier High School. But hooray! They lost their case.

2BKQuotations:

“your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother’s or your grandmother’s best friend from college, […]. We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore. We are the ghosts of the remaining older generation”

“We had the best songs.
We taught you how to dance”.

“We were once like you, only our world wasn’t like yours.

You have no idea how close to death you came. A generation or two earlier, you might be here with us.

We resent you. You astonish us.”

“We know that some of you are still scared. We know that some of you are still silent. Just because it’s better now doesn’t mean that it’s always good.”

“Things are not magical because they’ve been conjured for us by some outside force. They are magical because we create them.”

“We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt about how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.”

“Whatever anyone threatens, whatever anyone is offended by, it doesn’t matter, because you have already survived much, much worse. In fact, you are still surviving. You survive every single, blessed day.”

“We wish we could have been there for you. We didn’t have many role models of our own–we latched on to the foolish love of Oscar Wilde and the well-versed longing of Walt Whitman because nobody else was there to show us an untortured path. We were going to be your role models. We were going to give you art and music and confidence and shelter and a much better world. Those who survived lived to do this. But we haven’t been there for you. We’ve been here. Watching as you become the role models.”

For a long time he thought he had a demon on his shoulders, weighing him down so he’d drown quicker. The demon liked boys, wanted nothing more than to kiss a boy. Craig couldn’t get rid of him, no matter how much he wished it, no matter what promises he made to God. Then he met Harry, and suddenly the demon was revealed to be a friend. He offered Craig a hand, pulled him up. Craig emerged, gasping, from the sadness — then created a dam to keep it at bay. He didn’t let Harry see it, just like he didn’t let his parents see it. It had to remain inside of him, contained. When Harry broke up with him, the dam came undone. He started drowning again, even as he pretended for Harry and their friends that he could swim. Smita kept a close eye on him, and in his own way, Harry did, too. Their friendship helped him rebuild the dam. He still had his life within his house and his life outside his house, but he was almost used to that. It was all under control. Until he saw Tariq after the assault, and felt in his heart that this was his future, that this time the demons were as bad as he feared, and they were going to win.

He hated feeling this way. He hated feeling helpless. He wondered what he could do. How could he stand up for himself? He knew vengeance wasn’t an option. He wasn’t going to track down the guys who’d beaten up Tariq. He wasn’t going to punish them. But there had to be some way to show the world that he was a human being, an equal human being.

He thought about protests. About gestures. About making the world watch. Then he thought about world records, and came up with the idea of the kiss.

If you put enough closets together, you have enough space for a room. If you put enough rooms together, you have space for a house. If you put enough houses together, you have space for a town, then a city, then a nation, then a world.

All of these men and boys with their computers, all of these men and boys with their phones. All after the druglike rush of doing something adventurous, doing something they consider to be on the edge of something else. All of these men and boys fragmenting themselves, hoping the fragments are pieced together on the other end. All of these men and boys trying out this new form of gratification. All of these men and boys still lonely when the rush is over, and the devices are off, and they are alone with themselves again.

There is a term for this.

The term is limbo.

And now Harry needs to stop thinking about sex, because his body is starting to . . . react. So he thinks about something else — about whether he should ask for a sip of water. They’re allowed to have some, but only if it’s through a straw, and the lips are still touching. Tricky, but it can be done. The problem is, if he drinks now, he runs the risk of having to pee later. And he really wants to avoid that. This is another of the rules: no diapers, no cheating in the bathroom department. If he has to go, he’s either got to whip it out and pee on the grass — or just leak a little into his pants. Neither option is really attractive, and the horny edge is totally off his mind now.

“The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you’ve used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it’s the key.”

“…he hopes that maybe it’ll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before, and a little more welcoming to the idea that all people are, in fact, born equal, no matter who they kiss or screw, no matter what dreams they have or love they give.”

“Harry, of course, knows he is being looked at. But what he looks like is the farthest thing from his mind. When your body starts to turn against you–when the surface value of the skin is nothing compared to the fireworks of pain in your muscles and your bones–the supposed truth of beauty falls away, because there are more important concerns to attend to.

Believe us. We know this.”

“Love is so painful, how could you wish it on anybody? And love is so essential, how could you ever stand in its way?”

“We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt about how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.”

“The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us has a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it.”

“Some of our parents were always on our side. Some of our parents chose to banish us rather than see us for who we were. And some of our parents, when they found out we were sick, stopped being dragons and became dragonslayers instead.”

“could be outside his room, surrounded by people, and it would still feel like nowhere”

What a powerful word, future. Of all the abstractions we can articulate to ourselves, of all the concepts we have that other animals do not, how extraordinary the ability to consider a time that’s never been experienced. And how tragic not to consider it. It galls us, we with such a limited future, to see someone brush it aside as meaningless, when it has an endless capacity for meaning, and an endless number of meanings that can be found within it.

“The phrase rush to judgment is a silly one. When it comes to judgment, most of us don’t have to rush. We don’t even have to leave the couch. Our judgment is so easy to reach for.”

“So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home. So many of us had to leave. But every single of us wishes we hadn’t have to. Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t have to leave the other one behind. Every single one of us would have loved to be loved unconditionally by our parents.

Don’t make him leave you, we want to tell Mrs. Kim. He doesn’t want to leave you”

“Eventually Harry will leave Craig curled on the couch. He will tuck Graig in, then tiptoe back to his own room. They will be in a separate places, but they will have very similar dreams.

We miss the sensation of being tucked in, just as we miss the sensation of being that hovering angel, pulling the blanket over his shoulders, wishing him a sweet night. Those are the beds we want to remember.”

“There is the sudden. There is the eventual. And in between, there is the living. We do not start as dust. We do not end as dust. We make more than dust. That’s all we ask of you. Make more than dust.”

“On September 18, 2010, college students Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello kissed for thirty-two hours, thirty minutes, and forty-seven seconds (longer than the characters in this book) to break the Guinness World Record for longest continuous kiss. I am just one of many people who were inspired by what they did”.

return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho by Clayton Littlewood

DYB(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The author came from Weston-Super-Mere and went to the prestigious Broadoak Comprehensive School.

In January 2006, his partner, Jorge, closed down his high fashion menswear Provincetown shop, Dirty White Boy and with Clayton re-opened it on Old Compton Street in London’s Soho. Clayton and Jorge lived below their Soho shop. Over a two year period, during which business went from bad to worse, manager Littlewood watched the ebb and flow of London’s so-called Dirty Square Mile and wrote down his observations in this book, which started life as a blog on myspace. This blog got a huge following leading to a column in the London Paper.

Interviewed in Polari Magazine Clayton said, “I’ve always written diaries. I’ve kept them for years, but just sporadically, during important moments. So when we had the shop I thought, ‘This is going to be an important moment’. I had a feeling we weren’t going to be there very long, and I wanted to document the period. We were getting all these crazy people coming into the shop, all these mad characters, but I thought rather than just write it as a diary I would post it on MySpace. It was the first time that I’d shown anybody what I had written.

For over 200 years, Soho was the centred of London’s thriving sex industry and is also now London’s major gay village, centred on Old Compton Street, where dozens of gay or gay-friendly business owners set up shop in order to profit from the “pink
pound.”

There are street people who stop by the store for a bit of change or even just a hug. There are the wild celebs and wannabe celebs. There are the young hustlers who are aging too fast from the lifestyle and the drugs. There is the constant drama of the brothel upstairs. And there is the once-was and maybe-will-be-again coupling of Leslie and Charlie.

There is the elderly man who comes in once a month to educate Clayton on all the different types and cuts and styles of underwear (and never buys a thing). There is Pam, a local who comes ’round asking for money or “cuddles” – and is equally happy with either. The madam and her hookers who live and work upstairs, or the myriad of older businessmen who are dragged in to the shop by their flaming, kept houseboys.

I found it funny and sad in turns. There is irony by the ladleful.

The author’s blog is here

Quotations:

QX [a British bar rag] recently ran a feature on the ‘faces of Soho.’ Drag queens, DJ’s, club owners, cabaret acts, promoters, party hosts. Anyone who’s anyone in ‘gay glitterati’ land. . . .[However] the real faces of Soho are never featured. You won’t see them in the documentaries on Soho that seem to pop up on our televisions with increasing frequency. Yet they are the lifeblood of the village. They are the underclass, the true eccentrics, the waifs and strays the party crowd passes by as they make their way to the Shadow Lounge.”

Chico, “a very colorful, Afro-Caribbean American, based in London. Decked out in Gucci, D&G, Prada. You name it, he flaunts it. And he’s become one of our regular customers…..was once a Diana Ross impersonator who married rich, but his boyfriend died. Thus he was left with a large amount of money, two properties, and a broken heart. The perfect aphrodisiac for a QX hooker.”

“The judge, obviously not well versed in the whole gay client/hooker scene, saw “’Black Man Rapes White Man‘ and put him away” for six years.

the feisty transsexual Angela Pasquale. A Janice Dickinson look-a-like, the tall – “at least six foot three” – and stunning Ms. Pasquale has “a beautiful face and big pair of creamy white breasts that look like they’re about to wrap themselves around my neck. ’You’re not stealing my lines again, are you?’ said Angela when she caught Clayton taking notes for his Blog. ‘Well, actually…I am,’ he replied. ‘But only because you’re part of Soho. . . .’ ‘Girl – I AM SOHO!’ she retorts, removing her glasses and shaking out her hair, up and down, backwards and forwards, letting her luscious locks drape over the glass counter.”

Leslie, “a small, old gentleman dressed in a beige three-piece suit with a white handkerchief flowing extravagantly from the top pocket.” Leslie, who knew Soho “in the old days,” entertained Clayton and his readers with his reminiscences and touched us with his star-crossed love affair with Charlie, a writer Leslie loved and lost. “We were lovers . . . And then one day he broke my heart.”

I’m sitting behind the counter. A bearded guy walks in—white T-shirt, camoufl trousers, rucksack on his back. He smiles. I smile back. browses the racks for a few minutes, pulls out a Dirty Boy vest, walks over to the counter.

“I’ll take this.”

“Okay. That’s half price. Thirteen pounds fifty,” cheerfully.

As I wrap the vest he takes off his rucksack, plonks it the floor, bends down, rummaging inside for his wallet. “What time do you finish?”

“We’re open ’til eight.”

“You wanna go out?” he asks, expectantly.

“Ummm. No, thank you. I can’t tonight.”

“We can go to the cinema, a bite to eat, whatever want. Just the two of us.”
“I can’t. Sorry,” I reply, a bit firmer. “I’ve got a partn “Okay, I’ll see you at nine o’clock outside Compton’s.

“You’re persistent, aren’t you?” I reply, laughing. Then he stands up. Looks at me strangely. And carries on talking into his mobile.

I’m sitting by the window, buffing my nails, catching up on world politics in Boyz magazine

return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Older Posts »