Category Archives: Gay History

WC74 – Poetry by Jeff Mann

74_akhilleuspatroklosjeffmann Achilles and Patroclus
by Jeff Mann

Tomorrow, Patroclus.
It is fine armor, and you shall wear it.

Now, though,
do as you have always done.
Roast me the meat of the ox,

warm the rough bread,
dapple it with wild honey.  Pour
into goblets, gifts of my father,

the piney wine you brought
from home.  Bathe later,
I will bathe you. But now I love

the musk of courage,
the weary scent of you,
black hair like waves as yet unbroken

about your face, across
your breast.  How many years
have feasts meant only you and I? 

Our couch in firelight,
limbs intwined, drowsy
weight of you, beard brushing my back.

There is blood
on your brow.  Kisses
of my mouth will cleanse you.

No, no more
weapons today.  I promise
tomorrow.  Must the son of a sea goddess

say Please?
Strength loves strength.
Who can stand against our arms?

After meat
and wine, close the tent flap.
What is sweetest is your sweat,

fur-salt I lap,
dark sea-way that leads
a warrior home. Such thick arms,

such small wrists.
Inside you I feel blood-
honey, blossom, stone.  One day

these partings will depart. 
Someone will chant our names,
remember our oath to lie in earth together—

leg bones, ribs
and skulls, these fingers
clasping your still-warm wrist. 

Our wedding waits in the dark,
stained with fire, stained with wine. 
Bone-urn befitting heroes, forever’s graven gold.


Jeff Mann is a poet, writer and teacher. 
He recently won a Lambda Literary Award for his book History of Barbed Wire (Suspect Thoughts Press).  White Crane interviewed him on his memoir/poetry collection Loving Mountains, Loving Men in issue #68. 
He is the author of numerous great books of poetry including On The Tongue, Bones Washed With Wine, Flintshards from Sussex and Mountain Fireflies.
He teaches in the writing program at Virginia Tech.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks! 

WC72 – Remembering Vito Russo

72_kant_russo1Gays In/At The Movies:
An Appreciation of Vito Russo

By Arnie Kantrowitz

I dreamed about him again last night. It’s been more than sixteen years since he died, but still he is a part of my every day. Vito Russo was the most life-loving person I ever knew, and it’s not like him to let a little thing like death stand in his way.

In this dream, he had just opened a fabulous new restaurant, and people of every sort were there while he hospitably nodded and conversed — a glass in one hand, a cigarette in the other — gliding through the crowd in a black and white caftan I remember from our summers on Fire Island. Vito loved to entertain as many guests as he could crowd into his small apartment. He mixed doctors and film critics, academics and street drag queens, Lesbian activists and society matrons, and everyone had a good time.

Whenever I ride down Manhattan’s Ninth Avenue, as I pass Twenty-Fourth Street, I look at the building on the northwest corner and remember entering it to the smell of the superintendent’s cat box and climbing up the well-worn stairs to knock on Vito’s door. There was a sort of magic inside, but it was certainly no Disneyland; it was a working-class place, which Vito had dolled up by redecorating along with each new man in a successive line of boyfriends, but whatever changes he made — repainting, refurnishing, even tearing down walls — a picture of his beloved Judy Garland remained in every room.

His kitchen — he loved to cook — was spare, but boasted a collection of French copper pots and a few discreetly placed mousetraps. His bedroom, which had room for little beside its large platform bed, opened onto his narrow office space, where he worked on his many essays and film reviews, along with his masterpiece on Gays in film, The Celluloid Closet. (His original title was "Gays In/At the Movies" until a calmer head prevailed.) His living room was dominated by a movie screen, permanently affixed to a wall. He owned a small collection of feature films and Judy Garland TV specials transferred to film, and a reel of Bette Midler at the Continental Baths. But he borrowed and traded films and always had something new to project when company came, which was most of the time.

72_kant_russo2He employed his sparkling charisma to excite anticipation in his visitors about whatever he was going to show because he loved to watch people watching movies. His favorite film was Caged, featuring Eleanor Parker as a naïve young newcomer to a women’s prison who catches the eye of Lesbian Lee Patrick and grows into a hard-bitten ex-con. He loved its opening words: “Pile out, you tramps. It’s the end of the line.” And he loved the comeuppance of Hope Emerson, the sadistic matron who ends up with a fork stuck in her breast. He had a predilection for films featuring noble women or African-Americans, Gay themes, or camp, which I think he took quite seriously, but he was at home with all movies, doting on a message, a performance, a plot twist or a significant moment. Those moments — sharp dialogue, covert glances, bits of action — collected since he was a boy, had laid the foundation for his encyclopedic knowledge of film.

His mother, Annie, told me he was always running off to the movies as a kid in New York City. She and I found it easy to talk to each other. She had a limited education and a brash New York accent, but she knew the truth when she saw it and wasn’t afraid to say so. She told me that when the family moved to suburban Lodi, New Jersey, Vito said that when he was 21, he was moving back to New York, the capital of glamour, where he belonged. Sure enough, on the morning of his 21st birthday, he came downstairs with his suitcase packed and left for the hardscrabble land of his dreams. The glamour would come, but not until he worked his way to it.

Not long after he arrived in New York and secured a job as a waiter at the Omnibus restaurant in Greenwich Village, the Gay liberation movement exploded in the wake of the Stonewall riots. Just before the end of 1969, a small group of twelve activists split off from the Marxist-oriented Gay Liberation Front to form the more reform-minded, militant, but non-violent Gay Activists Alliance, and soon I was swept up in the movement. A few weeks later, a new friend told me, “There’s a guy you absolutely have to meet,” and we went to the Omnibus for dinner. Vito joined the new group immediately, and in short order, he and I and the organization’s president, Jim Owles, were friends for life. As far as Annie was concerned, his friends were her friends, and his cause was her cause. We were always welcome at her home. When we weren’t at GAA meetings or demonstrations or Sunday brunch, we were running over to each other’s apartments or talking endlessly on the phone. Vito told me, “You can say anything to me, and I won’t go away.” The agreement worked both ways.

The Gay Zeitgeist of the early 1970s was focused on visibility. It created a binary division of straight and Gay for political purposes. Of course, some of us knew from our own experience that sexuality is malleable, but we had chosen the model of a pluralistic political minority, containing middle class white boys, black drag queens, Asians and Latins from Manhattan and the outer boroughs, macho leathermen and Lesbians bent on self-determination. We were seeking equal rights as a voting bloc, and in the name of identity politics, as it came to be known, everyone was either Gay or straight and either in or out of the closet. Bisexuals (though many were among us) were considered semi-closeted Gays, and sleeping with the opposite sex was looked on as a form of treason. When academics began to question the validity of that world-view and spin post-modern theories about the meaning of desire and what that meaning means, Vito had little patience for such ivory tower pursuits, even though he had a Master of Arts degree in film from New York University.

Vito’s roots as a Gay activist informed his criticism of film. For him the questions were about fairness and accuracy, more political than aesthetic issues. Here is an excerpt from a speech he gave at Yale University in 1987:

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Arnie Kantrowitz is professor emeritus of English at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. He is the author of Under the Rainbow: Growing up Gay, an autobiography; Walt Whitman, a Gay biography; and many anthologized essays. He lives in New York with his partner Lawrence Mass.

WC71 – David Carter on Ginsberg’s Howl

Allenginsberg002 Poetics and Consciousness
Or Why Howl Still Matters Fifty Years Later

by David Carter

In August of 1955 a young gay writer in San Francisco sat down at his typewriter, stuck in some scratch paper, and began to improvise on a single line he had scribbled in his journal about ten days prior. He was determined to just start writing what he was feeling without worrying about how it would sound to anyone who read it. He wrote primarily for himself, for his own pleasure, although as he warmed up to his task he began to have in mind a writer friend who might enjoy his new creation, for the friend had told the young man not to worry about his abilities but to just get into a rhythm and keep going with it and trust himself.
To trust himself. To let go.

That was how the young man had tried to live and had largely done just that since his first year at Columbia University when a friend by the name of Lucien in his dormitory who read Rimbaud had introduced him to two other friends of his named Jack and William he thought the sensitive and literary young man would find interesting. To describe Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs as interesting was understatement, as the two friends gave Allen Ginsberg a fast education in literature and life. In a period of conformity and repression, the three friends sought a new consciousness. Burroughs pointed to William Blake as a possible alternative model to contemporary values, and Ginsberg had a vision of Blake’s poetry that, while transcendent, pointed to the earth and our physical surroundings as the ground for that transcendence. Young Allen showed literary promise and Kerouac praised his writing, while urging Ginsberg to push it further.

But while Allen had found his calling in poetry, his life had also become a series of disasters and traumas. His friend Lucien Carr had killed a friend of Allen’s who had become obsessed with Carr, and had stabbed him twice through the heart. Tortured by his homosexual feelings and tremendous longing, Ginsberg had been thrown out of Columbia University after Kerouac had come over to visit and ended up staying the night. The youth’s schizophrenic mother had been institutionalized. She had been throwing herself into walls so violently that the psychiatrists who cared for her were afraid she would seriously injure herself and so had requested Allen to authorize a lobotomy. He had done so and felt guilty about it. Bill had introduced Allen and Jack to Herbert Huncke, a Times Square hustler who was also a junkie. When Huncke had shown up years later at Allen’s door at a low point in his life, Allen had taken him in. Herbert started stealing and stashed the loot in Allen’s apartment, and Allen had been arrested and only missed going to jail by agreeing to undergo psychiatric treatment. The psychiatrists told Allen that he should reject Huncke and Burroughs. He met another new friend, Neal Cassady, who was wild about literature and Allen fell deeply in love with him. When he finally found the courage to confess his homosexuality to his father, he concluded that Allen was going crazy and told him that he should not see Neal. Then Burroughs accidentally shot his wife in the head, killing her. Ginsberg wrote anguished letters expressing the terrible anxiety these and other experiences put him through.

As the pressures built on him, not only Kerouac, Carr, and Burroughs were afraid that Allen might go insane but so was William Carlos Williams, the New Jersey poet who had tried to help and encourage the young Ginsberg. And so in 1954 Allen Ginsberg moved to San Francisco and determined to make a go at “normal” life.

He got a job doing market research for an ad firm and was successful enough to have two secretaries and a nice apartment on fashionable Nob Hill. He met a woman and got involved in his first serious heterosexual affair. The “straight” life seemed good at first and Ginsberg decided that he wanted to get married, have kids, and continue to work in advertising. But it was not long after starting the routine job and becoming involved with a woman that he found that he was depressed. One night, walking the city streets after ingesting peyote, he looked at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, which seemed to take on the aspect of an inhuman monster, robotic in its cold impersonality. In November, 1954, the month after the vision of the city as a modern Moloch, he re-entered therapy. The next month he met a youth he became smitten with, Peter Orlovsky.

A few months later the young therapist he was seeing asked Allen what it was he really wanted to do? Allen replied that he wanted to quit his job, write poetry, and move in with Peter. This therapist did not try to make him abandon his dreams but instead asked him, “Well, why don’t you?” It was a total revelation to the youth.
By February of 1955 Peter and Allen started living together. By May, Allen had managed to get laid off from his job so that he could collect unemployment. That summer he completed some new poems and sent them to Kenneth Rexroth, the dean of San Francisco poets.  Rexroth didn’t care for the poems and wrote back to Ginsberg, “Do something original.” It was only a few weeks later that Allen Ginsberg rolled the scratch paper into his typewriter and began to write the poem that would change poetry forever. It made Allen Ginsberg famous, enabled him to get his friends’ works published and launched the artistic, social and consciousness movement known as the Beats, and thereby laid much of the foundation for the 1960s and all that grew out of that turbulent, creative decade.

That one poem and one poet could ultimately bring about so much change directly and indirectly would be an amazing thing in and of itself. What is more wonderful, however, is how simple the essential ideas were that found expression in the Beat writers.
But if the ideas were simple, the road to finding them had been complex, both for the young men who were the beneficiaries of these insights as well as for the older theoreticians and poets who worked hard to arrive at those theories and insights in the first place. What is perhaps most amazing is that the ideas were not merely simple, they were almost beyond simplicity: breathe naturally, listen to the sounds and rhythms of words and human speech; pay attention to the tone leading or length of vowels.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

David Carter is the author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution and editor of Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews with Allen Ginsberg. He lives in the West Village in NYC.

Woodcut of Allen Ginsberg by Justin Kempton — more portraits of progressive writers available at

WC71 – Stuart Timmons on Bohemian LA

Hidden Bohemia in Los Angeles

by Stuart Timmons

"The City Council yesterday passed an ordinance forbidding street speakers from holding forth on ‘Radical Row’…The long-haired men and short-haired women have thirty days to make welkin ring in that locality, after which the nation’s problems will be settled in the Plaza." Los Angeles Times, 1923

Every city has them. Those short haired-women and long-haired men who make the skies echo with their public opinions and rooms glow with their aesthetic visions. Artists, writers and their ersatz communities provide an age-old refuge for those not bound by society’s moral- and especially sexual-conventions. Free spirits have existed in every era, from the Lost Generation to the Love Generation, but many generations have simply called them Bohemians.

These communities were not “gay ghettos” and rarely part of an organized gay rights movement. Though an overlap with gay life was frequent-to-inevitable, they were defined more by a devotion to aesthetics over conformity; sexual expression did not necessarily take precedent over artistic expression. An actor in 1840 described Bohemians as persons “located nowhere and whom one encounters everywhere, who have no single occupation and who exercise fifty professions…[who are] ready to live honestly if they can and some other way if they can’t.” Though Bohemia is not an overtly protected zone for gay people, it is idealized for a reason: it is often the most fulfilling part of their lives.

The two are often linked; one recent gay history, by Daniel Hurewitz, is called Bohemian Los Angeles, and the very words were even synonymous, as a 1910 article, “The Gay Life of the City,” about Bohemian haunts at L.A.’s beaches. Indeed, L.A. has a long avant-garde tradition intertwined with its gay people. Sitting at the edge of America, it’s a land of sunshine where cheap rents seemed (‘til recently) endless. Aside from its climate, Los Angeles has always offered the resource of space; as a city of some 450 square miles, its valleys, canyons, and mild beaches, form many neighborhoods that have welcomed odd ducks for years.

As early as 1887, a newcomer to L.A. named Harry Carr found an area near the central Plaza that had turned from “the first fashionable apartment houses” in town, whose tenants were mostly attorneys, to “the Greenwich Village of Los Angeles,” where impoverished artists and writers “contested as to which could wear the funniest looking hair and talk the loudest.” Carr later moved to the real Manhattan but returned soon. What he came back for, he rhapsodized, included seeing “mountains changing from a delicate salmon color to scarlet to rose…and then to violets and blue….and we go to sleep with the odor of orange blossoms mixing into our dreams.”

By the turn of the century, L.A. began to boast a Bohemian colony in its newspapers. In what had been so recently a cow town, artists stood out: Paul De Longpré, the renowned flower painter who left France for Los Angeles to become “art’s most impassioned flower lover;” miniaturist painter C. Albert Browne, a British ex-patriot, who created tiny masterpieces on ivory and porcelain. Both were profiled, along with half a dozen other artists, in the L.A. Times. By 1901, L.A.’s Jonathan Club held a Bohemian Ball, proclaiming, “If joy unconfined defines Bohemianism, who would not be one at least one night a year?” A year-round colony of artists and writers who preferred society’s margins lived in Bunker Hill. A fashionable housing district in the 1870s, its stunning views, by the turn of the century, gave way to apartment buildings, often catering to single men. By pure coincidence, the market in the heart of this gay neighborhood was known as the Budget Basket.

By the teens the district was known for its concentration of men who appeared employed and “decent” by day, but haunted Central Park (noted even by Hart Crane) and various clubs and bars where they could find one another. Bunker Hill was eventually described as a “secondary Skid Row” by the Los Angeles police, with bars on Hill and Third Streets that were “notorious as hangouts for undesirables.” Some of these “undesirables” plied the straight sex trade, like the Madame, “Mumsie” McGonigle of Bunker Hill Avenue. Even local bars with such names as the Gay Inn and the Gayway Café were known spots for female prostitutes — and were also popular for gay men.

The Bachelors of Bunker Hill

The queer anchor to Bunker Hill was Central Park, renamed Pershing Square during World War I. World famous as the first stop for homosexuals who lived in or visited Los Angeles, the Square, as its devotees called it, was Free Speech Central for the city, more even than “Radical Row” on Los Angeles Street. Radicals and reformers of all varieties spoke to crowds of people, pigeons, and pervs in the lushly planted park. In the 1930s and ‘40s, activist Harry Hay recalled cruising the grounds there at night; others have recalled cruising and carrying on even during the day. Banana trees had become so overgrown that Jaime Green remembers finding the Square shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles in the early ‘40s, and learned that “sucking and fucking went on 24/7 in those bushes.” Hay once recalled mischievously that he’d run into actors and musicians in the foliage of the Square. When referring to one handsome artist, he quipped, “I didn’t know him well, but I knew him often.” With its surplus of bachelors’ apartments and bars like the Gayway, Pershing Square served as the take-off point for what many gays referred to as their “rounds,” which included area t-rooms and bars, as well as a secluded pick-up area known as Vaseline Alley. Historian Jim Kepner noted in the 1940s that the Square already had a gay culture that was decades old.

Bunker Hill even had its own radical71_1  politician, Utah transplant Parley Parker Christensen, called “the bombastic bachelor of Bunker Hill” by the L.A. Times. Christensen, an advocate for women’s suffrage and the International Workers of the World, ran for President in 1920 on the Farmer-Labor party. He stood six foot four, favored white linen suits, and was known as a “flamboyant character” down to his flowing locks and his fluency in Esperanto. Neither his politics nor appearance, however, prevented his serving three terms on the Los Angeles city council. (Christensen was insightfully radical; he announced during a campaign that if the Republicans or Democrats won the White House again, “the government will remain on Wall Street.”) The certain sexuality of Christensen (like many of this period) is unknowable, but the milieu they lived in emerges as a free spirited bohemia.

Beer and Ether

If communities of the artistic and open-minded germinated in the first decades of the new century, they flowered and multiplied by the 1920s due to the growth of the film industry. As the creative, the beautiful, and the ambitious poured into the Southland, the Bohemia and its lavender fringes swelled. Simultaneously, Prohibition ushered in the era of speakeasies, with their underground culture of sensuality, excess and giddy lawlessness. L.A. speakeasies were known for serving beer and ether as a masculine alternative to gin and orange juice; their clientele regularly giggled to drag performers, some of who even served the sandwiches.

Some drag performers even hit the big time, like Fred Covert, who during the teens and twenties performed under the sly stage name of “Ko Vert” and re-spelled his first name “Freddric.” There was little hidden about dancer Ko Vert, however; the papers noted his Vanity Dance and his Peacock Dance. An extravagant costumer, for his “Evil” dance, he applied gold leaf to his body. Ko Vert appeared in numerous films, including the silent Wizard of Oz (as the Phantom of the Basket) and once, in drag, opposite Rudolph Valentino. Ko Vert declined a New York offer to replace the aging Julian Eltinge, the nation’s foremost female impersonator, preferring to stay in L.A.

While Hollywood attracted Bohemians, its welcome proved mixed. The conservative and exclusive studio system was a magnet for artistic dreamers of a sensitive nature and boasted of its sophistication in matters gay, but that did not equate to acceptance or even tolerance. Malcolm Boyd, who arrived in L.A. in 1940 and became a publicist and producer, called it a “walled kingdom.” Once inside he learned, “if you wanted to stay, the rules were quite clear,” and fundamental to them were “never express yourself; never stand out.”

Though high-earning actors found some protection, free-spirited queers usually found themselves outside the wall, as did Harry Hay, whose 1930s attempts at acting and screenwriting amounted to little more than extra work and ghost writing. He even engaged in making a short film that featured him as an actor as well as a co-director, and spoofed the Surrealist art movement of Europe. His collaborators came from an art collective just off of Hollywood Boulevard called the Hollywood Film and Photo League. Because of its Depression poverty, the group jokingly called itself the “Filth and Famine League.” It was the only place in the film capital where international and experimental film was available to the public.

A quiet gay infrastructure continued to foster the arts at the compound of painter Grant Beach, who renovated a decaying Victorian on the outskirts of downtown L.A. from the late 1940s through the ‘50s. Beach, who was quietly homosexual, mounted exhibitions of paintings and ceramics (often featuring artists as far-flung as Europe and Japan), and offered classes. Though his gallery was small, his exhibits were startlingly visionary. In 1956, he exhibited Mexican art featuring work of Rivera, Siqueros, Orozco and others, four decades before a comparable show was mounted in L. A. He also played landlord; among his tenants was Evelyn Nesbit, whose beauty caused art and murder in 1906, but by the mid ‘50s was an eccentric cat lady (she had three). The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing taught sculpture at Beach’s School of Arts and Crafts.
Homo Beatniks

The national acquaintance of Bohemia was so entrenched by the 1950s — and so associated with queer sensibility and sexuality, that the only gay magazine in existence ran a cover story linking the two. “Homo Beatniks” proclaimed ONE Magazine in the summer of 1959, offering a five-page cover-story titled “The Homosexual and the Beat Generation.” Homoerotic details of Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy and Allen Ginsburg would leak out for years, but Ginsberg proclaimed to the New York Post that year, “I sleep with men and with women. I am neither queer nor not queer, nor am I bi-sexual. My name is Allen Ginsberg and I sleep with whoever I want.”

The author of “Homo Beatniks,” who was familiar with L.A.’s Bohemian center at Venice Beach, broadened that idea. “The beat-homo has no inhibitions…. He doesn’t give one goddam what the world thinks of him.” Recounting case studies of homo Bohos he had known, he captured the rebel nature of the demographic by quoting one of them: “The only reason I’m a Beatnik is that none of them try to pry into my personal life… I can get along with the other Beatniks because they don’t ask ‘personal’ questions.” ONE may have found particular interest in them because Beat writers Kerouac and Ginsberg often cited their mission as spiritual seekers, invoking the “wise fool” — which was the exact archetype adopted by the Mattachine Society, the group that gave birth to ONE, during the same era. 

The simultaneity of the Beats and the homophiles poses a fascinating juxtaposition. The Beats fought for — and won — greater social and personal freedom, including freedom of sexual expression. Ginsberg’s landmark poem, “Howl,” elicited the legal term “redeeming social value” when a judge declared the poem not obscene, even though it railed against the corporate world and praised explicit gay sexuality in the guise of a Beat banshee. Homophile activists, ironically with their corporate personas and buttoned down rhetoric, made similar gains by winning a court case the same decade that allowed the words and ideas about homosexuality to be distributed through the mail. The publication of “Homo Beatniks” marks an unusual intertwining of two courses of action and activism for sexual and cultural expression. This resonance is increased when remembering that the homophiles had their own spiritual definition of homosexuality: The motto for
ONE was Thomas Carlyle’s quote, “a mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one.”

The inheritors of the Beats, within a scant decade, identified as love children and flower children who trusted no one over 30 and created not just an enclave but an entire counterculture. One crown prince of the hippies was Robert Opel, an artist, writer, and activist whose handsome physicality were part of his merry prankster repertoire. Opel became most famous for streaking the 1974 Oscars, running past Liz Taylor and David Niven, who sniped about Opel’s “showing off his shortcomings.” In reality, Opel was an endowed exhibitionist, who frequently wore a transparent vinyl jumpsuit to parties; for more modest occasions, he wore only a G-string and body paint. Opel was part of L.A.’s queer hippie scene, which included other such artists as Buddha John Parker, actor Harry Frazier, and filmmaker William Moritz. (Among Moritz’s diverse and ingenious works stands out a satyr play, “Midas Well,” based on the premise that the first thing King Midas touched and turned to gold was, of course, his cock.) Opel not only streaked the Oscars, but also appeared nude in the Los Angeles City Council during a debate on banning nudity from L.A. beaches. “I thought the Council should see what an actual nude person looks like,” he said, as he stood less than an inch from the seated Chief of Police, Ed Davis. Darkly-tinged homoerotic culture flourished in Opel’s San Francisco art gallery, which hosted Robert Mapplethorpe’s second west coast exhibition and Tom of Finland’s first U.S. exhibit. But darkness closed in when, in 1979, at Fey Way Gallery, Opel fell victim to an assassin’s bullet.

On a recent call-in radio show discussing gay life in Los Angeles, the only call came from a young man who asked about the homogenization of gay culture and why it seemed that, if you didn’t have a specific view, one felt left “out of the community.” I was an on-air guest, and was haunted by this question. The great legacy of gay life, long before the movement for rights, has always been freedom from social conventions and expectations. While the movement has succeeded in what used to be unimaginable — making homosexuality respectable — there seems to be some discontent about what respectability has sacrificed.

Can gay men live on wedding cake alone? Can a small square sticker express a full range of political views? Another queer model exists besides uniform consumerism. The radical, the lyrical, the flamboyant and even the bombastic are a part of gay expression that should be eternal, despite the recommended public image counsel of polls and non-profits. More than a century ago, a “staid” visitor who “lost his cares for five hours” articulated this elusive lavender homeland:

Bohemia, in its purest sense is the intimate meeting and commingling of minds without false conventionalities, where one thinks, does, acts and speaks according to his individual capacity, impulse and mind… Where one for pure love’s sake and enjoyment gives, and, in giving, enjoys, and for like love and fellowship receives, and in receiving, enjoys.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Stuart Timmons is the author of The Trouble With Harry Hay and with Lillian Faderman Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws,Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians reviewed in this issue of White Crane.