Category Archives: WC71 – Bohemian Splendor

WC71 – Contents


White Crane #71
Winter 2006-2007


We hope you enjoy these excerpts of our most recent issue.
White Crane is a reader-written, reader-supported magazine. Published for over 17 years, it was a 2004 Utne Independent Press nomination for spirituality coverage, and the longest continually published journal of Gay culture and ideas in the U.S.

Treat yourself…subscribe today!

Opening Words The Editors Dan Vera & Bo Young
Call for Submissions
Subscriber Information
Contribution Information


Midnight at The Palace:
The Cockettes & The New Bohemia
The White Crane Interview with Sweet Pam
By Robert Croonquist & Bo Young

Portrait of an Artist as Zen Monk
The White Crane Interview with Don Bachardy

By Victor Marsh

Four Nude Portraits by Don Bachardy

Updrafts by Dan Vera
re:Sources by Eric Riley
Frank Talk “Does the Religious Right Just Need to Get Laid?” by Frank Jackson
PRAXIS “Bohemian Splendor” by Andrew Ramer

Taking Issue
Poetics & Consciousness: Why Howl Still Matters After Fifty Years By David Carter
Spanbauer on Spender by Tom Spanbauer
Isherwood And Auden by David Garrett Izzo
Long-Haired Men & Short-Haired Women:
Hidden Bohemia in Los Angeles by Stuart Timmons

Angels On A Pinhead: The Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence by Sr. Soami
Death of the Wild Nun: Assunta Femia Remembered by Arthur Evans

Silence of the Lamb Cakes by Gregg Shapiro
Flaneur by Ed Madden
Bally’s Bocher by Jacob J. Staub

Culture & Books
Toby Johnson on Howard E. Cook’s Be Done On Earth
Toby Johnson on Joe Perez’s Rising Up: Reflections on Gay Culture, Politics, and Spirit

Bo Young on Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons’ Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians
Jay Michaelson on John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus

The links above are to excerpts from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep the conversation going. 
So to read more from this wonderful issue, SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

To hear more about what White Crane is up to, get alerts about new issues and publications, and an occasional GayWisdom email, sign up for our Gay Wisdom listserve at

WC71 – Editor’s Note

Opening Words from the Editors

Our Special Role
Dan Vera & Bo Young

Bo: So this was an issue long in the “a-borning” process.

Dan: Gestating?

Bo: We’ve had the germ of this issue for almost two years

Dan: Wow. Has it been that long?

Bo: Victor Marsh’s interview with Don Bachardy sat for a long time until we could figure out how to present it. I’m not really sure “Beats & Bohemians” is the right rubric for it.

Dan: Well we have talked about the term “Beats” being a misnomer. “Beats” was coined from “beatific” and applied by people outside the movement. It was an invention of the press, if memory serves.

Bo: And that “Bohemian” is a term that stretches from the turn of the century.

Dan: Yes. Andrew Ramer writes about the confusion-inducing nature of that term in his column this issue.

Bo: I think the idea is about “outsider” being “different” and the perspective that offers. And “Bohemia” has always seemed like a place where the sexual “transgressive” fit in. Andrew Ramer talks about it in his column, how there was this perception of sexual freedom right from the earliest notion of the term. I remember in my own “coming out” days wanting to get away. The Hippies were the bohemians of my youth and I wanted to be one.

Dan: What was it about them that attracted you?

Bo: The pretty men with long hair. The whole communal thing and the experimental nature of it all. They were trying out new ways of being in a time when I didn’t think much of the way I’d seen things being done. I wanted nothing so much as to put as much distance between me and Suburbia as I could. And Suburbia is still the only place I’m afraid of – that Stepford effect.

Dan: There is a geographic element to this discussion. I’m reminded of Edward Field’s recent memoir on the Bohemians of New York’s Greenwich Village after World War II. He writes about how they found this enclave where they were free to explore their lives and their art.

Bo: The dictionary’s first definition of “bohemian” is geographic. The second is about people who “live and act free of regard for conventional rules.” It’s about being unconventional.

Dan: Sure, but the question is what happens when the conventional rules change. Being gay in Chelsea or Washington DC’s Dupont Circle is not an act of brazen liberty is it?

Bo: No, but it was when those neighborhoods weren’t so trendy we made them trendy. In fact I’d go so far as to say we fix cities we settle areas that others desert.

Dan: So trendyness is today’s bohemianism?

Bo: No. That’s the wake, the afterward. It is about pioneering.

Dan: So Bohemianism gives birth to banality.

Bo: Only when it gets commodified after the true bohemians have moved on. It’s just one of the social roles that same sex people have always played. I don’t think it’s simply a subset of the group that sexual freedom is part of it. I think in some ways it defines it.

Dan: Where have they moved to? I guess that’s what I’m curious about. Cause I go back to the theory that Bohemianism has a direct relation to cheap rent. Allen Ginsberg could live on unemployment and do his art.

Bo: Oh yes. Cheap rent is very much a part of it. Except after the bohemians move in, the rents end up going up. We make it safe and profitable

Dan: So, I’m just asking the question that cities may not be where Bohemianism is living today because people can’t make art free of constraints if they’re working for Smith Barney to pay the rent. I was reminded from our recent time there that the same is true of the Castro. I’m sort of haunted by the conversations we had there with artists who struggle to make sense of what’s around them.

Bo: Well, there are surely “bohemian” people in rural places, too. I don’t think “bohemia” as a concept has a geography, per se. There are rural bohemians, and there are urban bohemians. The connection is living outside the boundaries, and moving the boundaries. It gets back to the traditional social role of same sex people, to my eye. It’s another “contrary” role – the “re-interpreter.”

Dan: I don’t think people struggled to create communities or neighborhoods so they could be co-opted. I think they wanted more – still want more. I don’t think the end result was to be tastemakers. That’s way too safe and we didn’t need liberation to perform that function—those of us who perform that function (not all of us do of course).

Bo: Oh I agree. I think the motivation is about finding a better, more satisfying way to live—unconstrained by social rules that have become constraints.

Dan: Well by most definitions the movement’s sort of hit a wall. I think the social rules can only apply if you’re living in Anniston or Pagosa Springs.

Bo: I don’t know those references.

Dan: Anniston, Alabama or Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I was just referencing more rural locales.

Bo: I think that’s the whole point. There isn’t any one “movement.” Bohemia is about the individual. The minute it becomes a “movement” it’s something else.

Dan: No. I disagree. The Beats, as we call them, were not individuals. That’s a total myth. They functioned and “succeeded” through their collective efforts. The reason we know of Burroughs and Kerouac is because of Ginsberg and the reason we have Ginsberg – as David Carter’s piece demonstrates beautifully – is because of his interaction with Burroughs and Kerouac. Ginsberg championed his friends’ work when no one would pay any attention. If the world loves On The Road, they owe a debt of gratitude to Ginsberg who used the his Howlfame to push for its publication

Bo: I think that’s the other side of this, too. All these radical “individualists” like the Goths now, or even the Hippies all dress alike, all look alike. It becomes about being identifiable. There is always this regression to a mean. But I think that is precisely what the “true bohemian” is responding to.

Dan: Sure. “The 50s begat the Beats which begat the Hippies, which begat the Punks” etcetera, but it sort of falls apart somewhere there at the end.

Bo: But there’s always one, or a few, who wander off and try to reestablish some individuality. It’s a very scary place to live, though, and it is certainly one of my interests with respect to modern gay folk. Getting back to Harry Hay’s whole idea that “the bedroom is the only place we’re like straight people.” It’s amazing how threatening that is to a large group of gay people and how easy it is to slip back into that Stockholm Syndrome of trying to convince hetero-society that we’re “just like them.” And how really difficult it is to stand outside and declare your differences. But this issue seems to confirm how important that is.

Dan: I just had a conversation with an artist we both know. He’s devoted his entire life to living simply so he can do his art. I asked him if he knew where the gay bohemians were today. His reply was a question. “Is there such a thing? I thought gay was part of the norm now so that we don’t need to live in special areas.”

Bo: Well, that is interesting. But for me it reinforces that the whole “gay lib” thing isn’t about sex. It’s about social roles. Sex is just sex, like Harry says. It’s the only place we’re the same as “them.” It’s every other way that makes us another “them.” As desperately as people will try to hold on to being “just like everyone else.” The feeling that it’s important to “fit in” is deeply tribal. It’s scary to be on the outs or feel like you’re on the outs. I think the point is that we actually have a special role and the sooner we go about defining it the better off we’ll all be.

Dan: What are some of those roles?

Bo: One of those roles is to be the outside commentor – the perspective that being outside, even briefly, offers. That’s very important for culture and society. Sometimes that outsider role is the joker, the jester making fun of things. That’s revolutionary by definition. And sometimes it is as the contrary: deliberately going against the flow. These are all definitions of “bohemians.”

Dan: I just think it’s near impossible to do that from a point of comfort. And we’re way too comfortable as an enclave. Chelsea is way too comfortable and cozy. Part of the dynamic is the carving out of space that is other, that is protected – a liberated zone if you will. Is there any chance to break from the rootlessness of that role? I mean to actually put down roots in a community? To not be the cultural interior decorator for the society or for realtors?

Bo: Well, for me that’s the point. “Bohemia” isn’t geographic. It’s a state of mind with very strong ego boundaries. Rootlessness is another synonym. They just don’t want to be confined by convention.

Dan: Maybe we’re challenged by trying to talk about them in general terms. Maybe it’s about intentionality. How you do things authentically.

Bachardyday2no3 Bo: There is a social co-dependency that is considered “the norm.” It’s easy if you fit in but not so easy if you don’t. Some people get bent out of shape with it all. Still others turn it into an art form. “Life as Art.” Which is certainly what Mr. Bachardy is doing.

Dan: It’s a big thing for our humble and solid little publication to be printing four of Don Bachardy’s nudes in this issue. They are truly works of art and they signify a threshold for us in keeping to our mission. You had the chance to sit for him. What was that experience like?

Bo: It was an honor to sit for him and fascinating. He works so fast and the concentration and meditation he speaks of in this interview, is palpable. There is a clear connection made with him as you sit there and his laser eye takes you in and translates you into color on the page. I think it’s Fauvist (another bohemian split from the art establishment in its time!) He really colors outside the lines. But I really got a sense that he lives to paint.

Dan: That may be the purest way to understand this issue. To talk about life as art. Or the pursuit of art. But I don’t think it has much to do with these creators thinking of themselves as Bohemians. It had more to do with their being honest about their lives and their expression of that liberated life through their art. I think these larger sociological conversations are just dead ends. They get too convoluted. Just sound like catch-phrases. Maybe because so much of the language has been co-opted on to Gap Ads.

Bo: Well I think that’s certainly true. Everything and everyone is capable of being coopted. But there will always be bohemians. Whatever they call themselves.

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!

Bo Young and Dan Vera are editorials mid-wives and co-conspirators in creating each issue of White Crane. Bo lives in Brooklyn, NY a few blocks from a museum and Dan lives in Washington, DC a few blocks from a Shrine. Bo is the author of First Touch: A Passion for Men and Day Trilogy and Other Poems. Dan is the author of two chapbooks of poetry, Crespuscalario and Seven Steps Up. If they sometimes seem interchangeable in the minds of White Crane readers it’s because they talk on the phone each day and bask under the shade of the same growing tree, the watering of which they consider their contribution to the continued flowering of gaiety.

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.

WC71 – Interview with Don Bachardy

Bacardy1 Portrait of An Artist as Zen Monk
Victor Marsh Interviews Don Bachardy
On Art, the Transcendent and Christopher Isherwood

[Editor’s Note: The artwork on this page is by Don Bachardy.  We gratefully acknowledge Bachardy’s allowing us to display his beautiful work with this excerpt and within the pages of this issue of White Crane.]

“Work for the work itself, not the fruits thereof.”  Vedantic teaching cited by Don Bachardy in Stars in My Eyes

Technically artist Don Bachardy (and His Kind, if you will) wouldn’t be called ‘beat’ or ‘bohemian’ — his life has been far too glamorous. A fine artist his entire life, Don Bachardy will forever be identified with novelist and diarist Christopher Isherwood, who discovered him on a Santa Monica beach in 1953 when Don was 18 years old, and became his patron and lover for life.

Isherwood encouraged Bachardy’s significant talents and opened golden doors for him at a time of iconic “glitterati” in Hollywood, sharing a life in the company of legends — Garbo & Maugham, Auden & Spender, Gerald Heard, Krishnamurti & Swami Prabhavananda — to skim just the shining surface of their circle. In his Diaries, Isherwood wrote of Bachardy:

“I feel a special kind of love for Don…at a very deep level, beneath names for things or their appearances… There’s a brilliant wide-openness about his mouse face with its brown eyes and tooth gap and bristling crew cut, which affects everyone who sees him. If one could still be like that at forty, one would be a saint.”

Isherwood went on, years later:

“What shall I write about Don, after seven years? Only this — he has mattered and does matter more than any of the others. Because he imposes himself more, demands more, cares more — about everything he does and encounters. He is so desperately alive.”

In his early 70s now, Bachardy went on to paint portraits of well-known and diverse subjects such as Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Anaïs Nin, Gore Vidal, Jane Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, James Merrill, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Mapplethorpe, Aldous Huxley, and many others.

Bachardy01In the late 1980s Bachardy created portraits of a dozen gay rights leaders: Elaine Noble, Frank Kameny, Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin, Morris Kight, Charles Bryden, James Foster, Bruce Voeller, David B. Goodstein, Jean O’Leary, Rev. Troy Perry, and Barbara Gittings. In 1995, the series was donated to the Human Sexuality Collection at Cornell University Library. Bachardy recently painted life partners, Gay Spirit author Mark Thompson and the Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd. His drawings and paintings are included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the M.H. de Young Museum of Art (SF), the University of Texas, Henry E. Huntington Library & Art Gallery, San Marino, California, the University of California at Los Angeles, the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, Princeton University, the California State Capitol Building (the official portrait of Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.), the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Last year Isherwood scholar and White Crane contributor Victor Marsh visited with Bachardy in the home he and Isherwood shared in Santa Monica.

Don Bachardy’s house sits alone on a small promontory, with great views across a canyon towards the Palisades and left down to the beach and the ocean. It’s a balmy spring-like day (even though it’s early January) and the air over the Santa Monica canyon is crisp and clear this morning.

Bachardy02 Bachardy is short-statured and resolutely slim. He’s dressed in blue tones: crisp blue jeans without belt and a short-sleeved grey-blue cotton T-shirt. Grey/white hair, cut short, although longer on top, where it stands up like a longish crew cut. His glasses are a narrow, modern, rimless strip, with dark green side bars.

He tends to look away while speaking, sometimes even sinking his head into his chest as if he were thinking deeply; but when he lifts his head and looks you directly in the face, the effect is remarkable. It is as though he is reserving his direct gaze for “special effect.” The lenses of his glasses give his eyes great depth of field and enlarge the gaze, which reinforces the impact. I recognize the intensity of the gaze from the self-portrait used at the Huntington exhibition.

He is very articulate and sometimes pauses, mid-sentence, searching for the right word, which invariably comes up apt. His voice is light in tone but emphatic, with a slightly hesitant delivery. The accent is mid-Atlantic and precise. No hint of a California drawl. He is remarkably respectful and attentive, listening carefully to what you say and he doesn’t interrupt, always giving you time to finish what you are saying. One feels drawn to reciprocate.

Everything about his manner, his personal style and presentation suggest a man with a great deal of self-discipline, who doesn’t often take the easy way; most alive when he is setting himself challenges. He is as sharp as a razor, yet not at all abrasive, with a great deal of the Isherwood-esque charm, judiciously disbursed. There’s refinement without fuss, a well-honed sensibility and a respectful reserve, rather than gush. A tight economy in his physical manner and communication, nothing extraneous, to me indicates a Zen-like personal esthetic. You feel like he doesn’t waste time. He works every day and even in his very early 70s, you get the feeling that he’ll be working for many years to come.

The house is single story, with rooms lined up along the same rectangular axis. The front door opens into a white living room with large windows looking out across the Canyon. Every available inch of wall space is hung with artwork.

We begin by discussing Peter Parker’s recent Isherwood biography. Bachardy says he has resisted criticizing the book until now because he didn’t want to draw any further attention to it and boost its sales.

Bachardy03 Victor Marsh: You said that Parker came here and you gave him access to materials that otherwise…

Don Bachardy: To everything, yes. Papers, photographs, letters, diaries, the works; and he was living in the house here. He came on two separate occasions and on the second one, the young man I was living with, Tim Hilton said: Either he goes, or I go. And I had to tell Parker that he must go to a motel or hotel…

Marsh: The Times of London printed a very brief news item saying they had called you and reported that you weren’t happy with the biography.

Bachardy: I was very careful what I said. I didn’t say anything substantial. I suppose my very coolness was interpreted as disapproval.

Marsh: Did you find it an unsympathetic portrayal of Isherwood?

Bachardy: Yes, I did. He really puts down Chris continually, and wags his finger and makes fun of him, like a schoolmarm. He’s so superior! Who is he, you know; who is he? That same old tired British attitude: that Isherwood never wrote anything nearly as good as his work in England once he came to this country.

Marsh: He does give the second half of the life equal space in the book; he spends the first half…

Bachardy: But it’s all telescoped, it’s not nearly as detailed.

Marsh: He says in the interview he did with The Telegraph that he doesn’t wag his finger over aspects of Isherwood’s behavior that he might have disapproved of…

Bachardy: If he’s got more complaints about Isherwood, um, the book would be overwhelmingly negative! You mean, he held back? That makes it absolutely a total lie…when he said to me…when he interviewed for the job, he told me a lie. Really there’s hardly any praise for Chris in the whole book. I read it very carefully.

Marsh: You said that you feel betrayed?

Bachardy: Yes, yes, totally. Wouldn’t you feel betrayed — somebody tells you he admires a writer and then writes a biography like this? And it’s personally critical as well as critical of the work. I just wonder what Olympic mountain he is descending from?

Marsh: I wrote a short review of the book in which I said that even if he tried to practice restraint in “wagging his finger” over Isherwood’s behavior, that he didn’t exercise the same restraint in regard to the Swami. As reviews of the book have appeared around the world, people have taken that very conventional attitude towards Swami ji that Parker sets up in the book in which he presents him as sly, manipulative and cunning, interested only in Isherwood’s cachet as a writer for the sake of the Vedanta Society. He uses legalistic language and even claims that he was not really sympathetic to homosexuals; that he was giving Isherwood special treatment, which I think is a lot of tommyrot. I don’t see how anyone with Isherwood’s insight into character could be so duped by somebody for 40 years.

Bachardy04 Bachardy: Well, exactly. Yes, forty years of really close relationship, observing this man, often on a daily basis, when he was living in the Vedanta Center. Chris, with all of his intuitive range, could be fooled by the kind of character Parker describes.

Marsh: He ends that section by saying of course “this is not to mean that Isherwood wasn’t duped in any way.” With that lame disclaimer, why the gratuitous attack? I feel that it’s because of the typical British colonial attitude towards the belief systems and spirituality of subject races.

Bachardy: Yes, exactly. That attitude towards Chris’s involvement with Vedanta and the attitude of Chris’s falling apart and becoming a mediocre writer once he came to this state. It’s all that British attitude… I feel that I couldn’t have chosen a worse person for the biography.

Marsh: Well it seems to be such an authoritative book because it’s so long, but size isn’t everything! He gets tons of detail — the historical detail — in place: “he went here, he met that person, he did this and that”…

Bachardy: But he’s more interested in Kathleen (the mother) and Richard (the brother) than in Chris; he really liked them better, it’s perfectly clear. And he would say so, he was so fascinated by them, and that was years ago. Over the years since he took on the job, my faith in him was diminishing rapidly, until finally there was really very little there. But even so, when I read the book, I was really stunned.

Marsh: He has been praised by so many reviewers for…

Bachardy: He’s a powerful critic.

Marsh: …for recuperating Kathleen’s reputation from the shabby treatment at the hands of her favorite son; but if he hadn’t stepped away from her and everything she represented, he would have ended up like Richard, with his broken down, eccentric life, not productive of anything.

Bachardy: Well I think Kathleen, in Parker’s mind, stands for England. Not only was England insulted when Chris abandoned her, but his mother was bereft.

Marsh: John Sutherland, who’s a professor in London said…

Bachardy: Did he write the [Stephen] Spender biography?

Bachardy05 Marsh: Yes, apparently he was rushing to get it out at the same time; Parker seems to pride himself on spending twelve years on his biography, by way of contrast.

Bachardy: He came here to interview me and I rather liked him and weirdly enough, I thought he was rather like Stephen himself.

Marsh: He said in his review of this biography that Isherwood had made “a late life conversion to transcendentalism.” “Late life” when it was really barely half way through. There’s a lack of interest in the facts after he came to America…

Bachardy: Yes, they’re really not interested. Even though in terms of pages, Parker may have given as much to the Californian part of Chris’s life, what he is really interested in and what is much more vividly written is the first half. You know, he hardly asked me anything at all. And stayed in the house for two weeks; I don’t know how I stood it.

Marsh: You don’t mind if I make your displeasure known?

Bachardy: I’m still hesitant for fear…You know, people who have heard of me will say, “Oh well if he doesn’t like it, it must be spicy” or something and it’s certainly not spicy.

Marsh: Let’s go back to the misrepresentation of Swami Prabhavananda. I think Chris was lucky to meet an independently-minded exponent of the tradition. I imagine that there would have been other swamis from the Math in Calcutta who could have been more straight-laced and that Isherwood was fortunate to find someone who was liberated from conventional attitudes.

Bachardy06 Bachardy: Oh yes, Prabhavananda was really very unusual. The other swamis at the Belur Math were quite a different kettle of fish. Of course, the biography of Ramakrishna Chris did had to be vetted by them and they made all kinds of demands. Chris would have written a quite, quite different book about Ramakrishna if they hadn’t interfered. It was amazing that Chris published under his name, which really wasn’t entirely his work.

Marsh: And yet it’s still very revealing. I think a lot comes through that a conventional biographer wouldn’t have really covered, like the cross-dressing and the different modes of devotion. It gives a very sympathetic picture of Vedanta and creates a basis for the acceptance of “others” because of the non-duality aspect — not just dividing the world up into male and female, the gay/straight, all the binaries get dissolved in a non-dual system. Isherwood seems to me to have had tremendous insight into it, philosophically.

Bachardy: Yes, yes! He was very intelligent!

Marsh: He was also able to get past the colonial condescension, you know, this is the religion of the Hindus; Auden called it “heathen mumbo jumbo.”

Bachardy: Well, of course, he examined and re-examined Prabhavananda under every conceivable light and weighed his actions continually. He wasn’t just overcome with awe; he was very cautious.

Marsh: And Prabhavananda passed the test!

Bachardy: Yes!
Marsh: What about your own relationship? I’ve noticed with my own guru that a dozen people can come to him and receive instruction, learn the meditation practice, but the path they take thereafter can be very different, even though the practice is similar and they all have a relationship with him as a Teacher, but each person’s path is so individual. How would you say your path differed from the way that, say, Chris followed up? Would you still call yourself a Vedantist?

Bachardy: Oh yes, I do and I still do practice, I still tell my beads, every day.

Marsh: People don’t know this about you! There was an interview you both did with Mark Thompson for Gay Spirit and Chris said, when he was asked: Do you mind speaking about your spirituality? He said the Hindus have a very good expression: If you have a spiritual experience, you had better shut up about it, as you would if your mother were a whore! Unless he felt there was a sincere interest from the other side, he wouldn’t go there. So it’s interesting that your practice continues. What was your own relationship with the Swami like?

Bachardy: I was alone with him on some occasions. He sat for me, Prabhavananda, several times. We were absolutely alone together and that in itself is a meditative experience, because you’re just sitting there for hours with nothing to do but examine the contents of your mind! So I consider that was very beneficial exposure for me.

Marsh: That was a most intense form of darshan!

Bachardy: Yes, yes, exactly and I took it as such. And I think some of the pictures I did of him are very like him.

Marsh: Did you feel that you had the same kind of bhakti, devotional, affectionate relationship with him?

Bachardy: You know, Chris was really my guru, and he was the go-between for Prabhavananda and me. Prabhavananda and I were very respectful of each other and cordial and friendly but I was very careful not to try to grab his attention. I always kept a discreet distance.

Also, I was on sufferance from the beginning because, of course, Chris, just a few months after we got to know each other, well, he took me up to meet Swami. He wasn’t going to fool around. He wasn’t going to try to hide me at home. He took me up there to meet him.

Bachardy08It was a little bit like meeting the parents. I knew it and Prabhavananda knew it. It had to be above board. That really established the basis for the rest of the relationship I had with Prabhavananda. That’s why I stopped going to Vedanta Place because I was hardly ever there without Chris and I didn’t want to test them, their treatment of me, after Chris was dead. I didn’t want to put them into that…because of course I would notice the slightest difference. I just didn’t want to do that to them. And besides as I said I felt that my real guru was Chris and what I got from Prabhavananda was filtered for me by Chris. Prabhavananda was long since dead by the time of Chris’s death, so there was really no point in going up to Vedanta Place.

Marsh: But you continue the practice?

Bachardy: Yes I do.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.  In fact this is a mere fraction of this fascinating interview with Don Bachardy.  But 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!

WC71 – Poetry by Jacob Staub

Ballysbocher Bally’s Bocher   by Jacob J. Staub

Then, when I stole a closeted glance at your thigh
through the lattice of the mirror,
and you pulled the leg of your gym shorts
down, tznyusdik, like a skirt,
I blushed, mortified, momentarily outed, in a panic.
I looked away, like nothing had happened,
like you must have been mistaken,
but I knew you knew I’d been staring.

You were not so skilled at eye contact to begin with,
but now the aversions of our eyes
in the open showers had meaning.
But what was it? I’d wonder.
When, on Friday mornings,
I wished you a casual Shabbat shalom,
you acted like you didn’t hear me.
Maybe you didn’t.
Or maybe I was part of your wicked
world of temptation,
a perilous category to be avoided.

Never having ventured
to test the living waters,
I feared I would miss my beloved’s arrival in the garden.
I had not heard the term “gaydar.”
But when you shed your baggy shorts in a sweaty heap
in front of your locker,
your body was a revelation,
every muscle sculpted in the image of God.
Not like the bulging overbuilt Greeks,
but understated, absent body fat,
five feet, a hundred pounds,
sailing lightly past, inches off the ground,
closer to heaven.

Worshipping you would not be idolatrous.
My fingers, my lips gliding across your ridges,
piously inhaling your incense
our legs entwined like a havdalah candle..
Surrendering to you,
I’d be submitting to the Creator.
I didn’t know you,
but neither did countless generations know
the One they worshipped with hearts overflowing.
Dressed in a white shirt and black pants,
beeper on your belt, fringes exposed on your sides,
side curls neatly wrapped around your ears,
you would hurry off to see your patients,
abandoning me in my shame.
On Shabbat mornings,
when you wheeled your babies past my house
in your Eastern European garb,
the eruv checked each week,
I would not believe that you were not like me.
I believed with a perfect faith
that those for whom I yearned
must surely yearn for me.
An interminable dark night of the body,
God absent no matter how prayerfully I longed
for loving communion.
How long, O Lord?
How long, Compassionate One of Blessing?

No longer.
No longer do my genitals steam
for beauty unresponsive.
Flirt with me, and I tingle.
My heart is open for the taking, for the breaking.
Years past disbelief,
I know what it is to be desired,
to be loved,
to shudder in anticipation of an embrace,
to let go, venturing into the mysteries,
to give it to the embracing One.

You were an idol after all,
a marble wonder,
lifelike but not living.
The living God is One who touches and responds,
bawls and brays with me,
holds me down and lifts me up,
a pliant lover, a breath of fresh air.
And in the locker room showers,
you are a Michelangelo to be admired
but nothing more.

Rabbi Jacob J. Staub is Dean of Students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and co-author of Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach.

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!

WC71 – Updrafts

A quarterly column of wise words…

I am a lover of truth, a worshipper or freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. That is my religion, and every day I am sorely, grossly, heinously and deeply offended, wounded, mortified and injured by a thousand different blasphemies against it. When the fundamental canons of truth, honesty, compassion and decency are hourly assaulted by fatuous bishops, pompous, illiberal and ignorant priests, politicians and prelates, sanctimonious censors, self-appointed moralists and busy-bodies, what recourse of ancient laws have I? None whatever. Nor would I ask for any. For unlike these blistering imbeciles my belief in my religion is strong and I know that lies will always fail and indecency and intolerance will always perish.
You should try the fruit of every tree of every garden in the world. But ‘try’ is the word. Some fruits will be rotten, some will be poisonous, and some will be so seductive you eat nothing else and become malnu-treated, if there is such a word.  STEPHEN FRY

The integrity of love is always more important than the purity of dogma.  UNKNOWN

Our life is but a mere tracing on the surface of mystery.  And the surface of mystery is not smooth. ANNIE DILLARD

Did you once desire to shine among your peers—or did you shrink from the knowledge of your won defect in the midst of them?
Did you, friend, covet so to be more beautiful, witty, virtuous—to be able to tell a store or sustain an argument well, or to be able to discourse on any subject, or to be a skilful rider or a good shot?
Or shrank from the ridicule which the reverse of these excited—which was certain and is still certain to come upon you?
Was it really your own anxious face you used to keep catching in the glass? was it really you who had so many things, one way or another, you wanted to conceal from others—so many opinions too to disguise?
All that is changed now.
The doors that were closed stand open.
Yet how slight a thing it is.
The upturning of a palm?  the curve of a lip, an eyelid?  Nothing.
Nothing that can be seen with the mortal eye or heard by the ear, nothing that can be definitely thought, spoken, or written in a book—
Yet the doors that were trebled-bolted and barred, and the doors weed-overgrown with rusty old hinges,
Fly open of themselves.  EDWARD CARPENTER

Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are. JOSÉ ORTEGA Y GASSETT

If I could take all my parts with me when I go somewhere, and not have to say to one of them, ‘No, you stay home tonight, you won’t be welcome,’ because I’m going to an all-white party where I can be gay, but not Black. Or I’m going to a Black poetry reading, and half the poets are anti-homosexual, or thousands of situations where something of what I am cannot come with me. The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution. PAT PARKER

When you consider that God could have commanded anything he wanted—anything!—the Ten [Commandments] have got to rank as one of the great missed moral opportunities of all time.  How different history would have been had he clearly and unmistakably forbidden war, tyranny, taking over other people’s countries, slavery, exploitation of workers, cruelty to children, wife-beating, stoning, treating women—or anyone—as chattel or inferior beings. KATHA POLLITT

Ours should be a vision willing to exceed all that attempts to confine and intimidate us.  We would be wise to develop strong powerful voices that can range over the entire landscape of human experience and condition. ESSEX HEMPHILL

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!

WC71 – Review of Gay L.A.

Rvu_gayla Gay L.A.
A History of Sexual Outlaws,
Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians

By Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons
Basic Books (Perseus Books Group) 2006
ISBN -13978-0-465-02288-5
431 pages, $27.50

Reviewed by Bo Young

If you stopped the average, well-read gay man on …say, Castro Street or Eighth Avenue Chelsea or even Santa Monica Boulevard (can you find “well-read” gay men on any of those streets?) and asked them where the modern Gay liberation movement got its start, it’s a safe bet the majority of responses would be something about Stonewall and New York City. Such is the power of publicity (and urban density, according to Gay L.A. authors, Faderman and Timmons). Because, in a fair appraisal of the developments of what might be called GLBT history, Los Angeles would necessarily play a major, if not the starring role. By any measure of “apples and oranges” Los Angeles and its cultural contributions to GLBT Liberation was ahead of the curve and ahead of New York City.
This, of course, sticks in the craw of a lot of city chauvinists. But facts are facts. If you trace modern Gay liberation back to the Harry Hay and Rudy Gernreich and their circle that became the Mattachine Society, you will find yourself in the sunny climes of Southern California. And if you want to talk about “riots” that resulted in gay people organizing, we’re not in Greenwich Village, 1969, anymore, Toto, we’re on Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles; and 1967 is a full two years earlier.

When the religious fundies started their goose-stepping, church-state, church-state, church-state march across the country from Dade County, it was the political savvy of Southern California that made them break their stride, at least for the time being. It was not, for example, as legend and hagio-documentary would have it, Harvey Milk single-handedly standing up to Anita Bryant. In fact, as this reviewer remembers the story (and I was, in fact, the Assistant State Press Secretary to the great Sally Fiske on the No On 6 campaign in So-Cal) the job was to keep Harvey away from microphones, so as to allow John Briggs to hoist himself by his own language petard.
Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, the co-authors of Gay L.A., have written an entertaining and fascinating history of, yes, GLBT people in Los Angeles — Gay people, lesbians, two spirits, drag queens, wayward sailors and closeted leading actors, and other assorted sexual outlaws, as the subtitle promises. In a most, for Los Angeles, unusual self-effacing way, the collective march-of-time stories make a serious argument for Los Angeles’ honored place in the history of Gay people in America.

If the time line the authors relate is necessarily limited in its depth — and it is — it is also nothing short of dazzling in its breadth. In fairness, much like getting around L.A. by highway, there is a good deal of ground to cover, and having personally lived through a number of the stories related regarding the halcyon disco days (your humble reviewer was doorman at the Cabaret/After Dark disco in S.F.) and bathhouse bacchanalia of the late 70s (every Monday, said reviewer took Sheldon Andelson’s 8709 receipts to the gay-owned bank he and others started in   L.A.) and the political and medical dramas of the early 80s (and slept with his share of the main characters…which he will most certainly not review here) this writer can personally attest to there being a good deal more to tell. But again, in fairness, probably any one of the chapters in the book could be expanded into a stand-alone book. And probably will.

Given this, the range of stories — from pre-publicist times of indigenous Chumash Two Spirit culture, (when the name of the place was translated as “the smoke” because of the environmental peculiarities of the geography), to the modern political action and multicultural influences of this smoggy Hollywood dream citym — makes the book laudable. The writing partnership of Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons offers a tasty combination of women’s stories — I suspect in her voice — as well as the men’s — in his. Rising above male/female binaries, they have made an equally concerted effort to tell the multicultural rainbow of stories, all without the feeling of forced PC-ness, feeling more like what political correctness really is meant to be: the whole story with respect to all the players. It is heartwarming to see the names of Gayle Wilson, Sally Fiske, Roberta Bennett, Diane Abbit and Valerie Terrigno brought to the worthy fore, to say nothing of better known names like Jean O’Leary, Ivy Bottini, Colt handsome Steve Schulte and Mixner with the name Scott appended to it. These were people and stories I knew personally and they are well-honored and well-served here.

Despite my own personal history there, I was…and I think most readers will find themselves…surprised, really, at the not merely important role Los Angeles has had in GLBT history, but the very central, truly groundbreaking force and fertile ground it has been. This is a much needed addition to and clarification of the national history of our struggle that should sit proudly on any bookshelf right next to David Carter’s Stonewall.

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!

WC71 – Review of Be Done On Earth


Be Done On Earth

By Howard E. Cook
PublishAmerica, pb,
185 pages, $19.95

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

A stranger appears in your life. He’s attractive, but even more, he’s charismatic, sexually alluring, but aloof. Everybody who meets him falls in love with him. And he’s mysterious, suddenly disappearing and then popping back up again in the most unexpected places and times, but always with coincidental (almost magical) significance. And he’s got a message for you—and for the world. And he wants you to spread it. He gives you a manuscript, and then he disappears again, leaving you with a mission.

This is certainly a familiar theme in mythological writing. From Richard Bach’s Messiah or Myles Connolly’s very Catholic Mr. Blue to the gospel stories themselves about Jesus, one of the ways “revealed” or spiritual insight is traditionally presented is as “the book within the book.” There’s a story about meeting the charismatic message giver, and within that story is the story or teaching he gives.

This happens in real life. It’s not just a theme in literature or mythology. It’s an actual experience people have. In my own life, my nicknamesake and first collaborator Toby Marotta entered my life in an almost magical way, invited me to help him edit his masterpiece Harvard doctoral dissertation into a publishable book, and then, leaving me with a copy to rewrite (and a message about the meaning of the gay rights movement), he disappeared with his exotic Parsi lover to search for crystals in India.

I just made it sound more magical and mysterious than it really was: Marotta’s partner was a geology professor from India who imported minerals as a sideline business to teaching. This was just a business trip and I was left with just a copyediting job. But it was the start of my own writing career — and of my own understanding of gay consciousness.

So when Howard Cook relates the tale of his meeting the elusive, charismatic Bradford Lightfoot Dare in the strangest of places over a period of many years, I was ready to believe the story on several levels from the mythic to the mundane. Cook’s story of Brad Dare is quite intriguing. He first shows up in a Trappist monastery, then as a nude model for life-drawing classes in Washington, DC. He’s a dance partner to debutantes and a most eligible bachelor in the nation’s capital. Next he’s a Jesuit seminarian studying Teilhard de Chardin, and a little later, he appears unexpectedly as a housemate in a hippie household in Greenwich Village in the apartment previously occupied by the New York Queen of the Gypies — with writer Norman Mailer indirectly making the reintroduction. Then he becomes a gay porn star in San Francisco and a character in the development of West Coast New Age thought along with Ken Kesey and Alan Watts.

Especially because the tale begins in the 1950s, I couldn’t help being reminded of Fred Demara, “The Great Imposter,” (played by Tony Curtis in the movie) who beguiled the American public in those days with his story of living many identities, including Trappist monk. But Bradford Dare comes across in Cook’s telling not as a daring adventurer (though look at his name!) thumbing his nose at convention and legalities, but as a dedicated and driven seeker of transcendent truths, though no less rebel.

Dare shows up again in Cook’s life many years later, after Cook has successfully marketed a couple of books. He’s been studying and thinking and making notes all these years, and now asks Howard Cook’s assistance in articulating and promulgating the wisdom and enlightened insight he’s gained.

And that’s the book within the book: Bradford Lightfoot Dare’s proposal for how to modernize Christianity and recreate the Church. Partly tongue-in-cheek and partly with multi-layered symbolism, Dare calls his message the first encyclical of Pope John the Beloved.

Blending modern-day physics and cosmology, a little Teilhard and a little Matthew Fox, comparative religion, some Joseph Campbell, intelligent New Age thought, progressed Christianity, American political idealism, evolutionary theory, postmodernism, (and here and there what seem like loose associations), Pope John the Beloved calls for a new Church of the Second Coming—also referred to (iconoclastically) as the Church of Kingdom Come – COKC (try pronouncing the acronym).

It’s a sex-positive religion based in an evolutionary model of human nature with an openly gay priesthood (with a somewhat progressed understanding of the role of homosexual consciousness in evolution). Some of the tenets of COKC are intentionally controversial (like the proposal that genetic science will soon allow humans to reproduce in the lab, avoiding all the dangers of unregulated breeding, and taking advantage of the opportunity to improve human nature at the molecular level). But the suggestions for an updated religious model come across as heartfelt and genuine.

I’ve tended to focus on the frame of the story rather than the content. Brad Dare would probably prefer I was writing about his ideas rather than Cook’s presentation. But I will leave readers to study Dare’s “encyclical” on their own: it’s a little overwhelming to summarize in a few paragraphs in a book review. I think men in the gay spirituality movement will recognize many of the themes (like the question “Was Jesus gay?”). But some of the ideas are fresh and come from unexpected directions (like the “final anthropic principle” in quantum cosmology). And, at any rate, it’s not so much the conclusions that will draw readers into the book as the process. Whether you agree with the conclusions or not, the debate is interesting and the argumentation thought-provoking.

For me, as reviewer, the most thought-provoking was the question whether Brad Dare is an alter-ego and literary device of Howard Cook’s multi-faceted mind or a “real” person. In a way, it doesn’t make any difference.

I must say I was disappointed at the end of the book that the framing story is not recapitulated. I wanted to know what happened to Brad Dare. All we get at the end is that he is working on a follow-up about the Church of the Gay Salvation.

Be Done on Earth is a neat example of an ancient literary and mythical dynamic by which wisdom is personified in a charismatic person who inspires those caught in his magic spell to discover their own insights and to surpass him. I was pleased to suspend disbelief and enjoyed the book — just as 30 years ago at the start of my writing career I was willing to suspend disbelief and let my friend and fellow Toby be an inspiration and watershed in my own life.

I wonder if there’s something “inherently gay” in finding inspiration in a charismatic person instead of an authoritarian institution or revealed text. I think that might be one of the subjects in Pope John the Beloved’s second encyclical.

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!

WC71 – Review of Rising Up

Rvu_perezrisingup Rising Up:
Reflections on Gay Culture, Politics, and Spirit

By Joe Perez
Lulu Publication, pb, 248 pp,  $15.75
Also available from as an e-book for $6.25.

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

Joe Perez moderates the Gay Spirituality and Culture blog on the Internet. With blogging having become a major force in American media and politics, Perez’s blog constitutes a major gay presence in the new electronic/virtual media world. The blog hosts columns by a variety of writers (occasionally including this reviewer) as well as linking to Perez’s own extensive writing at

Perez’s book, Rising Up, demonstrates another facet of his creativity within this virtual world. For the book is a hybrid of traditional writing/publishing and the new Internet-inspired style of blogging. It is a compilation of columns and postings Perez has written for the blogosphere, and then edited and rearranged for book publication. This is a new kind of writing and a new phenomenon in the book world.

There are several levels, therefore, at which to review this book: first, simply the phenomenon of a blog-based book, second, the “personalistic” style of writing occasioned by blogging, and third, the content.

The first level is easy: this is probably the wave of the future. The nature of posting on the Internet is that it’s fleeting and ephemeral. Electronic media demonstrates one of those Buddhist insights into existence: everything is transitory, existing like a bubble or a dream. Brilliant writers post brilliant, incisive commentaries on the web. But these exist only as electronic signals flashing round the world at light speed and getting lost in the torrent of such signals, then disappearing into the past. It’s a natural impulse of serious writers, thinkers, and commentators to want to preserve their best writing and to organize their insights to make them more accessible. And it’s an appropriate writer’s discipline to edit and rewrite one’s material. So the blog turned literature is a logical outgrowth of this computer phenomenon. Joe Perez really is riding the crest of the wave.

The second level of critique is much more complex. Blogging is almost necessarily reactive and interlinked. Blogging is a kind diary-keeping, without the confidentiality. Bloggers write in response to other blogs and postings on the web. In the electronic blog, the hyperlink is easy to create and easy for the reader to follow. In print, it doesn’t work that way. So, for instance, where traditional academic text would have a footnote, Perez’s blog text has a bracketed reference to a URL like []. Of course, that’s actually very easy to follow on the computer—easier than to a footnoted book you’d have to got to a library to find — but it is awfully inelegant in print. What’s more, the reactive style means the reader is only hearing one side of a debate. To Perez’s credit, he generally introduces and explains the text he is commenting on. This, indeed, is what a reader would expect from a serious and academically trained writer. Joe Perez is a Harvard graduate and done masters level work at the University of Chicago.

Blogging also tends to be sequential and timely. News comes out in bits and pieces and commentators are always dealing with it in the fleeting present. Thus their commentaries can lack perspective. Again to Perez’s credit, he has organized the book by themes and not by dates. His insights then come across as thoughtful and logically interconnected, not just reactive. But this is the major problem with this style of writing. Above I referred to this as personalistic. By that I mean that the reactive quality of blogging results in lots of first person pronouns and consequent subjectivity. Joe’s personality is very present.

The third level of critique is of content. Rising Up covers a lot of territory; as the subtitle indicates, the book is about culture, politics, and spirit, ranging from “Responding to religious traditionalists,” “Fighting HIV/AIDS,” “Looking at popular culture,” to “Elevating business and society,” “Connecting sex and soul,” and “Exploring spiritual alternatives.” (These are six exemplary chapter titles out of twelve.)

Joe Perez is a student of modern psycho-spirit culture theoretician Ken Wilbur. Wilbur’s ideas and models of experience and spiritual growth pervade Perez’s writing. Wilbur uses a lot of acronyms for his wide-ranging concepts (AQAL, for instance, for “All Quadrants, All Levels” meaning “comprehensive” and “flexible.”) Perez follows suit and uses the acronym STEAM for the processes of psychological and spiritual growth. Students of Wilbur’s will find Perez’s discussions very appropriate application to gay consciousness; non-Wilbur fans may find them confusing. The concept of “rising up” through the stages of personal growth unites all the various discussions including the nature of gay consciousness itself.

The book, like Internet surfing, doesn’t have to read from front to back. It’s filled with interesting and provocative comments, most of which stand alone. I thought the section on HIV/AIDS perhaps the most heartfelt. Joe Perez deserves to be read.

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!