pornography and another on the gay SM scene without mentioning John Preston or his Mr. Benson once. This curious unevenness runs throughout the book: much fanzine fodder about the divas the great drag performers imitated, hardly anything about the great drag performers themselves. Some of this is so audacious that it must be camp: there is, for example, a liberal helping of pointless footnotes, which must be homage to John Boswell, the gay scholar who raised the practice of defensive footnoting to an art form. What could be more camp, really, than tossing around terms like “bourgeois,” “proletarian,” and even “lumpenproletarian” without betraying any sign whatsoever of having any kind of class analysis? This is not to mention the histrionic purple prose, which decries one thing but deplores its opposite, so one has little idea what, if anything, the author might approve. To wit: …the feminized body of the dandy, brought to a peak of perfumed, penned, and blow-dried perfection by the new male beauty industry, collided headlong with attempts to masculinize the gay body. Rather than solving the self-image problems… gay liberation created an entirely new set of problems that divided the community that was once far more uniform in its physical appearance into two warring factions \(each of which acThis was known as the war between the essentially Harris comes down firmly on both sides of the argument, by crediting all the charges each side made against the other: In attempting to assuage our fears of disintegrating into the battered carcasses of worn-out old queens, we have succeeded in creating another problem altogether, the problem of what might be called homosexual artificiality…. the gay man’s body has become a living, breathing battlefield in which the queen and the clone grapple for supremacy…. Over the past two decades, the very rituals of body defacement that once served the subversive function of defiling the aesthete’s prissiness have been transformed into methods of body beautification…. So, cute tattoos, piercings, and even waxing the hair off backs and shoulders are right out so far as Harris is concerned. But ural doesn’t fare much better: …attempts to aestheticize hairy, out-ofshape bodies are in part motivated by fatigue with the amount of energy required for the onerous maintenance of the bourgeois body…. Harris feels that such attempts are bound to fail, and besides there seems to be something artificial about deliberately staying natural. Perfumes are sneered at, but natural odors are characterized as “fetid.” Being perfumed and blow-dried–that’s bad. Being body-pierced and unwashed, if a conscious reaction to being perfumed and blow-driedthat’s bad. Throwing a business suit over the whole thing so as to fit in at a white-collar jobwell, that’s bad, too. There is just no pleasing some people. Any gay man in ragged jeans is, to. Harris, a “faux prole.” I have seen a roommate distressing a pair of jeans to achieve “the look,” and I see why Harris might think so. But that roommate was a waiter who spent hours rolling up quarters from his tip bag to cover his rent check. Harris never acknowledges the existence of genuinely proletarian gay people. He still cites some notorious demographic studies, the unreliability of which GLAAD called to his attention in 1995. I hardly know any gay couples who bring down $55,000 a year, but Harris believes a study that tells him that is the average for gay couples \(the figure he used in both Harris and the image-manipulating advertisers he criticizes are working on the same false premise \(some of the new-image magaThe Rise and Fall of Gay Culture is a rich tapestry of data points and presents some really stimulating ways of looking at some of the data points. But like the many fresh ideas here, many viewpoints are at odds with the others. When Harris speaks of “culture,” he means something encompassing fashion, styles, the trappings of artall of which certainly is a part of culture, but is far less than what an historian, an anthropologist, or a political scientist means by “culture.” Harris makes slight reference to social structures existing among homosexuals before the end of World War Two, and none at all to gay institutions of any period. The analogy with the assimilation of ethnic minorities is obvious but too facile; the gay minority had to crystallize out of the melting pot to exist at all, and ifas does seem to be the case the lump is dissolving again, it is unreasonable to expect the process to be very like the one ethnic minorities have experienced. Nonetheless, among the self-contradictory viewpoints, there are some genuine flashes of insightby which I mean things that will instantly strike anyone familiar with the subject as obvious, true, and yet previously unrecognized, a tacit understanding finally given voice. For example, in discussing the athletic model magazines of the late ’50s and early ’60s, in which the images are photogenic but not pornographic, Harris observes that athletic models are invariably portrayed as straight \(alfirst appear in the magazines as cartoons, not physique art, but cartoons best described as drawn fag jokes; and they are always depicted as ultra-slender \(in the Ivy But of course! I have seen hundreds of these magazines, both originals and more recent reproductions in commentaries, yet I’ve never seen anyone else put it into words. There is something as remarkable on nearly every other page; but there are also remarkable disappointments, as when the marketing of images of heterosexual men to gays is compared with the marketing of white images to African Americans. This is not the definitive book on the rise and fall of the gay culture, and in terms of what Hanis considers culture, it is not altogether clear the fall has come. Gay pornography has its ups and downs, but it certainly is not dead, nor even moribund. The SM scene suffers a bit from dilution, for it has become a fad among heterosexuals to attempt to infiltrate the gay scene, but surely they will find something else to amuse themselves in time. Yes, there are some appallingly insipid slick magazines, but there don’t seem to be enough Absolut Vodka ads to keep them all afloat. Nonetheless, this is a book worth reading and rereading for readers who can take it for what it is, rather than what it pretends to be. Lars Eighner is the author of Travels with Lizbeth, Pawn to Queen Four, and numer ous other works. He lives in San Antonio. JULY 4, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27
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