Nan Goldin became obsessed with taking photographs of her friends and classmates at school—she says she became the class photographer. One of her first subjects was her best friend David Armstrong who was into drag. After they graduated from school, Goldin and Armstrong shared an apartment and he introduced her to the world of drag queens. Goldin spent time photographing David and his friends.
After years of experiencing and photographing the struggle of the two genders with their codes and definitions, and their difficulties in relating to each other, it was liberating to meet people who had crossed these gender boundaries.
Most people get scared when they can’t categorize others—by race, by age, and most of all by gender. It takes nerve to walk down the street when you fall between the cracks. Some of my friends shift genders daily from boy to girl and back again.
Misty and Jimmy.
Goldin was born in 1953 the youngest of four children to a middle class Jewish family in Washington D.C. Not long after she was born, the family moved to the suburbs of Lexington, Boston. She was a rebellious child and ran away from home, and was eventually fostered by several families during her teens. Goldin has said she was “full of raw energy, creativity and sensuality” and found the fifties and early sixties an oppressive, difficult time. Then she discovered photography. First she took Polaroids, then shot Super 8, before taking regular photographs that she had developed at the local drugstore. Her friends would stack the pictures in piles to see who had the most portraits. Though these pictures were her a kind of diary—documenting her life, her relationships, her sexuality and her friends who became family (“We were the world to each other”)—the photographs were created out of her relationships and not observation.
Actress, writer and friend Cookie Mueller.
The work has always been misunderstood as being about a certain milieu of drugs and parties and the underground. And although I’d say that my family is still marginal and we don’t want to be part of normal society, I don’t think the work has been about that, I think the work has been about the condition of being human—the pain, the ability to survive and how difficult that is.
In this beautiful short film, Nan Goldin discusses her life and career, friends, drug addiction and the “other world” she has documented.
A selection of Nan Goldin’s beautiful photographs, after the jump…
Sure, everyone knows Germany’s Scorpions from their 1980’s (thinning) Hair Metal hits “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “There’s No One Like You,” but The Scorpions career goes back much further. Their first album, 1972’s Lonesome Crow is (surprisingly great) proggy Krautrock. Over the course of the bands next four releases they shifted their approach to more of a hard rocking, proto-metal sound—a sort of Deep Purple on speedball. By the release of 1977’s Taken by Force, The Scorpions were in full-on assault mode.
The track we’ll be examining today is so musically (and lyrically, as we’ll see) ahead of its time, that I dare call it proto-thrash. The performance here from a German television show (how did this get on TV?) rocks so unbelievably hard that you can almost forgive Klaus Meine’s interpretive jazz-hands dancing.
What makes 1977’s “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man” so breath-taking is the stark way in which it deals with the subject of transgender that’s light years beyond what The Kinks were ambiguously laying out in 1971’s hit “Lola.” Granted, The Scorpions’ 1977 English-as-a-second-language is not necessarily sensitive to the titular character referred to as “it” throughout the tune; but a breakdown of the lyrics reveals the storyteller encountering a person of indeterminate gender, at first expressing shock and disbelief, but ultimately essentially saying “fuck it, I’m horny and attracted to this person regardless of my Teutonic heavy metal dude confusion.” The first two verses express bewilderment, the second two express acceptance.
I saw it walking lonely down the street
Cool like a cat and like a crazy dream
I’m looking twice again and can’t believe
It turned around and then it looked at me
I thought, “Oh, no”, it really couldn’t be
It was a man and was a woman too
He’s a woman, she’s a man
I think it really came from far away
I’m feeling hypnotized, I have to stay
It takes my hand and says, “Come on, let’s go”
We’re going home there’s nothing more to say
He starts to move, she starts to play
I need a body, why not you?
He’s a woman, she’s a man
The Scorpions were no strangers to being sexually confrontational in their art. The album which preceded this one, Virgin Killer, featured in its shocking original cover art a nude prepubescent girl with slivers of cracked glass just barely covering the area over her pelvic girdle. The cover, which frequently makes “worst LP cover of all time” lists, was banned in the US, as was the Hipgnosis-designed cover for their Lovedrive LP.
Oh come on dude! At least tidy up a little bit first!
John Waters calls it “hilarious.” David Sedaris says it’s “just perfect.” Lurid Digs is quite possibly the greatest design resource on the entire Internet. This brilliant blog doesn’t deconstruct posh flats or stately mansions—my guess is that they dig through Grindr looking for the worst interiors of the erotic selfie genre. You would be shocked at the settings some of these men find appropriate for their boudoir photography, but Lurid Digs is on a mission to educate the masses—you know, in the name of good taste. Queer eye for the gay guy. Somebody had to do it.
From the website:
Interior design began with the first cave dwellers. Most likely it was a gay caveman who decided to paint pictures of running bison and other frolicking animals on the rough walls and low ceilings of his abode. Not only were these flourishes artistic and decorative, they also served as a way to feel more comfortable while living in a hole in the earth.
But, my how times have changed. Gone is the stereotypical association of gay men with good interior design. The Internet has shattered the gay style myth forever with its slew of nude amateur self-portraits that clog bandwidth from New York to Sydney and back again. These Feng Shui-challenged souls have proven over and over again that male homosexuals can be just as color uncoordinated, sloppy and nasty as their straight brethren. Yes, the gap between what defines gay and straight is slowly beginning to zipper shut.
Below I have carefully curated a few safe-for-work excerpts, cropping or censoring the associated photos for modesty, but whatever you do,do not visit the actual site if you aren’t in a gay-sex-friendly and penis-positive employment environment!
Do you know what drives me crazy about rooms like this? (Warning: this will reveal just how anal I am.)
It’s not the artwork. I mean, yes, the juxtaposition of the vaguely primitivist nude on the right with the large, Thomas Kinkade-y woodland scene (probably entitled “King of the Valley” or “The Forest’s Royal Family” or “Prince Staggerton and His Freaky, Funky Fawns”) is jarring. But at least there’s a theme going on, which is mostly “nature”. Or “naturism”.
It’s not the wallpaper, which is so aggressively neutral, it’s like being mugged in a wheat field by a Sandy Duncan impersonator, wielding a fistful of Triscuits. Plus, my mother had this exact same wallpaper put up in the house that we lived in between my 4th and 9th grade years, so, you know: memories, like the unnecessarily moulded corners of my hallway.
No, it’s the fact that in hanging said artwork upon said papered walls, the decorator didn’t use picture moulding and wire. Instead, s/he punched right through the wallpaper with a couple of lousy nails — possibly several, if there wasn’t a studfinder handy — meaning that s/he is now stuck with this particular arrangement until s/he decides to repaper the place, because patching holes in wallpaper is not for the faint of heart.
And goddess forbid s/he should move out before selling the place. Take down these paintings, and the house will look like the set of The Golden Girls: Sarajevo, 1993. Don’t people think of resale value anymore?
I like lesbianish minimalism. In theory. I like neutral backgrounds. In theory. I like semi-Spartan spaces. In theory.
Then I look at this room. Are they freakin’ kidding me?
This isn’t understated. It’s unfinished.
Do something, already! Hang a painting. Wainscott the tub surround. Put a Scarlett O’Hara toiletpaper cozy on top of the toilet. Optimally place a themed wastebasket. Pick a color, any color, and disperse it anywhere, anywhere.
For the love of Christopher Lowell, just start. And then continue. And then continue some more.
I don’t care how butch you (think you) are, a trashbag is not a design statement. And your panties are not accessories.
And as for those who have the ego to paper the interwebs with naked self-portraits but not the pride to clean the mirror or tidy up the two things in the reflected room?
The Shining ruined a lot of things.
It ruined the idea of winter retreats, proving that anyone dumb enough to lock himself away at a snowbound lodge will eventually start talking to ghost bartenders, taking blood elevators, and slaughtering everyone in sight. It ruined the archetype of the heroic “scream queen”, because for the first time in cinematic history, audiences rooted for the axe-wielding maniac, praying that he would slit Shelley Duvall’s throat so she would JUST CALM THE FUCK DOWN. And The Shining ruined Danny Lloyd’s career. Or rather, it prevented Danny Lloyd’s career from ever happening.
The Shining also ruined hallways. Before the movie came out in 1980, many of us had never given hallways much thought. In our 1960s and 1970s ranch homes, hallways were functional, forgettable architectural elements that connected our sunken dens to our rumpus rooms. But The Shining made them something sinister and deadly and full of twins.
So, if you must take a sexpic for Grindr or Growlr or some other app that holds a deep-seated grudge against the letter “e”, please (a) don’t take the photo in a hallway, and (b) if you must do it in a hallway because every other corner of your house is filled with bloodstained corpses, make sure that the hall is wide and attractive and finished and uncluttered. Because seeing vile-colored walls (that merge abruptly into differently hued vile-colored walls), unfinished doorjambs, unpainted plaster, naked lightbulbs, and piles of junk on the floor of a hallway makes viewers feel claustrophobic. Which is fine if you’re looking to pick up spelunkers or Harry Houdini, but otherwise, your axe-wielding right hand may have to do.
The whole site is ridiculously funny, and I strongly suggest you check it out, lest you commit a sexy snapshot Cardinal sin yourself. If you’re already featured on Lurid Digs, you have my deepest sympathy, but maybe consider sending them a revision shot showing what you’ve learned? I’m sure they’d love to know they’re making a difference in the world, one amateur at a time.
Much to my conservative, very Lutheran parents’ chagrin I’m sure, the image above hung prominently over the headboard of my bed when I was 16 years old. It was a grainy copy that my friend and I made secretly in my high school graphic arts class. I liked it for its shock value and because I was just starting to learn about radical groups like the Yippies and the Weather Underground thanks to another friend’s cool older brother who played in a grind-core band called Hell Nation and who collected tons of weird-ass countercultural stuff. That was around 1990. There was obviously no draft going on, further confusing my parents and making me feel pretty edgy and weird. I was far too naïve to think too deeply about the backstory of the cool piece of radical ephemera with the image of the guy burning his ticket to the Viet Nam War.
Recently though, I came across the image again while doing research for another DM piece and decided to try to learn a little more about origins of the iconic image of 60’s radicalism. It turns out that the poster has a cool pedigree, and the piece’s creator, Kiyoshi Kuromiya, born in a Japanese American internment camp in 1943 in Heart Mountain, Wyoming, was a prominent underground civil rights figure and gay rights activist. Kuromiya worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. in the mid-sixties and tending to King’s children in the aftermath of his assassination. He was a founder of Gay Liberation Front –Philadelphia, worked with the Black Panther Party to advocate for gay rights, co-authored a book on a utopian future through technology with Buckminster Fuller, and was a leading pioneer in the fight to promote AIDS awareness after his own diagnosis later in life.
Kuromiya made a name for himself in radical protest circles at the University of Pennsylvania where he went to school to study architecture by pulling stunts like this bait-and-switch, anti-napalm demonstration in 1968 which he discusses in a great, hugely comprehensive 1997 interview:
A notice showed up, a leaflet showed up, signed by the “Americong” that, in protest of the horrors of using napalm on humans, there was going to be a demonstration in front of the library at Penn. An innocent dog would be burned with napalm, showing what an awful thing napalm was, O.K.? So, of course, the mayor, the police chief, everybody said whoever was perpetrating this would spend a long time in jail, etcetera. The day showed up and at noontime there were four ambulances from four different veterinary schools there. People, as a lark, brought their pet dogs. There were a lot of dogs. There were 2000 people. It was the largest antiwar demonstration in the history of the University of Pennsylvania. I had four friends of mine. I had a printing press in my basement and I was a publisher at the time. So out of the crowd, leaflets showed up. And I handed out these leaflets, Americong, you know, was a fiction. There was no group. But the leaflets showed up at this big rally and it said, “Congratulations, you’ve saved the life of an innocent dog. How about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese that have been burned alive? What are you going to do about it?”
Later in the same interview Kuromiya talks about the Fuck the Draft poster. Along with placing the image in an ad (and act that he claims got him arrested by federal marshals) he handed several copies of it out during the chaos of the riots surrounding 1968 Democratic Convention:
And then a couple years later, I published, under the name Dirty Linen Corporation, these Fuck the Draft posters with a guy burning a draft card and it said in huge letters, “Fuck the draft.” The guy was someone from Detroit who was doing prison time for burning his draft card. I was arrested at home by federal marshals and the Secret Service for using U.S. mails for a crime of inciting with lewd and indecent materials. I had run an ad that said, “Buy five and we’ll send a sixth one to the mother of your choice.” And I listed a number of places, including the White House. So I was kept at the FBI headquarters here. They couldn’t hold people overnight so they took me in chains down Chestnut Street with four guys watching me, down to the Round House and I was held there. Anyway, I took these posters to the Democratic Convention in Chicago. And everybody was told to stay away. This was going to be very dangerous. But I went anyway. I rented a car to haul these posters around. And I had a coat and tie on so I could move easily in and out of the hotels and the various delegations and caucus meetings at the convention. So I was the only one in Yippie Park, Lincoln Park, in a coat and tie. But I handed out the posters, 2000 of them, at the amphitheater just minutes before the riot where someone tried to lower the American flag.
1968 Fuck the Draft poster ad from the Berkley Barb
As Kuromiya mentions, you could send five dollars to get five “Fuck the Draft” posters for yourself and sixth would be sent to the “mother” of your choice. You could take your pick amongst Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson, Mrs. Shirley Temple Black, Lieutenant General Lewis B. Hershey, General William Westmoreland, Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, Mrs. Richard Hughes, or “other.” One presumes that the “mother” in some of these cases was of the “fucker” variety.
Here’s an image of the full page on which the ad appeared:
In the 1997 interview mentioned above, Kuromiya discusses his political activism at length. He was a prominent early gay rights advocate working in and around Philadelphia to bravely advance the cause at time when the issue was still somewhat taboo, even among many in the anti-war community. In 1970, Kuromiya and the Gay Liberation Front of Philadelphia published the Gay Dealer, only one issue of which was ever released. After being denied funding by a Philadelphia community organization, the Gay Liberation Front got the money they needed for the issue by selling MMDA capsules according to Kuromiya.
Cover of The Gay Dealer, October 1970
Kuromiya and an unidentified friend from Gay Dealer, 1970
In 1977, during a long recovery from metastatic lung cancer, Kuromiya became enamored of the works of Buckminster Fuller. He began working with the futurist legend of geodesic design and Kuromiya is credited as “adjuvant” on Fuller’s book, Critical Path. From Kuromyia’s New York Times obituary:
In 1981, he assisted R. Buckminster Fuller, the architect and thinker, in writing Critical Path (St. Martin’s Press). The book sketched a vision of a bountiful future created by technological advances. In what James Traub in The New York Times Book Review called ‘‘a bizarre and often revelatory volume,’’ the authors suggested that the blossoming of technology had the potential to end war.
Buckminster Fuller and Kiyoshi Kuromiya with a copy of Critical Path
Kuromiya was diagnosed with AIDS in the late 1980’s and, according to the LGBT archives of Philadelphia:
In 1988/1989 he founded the Critical Path AIDS Project, which applied ideas and strategies from Buckminster Fuller’s 1981 book to the AIDS crisis. The project began as a newsletter about AIDS treatment that Kuromiya researched, wrote, edited, and distributed himself. The Critical Path AIDS Project grew to offer a 24-hour AIDS treatment hotline, a web hosting service for AIDS-related websites and listservs, and computer access for individuals in the Philadelphia area.
Kuromiya’s activism seems to have known no bounds. He was a founding member of ACT UP/Philadelphia, he was a participant an early successful lawsuit against Internet censorship surrounding the Communications Decency Act and was the leading plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Kuromiya vs. The United States of America, calling for the legalization of medical marijuana.
Kuromiya died of AIDS related complications in 2000.
The video below features footage of William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg and Dick Gregory at the 1968 Democratic Convention protest where Kuromiya handed out 2000 Fuck the Draft posters. At around 6:38 you can see the crowd in front of the “band shell” in Grant Park and the moment that someone pulls down the American flag causing all hell to break loose. Kuromiya says that he was handing out “Fuck the Draft” posters in the crowd right around this location just minutes before the incident.
Singapore’s Bugis Street was renowned as a meeting place for trans women to mix, mingle and have fun during the 1950s-1980s. Each evening, a fabulous parade of glamorous trans women would walk up-and-down the rundown streets at Bugis Junction, flirting with tourists, sailors and G.I.s, often charging them to have their photograph taken, inviting them to a bar for a drink, or taking them to a quiet room (or rooftop) for sex.
Bugis Street was a popular area for touring British servicemen in the 1950s, who became fans/lovers of many of the trans women, and rechristened the area “Boogie Street”—a mispronunciation of the district’s name that stuck in 1970s with the rise of disco.
For thirty years, Bugis Street thrived as a haven for trans women and their admirers, until the government cracked down on what was described as “shameful” and “lewd behavior” in the 1970s. Many servicemen were arrested at gunpoint, tourists were threatened and frightened away, the bars were closed and many trans women were arrested. Eventually the hard-line puritans won and old Bugis Street was demolished in the mid-1980s and replaced by a shopping mall and entertainment outlet.
In December 1980, French photographer Alain Soldeville was on a two-year trip to Asia and Australia when he arrived in Singapore. After a few days sight-seeing, he headed out one evening to Bugis Street.
Within an hour, strange androgynous creatures arrived by taxi. Dressed in sexy, tight-fitting dresses or satiny pants, wearing heavy stage makeup and high heels, they took over the territory. The street seemed to belong to them and their dramatic entrance was followed by scrutinizing eyes. It appeared that most visitors were there to watch the show that had just begun.
I stroked up a conversation with Anita who was of Malaysian background. She was 23 years old, with a clearly outlined masculine face, tall, thin and muscular. She wanted to know where I came from, how long I was going to stay in Singapore. During the following weeks, I became close to Anita and she introduced me to her friends: Amina, Danita, Delphine, Rosa and Susanna. They liked having me photograph them and would strike natural poses.
After five or six weeks in Singapore, short of money, I had to leave for Australia. I would return in 1984 only to learn that Bugis Street was about to be torn down to make way for the subway.
Bugis Street still has its glamorous legend, and a moderately successful film was made about the transgender women of the area in 1996. Soldeville forgot about the photographs he took in 1981 of Anita and her friends for over twenty-five years, until he rediscovered them in storage. Since then, they have been exhibited in France and Thailand.
Post-Stonewall. Pre-AIDS. Thus is defined a period, which we can for convenience also term “the 1970s,” that has special significance for homosexuals in the United States. The genie of liberation, especially sexual liberation, had been loosed from its magic lamp, but the devastating toll of plague had not yet made its mark. Under those circumstances, while still enjoying or enduring marginalization in society, homosexual males could engage in behavior that was at once highly promiscuous and yet highly coded. The task of melding one’s own interest in, say, cowboys or sports and more generic signifiers of homosexuality created the possibility of a developed taxonomy of gay life. That is, you could be “gay” but of the butch/leather/jock/urbane type, and so on. During this time, it’s safe to say that many homosexuals became highly attuned to such signifiers.
Into this situation wandered a photographer named Hal Fischer, who published a monograph in 1977 with the provocative title Gay Semiotics based on pictures taken in San Francisco, especially Castro Street and Haight Ashbury. In it Fischer presented straightforward photographs of aspects of homosexual garb, etc., complete with explanatory labels, quite like a museum exhibit.
I can’t remember ever seeing this exact tone before, so deadpan and dry that the material is effectively turned inside out. Taxonomizing people isn’t necessarily the nicest impulse in the world—think of racist representations of African-Americans in the 19th century or Nazi depictions of Jews in the 20th…. Less harmfully, think of countless spreads in MAD Magazine that are funny and harmless but still not necessarily so nice. Nobody likes to be defined to that extent, one can almost hear the pushback…. “Hey, I’m gay and I don’t care about red handkerchiefs!” or whatnot. However, at this point in the development of gay culture, it seems that the trinkets had taken on iconic value within the culture and this winking look at it was most likely seen as funny and not malign.
We’ve supplied some of the more amusing pictures and captions here, but you can see the entire (I believe) book at the Queer Cultural Center. The book is hard to find and currently sells for $500.
Handkerchiefs signify behavioral tendencies through both color and placement. A blue handkerchief placed in the right hip pocket serves notice that the wearer desires to play the passive role during sexual intercourse. Conversely, a blue handkerchief placed in the left hip pocket indicates that the wearer will assume the active or traditional male role during sexual contact. The blue handkerchief is commonly used in the treatment of nasal congestion and in some cases holds no meaning in regard to sexual preferences.
Red handkerchiefs are used as signifiers for behavior that is often regarded as deviant or abnormal. A red handkerchief located in the right hip pocket implies that the wearer takes the passive role in anal/hand insertion. A red handkerchief placed in the left hip pocket suggests that the wearer plays the active role in anal/hand insertion. Red handkerchiefs are also employed in the treatment of nasal discharge and in some cases may have no significance in regard to sexual contact.
An earring in the right lobe may suggest that the wearer prefers to play the passive role during sexual activity. Conversely, an earring in the left lobe may signify active behavior on the part of the wearer. Unlike the other signifiers, however, Right/Left placement of the earring is not always indicative of Passive/Active tendencies on the part of the wearer. Furthermore, the earring or stud is often adopted by non-homosexual men, thus making the earring the most subtle of homosexual signifiers.
Keys are an understood signifier for homosexual activity. A key chain worn on the right side of the body indicates that the wearer desires to play a passive role during a sexual encounter. Conversely, keys placed on the left side of the body signify that the wearer expects to assume a dominant position. Keys are also worn by janitors, laborers and other workers with no sexual significance intended.
Amyl nitrite is a prescription capsule drug used in the treatment of angina pectoris (heart disease). Amyl nitrite, or “poppers” as it is known in slang terminology, is inhaled through either the nose or the mouth. After inhalation the user experiences a quickened heartbeat and the sensation of blood rushing to his head. Amyl nitrite is especially popular on dance floors and immediately prior to sexual climax. Since Amyl Nitrite is available only by prescription, manufacturers have created a number of commercial substitutes as well as a variety of inhalers. Although Amyl is used by heterosexuals, its immense popularity among gays has earned it the title “The Gay Drug.”
ARCHETYPAL MEDIA IMAGE
The western or cowboy prototype is identified by articles of clothing: cowboy or western boots, jeans, flannel or western style shirts and in some instances hats. When the image appears in gay magazines the settings are usually barns, corrals or fence posts. The cowboy represents the frontier and a male-only society. The machismo qualities of the western archetype are vigorously exploited by advertising. Modern cowboys are used by the media to play up masculinity and sexuality in ways that are subconsciously understood by the gay populace.
ARCHETYPAL MEDIA IMAGE
The leather prototype is the most easily recognized look. Black leather items include everything from hoods to jackets, pants, caps and underwear. Accoutrements include motorcycles, chains and various sexual items. In the gay media black leather becomes a symbol for the unknown or untried. It is entirely, vehemently, macho in appearance. While the other archetypes have their roots in myths accepted and celebrated by the culture-at-large, the leather cult, like its straight counterpart is rooted in non-acceptance and non-conformity.
Last year Richard brought us some awesome footage of Bette Midler performing in the Continental Baths in 1971—but unfortunately, the material was only available in individual YouTube files, and some of those weren’t even embeddable. I’m happy to report that some kind soul has uploaded the entire (it seems) filmed footage in a single file. Fifty-four glorious minutes, with tons of banter, and including the two songs Richard liked most but couldn’t embed, “Fat Stuff” and “Marahuana” (that’s how it’s spelled on Bette’s Songs for the New Depression, anyway). I think my favorites might be the one-two combo of “Superstar” and Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues” right in the middle of the file. When she essays the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” towards the end of the set, the place goes BANANAS.
The Baths, famously located at the Ansonia Hotel on New York City’s Upper West Side, were opened in 1968 by Steve Ostrow, who at some point mentioned to Bette Midler’s acting teacher that he wanted to start “a nightclub in my basement.” Midler had recently gotten a solid 20 minutes of material together, and she got the job. She told David Steinberg on Showtime’s Inside Comedy earlier this year that she wasn’t put off by the homosexuality at all, the only thing she didn’t realize before taking the gig was that many of the people there “were in towels.”
Do we know the date of this performance? She jokes that this is her “800th farewell appearance” and plugs an upcoming performance on Sept. 20, 1971. At the very end she does say it “really is” the last time she’ll be there for a while, which remark is met with disbelieving laughter. The Carpenters’ version of “Friends” had been released in May 1971. By the way, in case you are wondering, that is Barry Manilow on the piano in the back, she introduces him at the end. He co-produced her 1972 debut The Divine Miss M (and on occasion would perform at the Baths in a towel himself.)
If nothing else, the video’s worth watching just to hear some top-notch, vintage double-entendre gay humor in what must be close to its purest form. There’s a joke about Zsa Zsa Gabor in Cleveland, a joke about Joan Crawford’s sexuality, some patter about Martha Raye, etc.
“Friends” (The Carpenters)
“Chattanooga Choo-Choo” (Andrews Sisters)
“Empty Bed Blues” (Bessie Smith)
“For Free” (Joni Mitchell)
“Easier Said Than Done” (The Essex)
“Chapel Of Love” (The Dixie Cups)
“I Shall Be Released” (The Band)
San Francisco has changed both rapidly and radically over recent years. As it’s become more appealing both for cosmopolitan urbanites and the exploding tech sector, gentrification has blessed The City by the Bay with the most expensive one-bedroom apartment in America, even surpassing New York. Many mourn the loss of an earlier San Francisco and its formerly affordable counterculture and queer subculture, while San Francisco documentary photographer and filmmaker James Hosking manages to actually catch some of the twilight.
For his series, Beautiful by Night, Hosking documents the lives of three senior drag queens Donna Personna, Collette LeGrande and Olivia Hart, performers at aunt Charlie’s Lounge, the very last gay bar in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The notoriously seedy Tenderloin has managed to mostly resist gentrification on the merits of its reputation and a concerted effort by inhabitants. Still, without the surrounding culture of a former San Francisco to sustain it, the once vibrant queer scene has faded.
Hosking’s photographs are intimate and unflinching, but the mini-documentary is also an amazing portrait of three drag foremothers. Their reflections and reminiscing are complex but disarmingly at peace, and their performances and beauty rituals are (as expected) hypnotic.
Anti-gay self-ordained fruitcake “pastor” Dr. James David Manning accidentally tweeted a satirical cartoon mash-up—in which he confesses to being a “homosexual sodomite”—to his 4,215 Twitter followers.
“Pastor” Manning—a guest of Sean Hannity’s from time to time—was last seen propagating claims that Starbucks allegedly was using “sodomite semen” to flavor their lattes (This is hardly a secret: they had to get it somewhere and as everyone knows semen farmers tend to turn a blind eye as to the sexual orientation of their “studs.”) Manning has urged his followers to boycott the coffee franchise for putting jizz in their drinks.
In Adam Reake’s video, “Pastor” Manning of the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem, is seen as a cartoon figure discussing the “semen” coffee story:
Reake continues his “interview” with Manning in a follow-up animation:
Ricky Renee was—ahem, is—a cross-dressing cabaret performer. He was born in 1925 in Indiana and is still fabulous to this very day. (Here’s his website.) In 1967 Britsh Pathé did a short news item about him called “Quick Change Artist,” which is hilarious and a bit poignant in what they are and aren’t saying out loud. Basically Pathé‘s strategy with a cabaret artist as self-evidently awesome as Ricky Renee was to present him as essentially, a magician.
Ricky grew up in Florida but quickly made his way to NYC and then London and the European continent after that. Information about him isn’t the easiest to come by. It’s telling that there is an entry for him at wikipedia.de, the German Wikipedia, but none whatsoever at the English-language Wikipedia. Here’s his bio from wikipedia.de, translated into English:
At the age of 12 Ricky left Indiana and moved to Florida. At 14 he went to New York, where he worked as a dance teacher and an elevator operator and in cabarets. In addition, he studied acting with Katherine Dunham and for several years perfoemed at the “Jewel Box.” Finally, he put together his own show, for which he served as choreographer, designed and sewed all the costumes, and in which he conducted his orchestra. He then made his way to London, where his international show career began.
Ricky Renée performed with, among others, Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, and Jayne Mansfield, all of whom he imitated on the stage. He toured with his show in Paris, Vienna, Rome and along the French Riviera.
In her book Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show, Rachel Shteir has a passing reference to Ricky that reads as follows: “Like female strippers, each drag artist developed his own style. Ricky Renee began in a silver bra, which, after taking it off, he held to his chest to disguise the absence of breasts. He stripped down to a silver G-string with a question mark on the front.” Yeah!
He had a part in Goodbye Gemini (a.k.a. Twinsanity), a 1970 British thriller featuring Michael Redgrave, and he also appeared in Bob Fosse’s great 1972 movie Cabaret.
I’m a little obsessed with Ricky. If you know anything about him and his act, by all means write a comment!