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Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma: The Cockettes crash and burn in New York City, 1971
12.17.2015
03:20 pm

Topics:
Queer

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The Cockettes are a well-established part of post-Stonewall queer history as well as of the history of the San Francisco counterculture. By embracing their inner freaks, Hibiscus (a.k.a. George Harris) and his squad of burly, bearded, campy hippie drag queens were a de facto extension of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters as well as perhaps a West Coast version of the scene that was coalescing around John Waters in Baltimore—little wonder that it didn’t take long for Divine and the Cockettes to appear on the same stages.

The narrative of a cult underground sensation blossoming into beloved crossover darlings actually never happened for the Cockettes—that narrative arc was interrupted by a disastrous month or so when they took their act from their native San Francisco to New York City, the place where all real sensations were (and to some extent still are) validated for widespread hipness and national cultural consumption. New York was dazzled and enthralled by the Cockettes for a week or two that happened to coincide with Halloween, but when they took their underground shtick to the cavernous confines of the Anderson Theater on Second Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets, the allure, for the glitzy audience jammed with celebrities, burst like a soap bubble.

Getting information about the Cockettes’ catastrophic visit to New York isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but we are lucky to have access to one unparalleled contemporaneous source, a long analysis of the Cockettes’ trip by Maureen Orth that appeared in the November 25, 1971, issue of the Village Voice. (That lengthy article is available for you to read at the bottom of this post and is HIGHLY recommended for a fuller understanding of what happened to the Cockettes that week.) Unlike most of the disappointed reviewers who panned the Cockettes, Orth knew the troupe personally; she even traveled with them from San Francisco on a plane ride that must rank as one of the most bizarre in history, so she was in a position to see the disaster unfold with an unusually objective perspective, understanding the reasons that led to the letdown with some comprehension of both the seedy Bay Area values and the glitzier New York City logic. “Performance for the Cockettes is mostly an excuse to live a freaky life style,” Orth wrote, noting that the Cockettes, like the true freaks they were, were mostly broke-ass hairdressers or retail workers, unlike most of the better-heeled glitterati in New York City.

The Anderson was a strange venue for an act like the Cockettes. It was not a hip venue: In the 1950s it had been used as a Spanish-language theater, and in the 1960s its main programming was Yiddish-language fare. Hipper days were to come: In 1977 CBGB took it over and renamed it CBGB’s 2nd Avenue Theater, booking Talking Heads and Patti Smith, among others, but the experiment didn’t take: by 1979 it was no longer in use.
 

Difficult to make out, but the marquee reads, “The Cockettes and Sylvester, Opens Nov 7”
 
From 1969 to 1971, the Cockettes made a name for themselves with their ridiculous and campy shows, mostly held in a Chinese restaurant on Washington Square in North Beach called the Pagoda Palace Theater. The shows usually took place at midnight, which meant there was often an awkward encounter as patrons of the restaurant left, as throngs of drag queens collected on the sidewalk to begin their entertainment for the evening. Rex Reed and Truman Capote both saw the Cockettes in San Francisco, and both gushed about it—the imprimatur of two unchallenged camp authorities as Reed and Capote primed the pump for the disappointments to come.

A “San Francisco rock lawyer” by the name of Harry Zerler—he worked for Columbia Records but he had never produced a show before—sought to bring the Cockettes to New York, but he was likely a little bit in over his head; it might have been better if the Cockettes had used someone with more experience. But this point is inseparable from the basic problem of the Cockettes not fully understanding what they were getting into. Essentially, Zerler was seeking to parlay a shocking cross-dressing act into an overnight sensation based on two useful quotations from Capote (“This is the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen”) and Reed (“Will the Cockettes replace rock concerts in the ‘70s?”) that were well-nigh made to appear in a newspaper ad.

It was some trouble finding a venue, but eventually The Cockettes were scheduled to kick off a run in New York City at the Anderson Theater in early November. Travel and lodging was expensive, given that the entire group numbered 45, including Sylvester plus entourage—Orth estimates Zerler’s outlay for the escapade at $40,000. When they landed at JFK, they actually didn’t know where they were going to stay in New York. There had been a rumor that they were going to have to sleep in cots in the basement of a house in Connecticut, but they ended up at the Hotel Albert on 23 East 10th Street; its reputation as a “rock and roll fleabag” probably makes staying there sound more fun than it actually was—as Orth observed, “On a good day the hallways smell somewhere between old socks and vomit.”

The story of the Cockettes’ time in New York City conforms satisfyingly to a rise and fall narrative. The Cockettes hit New York during Halloween season, and opening night was November 7. The show selected for opening night was a Cockettes standby called “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma.” For the whole period leading up to the premiere, the Cockettes were the toast of the town. Orth writes: “During the week before opening I must have gone to 27 parties with the Cockettes, on the East Side, on the West Side, in the Village, in penthouses, lofts, museums, and basements, gotten a total of 15 hours of sleep, met two thirds of the freaks of New York, and began to suspect that all of Manhattan was gay.” In the aftermath of the opening night debacle, this series of parties, and the lack of rehearsal it implied, would loom large as a possible reason for the disappointing outcome. They somehow got access to Marlene Dietrich’s silver limousine to get around, but when they couldn’t use that, the “taxi drivers usually turned off their meters.” They hung out with Robert Rauschenberg and some of Warhol’s Factory hangers-on, and attended a SCREW magazine anniversary party.
 

Hibiscus

To say that New York was excited about the Cockettes is putting it mildly. Promoter Danny Fields was quoted as saying, “I haven’t seen such enthusiasm from the press since the Rolling Stones’ tour of the U.S. in 1969.” Opening night had sold out and the impossibility of securing a ticket became the talk of the town. The signs of impending disaster were there for those who cared to see it. The Cockettes, never very professional in the first place, were overtired and scattered from all the partying. The Cockettes had “barely rehearsed” and the sound system at the Anderson had not been installed until the very last minute.

So it was that an act that had made its name with trashy, scarcely rehearsed, low-rent, free-form parodies of decades-old cinema classics like Footlight Parade, Phantom of the Opera, and Busby Berkeley movies took to the stage of the Anderson Theater on November 7, 1971, in front of a sophisticated NYC audience bearing the highest expectations: “The Anderson was jammed. Hundreds of fashionables pushed and shoved their way through the one open door.” Orth supplies a partial list of the notable people present, as follows:
 

The [Women’s Wear Daily] photographer was beside himself. How could he shoot Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, Angela Lansbury, Alexis Smith, Robert Rauschenberg, Rex Reed, Peggy Cass, Diana Vreeland, Nan Kemper, Clive Barnes, Sylvia Miles, Kay Thompson, Bobby Short, Elaine, Bill Blass, Estevez, Tony Perkins, Dan Greenburg, Nora Ephron, Mrs Sam Spiegel, Jerry Jorgensen, Ultra Violet, Candy Darling, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, John Chamberlain, Cyrinda Fox, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, the entire cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the President of Gay Lib, a dozen Vogue editors, two real princesses, and the night clerk at the Hotel Albert?


 
The stage of the Anderson was far too big, which had the effect of unnecessarily diminishing the Cockettes’ threadbare stage sets. More to the point, devilish and campy goings-on undertaken by a bunch of down-and-out drag queens in an out-of-the-way San Francisco Chinese restaurant at midnight played very differently when placed under the bright lights of a New York theater.

The critical reception was harsh and unequivocal. Gore Vidal said, “Having no talent is not enough,” while Women’s Wear Daily simply pronounced it “dreadful.” The great Australian rock critic Lillian Roxon was one of the only figures to defend the Cockettes, in the pages of the Daily News, shrewdly noting that the troupe was fifteen years ahead of its time. That judgment may well have been correct.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Dig these awesome ‘gay pulp’ paperback covers from the 1970s
12.08.2015
11:56 am

Topics:
Books
Queer

Tags:


 
I stumbled upon these fantastic covers of “gay pulp” paperbacks from the 1970s the other day and immediately became entranced with them. I saw a few of them at the blog Knee-Deep in the Flooded Victory and immediately knew I had to find out more. It turns out that these covers date from 1974 and 1975; they are from the “RAM-10” series from Hamilton House, a company about which I have no information.

It may not be apparent how unusually striking these covers are—for a nice gallery of more standard-issue gay paperback covers, you could do a lot worse than this post I did for DM a couple of years ago. You’ll see that the more usual style of gay pulp covers relies on well-nigh abstract juxtapositions of male silhouettes and that male/Mars symbol in garish colors. Not so for the RAM-10 series, which uses documentary-style photographic portraits of males dressed up as gay archetypes in front of a field of light blue or blood red, while a vertical line pierces the book’s title and author in a stately serif font. Actually, the covers remind me a bit of Gay Semiotics, the brilliantly deadpan monograph that photographer Hal Fischer published in 1977—high praise indeed.

Naturally, the blandly suggestive titles also elicit a smirk. Saddle Buddy, Holler Uncle, The Big Pipe, The Meat Eaters, Jump Squad......

All of these covers were a bit small in the formats I found them—it’d be great to get better scans of these titles. Who was the designer of these covers? Who was the photographer? I was able to get all of the covers except one—the missing volume is #102, which is E-Mission, by Chad Stuart, and that’s a shame, because according to Drewey Wayne Gunn in The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography, that was a good one: “I particularly recommend E-Mission (1974) by Chad Stuart (William Maltese).”

One can safely assume that the names of the authors are psuedonyms, as Gunn’s quote above suggests. William Maltese, who wrote a few of these volumes, was formidable enough an author of gay pulp fiction that there is a bibliography dedicated to his work.
 

101. Tall Timber, by Wolfe Bronson
 

103. Saddle Buddy, by Tex Shulanski
 

104. Hunk, by Dick Baldwin
 
Many more 1970s gay pulp covers after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Tom of Finland safety blankets, in case a really gay fire breaks out
10.12.2015
01:47 pm

Topics:
Queer

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Jalo Finland is a Finnish company that specializes in stylish fire prevention and safety products. The company’s slogan is “Safety Can Be Beautiful.” Most of its products are expertly designed, hipster-ready smoke alarms, some of which are shaped like moths for some reason.

A few months ago Jalo Finland introduced a line of Tom of Finland-themed fire blankets. In case you’re not aware, Tom of Finland, born Touko Laaksonen in Kaarina, Finland, was almost certainly the 20th century’s leading practitioner of homoerotic fetish art of the “leather daddy” variety, often involving muscled and hypermasculine sailors, bikers, lumberjacks, construction workers—and possibly firemen??

Each one costs 44.90 Euros, which is about $50.

The following product descriptions, which come straight from the Jalo Finland website, are pretty hilarious too.
 

The Leader”: “Rugged, masculine and ripped. The Master has a ‘take charge’ attitude, always ready to be in control in case of fire. Not sure how to use a fire blanket? Craving further instructions? Just turn it around and look at the rear. Never keep your fire blanket in the closet. This couple demands to be out.”
 

The Hero”: “If you’re holding out for a hero to pull you from the rough surf and give you mouth-to-mouth, then this is the duo for you! The Hero is strong and dependable. He’ll sweep you up in his muscled arms - and put out any small fires. Keep this lifeguard’s best assets on display at all times, and be ready to grab hold in case of emergencies.”
 

The Aviator”: “Primed for action in their uniforms, these airmen wearing a leather aviator jacket and a flight suit unzipped to a perilously low altitude, are clearly qualified to put out small household fires. Just give the straps a good tug to release the fire blanket inside. Like a parachute, this product could save your life.”
 

The Dog”: “Down boy! This K9 owner is classically geared up, dressed head to toe in leather, with his pup between his legs, he’s ready to put out any small kitchen fires, even if it means getting down on all-fours. You certainly won’t be in the dog house if you always keep this fire blanket ready.”
 
via Trey Speegle
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson was in an ‘80s punk band and their album just went up on Bandcamp
09.25.2015
11:48 am

Topics:
Amusing
Music
Punk
Queer
Television

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Buddy Cole. QEII. Over 100 waiters. As a member of the god-tier sketch troupe The Kids In The Hall, Scott Thompson’s contributions to comedy have been indelible, and as a rare openly gay public figure as far back as the ‘80s, Thompson blazed a courageous social trail as well. I’ve been a fan of his work forever, but the news that he’d been in a mutant punk band in the late ‘80s, contemporary to the emerging popularity of KITH, came as a surprise to me. The band was called Mouth Congress, and Thompson co-founded it with KITH writer Paul Bellini (the same Bellini as the recurring towel-clad-man character in many KITH sketches) and Jeff Goode, now a producer/host of Thompson’s Scott Free Podcast. And their stuff was rather a lot of fun. Via Chart Attack:

Over the past month, some kind soul has uploaded a trove of Mouth Congress recordings to Bandcamp. So far, the dump includes 15 albums, with names like The War On Flowers and A Fey Breeze, featuring should-be classics “Paul Jude Bellini” and “How to Strip for Your Husband” alongside live show recordings, sound collages, sketches, and a who’s who of cameos from the comic group that the pair were hanging around. It’s a time capsule of Canadian punk, comedy and queer culture, and as good an excuse as any to tune out for the rest of the day or week or whatever.

Here’s the Bandcamp playlist. You can buy the digital album here, if you like. Some material is NSFW so any nine-to-fivers reading this, you might want to use your earbuds.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
A new super-gay video game challenges you to wash a guy’s back in the gym showers
09.21.2015
10:44 am

Topics:
Amusing
Animation
Art
Games
Queer

Tags:


 
Video game designer Robert Yang has has quite the homoerotic resume. He developed Cobra Club, the game where you try to alter a dick pic to optimum beauty, and Stick Shift, a game where you pleasure your gay car. There’s the (consensual) spanking game, Hurt Me Plenty, and Succulent, where you watch a man fellate an popsicle. Rinse and Repeat is Yang’s latest, and it’s surprisingly subtle on the homoeroticism (relatively speaking). The object?  Wash a man’s back in the gym shower. That’s it. Just a super-gay locker room fantasy with a healthy dose of camp, and not half-bad graphics, either!

Yang lays out the scenario on his site thusly:

Was he in your Tactical Zumba class, or was it Blood Pilates? Usually you wouldn’t risk a shower right after class, they already talk enough shit about you, but the other day—a cough then a smirk and then a knowing glance, that’s all it ever takes until you start hoping against hope.

Don’t fuck it up. Show up when he’ll show up, right after class. Set multiple alarms on your phone, mark your calendar, clear your schedule. What is this terror? What is this ecstasy? What is it that fills you with this extraordinary excitement?... Boy, it’s the promise of a workout.

The whole thing is really funny and cheeky (get it?), right down to the aviator sunglasses your bathing buddy leaves on during his shower. You can download Rinse and Repeat here (for free!) and watch a preview below. All dicks are pixelated, but do I really need to tell you that it’s NSFW?
 

 
Via Kotaku

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Free Kim Davis’ website actually funds LGBT rights group
09.08.2015
03:32 pm

Topics:
Current Events
Politics
Queer

Tags:


 
Fans of Kentucky county clerk/would-be martyr Kim Davis should keep an eye on their wallets, because not all of their allies are who they seem to be. An anonymous prankster purchased the seemingly pro-Davis URL freekimdavis.com, which directs visitors to donate to the LGBT-rights group Human Rights Campaign.

Davis was imprisoned on September 3 on the order of David L. Bunning of Federal District Court for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Bunning’s father Jim is a Hall of Fame pitcher and represented Kentucky in the U.S. Senate as a Republican for many years. Earlier today, Bunning freed Davis on the grounds that he was satisfied that her office was “fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.”

On Sept. 3, the same day Davis was incarcerated, some enterprising and devious person registered the domain freekimdavis.com and has directed it to the HRC donation page. Ordinarily this might not be that big a deal, but fundraising sites like GoFundMe don’t allow campaigns to raise money for people who are in prison, the move may have redirected donated funds more than would otherwise have been the case.
 

 
Once you get to the website—at least as of today—the user is immediately directed to http://www.marriageequality.org/, where relatively little attempt to deceive anybody occurs. The page claims to be for “marriage equality”—obviously—and a large banner in the middle of the page celebrates the June 26 ruling from the Supreme Court outlawing any restrictions on marriage based on sexual preference. For what it’s worth, the Marriage Equality page claims to have raised $13,335, as seen above. It’s impossible to state how much of that resulted from the misdirect, of course—probably not very much.

According to TPM, a fair bit of fun was had on Twitter by opponents of Kim Davis using the #freekimdavis hashtag immediately following her arrest.

A spokesperson at Human Rights Campaign today denied the organization’s involvement and emphasized that Human Rights Campaign had no connection to the domain.

Some conservative groups, such as the group “Liberty Counsel,” have falsely claimed on Twitter that Human Rights Campaign itself was responsible for the misdirection, as seen here:

 

 
via The Daily Dot
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Hustlers’: Magnetic portrait series of NYC and LA male prostitutes
08.19.2015
09:18 am

Topics:
Art
Queer
Sex

Tags:


 
Eve Fowler‘s captivating series, Hustlers, is not your average coffee table book of photography. Between 1993 and 1998, Fowler photographed young gay men selling sex in the West Village and on Santa Monica Boulevard, to startlingly familiar effect. The project coincided with Fowler’s own coming out; her subjects are—in a way—an extension of her own identity.

The men themselves remain anonymous, and the viewer is left to wonder about their lives and personal stories. Street hustling has never been the safest way to make a living, and deaths from AIDS only stopped climbing after 1995—it could be tempting for a less humane photographer to portray her subjects as little more than gritty icongraphy, but Fowler doesn’t seem to direct these men at all. Some of them pose, others pout, and some simply smile, as if for a family snapshot. 
 

 

 

 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Move over, Tom of Finland, George Quaintance is the gayest artist of them all
07.17.2015
01:58 pm

Topics:
Art
Queer

Tags:


 
Tom of Finland‘s remarkable work has been a familiar wellspring of homoerotic imagery for decades; less familiar, perhaps, but every bit as striking is the work of George Quaintance, who specialized in men’s muscle magazines starting in the 1930s. The list of magazines for which Quaintance worked makes for amusing reading: Gay French Life, Ginger, Movie Humor, Movie Merry Go-Round, Snappy Detective Mysteries, Snappy Stories, Stolen Sweets, and Tempting Tales.

It’s difficult to look at these images and not think of Touko Laaksonen, a.k.a. Tom of Finland. Quaintance was Laaksonen’s senior by about 20 years, and had been active since the 1930s—Tom of Finland didn’t get going until the mid-1950s, which was right around when Quaintance died. All the sources agree that Quaintance was a major influence on Tom of Finland; it seems like one of the easier judgments in the field of art history.

Eight years ago the indispensable John Coulthart wrote of the artist:
 

George Quaintance (1902-1957) was a pioneer of a variety of beefcake erotica that isn’t particularly to my taste but which today looks distinctly…quaint? Also distinctly old-fashioned since most of his men have Burt Lancaster quiffs, even the alleged Spartans towelling themselves. ...

Quaintance’s world is a largely female-free dreamscape of perfectly-muscled glamour boys showing their bodies to one another but never doing anything so salacious as kissing. This is a utopia of good clean fun and fifty years ago was more than enough to pack an erotic charge for men starved of homoerotic imagery. From our perspective today it looks rather innocent; even the bulges in their jeans are restrained by comparison with the later excesses of Tom of Finland.


 
This is quite right. Quaintance’s images are creamy and idealized, certainly without even a hint of violence, while Tom of Finland did far more to set the template for rougher side of gay courtship. Whereas Tom of Finland’s men are often stand ramrod straight, Quaintance’s figures are often contorted in a kind of implied agony.

Most fascinating in Quaintance’s work is the status of the penis. Working thirty years before Stonewall and forty-five years before the rise of AIDS as a national topic of discourse, Quaintance had to occupy a semi-legal space where the homoeroticism was winked at, signaled solely by bulges—but in some of the nude shots, the apparent absence of the penis becomes almost concerning, as in the image of the two men underwater, or the one on the ranch with the narrow wading pool. The best, of course, is the one of a campfire where a perfectly placed cowboy boot serves as a potent visual reminder of, well, what might be lurking behind the boot.

There is an excellent book on Quaintance by Reed Massengill published by Taschen.
 

 
More remarkable images behind the jump…..
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Hidden camera shows what it’s like to be gay in Russia
07.13.2015
01:12 pm

Topics:
Activism
Queer
The wrong side of history

Tags:


 
Americans became aware during the run-up to the Sochi Olympics last year that Russia was undergoing something like the opposite of the social revolution that has brought some approximation of equal rights to homosexuals within the United States. If anything, Russia was regressing, and the persistence of anti-gay hate was depressing to behold, just as Russia was the athletic center of the world, and just a few months before that country’s ominous annexation of parts of Ukraine.

ChebuRussiaTV are something akin to the Yes Men of Russia—they make political points and further social progress through the use of pranks. Just a few weeks ago they ruffled some feathers by mimicking oral sex on public park benches.

Their latest idea is incredibly simple and yet devastating in the virulence of the reaction it has elicited. All they did was have two young men walk through public places in Moscow holding hand—not kissing, not engaging in crazy PDA behavior, just holding hands—and documented the reactions of ordinary citizens, most of which are pretty nauseating.

In addition to the occasional resigned sentiment of “Where is this country going?” and various epithets of abuse, ChebuRussiaTV documented two cases of assault (arguably), taking the form of a rough shoulder hit—the second of which certainly threatened to get out of hand.

The Cyrillic headline of the video—”Избиение гомосексуалистов в России”—translates as “Beating homosexuals in Russia” according to Google Translate. The English title is “Reaction to gays in Russia social experiment,” which is a good deal more euphemistic.
 

 
via The Daily Dot

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Frankie goes to a bacchanalian gay fetish bar: The original, hilarious banned video for ‘Relax’
07.09.2015
09:39 am

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture
Queer
Sex

Tags:


 
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1983 single “Relax” is so gay. Specifically gay sex. It’s amazing that when the song first came out, the band actually tried to deny its obvious prurience. Two years later though, co-songwriter and bassist Mark O’Toole wrote in the liner notes of their follow-up album, “when people ask you what ‘Relax’ was about, when it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging.” It wasn’t the most forgiving time for explicit homoerotic sexuality, but the band was never apologetic, and really pushed the boundaries.

During an infamous Top of the Pops performance, frontman Holly Johnson actually tore up a copy of The Sun, the tawdry rag that had been harassing his parents at home for quotes about their gay son. “Relax” also had a 16-minute-long “Sex Mix” that was just a bunch of samples of water noises—apparently even gay bars refused to play it. Then there is the original music video for “Relax,” an unintentionally hilarious ode to gay hedonism, which was almost immediately banned.
 

 
Johnson says the video got pulled when “a big wig in the ‘Big Brother Broadcasting Company’” found his kids watching it. Later the record company asked them to make a second video, the one everyone now knows as the “Relax” video. The second video is dated, naturally, and Johnson describes it as “almost like a satire of a regulation pop video—you know, guys in makeup and laser beams, lots of looking at the camera.” To be fair, the song does contain the line “hit me with your laser beams,” but I think that might be referencing something a little less… literal.

The video is utterly ridiculous of course, but what strikes me is the relative tameness of the queer debauchery. Drag queens and leather daddies, some people in cages and on leashes, a lot of mesh tank tops and gratuitous contouring blush, an actual tiger, and a hedonistic old queen overseeing the entire spectacle while being shaved. Completely insane? Yes. Is there innuendo? Definitely (especially the rather obvious reference to water sports). But there’s nothing hardcore, and it’s hard to believe that a video featuring this kind of hetero sybaritism would have gotten banned.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
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