Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 2004

Warren Allen Smith

Stateside Gossip

by Warren Allen Smith

Sir Ian McKellen, one of the best-known gay humanists in the world, has been critically acclaimed for his portrayal of the good wizard Gandalf in Return of the King. Of the various celebrities, he looked positively regal on 29 February at this year’s Oscar Award telecast, upon which he appeared as one of the presenters. Also, he joined in when the cast of the third of the Rings trilogy marched onto the stage to receive the eight-and-a-half-pound statuette called an Oscar.

What is a celebrity? According to Dan Boorstin, the ex-Librarian of Congress who died on 28 February, a celebrity is one who is well known for being well known. Boorstin also once observed, “No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic, or an unbeliever.”

Lexicographers are known to ball around, not just sit in some library’s bowels. An outspoken freethinker, lexicographer and etymologist, Allen Walker Read, once pointed out that in 1850 “to flash the drag” meant to wear women’s clothes for immoral purposes, that in 1870 “to be in drag” meant men wearing women’s costumes. He is the one who traced the origin of “O.K.” (or, more likely these days, “OK”) to 1839 as being a kind of joke (“all correct” purposely misspelled “oll korrect”). During World War Two, Read jotted down graffiti found in men’s rooms wherever he traveled, later writing Classic American Graffiti (Paris, 1935). His favorite, he told fellow freethinkers in Manhattan before his death in 2002, was found on a toilet wall in Banff, Alberta, in 1928:

Oh! I wish I had the balls of a stallion
And a prick of a fellow I know.
I would flee to the highest church steeple
And I would piss on the people below.

Some wag spread the rumor in February during the football Super Bowl’s half-time show that Janet Jackson had accidentally pulled Justin Timberlake’s pants down, exposing something small and white. But, no, a flip of one’s mouse revealed the reverse, that the ugly wardrobe malfunction had exposed Janet’s spangled nipple. Meanwhile, Blake Edwards pointed out on 29 February that back in 1981 his fair lady, dear sweet Julie Andrews, had bared her breasts on screen in S.O.B. As to the furore Janet seemed to have caused in Puritanical America, “It was such hypocrisy,” honorary Oscar recipient Edwards laughed.

Horizontal sex in New York City’s backrooms is a thing of the past. Zippers now are supposed to stay zipped, and anyone caught on his knees is required to leave. The raunchiest bar on Manhattan’s East Side, The Cock, is now cock- and butt-free, for smoking is not allowed either – a recent visit, for research purposes only, natch, revealed the rules were being broken after 2 a.m. Dancers in briefs continue to hoof atop the bar, the Health Department not yet having ruled that it is unsanitary to stuff money into their crotches. Those hailing the crackdown by a program called Hotshots, which has been formed to educate gay men about the dangers of engaging in sex with more than one person and without condoms, are now alarmed that the crackdown is leading to sex parties in private clubs that are arranged on the Internet with no supervision whatsoever.

Gay penguins? Holy Zeus, yes, right here in Manhattan! In the Central Park Zoo, Squawk and Milou, two young male chinstrap penguins, were photographed noodling on the arts and ideas page in The Times. And two females, Georgey and Mickey, were described as having tried to incubate eggs together. Meanwhile, Wendell and Cass, an African pair, cuddle at Coney Island’s New York Aquarium. Our moms and dads, the newspaper story relates, may not have told us, but over 450 animal species exhibit homosexual behavior.

A new Katharine Hepburn biography by Darwin Porter claims she had a lifelong romantic relationship with Laura Harding, the American Express heiress. And that she was with Irene Selznick, daughter of Louis B. Mayer and wife of producer David O. Selznick. And First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt sent her a series of “Oh, my darling Katharine” love letters. And allegedly the outspoken atheist’s male conquests included John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, John Ford and Ernest Hemingway.

So where was Spencer Tracy all this time? According to the book, with Ingrid Bergman, Paulette Goddard, Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly and Nancy Davis (who then married Ronald Reagan). Movie palaces appear always to have been as enticing for hetero- and bisexual thespians as churches have been for laddies and priests.

During Black History Month, no-one pointed out that freethinker poet Langston Hughes once confided to a secretary about his first homosexual experience, one initiated by a crew member on a ship that both were working on that was headed for Lagos. Biographer Arnold Rampersad tells how Hughes later wrote the following in Tenerlife:

“Won’t it hurt you?” I said.
“Not unless it’s square”, he said. “Are you square?”
“Could be,” I said.
“Let’s see,” he said.

Mikhail Baryshnikov, pictured in briefs in the Daily News, had wags betting the briefs had not been stuffed, that he really does have a WMD (a weapon of mass distraction).

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Created : Sunday, 2004-05-23 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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