“OK now, can we have some room here? Move back, move back!” the soldier at the desk barked at the other men behind me. He’d just looked at my form and saw I’d checked the Whooopie Box: “Do you have homosexual tendencies?”
Tendencies? Darling, they were well past “tendencies” by then. It was, after all, the late 60’s and the Draft Board –looking for fresh flesh — had taken the rather ill-advised tack of calling on yours truly. So there I stood in my “tighty whities” (as the children say nowadays) before a not at all unattractive soldier, several years younger than myself but trying his best to speak with the authority of a seasoned “seen it all” adult.
Beckoning for me to lean forward — for “confidentiality’s” sake — he whispered haltingly “Uh. . . are you the Man or are you the Woman?”
“The Man or the Woman? What are you talking about?”
“Uh. . . in bed. . . Do you play the Man or do you play the Woman?”
“Well. . .both.”
I’d never really given it moment’s thought until then. Sex wasn’t a question of “roles” for me– just pleasure. But why was I to be forced to “choose” in this fashion? Because the Heterosexual Dictatorship (Isherwood’s ever-useful term) demanded it. Either Column A or Column B. No substitutions, no mix and match.
So he sent me on my way to the psychiatrist.
It was crowded that day. Too many men in their underwear to process. Too much for the single shrink that was on duty that day to handle. And so after having me and about 6 others sit waiting for 45 minutes they rubber-stamped us 4F and sent us on our way.
And thus I avoided dying a painful, ugly, meaningless death in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Clearly this “out” was available to all and sundry. But who took it? Not as many as I would have guessed. Instead they wasted their time and energy faking injury, fleeing abroad or going underground. I, on the other hand, took military service seriously. I made it a point of having sex with as many men from as many branches as I could manage throughout the long, costly, ruinous, and (as it should pointedly be noted) undeclared war.
Being a classicist at heart, the Navy was my favorite. I quite agree with Genet that the sailor’s outfit is the most erotic piece of clothing ever devised. And one of the most splendid evenings of my entire life was spent with a sailor who had elected to take on the Rambles in Central Park, both participating in ongoing group sex scenes, taking the initiative to engineer some of his own, and merely observing and commenting on others with me at his side to paw from time to time as the spirit struck him.
This adventure began about 3 one afternoon and continued well into the wee hours of the morning, with time out for drinks at the bar of a restaurant on Madison Avenue whose name I can’t recall after all these years. It was quite near the Metropolitan Museum, if that’s any help. And the sailor? That name I can’t remember either. Just his face, eager body, sense of fun and general sexual enthusiasm. Speed and expedience being all, the sex wasn’t “invasive”and therefore “safer.” But this was of course the “before time”– the era Brad Gooch has ever-so appropriately labelled The Golden Age of Promiscuity, with “the Clap” our chief concern. Yet I expect he’s quite dead by now. After all, this was at least thirty years ago.
The past is so clear sometimes. That’s because it’s so much more assured than the present — evn if you can only half recall it. Events unspool in recollection like a mid-period Alain Resnais movie (I’m thinking of Je T’Aime Je T’Aime in particular), all jagged and angular. But the sense of the past — it’s taste and smell stay as vivid as when first encountered somehow. I can see “The Ninth Circle” (not my favorite bar by a long shot — just the one I recall most vividly) when I play a dynamite girl-group number on CD — particularly “The Shoop Shoop Song.” And with that sight comes further images of Old Boyfriends (the title of my favorite Tom Waits tune) accompanied by happy thoughts of yore — haunted by the suspicion that they’ve vanished into the ether as well — quasi-mythical figures from the Lost Continent of the New York that I knew from 1947-1976. All vanished today.
If George W. Bush and his cronies have thir way we will have a war that should lead to the re-instatement of the draft. My advice? Check the “Whoopie Box.” Don’t go. Stay home and tend to our Men in Uniform — by helping them out of it.
I have never had any sympathy for the concept of “Gays in the Military.”
We’re already there, just as we’re already everywhere else. But since the Dictatorship demands we play the game of pretending to absent ourselves from places where we’re “not wanted,” we have been given the “out” of being “out.”
And I for one think it should be taken.
The Navy isn’t about to admit that its couture is an invitation to orgy– even as so many of us proceed to Party Down in a style first captured by Paul Cadmus in his paintings “The Fleet’s In” and “Sailors and Floozies” and lustily evoked in Fassbinder’s film of Genet’s Querelle.
I of course, being an inveterate worshipper at the shrine of Arthur Freed, have always found On the Town to be as erotically engaging, albeit in a superficially chaste form, as any Tom of Finland fantasy. There’s no mistaking what’s behind Betty Garrett’s insistence that Sinatra “Come up to my place,” or Ann Miller’s lust for a “prehistoric” Jules Munshin.
The tragedy, of course, is that all of life isn’t a Freed Unit musical. Still staging my Rambles adventure, while scarcely taxing a Charles Walters, might prove more problematic to Sondheim. “Beauty is Power, Longing a disease,” he says in Passion. And he’s right.
But he’s wrong too. There’s a lightness he misses. But if he “got it,” he wouldn’t be Sondheim. He’d be Frank O’Hara who in a poem called (of all things) “Homosexuality” declares —
love a park and the inept a railway station,
and there are the divine ones who drag themselves up
and down the lengthening shadow of an Abyssinian head
in the dust, trailing their long elegant heels of hot air
crying to confuse the brave ‘It’s a summer day,
and I want to be wanted more than anything else in the world.’”