Panic Attack

Dear Mr. Feeney:

Just read your inadvertently hilarious piece of heterosexual panic in “Slate.” As a 60 year-old gay man, and long-time political activist (I was a member of Gay Activist’s Alliance of New York back in the immediate post-Stonewall era) I never thought I’d see the day when heterosexuals would be running for cover like this. You are not alone. Judd Apatow’s films are ENTIRELY centered on heterosexual panic.

I don’t know what you guys are so upset about. You run the world. The laws are written expressly few you. And until a few years ago when the Supremes overturned the sodomy statutes I was an illegal alien in extremis.

So let’s review, shall we?

While the dudes in Big Wednesday are nice looking there’s nothing homoerotic about them. It’s a John Ford western in cut-offs.

Keanu Reeves is arguably the most disturbingly beautiful creature to walk the face of the earth, but the main thing about Point Break is IT WAS DIRECTED BY A GIRRRL! So consult you Better Misogynistic Gods.

300 is an explosion at the Tom of Finland Factory. It’s instant camp — too silly to be as homoerotic as its forebearer The 300 Spartans. Directed by Rudolph Mate, The 300 Spartans stars the granite-jawed Richard Egan (or as “Mad” magazine called him “Richard Egad”) the lovely Diane Baker and the even lovelier Barry Coe — who has a hilarious line about how he hears the upcoming war is going to be real excting and everyone’s going to it.

Rudolph Mate began his career as a cinematographer. His most important credits : The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr and (wait for it!) Gilda. The latter is, as has been noted by many, a homoerotic tsunami with a heterosexual goddess at its center.

Less noted is the fact that during the shooting of Vampyr, Carl Th. Dreyer fell madly in love with Mate and had a nervous breakdown. As a result Dreyer claimed in later years to not remember the shooting of Vampyr at all.

The Heterosexually Panicked are advised to avoid all films by Sergei Eisenstein, Luchino Visconti, Robert Bresson and Lindsay Anderson (especially If… just on on DVD from Criterion with notes by yours truly)

Surely I don’t have to remind you of the homoerotic dangers lurking in the works of Derek Jarman, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey, Todd Haynes, Greg Araki and Tom Kalin.

But Ozu was gay too — so watch out!


David Ehrenstein
Los Angeles, Ca.


This just in from Matthew Feeney:

“Mr Ehrenstein
One of the things I didn’t get a chance to argue in my piece is that I don’t really think the claim of homoeroticism is actually serious. To borrow from the somewhat rickety categories of speech act theory, it is performative rather than substantive. It’s about cultivating and policing a particular conversation (by, among other things, resorting to silly stock ad hominems when people say displeasing,off-the-reservation sorts of things) rather than an attempt to make defensible good-faith claims about the world. This would explain a certain shrieky tone in many of the criticisms of my piece.

Your letter, in any case, confirms my suspicions in this regard.
Matt Feeney.”

Off WHAT “Reservation”? An eminently Republican meme. Doubtless you own the complete works of Sully– personally inscribed.This would make you “open-minded” in the circles you travel.

Send Mary Cheney my regards.

Shriekily yours,

David Ehrenstein


  1. The Promiscuous Reader June 28, 2007 10:37 am 

    Mr. Ehrenstein, great piece. I hadn’t known you were in GAA; I’m a 56 year old gay man from Indiana, who got involved in gay activism here at around the same time. You must’ve known Pete Fisher and Marc Rubin, whom I met when we brought them to Bloomington to speak in 1972.

    But I must confess I’m a bit confused. I stumbled on Feeney’s piece yesterday, and I thought he was exhibiting — indeed, militantly flaunting! — homosexual panic, not “heterosexual panic.” But maybe they’re the same thing? Homosexual panic is high anxiety inspired not just by being confronted by homosexuality, but by one’s own inner homosexual. It’s a Freudian concept, not implausible, based on the notion that we all are basically bisexual but tend to wall off either our inner homo or our inner hetero. (When gay bashers deploy the “homosexual panic defense,” I wonder if they realize that they’re announcing that they *are* gay, and are defending their denial by punishing someone who reminds them of it.) So, when someone like Matt Feeney freaks out at the thought that he might be enjoying too much the sight of bulging, oiled pecs in a gladiator movie, that’s homosexual panic. Or am I misinformed? We out here in the hinterlands often lag behind the cutting edge of the coasts.

    I saw a similarly funny — but also not so funny — performance on a few months ago, where the reviewer said that he could no longer see the friendship between the boy fox and the boy dog in Disney’s The Fox and the Hound as “innocent,” because he’d seen Brokeback Mountain, and apparently could no longer ignore the bubbling images of fox-dog sodomy that were erupting from his unconscious and troubling his dreams.

    Also, what is “homoerotic” and how does it differ from “homosexual”? Or “homosocial” for that matter? Are you born homoerotic, or is it a lifestyle choice? I keep seeing these terms bruited about, but I can’t quite sort them out. If I see a handsome man on the street, is he “homoerotic” because I find him attractive? If I drool over Silverio Palacios as “Chuy” in Y Tu Mama Tambien, does that mean he was put in there as a homoerotic figure to turn me on? Are a lot of people confusing their own reactions with the intent of artists, the way a stereotypical straight guy assumes that a woman he finds attractive must be sending out sex rays to attract him?

    I read George Mosse’s very fine book Nationalism and Sexuality, and Mosse kept saying things like “homoerotic and even homosexual feeling.” I cannot figure out what that distinction signifies. I get the impression that in scholarship and elsewhere, “homoerotic” is used as a euphemism for “homosexual”, and “homosocial” is used as a euphemism for both, usually by people who don’t know what the words mean but don’t want to offend by saying that someone’s gay if they’re totally not, y’know? But since you use “homoerotic” so confidently, perhaps you can explain it all. Pretty please?

    Confused Hoosier Homo

  2. willclark June 28, 2007 10:40 am 

    David – you had me as a new fan until you remarked that you wrote “Keanu Reeves is arguably the most disturbingly beautiful creature to walk the face of the earth”. I’ve never joined the ranks of the Reeves fan club. He can’t act, he’s kind of stupid looking, has a bad haircut and always comes off more than a little dumb… I guess if that fits your definition of ‘disturbingly beautiful’ then go ahead, you can have him. Yuck.

    The rest of your article about 300 being an ‘explosion at the Tom of Finland factory’ is dead-on though and gave me a chuckle.

  3. David E June 28, 2007 11:05 am 

    Yes I did know Pete and Marc quite well — along with Morty Manford and Vito Russo so many others. Arthur Evans and Arnie Kantrowitz are still with us, but most of the players from that halcyon era went well before their time.

    “Heterosexual Panic” is indeed a play on “Homosexual Panic.”

    “Homoerotic” is simply what turns ya’ one — including, Mr. Clark, the ineffably babe-a-licious Keanu. He’s far from dumb, BTW. Check him out in the sadly ignored “Thumbsucker.”

  4. David N. Scott June 28, 2007 12:07 pm 

    could no longer ignore the bubbling images of fox-dog sodomy that were erupting from his unconscious and troubling his dreams.

    That’s sort of disturbing. I mean, now he’s getting into into bestiality and (essentially) pedophilia, since they were both portrayed as kids. Not to mention the whole Disney Cartoon thing.

    I think that poeple do think too much about subtexts these days, but I suppose it’s po-mo in action. Letting it ruin a movie for you is odd.

    …speaking of subtexts and since you’re replying, D.E., I must ask–are Julie and I imagining that Citizen Kane is more-or-less gay? The icy relationships with wives, the ‘school chum’ that was his ‘stooge’ and lived with him (and hated him later, when he got married, and really hated his wives)… even the missing his mother so much and dying alone and bitter seem like a stereotypes.

    I’d never seen it before two weeks ago and was surprised that so many people seemed to miss that; it made the story make more sense. Or am I homo/hetero/whatever panicking?

    Keanu Reeves is eerie and ethereal and sort of the proto person of all nationalities. Come to think of it. ‘disturbingly beautiful’ sums it up pretty well.

  5. David E June 28, 2007 12:22 pm 

    Interesting you should note that. You’re barking up the right tree — but the wrong branch. Kane’s relationships with other men are what’s called in our mod-au-go-go time “homosocial” rather than “homoerotic.” This refers to the often intense closeness straight men feel for one another that stops well short of the sexuul. Jed Leland recalls fondly the fun he had with Charlie Kane when they were young hellions on the town whooping it up. Marriage spoiled that for them. Kane’s relationship with his mother is Wagnerian in its intensity. The canard the gay men are too close to their mothers is not only cliched (I know any number of very gay men who LOATHED their mothers — the two most important being Gore Vidal and Stephen Sondheim) but fails to deal with problems devolved from a culture that insists men must keep their distance from their own mothers for fear of going “Gay all of a sudden.”

    Welles was quite the Fag-Hag — a subject I hope to explore in depth someday soon. His friendship with Michael Mac Liammoir and Hilton Edwards is well know. In “Othello” through Mac Liammoir Welles brings out every bit of gay subtext in Iago’s jealousy of Othello – – who he of course wants so bad he can taste it. Welles’ gayest film, however is “F For Fake.”

  6. David N. Scott June 28, 2007 1:10 pm 

    Ahhh. Homo-social, huh? I think I know exactly what that’s like. My best friend from high school and I spent a lot of time together (weekly hangouts, multiple phone calls in a week) until last year. He hung around so much that he became a sort of a third wheel to our marriage, which was fun for a long time but ran aground a bit when Julie had a sort of sexual-awakening/second-adolescence that came out of her finally coming to some closure with her being raped by her brother right when she was getting around to discovering dating.

    Anyway, I guess the new glammed-up Julie was too obviously not One of the Guys, and thus a long-delayed marriage schism finally came around, more or less. He moved to Vegas and we only email once or twice a month these days, with no replacement BFF really seeming to be on the horizon, as I’m not as social offline as I am on.

    T.M.I., I’m sure. But I think I get what you’re talking about.

    I’ve noticed the problem with that cliche in the reverse–my daughter enjoys robots and sports and computers, thus leading some family members to fear that I have a disporportionate influence on her and that she will someday grow up to be lesbian/transexual. Or something like that.

    I think this is silly because not only is five a little young to worry about such things, but along with robots and sports she loves ponies, puppies, dresses, brushing her hair, and has chosen the boy she will marry someday (and is surprisingly consistent about it).

    But anyway, the point is that Girls Should Not Act Like Boys These Days or Who Knows What Will Happen. First Transfomers, then Ani DeFranco, apparently.

    I should watch more Wells movies. The only one I’d seen before is, oddly enough given my last sentence, Transformers; The Movie. It’d be interesting to see his take on Shakespeare as well as learning a bit more about him. I left CK very curious about Orson Welles, though I suppose that could just be a sort of transference.

  7. chris June 29, 2007 7:48 pm 

    How nice that somebody else remembers “Richard Egad.”


    (currently experiencing flashes of memories of
    “Hack, Hack Sweet Has-Been”)

  8. David E June 29, 2007 7:52 pm 

    Biil always calls him “Richard Egad.” I especially love his performance in “The Revolt of Mamie Stover,” starring everybody’s favorite Christian, Jane Russell.

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