It was only in 1973 edition of the medical resource book, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, that the concept of homosexuality was removed from its list of mental aberrations and ailments. Before that, “gay” was just a synonym for being “happy” - unless of course you meant “gay” as in “sexually and emotionally attracted to members of your own sex”, in which case there was a psycho-pathology attached to you and those terrible, awful and sweaty things you wanted to do, you pervert. Your twist was right up there with kleptomania, phobias and neuroses, as far as the medical community was concerned. As far as Law Enforcement was concerned, you were a sicko just waiting to attack and “convert” some innocent youth. The religions of the time, as always, wanted you to go to Hell.
And so, with Gay in the 60s, we get a number of segments on the dread menace, along with the short entitled, “Boys Beware.” It’s about as bad as it sounds. This is some Rick Santorum kind of craziness.
The first clip opens up in that Gay center of Gay Gayness, known as San Francisco. I’m sorry, excuse me – "Gay San Francisco". If that’s not clear enough, there’s a shot of neon letters spelling out “GAY.” This movie is subtle like a hammer. Against some fidgety cocktail lounge jazz soundtrack we are shown the nefarious world of “the Gay” who, according to the serious narrator, only comes out at night. To emphasize this, the first part is entirely in black ‘n’ white. My God, the gays back then must have fed on color, draining it from a world once so very colorful. Mr. Narrator solemnly quotes police statistics on the numbers of these nocturnal freaks. That’s right – there were actual police statistics on gay populations back then. It was, as we will see later in these clips, a crime to be gay. Back then, simply being outed would lose someone their jobs, families, children, place in the community, etc., etc. That brings our attention to the Tenderloin District, with its infestation of homosexuals and transvestites, and the inherent problems with their sad, sick, lonely lives.
I was wrong, previously, in asserting that homosexuals fed on color. Apparently, they are experts in the science of hues. You can tell because the next clip is in color. Although Mr. Narrator’s tone is no better, as he makes reference to “the fleshly needs of men!” and how they are the obvious cause of the “vice, shame and degradation” that made the Tenderloin such a great vacation destination back then.
Next clip shows various muscle magazines. Here the next narrator explains how the photos of hunky men in bathing suits, weight-lifting poses and secret “homo-codes” can and will corrupt even the most normal of men. Apparently they leach gay-radiation. This is something so deadly that the narrator intones “Oh God, deliver us... Americans... from EVIL!” In case that isn’t clear, he’s standing in front of a map of the United States, possibly outlining the Great Homo Invasion of 1961, in which “they” damn near took all of California.
Next, we have a shift in a parallel universe of irony, where a segment on lesbians is narrated by what sounds like Vincent Price (but it could’ve been any campy old queen, really). He drawls about their “pathetic” attempts to distance themselves from the world of men, yet end up looking like them. Well Vince (or whoever you are), that would be the butch lesbians. The ones in dresses are the femmes, hence the dresses and make up still. And that sadness you pick up isn’t their internal struggle, so much as the “your life could be ruined if anyone found out” thing again. And then we’re back to the men again. Wow, even in 60s homophobic documentaries, women get marginalized.
Last up is Boys Beware – a cautionary documentary by Sid Davis, producer of other such cautionary documentaries for children as the “marijuana will take you straight to heroin and then to a life of prostitution” classic Seduction of the Innocent. Basically, the man’s films are all about the fact that strangers are suspect, the world is a dangerous place... always, and children should never drop their guard... ever. In Boys Beware we have all the antique and small-minded “truisms of the Gay” in one neat package, all ready for the lynching. We have the predatory homo, staking out the boys restrooms, as well as the kind stranger who could only want one thing: to prey sexually on the unsuspecting lad. What’s notable is, at then end of Oddly, we don’t get any of the trusted and by all appearances straight, married man who wants a little boy action, nor any priests. Hmm... maybe that was going to be in Boys Beware II?
Co-produced by the Inglewood, California Police Dept. there are a few vignettes where older men try to gain the confidence of little boys. In none of these “stories” does the man actually do anything that constitutes assault of any kind. True, one guys shows a young teen pornographic photos, which is not appropriate, but that seems to be it. I guess the sex must have all happened off-screen. Luckily, in both stories, the police come and ruin each man’s life, but notice how, in the case of “Jimmy”, the boy ends up on probation... for being the apparent victim? Oh God, deliver us, indeed.
Gay in the 60s, in short, is a collection of all the myths and untruths through which homosexuality has been viewed over the centuries. All the boys really want to be girls and all the girls want to be boys. The single, older male is a nefarious and hungry predator, looking to slake his unholy “fleshly needs” on the supple softness of trusting youth. Oh, and bathrooms are like jungle watering holes for the Gay. Nowhere are the statistics of who really makes up the pedophile paopulation. Nowhere is anyone Gay just a regular person who wants what almost everyone wants: someone they trust and love and can spend their life with.
The only reason to watch this show, as far as I'm concerned, is to learn how difficult it was back then for gays and lesbians. Let's never forget how bad it was once for people who unconventional in who they loved, and how bad it could still be. Things are marginally better for the LGBT community today, but only after long struggles for even basic recognition and rights. There are those who work to threaten even those gains. God, please deliver us Americans from the evil of homophobia and those who would would claim to wield it as a weapon in Your Name. Amen.
Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals. He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.