Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why read Faggots

Because it's Pride Month! Because this 1978 novel is groundbreaking. Because there's a sexy Winston cigarette man. Because it's a study of excess, and like all things excessive, it's heartbreaking to know what will happen later, when all things bright, care-free, pleasurable, and orgasmic come crashing down because of disease. Ah, Faggots, I couldn't recommend you enough.

Most people would know Larry Kramer as the playwright who penned "The Normal Heart," the play that has AIDS and the gay generation who first suffered because of it as its center. I love that play. If you haven't read it or seen it on stage, please do and have a box of tissues at your side. I guess the same thing can be said of Faggots. You still need a box of tissue, but for a different kind of body fluid. Wink, wink.
Of the 2,639,857 faggots in the New York city area, 2,639,857 think primarily with their cocks.
You didn't know that the cock was a thinking organ?
Well, by this time, you should know that it is.
― Larry Kramer, Faggots 
Faggots is a wonderfully dated work. I feel its appeal and charm grows through the years. It's somewhat of an autobiographical work, as the main character, Fred Lemish, is loosely based on Larry Kramer. Lemish is one of the many characters we meet in this kaleidoscope of a novel, where each character comes to grips with his sexuality, his place in the 1970s gay community, his continuous search for sex, love, and belongingness.

Never again will the gay community experience such excess, where it's de rigeur to go to bath houses, participate in orgies, be oblivious to people watching you as you engage in sex. The 1970s were a time when people actually had to go out of their houses to hook up. There wasn't any Grindr to speak of. There weren't any pics of your private parts going around. You have to see these intimate parts up close, usually in the club's bathroom. And if you approve, you take him home.

One of the characters in the novel is the handsome and sexy Winston man,
who is clearly a shoutout to the classic Marlboro man. 
The mustache was big among gay men in the 70s and the early 80s.
Hmmmm . . . mustaches. Reminds me of this very un-PC joke:
Why do gay men wear a mustache? To hide the stretchmarks. Tasteless, I know.
The 1970s was quite hedonistic, as it was the pre-AIDS era. Pretty much everyone humped like rabbits. We do know what happens after that period, yes? But that is a discussion for another day. In Faggots, it's all about drugs and sex. The novel portrayed the gay community back then in such an honest light that it showed some unflattering aspects of gay men. A few gay activist groups cried foul. Manhattan's one and only gay bookstore at that time even pulled the novel out of its shelves. I guess the truth really hurts. So Faggots basically pissed off both the straight and the gay communities.

In a way, I feel indebted to the characters in Faggots. These people belonged to a generation that was instrumental in LGBT equality. These were the first gay men who had the courage to go out in public and declare their sexuality. Yes, some of them were persecuted for it, and some of them died because of the unsafe sex they all practiced. But today's LGBT community would have never existed because of these people. For a few years back then, they partied, and they partied hard. But they will never party like that ever again. Their fight started the long battle toward equality. And it's still far from over though.

Even the title of the book is an indication of its now-classic status. I would never ever call someone a f-----. I don't want to go to gay hell. You can even get flak for calling someone this name, like what happened to this Gray's Anatomy actor. It's pretty much like the "n" word now. But unlike the "n" word, it's seldom used among gay men. Now, it's all about "queer." We have queer cinema, queer lit, queer everything.

We're here, we're queer, and we have fierce queer faces. LOL.
With my good friend Orly, who blogs about theater, books, and whatnot.
My goodness, it took so many takes just to get this shot. (27 takes, I think.)
That fierce look is so difficult to pull off! My cheekbones hurt.
In Faggots, there's no sugarcoating to what was happening to gay men in the 1970s. There's no bubblegum romance angle. There are no twee story lines. The novel feels very gritty, but it's also funny as hell. The dialog and the one-liners are a gas.
“Holy shit," somebody muttered in the dark.
"A virgin," sputtered another.
"I didn't know they still made them."
"He just did.” 
“Looking thirty, claiming forty, actually forty-five.” 
I do make it a point to read LGBT books every now and then. My favorite read last year was a gay-themed young adult novel (Aristotle and Date Discover the Secrets of the Universe). I consider Edmund White, Sarah Waters, and Alan Hollinghurst to be literary gods. I love Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story and The Farewell Symphony to bits. But I have never read a novel like Faggots. It's raunchy, hysterical, always on point, and fascinating. And it took me to a time when everyone scratched one another's itch, shoot drugs like there's no tomorrow, and basically live your queer life like it's the last day of this queer effing world.

One of the funnier queer novels I've read recently is Robert Rodi's Closet Case.
A bit dated, as the novel was published in 1993. Still campy and a riot though.
Again, so many takes just to get the right look for this picture.
You should've seen the photographer's face. It was fierce, but in a non-queer way.


Anonymous said...

Let my anonymity be a tribute too, for an entity, once, wanting a face.

All you’ve suggested are great reads! With these books, disappointment is tucked so far, far away. Hoping to get hold of the featured one soon.
My last read: I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Only good words for this one.
Currently reading Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, I’m halfway through and enjoying it.
With Sarah Waters, reading her Fingersmith and I’ve come to a part where I exclaimed: I didn’t see that one coming!
Can’t wait to get back to them.
For the coming rainy days, I’m keeping at bay, Proust’s & Wilde’s works.

Peter S. said...

Proust! Someday . . . someday . . . .