April 2022 – RECAP

I’m tired.

After last month, I decided to take it easy and just do some light reading this month – not light, necessarily, in terms of subject matter; but, light in the sense of just…not physically dense. Some of those oldies last month were too thicc for a breezy spring read.

So, what’s the opposite of a dense novel? Honestly – probably picture books. But, for the sake & facade of faux literary elitism we’re going to say poetry.

And it’s ever so convenient that April happens to be National Poetry Month.

Oh, also, side-category is: cruising. (Not like big boats – but like gay bathroom stuff).


Book of the Month: True Biz by Sara Novic
Genre of the month: Classics

Completed Books:
Gay Haiku by Joel Derfner
We Inherit What the Fires Left by William Evans
Directing Herbert White by James Franco
How Festive the Ambulance by Kim Fu
Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns by Andrea Gibson
Notes for My Body Double by Paul Guest
Dancer From the Dance by Andrew Holleran
Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places by Laud Humphreys
The Cineaste by A. Van Jordan
The Curious Things by Sandra Lim
Broken Halves of a Milky Sun by Aaiun Nin
Bath Haus by P. J. Vernon
Cruising by Gerald Walker
Sheep In a Bald Barber’s Chair by S. Evan Walters

Right off the bat, there are two things we should address:

  1. My book of the month choice was True Biz by Sara Novic. I did not finish this title before the month ended. One of my favorite days of the year is Record Store Day, and this year it was on April 23rd. I camped overnight outside my local record store for over 14 hours. My initial plan/goal was to read “True Biz” front-to-back in one sitting while sitting outside the record store – this clearly was not a success.
  2. My Genre Challenge this month was “Classics.” After last month, there was no way in hell I was picking up a classic this month.

Out of the gate, I’m swinging 0/2 on my monthly goals.

Speaking of things swinging…

warning: potentially a lil NSFW-y, but like it’s for educational purposes – so go ahead

“Cruising” – in this context – does not mean sailing luxuriously around the world on an oversized ships while playing shuffleboard on deck and grazing on an afternoon buffet. It also doesn’t mean joyriding around town at low speeds with the windows down and the music up.

“Cruising” is gay slang for a making a concerted effort to find a sexual encounter with another man, especially in a public place. While cruising is the act, one can cruise or be cruised. There are several ways in which this can go about, but for use of a singular example: One could tap their foot while in a bathroom stall to signal to the person in the stall next door that they are seeking understall* action. It’s a cracked open driver’s side door at a truck stop. It’s the inching up of one’s towel hem in a sauna. It’s prolonged eye contact with someone after sitting down a few seats away from them at the movies despite having been able to sit literally anywhere else in auditorium because it’s a matinee show and there are four people who showed up for it.
(*exactly what it sounds like)

With the rise of social media and the engraining of hookup (anonymous or otherwise) culture into society, cruising has started to become a practice of the past – no longer standard practice, as there are much easier ways of finding action these days, and has steered itself away from “necessity” & found itself more in the vein of “fetish or kink.”

Back in the day, cruising was the often the only way to get your homosexual/curious/a-mouth-is-a-mouth rocks off in an era where being gay got you blacklisted from jobs and gay sex got you thrown in jail.

Enter Laud Humphreys.

In 1968, Humphreys wrote his Ph.D. dissertation, “Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places.” Two years later, he published a book of the same based on his research. Humphreys’s study is an analysis of male-male sexual behavior in public restrooms.

Breaking down the title:
1) “Tearoom” – (dated) gay slang/euphemism for public bathroom, particularly as a meeting place for homosexual (bi, curious, and/or just plain horny) men. It’s believed to have derived from “t-room” (“toilet room”).

2) “Trade” – gay slang for the casual partner of a gay man; most often, trade are straight men in the equation who benefit from the exchange – whether it’s “gay-for-pay,” relief, etc. Modernly, it has also taken on the form of an adjective to describe any man who appears (hyper)/masculine & sexually appealing.

Humphreys conducted his research from 1965-1968, pre-Stonewall and coming off a time where homosexuals could be harassed, investigated, and persecuted by the government and law enforcement. The majority of gay men remained deeply closeted – sometimes going as far as marrying partners of the opposite sex – as being gay could result in being fired. It wasn’t until the 70s when the first employment discrimination lawsuit was won.

In order to conduct his research, Humphreys never disclosed his study and would visit tearooms under the guise of being a “watchqueen” – a voyeur who enjoyed watching men perform oral on each other. Among other things, he gathered data on locations, the frequency of acts, the age of the men, the roles they played, and whether money changed hands.

Ethically, it might not have been the best example to use when discussing research methods – Humphreys went so far as to write down license plates and follow men home, in addition to donning disguises to interview them in their homes under the guise of anonymous public health surveys.

While his methods can be debated, what he conclusively found was that ultimately his subjects – predominately straight, with only 14% of his research pool being exclusively homosexual and identifying as gay – weren’t dangerous social deviants; which is culturally significant for the time – a time when deeming men who partook in homosexual acts as “social deviants” acted as the backbone for most anti-gay legislation & justification for employment termination at the time.

Some of us were fortunate enough to grow up in a time when Rihanna could openly perform “S&M” on network-broadcasted award shows on school nights.

I remember riding the middle school bus, headphones in, volume blasted, lyrics “chains and whips excite me” bleeding through the speakers so that my classmates around me can hear.

Gerald Walker’s Cruising (published 1970) was written at a time when S&M and leather subcultures weren’t well-known, yet.

The novel follows an undercover police officer searching for a serial killer who’s cruising (and murdering) homosexuals in New York City.

Supplement to the reading:  “Cruising” was adapted into a film in 1980. Starring Al Pacino, the film currently sits at 49% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m firmly in the “rotten” camp. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself one of those guys who insists the book is always better than the film it’s adapted into; but, in this case, I would certainly scream, “The book is better” from the roof of the S&M bar. Send me a message if you want to hear my TED Talk on why you should read this book and not watch the movie – I’ll spare everyone else the lecture.

I’m verse when it comes to POVs.

Following Walker’s “Cruising,” I was in the mood for switching positions – instead of following a cop as he hunts the cruising killer, I wanted to take it from one of the POV of someone on the other end. Luckily, last year P. J. Vernon put out his book Bath Haus.

The novel follows a man as he visits bath house (think “tearoom” but the saunas & communal showers version), where he narrowly escapes with his life after a cruise gone wrong. He now has to keep his partner from finding out as he tries to outwit his tried-killer & continue to survive.

We’ve cruised through tearooms; we’ve cruised through New York City clubs; and, we’ve cruised through bath houses. Where could we possibly go from here?

With Dancer From the Dance by Andrew Holleran, we find ourselves on Fire Island.

Located off the southern shore of Long Island, New York, Fire Island is a popular vacation destination for homosexuals. Why? Let’s be real: think “tearoom” or “bath house” except instead of a room it’s an entire island – there’s even an infamous sex spot (it’s just a forest, essentially) dubbed the “Meat Rack.”

Holleran’s book follows two men: Anthony, who is leaving his life as a Midwestern lawyer to experience gay New York in the 70s, and Andrew, a nightlife socialite and drag queen. The book switches perspectives, turning their lives into a sort of “dance.” It is one of the first gay fictions to portray the party atmosphere of Fire Island.

completely SFW – none of these collections are about bathroom stalls

In addition to the cruising mini-theme, I wanted to put an emphasis on poetry this month in honor of National Poetry Month. I’ll be honest, most of these selections had no rhyme or reason in regards to selection – I simply walked up to a shelf of poetry in my library and started yanking books with titles that interested me off it.

Those titles include:
Gay Haiku by Joel Derfner
We Inherit What the Fires Left by William Evans
Directing Herbert White by James Franco
How Festive the Ambulance by Kim Fu
Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns by Andrea Gibson
Notes for My Body Double by Paul Guest
The Cineaste by A. Van Jordan
The Curious Things by Sandra Lim
Broken Halves of a Milky Sun by Aaiun Nin
Sheep In a Bald Barber’s Chair by S. Evan Walters

Directing Herbert White by James Franco checked off more than one box this month.

In addition to being a National Poetry Month read, it also checks off another box in the James Franco category of my Author Backlist challenge.

This collection of poems chronicles Franco making his short film, “Herbert White,” which was based off a poem by Frank Bidart.

Supplement to the reading:  I watched Franco’s “Herbert White” short film. I gave it 1/5 stars on Letterboxd. I did not log a review of it. It was that bad.

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