Monday, December 19, 2005

(Glad I didn't have) "Gay Sex in the '70s"

Ecco un articolo scritto qualche tempo fa su Planet Out dal mio amico Jason S. Steele. Credo che sia abbastanza allarmante il ritorno al giorno d'oggi di fenomeni come il barebacking. Forse si sta un po' abbassando la guardia sul problema del contagio da HIV? E forse non si è mai parlato a sufficienza delle altre malattie sessualmente trasmissibili.

At the beginning of the new documentary, Gay Sex in the '70s, the director refers to this era of drugs and anonymous sex as "the most libertine period the Western world has ever seen since Rome." And after watching the film, I'm glad I wasn't of age to experience it.

Having been born in 1974, the only real thing I can recall of the 1970s was my dad's handlebar moustache and my mother's stretch terrycloth rompers (or maybe I'm confusing her with Joyce Dewitt from "Three's Company" -- they looked similar). Nevertheless, when I think about the disco decade, I immediately conjure up images of bad music, bad fashion and bad hygiene, or at least it comes across that way in the TV shows and movies from that era. The entire period seems to have a fine layer of grit over it that leaves me longing for a shower. It's no surprise then, that after watching "Gay Sex in the 70's" I was left feeling dirty -- both mentally and physically.

The film is a chronicle of the gay culture in New York during the era between the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the beginning of the AIDS crisis in 1981. It interviews several men who gleefully relive this time of gay liberation through photographs, memorabilia and personal anecdotes. The men reminisce about cruising Chelsea and looking for a dip, I mean "trick," on the West End piers, where hundreds of horny homos would meet every night in the abandoned warehouses to have sex with literally any person who crossed their paths. All unprotected sex, of course.

I understand that the '70s marked a time when gay men were breaking free of oppression and could finally come out loud and proud. They could let their hair -- and pants -- down with what they thought were little, if any, repercussions. But I find it amazing that no one was concerned about their personal safety and well-being when they were off in back alleys and dark corners looking for sex. Several of the men in the documentary fondly talked about receiving numerous STDs as if they were an itching, burning badge of honor. One couple recounts all the diseases they had overcome during this time, listing them off one by one. "Don't forget anal warts!" one reminded the other. How could you?

Another man even had a slight smile as he recalled a personal story that ended with the phrase "... and it turned out I had gonorrhea of the throat." Oh, how funny! Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go gargle with bleach.

Perhaps this was all so shocking to me because I grew up in a time when people were more regularly educated about the dangers of unprotected sex. (Unprotected straight sex, that is.) I remember in junior high when the phys. ed/health teacher took the boys aside and sheepishly showed us graphic pictures of male private parts ravaged by venereal disease, telling us this was our future if we had sex without a condom. It scared me straight (well, scared me abstinent -- until college, at least). We might not have been given all the information about STDs, like how we could get the clap or what caused it, but we knew it was something to avoid. So did the gay men of the '70s, yet they chose to ignore it.

While certain aspects of the film did seem like the '70s might have been a good time -- nude sunbathing on Fire Island or hobnobbing with the glitterati at Studio 54, for instance -- the ramifications of unprotected sex with hundreds of people wouldn't have been worth it. I would have preferred to be a fly on the wall of a dark backroom, as opposed to having my fly unzipped as I was pushed up against the wall of a dark backroom.

As Rome eventually fell, so too did this decade of decadence. The era of free gay love came to a screeching halt in 1981 with the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. One would hope that the gay community would have learned from the past, but everything in life is cyclical. I am not surprised that, 20 years later, more and more gay men are involving themselves in risky behaviors, such as barebacking and PNP ("party and play") -- much as they did in the 70's.

My overall impression from the film was that the promiscuous gay sex in the '70s, while fun at the time, is best left to the homo history books. And that "Chelsea Piers" would be a great name for a drag queen.

A Pittsburgh native and current Chicago resident, Jason Steele attributes the friendly Windy City gays for giving him that final shove out of the closet. After two attempts at dot-com jobs, he now devotes his time to writing.

1 comment:

st.efan said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog! I stopped writing because it felt like no one would ever read anything there, and I moved over to myspace.com/saintefan. Talking about pity, I'd love to read your posts, but I simply don't understand Italian...