Yet More on “The Great Cover-Up”
To the Editor:
I enjoyed Steven Spencer’s piece on “The Great Cover-Up” [Nov.-Dec. 2019]. While not disagreeing with anything in the essay, it failed to even mention the main driving force of increased modesty for the past decade: technology.
With websites overflowing with images from hidden cameras, primarily from smartphones, including footage of men disrobing and/or showering in gym and school locker rooms, even an average looking young man can get retweeted or reblogged 12,000 times. This has had a huge impact on some men, pushing them into the “towel dance” and encouraging them to forego showering in the way that the article describes. Even many gay men—who may eagerly share nude photos of themselves with prospective sexual partners on the apps [Grindr, Scruff, etc.]—often want to retain some control over who sees them naked and where the pictures are posted.
Charles Ingram, Tallahassee, FL
To the Editor:
I greatly appreciated Steven Spencer’s insightful article “The Great Cover-Up.” The historical context he provides was especially enlightening. The new prudery in gyms is a phenomenon I’ve noticed as well over the past several years, and one that I examined briefly in my novel Channeling Morgan.
I agree with Mr. Spencer that one of the primary causes of this change is probably a hyper-awareness among straight men that there may be gays in their midst. Ironically, while straight men seem to have few qualms about the sexual objectification of women, they tend to blanch when the tables are turned. What’s disturbing is that this behavior seems prompted by a fear that someone will ogle them, rather than an actual experience of being ogled. The fear is predicated upon the stereotypical view of gay men as predators—and the even more insulting idea that we’re all looking for a straight man to seduce, because … well, who wouldn’t?
I belonged to the same gym in downtown San Francisco for about 15 years. When I started going, it seemed that more than half the clientele was gay. (It wasn’t just the ogling that clued me in, but good old-fashioned gaydar, not to mention seeing faces familiar from the streets and bars of the Castro.) A few years ago, when Silicon Valley began expanding north to the city in order to please hipster tastes, the gym rather quickly started becoming straighter.
But the straight guys aren’t the only ones doing the towel dance. I’ve observed it among most men under forty at the gym—gay and straight. If we’re to believe the studies, this generation has significantly less sex than their elders did, so perhaps prudery in the locker room is to be expected. It may be just another sign of the victory of the virtual world—where a generation that doesn’t hesitate to share dick pics is somehow too modest to reveal their actual dicks.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon screaming about his lawn, kids today just don’t know what they’re missing.
Lewis DeSimone, Minneapolis, MN
ONE and Mattachine’s Tangled History
To the Editor:
In Andrew Holleran’s article “Call Me By No Name” [Nov.-Dec. 2019] about Guy Davidson’s Categorically Famous regarding three well-known writers who didn’t want to be branded as homosexual, he wrote: “When the editor of ONE, the magazine of the Mattchine Society….”
For younger gay folks, I would like to state that, although the founders of the Mattachine Society originated in Los Angeles in the early 1950s, the “Society” moved to San Francisco immediately while others, such as Dorr Legg, remained in L.A. and started the organization ONE, which held meetings and produced a newsletter. They also started up a “homophile” (their preferred word) library that was eventually absorbed into the library system of the University of Southern California, which continues to house the ONE Archive today. Harry Hay—who was one of the originators of Mattachine—eventually got sidetracked with his Radical Faeries project, and the Mattachine society fell by the wayside. But remarkably, ONE lives on, a legacy of the 1950s.
As a contributor to ONE magazine, I wrote under the pseudonym Brian Jennings, as I was a public school teacher, which necessitated a closeted existence.
William Joseph Bryan, Santa Rosa, CA
The Many Façades of Camp
To the Editor:
In your intro to the “Camp Leaders” issue [Jan.-Feb. 2020], you mention that you’re taking advantage of the flexibility of the term “camp,” and your point is well taken. The inclusion of Edward Gorey and physique magazines under the same umbrella suggests that there are already two distinct types of camp art: that which is directed to a mainstream audience with a subtext or hidden signals that something queer is going on; and that which is directed to a gay audience but hides its message (i.e., nearly naked men) behind a stylized veneer of “art” in case it should fall into the wrong hands (e.g., postal authorities).
There is also, of course, “high camp” and “low,” which is the distinction that I think Cassandra Langer was getting at in her review of the recent exhibition at the Met in New York [Camp: Notes on Fashion, reviewed in the Sept.-Oct. 2019 issue]. The Met show was all about high fashion—so high, in fact, that it went “over the top” in its excess, which is what made it camp, from 19th-century dandies to Vivienne Westwood’s zany fashions. Langer found herself longing for the subversive or “low” camp that lampoons the rich and powerful, as exemplified by Charles Ludlum’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company or Sylvia Sydney’s flamboyant street theater.
I’m also struck by another distinction between what might be called the camp and the campy, i.e. between deliberate camp and attributed or retroactive camp. The latter might include a film like All About Eve that we find campy when viewed today, but we could just be imposing our own interpolations (and possibly wishful thinking) on Mankiewicz’ film. On the other hand, from Charles Ludlum to RuPaul’s Drag Race, the tradition of explicitly camp entertainment lives on, only now it has come to the broad masses.
Wendy Fenwick, Boston, MA