Tuesday, 18 December 2007
30 - Gay Lib - Mad Magazine
in "Mad Magazine", January 1969
When I first saw this, I got my dates mixed up and thought this appeared about 6 months after Stonewall. But no; in fact, it dates from 6 months before Stonewall, which means there was already a general sense of gay presence existing in American minds. Homosexuality had already become a fixture of the arts, to the extent that Stanley Kauffman could write his notorious "Homosexual Drama and Its Disguises" in the ‘New York Times’ (23 Jan 1966) accusing gays of writing poisonous screeds about contemporary America. But this photo-shoot means enough people already thought they knew what a homosexual was, for it to be worth the effort of a gag in a mass media magazine like “Mad”.
Stonewall had two effects: one is that it is a high-water mark in gay visibility. Only a few moths later ‘Time’ magazine would go into millions of homes with the October 31 issue devoted to the “Homosexual in America”.
At the same time, Stonewall connected homosexuality to the new radical fight for civil rights in 60s America. For a contemporary report on the immediate struggle for Gay liberation to find some place in the general, rather macho, revolutionary melee of the time, this May/June 1970 issue of ‘The Realist” is very interesting.
As to why the two men are in dresses? It’s a blend of anxiety, confusion and ignorance. People don’t entirely know what a homosexual is or does. Since it’s a man who wants to be with men, then it must be a womanly man, or a man who wants to be a woman. Therefore a man who wants to be a woman would, of course, wear women’s clothes. Secondly, some gay man do dress up in drag, so that confuses the issue. (If some do it, then all must do it, yes?) Besides, transvestism is as big a perversion and a crime in those days, that its unsettling aspect will mean you don’t have to think through the logical consequences: A tranny is a pervert is a fag. Finally, through its unnaturalness, a man in a dress is a way of showing what a homosexual is and does, without having to hint at any of that kissing or sex shenanigans which, being too disgusting to even think about, would get naturally get homosexuals, and you in portraying it, hauled up before the courts. So the common stereotype of a man in drag as a homosexual is a way of finding some means of depicting a gay, while also substituting the dress for some of the real visceral anxieties as to what it is that homosexuals actually get up to. When we get into the later 70s, and humorists can show what gays really get up to sexually, then the transvestite stereotype is used only by a rather sad and old-fashioned minority.
This is inspired by a contemporary advert for Canada Dry: