GLR September-October 2022

The selection of poets is interesting: Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Frank O’Hara, David Wojnarowicz, Eileen Myles, and ending—as has cruising it self—with Grindr. The poems chosen for dissection are always good ones, including one by Baudelaire, “À une passante,” about a chance encounter with a woman on a crowded Paris street. Not only “Queer Vi sual Culture” but a panoply of other related and unrelated visual cultures is brought to the fore. Queer Theory scholars should be satis fied by Parlett’s gesture in their direction. For the rest of us, once he’s writing about the poets, he’s fully comprehensible. But

what that actually “meant.” He had just thought it was stylish. The practical aspects of 1970s gay “style” in fashion, music, and a few other areas of popular culture became rapidly ab sorbed in the U.S. and quickly enough in Britain and Europe—usually because it was stylish, not because it signaled a particular sexual orientation. The purest example of this is when Diana Ross premiered her new disco single at the very private gay dance club Flamingo, the message being that the few hundred men were the style makers and the tastemakers who would make her song into a mega-hit. When a show titled The Art of the Body

FIRE ISLAND A Century in the Life of an American Paradise by Jack Parlett Hanover Square Press 266 Pages, $27.99 THE POETICS OF CRUISING Queer Visual Culture from Whitman to Grindr by Jack Parlett Univ. of Minnesota Press 233 pages, $27.

the big question for the general reader may be why all this mat ters. When this writer traveled to Boulder, Portland, Dallas, and St. Louis in the 1970s, gay men in those towns recognized that what I was doing before meeting them was “cruising,” even though few in their space and time knew how to do so. As more men came out or semi-out, this new urban behavior became commonplace, even in small towns, and then became codified. Cruising was a behavior that paid off because it was effective at securing what was wanted: a sex date. It too possessed perils due to its sartorial accouterments. When I saw my older, het erosexual brother in jeans and flannel shirt with a red handker chief in his left-hand back pocket, I felt I ought to warn him

premiered at NewYork’s Museum of Modern Art not long after that, with mostly nude, live, straight muscle men—Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, and others doing elaborate “body building poses”—they were taking a gay-associated cul tural backwater and making it both known and culturally rele vant to the general public. Soon other public expressions of gayness would follow, such as the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy series, the phenomenon of metrosexuality, RuPaul’s Drag Race , and most recently, TV commercials for “manscapers.” Like gay men for decades, now every straight man can safely shave his pubes to perfection to fit that new, ultra-soft under wear with prominent “fronts” that are virtually cloth codpieces. Even when cruising itself became stagnant—by 1990, S/M bars were being called “stand and model” venues—gay visual, aural, and fashion culture never ended. It seems to pop up every where, and the art of cruising for style can now be enjoyed by everyone. When an older gay friend spotted a handsome Tumi shoulder bag on an apparently hetero young male actor/model on the NewYork City subway, he asked about it, and they ended up chatting about shoulder bags for ten minutes. Perhaps the advent of the metrosexual will be the subject of another doc toral thesis. Parlett ends his chapter on Whitman by speaking about the photograph Walt approved as a frontispiece to his Leaves of Grass when it was first published in 1855. The poet himself called the shot “flamboyant”: he is standing insouciantly, hand on hip, in a carefully arranged pose. Parlett reveals that it was even touched up at the crotch. Yet when the book was reissued recently in a supposedly “historically identical edition” to that first one, the sexy frontispiece photo was gone , and the paper cover had a rather dim profile of an aged Whitman as “the good gray poet.” Even so, that original photo—along with the only acknowledged one of Arthur Rimbaud—is known to all. They are literally “iconic.” Since Whitman, gay writers have followed Walt’s example: John Rechy’s shirtless photo at age 25 graced his books until quite recently, and he’s now in his nineties. When this writer published The Lure in 1979, the back cover photo that the agent, editor, and art director chose was not taken at a desk in my li brary but standing against a wall, one leg behind me. The aged owner of the stolid Delacorte Press moaned: “It looks like you’re for sale.” As Whitman knew well, sex sells, and visuals convey sex better than words.

The G & LR


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