Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Feb 16, 1999

Cataloging our lives.
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

Graduation day, and the dean of Ohio State University is handing out diplomas. We were all excited since the previous graduation had been canceled because of "campus unrest" (read: the student revolution of the '60s), and the class had booked, at considerable expense, Walter Cronkite as commencement speaker. The big day came, and there he was, telling us, "Well, that's the way it is. Have a good life."

Then the dean began reading the names of the hundreds of students graduating. When it came time for the Ph.D.s, we were treated not just to their names but also to the titles of their dissertations. All manner of arcana had been covered by our class, all impressive. "Penelope Ashcroft. A study on the shade-blooming flowers of Patagonia." "Smart Meck. A study of the efficiency of one-way carriageways in ancient Rome."

Then the dean announced, "Jeffrey Meredith. A study of the bacterial cultures that occur in the underwear of men." There was a silence as Jeffrey crossed the stage. Respectful, some called it. Stunned, I'd say.

"What kind of a person would undertake such a study?" the good Ohioan next to me whispered. He and his friend exchanged knowing nods. Yeah, the research on that one probably kept Jeffrey up more than a few nights. I pictured him skulking around the varsity locker room, gathering data, then dragging it back to his dorm room, petri dishes at the ready. Of course, none of us actually knew Jeffrey. If we did, I doubt we would be too eager to shake his hand.

His study probably lives somewhere on microfilm, along with some of the remaining bacteria, no doubt. Sooner or later it will probably show up in the catalog of the Haworth Press, which I've only recently discovered. This is an outfit in upstate New York that publishes the kind of gay and lesbian books that shallow Hollywood types like me can't believe exist. A $40 monograph on lesbian therapists. A 220-page guide to the 124 openly gay and lesbian elected officials in America. A book on bisexual characters in the movies. We're talking the New England Journal of Medicine of gay culture.

"General interest" does not exist as a category for these folks. But specific interest? Hold on to your crown, your majesty. There are books about homosexuality in Thailand, in Latin America, and in three different branches of the military. For those of you who are really into Latin America, there is a separate study on Latin American transvestites and another one about guys who sell what they have south of the border, south of the border. There are books about how to start a gay business and how to meet a gay widow (merry widows have been covered elsewhere).

Consumerism is not brushed over. There are a handful of books on how to target the gay consumer and then, putting the espadrille on the other foot, A Consumer's Guide to Male Hustlers, with a chapter intriguingly dubbed "Merchandising Lustful Energy." If you want to know all about aging--something most of us thought we would never have to worry about--there is Gay and Gray (333 pages, with index!). Salaciousness has not been overlooked either, just academically packaged. Lesbian Sex Scandals includes a chapter titled "Toward a Dyke Discourse: The Essentially Constructed Stonebutch Identity," which sounds like a bunch of Amish girls building a coffee bar.

For the boys there's the selected essays of the late porn star Scott "Spunk" O'Hara, whose catalog description promises us we will "gain an even deeper sense of the man behind the `Biggest Dick in San Francisco.'" Ouch. It is an embarrassment of riches, this catalog, and as funny as some of it is, I don't want to trivialize it, as it contains acres of soberly researched studies on who, what, when, and how we are.

For anyone who thinks gay culture was something grown in a clay pot in Judy Garland's dressing room, the Haworth catalog will be an eye-opener. It turns out we really are as diverse as we have been claiming we are. It's all down in black and white and pink. Now I must go hibernate with The Bear Book, a 284-page "celebration of masculinity in its rawest manifestations," a history of the evolution of a gay male subculture of which it appears I may be a member. Go know.