QUEERS SUCK…. Or Why the Gay Ghetto Is So Nowhere

| April 29, 2012 | Comments (0)

Bette Davis in All About Eve trailer.jpg

Engaged in my favorite evening pursuit the other night – watching old movies – I received the shock of my life half-way through the Bette Davis classic, “All About Eve.”  Most of the famous one-liners had already been delivered – Margot’s “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy evening !”; Marilyn Monroe’s ” Who do I have to fuck to get a drink around here?” (or words to that effect) and my favorite put-down of all time, when George Saunders replies to  Anne Baxter’s Eve  after she points to the door telling him  to “get out”  and  he emits  that low-pitched snarl that only Saunders can deliver:  “Eve, you’re too short for that gesture! ”

In what  turns out to be one of the happier moments in the movie  – Davis  only insults a waiter and yells at her husband-to-be  and is not yet drunk – she lights yet another cigarette and I notice for the first time in decades of Davis-watching that Bette  IS NOT INHALING ! Not believing what I see on screen, I wait for the next light-up which is only minutes away since Margot/Bette practically chain-smokes, and my eyes confirm what they had just seen: Davis takes in a moderate amount of smoke and immediately blows it out, spewing the fumes aimlessly in all directions as an amateur non-inhaler is apt to do.

Somehow what I am witnessing seems to be a treasonous betrayal, but who is betraying whom ? It’s not as though Bette had been lying to ME all these years, doing something different from what she claimed she was doing. The celluloid proof of HOW Bette smoked had been there for all to see since the 1930s when in that famous close-up smoking scene from “Now Voyager” Leslie Howard lights two cigs at once and passes one to Bette. Somehow I just didn’t see what she did with that cigarette. Now, on reflection, I can only conclude one thing: that Bette Davis was really not smoking.

There are two things that spell Bette Davis to me – mind you, we all have our takes on what matters to us in her persona – and those two things are smoking  – REALLY smoking – and being mean to servants. A friend of mine defended Bette’s treatment of domestics saying that she was actually rather kind to her slaves in “Jezzabelle.” But I beg to differ. It’s true  she doesn’t strike them or shout when dishing out commands, but there is an iciness in her deliveries that assure us that Bette is, above all, not a nice person…and that is what I love about her, her pure un-adulterated meanness.

Her smoking and her meanness go hand-in-glove, but if Bette is NOT really smoking, can she actually be  all that mean ? By the end of the film, I could only conclude that mousey Eve (Anne Baxter) is actually far the meaner of the two and that Margot Channing is really more of a confused, middle-aged woman unsure of her grip on her profession and the man she thinks she has snared (Gary Merrill, also her real-life husband). To say that I was shaken to the core is an understatement. It was as if my best pal had denied our friendship or my parents had disowned me. Had I been younger and not so world-weary, I might have considered ending it all, but being in my eighth decade,  when Bette’s fake smoking hit me, I shrugged and poured myself another glass of vino. So much for you, Bette, and your “Now Voyager” non-inhaling. Life is a veil of tears or,  in your case, a cloud of un-inhaled smoke.

What we’re going to talk  about today does not directly concern Bette or what she did with her weeds, but it does relate to one of  her major constituencies – gays. I came to the sad conclusion implied in the title of this piece after spending a summer on Fire Island, the home of two famous gay summer communities, Cherry Grove and The Pines,  that gay people are their own worst enemies and that hovering together in a putative  clan of like-minded “family” is futile and counter-productive, a false hope not born out by real life experience. The result: bitter disappointment.

Cherry Grove is a cute village by the water  favored by lesbians. It is said that back in the 20s and 30s, Eleanor Roosevelt used to visit her pals there.  Set in lush gardens punctuated with wind-blown pine trees, tiny, brightly painted bungalows line weather-beaten boardwalks and display whimsical names like “Beau-He-Man Rhapsody” , “Shel Shocked” and “Seas the Day.” The village center includes an old-fashioned post office featuring tiny post boxes with little glass doors, presided over by an ancient post mistress who must be nearing 100 and is, by turns, crochety or cheerful depending on the weather.

One is pulled, involuntarily, to the nearby bakery, “Donuts N Things”, where the smell of freshly baked croissants and danish are impossible to resist. “Donuts N Things” is presided over by La Vyrne, a 6′ 2″  force to be reckoned with whose outfits defy description. La Vyrne is a black,  trans-gendered person who is half-way through her journey of sex change. She has a rich benefactor in the city who is paying for her surgery and she is taking a break from her medical procedures to spend summer by the sea.  Mornings do not find her at her best. Bright light is her born enemy and La Vyrne’s over-use of a pale-colored pancake make-up give her a Morticia look that is enough to cure the fiercest hang-over. To give La Vyrne her due, when night falls and she has had the time to put herself right,  she becomes the toast of the local clubs. Bathed in soft lights, with purple  eye-shadow and the right recreational drugs, she morphs into a fierce disco queen rivaled by none.

So that,  in a nutshell, is Cherry Grove, a rather strange mixture of Norman Rockwell, Studio 54 and the Addams Family. A mile or two down the road,  through a forest aptly named the Meat Rack for what goes on there, lies The Pines, an affluent redoubt that is young and almost exclusively male. The real estate  reflects the wealth; there are private swimming pools and mansions peer over high walls. Broadway legends retreat there on holiday.Young specimens with  oiled, shaved, “buff” bodies parade the boardwalk, engaging in The Pines’ favorite passtime: seeing and being seen.

One summer not long ago, I rented a wildly over-priced apartment in Cherry Grove for the May – September season, Memorial Day to Labor Day being the window of time for the beach. May-June was windblown and cool, with nights becoming delightfully chilly; high summer, from July into September, brought baking hot sun and refreshing breeze; some people even lingered for Thanksgiving on Fire Island. Harder to get to by boat by that time of year with local provisioning almost non-existent in November, I was told those Fire Island Thanksgivings resembled what one could imagine the first Thanksgiving was like in Plymouth  in 1620.

Inspite of the film-set  atmospherics, the envigorating weather, the shimmering beach and the tasty baked goods served up by statuesque La Vyrne  at “Donuts N Things”, I found Fire Island a sad, mean place populated mostly  by selfish, angry people whose negativity feeds on their insecurities.  The chemistry in restaurants was short-tempered  and the prices gouging. Socializing was problematic. With so many “categories”  and cliques having drawn their lines in the sand – young and male, middle-aged and lesbian, wealthy and professional versus working -class and un-educated, I was at a loss as to how I should navigate to find some human rapport.

Sadly, at the end of those four, overpriced months,  I had made almost no friends and found the place boring and mean-spirited inspite of  the natural beauty and the envigorating weather. I suppose my solititude should not have been a problem since my goal that summer was to take myself to the beach and write a book.  But the loneliness and lack of positive  vibrations made me realize that no man is an island, that we need at least a modicum of human support from fellow beings to function successfully.

Even my final moments on Fire Island left a bad taste in my mouth. Standing at the boat dock waiting for the ferry to take me back to the mainland at the end of the season, I realized I had forgotten to take my prescription medications. I entered the pier-side snack bar and asked the bartender for a cup of water so I could take my meds. He hissed back at me, “Honey, if ya want water, ya gotta buy it!” As luck would have it, I had no money with me and there was no ATM nearby to replenish my empty pockets. I ended up swallowing the pills dry and almost choking on them.

So much for the joys and friendship of  gay communities. Good riddance, Fire Island, may you sink, snarling and hissing, into the sea !

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