Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

A chilling blast from the gay past

It was common practice in the 1950s for police departments to issue films to scare young people into appropriate behavior. Many of these, like the ones about marijuana use, were so obviously exaggerated that they likely created more curiosity than fear.

Here is “Boys Beware,” one that typically equates pedophilia and homosexuality. Putting that absurd conflation aside, what I find particularly interesting is the narrator’s statement at one point that homosexuals aren’t visibly sick but do have a disease as “contagious” as any of the body.

This notion, that homosexuality is contagious grows out of the same conviction that makes it a sin specifically because it is so compelling. If you read even recent tirades against homosexuality by members of the religious right or those who have undergone “reparative therapy,” they almost always have this same subtext: that homosexuality is addictively pleasurable.

That’s why, as I’ve written before, Jerry Falwell marketed film of the Folsom Street Fair as a fundraising tool. He knew perfectly well that it provided a means for his good Christian followers to engage their prurience without guilt. I picture the menfolk sitting at home, with Bibles on their laps to hide their erections, while they gasp in horror at men in leather doing unspeakable things to one another.

Most gay men under 40 probably have very little sense of how inundated the culture was with this kind of message. For many over 40, films like these were literally the only place they saw homosexuality publicly mentioned. So, it’s not hard to figure why generations of gay men grew up pathologizing themselves.

Even the first semi-public gay rights group, the Mattachine Society, used to host speakers who advocated greater tolerance of homosexuality not because they viewed it as a legitimate form of love but because they thought it was a largely incurable illness.

Gay people don’t subscribe to these hateful narratives themselves so much any more — at least in urban areas — but they persist as cultural memories easily resurfacing whenever a handy scapegoat is needed.

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