Friday, December 30, 2011

Queer Fish Now Available

I woefully neglected this blog in the autumn, but I'm hoping to do more with it in 2012. But before the year ends here's a little self-promotion.

Queer Fish is now available. Brought to you by the nice people at Pink Narcissus press, Queer Fish is an anthology of speculative gay fiction, including one by yours truly called "The Hollow Hills of New Hampshire." It's about what happens when a modern urban gay guy inherits a brownie. No, not a little Girl Scout or a chocolate pastry, but an ancestral spirit from Scottish folklore! Needless to say supernatural hijinks ensue.

Queer Fish has lots of other great stories, including the very raunchy but funny "Mike Dies at the End (A Parody)" by W2, "Welcome to Anteaterland" by Nathaniel Fuller, and the tear-jerking "The Golem of Rabbi Loew" by Johnny Townsend.

Since I'm giving kudos to other authors, I don't feel guilty now about the self-promotion.

I'm hoping to have another story published soon, but I'm waiting to hear from the editor. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Have a happy New Year!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Brief History of Gay Werewolves: Part 1, the Ancient World

I have to confess, one of my favorite movies of all time is The Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf.

I can't explain it, but something about this supremely cheesy movie really connects with me on a deep level. Maybe it's the basic premise - 1980s B movie superstar Sybil Danning is Stirba, the queen of the werewolves and she's hell-bent on world domination! Maybe it's the authentic Transylvanian settings combined with the low budget Hollywood faux punk rock fashion. Or maybe it's the catchy theme song, performed by a band called Babel. The howling punk rocker in the wrap around glasses really takes me back to my youth.

One thing very memorable about The Howling II is that it features a bisexual werewolf menage a trois between Stirba and a male and female minion. That's not something you'll see in any of the Twilight movies!

Hollywood generally portrays werewolves as physical monsters and lycanthropy as an infectious disease. One minute you're walking along the moors, minding your own business, and then - bam! You're bitten by a werewolf, strange hair grows on your body, and you start running around naked and attacking people. Sexual metaphor, anyone?

The real origins of the werewolf lie in ancient male initiations and in shamanic practices. Many all-male societies throughout history have identified with the power and strength of predatory animals. The leopard men of West Africa, and the berserkers ('bear shirts") and ulfhednar ("men clad in wolf skins") from Norse societies are just a few examples.

Shamans and witches across the world are able to travel in animal form, although it is usually their soul that is roaming abroad as an animal, not their physical body. For example, Norse legends tell how warriors' spirits would battle in the shape of bears or walruses while their bodies slept at home. In folktales, many witches meet their doom when their animal soul is accidentally killed by a hunter. And in 1692, a Livonian man named Thiess confessed he was a werewolf, but claimed he and the other werewolves traveled to Hell to battle evil witches for the fertility of the crops. Clearly, some ancient shamanic practices for a long time.

Werewolves make their earliest appearance in Greek mythology when King Lycaon of Arcadia murders his son Nyctimus, and then tries to feed him to Zeus in an attempt to discredit the god. Outraged, Zeus resurrects Nyctimus and turns Lycaon and his men into wolves. There may be a hidden gay theme here because in many Greek myths resurrection is a metaphor for homosexual initiation. For example, in a very similar story, King Tantalus kills his son Pelops and tries to feed him to the gods. They resurrect Pelops, but when he comes back from the dead he's so incredibly handsome that Poseidon takes him for a lover. Did something similar happen between Zeus and Nyctimus? The myths don't say, but I have my suspicions.

Lycaon turned into a wolf! Is the naked guy Nyctimus?

You would think the Arcadians learned their lesson, but it was rumored they still practiced human sacrifice in historic times.  A small piece of human flesh would allegedly be placed into a large pot of stew, and the man that accidentally ate it would be transformed into a wolf for nine years. If he abstained from eating human flesh during that time he would regain his original form. Around 400 BC, a former werewolf named Damarchus was declared the champion boxer at the Olympic games. I have no evidence that Damarchus was gay, but the Greeks did celebrate homosexuality and athletes competed naked and covered in oil. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

Naked men and wolves also featured heavily in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated in mid-February each year until the Roman church outlawed it in the fifth century AD.

To celebrate this winter holiday, the Romans sacrificed a dog to the wolf-god Lupercus. This happened in the same cave where a she-wolf suckled the orphans Romulus and Remus, the mythic founders of Rome. Afterwards, young noblemen ran naked through the streets, striking women with bloody strips of dog skin to promote fertility.

Hercules and admirers.

The Romans had observed for Lupercalia for centuries, but weren't quite sure why they did it nude.  The sassy poet Ovid had an answer - it was ordained by the god Pan (who may have been Lupercus by another name).

According to Ovid, in the distant past Pan lusted after the voluptuous queen Omphale. One night he crept into a tent where she was sleeping with her love slave, Hercules. But when Pan ran his hands up under Omphale's dress, he got a surprise: Hercules and the queen had engaged in some cross-dressing, and he was really groping Hercules. Not being fond of rape, Hercules literally kicked Pan out of the tent. Pan skulked off into the hills.

Since that time, Pan has demanded his worshippers be naked so he wouldn't be surprised at what he was grabbing. Strangely, this Roman holiday of blood sacrifice, nude road races and drag queen musclemen gradually was transformed into our modern Valentine's Day.

So, in the ancient world there were wolves, werewolves, gay sex, and gender variance. Surprisingly, it's in the Middle Ages where all these things come together and gay werewolves have their heyday. I'll discuss that in my next post.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Wind and The Rain: Gay Pagan Shakespeare

As Hurricane Irene churns her way north towards New England, my mind drifts to a song from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, "Hey, Ho, The Wind and The Rain." I suppose in my youth I would have preferred the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane", but as  I get older I prefer the classics.

Here's Ben Kingsley performing "Hey Ho..." from a 90s film version.

When I was in college I took a full year of Shakespeare. I really enjoyed it, but I remember finding the dialogue a little tough to follow. Now that I'm older I like Shakespeare even more, and strangely find the dialogue much easier to understand. I suppose I just have twenty-five more years of reading comprehension under my belt.

I also appreciate Shakespeare in a different way now. As a teen, I was drawn to the tragedies. Blood! Guts! Curses! Revenge! Now, I like the romances and comedies. Love. Sex. Mistaken Identity. Redemption. Forgiveness.

Shakespeare's plays are full of pagan references. Classical mythology was an essential part of education in the Renaissance, so as a result we find Hecate, Jupiter, Diana, Ceres, Juno and Iris as characters in his works. The rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream perform an ancient Roman tragedy for Theseus, the mythical king of Athens, and his Amazonian wife. Orlando in As You Like It is compared to Hercules, and the Romans celebrate Lupercalia in Julius Caesar. The list goes on.

Shakespeare was also the first author to mention Herne the Hunter, in The Merry Wives of Windsor. This antlered ghost is acknowledged as an aspect of the Horned God by many pagans and Wiccans, but Merry Wives is also full of fairies dancing under oak trees and small-town witches.

Merry Wives has some cross-dressing in it, as do so many of his plays. In As You Like It, Orlando falls in love with Rosalind disguised, significantly, as a young man named Ganymede, and Viola's disguise as her allegedly dead brother Sebastian causes sexual confusion among the Illyrian gentry in Twelfth Night.

The same play features one of Shakespeare's few clearly gay characters: Antonio, a heroic sea-captain in love with Viola's brother Sebastian. Sadly, he doesn't get his man at the end. Another Shakespearean Antonio, the titular character in The Merchant of Venice, seems to be in love with a younger man. He doesn't get his man either. What's going on here? The final Antonio appears in The Tempest, where he is Prospero's evil usurping brother. His partner in crime? A nobleman named Sebastian.

I wonder if Shakespeare was trying to work out some issues through Antonio. I sometimes think of all three Antonios as the same character at different stages in his life - openly loving and heroic, closeted and melancholy, and finally just bitter and evil. It's not a great trajectory. Perhaps there's some lost Shakespeare play that describes how Antonio wins Sebastian's heart. If not, someone should write it!

So you don't become bitter and evil like Antonio, here's a great scene from visionary Derek Jarman's film of The Tempest. Watch out girls, it's stormy weather! I love the sailors, and singer Elizabeth Welch filling the role played originally by three goddesses.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dancing In A Cave

The ancient Greeks told a story that went something like this:

A long, long time ago, the great goddess Rhea gave birth to Zeus, who was destined to become king of the gods. During her contractions Rhea clawed at the earth in pain. Magically, five beautiful men emerged from the grooves her fingers made in the soil.

It had been foretold that Rhea's brother/husband Kronos would be overthrown by his children, and he had already eaten Zeus's five older siblings to prevent this prophecy from coming true. Rhea was determined that her final child wouldn't be consumed, so she deceived Kronos and presented him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, claiming it was her newborn son. Greedily, Kronos swallowed it without opening the cloth.

Rhea hid baby Zeus in a cave, and instructed the five beautiful earth-born men to guard him. They were armed with swords and shields, but never used them for violence. Instead, they used them when they danced.

Even though he was a god, Zeus was just a baby and sometimes screamed and cried. To prevent Kronos or other malevolent forces from hearing the divine baby, and to keep him entertained, the men would dance inside the cave, singing, chanting and clashing their swords and shields as they moved in ecstasy.

A Korybant dancing over the infant Zeus.

These dancing demi-gods were known by several names: Korybantes or Kuretes ("the youths"), or the Daktyls ("fingers"). Some Greek writers claimed these were all distinct groups of deities incorrectly being lumped together, while others felt they were all the same deities. Their entry at gives you a good idea of how ancient writers viewed the dancers.

In addition to protecting baby Zeus, the Korybantes also protected the divine infants Dionysos and Zagreus. They helped Minos locate his missing son Glaucus, who had fallen into a giant vat of honey. These divine dancers also taught humankind the arts of dancing, music, metallurgy and magic, much like the fallen angels do in the ancient Jewish Book of Enoch. Some writers also claim that the Korybantes were transformed into lions and pull the chariot of the goddess Cybele. The contemporary scholar Walter Burkert notes that many cities in ancient Greece had societies of sacred male dancers who identified themselves with the Korybantes and enacted their role in rituals.

A few weeks ago I was in Provincetown and went dancing at a late night party in a bar's basement. The ceiling was low, the lighting was dim, and the music was a wordless throb. The room was full of men, some shirtless, some in crazy drag, and almost all of them dancing. I spent the night on the dance floor, dancing with friends and just dancing in the crowd.

Still dancing in the cave?
 I've gone to a lot of gay dance clubs in my life, and every now and then something clicks and I'm transported into a deeper realm. This was one of those nights. Sure, I was really in a seedy room with cheap decorations, but for a few hours we had broke through the wall separating our mundane world from the spiritual one that hides just out of sight.

That night, I was dancing in a cave with other semi-divine beings. We were the ancient earth-born men, working our magic through music and motion.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Are the Smurfs Queer Pagans? Part Two!

3. Smurfette.

For further proof of the Smurfs' queer pagan nature, look no further than Smurfette.


The lone female Smurf, she was created by villainous wizard Gargamel from clay to cause discord among the male Smurfs. Happily Papa Smurf foiled his plan by giving her a magical make-over, changing Smurfette's hair from black to blonde, and her personality from evil to good.

If you ignore the tired old "black hair = evil" trope, this story is basically a reworking of the Prometheus and Pandora myth.

According to Greek mythology, in the primordial past Zeus and his siblings waged war against the Titans, the older generation of gods. Zeus won and kicked most of the Titans into the deepest underworld, but spared a few, including Prometheus, whose name means "forethought."  Prometheus populated the world by creating men out of clay.

Prometheus making men out of clay. Athena looks on skeptically.

It's important to note that Prometheus only made males, not females.  (There are also some myths that relate how Prometheus made homosexuals, but they deserve a post of their own.) Zeus later punished Prometheus and mankind for stealing fire by creating the first woman, Pandora, who carried a box that contained all the world's evils.

The ancient mythographers didn't specify Smurfette's hair color or if she had blue skin, but I think it's clear that Smurfette is the modern Pandora. The Pandora and Smurfette stories both are a little misogynistic, don't you think?

4. Vanity Smurf

The queerest of the Smurfs by far is Vanity Smurf. I'm sure the comic's author wanted to call him Gay Smurf but was warned against it by his publishers. Vanity Smurf is overly concerned with his appearance, loves clothing, and speaks in an effete manner. He also carries a mirror and wears a flower in his hat.

Work it girl! Show those other Smurfs how to wear a hat!

The name, the mirror and the flower identify Vanity Smurf with Narcissus, another important figure in Greek mythology.

Many people are familiar with Ovid's story about Narcissus, where the handsome man Narcissus spurns the nymph Echo. She asks the gods to punish him, and they cause him to fall in love with his reflection in a pool. He ultimately wastes away into a flower, and Echo wastes away until she's only a voice.

Damn! I look gooood!

It's a pretty story, but there's an earlier and gayer version. According to the poet Conon, Narcissus was a handsome young man who was pursued by multiple men but ignored them all. One particularly persistent wooer named Ameinias refused to give up, until Narcissus finally sent him a sword with a note telling him to end his life. Harsh! Ameinias killed himself, but with his dying breath prayed for the love god Eros to punish Narcissus.

His prayer was answered. While hunting in the woods Narcissus sees his reflection in a spring. He falls in love with his own unobtainable image. Realizing that he's being punished for his behavior towards Ameinias, Narcissus kills himself. The narcissus flower emerges from his blood. 

The narcissus flower shows up in many places in Greek mythology. For example, Persephone is lured into the underworld by a large narcissus, the Furies wear it in their crowns, and it grows in Nysa, the mystic land where the wine god Dionsysos was born. Clearly, it has some powerful occult connotations!

Could Vanity Smurf be wearing a narcissus in his hat? It seems very likely. I wouldn't mess with this Smurf - maybe he can access the occult powers of the narcissus!

So, are the Smurfs queer pagans? Maybe, maybe not. Honestly, I don't think the new Smurf movie is going to be a gay pagan love fest. But I do think that ancient pagan themes pervade our pop culture, and queer imagery does too, if you know where to look.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Are the Smurfs Queer Pagans? Part One!

Although I'm too old to have watched the Smurfs when they first appeared on TV, I have always found them fascinating. Something about all those shirtless blue men living in loving harmony set off my gaydar.

In case you haven't heard, a new Smurf movie is being released later this month. My curiosity about these creatures, long dormant, has reawakened. Are the Smurfs queer? And on top of that, are they pagan as well?

Let's review the evidence.

Feeling Smurfy in a Phrygian cap!

1. Choice of headwear. 

The Smurf hat has a long and rich history. Technically known as the Phrygian cap, it can be traced back to Phrygia, and ancient kingdom in the area now occupied by Turkey, and home of famous city of Troy. The Phrygians were well-known around the Mediterranean for their peaked caps that drooped in the front.

Two major ancient deities are also identified with this hat.

The first is Attis, the lover/consort of the Phrygian goddess Cybele.

Bust of the god Attis

There are many conflicting myths about Attis, but my favorite tells how Zeus, while taking a nap, accidentally inseminates a rock. The rock gives birth to a giant super-strong hermaphrodite named Agdistis, who causes a lot of trouble. The gods trick Agdistis into castrating him/herself, and a tree grows from his severed phallus. Attis is born after a woman eats an almond from a tree that sprouts from the phallus. Attis grows up to be outrageously handsome and then falls in love with Agdistis, who may really be the goddess Cybele. Attis decides to marry a local princess, which so enrages Agdistis/Cybele that s/he disrupts the wedding and magically makes Attis castrate himself. He dies, Agdistis/Cybele mourns, Zeus causes a pine tree to grow from Attis's body, and decrees that his little finger (a euphemism!) will never die.

That myth's a real headspinner, and I don't need to point out the queer aspects. Definitely not something you'd see on an episode of the Smurfs. Attis was served by transgender priests called the galli.

Mithras slaying a bull.

The second god is Mithras, who was the object of an all-male mystery cult popular in the Roman Empire. Soldiers were particularly fond of him.

There were seven initiatory degrees in his cult, and the second degree was called "nymphus", which means "he-nymph." (Digression: I love that word! If I were a superhero that would be my name.) The he-hymphs were associated with the planet Venus, wore bridal veils, and served the higher levels. So, a little bit of cross-dressing is associated in my mind with the Phrygian cap.

2. Magic Mushrooms

The Smurfs live a in a village of mushrooms.

Smurf Village.

Mushrooms are well, you know, a little bit phallic. When a group of perpetually shirtless guys are living in phallic symbols, the neighbors are going to gossip. Who cares what those busybodies think?! Live your life the way you want to, Smurfs. You rock! Everyone's just jealous.

Fly agaric mushroom.

The spotted mushroom looks like a fly agaric mushroom, whose hallucinogenic properties were used by Siberian shamans to travel to the spirit world. (Note - Do NOT try this at home. Fly agaric is also poisonous.) Coincidentally, some powerful Siberian shamans were famous for being transgendered. I'm sure the Smurfs have a lot of shamanic power; I'm not sure if any are transgendered.

Next up: renegade Titans, Smurfette, and Narcissus!