:: Article

When Libido Ran Wild

By Bruce Benderson.

To You, My Readers:

Contrary to what some deranged gay activists are now saying, the only thing the word “gay” refers to is what you do with your dick and your mouth and your asshole. Otherwise we guys who fuck asses and burp sperm eat the same foods you do. Our sphincters work the same as yours. We just know how to relax them when we want to.

But one thing about us that’s a little bit different from the rest of you is our bars. A lot of you straight people go to bars to get drunk or watch baseball on television or sing karaoke or talk about books. We go to bars mostly to get our asses worked over. Sometimes we even suck cock right there in the bars. A good share of our bars have porn films playing right up there on the TV screen. We even have a few bars where we whip each other or lick each other’s boots.

The last hot gay bar in New York disappeared in the late 90s right before Mayor Giuliani announced he had prostate cancer. While he was peeing radioactive pellets and slowly turning into a eunuch, his Gestapo was closing all the good hustler bars and all the good backroom bars and chasing every decent transvestite hooker from Times Square. So what’s left to write about when it comes to literature and gay bars? Not a fucking thing. What’s there to write about an endless throng of white faggots with gym bodies and shaved balls wearing tight tee shirts and dancing to mindless house music on Ecstasy? Not anything I can think of.

Unless I’ve missed something, there hasn’t been one good book about fags and their bars for quite a few years now. That’s a major break with tradition, since in generations past some of the best American literature was written by horny faggots and their search for dick in New York’s bars. Perhaps you’re familiar with some of that classic dick-chasing literature to which I’m referring. In the 1950s, William Burroughs wrote about the search for dick in his groundbreaking novel Queer, and in the early 60s John Rechy’s novel City of Night followed a hot, alienated hustler through the streets, beds and bars of Times Square and the rest of the country.

I think we’re getting to a theory here. When cock-sucking and ass-fucking were illegal activities, writers who couldn’t get enough dick put themselves through all kinds of risks and dangers. So what they wrote about was inspired. Those were the days when gay bars could get raided. But when they didn’t, they had good Mafia management who created a place where libido could run wild.

Don’t believe the hype about the infamous Stonewall bar being an oppressive place where sad homosexuals had to hide from police oppression and where Mafia bosses exploited their desperation. Any illegal bar run by the Mafia always has the hottest, most inspiring atmosphere. And excitement, risk and underground activity are what makes the best writing. The Mafia may have created a lot of heartache in our cities, but we owe them a debt for having created such good illicit bars, which were at the basis of a lot of good American literature.

As for me, I probably wouldn’t have written a decent sentence if I hadn’t discovered Times Square and the hot Puerto Rican hustlers who came down from the South Bronx to frequent its mostly Mafia-owned bars. You see, the other ingredient of good literature is class “penetration”. If you sit on your ass all day writing stories about infidelity at the local university, you’ll end up like the poet of the American suburbs, John Updike. But those who write about encounters with other classes, other worlds have found the secret of exciting narratives. All the tensions of class encounters make for some fucking good reading.

The first and most famous Times Square bar I ever went to was called the Haymarket. It was a big, sprawling place on Eighth Avenue with cheap drinks, a long bar counter, booths you could sit in and a big pool table. In those days, a lot of the hustlers were poor white kids. Since the minimum drinking age in those days was 18 (rather than today’s 21), there was some very young trade in there. The place was pulsing with young testosterone and horny old men willing to spend the $20 on some fresh meat.

One of the best novels about that scene was written by a guy named Paul Rogers. It’s a novel called Saul’s Book, which tells the story of an angelic but fucked-up Puerto Rican hustler-junkie and his Jewish john-daddy who is a reader of Shakespeare and a forger of checks. When the book was published around 1980, it won a prestigious literary prize called the Pushcart. Everybody thought that Paul Rogers was a social worker who had learned about that sleazy world of hustlers through his altruistic profession. It turned out, however, that Rogers was just like his character Saul. He was a drug addict and a con man with a taste for young trade. The love of his life — a fucked up white kid with a learning disability and a drug habit — eventually bludgeoned him to death. And Rogers was dead before he could even write a second novel.

One other very talented guy was linked to the Haymarket scene. There was Alan Bowne, who wrote the play Forty Deuce. “Forty Deuce” means Forty-Second Street in street lingo. The play got rave reviews on Broadway and was one of the first starring roles of a twenty-year-old Kevin Bacon. Later Paul Morrissey, of Warhol fame, made a magnificent movie of Forty Deuce, but the film was never released. Forty Deuce tells the story of a group of hustlers who end up with the corpse of a twelve-year old boy in the bed of the hotel room they use to turn tricks. They plot to pin the death on a very bourgeois john by slipping him angel dust. But there’s a happy ending to the story.

When I came to Times Square, John Rechy, Paul Rogers and Alan Bowne had already paved the way for me and the books I would write about it. But let me make one thing clear. I didn’t start hanging out in Times Square because I wanted to write about it. I guess only a journalist would do that. Those guys are used to picking a subject that will make them a few bucks whether they’re inspired by it or not. No, I didn’t go to Times Square to write. I went there cause I wanted to fuck straight guys.

You see, most of the hustlers in Times Square were straight. At this point, the majority were Puerto Rican. And they were very poor. Getting their dick sucked was a lot easier for some of them than robbery or drug dealing. They figured it was no big deal getting their cock sucked. I wish more of you straights were like that. All they had to do was stand there while some very experienced cocksucker gave them an ace blow job. It’s true that some of them with fancy drug habits had to learn to suck dick themselves, but in general their performance wasn’t very inspired.

I hope my readers can understand this concept. For a straight Latin or North African or other Mediterranean type sticking your cock in a guy’s mouth or ass isn’t considered gay. The only thing that makes you a faggot is if you yourself take it up the ass. O.K., some of them did, but they were high.

O’Neal’s, on 48th Street, was the bar that took the place of the defunct Haymarket. It was a two-room affair with a little garden at the back. The manager was a handsome laid-back Greek named Alex. Murphy, a big bearded guy who looked like a Hell’s Angel, and who’d been the bouncer at the old Stonewall, was at the door. Later somebody said he was a police informer. Now Murphy’s gone. He died of AIDS.

Some of my best memories come from hanging out in O’Neal’s in the mid-eighties. South Bronx hustlers, doctors and fashion designers, runaway kids, drag queens, drug dealers and the homeless all frequented the place. Around 1986, crack hit the streets. People were puffing on glass pipes (known as devil’s dicks) in the garden at O’Neal’s. There was a lot of brawling. One guy got gutted by a knife. I’ll never forget the day this one gigantic hustler got mad cause he lost a pool game. He picked up one end of the pool table and overturned it. It went crashing through the plate glass doorway.

It was in O’Neal’s that I first became fascinated with the speech and minds of street people. Sure I liked sucking their dicks, caressing their tattoos made in jail, kissing their scars and sleeping with them in my arms. But I was also trying to figure out what gave them their courage and coolness, what wisdom they had that none of us educated folks could ever master. After a while, I found myself imitating the way they talked, and that was when I began writing stories about them. Luckily, I was no idiot. I never lost sight of the fact that I came from a bourgeois background and could never think entirely like they did. So when I wrote fiction about Times Square, I was always careful to include some middle class characters. I wrote about the collisions — sometimes absurd and sometimes tragic — between the classes.

One other deeply inspiring place was Sally’s. It was a transvestite/transsexual bar on 43rd Street near 8th Avenue. After it burned down, Sally, the sometimes-transvestite owner, moved his operations to the Carter Hotel. The majority of the “girls” in Sally’s weren’t weekend “trannies”. They lived full time as females and were in various stages of the transformation. All of them had tits, but a lot of them hadn’t cut their dicks off yet. Most of them were professional lip-synchers. They could do Whitney, Barbara, or Sade better than those original singers could do themselves.

There was a fairly heavy chemical trade going on in the place, too. You could buy hormones from Europe along with the crack, dope and weed being sold. Every once in a while, a sex change from Philadelphia who worked for a doctor would come up with a shipment of loose silicone. She’d set up shop on somebody’s kitchen table, and the girls would pay her for silicone shots to round out their asses, thighs, cheeks or other body parts. It wasn’t the healthiest thing they could do. Loose silicone sends the body into emergency drive. After an injection some of the girls would have to lay up for a day or two until the fever and pain subsided.

I can’t say that the girls of Sally’s were overly fascinated by me. I wasn’t a trannie chaser and I wasn’t faggy enough to be one of their “daughters”. So why did I keep hanging out there? The answer was simple. I was into the trannies’ boyfriends. Transexuals and transvestites attract the most masculine men that exist. Think about it. Not only do they have to be heterosexual enough to dig a woman, they also have to be macho enough to control a man. The problem was, most of the trannies’ boyfriends weren’t into somebody like me, who looked too much like a man. There was, however, one notable exception. They called him Izod, after the shirt.

Izod was a light-skinned Puerto Rican with a beautiful pompadour, slightly Asian eyes and massive shoulders. He pretty much had his rhythms down to a science. He’d get a trannie and a john to support him at the same time. With the money he’d develop a major crack habit. Sooner or later, the habit would land him in jail. Then he’d cool out, gain weight and come back on the street.

Crack habit and all, I did everything in my power to get Izod to move in with me. When he finally said yes, I met him at a bar where he left all his bags with me. All he said he needed was forty dollars to pay a dealer in the hotel across the street. Otherwise, they were going to waste his ass. I gave Izod the forty and waited with his bags for him to come back from that hotel. Only problem was, he never did. Once he paid the forty back, the dealer treated him to a few free tokes. Before he knew it, he had smoked enough crack to become the dealer’s slave again. I saw him on the corner about three days later. He was dealing, too.

Both Sally, the club owner, and Izod were big inspirations to me. Composites of both appear in my novel User.

Well, that’s about it for the subject of gay bars and gay writing.

Bruce Benderson is the first American to win France’s prestigious literary prize, the Prix de Flore. He is the author of two books of fiction, User and Pretending to Say No, and a memoir, The Romanian, as well as a book-length essay Towards the New Degeneracy. He has translated authors including Robbe-Grillet and Nelly Arcan from the French.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 9th, 2005.