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literature

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Folklore  
 
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Koertge layers stereotypes of gay men's preoccupation with sex with those of the lecherous nature of supposedly celibate priests who prey on rather than pray with their parishioners to question the value of religion and to suggest an incompatibility between homosexuality and Christianity.

In a subsequent passage, she turns her wit to stereotypes of lesbians.

Sponsor Message.

   The mike crackled. "Good evening, all you lovely dykes!" A roar of approval. "Kiss the womyn sitting next to you--" Giggles. "Go on." Confused hugs. "Did you check to see if she had grease under her fingernails?" Absolute shrieks. "Well, if she did, please send her right over to the Transport tent. Rubyfruit is having some ignition problems, but I'm sure if someone with a little knowhow will just twiddle with her plugs--she has eight of them you know." Laughter building to applause.

Beginning with the stereotype of lesbians as women who pursue "masculine" occupations, in this case automobile repair, Koertge creates the metaphor of lesbian woman as a powerful engine that simply needs the right woman to overcome her ignition problems--that is, to turn her over or to turn her on--perhaps by manipulating her sparkplug-nipples.

Sharing Stories to Strengthen Bonds

Sharing stories is a method of strengthening bonds and emphasizing the closeness of a relationship. Explaining esoteric aspects of gay or lesbian life to heterosexual friends can be an especially meaningful sign of trust.

For example, in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (1978), Michael Tolliver, a gay character, signifies his intimacy with his straight friend Brian Hawkins by acceding to Brian's request for an explanation of cock rings. Michael concludes his explanation with a story:

   I used to know this guy . . . a very proper stockbroker, in fact . . . who wore one all the time. But he soon got cured of that. . . . He had to fly to Denver for a conference, and they caught him when he passed through the metal detector at the airport.

In illustrating a potential risk of wearing a cock ring, Michael relates a contemporary legend--a localized, supposedly true story set in the recent past. The teller usually asserts that the events actually happened to a friend of a friend.

Gay Folk Legends

Legends are often cautionary tales. This one depicts the presumably humiliating public revelation of a man's use of sexual toys. The implicit warning is that sexual accouterments are best kept at home, behind closed doors.

Tony Fennelly uses another widely known legend from the gay male subculture as the basis of her mystery novel The Glory Hole Murders (1985). Police Lieutenant Frank Washington, investigating a particularly gruesome murder, dryly lists the facts of the case:

   There are ten toilet booths. And each one has a hole in the wall. . . . The men signal one another from inside the booths and then have sexual contact through the holes. . . . After the deceased had put his penis through the hole, presumably in the hope of a relationship . . . some person or persons unknown thrust a long, thin object through it vertically. Sort of a giant hat pin.

Versions of this story about the risks of anonymous, semipublic sex have been circulating since the 1950s, if not earlier. The story warns that if one does not know who his partner is, he could be harmed or even killed.

The Tradition of the Sad Ending

Popular belief has long held that there is no such thing as a "happy homosexual." Conceding to this notion, authors often killed their primary gay and lesbian characters to make their books more palatable to publishers.

This traditional plot strategy apparently originated with Teleny (1893), the pornographic novel attributed to the Oscar Wilde circle, and with Alfred J. Cohen's A Marriage Below Zero (1899).

Hall echoes the tradition in The Well of Loneliness. After suffering a life of poverty and illness, Barbara MacDonald dies; her lover, Jamie, then commits suicide. At the end of the novel, the feminine Mary Llewellyn is redeemed by Martin Hallam, leaving Stephen in despair.

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