One man's meat
Some twenty years ago, Boyd McDonald began publishing out of his apartment a journal of men's true, prodigiously explicit accounts of homosexual sex, entitled Straight to Hell - a.k.a. The Manhattan Review of Unnatural Acts, a.k.a. The New York Review of Cocksucking, and later - amid an alphabet soup of mainstream publications like GQ, W and HG - archly and elegantly styled S.T.H. Eventually McDonald, who dies in 1993 at the age of 68, edited the anonymous autobiographical letters to S.T.H. into more than a dozen books with titles such as Meat, Filth, Flesh, and Raunch. All were best-sellers in gay bookstores, somewhat to the embarrassment of the gay literati.
The essential democracy of the project is inspiring: Every man becomes his own Henry Miller, every sexualist his own Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is conventional to claim that smut makes weary reading, but the autobiographical accounts in S.T.H. are sprightly, involving, full of intense interest and detail, and offered without the tiresome self-justification of most writings at the margins of society. In contrast to most contemporary fiction, the memoirs in these collections are precise in their aims and entirely without affection in their style. McDonald developed a distinctive manner of titling his contributors' stories to parody the news items, so trenchantly that the editor's statement is made even before the autor begins to speak: "Baptist Boys Do It, As It Were, In Church"; "Typical 'Straight' Admits Weakness for Friend's Tongue"; "Youth Leaves Damp Underpants for Host to Sniff"; "The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Armpit-Sniffing."
These reminiscences are news that stays news. McDonald insisted that what he printed was not pornography, which for him meant the trite, self-conscious fantasies generated by guilt and timidity that were increasingly available in the 1970s and '80s through an increasingly commercial salacious press. He published The Truth, in a manner of a crusading journalist - a photographer without a camera - with the serious intention of assembling documentation of homosexual sex in its "classical" age, 1940-1980. The result is a kind of oral (as well as anal and genital) history, taking the reader into terrain at once strange and familiar: the unacknowledged corners of life where repression is not lifted, but exploded to bits. In contrast to pornographic fantasy, the meaning of every scene, scent and sensation in McDonald placed before his eager public is simply that, however american life has been represented in the official organs backed by business, state, and religion, such things actually do happen.
In effect, McDonald was not only a documentarian, but one of the great satirists of the age, if a satirist primarily by proxy. The needs and products of the body horrified Swift and disgusted Orwell; even to William Burroughs, they are a dark rather than joyful secret. But McDonald saw them as literally the essence of life, betrayed by the hipocrisy and pretensions of a society in which men are trained to seek power and reject love. The emblem of his stance is an illustration he once used in S.T.H.: a male nude with a with the caption, "I am not just a human being, I am a piece of meat." Through the sheer abundance of true stories, McDonald presents a picture of homosexual sex as a nearly universal male experience, in pointed contrast to the contemporary ideology of homosexuality as special identity. In the world of the S.T.H. book, every barracks shower is an orgy room; every Boy Scout jamboree is a festival of sexual initiation; every conservative politician and clergyman pays male hustlers for sex. Everything men do to bond or compete in sports, war and politics is a sublimation of, if not a substitute for, homosexual desire.
Just as the cutting-off point of the classical period at the start of the age of AIDS is no accident, neither is the writers' intention of getting the reader hot and bothered - providing, like phone sex and porn flicks, an alternative to the risks of in-person sex. This may help to explain what separates the S.T.H. books from the common run of heterosexual pornographic fantasy: not so much the obvious difference in subject matter and object of desire as the relation they establish between writer and reader. The relentless popular discussions of hetero porn lately focus on an imaginary relation, one between the consumer and the person - the woman - portrayed as a sexual object. The actual relation of the real partners in the pornographic communication - the sender and the receiver, the producer and the consumer - is generally ignored. It is for this reason that verbal and pictorial porn can be treated as functionally equivalent by advocates of censorship (as well as by free-speech advocates), when what really transpires in the two cases is so manifestly different. What we see in the war against pornography is an effort to slap the naughty consumer's hand (the one that he has free) and make him drop the manufactured fantasy before it warps his mind and stunts his growth. But the whole point of pornographic communication is that masturbation no longer becomes a solitary vice; the consumer of pornography is, in reality, never truly alone with his fantasies and hist fist.
Hetero porn is produced almost exclusively for men, and almost as exclusively by men. It is rarely, in actuality, a matter of women getting men hot, but of men getting men hot - by telling dirty stories about women, or presenting dirty pictures of women. Thus, the prudes are partly right to say that porn is essentially adolescent; its system of production and consumption is one great circle jerk. What they fail to recognize, however, is that this homosexual circle endures in adulthood not as a kind of arrested development, but as a perfectly ordinary factor in heterosexual response - an evidence by the way that male mammals of any species are aroused by each other's arousal, or by the bewildering emphasis on the "money shot" in pornographic films produced for the straight male consumer. (I have only recently learned that there are phone-sex lines on which straight men can swap heterosexual stories while they jack off; to a gay man, this seems not only titillating but truly queer.) The very real homosexual component in heterosexual relations is impossible to separate out, and the fantasy relation to a sexual object in verbal pornographic communication among men conceals an actual homosexual relation, mediated by the printed word. But that relation may never, ever be acknowledged.
It is at least possible that the notorious aggression towards women in heterosexual porn, far from being an entirely contextless display of men's violent fantasies about women, results from the repressed homosexual situation of heterosexual porn. It may be a matter of self-presentation in the homosexual circle, reflecting how both the producer and consumer want to be perceived by other men - especially in the intimate and vulnerable conditions of the pornographic communication. (This is not to say that this styled of pornography doesn't inspire men to degrade women and commit rape; I don't see how anyone, however committed to the freedom of expression, can deny that it does.) The emphasis on domination in heterosexual pornography is a whining attempt to find love - but the love of other men, the real partners in the sexualized relation of pornography, and not that of the imaginary subject of fantasy. In the first-person account of the S.T.H. books, the homosexuality of the writer-reader relation is openly acknowledged as the whole point of communication.
McDonald said that his mission was to replace pornography with smut - by which he meant to talk about sex that is truthful, idiosyncratic, and honest even about its own reason for being. Contemporary crusades against pornography focus single-mindedly on the eradication of certain kinds of representation that are deemed dangerous influences on attitudes and behaviors. They may well be; but to argue for repression is to neglect that in any struggle over ideas, falsehoods and fantasies do not yield to a determined silence, but to truth. For that reason, what we need is not a moratorium on any one kind of imagery or speech. What we need is more smut. (March 1994)
Welt, Bernard: One man's meat. In: Welt, Bernard: Mythomania. Fantasies, Fables and Sheer Lies in Contemporary American Popular Culture. Art Issues Press, 1996. pp. 58-62.
Straight to Hell (a/k/a The Manhattan Review of Unnatural Acts) is a living legend. Conceived and founded by cult writer Boyd McDonald in the early 1970s, it quickly gained a large following and underground notoriety due to a combination of graphic sexual content, radical politics and stinging wit. The unique concept of Straight to Hell remains unchanged: via a New York City P.O. box, readers are invited to send their accounts of true sexual experiences to the editor. Over the decades Straight to Hell has become an infamously comprehensive and uncensored library of homosexual practice and identity. The resulting series is a uniquely democratic and powerful collection of bizarre, funny, scary, and raunchy stories documenting the real and often embarrassing sex lives of a wide range of men - detailing a continuous chronology spanning nearly a century.
Exile is honored to inaugurate its residency space with an exhibition curated by current editor Billy Miller. Straight to Hell – In Cock We Trust presents an eclectic, and in some cases never before seen, selection of vintage and contemporary materials from the archives of Straight to Hell and the personal collection of Billy Miller. This particular exhibit is specifically not intended to be a historical overview over the complete story of the series, but rather a sample of the range of material featured in the pages of the magazine. Along with an exhibit of photography from Straight to Hell contributors, the show includes rare editions and ephemera - plus samples from edited anthologies, which will be made available for research during opening hours. Exile will also present a very special limited-edition artwork in honor of the occasion.
Participating Artists: Adam Kozik, Al Baltrop, Bob Mizer (A.M.G.), Brian Brennan (Latino Fan Club), Bruce La Bruce, Dan Acton, Darren Ankenbauer (Handbook Magazine), David Hurles (Old Reliable), Gary Indiana, Jan Wandrag, Janine Gordon, Joe Ovelman, Michael Alago, Michael Economy, Nico Urquiza, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Rick Castro (Antebellum), Scott Hug, Slava Mogutin, Stash Buttinski, Steve LaFreniere, Walt Cessna, Will Munro, Xavier Stentz and others
Exile is organized in seasons consisting of three residency projects and one corresponding exhibition. Exile’s objective is to give selected artists the opportunity to come to Berlin and present themselves and their work to the public. Projects at Exile can range from curated exhibitions to artistic collaborations to site-specific installations. Visitors are invited to meet the artist and engage in his/her/their creative process.
By definition exile implies not just a loss but also the opportunity to create something new. It is a clean slate and a fresh start. Exile offers its space to develop and present artistic ideas and projects beyond expectations, limitations and margins. The use of the space during the residency solely depends on the resident artist’s practice and interests. Exile can be a temporary art studio, screening room, workshop, store, and/or gallery.
Exile is a private space that consists of two distinctly different areas that inform each other: The Ground Floor residence offers a four-week 100 sqm (about 1050 sqft) typical Berlin industrial warehouse space. This space is solely for the use of the resident artist. Here, he/she is invited to create independently according to his/her own creative and conceptual vision.
The third floor gallery space focuses on exhibitions of visual materials and artworks that connect, embed and contextualize current and historic artistic practices.
Exile is a public space. Regardless of its use, Exile will be open to the public during opening hours. The visitor will have the opportunity to engage in an artistic process and see, depending on the program, the resident’s work in progress. In the third floor gallery the visitor will have the chance to engage with the works on display in a more private and focused way. Further, each residency will be accompanied by a selection of public events according to the interests and practice of each resident. Such events can include openings and screenings as well as talks and panel discussions.
Exile is an open space. Exile encourages applications. There are no prerequisites or criteria to fulfill. There are no application forms, no fees and no deadlines. Exile will try to answer, as much as possible, all proposals in due time.
Alexandrinenstr 4, HH
D - 10969 Berlin
Contact: Christian Siekmeier
Opening Hours: Thu – Sat 12-6pm and by appointment
The Exile: Straight to Hell Special Edition (200 copies)
p.s. Hey. My rehearsals start early today, so I'll have to be kind of quick, my apologies. ** Hans Hütt, Hi. Welcome, and thank you a lot for commenting. I didn't know about that Fata Morgana book, and I'll see if I can seek it out. Thank you very much! ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh! Semiotext(e) just published a small Duvert book as part of their new Whitney Biennial edition. I know that at one point they had another Duvert novel in their plans, but I'm not sure what happened to it. ** David Ehrenstein, Me too, maestro. ** Sypha, Hi, James. Only one way to solve that weirdness. I did do a barium swallowing thing ages ago when I had acid reflux. It was ... okay. I'm glad you have the right attitude. ** Kier, Hi, K. I'm still waiting for my copy of 'A Sentimental Novel' to arrive in the mail, and the waiting is making me a little batty, ha ha. Let me know what you think. Yeah, with luck, the haunted ballet house film project will be really something. We're trying. ** les mots dans le nom, Hi. Oh, no problem, about the LA/SF thing. Hopefully someone will attempt the task of creating some kind of summary or overview at some point. I'm so sorry about your health issue. It sounds really scary, and, yeah, I'm so sorry. All the strength that can be to you. ** Steevee, It's very good: that Semiotext(e) book. I don't know 'The Double', or I mean I've never heard of it. Sounds, yeah, meh, I get you. Yes, Kim's Video going under is a very, very sad thing. ** Polter, Wow, hey! It's always such a joy to see you, my pal! Awesome! It sounds you have more spring than we do down here. It's still pretty wavery between winter/spring, very indecisive. It's kind of nice, though. You went to Berlin! I'm, like, I don't know, something like an hour (?) from there today. Cool! You're in a home of your own and hooked up, roommate-wise, with an American! We're weird: Americans, to be ridiculously general, or to parrot the somewhat common generalizing view of Americans over here. 'Our' enthusiasms are, I don't know ... I mean, I get why people find the kind of enthusiasms that American have and hold and spread so wide and seemingly randomly and drop like a hot potato so often would seem ... something. Unserious? I don't know, ha ha. Paris is green, I think. I have that sense memory of it too when I'm away from it like I am right now. I'm really good, thanks. I'm up to a ton of projects. Two film projects with my friend Zac, one of them with Gisele. A new theater piece, which is why I'm in Germany at the moment. A novel. Tangential involvement in a film being made of Gisele's my theater piece Jerk'. And other stuff. Really busy. I think I'm into all kinds of new things. Or I feel like it. Too many to try to list in my scramble to do the p.s. this morning. Favorite color? Wow, maybe I'm into this particular shade of green right now that, hm, I can't describe. You? Flavor? Bean paste. That's my favorite flavor now. I've gotten into cold coffee. I used to not like it at all. Okay, I'd better run, oops, the time, but, gee, it's so wonderful to see you You're so great! Make your next trip down south to Paris maybe? Please? Lots of love, me. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Huh, that's too bad about RAW. That more is less thing is a lesson to be learned even by the artists behind the WWE. The Japanese bill is in my wallet as I type. Poor LPS, but, man, you're teaching the way, and that's so good, man. ** Rewritedept, I don't recommend talking to parents on acid. I think I just got incredibly lucky. P-funk might be kind of way too old and dyed in the wool to see at this point, but then if you've never seen them, what choice do you have? I'm just older than you. More accumulation, and more stuff to compare and contrast, probably. I'm not in Berlin, I'm in Halle, small city near Leipzig. It goes well. I like the Coen brothers. I can't think of any film by them that I haven't liked to some degree or another. Cool about the post, a three-parter, sounds great! Thanks so much! ** Okay, I have to zoom. I'm late. Hope you can get into this old post marking the thing and history of the legendary STH. Give it a shot. See you less speedily tomorrow.