"There's a lot about me you don't know."
Once upon a time, the gays didn’t have AIDS. This was a joyous time, post sexual revolution, where gay boys could be boys – and boys love to eff each other! One of the defining characteristics of the homosexual male is that he is, contrary to commercial stereotyping, a man. Men are overtly sexual. If given the opportunity to have casual sex in the back of an Albertsons supermarket, who wouldn’t? So, aside from dodging bricks and having your house set ablaze by Anita Bryant and her minions (America has not evolved in that regard), life as a gay male was well on its way to improving by the late 1970s. Gone were the days of wearing frocks and mincing around like minstrels and taking its place was a more masculine, confident ease of sexuality. Sporting mustaches, denim, and fitted flannel shirts, the gays of 1970s were hell bent on being defined by their more masculine attributes. Just bros helping bros – bros who happened to enjoy a late night Bette Midler show at the Continental Baths! However, in a Puritanical nation, such sexual freedom invariably comes with a cost. Your life! Diane Keaton learned that lesson in Looking for Mister Goodbar, and it was high time for the gays to learn that you can’t have it all!
In my twenties, the thing that kept me from being a whore was an underlying fear of serial killers. I was always sure that I’d go home with someone and find myself stapled to their floor while they cut out my internal organs and fed them to their Maltese. William Friedken, the mastermind behind The Exorcist (and no stranger to homosexuals, having made the grossly underrated Boys in the Band), saw what was going on with the gays having their free sex and dancing to their Donna Summer hits, and he made Cruising (1980) to teach us all a lesson.
Al Pacino plays an ordinary, gay-hating undercover cop who has to bury himself, ass-deep, in the world of Manhattan’s underground club scene to fish out a serial killer preying on multitudinous male libidos. Set in the meatpacking district (obvious pun intended), Cruising explores a city where the police are too busy getting BJs from tranny hookers to notice that a serial killer is plucking off the gays – not just killing them, but having sex with them and then dismembering their gay corpses. Pacino goes all kinds of method with his new job: he starts working out, stops eating bread, does poppers on the dance floor then he goes home and hate-fucks his thankless girlfriend (Karen Allen)… it doesn’t take Mister Wizard to get the impression that there’s more to this gig than just an undercover assignment! Al Pacino is going gay. He makes fast friends with his gay neighbor and he, along with the audience, learns that gay people are just like normal people – they have relationships, they eat at diners, they pay their rent, and they are scared of being slaughtered post-coitus.
Sex and trust go hand in hand. When someone can be inside you one moment, then turn around and cuts you into bits before you even have a chance to pull your pants back up, that’s terrifying! This breach of the unspoken contract between sex and trust combined with the fact that Friedken coyly intercuts scenes of violence with scenes of sexual penetration, makes Cruising really scary. Not only is Cruising a good horror movie, it is super gay, and not in a pandering or necessarily offensive way. Do all gays walk around with shit on their ass and carry briefcases full of sex toys and poppers? No, they do not. Does Cruising go out of its way to show the most perverse and twisted sides to a night at the club? Yes, it does. There are unnecessary bits (like a 300pound black man in a jockstrap coming into an interrogation room to slap Pacino and then leaving without a word), but at least Friedken made sure to depict men who were acting like men. Even the tranny prostitute/police informers are tough as nails. The scenes of man on man sex are surprisingly graphic and aggressive, not shying away from the sex and masculinity in homosexuality. Like it or not, there is a dichotomy between who we are at work and at brunch and who we are when we're having sexy times or staring down a guy on the subway platform. I actually love Cruising. It's a time capsule that showed how disenfranchised and misunderstood the gay community was, far ahead of its time.
One can’t help but wonder if AIDS had not come and ravaged the entire community – with mainstream America suddenly mortally afraid their gay friends as carriers of contagion, and having wiped out an entire generation of artists and activists - would we be in a better place now? Of course we would! However, AIDS necessitated our generation to be defined outside of who we have sex with. While still far too close in our mutual past to forget, I hope that we are approaching a new era in which our problems are fair taxation and dealing with the internal politics of making more money than our partners - not being pistol whipped by a cop for no reason or having our dicks cut off by repressed psychopaths with daddy issues.