DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Billy Miller, Christian Siekmeier, and Bernard Welt present … Straight to Hell — In Cock We Trust *

* (restored)
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One man’s meat
Bernard Welt

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Exhibition

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

http://straight-to-hell.net

 

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.

Exile
Alexandrinenstr 4, HH
D – 10969 Berlin

Contact: Christian Siekmeier
+49.176.83097626
info@thisisexile.com
http://www.thisisexile.com

Opening Hours: Thu – Sat 12-6pm and by appointment

 

 

The Exile: Straight to Hell Special Edition (200 copies)

O.o.p.

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*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein’s FaBlog takes on the chatter magnet du jour — aka the movie ‘Cats’ — in his inimitable style under the title What “Cats” Dragged In. ** Nick Toti, Thank you again so, so much, maestro! ** NLK, Hi, Nick, good to see you! That is a killer shot. Thanks for all the good words about Nick Toti’s work. I agree big time. Best holidays to you if you’re holidaying. ** megan boyle, Hi, Megan. So great to have you here, and I’m so happy to have your great work splashed all over this blog’s front pages. Respect to you! ** Steve Erickson, I’ve heard of that series but haven’t it. You? ** Thomas Moronic, Hi, T! I hope your Xmas break is paying off in creative and/or peace-providing dividends. ** Ferdinand, Hi. Uh, I’m pretty sure the German versions of those books and of all the Cycle novels in general used the English language titles, but my copies are in LA, so I can’t check right now to make sure. But I’m pretty sure. ** Okay. Here’s a triply guest-edited, formerly defunct post from way back in time for you. Can’t vouch for the survival of what’s on the other sides of the links, but here’s hoping. Enjoy, etc. Thanks. See you tomorrow.


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12 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post! Those STH zines, both original and in The Exile form, look very covetable indeed.

    My in-laws are away in Mauritius for their honeymoon, but at the weekend I got my brother this Frank Sidebottom Activity Book which is published by 1137 Enterprises, a company set up in accordance with Chris Sievey’s own wishes to preserve his legacy. Together we saw Frank live at Leeds City Varieties back in the day, and he appreciates the Xmas gift.

  2. The late, great and infinitely missed Dorothy Dean was a HUMONGOUS “Straight to Hell” fan. She reveled in Boyd MacDonald’s literary style and precise punctuation. That exhbit of STH material looks FABULOUS!

  3. THE SECOND HEIMAT is one of the best films I’ve seen about the 60s, with a cumulative power. But given its nature, I watched it on VHS over the course of 3 months. (Reitz keeps returning to the concept of HEIMAT, having made two more films in the series.)

    When I recently conducted an interview at Magnolia Pictures’ office (they distributed FRANK in the US), I saw that they placed the Frank Sidebottom head worn by Michael Fassbender in the film near the door.

  4. I would love to see that STH exhibit in Berlin. The gallery seems to have moved to Vienna. Here’s an updated link:
    http://exilegallery.org/exhibitions/straight-to-hell-curator-billy-miller/

    Hope your holiday season is filled with joy and buche, Dennis. Mine has been more than a little stressful so far, and I have this long flight looming tonight. I’m rereading Kevin Killian’s Batchelors Get Lonely, which helps a bit.

    Bill

  5. Hi Dennis. As always, it’s my pleasure, and I’m happy to give my movies a friendly online home via this blog!

    Today’s post is well-timed. I just read William E. Jones’s biography of Boyd McDonald/STH about a month ago. In totally unrelated news, I saw Cats last night and it wasn’t nearly the horrendous shitshow the critics are making it out to be. The music and story are pretty stupid, but I’m not sure the movie should be faulted for that. Tom Hooper is an odd filmmaker. His tastes are firmly entrenched in the middle of the road, but then he wants to make these arbitrarily weird choices in how he shoots things. I can’t call myself a fan, but his work tends to be odd enough to hold my interest when I bother to watch it.

  6. Ah that what I was afraid of, a german company on ebay that i thought of buying Throbbing gristle albums had those novels but couldnt verify if their copies are in english.. Cool post and a good reminder to check out STH. Im “kapot” / beat from shopping today, for among other things my wedding outfit! Seems that papers might just be in order in time for a late Jan wedding in belgium and a week break then in Paris.. getting ready for flight on thursday.

  7. Excellent restoration, Dennis and All!!

    Merry seasons to everyone too!!!

    Dennis, how’s things??? Any Japan trip updates? I’ve been getting some good writing time in, and busy with kiddo’s adventures. Also, polishing up a new UK edition of Left Hand that Gary Shipley’s bring out next year from Schism…

    P
    xoxo

  8. Dennis, I’m back! Well, been back for a while. I’ve kind of lost track of time, especially blog wise. Feel like I was just here but…I wasn’t.

    NYC was rainy for the first half, then it cleared up a bit, and we ate and walked and the kids shopped and my friends had a good time.

    I’m off work now until next Monday. Will be getting on the editing of my novel. Seeing Little Women on the 26th. T. Chalamet is in it and that’s all I need to go see it. The hair, the beautiful hair!

    Hope you have a good holiday.

  9. Dennis,

    STH reminds me of my father’s multifaceted porn collection, which I used to peruse as a curious 10 year old. Hustler magazine had a section called “one for the ladies” that was always a pic of some young buck holding his joystick for the “ladies.” I was always drawn to that section the most, haha.

    I emailed the pdf of Moon to you, did you receive it?

    Merry Christmas to you, if you’re into that kind of thing!

    Much love,
    James

  10. hey dennis,

    oh shit, i’ve been meaning to read boyd for a while now. his book ‘cruising the movies’ has been on my list for a minute.

    i was wondering: did you see the lil peep doc “everybody’s everything” that terrence malick help make? it’s really good and the malick touch is fully present. i didn’t know this before but lil peep’s grandpa is this badass old marxist that hung out with malick at princeton or somewhere. really good movie. if i’m being honest with myself i liked it more than “hidden life” which sounds crazy to say but there you go.

  11. Hey Dennis,

    Wanted to say thank you for selecting the book for the list. It’s most appreciated. Did a copy of Peripatet ever reach you? If not let me know I’ll send one. I got off all social media so I’m thinking I will post here daily to keep in touch with something. I hope all is well for you around the holidays my friend.

    Grant

  12. So pleased you’ve chosen to show case STH and Boyd Mcdonald! I treasure my worn collection of STH books and magazines–many of which were gifted to me by you years back. You’ve reminded me to pull them out and take a second (or 100th) read of those great stories–many of which I’ve committed to memory.
    It is a Merry Christmas!

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