Queer to the Core

4.12.2012

By Adam Rathe

Gay punk comes out with a vengeance. An oral history of the movement that changed the world (whether you knew it or not).

BRUCE LABRUCE: G. B. and I had an acrimonious split after I made my first feature film, No Skin Off My Ass. I was accused of selling out. Dennis Cooper wrote in the Village Voice that I was “careening with a Jayne Mansfieldian blatancy,” which I later quoted on the back of my book. I caught a wave of what was called the New Queer Cinema. The nascent LGBT film-fest circuit was emerging, and my film got international attention. There was a certain amount of resentment around that, and accusations of not giving people credit. Some of it is valid, some of it isn’t. G. B. was the costar. There was a lot of improv in the film, and she wrote some of her own dialogue. In retrospect, she should have gotten a cowriting credit.

JENA VON BRUCKER: With so many things, once they get past the countercultural and subversive and get media attention, the infighting starts. It’s not like they just decided not to put out any more issues of J.D.s. Bruce was enjoying popularity with the movie, and the two of them had achieved a certain notoriety. Things like that will test any friendship. There was more of a public war than there should have been.

STEVE LAFRENIERE: The “Great Toronto Zine War” is a compelling story. Bruce and G. B. split up, and it got crazy with the introduction of Johnny Noxzema, a real bomb-thrower. He put out the most important zines of the period, Bimbox and Double Bill. He sided with G. B., and they had this incredible war against Bruce.

BRUCE LABRUCE: Johnny Noxzema is a piece of work. His boyfriend, Rex, had a wooden leg—we called him “Pegleg”—and he was a psychiatrist and the sugar-daddy. Johnny was his younger, skinny, volatile, intelligent sidekick—or Frankenstein’s monster. They were shit-stirrers, which I completely identify with, but they did it in an abrasive, over-the-top way. At the height of the AIDS crisis, they stapled a condom into every issue -- with a hole through it. They were Machiavellian behind the scenes, turning people against each other. One of the worst victims was Candy, who’s brilliant and probably the best artist of us all. They were extremely nasty. They did this zine about her called 99 Chins.

JOHNNY NOXEMA (to The American Music Show: A lot of Americans didn’t understand our hostility towards the homosexual community at large. It sort of took them aback. Double Bill is a magazine we’d done with G. B. Jones and Jena von Brucker, who are probably the most important homosexuals alive today.

JENA VON BRUCKER: 99 Chins was nothing but a direct attack. The difficulty with Bruce and G. B., this public feud and splitting of camps and almost splitting the scene, initially solidified our friendship with the boys from Bimbox and was part of what caused G. B. and I to move away from them eventually. A common enemy bonds you, but you don’t want to spend the rest of your life saying Candy is overweight and Bruce is a monster.

JOHNNY NOXEMA (to The American Music Show: We’re gonna nail those fags to the cross, so to speak. They’re going to get everything they deserve… Our main beef is that all these homos go around thinking that they are the most oppressed group of people on Earth. It’s just not true. They are, like, fourth or fifth down the list. And in some ways, they are more privileged than straight men, and we all know the reasons why. It’s about time that someone started to tell the truth, that’s all.

JENA VON BRUCKER: Double Bill came about at 3 a.m. We were having a discussion about William Burroughs, this revered gay icon. There is this glaring information, that he shot his wife in the head, that people seem to ignore. That got lumped in with this other idea that there was a lot of hatred for women in the gay-male community. Johnny and Rex spoke out against it. At the same time, Cannon reruns were on late-night TV, and we had this great affection for William Conrad. We got this idea to create a fanzine to juxtapose Conrad, nice guy and lover of women, against Burroughs, a horrible and creepy misogynist.

As the Toronto zines made their way around the world, similar publications -- and the bands that often accompanied them -- started popping up in other cities.

STEVE LAFRENIERE: People weren’t saying “queer” quite yet. It was just coming together, as far as language and what totems were invoked. These kids up in Toronto made amazing zines that made fun of not only the world, but specifically the gay world. And it was being made by gay people. I happened to know these kids in Atlanta who had a cable access show called The American Music Show, a bunch of teenagers named Lady Bunny, RuPaul, and Larry Tee.

VAGINAL DAVIS: A scene was developing in New York -- with Linda Simpson and her My Comrade and the Pyramid gang and the zine Pansy Beat -- and in Chicago with Steve Lafreniere and his clique. A lot of us didn’t officially meet until SPEW: The Homographic Convergence at Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago, organized by Lafreniere.

STEVE LAFRENIERE: It was an all-day affair in May 1991. There were tables, a stage with performances, manifestoes being read, weird drag, and bands. That evening, we went to a place called Hot House, a performance club run by crazy lefties. Fifth Column and Vaginal Davis performed. Vaginal brought down the house. It was this amazing night. Oh, and I got stabbed.

LARRY-BOB ROBERTS: A lot of people came to SPEW -- Vaginal Davis came from L.A., Bruce and G. B. came from Toronto, though at that point they had already had a legendary falling out. Johnny Noxzema was there, from Bimbox, the notorious Toronto zine that said people who work for glossy gay magazines should be gay-bashed. Mark Freitas, who did Homocore Chicago, was there.

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