Helen P. Bronson’s 1957 book: “Gay Bar”
Here’s a book I recommend everyone in this nation to read. It’s a slim volume, only 166 pages with notes and bibliography – it’s an incredible story from the 1950s by Helen Bronson – and some of the mushiest commentary by the man who resurrected this weird little book in 2010. And you know what makes it weird, but in the best sense of the word: it was written by a middle aged woman who owned a “gay bar” in Los Angeles between 1952 and 1957 or so. She had worked in other gay bars in one fashion or the other for more another 20 years. That qualifies as having some sort of expertise. Even if not “official” or with a piece of paper. Though, certainly more than any alleged professional studying gay folks, since they hang out at the office. This woman was in the real world. Ah, yes, lo those many years ago, yes, she wrote a book entitled, simply, “Gay Bar.” As we say, Maarrvelous!
And you know what she wrote about? The exact same confounded discussion I have everyday with so many right now. Nothing has changed. Well, a little; now even more people like us. Back then, not so many. Yet, back then, the word “marriage” is in this book – as in “there were boys with gay marriages.” But that’s supposedly a new invention. Ah, yes, “boy.” She used it throughout – “My boys, I protect them.” Boy did we need that; still do, sadly. The word “boy” of course being appropriate for men of all ages, but never kids. KIDS – that’s “boys” for gay folks. “boys” are gay men of any age. Yes, fascinating too because only some, not many, a few, heterosexuals – men and women, oh yes – sort of understand us. And they befriend us – and more importantly: protect us still. I’ve known many. Though even they’re not clear on the thing; they just don’t find it so horrible.
Yes, protect us — from the crazed attitudes of the other heteros. You, the 95% – like a bunch of sissy boys afraid of the light – oh my heavens! Those gay boys, they’ll make someone gay! Predators! Beware … And yet, as this Ms. Bronson says, and as my recent foray into “A Parents Guide to Preventing Homosexuality,” as imagined by Joseph Nicolosi – it’s the parents’ fault. So we can’t make you gay – your parents make you gay; just like our parents made us gay (oh, not really, but it sounds good, I guess.) Only, she, untutored as she was, except by reality, somewhat, says that it’s the mother’s fault. She was, of course, merely speaking of the thinking of the times. Why, she a few times uses the word “invert” – but, tellingly she almost always used the word: Gay. In the early 1950s. Geez.
Yes, that oh so very Thoroughly Modern Milly (now there’s a reference you might have to look up,) word: GAY! Oh my, folks are still arguing over it. It’s so bad when used by us, people are trying to outlaw its usage. For Liberty I suppose. Still, there it is, as “early” as 1952. But alas, due to the inability to remember much anymore, we forget that it was used in a quote in a book about London in Samuel Johnson’s time. He of the first English dictionary produced. Yes, there, a report: man arrested for being “out and about … in a gay fashion.” Yes, there, from the 1730s is the word that is new and modern. There too, in the late 1500s, at a public pronouncement by Elizabeth I of England, quite a bossy, though astute, woman, who ran a whole Empire – not too shabby: for our purposes the word, there clear as pie. Aye, but she saideth (Elizabeth’s English,) “Send Lord Darnley, that fairy and gay man, to Mary, my Cousin, so naught may come of it.” Well, that was late Tudor politics, Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband. He was fag bashed to death; took a whole night! Feisty fellow, took them much endeavor; fascinating story.
Lets go back further! To the woman who introduced the word to English, in this sense, this um, man=man business, to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Ah, bossy indeed – with a “gai” son, even. There’s the word, used in the few known letters between her and her son: Richard the Lionhearted, scourge of Saracens at Jerusalem gates; one of the greatest King of England, and most of what is today France; and husband of fair Berengaria, princess of Navarre, an important place in the 1180s.
And the king? Well, boyfriend, for a while, with Philip of France, King of not much of modern France – Yet even way back then they called it France. Sometimes. Biographers of either have to say every few pages: “but he’s not homosexual.” And you know, he wasn’t, the word not invented yet. He was, um, “gai,” as momma saideth. The two kings shared the same bed in Philip’s castle (not a decorators dream, I assure you,) and, well, it scandalized Europe. Whispers about the boys, um, kings, were rampant. It’s mentioned by numerous chroniclers of the day. Interestingly, they too use the word “gai” – hmm, coincidence? Fear not, biographing Dorothies, there’s a man behind the tapestry. And two gay kings.
Ah, Berengaria, somewhat jilted, though married still, after Eleanor dragged her from Navarre to France, then dragged her to Sicily, in one of the quickest recorded voyages across Europe in the 1180s, (six weeks, London to Messina) to make sure Richard did his duty: make babies. He didn’t. The unconsummated wife, did record for us, however, from her retiring convent, a bit of mush, and said, more or less: “I got me a fine husband, bravest in all of Christendom, a real man. Alas, in 10 years of marriage we spent just 3 months in the same city, otherwise we be apart, and we did not do our noble duty (aka, you know, um, SEX!) He being busy with his boys.” Yes, the king’s house, sort of like Bronson’s bar, um, “Europa,” but different. Sad, too, Berengaria: she stated before she died in the convent, “I die a virgin.” Richard, however, did not die a virgin, unless if you think that only straight sex breaks virginity, in which case he’s pure and proper.
I digress: back to the book. Her insights are phenomenal for the time in which she wrote them. It seems she wrote about a hundred pages – and this guy Will Fellows injected his two cents, or 60 pages. He’s, um, an idiot. But that’s OK, for he’s the one who brought the book back to light. For that he gets 100 points. A+ as it were. For his commentary, eh, not so many. Maybe, oh, 40, no, 30. Hmm. That she’s a woman, who wrote her part back in the 1950s – and her a mere bar broad – is one thing: she’s to get a gazillion points for having the gumption back then to say something nice about us. Would that every important person in the nation at that time would have read this book; and unimportant people too. Nah, they wouldn’t have even heard of it. Couldn’t even send a brochure about it through the mails – why, for Liberty, and Free Speech, and the 1st Amendment gays’ rights were tossed aside for some family or national security reason. Yes, not anything about any gay stuff allowed. Post Office rules! That would be some subversive propaganda, they said – I laugh when I hear people today complain about Chick-fil-a being called idiots, but within their rights, by the likes of me – when my free speech was prohibited by law, by the likes of the Chick-fil-as of the world; and it was OK.
But this fellow Fellows, well, he should know better.
He’s right back to the “father” thing again.
OK, then, so who’s right? Is it our relationship with our mothers or our fathers? This I got to know.
No, it’s our predisposition! Itself unexplained and unexplored beyond the word. Where did the predisposition come from? Why is it there? How can this not be natural, you know, what God intended? No one says, there are no inquiring minds.
Or some environmental factors, they’ve been brought up of late, remaining, however, as vague as a summer eve’s wispy cloud. They are not, though I’m not sure, part of the mother or father whammy. Sometimes it’s said to be birth order, or how many sisters and how close in age they might be. Or perhaps it was some guy down the block. No one says, it’s just the word. Or a phrase: both nature and nurture. Though for gayness the “nature” part is suspect or dismissed; the glory be in the undefined “nurture.”
Hormones perhaps, unnatural, Devil induced, and unnamed; not even a theory of which ones. There’s so many to pick and choose. Is it one, two, three, four? Or ½ of them, or maybe more? It’s not said. Detail, too many details.
Or perhaps, just perhaps, it was some recruiter! The bastard. Yes, we who are said to choose to be gay and thus busy recruiting the youth of America, are making the new gays, who then can’t choose, because they’ve been wily enticed and entrapped in some “Lifestyle.” Yet, we too were recruited, I suppose, though we also choose of free will and volition – to simply turn off completely the vaunted instinct to reproduce. What power does the gay mind emit: turns off instinct. Where’s Darwin when you need him? Maybe he could figure out that one.
Yes, the clarity among Branson, who is innocent due to her times, and Fellows, who is guilty because of his times, and the rest of you – the psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, religious folks and scientists of various disciplines, each with your theory du jour – well, it’s quite a cesspool of choices, isn’t it? Ptolemy would marvel at the complexity, Copernicus couldn’t make sense of the starry world in which the theories about why there are gay folks circulate. Occam would smack you in the head, and say: why don’t you try asking real questions, so to find the simple answer?
Though, wonderfully, she quotes a guy saying “all men are gay until proven otherwise” – it is a phrase that is still in circulation today among us, as the joke on the predisposition-psychology mush. And then she points out the contest between the obvious sissies and those who could pass for hetero. When they tried, at least. That’s still going on. I have to always point out that it was the raving sissies and drag queens who got us into the fight, finally, after decades of sitting around fretting. Those nellies said “The hell with this, stop raiding the friggin’ bar already.” And lo, it stopped, almost overnight, after just a tiny three day riot.
Still, a cause, yes. Let me know when you get together and pick one – rather than the buffet you all like to use – so that I might argue the one, and not all of them. That they are all ridiculous goes with much saying – none of it used yet, by any professional, because, well, that would be promoting “homosexuality.” And you wonder why we’re cranky. Geez.
And so, yes, the book – fascinating, and infuriating, but satisfying. And so, get a copy, read it. Find out something instead of just “knowing” stuff. “Helen Bronson’s ‘Gay Bar’” Amazing. And found right there on my library shelf across the street. Right next to the arrant garbage of Joseph Nicolosi’s farcical thoughts on “preventing” the thing. He’s like a modern day vice squad, of the sort that wandered Los Angeles in the “Gay Bar” time, and had a ball arresting gay men for so much as touching with a finger tip another gay man. For Liberty! And Religious Freedom! So that heteros with not a clue that Bronson even had a gay bar, could go calmly about beating their wives and children, getting divorces, committing adultery, and sometimes going so far as to kill any one of them: kids on parents, dad against mom, mom against kids – and all while churning out a steady flow of gay sons — quite a merry go round, no? For family values of course, the quiet little gay bar, with Bronson’s boys, had to be monitored and raided (though very politely at her place, she says,) to make sure two gay boys didn’t hold hands or sit too close to each other on their ride home. Oh the horrors, real and perceived, and just made up and fantasy.
And Kinsey makes several appearances; mostly his study. But almost miraculously including him actually calling her up and getting together with her to ask questions. Fellows speaks of Kinsey as if his study is still valid. But no, it was debunked long ago. According to Ms. Bronson, she and Kinsey disagreed, or had different information and observances, on various aspects of the matter. Still, everyone remembers that 10% number, and all the heterosexuals who try gay out – though it be woeful mush. It sounds good, I guess.
Yes, what a great read.
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