The twentieth century was hard on American men. It was hard on
everyone, but arguably -- because of the privilege and obligation of
being the head of a family -- it nearly crushed many men, did crush
many. Two world wars, the beginning of industrial war with gas,
machine guns and tanks, and then airplanes, holocaust and the atomic
bomb, wiped out entire generations of lovers, husbands and fathers.
The Thirties Depression generated so much despair in dust bowl country
that loving and responsible heads of families took their wives and
children into the cellars and killed them and then themselves rather
than watch their babies starve to death. Vietnam and assassinations
eviscerated hope, destroyed pride and security across America.
In the attempt to get back to their feet, knowing that what had seemed
so solid -- the nuclear family and the assembly line job -- were now
failing, the lid of the box came off. In San Francisco the box was
less Pandora's box than a Jack-in-the-Box. With cries of "why not?"
and "what do we have left to lose?" new social patterns that had
previously been firmly repressed burst out into the open. They've
been working through the larger society ever since. Perhaps because
of this new financial catastrophe -- or maybe just because it's about
time -- scholars are beginning to look with both nostalgia and
analysis on those reckless times when many men felt like kickstarting
a motorcycle and heading to California -- stark naked at top speed in
the dark night. Take me, Fate!
We know from research and simple observation that a percentage of
mammals of most kinds are homosexual: that is, behave sexually towards
their own gender. Cows mount cows and no one knows whether they are
"bull dykes" or "cowing" the others into submission, being bossy. Is
it desire or is it domination? A consistent proportion of rams will
only mount rams, though it would seem illogical, considering heredity.
We too often forget that heredity has more to do with whether the
whole group (herd) survives than whether any particular individual
passes on its genes. It appears to be advantageous for the group to
include bachelor rams in the herd, maybe more armament against
predators. At this point among humans increasing the number of babies
is hardly helpful in the long run. But social pressure or
self-deception might be enough to produce progeny from those not
normally interested in women. Human sexuality, having a large
component of culture and psychology, is quite plastic.
Our mental construct of gay men tends to be the "swish" pansies full
of camp and snark and no doubt wafting around a lavender feather boa
with a limp wrist. It has been less clear to the general public that
gays may be what Jack Fritscher dubbed homomasculine, that is, the
black leather and tight jeans crowd with brawny, hairy chests. Nearly
Hell's Angels, these guys are best left alone because, as Barrus has
described, threatening them with baseball bats will mean the bats will
be taken away and used first on the assailants and then on their
These are the men photographed by Mapplethorpe. As for the
sado-masochistic dimension of the porn for this crowd, Michael Bronsky
("S/M: The New Romance" in Gay Community News, Vol 2, #30) points out
that it a short step from the broken hearts, fatal diseases, lost
babies, and redemptive suffering of heterosexual romances to the rough
and scarring fleshly pains of the black leather crowd, which in turn
are closely related to the noir Mickey Spillane man who can be beaten
nearly to death and still prevail. Weapons are phallic (guns, knives
and bats), potentially lethal. Tim Barrus, survivor of violence, was
exactly configured for this context. Sex was the smaller part of it.
But this was an urban kind of romance, at least until "Brokeback
The other male heritage in Barrus' family was more American, although
some would say nothing is so characteristic of the US of A as
violence. The dimension of "moving on" came from Maynard's father,
Mason, who had a ranch in the High Sierras among other temporary
frontiers. Though much of Tim's life has been in cities, Mason's
heritage was a love of open country. During the Aquarian Revolution,
especially if one were a member of the net-worked society of gay men,
who in the days of being underground had formed their own railways, a
man could move across the country and still be in the company of
friends and compatriots, like old-time fur traders and scouts. But
this modern adventuring type had a preference for warm climates and
good restaurants, so they went from San Francisco to Mexico to Florida
and on out into the Caribbean.
Maynard, Mason's son, never seemed able to break the tie of family
enough to either really light out alone or to take his family with
him. His solution was to pile his young son Tim into the car --
surprised and coat-less -- for a long flight to the wilderness, only
to return both exalted and traumatized after a period of forced
intimacy with a violent father. Maynard's motives seem mysterious and
painfully conflicting except when dosed with alcohol. He was far
beyond the comprehension of a child, though not the child's effort to
understand and heal him. Indeed, it was probably the same impulse
that held Barrus' mother hostage.
Much of Barrus' more formal "porn" is in actuality one more attempt to
come to terms with Maynard, to be an un-Maynard, anti-Maynard, focused
on an impossible salvation. Two males, related but one older and
stronger, cross a wasteland in a survival ordeal based on love and
pure determination to see it out. It is no more S/M leather porn than
Cormac McCarthy, though the theme of genocide/AIDS is just under the
surface. In life Barrus alternated trying to capture his quandaries
on paper with acting out the flights, the alcohol, the drugs, and
sometimes the partners. His efforts were muted and masked to spare
his family. When journalists found his parents and questioned his
family, the relatives denied that any of it was true, a final
violence. His father died in 2003 and his mother in 2008, setting
Barrus free to be more open. But these are wounds that break open
He has never rejected the part of the mix that will always be the
vigorous and glorious "glitter life" of the San Francisco scene,
though it has subsided now. To some who were there, it may seem a
betrayal that Tim finally married a woman, but he has never rejected
his brothers and never stopped mourning the losses of many beloved
men. They would have understood that his attempts to redeem
transgressive young men of talent is a revenge against those unable to
Our games as kids were quite likely to involve the taking of hostages. Who would be held for one kind of ransom or another.
Keep your eye on the leader or leaders of the group. They're never held hostage. They assign those roles.
My dad would hold me hostage to whatever it was he wanted even when he had no idea what he wanted and I had no idea what he wanted. But I knew this: You tended to the issue of what he wanted because if you did not the price was always a violence breathtaking to behold. My dad would upturn the dinner table on you and all the food would end up on your lap. It would be hot. Then, he would pick up the table itself and throw that at you.
My mother would just sit there and look at her hands.
Dishes broken. Food everywhere. On the walls. On the floor.
The taking of hostages was far more complex than even this scene might suggest. He was, in fact, her hostage, and she wasn't going to settle for a ransom, any ransom. She wanted the hostage.
I don't know how she roped him in initially. I wasn't there. But I do know he never wanted kids. But he had them because she saw to it.
My mother's passivity was an illusion. Anyone authentically familiar with the dynamics of sadomasochism will tell you that it is almost always the bottom who controls the scene.
They would break up. Loud, noisy, screaming fights. One of them would leave.
My eyes to the sky.
I didn't care. I wished they would divorce and get it over with but they never did.
My dad had frequent affairs with other women and he would put it in my face, in her face. I did not know them, but I knew of them, and I would find their panties stuffed in hiding places all over the house, and I did hate him for that.
I was twelve when other men would pay me to let them fuck me. He followed me once and he did see that trick. I saw him sitting in his car fuming.
As those men were fucking me, I would pretend to be someone else. It wasn't me getting fucked.
One day my dad decided he wanted to go moose hunting up near Hudson Bay, Canada. There are no roads so you fly in and hire an Indian guide. It's not cheap. It costs a lot of money to do this. My dad had a pilot's license so he could fly the sea plane in but you had to lease the plane. He did not own one.
His father did.
This flying business was like an echo. It bounced back at you. At this same time, 1962, I wanted to learn to fly, and signed up for flying lessons at the Lansing Capitol City Airport. My teacher, Renee, was French so I could barely understand a word he ever said. But I could read the book.
My dad never once saw me fly. He refused to even drive to the airport. I had to hitch-hike there.
I flew a lot and got fucked a lot so I could pay for it.
Maynard went on a I am not going to pay for you parental strike.
He refused to buy me food.
He refused to buy me clothes. I was on my own.
The clothes part of it is what I remember the most acutely.
I was a little whore who had a thing for clothes but not in the way you might think. Clothes were not accouterment. They were armor.
They were always making us strip naked at school and I hated it. I wanted my clothes.
I don't know if schools do that anymore. I don't want to know. I would think that today it would be hard for them to get away with it but in 1962 they got away with it.
We were required to swim naked. I would skip that class. The truant officer was always looking for me.
I told him that the reason I didn't like being naked around those boys was because they were fucking me, too. I think rape is the more accurate term but I didn't know what rape was in 1962.
They did not believe me. I was told in no uncertain terms to keep my mouth shut if I wanted to live. I was not sure I did.
Today, those boys are getting to be old men and they still live in Lansing and I still really deeply most assuredly still hate their fucking guts.
Flying was my only escape then. Hunting was my dad's. My mother just wrung her hands raw.
Since my dad wasn't paying a single dime for me, he saved enough money to go moose hunting in Canada. I was glad to see him go. I didn't have to deal with him.
At school, the boys would form a ring around me and fuck me one at a time. They had lookouts. Even the boys who I thought were my friends.
School was about sex and rape. I do not recall a single moment of it being about anything academic. I had taught myself how to read. In Lansing, you were just a piece of meat and that is all you ever would be.
I hated all of them. Every last stinking person in that town. If it was up to me to push the atomic button to blow that town off the face of the planet, I would do it in a second.
I would run away to Florida to my grandfather's house. He always took me in and he never pried. He knew. We never talked about why I was there. There was no need.
I would sleep on my grandfather's boat. We would go fishing on the Gulf of Mexico.
We would have something rare called fun.
School. Left behind.
Parents. Left behind.
The only really bad thing about flying is that at some point everyone has to fucking land. The sky will not keep you hostage. -- Tim Barrus