Father Tony


Filed By Father Tony | July 23, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay art, homophobic behavior, robert mapplethorpe, tom of finland

Dear Father T,
My partner runs around the house taking all our "gay" artwork off the walls when his parents, brothers or sisters (all of whom are over 30) come to visit and he does the same when my relatives come over. He also rips the "gay" books off our bookshelves and hides them. They all know we are gay and they know they are entering a "gay" house. I am against this and we have had some arguments about it. What do you say?

Proud Mapplethorpe Owner

Dear PMO,

Your sign-off was helpful because it gave me an indication of the kind of "art" you may have in your house. You don't seem to be talking about Lalique crystal dildos and butt plugs insouciantly placed among the cabbage roses as a centerpiece. You don't seem to be talking about framed and signed photos of naked Jeff Stryker (We have two.) You've probably got some male nude black and white photography by well-respected artists.

I am reminded of a scene in a movie in which an older woman and her adult daughter are touring an art gallery. The daughter approaches her mother who has been standing transfixed by the sight of Mapplethorpe's Man in a Polyester Suit. She asks her mother if she is OK, and the mother assures her that she is fine and then, while not taking her eyes off the photo, says "I was just wondering why I stayed with your father all those years."

I will confess to having sprayed our house with "Gay-Off" in preparation for visits by our relatives in the earliest years of our cohabitation. I wanted to make things comfortable for my new extended family. I did not think of this as a denial of our gay identity. I thought of it as a gesture of respect and an overture of friendship on my part when we took the gay magazines and bar rags off the coffee tables.

I think the referenced Mapplethorpe work perfectly illustrates the dilemma because it is a serious and successful and legitimate work of art, but its in your face sexuality is bound to make some folks nervous. I can't imagine asking my mother and mother-in-law to sit down to Christmas dinner beneath that photograph.

Once, during a very large "mixed" party at our home, an older and very proper straight lady needed to get away from the crowd to make a private call (BC - Before Cellphones). Someone showed her to a telephone extension in our bedroom. I entered that room at one point, not knowing that she was there, and found her leafing through our copy of that enormous Taschen Books edition of The Complete Tom of Finland while making her call. Without saying a word, I backed out of our bedroom and closed the door behind me. She was in there for almost an hour although I think the call was considerably shorter.

In more recent years, at Christmas, one of our favorite decorations is an excellent pen and ink sketch given to us by an artist friend who is addicted to foreskin and has mastered its depiction. The drawing is called Santa Pimp and it is a picture of Santa Claus wearing a large fur-brimmed hat and coat in the gangsta-pimp style with an enormous holly-festooned penis with enough foreskin to wrap a basketball. This I will quickly stash in a closet whenever carolers call.

I know what you are saying, PMO. If we are proud enough to march in Pride parades and sing "I Am What I Am", why should we hide our non-pornographic gay stuff? I don't think of it as an indication of a lack of self-pride. I consider it an act of kindness and an effort to make a guest comfortable. As a dear friend's mother once said, "Dress to please others. Eat to please yourself." The art on the walls falls exactly half way between those two extremes, so a good case can be made for either position. Personally, I hold with those who use "Gay-Off" with their dust cloth.

There is only one occasion that indisputably merits the removal of gay art and literature. Hide all of it when you are selling your house and a real estate agent is arriving with a potential buyer. In this market, the homophobia of a potential buyer may be catered to with all the bowing and scraping one can manage.

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Dear Father Tony,
I read your reply with great pleasure because I agree with you 100%. I used to "de-gay" my apartment when the cleaning lady was scheduled to arrive. I finally was upfront with her and said, if this bothers you, I will need to find another person to clean. She still stops by.

The only other occasion that I will de-gay is upon my death. I have an agreement with a reciprocal agreement with a good friend that we will clean up each other's apartment upon an unexpected death. I don't want my immediate family to find the treasure trove of my sex life.

Interesting. In my twenties, I once had a roomate who i tossed out for wanting my boyfriend at the time out of the apt. because his parents were coming over. I had the lease. One who knows me knows the type of indignant shouting that came out of my mouth toward this person. Unfortunately he passed away of AIDS in the early nineties. I have one thing to say: This man is his partner and therefore if he cares about his relationship, he must continue to respect his feelings and communicate. vice versa. Work it out or don't. It's a choice. This could be more about embarassment hiding out as privacy claims more than a sense of shame. I don't know. Father Tony always has a nice and soothing sense of humor about everything.

By the way, i forgot to mention that the apt was on Polk Street in San Francisco at the time. You can imagine why my initial reaction had my mouth agape. Puleeze. lol

As an artist, I'd be disappointed to find out that someone's commitment to collecting and displaying my art buckled under his shame and embarrassment of his passions, his desires -- especially in his own home, especially an adult.

I often repeat this very simple question:

For whom am I living?

Your answer could not be more perfect, living in South Florida I have a regular schedule of visitors that come for a few days or more at a time. Although I would never put something in clear view that would offend, it would be impossible to completely "straighten" up my house.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 23, 2009 8:04 PM

Tony, please tell us this is one of those letters the PO delivered decades after it was written.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 24, 2009 1:43 AM

On our first trip to Italy we fell in complete love with Florence. We purchased a 18" high version of Cellini's work of "Perseus and Medusa" that generally lives in the guest bath sword and penis out for admiration. Years later I found a picture of the original statue framed by Marshall Field's "picture galleries" dated 1950 which is now hung on a wall by it's side. No one commented on this figure before or after the picture was hung.

Books stay where books are and my library was full of books on most topics. Dino is right in asking "For whom am I living?" because you do not get the time back. As for Mapplethorpe he shot men, women, floral arrangements and a skull.

"Polyester Suit" would be a bit much for a dining room though. :)

Hey, Father T. The fact that PMO's partner takes the "gay" books off the shelves (where you presumably can't see any potentially naked cover photos) leads me to believe this situation is more about some level of shame than it is about not wanting to expose family members to images of man parts. And I assume at least some of the books are literature or non-sex-related nonfiction titles, both of which should be unobjectionable. There's also the fact that he insists on degaying the house when PMO's family members come to visit—against PMO's wishes.