Princes of the Castro
Q: What did it feel like to come out in the Castro back then?
A: What did it feel like? Like a roller coaster that ended off a cliff. In 86 it was illegal and immoral to be me. Being in the Castro helped, but all that disgust from others…You can’t ignore it, you try, but you just, you just can’t. It’s on the TV, the radio; everywhere.
There was a man, Michael Hardwick, a gay man living in Georgia. He was arrested, in 81 I think, when a belligerent cop came into his home and caught him having sex with another guy. The case was dismissed but Hardwick challenged the Sodomy portion of the law in the United States supreme court. The esteemed body ruled, 5 to 4, that; “The Constitution did not confer the rights to homosexual sodomy”.
I mean think about that. The highest court in the land said that constitution didn’t represent us fully. We had rights so long as we never had sex and if we did, then it was 20 years in prison. Can you imagine being 16 years old, fighting the most powerful hormonal urges you will ever know, and fearing hell and imprisonment? The law was overturned but not before Hardwick died in 1991.
Q: And more progressive states were passing legislation that did protect LGBTQ rights. Did you know about those at the time?
A: Sure, I think cities and states were both passing protections, but it wasn’t just the law. You had a plague after you too. In 81, several young me died from Kaposi’s Sarcoma. It was a disease known for hitting immune-compromised seniors. At first, they called it a ‘rare cancer’ found only in gays, but by 86 it was known, the world over, as AIDS. It wasn’t just the gay communities affected, but that’s where it seemed to start. It was mislabeled but the label stuck. It was always going to be associated with us.
I say that now as an educated adult, back then I didn’t know any of this, but you felt it. It felt like the world was burning.
Interview in 2004
Chapter 9: Princes of the Castro
Joey sat in the center of a mess that he didn’t make. The loft, as mike called it, was nothing more than a flophouse for gay strippers. They were probably all homeless, hookers, and had AIDS, he thought. He was mad, Tricky Mickey got him again.
Saving him from the streets, buying him new clothes, and making him feel that tiny ounce of self-esteem were all so he could ‘dance’ and make money for Mike. Joey thought he was on this grand quest of self-discovery only to find that he was just a puppet for another domineering, self-centered, sex-obsessed, man.
He sat on a dirty couch that was pockmarked with cigarette burns. He recognized them from when he lived with his dad and stepmom a few years ago. Little black holes with crispy burnt rims. There were several televisions in front of him, some stacked one upon another, and each seemed to be hooked up to a VCR, or a video game system.
He picked up a remote and pointed at the TV in front of him. One to the left went on and he repositioned himself. It was hooked up to a Sega Master System a fairly new video game console. He turned the slick black box on and looked around for a cartridge to play a game. There were games for Colecovision, Nintendo, and Intellivision, but he only saw the Sega and Atari Consoles. ‘Space Harrier’ was already in the box and so he decided to play that. He recognized it from the arcade version, which had better graphics, but it was still fun.
By the time he had racked-up a high score ‘Joystick’ was up and moving around. Joey watched him rise out of the pile of boys mumbling and grumbling and with a scratch to his exposed genitals. Naked and without shame, the blue-haired boy walked over the dirty kitchen area, picked up a pack of smokes from under an empty Styrofoam burger container. He grabbed a lighter and lit one with excessive style. Joystick looked older than Joey, maybe seventeen or eighteen.
Joey watched like Mike had taught him. He noted the boy smiled at him then made a ‘hmpf’ sound before he lit up. He had a very masculine draw and an excessively effeminate exhale. The blue-haired boy then walked to the fridge, searched for a moment, pulled out a box of Chinese food, then walked over and flopped down next to Joey.
“Why are you naked?” asked Joey as he moved to the far side of the couch.
“Why are you in my house?” replied the blue-haired boy.
“Oh yes, new Diamond. Bon-jooor!, I’m Jayce, but they call me Joystick,” the spiky blue-haired boy said as he stuffed a wad of cold chow mien in his mouth with the cigarette still in his hand.
“Why do they call you Joystick?” asked Joey forcing himself to look at the video game.
“For the reason you think,” Jayce said flickering his blue eyes.
“Good at games?”
“I don’t wear clothes in the house. I don’t like wearing them outside either but the law’s the law,” Jayce said in a tone that sounded like a condescending forty-year-old mom.
“You’re a nudist?” Joey asked still averting his eyes.
Joey turned to Jayce with a confused look, and his video game character died.
“Nudists go to beaches to be nekid, I’m nekid for my ‘personal and emotional wellbeing’. Well, that’s what I told my foster parents, the Mendocino county court, oh, and the very cute cops that arrested me, but really they aren’t very different. Nudist and naturist I mean. Well, foster parents and cops are the same too, I guess. Did you get to go to Baby’s yet?”
“Yeah,” Joey said and displayed his new off-white jacket.
“That sucks. I never got to go there. Mike said I had more than enough fashion sense, but you can’t get those little monograms at Goodwill!”
Another boy rose from the pile and walked into the kitchen. He was only slightly more dressed wearing boxer shorts with batman symbols, and a tank top. He dug around for a few moments in the fridge then asked suspiciously, “Where’s my Chink-a-nese food?”
He spoke with a smooth Southern accent, was tall, lanky, and had long, curly, strawberry-blonde hair. He had a bit of scruff on his chin that made him look at least 18 or 19. Jayce slid the Chinese food container into the couch between the cushions as the other boy approached with a half-eaten cheeseburger and a can of beer.
“Is this a date? You know we ain’t supposed to have guests,” asked the tall strawberry-blonde boy.
“PUH-LEES! This is… Jamie, and he’s not a date, he’s taking Diamond’s place in the lineup,” said Jayce.
“Well, you can’t be that bad if you like Sega,” said the Southern boy.
“Jimmy,” Jayce leaned back, “This is Kyle— they call him Bourbon.”
“I’m Joey,” Joey smiled but was annoyed.
“He’s kinda small,” said Kyle tossing an old shirt over Jayce’s exposed parts.
“I think he’s Eye-talian,” said Jayce as he sat upon his knees to better inspect the boy and putting his privates so that Joey had to completely turn away. Joey moved over trying to avoid the smoke and the naturist.
“Put that thing away, nobody wants to see your baby maker,” Kyle replied, sitting between the two boys. Kyle used his elbow to shove Jayce back. Jayce moved over as Kyle sat on the Chinese food hidden in the cushions.
“How old are you, little boy?” Kyle said. As he sat down, the hidden box poked at him, but unaware as to its true nature, he only adjusted his position.
“I’m not a little boy,” said Joey with an agitated tone.
“And the correct answer is; 18 years-old mister, officer, cop, sir!” chimed Joystick
“I’d say thirteen or fourteen,” Kyle repositioned himself again.
“I’m eighteen,” said Joey.
“Mike has him trained well. Another puppy for Star to tote around,” said Jayce.
“What the fuck?” Kyle said as he pulled the smashed box of Chinese food from under him. He stood up and there was a huge greasy smear on his boxers. He looked directly at Jayce.
“I told him that was yours, Bourbs. I said ‘don’t eat that it belongs to Bourbs,’ – he didn’t seem concerned,” Jayce said pointing to Joey.
“You stupid little fuck, you ate my food!” Kyle said as he threw the carton across the room.
“I, I didn’t…” stammered Joey and stood up ready to run.
Jayce quickly intervened standing between the two.
“To be fair, he didn’t know it was yours till after I told him,” Jayce said and moved to Joey’s side, “Just relax, I’ll buy you more. You can have all my Oreo’s until then. That’s a fair trade so there’s no need to spaz out, Kyle,” Jayce said protectively leaning in on Joey, “He can get moody. This one time a kid came up here and drank one of his beers and he lit-trah-lee shoved the can up the kid’s butt. Seriously, he’s got issues.”
Kyle gave Joey a glare and walked back to the kitchen.
“He’s got a chip on his shoulder. He comes from Alabama or something. I think he hates gays,” Jayce whispered into Joey’s ear.
“Isn’t he gay?” Joey said as he watched Kyle move through the mess.
“Self-loathing type, but he is a total bottom; mostly harmless.”
“That’s the one that takes it right?” asked Joey.
“He’s actually a power bottom, it’s very complicated,” noted Jayce.
“What are you?” Joey continued to whisper.
“I’m b-b-b-bisexual. You can buy me dinner or diamonds, ha!” Jayce made a high-pitched tweet as he lounged back down on the couch then said, “What are you?”
“I don’t like labels, but I’m not really sure what I am,” said Joey.
Joey sat back down but continued to watch Kyle who was scrounging through the cupboards looking for cookies. Joey wasn’t sure where he would go but he was sure he couldn’t stay here. The nudity, anger, and general mess, were all things he was trying to get away from.
“Let’s call you gay curious,” said Jayce.
“What’s that mean?” asked Joey.
“It means you haven’t decided if you like to suck dick or not,” Kyle said as he returned and sat next to Joey, “If you’re faggot then you’re a faggot. Can’t go back and you lose the keys to the Kingdom— Kineson 22:12.”
There was an awkward silence as Kyle munched on cookies and Jayce fiddled with his foot trying to remove a hangnail. Joey could only think of ways to escape as Kyle continued to glare at him between bites.
“Who’s first in the box?” asked Kyle breaking the silence.
“Monday; no box,” Jayce replied.
“Right-the-fuck-on. I was, like, you know, I don’t wanna dance tonight; I just wanna get drunk. Hey, twerp, you drink?”
“Again, the name is Joey.”
“Erebody’s gotta name, does erebody drink?” asked Kyle.
“Well, recently I was at Mikes’ and he made me—”
“Kamikaze’s” they both interrupted.
“We’ve all been to Mikes’,” said Kyle.
“Did he play Mr. Mister? He did that for everyone else, but he just fucked me in the stairway,” Jayce said, “or maybe I fucked him, I don’t remember I was pretty high that night.”
“Sorry,” replied Joey.
“Oh, sweetie don’t apologize for other people. You have plenty to be sorry for all by yourself,” smiled Jayce.
“Sorry,” Joey struggled to find some other reply.
“Okay, quote-unquote ‘Joey’, you owe me a lunch ‘cause y’all stole my Chink-a-neese leftovers. What are we gonna do about that?”
“I didn’t eat your food and my name really is Joey.”
“Joystick said you did, and he don’t lie,” said Kyle.
“I never lie. It’s just a fact, you should get used to it. My word is, fucking, scientific law,” said Jayce.
Joey bit his lower lip.
“Well twerp, are we going to make this serious?” asked Kyle punching his fist into his hand.
“Look, I didn’t eat your food, and I don’t know who did. Maybe you were high and left it there last night, I don’t fucking know! I’ll buy you more if want. And for the last time, my name is JOEY!”
Kyle and Jayce stretched big grins across their faces.
“Jayce ate it, he had a noodle by his noodle. But y’all still need to get me lunch. That’s what the newbies do. You’re an initiate, you know, like not really a man yet. Until y’all get into the box and dance alone you ain’t shit. In the meantime, you are my personal bitch. As such, you need to go and buy us some food.”
“That’s true Joey. Those are the rules, time-honored,” added Jayce.
“Okay, what do you guys want?” asked Joey looking for a way to escape.
“Pizza!” shouted Jayce.
“I can do that,” said Joey.
“Jayce, do you want to go with him?” asked Kyle.
“Not really. He doesn’t match anything I have,” the blue-haired boy said as he jumped up and put on some beat-up punk jeans.
“I can go by myself, I know where it is,” replied Joey as he walked back to the door to the Loft.
“No!” Kyle shouted and jumped up off the couch, then spun Joey around from his shoulder. Joey fell to the ground unprepared for the attack.
“Never fucking use that door asshole. You go down the fire escape…that’s how you come back too, ya idgit!” Kyle yelled.
“Kyle, be nice. We’re not on ‘My Side of the Mountain’, or wherever you came from,” Jayce defended.
“Oh, my fucking Gawd. Why does Mike always leave this shit for us? You know, he needs to stop getting these grade-schoolers and get some nice-looking college boys.”
“I’m in high school,” said Joey standing up.
“Mike is a pedophile at heart, he just can’t help himself,” said Jayce to Kyle as he pulled on a shirt with hundreds of safety pins.
“He said he wasn’t,” Joey noted.
“Adorable, he buys the propaganda. I love it, I do, I do, I do! And I’m the prettiest girl at school!” chimed Jayce snapping a dog collar around his neck.
“Okay, Joey, here’s the thing,” Kyle said, walking over to him, “Most of us are under 18 and runaways. We dance for old men, and we make lots of money doing it. I don’t mind, but old ‘Johnny Law’ doesn’t like it.”
“Johnny Law is the cops. I think that’s a ‘Southern’ thing,” Jayce interpreted.
“It ain’t a ‘Southern’ thing,” Kyle said to Jayce and then turned back to Joey, “You’ll make a lot of money, but you can’t let people know about it. You can’t let them see you leaving the bar. That’d get us caught straight away.”
“And just like Mike is no pedophile, we are all, at least, eighteen years of age. In fact, I think I am 23. Yep, two three, that’s the twenty-third, one big two and a big ole three,” said Jayce feeling meta.
“I thought you said you weren’t 18? You both look older than me. Who is how old?” Joey asked
“Jesus in a dress, he’s gonna fuck it up, Jayce.”
“Technically, it is a dress,” noted Jayce.
“I’m not going to fuck it up,” Joey replied.
“What my hillbilly friend is trying to say is; in order for all of us, you included, to avoid an all-expenses-paid vaycay in Juvenile Hall we have to keep this on the down-low,” said Jayce.
“I will kill you if you fuck this up ‘Grade-School’,” Kyle leaned into Joey’s face and spat a little as he hissed.
“Go ahead and fucking hit me, I’d rather take the beating than listen to you talk anymore, you piece of shit, racist!”
Kyle stepped in close, his gaze and breathing intense, but Joey didn’t back down.
Kyle grabbed him and Joey could hear the seams on his jacket rip. Jayce gasped as he watched the strong teen pick up Joey up onto his tiptoes, “Why did you call me a racist?”
There was a tremble in Joey’s voice, and he was surely afraid, but he was doing everything he could to not show it. He had been hit by his dad, his cousin, and even Mike had roughed him up. This kid had nothing on those guys. Joey looked Kyle back in the eye, not wavering in his resolve, and said; “Chink-a-nese. That’s racist.”
Kyle gently set the boy down and wiped the wrinkles away from Joey’s nice Jacket.
“Yeah, that was pretty racist, which for the record that is a ‘Southern’ thing,” Kyle said.
There was an awkward pause as Kyle just looked him up and down. Joey wondered what skills Mike had taught the Southern boy into assessing ones’ soul.
“Take a picture Bourbs,” said Jayce.
“Let’s go get some fucking pizza. You’re pretty brave and you didn’t rat out Jayce, very cool. I like you, Grade-school.”
“Joey, my name is Joey.”
“Yes you’re Joey, I’m 23 years old and Mike is a straight-laced father of four. We all live where we live, Grade-school. C’est la vie,” said Jayce as he pulled the curtains back on the window and held them for Joey to go through.
Joeys’ eyes popped wide open as he recognized the phrase and the mohawk.
Kyle put his arm around Joey in an oddly loving hug, then kissed him on his newly blonde head, and climbed out the window.
Joey smiled and followed, but as he passed Jayce, he made sure to let him know; “You, sir, owe me a coffee.”
A bright blue prince, a surly southern prince, and one orange prince. Joey is making friends; that’s good. He’s going to have to dance naked to keep them; that’s bad. Can our little protagonist muster up to the stripper pole? Find out in the next Episode of Crybaby Queer: Princes of the Castro.