Clones and community

American porn star Al Parker was famous among those who valued what he had to offer. He was bearded and moustached, lean and well defined, and he starred in over a dozen gay porn films with titles such as Heavy Equipment (shot in 3D), All Tied Up, and Inches.  

Al Parker, like Michael Glynn, embodied a particular kind of late-20th century, pre- AIDS gay sexuality. Such men were known, proudly, as clones. Parker was the clones’ apotheosis; Glynn was a devotee. Clones shared a uniform and a sexual code: tight blue jeans, t-shirt, checked-shirts, boots and leather jacket; short hair and moustache. They were supposed to be emotionally detached, hedonistic and sexually charged.

“The clone speaks in monosyllables,” wrote David Feinberg in his novel, Eighty-Sixed. “He dances alone in the discotheque, pinching his own nipples. The clone is self-sufficient. The clone is hot sex. He never stays over for the night.”

Clones were the beneficiaries of the 1960s sexual revolution and the 1970s gay liberation movement, although some questioned just how liberated these men really were.

The clones eschewed the previous generation’s camp styles for a consciously masculine projection of an identity that was understood by some to be a reaction against the stigmitisation of homosexuals as sissies. The clones first emerged on the streets of the Castro gay ghetto in San Francisco in the late 1970s and soon became a social and cultural force in the gay ghettoes of New York, Washington, London, Sydney and elsewhere.

The Star espoused this new gay style.

Before 1979, Sydney’s gays were considered to be either longhaired counter-culturalists in silks and satins, or drag-loving opera queens.

But the Star replaced these old stereotypes with a brand new set of images. The newspaper favoured cover photos or illustrations of hairy-chested clones and leather-clad bikers. Inside the Star there was more of the same: homoerotic illustrations in the style of Tom of Finland. Bulging biceps, biker caps and chaps were the order of the day, and the new ethos was supported by many of the Star’s advertisers.

“We’re not all washed-up ‘show’ girls or disco queens,” declared an advertisement placed by Folkways Music in Paddington. “Folkways offers a wide range of REAL MUSIC IN THIS SEA OF SHIT ... No Opera!”

There was a fair amount of crossover between the clones and the gay leather scene, and Glynn’s personal interest in these expressions of gay sexuality permeated his newspaper. As Glynn proudly proclaimed in a 1980 editorial:

“To many people, the Sydney Star is heavily into Leather and a macho male sexist image. To some extent this is true. One of the main reasons for this is the growing awareness amongst the people in the ‘leather scene’. As a group they can be just as narrow-minded, sometimes, as other gays. But there are many individuals who are actively exploring their sexuality and their lifestyles. They are not static in terms of their personal awareness. After 20 (or more) years of camp/drag/queen domination of gay life, it’s OK to be a man and be gay.”

If the Star was the clones’ newspaper, the Beresford Hotel was their home.

When it opened off Oxford Street in late 1980, the hotel immediately struck a chord with the same audience the Star appealed to. The Beresford’s new licensee, Barry Cecchini, was a former Qantas staffer who lived in the increasingly gay neighbourhood of Surry Hills. Cecchini took over a former working class pub and created a new style of gay venue, suitable for the new style of gay man.

As a street-level pub, the Beresford was a world away from the Syndicate-owned nightclubs on Oxford Street’s Golden Mile. The Beresford proudly advertised itself in the Star as the first hotel in Sydney owned and operated by gays, for gays.

The fact that the Star and the Beresford shared a common demographic is significant. It meant that this new-style pub, and others that followed, were perfect distribution points for Glynn’s newspaper, and Glynn would adapt his newspaper accordingly. Beresford drinkers were clones. They gladly collected their copy of the Star from a pile that sat on top of the pub’s cigarette vending machine, which was strategically placed near the entrance. It was prime real estate and Glynn knew it. So much so that he changed the format of the Star from A4-folded to A3 flat so that the newspapers sat squarely on top of the cigarette machine.

There had been a couple of attempts to establish a free gay press in Sydney prior to the Star, but none had solved the problem of effective distribution. Larry Galbraith, who edited the Star some years after Glynn’s departure, recalls:

“When I arrived in Sydney in ’78 there was a thing called The Advocate, which lasted two or three issues. I think one of the reasons for The Advocate’s short life is that people were leaving the gay venues at two or three in the morning and the last thing they were likely to do was take a magazine home with them. They were hardly likely to want to read at that time of night, in that frame of mind.

“The thing about gay pubs, particularly The Beresford, is that they were a place where people could go to on Saturday afternoon or in the early evening after work, and have a drink. They could pick up the Star off the cigarette machine, they could read it at the bar while they were waiting for their mate, or they could quite naturally take it home.

“So what you had with the opening of The Beresford and other pubs such as The Flinders [opened a few months after The Beresford] was a distribution network. Leases and freehold purchases were cheap at the time, in that area, and the pubs all had cigarette machines. You had a ready-made readership and you had an advertising base. And these things coalesced at the same time that a gay sub-culture was starting to form.”

 Not everyone wanted to drink at The Beresford and embrace clonedom. Drag queens, camp gay men, opera queens, non-scene queens, and many other kinds of homosexuals populated the territories beyond clonedom, and when a satirical newspaper called The Sydney Fart made its brief appearance on Oxford Street, lampooning the clone monoculture, gay liberationists applauded the satire as a timely riposte.

Despite its predilection for all things clone and leather, Glynn’s Star was a self-created institution that published self-created images of gay men. As such, it was deeply entangled in the conversation gay men and lesbians were having at the time about whether or not they constituted a community.

From the outset, Glynn’s newspaper championed ‘gay consciousness’ and gay economic power. Glynn frequently published the phrase ‘think gay, buy gay’ in the Star. It was his mantra, a phrase that reinforced the identity shared by those who socialised in the city’s gay bars, cafes, gyms and saunas. In every edition of the Star, Glynn published a declaration. The Star, he said, was published as “a contribution to the building of the gay movement and the growth of gay consciousness ”.

Towards the end of his first year publishing the Star, Glynn added the words “Gay Community News” to his masthead, by way of reinforcing the publication’s position as a community newspaper. Community-mindedness was never off Glynn’s agenda. In an editorial in the Star’s second edition, Glynn wrote:

“One of the main reasons for starting up this publication was to try to provide information to the Gay Community in Sydney. In the course of our discussions about the magazine we often came up against the fact that there seems to be no feeling of community at all in this city. Very often we are confronted by a certain bitchiness that tries to attack and pull down. Whether or not this has any relation to the national pastime of knocking all things Australian, I don’t know. What I do know from talking with many people around town is that many of us are tired of this vile habit. What has been most often expressed in the course of putting this magazine together is the desire for the Gay Community to pull its socks up and get its act together.”

 When asked more than a decade later to reflect on the question of whether or not Sydney had such a thing as a gay community in the early 80s, Glynn was adamant:

“I was going out every weekend. I was seeing that community. I have documentary evidence, photos of that community. For people to stand up and state that we don’t have a community, or to state ‘what is this gay community bullshit?’, these people have their heads so far up their arse they can’t see daylight. The final proof of that, for me, was identifiable people were popping up again and again at various places. To me, this spoke of community.”