A few words from behind the scenes of The Boys of Bullaroo.
Most people I’ve spoken to over the years have had a rather distorted view of gay relationships between men (I only append those last two words as I’ve not idea about gay relationships between women). There’s always the unspoken question of “who’s the man and who’s the woman?” Unfortunately these stereotypes still exist in people’s minds, and I thought by subtle means I might infiltrate some of the realities of how relationships function, how they’re formed, and how varied they can be by writing this collection of short stories.
In Sergeant Jack, I’ve tried to describe the naiveté of young men in the early part of the twentieth century. Unlike today, there was no mention in the media of stable, happy and committed same-sex relationships. The only mentions of “deviants” in the newspapers would have been couched in polite terms, leaving all but the very wise completely ignorant of what actually constituted “gross indecency”, for example. From a kiss to a fuck, there’s a wide range of interpretations that could have been imagined within those two words, especially at the time. Arthur is totally unaware that such things exist, so for him his first encounter with Jack rings no alarm bells; it’s just as if a door has been unlocked, leading into a new world, one which proves irresistible with the man who’s handed him the key.
The relationship between Arthur and Jack starts as “Aussie mateship” (which came into being as a recognisable idea during the First World War) and soon deepens to love, their sexual connection growing from that close bond. I’d imagined when writing this story that their activities would not have gone past mutual masturbation and frottage. The story of Arthur and Jack is more about falling in love with a “mate” than a relationship based on physical desires, which become a consequence of their intimacy.
Read the words of the popular World War One song, “My Buddy”, to get an idea of how close men became in an age of relative innocence. It’s also the time of “confirmed bachelors” and “passing women”, the euphemisms at the time for same-sex relationships.
Cross My Palm With Silver was a time shifted story, based on my own life just after high school, when I became aware of a group of young men, no more than my own age, using prostitution to pay their way through technical and higher education. One of them was a musician who used the money he earned to pay for lessons from a very expensive teacher who only taught privately. Another of the boys, with whom I attended high school, continued to be part of this group even though his protector and lover at the time was a married man and also a senior detective in the Vice squad. Prostitutes can fall in love too. (Not that it matters, nor do I care, but I was not part of the ring , lol )
This story is about two men from different backgrounds whose initial attraction is indeed physical, but from their original sexual attraction they form a deeper, committed relationship, even if they do sometimes share their bodies with other men. The gay threesome is a well-established phenomenon and some couples swear that the occasional experience with a third person helps hold their primary relationship together.
This story affirms that gay men exist even in the world of corruption, the mobs, and extreme violence—just look at Ronnie Kray. The story is also about some men’s ability to see sexual connections as of little consequence when they are not with the person they love.
The Boy Who… Some men are “asexual”. It doesn’t mean that they have no inner stirrings, it’s just that those stirrings are not attached to an erotic fantasy. Donald “Spider” Henderson is based on a friend of mine, who eventually fell in love with the local butcher, with whom he formed a close friendship while playing in the same touch football team. He’d never been interested in men, or in women for that fact, but it was only because of the friendship that a sexual relationship eventuated, initiated by the local meat-man (yes, for my sins, I did write that on purpose)
When I was writing this story, I interviewed my friend. He still has no fantasies about other men, nor does he watch gay porn, or purve on the hot men in his footie team…not even under the showers! Go figure! And, I hasten to add, I passed this article by him and he has no problem being recognised, but would rather not have his name mentioned; search engines can be cruel.
The other theme in this story I wanted to deal with, is the perception that all men who enjoy being the passive partner in penetrative sex are “feminine” in some way. No, they don’t they “butch it up” as a cover either. In each and every man erogenous zones are where they are, not just centred on the penis, as is a common misconception. (Not just gay men find pleasure in being penetrated; if it were not so, there’d be no “pegging”)
The Stock Route to Starlight was the first of the stories in the anthology I wrote. A friend of mine sent out calls for a mixed-bag anthology, and I submitted The Stock Route to Starlight. The editor sent it back with the note “I fucking love this! Write more of these.” Her anthology never eventuated, but I began to think that perhaps I should write one of my own; and thus was born the idea for The Boys of Bullaroo collection.
This story touches on the men who didn’t come home from the war, and those that did were often “damaged goods”, told to man up and get on with life. I grew up in the shadow of the Second World War in a world populated by such men who put on a brave face, but struggled with memories of what they’d both seen and done themselves.
Derrick is a young man ruled by his hormones. While it may seem like a value judgement, how many similar men make less than optimal life choices based on lust? He’s modelled after a close family member who found his “reality” through multiple sexual connections with other men, and who ultimately made unsatisfactory (to me) life decisions by partnering up with men who offered him no future, and who took advantage of his natural leanings towards promiscuity.
Dr. Patrick Fletcher also has his own problems; I wanted there to be some question in the reader’s mind about whether accommodating to a partner’s sexual needs just to keep the relationship alive, when it isn’t your thing, is ultimately a good choice or not? I made no judgement, but I wanted to throw the thought out there.
The Connaught. What can I say? How many men have I known in my life who’ve married because of either religious or family pressure to conform? At the time in which the story is set, in the 1950s, it was worse of course. I’ve dealt with this issue in another novel, but so many men who’d formed sexual and loving relationships during the war came home and married, merely because it was expected of them. During my fifties, I came to meet many men who had, once the kids had left home, decided to leave their wives and “come out”. When I say many, I mean it. Blokes who had felt in their twenties they could put a lid on it and it would go away.
For me, this story is really about Spud and his struggle to admit to himself that he’s in love with Errol, and the consequent guilt associated with his sexual needs and activities. He’s like so many men out there who are only able to share their bodies when half drunk, and afterwards are filled with recriminations. It’s not that uncommon, and is most likely responsible for the origin of the gay meme: “Q: What’s the difference between a straight man and a gay man? A: A six pack.”
Charlie and Me. Two stories in here, and a tie up of all the loose ends.
Patrick’s story is an illustration of what men will do when in dire circumstances. He swaps sex for food to stay alive. Wouldn’t you in his place? It’s also a reflection of what happened in the Depression in the early 1930s, straight men prostituting themselves for easy money to put food on their family’s tables. It’s how the “regular guy” look for gay men came to be emulated since then; if you don’t believe me, there’s a ton of literature about it.
The other, more important story, is that of Anthony, who, like every other man who was aware he was gay and was faced with the prospect of going to war, wondered how he would manage. Gay men enlisted for the same reasons their fellow straight friends did, but by the time of the Vietnam War, there was much more awareness of what homosexuality was. Men didn’t go off to fight as innocents as they did in previous wars. It’s worth bearing in mind that in 1967, the Sexual Offenses Act was passed in the UK, making it legal for gay men to engage in intercourse in private. What happened “over there in the jungles” during the Southeast Asian war? Well, just ask any Vietnam vet after a few drinks somewhere quiet, where they feel safe, and feel able to talk freely. If they didn’t do it themselves, they saw what went on.
This story is the most personal to me for reasons I can’t reveal without permission of some of the key players who are still alive and kicking. There’s also a brief crossing of literary universes, as those of you who might read my forthcoming novel “The Seventh of December” might discover. Much of what happens at the start of this book is autobiographical. I also wanted to let the reader know what happened to Arthur, Edith, and Emerson.
In real life, did Anthony and Charlie meet up “over there”? Well, I’ll give you a clue…
It’s all in the heart, and “Charlie” says to say hello! 🙂