Chapter Eight Circuit Parties and the Gay Male Clone
Circuit parties" are unique to the homosexual community, but are like other parties called raves and can be traced back to the popularity of disco music in the 1970s. The popularity of these circuit parties has grown tremendously over the past 10 years. There is no uniform definition of a circuit party because these parties continue to evolve.
However, a circuit party tends to be a multi-event weekend that occurs each year at around the same time and in the same town or city and centers on one or more large, late-night dance events that often have a theme (for example, a color such as red, black or white). (Mansergh, Colfax, Marks, Rader, Guzman, & Buchbinder, The Circuit Party Men’s Health Survey: Findings and Implications for Gay and Bisexual Men. p.953)
Circuit Parties are weekend-long, erotically-charged, drug-fueled gay dance events held in resort towns across the country. There’s at least one party every month somewhere in the U.S.-New York’s Black Party, South Beach’s White Party, Montreal’s Black and Blue Party, and so on- and people travel far and wide to take part. (Ghaziani, The Circuit Party’s Faustian Bargain, p.21)
Because these circuit parties are unique to the homosexual community, it is from the media of this community itself that most of the information about these parties comes from. Although there has been a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, which is quoted from above. I have also found an article form USATODAY.com, Worries crash circuit parties, 06/20/2002. The information that is coming from all sources is strikingly similar. That is the high prevalence of drug use and sexual activity, including unprotected anal sex.
The circuit-with its jet set A-List of well-heeled and muscular gay men- had actually been in existence in the pre-AIDS time, albeit it was small and very exclusive. It consisted in the late 1970s into the early 1980s mostly of a about thousand men who flew back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, going from the famous parties at the Flamingo and the Saint in New York to the ones at the Probe in L.A. But in the 1990s the circuit grew to consist of parties all around the country, indeed around the world-from Miami to Montreal, Vancouver to Sydney-with tens of thousands of men who regularly attend events. In the early 1990s there were only a handful of events; by 1996, according to Alan Brown in Out and About, a gay travel newsletter, there were over 50 parties a year, roughly one per week. Typically, these are weekend-long events, more a series of all-night (and daytime) parties stretching over a few days, often taking place in resort hotels, each punctuated by almost universal drug use among attendees. (Signorile, Life Outside, p.64-65)
Every party has a similar format, with loud music and dancing at its core, spiced with live entertainment from popular singers and scantily-clad male dancers. Circuit parties began in the mid-1980s as part of an effort to raise gay men’s awareness of AIDS as well as to raise funds to combat the disease and help its victims. To this day, many circuit parties are HIV/AIDS charity events, benefiting a variety of nonprofit organizations. (Ghaziani, The Circuit Party’s Faustian Bargain, p.21)
According to health officials, Palm Springs, CA has developed one of the highest per capita rates of syphilis in the nation, driven mostly by gay and bisexual men. Palm Springs is where the White Party is held annually in April. The 2003 party raised concerned among public health officials and some gay leaders that the event would feed the spread of syphilis.
Some charities - along with public health officials and many gay rights leaders - are increasingly uncomfortable with what has become the dark side of circuit parties: widespread drug use and random, unprotected sex that some charities say is just the type of behavior they discourage. (Worries crash circuit parties, www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002/06/20/circuit-parties-usat.htm
Our findings confirm anecdotal reports of a high prevalence of drug use during circuit party weekends and at specific party events (Mansergh, Colfax, Marks, Rader, Guzman, & Buchbinder, The Circuit Party Men’s Health Survey: Findings and Implications for Gay and Bisexual Men, p.956)
Sexual activity, including unprotected anal sex, was relatively common during circuit party weekends. (Mansergh, Colfax, Marks, Rader, Guzman, & Buchbinder, The Circuit Party Men’s Health Survey: Findings and Implications for Gay and Bisexual Men, p.956)
Consider the potential impact of circuit party weekends on HIV infection rates and rates of infection with other sexually transmitted diseases, based on sexual mixing opportunities and patterns both within and beyond the 3-day periods. Our data pertain to a single party weekend for each participant. If we multiply the prevalence of sexual risk behavior by the median of 3 parties per year revealed in this sample, and if we consider the large number of men who attend circuit parties, as well as the growing popularity of such parties, then the likelihood of transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among party attendees and secondary partners becomes a real public health concern. (Mansergh, Colfax, Marks, Rader, Guzman, & Buchbinder, The Circuit Party Men’s Health Survey: Findings and Implications for Gay and Bisexual Men, p.957)
This seems harmless enough, but there is also a flipside. While the evidence to date is inconclusive, circuit parties may ironically be a potential site for HIV infection. The irony is that circuit parties began as vehicles for HIV awareness and fundraising. (Ghaziani, The Circuit Party’s Faustian Bargain, p.22)
It is well known, both anecdotally and through research, that drug use is wide spread at circuit parties. Studies indicate that club drugs are consumed by about 95 percent of party attendees (Mansergh, 2001). Indeed, drug use is incorporated into the setting as an integral part of circuit culture. (Ghaziani, The Circuit Party’s Faustian Bargain, p.22)
Research reveals an abundance of sexual activity during party weekends. (Ghaziani, The Circuit Party’s Faustian Bargin, p.22)
But one national gay organization in September of 2004 appears not to be concerned with this dark side of circuit parties. The NGLTF (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) has purchased the rights and assets to the Winter Party held in Miami, FL. A Washington Blade online article (Friday, September 09, 2004) quotes the executive director of the NGLTF, who sees no problem with being a sponsor of a "circuit party". He goes on to call it a dance event.
Foreman said he sees no problem with the Task Force becoming associated with a circuit party.
We’re very proud to have acquired the Winter Party Foreman said. “Having a dance event where people come together and have a good time is a good thing”. (Task Force to take over Winter Party, Washington Blade online, Friday, September 03, 2004)
· Gay Male Clones
Throughout history the male homosexual was often based on non-gender conformity, that is the effeminate male. Although this continues, today, a rejection of this stereotyping is seen in the gay male clone. There are two books written by homosexuals themselves that defines this gay male clone. Michelango Signorileis is the author of the book, Life Outside. Signorileis writes about gay men, masculinity, the gay male clone, and circuit parties. Martin Levine was a sociologist, and university professor. The book, Gay Macho, is an edited version of Levine’s doctoral dissertation. He died from complications of AIDS at the age of 42. The "gay male clone" was not a representative homosexual, but only one of many groups among the modern homosexual, gays, lesbians, queers, and homosexual.
Clones symbolize modern homosexuality. When the dust of gay liberation had settled, the doors to the closet were opened, and out popped the clone. Taking a cue from movement ideology, clones modeled themselves upon traditional masculinity and the self-fulfillment ethic. (Yankelovitch 1981) Aping blue-collar workers, they butched it up and acted like macho men. Accepting me-generation values, they searched for self-fulfillment in anonymous sex, recreational drugs, and hard partying. Much to activists’ chagrin, liberation turned the Boys in the Band into doped-up, sexed-out, Marlboro men.
The clone was, in many ways, the manliest of men. He had a gym-defined body; after hours of rigorous body building, his physique rippled with bulging muscles, looking more like competitive body builders than hairdressers or florists. He wore blue-collar garb-flannel shirts over muscle T-shirts, Levi 501s over work boots, bomber jackets over hooded sweatshirts. He kept his hair short and had a thick moustache or closely cropped beard. There was nothing New Age or hippie about this reformed gay liberationist. And the clone lived the fast life. He partied hard, taking recreational drugs, dancing in discos till dawn, having hot sex with strangers.
Throughout the seventies and early eighties clones set the tone in the homosexual community (Altman 1982, 103; Holleran 1982). Glorified in the gay media, promoted in gay advertising, clones defined gay chic, and the clone life style became culturally dominant. Until AIDS. As the new disease ravaged the gay male community in the early 1980s, scientist discovered that the clone lifestyle was toxic: specific sexual behaviors, even promiscuity, might be one of the ways that the HIV virus spread in the gay male population. Drugs, late nights, and poor nutrition weakened the immunity system (Fettner and Check 1984) (Levine, Gay Macho, p.7-8)
The clone role reflected the gay world’s image of this kind of gay man, a doped-up, sexed-out, Marlboro man. Although the gay world derisively named this social type the clone, largely because of is uniform look and life-style, clones were the leading social type within gay ghettos until the advent of AIDS. At this time, gay media, arts, and pornography promoted clones as the first post-Stonewall form of homosexual life. Clones came to symbolize the liberated gay man. (Levine, The Life and Death of Gay Clones. p.69-70 in Gay Culture in America: Essays from the Field editor Gilbert Herdt.)
Four features distinguished clones: (1) strongly masculine dress and deportment; (2) uninhibited recreational sex with multiple partners, often in sex clubs and baths; (3) the use of alcohol and other recreational drugs; and (4) frequent attendance at discotheques and other gay meeting places. Clone culture with its pattern of sexual availability, erotic apparel, multiple partners, and reciprocity in sexual technique became an important organizing feature of gay male life during the 1970s. It also became a seedbed for high rates of sexually transmitted diseases as well as frequent transmission of the hepatitis B virus. Many treated sexually transmitted diseases as a price that had to be paid for a life style of erotic liberation. (Jonsen and Stryker, editors, The Social Impact of AIDS in the United States, p. 261-262)
A key factor in the formulation and promulgation of the cult of masculinity that also dismayed the gay liberationist was that the dominant gender style was now supermasculine. It was as if the 1960s and the counter culture androgyny never occurred. Gay male culture was still reeling from the crisis of masculinity that had affected homosexuals for decades. Gay men, attracted to the masculine ideas they’d cultivated in the furtive days prior to Stonewall, seemed now institutionalize and exaggerate a heterosexual-inspired, macho look. The 1970s clone was born, and his look explored on the streets of rapidly growing gay ghettos in dozens of American cities. (Signorile, Life Outside, p.52-53)
A whole industry was sprouting from and glorifying this male culture, with clothing stores like All American Boy on Castro Street, a gym called Body Works, and dozens of sex clubs and baths, with names like Animals. The sex clubs catered to every to every imaginable sexual taste: the leather set; men who enjoyed being tied up; men who wished to be urinated on. The bathhouses had once been seen as an expression of gay liberation, at least among those who equated gay liberation with sexual abandon. Now, they were celebrating and enforcing the values that Evans saw parading down the Castro every day: The Premium was put on physical appearance and conformity. (Clendinen and Nagourney, Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, p.445)
For the gay male clone what resulted was not gay liberation or freedom from alienation by society, but was bondage into the enforced cult of modern homosexuality.
Similarly, in particular, clone culture constructs an identity of apparently complete uniformity: individual differences, even physical differences, are undermined in a self-conscious attempt to appear completely masculine, partly as a development of the 1970s attempts to create a counter- or alternative culture and partly as an attempt to oppose stereotypes of effeminacy. Most importantly, then, clone culture is essentially a masculine construction. The various identities are all related to occupations traditionally defined as masculine or real man’s work: the western cowboy, the construction worker, the military, motorcyclists, sportsmen, or policemen. These costumes or uniforms reinforced or reflected overall the 1970s masculinisation of male homosexual culture as previously outlined in chapter. 2. (Edwards, Erotics and Politics Gay male sexuality, masculinity and feminism, p.96)
For a great many gay men in the urban centers-the majority of which, some studies since the 1970s have shown, have hundreds of partners throughout their lives-living the fantasy has of course all been under the guises of liberation. But perhaps there is no such thing as true liberation. When we break from one rigid system, we often create another. It’s true that most gay men in urban America are not having a life of enforced heterosexuality, as gay liberationist might call it, with a driveway, a picket fence, and children to nurture. Many are, however, instead living a life of enforced cult homosexuality, with parties, drugs, and gyms ruling their lives. (Signorile, Life Outside, p.26-27)
In New York City, San Francisco, and other large cities many gay and lesbians had formed large gay communities. So, it was now possible to live, work, and socialize in what became gay ghettos. The following quote is making reference to the opening of, The Saint, a large disco for gay males in New York City.
It was mailed only to Mailmans friends and their friends, a self-selected group that formed the base of The Saint’s membership of three thousand. Anyone who wanted to join had to be referred by a member to the membership office for screening. The clientele reflected the screening process: nearly all white, professional in their twenties and thirties, mostly good-looking and muscled, with the mustaches and short hair that were the style of the time. (Clendinen and Nagourney, Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, p.442-443)
The streets of San Francisco offered, in theory at least, a cross-section of America’s male homosexual community, but, Evans thought, one would never know it to walk down Castro Street. All these men looked identical, with their short haircuts, clipped mustaches and muscular bodies, turned out in standard-issue uniforms of tight faded blue jeans and polo shirts. The image was one part military, one part cowboy, one part 1950s suburbia and conformity, and they swaggered down the street, many aloof and unfriendly, as if their affected distance enhanced their masculinity. (Clendinen and Nagourney, Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, p.444)
Clendinen, Dudley and Adam Nagourne. Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. Simon and Schuster. New York, 1990.
Edwards, Tim. Erotics and Politics Gay male sexuality, masculinity and feminism. Routledge. London and New York, 1994.
Ghaziani, Amin. The Circuit Party’s Faustin Bargain. The Gay & Lesbian Review / Worldwide. July-August 2005, Volume XII, Number 4, p. 21-24.
Jonsen, Albert R. and Jeff Stryker. The Social Impact of AIDS in the United States. National Academy Press. Washington D.C., 1993.
Levine, Martin P. Gay Macho. New York University Press. New York and London, 1998.
Levine, Martin P. The Life and Death of Gay Clones. p. 68-86 in Gay Culture in America: Essays from the Field editor Gilbert Herdt.
Mansergh, Gordon, PhD, Grant N Colfax, MD, Gary Marks, PhD, Melissa Rader, MPH, Robert Guzman, BA, & Susan Buchbinder, MD. The Circuit Party Men’s Health Survey: Findings And Implications for Gay and Bisexual Men. American Journal of Public Health. June 2001, Vol. 91, No. 6, 953-958.
Signorile, Michelangelo. Life Outside. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, 1997.