Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Sewers Of Paris: Last Night Gay Culture Saved My Life

Has a book, movie, TV show or song ever changed your life?

For me, it was a late-night showing of The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert on VH1, hosted at commercial breaks by RuPaul. I was 15, shy and growing up in a small Connecticut town; this was the first time I had ever seen queer men together, rather than popping up as villains or punch lines. "Is this what it's like to have gay friends?" I thought.



Priscilla gave me the confidence to come out, and to start wearing some insanely garish bright yellow and purple outfits. Hey, if it worked for Mitzi, Felicia and Bernadette, I figured I'd have to do the same. And it worked! Before I knew it, I was dating a boy with similarly gaudy taste, and getting up to no good on the bench seat of his pickup truck.

Years later, I mentioned that memory to a friend over drinks at The Eagle in Seattle. He responded by telling me how important he found Christopher Isherwood, the gay novelist who chronicled the sexual underworld of Berlin in the 1930s. Another friend stopped by and confessed that Looking had changed the way he dated; someone else mentioned longing for a protective figure like Lucille Ball in Mame; and, soon, we were all remembering where we were on December 3, 2000, when Queer as Folk showed the world what real gay sex looks like.


What's the entertainment that made you who you are today?

That Eagle conversation left me wanting to find more of the formative media that shaped gay men's lives. I've never read any Isherwood, and haven't seen Mame. What else have I been missing?

That curiosity led me to create The Sewers of Paris, a new podcast about the entertainment that changed the lives of gay men. Each week on the show, a different guest reveals personal stories of the books, movies, music and shows that made them who they are, opening up about their secret struggles, hidden passions, and surprising triumphs.


The results have been fascinating.

In one of the first episodes, I learned about the young love affair that exposed a young gay teen to the secret gay slang of the opera world. In another, my guest revealed that Wizard of Oz conventions once served as undercover meeting places for closeted gay men. I talked to a man who learned from gay comedians on the radio how to defend himself with his words and wit. And I found another guest who grew up closeted and scared in Latvia, where the only access to camp culture came once a year in the form of Eurovision.

Throughout the interviews, a few pieces of entertainment kept recurring. I've rounded them up here, but there's a lot more culture that belongs on this list! I'll keep adding more and more as the show goes on -- you can subscribe at SewersOfParis.com to hear what we discover about next.

And please do let me know what I should add to this list. I'm always eager to discover more. You can tweet at me @mattbaume.

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