Yesterday we got some hate-mail-really though it was more like mildly upset mail-about referring to William S. Burroughs as a “dirty old poet.” And while I really like me some Burroughs-I did sit around and listen to “You’re the Guy I Want To Share My Money With” as a teen, so!-I realized that I also deeply, terribly dislike him. You know why? Those guys were all the worst. Setting aside the drugs and alcohol and their sons claiming to have been molested, at the age of 14, by friends of their father’s, and, yes, the wife-shooting, it’s also true that Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (a NAMBLA member, lest we forget) and their gang-some of whom are somehow still living, so, let’s not name names-were literary rockstars who kept a steady supply of boy groupies as disposable sex toys.
Pretty much it was as gross as anything you can imagine about the lifestyle of a hair metal band in the 80s. By the first-hand accounts I’ve been told, they didn’t care if the boys were 15 or 22 or were clearly extremely damaged from terrible childhoods; also, some of the groupies had sex with them all. And I’ll always think of Burroughs as “old” because, first, he was born in 1914, after all, and to people born in the 60s and 70s, Ginsberg and Burroughs and their pals all were unspeakably old, in that way that anyone over 40 is already unfathomably old to someone who is 18.
And sure, lots of this was truly consensual, even the stuff that’d be considered statutory rape! And there’s a whole crop of a generation that can pipe up at a dinner party and be all, “Burroughs? Ha, I remember when we shared a huge spike of heroin and we had sex! Hilarious! Can you imagine?” It’s a good story!
(Related: one of the things I find refreshing about many of the gay millennials, by the way, is that it seems like more of them feel comfortable with and only largely attracted to people their own age. That’s a good development.)
But just like “free love” so often meant that “chicks” should stop being “uptight” and have sex with whatever man wanted them to put out, fundamental to the whole post-beatnik and “groovy” literary and art scene of gay men was an idea that these, yes, old dudes came to think that it was their right to leverage their literary reputations to screw whichever troubled young boy most recently wanted their autograph.
So on some level, I’ll always carry some enormous dislike for the characters that pop up to be the new-again counterculture heroes in movies like Milk and Howl. They were, apart from some of their excellent qualities, also totally skeevy, gross, drugged-out predators.