Sexual distinctions are becoming blurred, they’re becoming multileveled and dynamic. This is the dawning of the Age of Polymorphous Pansexuality.

Polymorphous Pansexuality and The Dolls

Nobody knows how it began. Like many another cultural or social phenomenon, it just seemed to rise out of the ground. Or, as it rose out of the ground in cities, it might be truer to say it rose out of the streets. It’s new and it’s sexy, and it comes from the urban middle class. Although it is perhaps most highly developed in Los Angeles, New York, and London, it isn’t confined to the great metropolitan centers; it has blossomed in all cities. But even though everyone’s talking about it, no two people can ever seem to agree on exactly what to call it.

What they don’t argue about is that many people of all ages and both sexes are reacting strongly against heavy, clearly defined sexual roles — the cults of masculinity and femininity.

When I was a very young man working for the New York Times, I once heard some older women joking among themselves about “the days-when men were men.” Often, after that, I tried to imagine what they were referring to. I would carefully examine myself for any signs of decay. My teeth were in rather bad shape, but I couldn’t see how that affected my sexual role. I was, however, rather hairless. Actually, I had already spent a couple of years praying that my face and chest would become more bearlike until I found out that some women really liked me as I was. Later I let my hair grow almost as long as possible (and also cultivated my American Indian beard) and then I cut it off as a sign that times had changed. I still felt pretty much the same inside but somewhere there lingered the idea that nobody my age or younger could really be considered a man.

In the last few years, young men and women have started looking more and more alike. Women are dressing more like men, while men have been cultivating the beauty of their hair. Just the other day a friend of mine appeared with very curly hair which had been rather straight. He told me he had always wanted curly hair, so he decided to get a real permanent. The first beauty parlor he approached wouldn’t let him in for fear he was a thief! Then he found one that made him look the way he’d always wanted to. He doesn’t look like a woman; and he’s certainly not just a weird specimen. Actually, he has a regular job as a trucking dispatcher.

When men and women first started looking more alike, there were lots of jokes around about how you couldn’t tell them apart. Of course everybody had been trained to think of men as having short hair and women as wearing skirts, so I suppose a lot of people caught themselves gazing lustfully at someone they at first thought to be of the opposite sex, only to feel sheepish when they realized that they had made a slight mistake.

Now, however, things have changed even more. Not only do strangers have occasional difficulty in separating the girls from the boys, but the boys and girls themselves hardly seem to care which is which. The result is a real death of categories. One of the main reasons that this phenomenon is so difficult to name and define is that the whole attitude implied is opposed to clearly defined categories so characteristic of “normal” behavior. It would certainly seem to follow logically that if this style ever becomes “normal,” then there will be no more “normal” behavior. One will think of a person first as a person, second as old or young, and probably only third as male or female.

Gone now are such categories and concepts as swinging, bisexual, switch-hitting, and even strict heterosexuality or homosexuality. Some of these categories were themselves ambivalent or double-edged. Many kids — and perhaps a growing number of older people as well — now live with the reality that everyone is just sexual, and that whatever anyone finds sexy is fine. It’s simply a matter of taste. Gone are the ideas centered around the proposition that there is a “normal” kind of sexual response. The Freudian phrase “polymorphous pansexuality” — certainly a gorgeous expression — is no longer restricted to prepubescent children. More people are realizing that they’ve only one life to live and they might as well enjoy it now.

Of course, this does not mean that men and women dislike the opposite sex more than they used to. It only means that the myriad taboos on what people of one sex or the other may dream about, desire, or act upon are vanishing. Today people dress, act, and talk as they want. Everything is becoming “normal.”

For the moment, I would like to leave the question of whether or not our new behavior is “revolutionary.” Modern revolutions, despite their sweeping ideological claims, always seem directed toward the goal of assuming national control; while the new sexuality has no designs of that kind at all. I got the idea of writing this article while talking to a friend of mine named David Johansen. He is the lead singer and main songwriter for a rock band called the New York Dolls, which has been described in the big English trade journal Melody Maker as “possibly the best rock and roll band in the world.” In one of several articles about the Dolls, the magazine used the word “transsexual” to describe the scene of their friends and followers. I asked David what he thought this word meant.

“My mother asked me the same thing,” he said, “and I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, but I guess they meant that we know that we’ re either girls or boys, but it doesn’t make much difference to us.’ Like it says in the song, we’re all human beings, real people. And that’s about it. Sometimes these things they say in the media aren’t too accurate, you know. I thought transsexual meant going out and having your whole sex changed. I don’t want to do that at all.”

Later on, I interviewed David and the other musicians in the Dolls, all of whom exemplify this development I want to define. I then went all over New York talking to people, especially to visitors from out of town, trying to find out if this thing is as widespread as I think it is. I wanted to go to the real grassroots sources and not rely on the opinions of professionals in sociology who may not know what they’re talking about. Johansen mentioned politics only once in the course of the long talk I had with him: “There’s a lot of fabulous women in my life. I love women dearly. I learned so much from women. I really love them. I think women are really our big hope for the future, as far as being cool, because a lot of women I know, being in the situation they’ve been forced into, have still made a beautiful thing out of it. They’re really wise and fair — fairer than I could ever be. If a woman were president, maybe things would be a lot better, but then you think of Golda Meir and… she’s too much! But I like all them women that they have runnin’ around now. I like Bella Abzug, I like Shirley Chisholm, I like Jane Fonda — I like all those political bitches. I think they’re fantastic even though I’m not political at all. Politics is so blown out of shape that as far as I’m concerned that’s not the way to get across to people. If you can get a message to someone who’s very young, and let him nurture it, that’s a thousand times more effective than gettin’ up and making a speech in front of a thousand old farts. I can’t get on that board. I can’t even comprehend it. If people were together it wouldn’t matter who was in power.”

The Dolls themselves are rather young, around twenty, and their audience ranges from much younger up to somewhat older. The people in this scene aren’t easy to pin down about their age. Johansen says that he “vacillates between being eighteen and twenty-one,” and a friend recently said about the Dolls, “Well, they don’t want to say how old they are because even the fact of a person’s age is just another category that people can slap you into and nail you down with.” I found out that some of the people who share a basically new attitude toward sex and life in general are much older than you would think, while others are really very young. In another sense, though, they’re actually exactly the same age — the age of the present time. So it seems to me that the phenomenon I’m trying to describe is nothing more or less than modern life itself.

Jerry Nolan, the Dolls’ drummer, described the situation this way: “They had Elvis on television, but they wouldn’t show him below the waist his first time on Ed Sullivan. In those days that was heavy. Even now, half the people think we’re a bunch of faggots. Every big act has gone through this kind of stuff. America’s a very sexually frustrated country. Because of tradition. It’s not like it’s anybody’s fault, it’s tradition. It’s the way we’ve been brought up. And it is changing. But in all these changes there’s casualties. Mental frustrations, not knowing which way to go sexually; it’s hard to understand, but I’d rather see this change, even with the casualties. At least it happened, thank God it happened, because it’s all going to straighten out. I think of it positively. It’s heading for the good — for the better. I suppose in a fad kind of way everyone will be like the Dolls in a few years, like people in general always pick up things from leaders, rock groups especially, and they pick up these little things. But I never take none of this seriously, I take it in jest. It’s having a good time, like dressing up. It’s a matter of how you feel inside, you tend to look that way outside. Some people feel like that inside but they’re afraid to look that good. That’s why I’m so personal to my music, cause playing drums was the first thing I ever did that I got respect for from other people. I wasn’t noted for being ‘Jerry the failure’ in school; I was noted for being ‘Jerry the drummer.’ All these years it’s been loosening me up. I was so afraid of girls. Then I fell in love with this chick that sat next to me, but my grades were so poor and I had nothing to offer — you know, you’ve gotta have something. So finally I was a drummer and I was good at it.”

After talking to a lot of people about how they live, I’d say that the biggest change has not been purely sexual. There are a very large number of young people who consider themselves very successful, and as everybody knows that has something to do with sex — because you always feel good after a good sexual encounter. And when you feel good, you’re less scared. And when you’re less scared, you behave better. Your eyes are brighter, your mind is sharper, and that’s when you can get things done. It’s a circle.

David Johansen often introduces one of the Dolls’ best songs by saying, “This is dedicated to the whole human race” …

Now I’m acting like a king
And if I want too many things
And if I’ve got to dream
And when it gets a bit obscene
I ain’t gonna go around with
My head hung down
I could hold my head so high

The media are often very nearsighted. This is keenly felt in Chicago and other Midwest centers, where people often complain that the tastes and fashions of New York and Los Angeles are constantly shoved under their noses. So, first of all, I sought out what might be called “real Middle Americans,” to try and get their opinions on how things stand in the center of the culture.

Toni Angelo is from Chicago. I met her at a party given by an artist who lives in a large loft in Manhattan’s Soho district. It was rather dark in the huge room which, except for a kitchen area in one corner and some comfortable chairs, was like an old-fashioned factory workspace. In the main section of the room, about fifty people were dancing to a stereo tape of various current hits played very loud. I introduced myself to Toni and asked her if she wanted to dance. She didn’t. She wasn’t smoking, eating, drinking, or talking, but still she didn’t seem bored or stoned. She just seemed to be looking at everything in a quiet, attentive way. I asked her where she was from — there are hardly any New Yorkers at these parties — and she just said “Chicago,” and kept on looking. I was going to go and talk to an old friend of mine, but suddenly she spoke up:

“I just got here last night. I was supposed to meet my friend here but she didn’t show up yet. You’re the only person I’ve met so far.”

In order to get over the oh-how-lonely-New-York-is routine, I volunteered to introduce her to some people. She said, “No, that’s all right, I don’t feel too much like meeting people.” After a moment the tape ended and it was easier to talk.

“I thought everybody was much weirder in New York,” she said. “These people seem to be just nice people. I guess in Chicago they might be more dressed up.”

I said I was surprised that she thought so. “No kidding. People are really into getting dressed up. Just the other night I was at this guy’s place, this real modern place near the Drive, and somebody called up and asked us to this party. It was real weird. The place was full of plants, you couldn’t see through them, it was almost like in the woods. But the people were far-out. This one chick was wearing nothing but a long Indian printed-silk scarf — she had it sort of wrapped and draped around her, but it didn’t hide very much. And the guy she was dancing with was wearing-are you ready for this? — a white satin evening gown! I’ve seen a few drag guys, but this wasn’t like that. Even though he was wearing a dress and had a little bit of green eye shadow on, he didn’t look like a woman. And you know what else? He really looked great in that white dress! Course not everybody there looked as good as those two did. But everybody’s going out today and living it up like there’s no tomorrow …. Maybe there isn’t. I don’t mean like the bomb and all that stuff, I just mean like, well, this is it! What are we waiting for? My folks were waiting around for years and what did they get? A chick they don’t dig, a small house, and two cars. Hot stuff! I’m just gonna do what I can right now — and for the rest of my life. Like I decided to go to New York two days ago so I just called up Julie, my friend, and said I feel like taking a vacation and here I am! Here she is now! Nice meeting you,” she said, and — giving me a little peck on the cheek — she ran over to the door and gave Julie a great big hug. The music started up again.

‘“I would prefer to be an it,” says one of the New York Dolls, “as opposed to being a he or a she.”’

Later on I danced with her for a while. When we went to get a glass of wine she said, “I like it here, but I didn’t think I was going to. I think everybody in Chicago should come to New York so they find out things are pretty much the same no matter where you go — you know what I mean?” Then she started dancing with some other people and I never saw her again. I don’t remember what she was wearing, but she had short, curly black hair and real bright, shining eyes.

While I was researching this article, I often went around with a cassette recorder, looking for people to interview. I found several at rock concerts, some at clubs and bars, and a few on the street. I tried not to interview them too formally, believing that a direct question is itself a large factor in determining their response. Instead, I would just start talking to them socially, and if it seemed that what they were saying was interesting enough, I would switch on the microphone (a very unobtrusive one that several people mistook for a cigarette lighter). Sometimes I would tell them what I was doing, but other times I wouldn’t. In some cases I didn’t get their names, and in other cases I didn’t ask how old they were. I just tried to keep the thing as informal as possible. In editing the tapes I’ve eliminated my part in the conversations, and sometimes I have rearranged the material so that it reads more easily.

Joseph Andrews, about twenty-five years old, is from Milwaukee. He wants to be a photographer but happens to have a job driving a laundry van. Every six months or so, he takes a couple of weeks off from his job, which is fairly secure, and goes somewhere. He has come to New York three times so far. I met him in a crowded theatrical bar in the East Village, or Noho (meaning north of Houston Street). Andrews likes to take pictures of actors when they are just being themselves. He had met several at this bar on his previous visits, and a few of them had hired him to take the pictures they send out to directors and producers in an attempt to get work. I asked him if he was thinking of moving to New York and starting a studio.

“Like they say,” Andrews said, “it’s a great place to visit. Sure I thought of it, more than once, but I guess I’m just a hick at heart. I don’t know, I just really like Milwaukee, but once in a while I just take off. Two weeks someplace else is about enough. Then I get homesick and go back. I always go to cities, I don’t like to go fishing or like that. Last year I went to L.A. — but I couldn’t figure out how to meet people there. In New York it’s easy, so I usually just go to New York. How do you like this suit? I just got it at Paul Sargent’s.”

I liked the suit, a green tweed with big lapels. He was also wearing a luxurious turtleneck sweater, and looked very much “the well-dressed man-about-town.” Among the blue-jeaned and leather-jacketed off-duty actors, he was quite overdressed.

“I blow a lot of money every time I go to New York,” he said. “It makes me feel rich. I just like to impress people once in a while. I make pretty good money, and I don’t spend much at home cause I don’t have to pay rent, so when I take off I just let go. I don’t care how much anything costs, if I feel like it, I just do it. One time I even blew forty bucks for a woman. I guess it was worth it, just to see what it was like, but I don’t know, I probably wouldn’t do that again. I just don’t dig it very much. I like to spend money on someone I know. The trouble is, back home, they mostly just want to get married right away and that’s one thing I don’t ever want to do. It might sound funny, but I don’t think marriage makes it. I almost got married when I was nineteen, but after we lived together for two months I was thinkin’ up every darn excuse I could think up to stay away from her. And one day I realized — I said to myself — I don’t want to get married! So we split up and she got married right away to somebody else and has two little kids now, but that’s just not how I want to live. See, I like things to be very neat, and if I want to do something I just want to do it, and I don’t feel that I have to tell anybody else if I don’t want to. It’s not a secret, but nobody knows where I am right now.”

He bought me a drink, and I asked him if he thought people’s attitudes toward sex and marriage were changing very much. “I don’t think so, not very much,” he said. “I guess it might be a little easier to get laid most places now, but mainly the only thing that changed is maybe people talk faster now, you know? Like if they like each other they just say, well let’s go to bed or something, and then maybe one of them will say no, but it’s not usually a game, it’s just that they’re not interested or they have a lover or whatever. You don’t have to beat around the bush; most of the time yes means yes and no means no, and that’s it. But on the whole, people are still into getting married and raising kids, so, like I say, if I get too involved I just split and meet some other people or I take off on a trip.

I’ll tell you something new that happened to me, though, the first night after I got here — well, the second night really — I was out having a drink and talkin’ with these two guys, one of them was from Texas, and we was kiddin’ around and they were tell in’ me how cute I was — and all of a sudden it hit me that they were gay. So then they asked me to their place and I said no, but we talked some more and, honestly, they were real nice guys and you wouldn’t ever think they were gay from the look of them or the way they talked or anything. They might of been putting me on for all I know. If it was only one person instead of two — well, I might of taken him up on it. But I can’t see having sex with more than one person, can you?”

A friend of his called Laura came in at this point, and when I left they were talking about a new off-Broadway play that she was about to open in. “This scene is really sick.” I turned around and there was a really beautiful woman with long red hair, very tall, almost six feet. She was looking right at me. “Are you sick too?” I said I probably was. “That’s too bad,” she said, “because I like your gray hair. _Is it real?” I said it probably was. I don’t usually much like very aggressive people but I am a sucker for very tall girls. “The last three men I met actually dyed part of their hair gray,” she said. “It must be a new fad from London or someplace. You don’t look sick at all. Are you sure you’re sick?” I said I wasn’t sure and she said she was glad. I was at Kenny’s Castaways, a club on New York’s Upper Eastside, waiting for the Dolls to play their second set of the evening — which was already over into the next morning. “Where I come from they would close up this place in a minute. Oh, I’m from the blue yonder. It’s called Kansas City. I’m from the part in Kansas. Most of it is over in Missouri, but it’s all Kansas City. I’ve been in New York for three months and I’ve just about had it. Everybody’s always playing games; you can’t ever tell what the hell they mean. I think I’ll go out to L.A. The trouble is New York is too sick and Kansas City is too damn healthy. There’s some go-go joints downtown where all these guys from the sticks go and get sloshed on beer, but that isn’t sick, it’s boring. They just sit there, tell dirty jokes, and laugh at the girls.

‘Today, people dress, talk, and act as they want. Everything is becoming “normal.”’

“So I finally told myself to go to New York and be a model. When I get here they all tell me how lovely I am and all that, but I have to change my hair or get shorter or have a lot of pictures to show them or speak different — they’re always telling me to do something different. At first I said okay, and I did what they said, but I found out they didn’t mean it. They just said that to me, they didn’t want me to do it. In fact, they didn’t care if they ever saw me again. I can tell you that the feeling is mutual. One of them told me to change my eyebrows, and the next one said come around when they’ve grown out, we’re tired of that look. I did get a few jobs doing fashion. You really have to work like a horse! You don’t just dress up and look good while they photograph you, oh no — ‘that pose is all wrong, we’ll have to reshoot the whole sequence, why didn’t you bring any pink eyeliner …’ Pink eyeliner, my foot! So after a while I just decided to quit being nice and tell them right away what they could do with their pink eyeliner! They called it a ‘refreshing change,’ but they still kept telling me to do everything different. Hey Frankie, change your shoes and all that. My name is Louise but I prefer Frankie. Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems to me like everybody else is. The second week I was here I met a really great guy and two weeks later he went to Italy for six months! It was only by chance I found out he was leaving. I ran into a friend of his: ‘Oh, what’s-his-name left for Italy.’ Oh, for how long? Six months! I couldn’t believe it. And I started getting real hard-assed. All these faggots really love that. It reminds them of their mothers. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against queers, but I do hate faggots. I mean half the faggots I know are straight. They love being raped by women. Maybe they’re lesbians who just happen to have cocks, I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll waste any more of my time finding out. The trouble with me is I hate sick scenes but I love them too. I just got pissed because somebody snubbed me; I said ‘Hi!’ and he just looked away. I don’t know, this scene may be sick but it’s the best one I’ve found here in New York. I’ve been to see the Dolls three times so far. They’re really great. And I’ll tell you, they may wear some makeup and some jewelry but they’re not faggots, they’re men.”

I asked Frankie if she wanted me to introduce her to the band. “I met them the other night. Well, I talked to them. They were Just standing around like everybody else. I hope they don’t change if they get real famous.” Just then the Dolls drowned the conversation in sound. The song was “Trash,” which had been a new song when I had first interviewed David Johansen.

“We just kind of get all our songs together,” Johansen had said. “Our latest song, ‘Trash,’ for example. Syl (the rhythm guitarist) came in with some music and I had just been wanting to have a song about someone who was kind of at the end of his rope. Someone kind of thinkin’ that everything was horrible and there was nothing worth doin’ anything about. So Syl came in with this music and I just put both my ideas together. This person, all he saw was trash, you know, and he couldn’t dig it. The function of a rock-and-roll band is to relieve adolescents of their ills, of all the mental cruelty that’s been bestowed upon them. You get to a certain age, which is about thirteen or fourteen, when you really start to dig rock and roll. You can begin to feel that you’re rather alone at this point, and a rock-and-roll band tells you that you’re not alone. In ‘Frankenstein’ we say, ‘You’re not alone, we know you’re not alone,’ and I kind of gesture to the band. ‘Frankenstein’ is a love song. It’s about how kids come to Manhattan from all over — they’re kind of like whipped dogs, they’re very repressed. Their brains and their bodies are disoriented from each other. They don’t realize that their mind is just as much a part of their body as their stomach or their foot. So ‘Frankenstein’ is a song about how they come here and they fall in love and they realize about the world — their own conception of life. The Dolls are like oracles of Manhattan. I’m always singin’ about New York City, and when I’m in London I’ll sing about London, in Detroit I’ll sing about Detroit. Every big industrial town is the same. It’s relatively new, people haven’t really sat down and thought of making it beautiful. The world is changing. We’ve gotta decide what we’re going to do with it. My father says that the best thing that could happen to New York is for everybody to leave and let it sink into the mire — and then forget about it for a while until it grows over. He says, ‘If I was you, I’d leave.’ But I love New York, we all do, and we think we can do something here.”

Arthur Kane is the bass guitarist for the Dolls, and it was he who started the band in the fall of 1971. Among other things, I asked Kane what the difference is between women and men.

“The only thing is that women are softer,” he said, “and they don’t have as much hair on their bodies. That’s about the only difference. And maybe their emotions are different. I don’t know. It’s hard to understand stuff like that. Everyone’s trying to break out; they don’t want to be stereotyped, so they’re trying to break out of it. It’s only a matter of time. I would really prefer to be an it, as opposed to being a he or a she. I guess it’s one of those LSD hangovers or something. You should try to be as much as you can. Try to experience all you can. The world is changing. It doesn’t matter what sex you are. I don’t think of people as being of a certain sex — it’s just if they’ re nice or they’re not. My big thing is to remain unchanged. What I’ve always wanted was a band that was good-looking and sexy, and that played good hard-rock music that could whip kids into a frenzy. So I’m pretty satisfied. I found the cats in the band, I just dug them all up somewhere. I want to be a free spirit, like Jackie Curtis says. All these labels just don’t make it anymore, like they say someone is a transvestite, or a transsexual-someone who had their body altered. We ought to tell everybody we all just came back from Copenhagen! Say we were all chicks six months ago, we just decided to go butch for a while! I would rather not say anything, though, and just be a visual effect. I’ve been into fantastic clothes for about four years. I dig the effect of just blowing minds, like if someone looks at you and then says, ‘Wow, where does this cat come from?’”

In February, the English performer and producer David Bowie gave two giant shows at Radio City Music Hall, which up until last year had a house policy of not permitting rock music on the premises. The place was jammed with people from all over come to see the dean of the glitter-glamour rock scene strut his stuff. I was surprised to find that the audience was very young. During an intermission in the vast Art Deco lobbies of the Music Hall, I noticed a young boy who seemed all alone. At first I really thought he was a girl. Everyone in the crowd was looking at him standing impassively near the center of the huge room. When I approached him I felt that I had passed into a magic circle that seemed to isolate him from everyone else in the hall. His blond hair just touched his shoulders, and he was wearing blue jeans, a white shirt, a silver chain necklace, and a thin silver bracelet. He looked somewhat surprised when I started talking to him.

‘“The only difference between women and men,” says the Dolls’ guitarist, “is that women are softer and don’t have as much hair on their bodies.”’

“For a while I thought I wasn’t really here,” he said, “and I’m not even stoned. Maybe if I was, I’d meet some more people. Maybe not. I feel like I’m in a museum and everybody came to look at me. Everybody’s digging me but I simply don’t know a soul. I mean, do you know any of these people?”

I introduced him to a few friends. His name was Bobby Burstein. He said he was almost sixteen and that he had come down on the train from Hartford, Connecticut, to see the concert. He explained to me that his loneliness was a full-time thing.

“It’s not just the city, it’s the same at home too. See, it used to be Billie and me — that’s my sister — we would do everything together. But then she went away to school and now I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t even know if I’m sad or not, I guess you could call it that. It’s the same all the time. Maybe when I’m seventeen or so it won’t be so hard to find something to do. Coming down here today was the first thing I did for a long time. I heard about it, so I just decided to do something for a change. But it isn’t a change. It’s a different place, but I feel about the same. Billie and me were going to run away together one time but it didn’t work out. All we could get was fifty dollars. It wouldn’t have been enough. Now I don’t even know if Billie really wanted to do it, but it was fun to think about. I wonder what New Orleans would have been like if we could have gone there last summer. I know someone who used to live there, and he told us about it. He didn’t like it, but from what he said we thought it might be a great place to go. He was just a kid when he was there, and maybe kids don’t like it wherever they are.”

It wasn’t what he said, or even how he looked, that distinguished Bobby Burstein from the dressed-up young crowd. There was a presence to him that was hard to miss. It was almost like seeing a famous person caught for a moment alone, with a lot of other people who are sure he is somebody but not quite sure who. We stood around for a few moments looking back at the people. Then we descended the massive staircases to try and get a drink of water.

The lines for the two water fountains seemed to be a half-mile long. The crowd around the orange-drink vendors was packed in. On the water line we met two young ladies, Joan and Candy. Joan was from Detroit, and she was also seeking a change of scene.

“I worked for three years and did nothing else,” Joan told us. “Sometimes I had three jobs at the same time, so now I want to take off and see the whole world. I’ve been thinking of going to Rio … but I don’t know. I guess I would need someone to go with. Candy doesn’t like to travel. I’m not afraid of going alone, but I want to have someone to share it all with. It wouldn’t matter too much if it’s a girl or a boy, or a few of both. I met some people from South America, but they want to stay here. I’ll find somebody, though. We go out a few nights a week to different places and meet different people. That’s what I like about New York — it’s real easy to meet people, and you never know what kind of people you might run into. I even met an old friend from back home on Madison Avenue one day, just walking along. He works in a bank. I don’t know if I want to go everywhere in the world, but I want to go to South America and the Far East — not China but India and places like that. I want to leave Eu rope for the last because it’s so easy to get to. I wouldn’t mind being gone a whole year, or I might come back sooner. I’m looking for something, but right now I couldn’t say what. Some people think I’m crazy, but I don’t care what they think. I’m a Leo and so I just push things around until I get what I want. It usually seems to work pretty well for me.”

I asked Joan and Candy about the difference between men and women. Joan wasn’t interested in the question. Candy smiled somewhat mysteriously and said, “Boys have big hands.” Finally we got some water. Then Bobby picked up the question.

“I think everybody just wants boys and girls to be as different as they can. Ever since I started going to school, I couldn’t figure out why they had separate bathrooms for girls. It seems simple, but I couldn’t figure it out. Then one time, I was in sixth grade, I just went in the girls’ bathroom. There was only one girl in there, and she just smiled at me. I peed and left. There was nothing to it. People are always trying to frighten each other. There are always places you aren’t supposed to go, and things you aren’t supposed to do. Billie and me used to do everything together. There wasn’t anything wrong with it at all. We were really living, and it looked like the other kids were just screwing around, waiting for something. I know they were, cause that’s what I’m doing now. I’d say it’s just waiting to grow up, but I bet that isn’t so great when you get there either.”

In our interview, David Johansen told me a story about playing at a club on suburban Long Island:

“We were trying to get different gigs,” he said. “They sent us to this place in Glen Cove, Long Island. All the kids had motorcycles and GTO’s, and we couldn’t believe that this shit was still going on. It was like 1962. The sign on the dressing room door said: NO GIRLS ALLOWED. They said, “We have too much trouble.” A lot of them were ex-GI’s, crazy kids. We went on the stage to play, and when they saw us there was this insane vibration. The girls were enraptured, they were crowding around and throwing hankies and flowers at us. The guys started brawling. They’re really into division between the sexes out there. When they go home, the guys leave in their cars and the girls leave in theirs. These days most boys and girls have figured out they’re not that different, but these people hadn’t figured that out yet. They were all slugging each other and throwing things across the floor. They must have been really scared. Guys were jumping up on the stage. The heavy guy that worked there was throwing them off, but he had more than his hands full. Finally it just turned into a brawl. We split the stage. The guy who ran the place thought we had incited the kids to riot! He threw one of us on the floor; he threw me against the wall. I just wanted to get out. Physical violence and me don’t mix. Afterwards there were fights in the parking lot. In the band we all trust each other. And we really try to understand each other. They’ re my favorite people. We never lower ourselves to a fight -we have more sophisticated ways of getting our emotions across. But, well, sophisticated is such a bullshit word. Nobody tells anybody how to play or how to act in any situation, and that’s the beauty of it. I feel very liberated from bullshit. I try to be real and I try to be with real people and avoid falling into bullshit traps. I say so many things in my songs that I’m not really into saying this is how it should be.”

‘Not only do strangers have difficulty separating the girls from the boys, but the girls and the boys hardly seem to care which is which.’

Johnny Thunder and Sylvain Sylvain are two guitar players with the Dolls. John is from Queens, a borough of New York City, and Syl was born in Egypt and lived in Paris until he was eleven. Although they attended the same school in Queens for a while, John and Syl first met each other in London a few years ago, where they were just American kids checking out the scene. Syl thought up the name for the Dolls before he joined the band (“One day I said wouldn’t it be great to have a band called the Dolls because that’s exactly what we are.”) John and Syl mostly talk in short phrases. John said to me, “I like some people but I really do find it hard to talk to a lot of other people; it’s because they’re speaking Russian!”

This, of course, points up one of the major difficulties in writing about today’s sexual scene: most of the people who are adopting the new style, or inventing it themselves, do not like to analyze or discuss what it’s all about. Such an activity strikes them as simply incomprehensible — like Russian. Syl reflected the views of a lot of young people when he said to me, “Actually, I can’t even believe it’s 1974. It ought to be 1935. I thought it would all blow up by now. When I was sixteen, I thought everyone would blow up by the time I’d be twenty. I used to trip a lot,” he added.

Then I asked John a question: “When you were a kid, did you think that life would be like it is?” “Life gets better all the time,” he explained. “It’s much better than I thought it was going to be.” When I asked Syl what the difference between men and women is, he quoted a song by an underground band: “Like Wayne County says, ‘It takes a man like me to know a woman like me.’ ” The sexual distinctions in that line are not only blurred, they’re multileveled and dynamic. It reminded me of something that Andre Gide once said: “One cannot both be sincere and seem to be sincere at the same time.” You can think about remarks like that for a long time, and they keep on changing, adapting themselves differently to different circumstances. It’s a little like watching the Dolls perform. At some moments they have an aura of extreme artificial beauty, which we all feel to be chiefly associated with women and their concern with personal appearance. At other moments, the Dolls are completely masculine, giving off the hard-driving sweaty energy associated with men at work. And as one keeps on looking at them, they change, passing in and out and around the standard definitions of “men” and “women.”

“I don’t think we really try to get any special look,” John said. “We’re just a bunch of rock ‘n’ rollers who just come up and sing songs. When you’re a singer, you say the most. The way we look is not anything pre-planned. It’s the way we like to feel and dress. We just build around the name, really. Each time we perform there’s usually someone who really comes across. I guess our music talks for us, at this stage.”

One of the most revealing conversations I had was with a couple I met at a party in Greenwich Village. I told them what I was doing and — since they didn’t want their real names used — I will call them Robert and Elizabeth here. They were from San Francisco, spending a month in New York — “sort of like a honeymoon” — in the apartment of friends who were in Europe.

“Neither of us wanted to get married, but we wound up getting married anyway,” said Elizabeth. “I guess it’s a real cultural event. Sure there was pressure from our parents, especially Robert’s, who are much more staid than my mother is … my father’s dead. But I don’t think that’s really why we did it. Maybe you could say it better.”

“She’s afraid of microphones,” Robert said. “Well, we were living together for a long time and it was fine. We both work and we have some friends in common. We have different friends too. It was cool, but one day we realized that we both felt like we were waiting for something to happen. I don’t remember how we happened to mention it but—”

“I do,” said Elizabeth. “I just woke up one morning and I said to Robert, ‘What are we waiting for?’ I don’t remember what I was dreaming about, but when I woke up I just had this heavy feeling of waiting, and waiting, and waiting around for a long time. So I woke up, but I was probably still asleep — and I just asked you what we were waiting for.”

“Oh, that’s right!” Robert said. “Well, we started talking. Sometimes we do that before we get up; we just have a conversation about something one of us thought at night — I think dreams are night thoughts anyway — and when she said that, well, I knew what she meant. I was feeling it too. We were doing fine but … I don’t know … well, we were waiting. So I don’t know, we made some jokes or something and we talked about it. We weren’t waiting to get a house in the country or for a new car or for the Rolling Stones concert, but we obviously were waiting. Then, like I was telling a joke, I said to her, ‘So, we must be waiting to get married!’ We giggled about that for a minute and we started making these outrageous wedding plans, ranging from doing it naked in the Pacific to making everybody get dressed up in formal clothes and having it at night in a cathedral.”

“Then we stopped laughing and just sat up and looked at each other,” said Elizabeth. “We just realized right then that we were getting into it. We had already decided not to get married. For one thing, the married people that we knew were really dull. They just sat around and sometimes they would fight, and sometimes just hold hands. It seemed to me that they were giving up their lives for the sake of the marriage. Of course lots of people who are living together act just like they’re married. After we started living together, I noticed that people started treating us like a sentimental antique, something very breakable, rather than two different people.”

“There’s something weird about meeting people who know that you’re totally committed to another person,” said Robert. “They look through you, they don’t look at you.”

“So then,” said Elizabeth, “we started trying out different things. We would go out separately and tell people we had a terrible fight and we were splitting up, and see what happened. Or we would go to a party and not be together, but just have a good time, if possible. A couple of times I went home with somebody else.”

“The first time she did it, I just got drunk and danced for four hours, which is sort of like fucking in a way. And the other time I decided to make it with somebody who always wanted to make it with me. It was no big deal.”

“It was a big deal for me,” said Elizabeth, “because we were trying to figure out, really, how to live. And of course people don’t usually start screwing around until they get frustrated or upset or something, so it was important to me that we — or that I — just went ahead and did something like that to see how it went. I was always glad to see Robert again, and I was glad he didn’t freak out, and I was glad I had these experiences.”

“We didn’t sit around and plan these things out,” Robert said, “they’d just happen. We’d be going someplace and I’d say before we went in, ‘I’m not speaking to you for the next four hours,’ and we’d giggle and do it. It’s a game, I guess. But then we realized that we were really waiting around to get married after all. It was weird.”

“We were kind of surprised, but then we got into it,” Elizabeth went on. “We thought of all these strange weddings, but we didn’t talk about it to other people. Finally we decided that if you’re doing a traditional thing you should do it in a traditional way. So we went to a nearby church and made arrangements, then we invited all our friends and families, and afterwards we had a big party at home. We did change a few things. First of all, I didn’t want to change my name.”

“At one point we thought of both changing our names,” said Robert, “but it was too hard to figure out what name to use unless we hyphenated both our last names, but that was a mouthful.” He laughed, mentioning a name like Rabinowitz-Contini. “Then we thought, well, the fewer legal hassles the better, so we didn’t change names after all.”

“We also told everybody not to give any presents because we didn’t need any stuff, and most people don’t like the stuff they get anyway,” Elizabeth said. “But a few people gave us some money — which just about paid for the party. We had this great party that went on all night and we didn’t split; we just stayed there. This was about three months ago. Then we decided to take off for a while — we drove all the way back East and here we are. It’s not really a honeymoon, just a trip.”

“It wasn’t really like a wedding, either,” added Robert. “Just the ceremony. I didn’t like this business about till death us do part and stuff, but then she convinced me that it was just a form — and all we were doing was telling out friends and families that everything was okay. But we didn’t have a wedding cake, and we didn’t dress in any special costumes. We just wore a flower and we gave out flowers for everybody to wear, and we had a really good time. I don’t know what will happen. It’s cool so far.”

“I think it has to do with training. You’re trained to get married, so if you don’t, you feel like you missed something that you were supposed to do,” said Elizabeth. “I’d like to have one kid when I’m about thirty-five. Maybe by then kids will be better.”

“She means, well, kids are too much of a hassle right now. For one thing, by that time we should have more money, and we might feel like spending five years in the country or something. I don’t know. But besides, maybe then kids will be able to be more human, or maybe people will treat them like other people instead of like something you own that grows up and costs money.”

‘Says rock singer Wayne County, “It takes a man like me to know a woman like me.”’

Jerry Nolan, who describes himself by saying, “before I was a Doll I was a doll,” had a very different view of marriage, but a similar view of kids. “I don’t believe in marriage,” he explained. “I’ll never marry. Because the law steps into a marriage — and the laws are not flexible enough for my way of living. Of course, I have to do some bending, but the laws should bend too and make things much more comfortable and easier for everyone. I’m not the type to run around yelling about how I’m together with women’s lib and all that jive. I’m very simple in a lotta ways — I just dig people as people. I take’em as they come. You can fall out of love gracefully and still be friends. And that’s the way it should be. But if you’ re married and fall out of love, the law steps in, calls the chick over to the side, and the lawyer says, ‘Now look, honey, this is what you can do, this is what you can get.’ And then another lawyer calls you, and you’re trying to get out of it. Before you know it you’re at each other’s throats — trying to commit murder! The law just doesn’t belong in love. As for children, children are people. I’ll probably make a good father, but right now I’m not crazy about kids. They’re being brought up traditionally. They’re a pain in the ass because of the way people bring them up. You gotta treat a kid like a human being before you treat him like a kid. I’m not into kids, because I do treat’em like people and I think they resent that because they’re so used to being treated like kids. You know when we played the Fillmore, the stage managers claimed that we did the most unprofessional thing that any rock band could ever do — which was let the kids onstage. And he’s right, it was, but it was intimate at the same time and nobody wrecked anything. Everything was calm. When the stage got crowded, when it got too crowded, they just knew not to pile up. Like when you’re a kid and your mother trusts you — she says, ‘I’m not going to ask you where you’ve been, I’m not going to ask you to be home at a certain time.’ Then you think twice before doing something wrong. Because you know your mother trusts you and you don’t want to disappoint her.”

I talked with David Johansen over a longer period of time than with any of the other people I’ve quoted, probably because I knew him better to begin with. I want to close with David’s remarks on sex:

“My sex life is rampant,” he explained. “I usually get raped more than I rape. But it’s so insane to talk about sex. Sex is something different to everybody. People have such horrible ideas about it, that when somebody talks about sex, it’s usually misbegotten. Most people have very perverse ideas about sex. I’m not too perverse. What one person may think is perverse may be another man’s stew and tea. I’ll give you a statement on sexuality: sexuality is a very personal thing, because whatever you perceive as sexuality, that’s what it is. And it’s not for a person to say he’s a heterosexual or a homosexual or a bisexual — because none of those things is real, none of those things has anything to do with anything except media and cheapness. Because people are just sexual. People feel things that no one can say are any one of those things, because they’re not. No one is any of those things, because everyone is all of those things. And people are conditioned to believe that they’re not sexual! It’s all just a media creation. The way sexuality is dealt with these days, it’s all in the sense of making money, including marriage. Marriage is one of the biggest ones. I never thought about getting married, but people change their ideas every day. If you slept in a dungeon last night with no air, you’re likely to be rather sarcastic or cynical. Of if you slept in the Grand Canyon last night, you’re apt to feel fabulous today. I think marriage is propagated out of mistrust and commercialism. Who’s to say there’s any kind of sexuality when people are just sexual? That’s all I wanna say.”

What we have termed The Dolls, we are happy to say, exist much more freely and openly these day. That said, anyone who follws, well, anything at all news-related, likely understands the constant threat to anyone who believes outside “the norm” — as other people absolutely define it. There are many place to explore the topic, but Loving More seems among the more comprehensive we have found. How wonderful when it be when we can all just love whoever we want and everyone else will love that about us?

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