Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: A Beacon and a Boycott, Pt. III

disenchantment

The Saint was known to host frequent balcony sexcapades. The “narrow spiral staircases” led up to a “dark sexual scene” that came to haunt the Saint club’s memory in the eyes of many (McEwan, 42).

When AIDS struck, it decimated the Saint’s community; around 700 membership renewal forms were sent back through the mail bearing the message “Return to Sender. Occupant Deceased” (McEwan, 42).

DJs, staff members, and technicians at the Saint also fell ill.

Charges of tax evasion and a drug-dealing conspiracy were held against Mailman (though later dropped due to proven bias) at the same time that attendance in dance clubs and bars began to “radically” decline (McEwan, 42). Mailman became “disenchanted with the gay community,” according to Steve Casko, when he found himself fighting conservative city

bureaucrats alone.

Though the club had a capacity of 5400 people, once the AIDS epidemic swept through the country, Saturdays at the Saint drew in at most 500 people.

Members were sick, and those who weren’t sick, were afraid to go back.

In 1985, Bruce Mailman began to sell liquor at the Saint.

Mailman later opened the club to heterosexual people on Fridays. To Susan Tomkin, Mailman’s assistant, straight people “just didn’t appreciate it” (qtd. in McEwan, 42).

Soon an offer to buy the Saint for 6.5 million dollars from the Fillmore East Village Associates Ltd. was extended to Mailman. By the Saint’s 1987 Halloween Party, the sale of the building had already “passed the point of no return” according to Joel Teitelbaum (qtd. in McEwan).

The final party at the Saint in April of 1988 lasted 36 hours.

the last party. the last party?

in 1988, the “surviving DJs and lighting technicians and a roster of live

performers” enlivened the Saint one last time.

Saint regulars attended 30 hours of the 36 hour-long party, only going home to “bathe and change clothes,” according to Frank Courson (qtd. in McEwan, 42).

The Last Party spanned “three days and three nights,” evoking yet another Christian motif.

All things that are sacred come in threes.

Jimmy Ruffin’s song “Hold On To My Love” played as the Saint’s last party “drew to a close” (McEwan, 42).

After Jimmy Ruffin’s song ended, Marlena Shaw, a famous American singer closed the Saint with “Suite Seventeen,” a medley of the following songs: “It Was A Very Good Year,” “Love Dancing,” “Thank You,” and “Touch Me In The Morning.”

Shaw sang softly to a “tearful crowd” (McEwan, 42).

As Marlena Shaw’s performance culminated, “lightning flared in the [planetarium’s] night sky, the stage closed and the stars slowly circled over head. It was over” (McEwan, 42).

On the following day, the public noticed that the words “Hold On To My Love” had been spray-painted over the main entrance to the Saint. Bouquets were left in front of the door to the Saint on the sidewalk according to Frank Courson. Shown on the Saint Promotional Video, the following image likely depicts the textual memorial of the Saint, represented by Jimmy Ruffin’s song.

 

 

 

Many people, including Larry Kramer and other vocal writers and leaders in the gay community believed that Mailman took too long to close the Saint in the wake of the mounting evidence that AIDS was a sexually transmitted disease. Larry Kramer advised young gay people to avoid sex clubs and reduce their number of sexual partners, even to try abstinence. Yet Mailman did not want to “give up the freedom he had fought for so many years to establish” (Peters).

In 1985, Mailman was forced to close the St. Marks Baths due to increased political and legal pressure.

Mailman states that he spent $300,000 U.S. dollars defending his right to keep the St. Marks Baths open. He lost.

Some writers in the gay community did defend Mailman’s desire to keep the St. Marks Baths open. Bruce Mailman never “sat there with a shotgun and forced people to have sex” says Marc Berkeley, a club promoter in New York who later worked at the Saint during its closing years (qtd. in Peters, 82).

Marisa Cardinale, the executive director of Community Research Initiative on AIDS (CRIA) in 1994, believes the following:

“Our right to privacy and our right to gather are two of the most important things, as gay people, we have. And I don’t think anything, [not] even AIDS, is worse than voluntarily giving up those rights” (qtd. in Peters, 82).

ABANDONed

Things got worse.

The Saint disco lost club members, employees, and DJs to AIDS. The club eventually closed, a mere reflection of its former glory.

In 1991, drug and tax evasion charges were brought against Mailman.

An unjust investigation led by federal prosecutor James J. McGuire. McGuire and a team of IRS agents attempted to unravel the drug scene at Fire Island by targeting Bruce Mailman. Mailman eventually pleaded guilt to the charges of tax evasion, but he “vigorously” denied the raised drug charges (qtd. in Peters, 143).

No one in the gay community defended Mailman during his legal troubles, a fact that severely disappointed Mailman. The community’s easy abandonment of him hurt.

In 1992, Mailman’s case was thrown out of the court of law.

The Justice Department determined that fabricated evidence and homophobic motivations had significantly corrupted the investigation against Bruce Mailman. All charges against him were dropped, including those he pleaded guilty to.

Sadly, Mailman describes the entire experience as “being struck by a car” (qtd.in Peters, 143). What began with the closing of the St. Marks Baths swiftly “escalated” (qtd. in Peters, 143).

He experienced a lot of grief.

ghosts of the saint mystique

in 1994, Bruce Mailman decided to start cleaning out, stating that he was “slowly getting rid of most of what [he] owned” (qtd. in Peters, 143). He was in the middle of “downsizing his operations,” and was already selling his house in the Pines.

Author Brooks Peters believes that Mailman’s decluttering is a physical embodiment of Mailman’s “disenchantment with New York’s gay scene.”

Andrew Holleran, the novelist, had recently visited Fire Island at the time of this article’s writing; once there, Holleran states that he “felt like a ghost.” He believes that Mailman is in a transition, just as he is. Holleran proclaims the following:

“You have to start seeing yourself in a different way. It’s like molting and growing a new skin. One’s ship is changing course, reorienting and using a different compass” (qtd. in Peters, 143).

Bruce Mailman knows that his generation was dramatically affected by the onslaught of AIDS.

To Mailman, being gay “today is to walk around with a burden which certainly wasn’t the case in the 70s” (qtd. in Peters, 143). Mailman hopes that future gay generations will find the “same freedom [his generation] once had.”

Another mournful result of AIDS is the disconnect which resulted from it. Mailman feels that his generation did not get to share its “collective wisdom” with the next generation of queer youth because of the disease. He feels that “There is no continuity in the gay population.” The sense that the “young [gay population] arrived newly born and can’t benefit from anything that went before them” is upsetting to Mailman (qtd. in Peters, 143).

By 1994, Mailman owned the restaurant 103, was a silent partner in HX, a gay guide to sex clubs, discos, and bars in New York City, as well as the owner of several other real estate and theater investments.

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