Friday, October 31, 2014

A Thought At The End of LGBT History Month

Being Queer is More Than Genitals

Homosexual was a SIN
Homosexual was a disease
Homosexual was a perverted sex act.
In the 1970's we began to demand “homosexual” be considered a person!
We were not a “sin”, or a “disease”. We were more than a sex act, we were a people. A tribe was being formed.

A new culture was being built. We changed how we interacted, new values embraced, new customs created. More importantly, now we had communication with others. We were now a “tribe”. We could find out what the New York queers were doing as well as the West Coast queers. What had existed before in tiny pockets with regional customs where now unified.

It is safe to say homosexuals are the only minority that were routinely raised by non-minorities. In most cases the young homosexual was taught to hate or fear “those people”. It is a huge turning point when a gay person finds that there ARE others. When we find we are not alone. We are not freaks and that it is OK to be Gay!

Now we had to learn what being “gay” was! In the early 1970's this culture was being shaped and defined. Universal in that “normal” people could also see what it was. This unfortunately caused a backlash of hatred and anti gay bigotry that we had not seen for a quarter of a century.

This new culture did not have to be constrained by the old norms. Relationships did not have to be based on one person “being the man” and the other “being the woman”. We weren't allowed to marry: do we have to be monogamous? How about “open relationships”, maybe “menage a trois”, even “polymorphic relationships”. The whole spectrum of possibilities lay before us in a wide array. In the middle of an explosion of sexual freedom, we still knew we were more than sex. This was new territory for a people who were supposedly defined by “sex”.

Let me tell you about the moment when I discovered that being “queer” was about more than how my genitals reacted.

After graduating from college, I had discovered a church for people like me! It was called the Metropolitan Community Church. In the mid 70's, they arraigned for a new film called “A Very Natural Thing” to be shown as a fund raiser. Remember this was long before VCR's and Cassettes. Now we had all seen what we referred to as “training films”, (XXX film loops shown at “peep” shows). We could even buy 8 mm silent films to show on our home projectors. But this was different. It was not a “beat off” flick.

A Very Natural Thing” was a real movie with a story line. It showed two gay men meeting and making a life together with everyday problems. There was no need to “translate” it like we had to do with every other film ever shown.

It made such a powerful impact watching one lead say: “being with you, I'm too excited to eat.” Then the other guy leaned in and together they kissed. It was electrifying. I KNEW what they were feeling! I knew what that kiss felt like.

Suddenly it hit me this was the reason people loved watching movie kisses. It had never caused a response in me. I had been watching screen kisses for 24 years.

That was the moment. It was then I realized that I was gay, that it was more than just sex, it was a deeper part of me as a person. Even if I never had sex again, I would still be gay.

This film is also important in that it includes actual footage and interviews shot at the 1973 Gay Pride/Christopher Street West parade. It also has scenes filmed inside the Club Baths and the “Sanctuary” disco. This was as “real life” as you could get. It even featured full frontal male nudity! This was made 1974?

Today it is easy to forget what the world was like when this film was made. The Nixon – Watergate hearings, the Vietnam war, the civil rights marches and now we were starting to have gay rights marches. The whole fabric of our culture was changing.

Make no mistake: a “queer culture” had existed before. Yet it was so cloaked and hidden, few ever learned of it. Gay men in the early 1900's had few choices. They could resort to flamboyant mannerisms, which lead to beatings, arrests, and in some cases death.

For a good look at what that culture was like, watch “The Naked Civil Servant” about Quentin Crisp, (as well as the sequel “An Englishman in New York” which shows how deeply different that culture and modern gay culture were).

Homosexuals back then could remain celibate or marry a woman. This lead to untold heartache and self destruction. About the only other course was to keep very secretive. You could “drop hairpins”. This was the use of certain words or terms. You had to be constantly aware of facial reaction to them. Either they “got it” or had no idea what you were talking about and ignored you.

Dropping hairpins” lasted well into the 1980's in many areas. For example: asking if they were a “Friend of Dorthy”. Or if they knew any of the “boys in the band”. Making references to the popular “diva's” such as: Mae West, Sophie Tucker, on down to Cher and Madonna. Judy Garland was perhaps one of the biggest touchstones in the “homosexual heaven”.

When we look back on this time, a great resource can be found in certain movies. Advances in technology opened the door for a new type of video entertainment. Just a few years previous, films cost huge amounts of money. Even short 20 minute amateur endeavors cost the equivalent of two or three high end luxury cars.

Then with the advent of video tape in the 70's television networks found they could afford to make TV movies and have the cost returned in just a few showings. With the unbelievably quantum step of home video players in the early 80's, for the first time the average person could own a movie and watch it any time they wanted. Those tapes and the evolution to DVDs allowed sales to return even more profit while the costs plummeted for the independent director/writers.

So out of “made for TV movies” came the chance for video stories that were written by, of, and for Gay people. Thus began “Gay Cinema”. We no longer had to rely on what mainstream movie accountants told us we had to view. We can now see ourselves, not what the straight world told us we were supposed to be like.

Gay leader Vito Russo pointed out in his pivotal classic “The Celluloid Closet” the dangers we had faced. Up to the 1970's nearly EVERY form of entertainment taught by example that a homosexual needed to die. If not being killed by righteous “Justice” then by suicide! These images were especially powerful because many were hidden and subconsciously delivered. Thanks to his efforts and his founding of GLAAD, we now have reliable presentations. Movies are powerful tools. They can transport us into an understanding of how and why we got to where we are.

For example the films “Gay Sex in the 70's” and “How to Survive a Plague” guide us through one of the most difficult times our culture ever faced. Any major change like this causes fear and problems. Mistakes were made and reversals happened. However changes were moving ahead faster than many were comfortable with.

Now we have a body of movies that reflect a true image of who we are and how we got to be here. This, as opposed to great films like “Jeffery”: Hollywood’s best effort to present a sympathetic look at the AIDS crisis. A truly landmark film, yet for all of its support, it was still what straight media thought that “gays” were like. Gay Cinema is so important to maintain our identity. Yet these movies are threatened by free downloads and piracy.

Today we see marriage equality expand. Along with the ability to adopt, to live where we chose and have workplace protections, queer people are being assimilated. While we have fought for this over the years, it can take a great toll. It is no stretch of the imagination to foresee a future with no gay bars, coffee houses or just places where we can be around others of our tribe. Suddenly this new culture with its new customs may disappear.

we risk losing those hard fought protections as we cease to be recognizable. We could discover ourselves back into a different kind of closet where others could not find us.

So please, whither you chose a documentary, a love story, or a comedy, invest the time to watch a few of these movies. Ask yourself: How do we maintain who we are in a time of blending in? If we can not pass on that hard won sense of self – it will be lost forever.

A short list of available Gay Cinema DVD's:
A Very Natural Thing Drama
Parting Glances One of the first Aids Drama
Boys Life: Three short films: ”Pool Days”(1993), “A Friend of Dorothy”(1994), “The Disco years”(1991)
A Beautiful Thing Coming of age
Third Man Out / by Ron Oliver (or any of the Donald Strechy mysteries)
Were the World Mine Musical
Shelter Codependent Surfer movie
Breakfast with Scot Comedy – ice hockey
Big Eden Comedy with C/W music set in the great northwest
Strapped Avaunt guard - Existential
Latter Days Love story, when spirituality meets sexuality
Role/Play Coming out/marriage equality
Straight Jacket 50's Hollywood Comedy
The Big Gay Musical On & off stage with the musical “Adam and Steve”
Is It Just Me? A modern gay Cyrano
Bear City Diversity in diversity gets hairy, snappy dialogue
Any of the Eating Outcomedy series
eCupid A downloaded love app goes wrong
What Happens Next? May - December relationship over walking the dog
The Men Next Door Discovering you're dating a man as well as his son.
Judas Kiss A gay take on the old question of time travel
Hot Guys with Guns Wanna be private eyes
Wishmakers with a gender-queer character

Documentaries such as:
A Naked Civil Servant
An Englishman In New York
The Laramie Project
Exposed: the making of a Legend
The Celluloid Closet
Sex in the 70's
How to Survive A Plague
The Times of Harvey Milk
Stonewall: Uprising
My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
Becoming Chas

These just scratch the surface of what is available in the gay movies. There are also many more quality lesbian films as well as transgender, etc. Truly now we have something for every interest. We must support these resources or run the risk of losing them forever.

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