WARNING: This Isn’t Your Modern Family

 I considered making this post about the banning of Travis Matthews’ 2012 film I Want Your Love to evaluate on a larger scope the overall climate of LGBT media content’s distribution, revealing why it’s so shunned and limited. But, that analysis is maybe a little too much to take on in a simple blog post. Let’s go off the assumption that it’s pretty bad. My friends hear me griping about it all the time, almost to the point of bitterness, so I’ll try to refrain from my usual diatribe. This film is great. I enjoyed it. The ban in Australia of all places, a relatively modern, major area is ridiculous. Yes, it’s explicit. But, even the word “explicit” has an unnecessary taboo meaning. I like that it’s explicit. Too often filmmakers shy away from depicting sex or do it in a sanitized, staged, and unrealistic way. My favorite is hearing someone who thinks he’s a movie critic because he‘s seen Wes Anderson or Darren Aronofsky or Wachowski films make the charge that certain sex scenes are gratuitous. Those “critics” usually come from a prudish place. All the more reason to explore sex in an artistic way to analyze these reservations. What I love about the film is that those scenes aren’t extraneous to the narrative. They are seemingly small but important moments for these characters – scenes that explore them psychologically and propel their lives to change. Travis Matthews could defend the necessity of these scenes in the film to the point of exhaustion, but that would be missing the point. People — straight, anyway — are afraid of gay sex. This ban is a clear indication in the huge double standard (i.e. the counterexamples of straight sex scenes just as explicit receiving an exemption). An exciting movement in queer cinema is happening right now – honest, realistic, and nuanced portrayals of modern gay lives — that won’t reach the audience it could. Lack of circulation and offensive official bans like this reinforce the conditioned wincing at real intimacy between gay people.

This ban is outright censorship. But, aren’t films like this tacitly censored to an extent even without an official block? Some comments have expressed dismay that Australians are denied this film. Those who want to see it and own a computer can see it though. And, even though I luckily don’t live somewhere it’s prohibited by law, I admittedly saw it from an online download. Louisville – a city in the shallow South that’s fairly progressive with an ample arts scene – didn’t screen it anywhere I knew of. And, if they did, it was probably somewhere small for one night only and wasn’t widely advertised. This film only circulates in the festivals, specifically queer/LGBT ones, a niche. For instance, I highly doubt Baxter or Village 8 would ever carry this even for a week given the production company and unrated status. The way the industry is set up is unofficial censorship.

Does this push the boundaries for straight audiences? I can‘t play coy by saying it won’t for many. I’ve recommended Weekend – a film I love so much – to most everyone I know, and gauging those reactions has been interesting. One friend I know said that it was definitely extreme in its sex scenes, not in a bad way, but compared to a movie like Brokeback Mountain or A Single Man. Well, I Want Your Love is a good deal more graphic. But, at the same time, the tone is subdued, a chamber piece about a quiet character going through a reevaluation of himself with his sexual identity, his place in the world, his artistic ambitions, and what his life has meant up until that point as he prepares for a life altering move. It may fall into navel gazing territory, but it’s allowed to b/c gay people can finally navel gaze on screen just as much as someone like Woody Allen does. It’s a beautiful, artful, and poignant piece. I shouldn’t have to say this, but feel the need to because I know people: Straights who are curious, you will absolutely need to go into it with the most open mind you’ve ever had viewing LGBT content, but I encourage it.

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Gay Accessories

I’ve decided I pretty much am the Disappointing Gay Best Friend (aka Tyler Coates). I even spent last night, Friday, ordering in pad thai and watching Netflix. Although, I didn’t have an overly enthusiastic straight best female friend egging me on to go to Connections (Louisville’s gay club) with her and pigeonholing me into a narrow cookie cutter caricature for her own amusement to fill some type of void in her life. Lizz (my roommate) was here, although she had a low key evening with some rented videos herself. Luckily, she doesn’t fit that bill. These videos have been making their way around the blogrolls. I’m a little late to jump on it here, as usual. There has also been a Salon article. Even though in an Advocate interview, Mikala Bierma, the “hag” of the video claims the intention was in no way a response to the Sassy Gay Friend series, I can’t help but see it as a contrast, along with many other commenters. I don’t really have any new insights or fresh material to expound on. These videos resonate with me as a gay man. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in social situations where women demand I fit this role, or think that I somehow will. The encounters range from subtle hints and comments to outright belligerence. Example:

Flashback to my senior year of college in good ole’ small town Murray, Kentucky. It was Halloween. As usual, I had grand ideas for a costume but then got lazy, and none of them ever materialized into a killer Oh-My-God-I-Love-Your-Costume stunner. I think that year I thought about being a Smurf instead of a Michael Holladay in a green flannel shirt and jeans. My friend Jessie and I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and drank at a friend’s house. No big plans. However, we came back to her place, since her roommates were throwing a party. A good friend of mine was there, and some of her friends were visiting (I’m leaving out names here, just in case, in the off chance anyone involved in this event may actually stumble upon this blog, they won’t be embarrassed. I like to pretend my readership extends beyond my work friends and sister. Thanks, guys. Oh, and you better be reading this too, Alex!). Her friends were a couple from her home town. She introduced me to them. When the female half of the couple deduced I was gay, she flipped out. She bombarded me with hugs and kept saying, “I love this guy!” Throughout the night, she would come to my side, clutch her arm around mine, turn, and announce to anyone in earshot, “Look at us! We’re just like Will and Grace! You’re just like… what’s his name? Jack!? Or is it Will? I love this guy!” In a conversation with her boyfriend, he spoke of nothing else but how cool he was with gay people. Gee, thanks. I gathered that he was doing this to comfort himself, because I could detect a level of threat he felt about his girlfriend hugging and kissing all over another man. These people were from Chicago, not a small town in Kentucky or Indiana. My good friend graciously apologized to me, and of course I take no offense from her, told her so, and I said that I understood. I’m not sure that I do, though. Maybe a part of me does.

I said I didn’t have much more to contribute to the conversation of the sassy and fierce gay stereotype and “fag hags,” but I do have some thoughts. I think it’s interesting how these videos portray a distinct stereotype, not in the gay man, but in the “fag hag.” Some hardcore feminists tend to criticize the misogyny of gay men, but this unintentionally explores underlying homophobic attitudes women can have toward gay men when they think they’re being accepting. I don’t blame them, because they are inculcated with limited ideas of gay men from the media. See Will and Grace and the exhausted triteness it’s built around. That’s not to say that female supporters of gay rights should go unappreciated. The gay rights movement owes a great deal to women. Straight female advocates help bring gay men into the mainstream. However, I question the consequences this has had, and they’re demonstrated in these two video series. In his Salon article from a few years ago on the subject, Thomas Rogers notes how gay visibility in the 90’s and early 2000 in the media directly links to a strong female presence: “It was no coincidence that the first wave of gay male TV characters shared most of their screen time with straight women — it made us palatable to mainstream America.” He then quotes Justine Pimlott, director of the documentary “Fag Hags: Women Who Love Gay Men,” in which she explains, “‘It was celebrating the feminine side of gay men, not about going into the bar scene,’ says Pimlott. ‘It disarmed their potential threat.'” I’ve always felt we must move beyond this safe celibate image in the mainstream. I also like how he addresses the marked difference between genuine friendships gay men have with women and the expectations of women who know nothing about gay culture, women who claim they’re just dying to go to Connections for the first time with you and then cringe two hours later when two men are kissing on MTV. There was my good friend at that party, and then there was her friend who embarrassed me, and mostly herself. We are not Lady Gaga’s pretty pink poodle accessories, or any woman’s for that matter.

I would be remiss not sharing that many of my good friends — some of my best friends — are women. This isn’t because I can help them pick out curtains or go scarf shopping with them or help them with their make up, none of which any woman would want me to do, believe me. It’s not much different from the reasons I’m friends with straight men. I don’t consider anyone my “hag.” I consider them friends who are people I share a connection with, and I know they regard me the same way.

Representation

Apparently Glee had a “very special” and “heart-wrenching” episode this past week. I wasn’t going to write about it, because I don’t care too much about the show, but with the number of blogs I’ve read opening it up for discussion in a boom of comments and with my interest in gay representation in stories as both a gay man and lover of fiction writing, I feel compelled to weigh in. I didn’t see the episode. I can’t stand Glee after giving it many shots last year. Its status as a sing-a-long for adults aside, it tends to be a pretty heavily male-centric show and leaves its characters in the respective pigeonholes set up for them. I wouldn’t have that much of a problem, since most shows on TV tend to do this, especially teen dramas, but many of its viewers claim the show is breaking new barriers for acceptance and tolerance. The creator himself even has this high opinion of his own show. I’m sorry, but simply depicting minorities on TV isn’t groundbreaking if they merely fit into the molds made for them. It’s just not. These depictions are actually an affront to these minority groups.

To those of you who didn’t see the episode, Kurt, the token gay teen, gets bullied by a football player, who turns out to be gay himself, and at the end brashly kisses Kurt. At least this is what I understand by what I’ve read about it. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Of course I’m glad when TV shows portray gay characters and their struggles. We need it. I don’t have any problem with Glee including such a story line, especially with all the bouts of recent homophobia found in the news. I take issue with how it has been perceived by certain bloggers and the commentators. This isn’t nearly as revolutionary as these “gleeks” are claiming. Gay kissing on TV isn’t anything new, and the barriers have already been broken. I remember seeing it in the shows I watched growing up. The first primetime male to male kiss aired on Dawson’s Creek in its third season finale – the episode entitled “True Love” – with Jack and his love interest of the season. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Willow and Tara’s first kiss in its fifth season in the episode “The Body,” and the two shared many others on the show after that. And I loved the way BTVS did it too. The episode is innovative, not because of the kiss, but because of the realistic, severe, and jarring way it was shot along with the subject matter. The episode is so focused on the death of Buffy’s mom, and Joss Whedon throws it in casually. In the season five episode commentary, he said he wanted the first kiss not to be such a big deal in the primary spotlight but something natural and common. The two show affection to each other with a kiss for mutual solace in the wake of grief, similar to many other scenes with straight couples doing the same. It wasn’t forced but expected of how their characters would be reacting in the scene. The WB wanted Whedon to take it out, but he refused and threatened to cease production of the show if it wouldn’t air with the kiss included.
Cut to about ten years later with this past week’s episode of Glee. My main beef with the show is how every character is an exaggerated cast type, and the closeted gay football player is no exception. Sure, on Dawson’s Creek, Jack played football, but he was already out, and I would hardly classify the treatment of his character as steeped in stereotypes. Gay fiction has transcended the “coming out” story, and now the aim must be to depict gays and lesbians like any character would be with their sexuality as a non-issue. The difficulty is perhaps balancing this with the necessity to convey the reality of the internal conflict gays and lesbians do go through in our culture, a balancing act done pretty well with Jack’s character, and impressive that it was on a teenage soap opera. After the first few seasons included story lines about his coming out, the show went on to provide arcs in which he had multiple romantic interests just like his verbose peers which is more than I can say for how Kurt fits into the acceptable and safe “celibate” but “flamboyant” image of the gay male. What real progress has been made here? If Glee is as diverse and progressive as some allege, as Ryan Murphy himself alleges, it would’ve had a male-male kiss already, and should’ve taken a cue from its predecessors to not base it on gross stereotypes.
Willow and Tara in “The Body” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, aired 02/27/2001
   Jack and Ethan in “True Love” from Dawson’s Creek, aired 05/24/2000