Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gay Film and Living a Lie

This is a pretty difficult topic to discuss actually. Because if I discuss it, people will think that I'm like a huge hypocrite who watches gay movies for the sex. (I can hear grumblings right now: "I thought he was supposed to be celibate and Catholic...") But that's not why I watch them. At least, I try to make sure that's not why I'm watching them. It's a tough thing being a single adult male. You're constantly concerned that maybe you shouldn't be watching what you're watching. "Should I watch this?" And in a way that question is embarrassing. Because it's like, you're a man. Man up and deal with sexual things; don't be a prude. But at the same time, you are well aware what happens when you watch something you shouldn't. You watch more. And more. And then it's too late. (I'll discuss this in much more detail in an upcoming post on how to fight the pornography/masturbation habit.) Anyway, I am sure to be careful whenever I watch a gay film. If it's clearly a movie that exists solely for the gratuitous sex scenes (which are a good percentage of them), I turn it off. It's a difficult balance sometimes determining when something has value and when it's just about sex, but it's doable. Anyway, this post will actually get interesting, even if right now you're thinking, "this is gonna be gross...." Hang in there.

At any rate, gay film is categorically bad. I say that without reservation. It's not good. (I am not referring to lesbian film. I have no idea if lesbian film is bad. I assume it's bad based on gay film. It's probably actually worse, to be honest, but I digress.) If gay people weren't so defensive all the time, it would be even less popular than it already is. I think this sort of ties into my LGBT v. The World theme. If someone gets up and criticizes gay film, it's assumed that he just must be a homophobe who is full of hate. When it comes to an "oppressed class of people," society thinks that you can't attack the value of the art without attacking the message behind it. It's stupid, but it's what society thinks.

And I'm really not saying it's bad because I want to justify my lifestyle somehow; artistically, it truly is that bad. I really have watched a lot, and I've only come across maybe one movie (maybe, maybe two) that I would ever suggest to another person, straight or gay. There are exceptions to this rule, but for the absolute most part, gay film is terrible. And it's terrible because almost all of it is focused exclusively on sexuality. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as sexuality is an enormously interesting topic (that's why you're reading this blog, right?), but it's never done well, because it becomes the only thing the movie is really about. It becomes the crux of everything in a way that's offputting and heavyhanded. Anyway, what I plan to do in this post is give a breakdown of the three categories of gay film, pointing out the only category I think has any value. Further, I want to address something that I think is important, the idea of "living a lie," and gay film discussion is the median through which I think it's appropriate.

Before I get into each category, I want to point out a consistent characteristic of most gay film (aside from something like Brokeback Mountain or something (which I probably wouldn't even label a gay film)): they are all really low budget (or at least low budget looking). I imagine this is because producers know no one is going to want to watch a gay movie (despite the progressive, liberal populace). And I don't think no one wants to see gay movies just because most moviegoers are straight. Gay film is bad because it's gay film. Gay movies, like gay anything, are necessarily preceded by the adjective. It's gay film. Like it's gay literature. When it's anything film, it's always worse than just being film. And it's kind of interesting, actually. I think it's difficult to have film with gay characters without it being "gay film." This, I guess, is because homosexuality is so obviously always an issue. The characters are constantly having to justify their own existence in the scene, even when they're trying to do the exact opposite.

Anyway, to the categories. There are only a few types of gay films (three, I'll argue here). One, the sex movie. There are a lot like these, and they basically look like American Pie with gay people. They're bright (with lots of pastel colors), happy, and everyone has sex with everyone else. The drama elements are all embarrassingly shallow, and there is always a really effeminate, over-the-top character who says ridiculous one-liners with a stupid face and a dumb lisp. (Sometimes this character shows up in decent films, and it's only that much worse.) These are the absolute worst of the worst (maybe even worst of the worst movies ever), and I have no idea why they're made. I feel like they're embarrassing for gay people. If I were part of the gay community, I would make it my job to criticize the hell out of these. They're that bad. 

The second is the relationship movie. These are only slightly better, and they're much worse than their heterosexual counterparts. These always feel a bit forced, and they're often really heavy. That is, you're never really certain why the characters are going through what they're going through, but they are going through it hard. And you know about it. Brooding, I guess the word would be. A lot of these either are or often feel like foreign films. And every one of them makes certain to mention the "LGBT fight." There's always some person in the movie who yells "FAGS!" at the characters, who stand there indignant, hurt. They also tend to have really explicit sex scenes; I guess, to show the "intimacy" of the characters? With some skipping, I can get through these (I can't get through the first category of movies at all), but I'd never really suggest them to anyone. I will sometimes stop them before they finish, though, as you often don't really care about the characters in any real way to see what happens to them in the end.

The third category is the only possibly good category of gay film that exists. This is what I'd call the coming-out movie. The coming out process in these movies is usually done through a relationship, and it's usually done with young (usually teenage) characters. The relationships usually come in one of two ways. One, someone more experienced showing the less experienced person how it works. These are bad. And two, both parties are ignorant, and this is their first homosexual experience. These are much better. More on why below. In these, there's often the nerdy kid starting a secret relationship with the most popular guy in school (who nobody knows is gay). I'm not sure why this is. I'm guessing it's sort of a fantasy for nerdy kids to feel special having a secret relationship with the popular guy who could get any of the girls. I'm wondering if this is a sort of perverse resentment thing; I'm not sure.

Anyway, the struggle in these coming-out movies occurs in one of two ways. Either it's a struggle against society (usually represented by people who would disown their own children for being gay) or against religion (which is always shown as oppressive and closed-minded). The resolution to the society ones are pretty much always the same. The character(s) get up the guts to go and show everyone that they don't care and that their love is more important than any societal standards, blah, blah, blah. The religious ones are a little more interesting. In those, there's a clear tension between what the kid believes and what he's trying to control. This tension is a lot more interesting (because I don't think there is a resolution to the tension; you cannot have gay sex and hold traditional religious beliefs), but the resolution of it is always a let down. The kid either drops the religion entirely (ignoring the fact that the religion was meaningful (these movies are always unintentionally tragic)), or he tries to reform the religion in some modern, silly way, saying things like, "this is a religion of love, not hate!"

Anyway, why do I bring all of this up? I'm not merely trying to review movies. I want to point out a characteristic of the third categories of movies that I think is worth discussing. In those movies, the characters are always hiding their sexuality. They are, as people would say, "living a lie." I think this is interesting for a couple of reasons. But what's most interesting about it to me is that it seems to be a characteristics only of gay stories (and gay film). That is, I can't think of any other story where a person is "living a lie" to the extent that a homosexual person does. The closest I can think is maybe a race movie, where the character is hiding his race. But I've never really seen anything like this, and I'd argue that race is less vital to identity struggle, generally-speaking, than sexuality. Now, I don't mean characters never live fake lives in stories or movies. I'm saying that I can't think of any other story where the character, just by being born, is put in a situation where he either has to or naturally just does decide to live a lie. The homosexual necessarily does not fit in. And not just with society (though that's there), but with other human beings in general.

I think this is something unique about the homosexual experience that the third category of gay films comes close to addressing. It's a strange thing never really being completely honest with even your closest friends and family members. It's a strange thing having a whole nother side to you that very few people (or perhaps no one) knows about. I think this is why the stories where both characters are ignorant or inexperienced are most interesting. The characters are revealing to each other something they've never revealed to anyone else. It's a type of intimacy that explicit sex scenes can never capture. In fact, the best of these movies have no sex scenes at all. And as I said, I think it's unique to homosexual stories. It's because of this that I think gay film doesn't have to necessarily be terrible, even though it always is. I think there's something uniquely tragic about the whole situation that every human being can understand, even if that's as far as it goes. So if by this point you are wondering (and I'm sure you are) why, if they are always so bad, I waste my time watching them, I think I'm looking for a movie that comes close to identifying this unique issue and addressing it in a non-preachy, non-political genuine way. I think it would make for a really good movie actually.

Anyway, I'm not advocating that anyone watch any gay film. Not because it's immoral necessarily (though in some cases it absolutely is (see category one, which one should never watch)), but because it's artistically awful and often has a terrible message. I did not mention a lot about how morally destructive some of the arguments are in gay film. That's not really what this post is about, and I think it should be obvious. Very few characters in any of the films have many redeeming moral qualities, so please do not take the post to mean that I think these types of movies are morally neutral. Further, a lot of gay film can be for the homosexual a great source of temptation, and if it is (especially in the case of a younger person), it should be positively avoided. I merely wanted to point out something redeeming about it---or something redeeming about the homosexual experience in general. I'm not sure what there is to learn from it. That is, I don't know what human beings can learn from the fact that certain people are born to live false lives, but there's something there that might be of value.


  1. I think there's a distinction between "never quite fitting in" and "living a lie." I think that homosexuality, both because it is very uncommon (3%-ish) and because sexuality is very fundamental, will always in some way be an outlier. Either you abstain from that lifestyle (as you are doing), or you engage in it and try to cobble together the various elements of the heterosexual family unit through gay marriage, adoption/surrogacy/in vitro, etc.

    But I think that even for those people who engage in the lifestyle and have convinced themselves that it is morally okay, they must be constantly reminded that theirs is not the "normal" way, not the way that things are "meant" to be. Every time they have sex, they are reminded that their body does not fit together with their partner's, that their bodies were not made for each other. The process of bringing a child into the family is done in a lab, through mountains of paperwork, or through some anonymous 3rd party, instead of through the normal process of conception. I think it would be like trying to wear your left shoe on your right foot and your right shoe on your left foot your entire life: you can walk, but it's cumbersome and never quite fits.

    But I think that's different from living a lie, at least in the case of celibacy. I think that honesty with yourself and with others is generally the best policy. And I think that one of the reasons why your celibate lifestyle seems so strange to you is because we live in a largely secular/Protestant society that has lost a sense of the celibate vocation's unique value. Our society sees celibacy solely in terms what what you are LOSING, not what you are GAINING. When you read Paul's letters, he repeatedly reiterates that being celibate is often preferable, because it frees up your time, your money and your heart to serve God more fully.

    I remember talking to my priest at Princeton about his discernment process, and he told me that for a while after college, he dated a devout Catholic girl and he thought that that was what he had been looking for all along. But then he gradually realized that for him, it was too difficult to serve God as much as he wanted to and also have the commitments of being married with kids, and he decided to become a priest. I think the understanding gap on this issue is why Christian exhortations for gay people to remain celibate are often seen as "unrealistic" or "extremely harsh"--you see the same thing with the celibate priesthood.

    So I think that you're being overly pessimistic with the whole "certain people are born to live false lives" thing. Born to be something of an outsider to part of the human experience? Sure. Born to a calling to unique heroism? Certainly. But it's important to remember that that time/energy/love can be redirected to very fruitful purposes elsewhere: work, study, worship, serving others, etc.

    1. I would like to emphasize that I am not saying that homosexuals Should live secret, false lives. Or even that they Have to. I am saying that they are put in a unique position where they are necessarily faced with the reality that they have to make a choice of who they are going to be to the world. Your priest friend, for example. He had a Choice. He could genuinely follow the path that men flourish at (marriage, sex, children) and live a life without any Real secrets. What people saw is pretty much what they got: a man who loves his wife and shows it by having sex with her. Or he could choose to devote everything to God. And there's really no secrets there either. He is someone who thinks direct service to God is more important than anything else. The homosexual is Not given this. He is faced, at the moment he realizes that he is different, with enormously difficult questions of who he is supposed to be to others and himself.

      As I try to argue in the blog overall, I don't think these questions are impossible to answer. I think, as you point out, that celibacy can lead to even greater things. I agree with all of that. I'm merely saying that sexual identity is such an enormous part of a person's identity that it being broken creates a unique experience that I think all humans can learn something from.

    2. What do you think about asexuality? Do you think it would be harder or easier? I've often wondered this, if it would be easier to have this part of your identity misdirected (homosexuality) or missing entirely (asexuality).

    3. Personally, I'd prefer being asexual, if asexuality really did mean having no sexual desire. It'd be nice not falling in love with random guys and being compelled to stare too long at someone's abs. Especially since there's no obvious direction those desires can be oriented.

      THAT SAID, I don't think that's all it means. I think sexuality is connected strongly to a lot of other parts of ourselves. In other words, I don't think everything can be defined as strictly sexual or strictly not. Whatever makes a person asexual probably makes them less receptive and less responsive to normal human emotions, etc.

      I actually think a lot of asexuality involves other problems, but I don't claim to really have any idea. For example, I find this really strange. I think it's tied to other things that can't accurately be called "asexuality," even if I do think something like a physically broken sexual drive does exist.

  2. So it sounds like something you'd like to see is, say... a 'coming out' story that has some of the following features.

    * The person comes to grips with who/what they're attracted to, and decides to let everyone know as much.

    * There are no heavy sex scenes that get worked into it, maybe even with the romance angle being dropped entirely.

    * The sexual preference is not regarded as some unambiguous good.

    * The people who reject the lifestyle (for lack of a better word) aren't all close-minded bigots or caricatures.

    * Though this would probably be a lot to ask for considering who makes these movies - one where someone both comes out but decides that they're going to reject that lifestyle all the same and remain celibate?

    Am I getting some of the fundamentals right here in terms of bullet points?

    By the way, regarding the lisping, exaggerated character - do you think such guys actually exist to some real degree? I remember Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall talking about how, at the time, his Buddy Cole character was regarded as kind of bigoted (if you never saw that show, Buddy was real over the top with the lisping and dress, etc) - his response was that those kinds of people really do exist in gay culture, and I always wondered about that.

    1. *No, not necessarily. I actually don't like when characters do this. I think the richness of the story would come out (pun?) through a close relationship with another person, not through a public coming out scene.

      *Sex scenes often detract from the overall story. It's also often really cheap. And, seeing as I think homosexual sex is immoral, it normally makes me like the characters less. As such, if it does happen, I prefer it to not be on screen.

      *Yes, this would be the key to the whole film. I actually think this is present in some of the current coming-out movies. That is, the characters think they are bad in what they are/what they are doing, but the movie eventually argues that they were just ignorant of the truth, and in reality, "being gay is fine!" I think this "solution" sort of misses the point of the conflict.

      *This would be vital, but I have no idea how you'd pull it off. I don't know how you can have a character compassionately understanding another character without it coming off as unbearably cheesy.

      *I also don't know how you'd do this without making it preachy in the opposite direction. It probably couldn't be explicit.

      I honestly don't know what this sort of movie would look like. I think it would be enormously difficult to make. You can't make it too sacrificial, but you also can't make it too preachy.

      I had a friend who ended up being gay (the only close friend of mine who this ended up being the case with), and he is now uncomfortably flamboyant and lispy. I caught up with him about a year back, maybe two. I couldn't even handle being in a restaurant with him. He drew so much attention to himself, it was genuinely embarrassing. He wasn't like this when we were younger, but he wasn't "out" then.

      He doesn't know that I'm gay. I'm not sure how he'd take that news, especially since, I think, he sort of had a thing for me (something that led to the end of our friendship). I plan to do a post or a series on masculinity and femininity as it applies to homosexuals. It should address some of these things.

    2. I had a friend who ended up being gay (the only close friend of mine who this ended up being the case with), and he is now uncomfortably flamboyant and lispy. I caught up with him about a year back, maybe two. I couldn't even handle being in a restaurant with him. He drew so much attention to himself, it was genuinely embarrassing. He wasn't like this when we were younger, but he wasn't "out" then.

      Alright. See, a number of people I know seem to think that that sort of behavior is practically "gayness in its natural habitat" or something like that - like on a biological level a gay person acts like this and really has to fight hard to not be that way. (This is from some otherwise 'Yay SSM!' sorts, no less.)

      You're right about how it would require a whole lot of subtlety and the risk of being cheesy, with regards to the movies. I think I see what you're getting at at least - I'm actually surprised no one has attempted to make this (as far as I know) even in niche films and media. Ah well.

    3. If I were to describe myself, I would say that I can come off as a little effeminate (beyond my own control, I Think), but I think Most people would be surprised if I told them that I am gay. I'm naturally sort of a skeptical, reserved person, so I'm definitely not flamboyant. I hate cheering, I hate clapping, I hate when people get all excited. (I do all these things, but much less often than most people.) At the same time, I am always aware, consciously, of how I'm moving, talking, etc. If I get a little too excited about something, I stop and say to myself, "that may have come off as a little too gay." I think there's Some merit to the claim that homosexuals have a bit of a different natural state, even if I think it goes too far.

      At any rate, I don't Think flamboyance (to the level of the aforementioned friend anyway) is my natural state. At least, it doesn't Seem like it, and I'm really turned off by it. I am absolutely a believer in homosexuality's connection to effeminacy though. I enjoy a lot of entertainment that most girls like, and that I've never really seen any guys like---like bad teen dramas. I'm also usually overly empathetic and am often accused of "being a girl" when it comes to other people's emotions, etc. For example, I tend to get over-invested in friends (if I don't stop myself) and take things really personally. I also feel enormously uncomfortable in most traditionally-masculine roles. I always have. In such a way as to be often embarrassed around my father, etc. It was a lot worse when I was younger. (Again, a full post will follow on this issue.)