“God’s Own Country”, directed by Francis Lee, may come across as a “Brokeback Mountain II” from Ang Lee a dozen years ago.
This time, the setting is in Yorkshire in northern England, apparently in the 1960s or so, before modern technology. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) seems a little squeamish over his farming duties – in the opening scene is vomits when getting up on a day he has to help a sheep deliver a baby. His parents, especially mom, seem concerned about his manliness. In a nearby town, he finds nelly boys who make him feel a little manlier by comparison. Gay life went on in rural England, even only a couple decades after Alan Turing’s tragedy (Britain decriminalized sodomy in 1967). When a roughshod immigrant, Georghe (Alex Secareanu) arrives from communist Romania, the new guy first intimidates Johnny because the comrade really is very good at doing everything on a farm. The time of this movie may have actually been intended to coincide with the fall of the Soviet bloc and Ceausescu. But soom Georghe’s dominating (very cis-male) behavior entices Johnny and they fall in love, with some passionate scenes when out on the range with bedrolls.
A family crisis ensues when dad has a stroke, and Johnny has to really take care of dad personally. That leads to a whirlwind plot climax in the men’s relationship.
The film has graphic cinematography of the live animal birth scenes, with how farm boys really do this. The animals “know” and “trust” them (“it’s only me”). I’m reminded of a live birth scene in Walt Disney’s “The Vanishing Prairie” (1954), a bit of a sensation at the time.
The film was preceded by a 10-minute short “Breakfast” by Tyler Byrnes. A young man David (Altan Alburo) invites a boyfriend Alex (Tommy Bernadi) (quite handsome but apparently with dysmorphia) with an eating disorder to share a fattening breakfast. The film contains David Lynch-like scenes with chest tunes invading.
The show, sponsored by Reel Affirmations of the DC Center at the Gala Hispania theater in the Columbia Heights area of Washington DC, was preceded by a stand-up by Rayceen Pendarvis, advertising himself as 68, who got everyone one into a brief hug-fest. That isn’t my own personal message, but that’s for another time.
“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”, by David France (“How to Survive a Plague”, 2012), is a valuable account of a citizen investigation of the 1992 death of Marsha P. Johnson, a drag queen who had been on the scene of the first night of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1969.
Marsha had drowned in the Hudson River near one of the Christopher Street piers. Had she been fleeing an attacker, then the death would be a homicide, at least manslaughter.
In modern times, Victoria Cruz tries to do a gumshoe citizen investigation of the death, with the help of local activist organizations for poor people. She is rebuffed by retired cops who say not to call again, and that she should leave her investigations to the professionals or she could get people killed.
There are scenes in the Village, especially Julius’s on W 10th Street, one of my own favorite gay bars, known for its burgers. The way “Mafia” bars had worked in the 1970s, at the time of Abe Beeme, comes up, but I had thought that by even 1992 the Mafia was pretty much out of the gay bar area (Stonewall had given a big push).
There is a great scene of the 1973 CLSD in New York, in which I marched; I may have spotted my younger self for split second.
Sylvia Rivera gives a very radical speech in Washington Square Park, blaming middle class establishment “cis male” gays as part of the privilege problem, even back in the 1970s (before AIDS).
There is a sequence where homeless tents are broken up for a new high way, and one of the volunteers offers “radical hospitality” to a homeless person, taking the risk.
The film purports to address violence against transgender people, but Marsha herself was not regarded as trangender (cross-dressing alone is not).
There has been controversy over the Stonewall Inn as a national monument with a rainbow flag in the Trump administration, Washington Post story by Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears.
“Heartstone” (“Hjartasteinn”, 2016) by Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson, broods as it presents a somewhat tragic friendship between two teenage boys growing up in if fishing villag. (Dyrhoaey) in Iceland. It reminds me of the novella and 1972 film “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles.
Christian (Blaer Henrikkson) is the outgoing, bigger, more mature, and strong boy, already setting up sleepovers as he starts to date a girl in a nearby family, even as his parents’ marriage teeters, Thor (Baldur Einarrson) admires him, and feels Christian is inviting a certain degree of intimacy. There is a scene early with a mild form of body joking.
Thor, as shown, still seems preprubescent; his voice really hasn’t changed yet. In European countries, the age of consent is usually lower than in the U.S., so this may seem more acceptable in Europe than with some American viewers.
The tensions grow as the film develops, as summer yields to fall and the snow flurries of approaching winter. There is a spectacular shot of sheep being corralled from a distance, against the coastal mountains, almost as if from a Thomas Hardy novel, but it leads to farm aid outdoor camping encounters among the two families, and finally a rappelling scene where Thor retrieves some eaglet eggs along some cliffs, and almost has an accident. In the meantime, Thor experiences the familiar (to me) tensions of a gay teen admiring, through upward affiliation, a straight boy whom everybody expects to get married (traditionally) and have his own family. It is such déjà vu.
Instead, Christian breaks, and admits to his girl friend that he may be gay himself. Like Thor, he could have to face the homophobia of a small village. Maybe it’s better to move to the big city, Reykjavik.
The film then skirts with tragedy for a climax, and it may be too much of a spoiler to state it.
The film shows very little if any modern technology; the story seems like it could be set in the 1950s. There are lots of scenes involving animals: “free fish”, unusual insects and arthropods (one that chews off its legs to free itself), and birds and nests.
Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson
2016; DVD on 2017/10/10
2.35:1 Language: Icelandic, subtitles
When and how viewed:
Vimeo screener from distributor, 2017/9/30
NA (prob. R;, maybe NC-17 some complete nudity; in no way pornographic, but dramatic and artistic, but intended for adults)
“The Ornithologist” (“O Orintologo”), directed by Brazilian Joao Pedro Rodrigues. Is a gay road spiritual-and-horror (both) movie centered around an appealing outdoorsman who goes on a bizarre, dream-like journey with bizarre and shocking experiences. Structurally, the film is very similar to each to the last two short stories in my own “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (that is, “Expedition” and “The Ocelot the Way He Is”).
Fernando (Paul Hamy) is a tall and slender man about 40 observing black stork birds around a river in northern Portugal, probably not too far from the Fatima site, which I visited in April 2001. He gets cell phone calls reminding him to take his meds (is that Truvalda?) He kayaks alone and has a mishap. Two pilgrims (for Fatima) from China find him at night, and at first take care of him. They hear weird ritualistic noises in the distance. Then the story gets weird. The girls tie him up, then let him go, and he finds his stuff has been stolen near the river. He meets another gay man who calls himself Jesus, who is deaf. At first they strike a friendship of sorts, but conflict develops and there is an altercation, apparently leading to an accidental stabbing of Jesus.
Fernando’s adventures will take him around people wearing masks with tribal rituals, and finally into a bizarre death experience with his own resurrection. Is this what can happen when we go? The movie ends in Padua, Italy with the men in their next lives. The film makes references to the writings of St Anthony of Padua in the 13th Century.
The film has a lot of nudity and bizarre effects reminding one of David Lynch’s direction of “Twin Peaks”.
The kayaking was spectacular. Jack Andraka, Stanford student and inventor of a new cancer test, is an avid competitive kayaker.
“The Whole World” (“El Mundo Entero”, directed by Julian Quintinalla, Spain, 30 min, in Spanish) was the best and principal film. This film is set in a town in southeastern Spain, set up in sunlit, exaggerated colors, almost as if animated. The town itself looks like a glimpse of heaven. Julian, an attractive 30—year old, visits the cemetery where his mother La Chary (Loles Leon), who had died at 51 from breast cancer, materializes in her only afterlife form. She relates how she protected him as different, from the bullies, and from a rogue psychotherapist. Then Julian will meet Peter (Candido Gomez), who was another attractive gay teen when he was growing up, ten years older. But the overriding idea is that Julian himself seems to be in a layered afterlife of his own.
“Pool” (“Piscina”, directed by Leandro Goddhino, Brazil 20 min, in Portuguese). Claudia wants to investigate the family’s past as it fled the Nazis, and encounters a German lady, Marlene, who has set up an apartment in an empty swimming pool. Marlene recounts the past persecution of gays, while there is a parallel story of Claudia’s own lesbian marriage in which she is raising a child.
“Dusk” (directed by Jake Graff, UK, 15 min), tells the story of gender-fluid Chris Winters in the hostile 1950s, a time that took Alan Turing’s life.
“Little Potato” (directed by Wes Hurley, 13 min, USA/Russia) invites a young gay man to tell his story growing up in Vladivostok, Russia, at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. His mother also contributes. But the film anticipates the hostile 2013 anti-gay propaganda law in Russia, which has led to asylum seeking in the U.S.
“The Real Thing” (directed by Brandon Kelly, 7 min) puts a new spin on the whole debate about the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the military. A father returns home from deployment to his home in Texas, in fatigues, to find his child has transitioned to female. He hugs her at the end.
“Better Known as Peaches Christ” (directed by Jeff Dragomanovch, 4 min) lets a drag queen tell his story. Is he more than just an entertainer? I knew a bartender named Peaches in Dallas in the 1980s, but he was very cis.
(Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 10:45 PM EDT)
We’ve gotten used to understanding that being gay is very different from being transgender. In fact, in my own experience, I look for “upward affiliation”, I get interested in men who look more “masculine” in appearance, swagger and bearing than I did; I want someone to “have it all”, as I explained in Chapter 2 of my “Do Ask Do Tell III” book.
So, I would be perfectly happy to vote for “Lady Valor”, Kristin Beck, for president. She would be about as well qualified on both national security and social justice issues as any candidate imaginable. She would be a friend, but not an intimate partner. But note the pronoun, “She” (like the 1965 Robert Day film about an “African Queen” who had the secret to immortality). I perceive Beck as a woman. She could become the first female president, instead of Hillary Clinton. I don’t know if I would feel the same way about Caitlin Jenner (who says she is a Republican), and I would have real doubts, of course, about Chelsea Manning.
Doing away with the idea of binary gender could be very threatening psychologically. Today the latest rage is “gender fluidity”, where the person bends genders and varies on a continuous scale, like the alien angel Pie ‘O; Pah in Clive Barker’s 1991 novel “Imajica”. Activists try to change English grammar, so that the pronoun “they” can be used in the singular for a gender fluid person. This sounds a lot more radical than gay marriage.
When I was growing up, in the 50s and early 60s, women were to be noticed for their appearance but men were not. Except that, under the table they were. Though rarely mentioned openly, colleges had rite-of-passage hazing ceremonies for freshmen (not just fraternity rushes) called “tribunals” in which men experienced physical shame – having their legs shaved – and had to get over it. This worked more easily in the days of racial segregation, traditional gender roles, and before competitive cycling and swimming were routinely followed by the media. I mentioned this in Chapter 1 of my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, especially with the goings on at William and Mary in 1961 and my later inpatient stay ar NIH in 1962. In such an environment, it was easier to eroticize bipolar gender and build up a lot of fantasy around it. That’s one reason why, over the decades, many men resisted the gradual changes in norms of gender and sexuality.
I saw all this to introduce the book “Trans/gressive: How Transgender Activists Took on Gay Rights, Feminism, the Media, and Congress, and Won!”, by Riki Wilchins (b. 1952). I picked the book up in person at the DC Center’s Outwrite book fair in early Augusst 2017. Riki doesn’t actually tell us that she has had the surgery until late in the book, but it probably doesn’t matter, because her activism would have made the same sense were she “fluid” or binary trans male-to-female.
She starts her narrative in the 70s, and notes right off that trans people were viewed as ‘gendertrash” even as conventional gay men and lesbians slowly gained acceptability if they could “pass”. The Camp Trans, of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, was a centralizing activity. Over the years she dealt with many cases of anti-trans violence, especially getting into the 1990s. 1996 would be a critical year where she would deal with getting people to organize politically and resist, and pressure the HTC (Human Rights Campaign) to migrate toward a position where it would include trans people in ENDA and other non-discrimination matters. As we know, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” regarding gays in the military was officially repealed in 2011, but Donald Trump has resisted lifting the ban on trans recently (by Twitter).
Riki understands well the idea that society expected men to confirm to gender roles in order to fit in to the collective security of the group. On p. 139 she writes “When I was 10 and was taunted for throwing a ball ‘like a gril’ those schoolyard bullies didn’t suspect me of sleeping with men. They based me for not being boy enough. That goes for almost all of us. Whether we face prejudice for being too butch or too femme …, or being perceived as gay or lesbian, we are all ultimately disliked for the same basic reason: transgressing our expected gender roles.” I’m used to thinking of this as the “sissy boy syndrome”.
Yet, I always saw dealing with this in terms of my own individual capacity, not in terms of being part of a distinct minority facing systematic oppression, which is more the experience of blacks, given the history of slavery and segregation (and the recent threats from “white nationalism”). But the solutions in the book definitely demand solidarity and mass movement tactics.
At the end, she provides a detailed discussion of intersex, which means having biological features of both sexes, not the same thing as fluidity. She also discusses gender dysphoria and a lot of the evolution of AMA non-positions.
The book has goads of black-and-white photos and activism posters.
Riki Wilchins, photos by Mariette Patty Allen
“Trans/gressive: How Transgender Activists Took on Gay Rights, Feminism, the Media, and Congress, and Won!”
“Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right”, a booklet (120 pages) by Angela Nagle, seems to attribute the rise of nationalist populism as a kind of sum-effect of the chaos on the Internet in the past ten years or so. As the author says in her last chapter title, it isn’t funny when the culture wars go offline.
I’m rather shocked at the meanness and bullying that happens on line, and the revenge and stalking; Melania Trump has said she wants to do something about it, even if it helped her husband get elected. The behavior reflects a certain cynicism and even nihilism, that the “system” is leaving a lot of “us” out, so we might as well rebel against civilized living.
Nagle’s presentation is non-sequential and rather random, so it is hard to follow an argument. But gradually she gets into the same territory covered by Milo Yiannopoulos in his book “Dangerous” (July 13). She gradually develops a comparison to Milo’s style of conservatism, which I would call hyper-meritocracy (a preoccupation with other people’s virtue and its visual evidence, and a cult of personal competitiveness) but not libertarianism and definitely not alt-right or fascism, and the older Par Buchanan type of conservatism evident in the 1980s with the “Moral Majority” crowd. She almost manages to make cis gay men as likely to prefer conservatism to the particularly constricting identity politics of the extreme Left. The alt-right has its own identity politics, with a different crowd. In the end, communism (or hyper socialism, Venezuelan style), fascism, and extreme nationalism (as Putin is verging on), and even theocracy (Islamo-fascism) all start to seem alike. They are all authoritarian, and easily morph out of excessive political concern over personal “right-sizing” and deservedness.
She manages to convey some interesting narratives, such as about the life of mass shooter Eliot Rodger and his manifesto “My Twisted World” (this 2014 Isla Vista case definitely made “manifesto” a bad word, but so did the luddite Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in the 1990s with his “Industrial Society and its Future” where he ranted about the imposition of socialization). She also gives a perspective on the hit film “Fight Club” (1999, Fox, directed David Fincher, with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt).
She also conveys pretty well just how far some people go into group identity belonging, especially on the radical Left. People have amputated their own limbs to “belong” to “people with disabilities”. She has the same horror at the staged anarchical violence at Milo’s events. She discusses “manosphere” as something sometimes disfigured by tattoos and wounds, something far removed from the cleaner fantasies of the 1960s when James Bond told us “what it means to be a man”, or when a perfected (except around red kryptonite) Clark Kent conveyed that on “Smallville” in the 00’s. (Tom Welling has gone downhill since then, sad to say.)
In the end, it seems like “populists” dislike “elites” who watch and criticize but don’t step up and swing and take the risks of getting beaned.
“Memories of an Penitent Heart” aired on Monday, July 31, 2017 on PBS Independent Cuts, slightly abridged from 69 minutes to about 55.
Filmmaker Cecilia Alarondo looks at the life story of her gay uncle Miguel, born in Puerto Rico, who would die of AIDS early in the 1980s.
Miguel would change his name to Michael and live a double life in New York City. For a while he stayed with a priest, who was OK with his being gay but who didn’t want to allow guests.
Miguel developed Kaposi’s Sarcoma, apparently conspicuously. Some doctors were afraid to treat him. The documentary does cover the attitudes during the early days of AIDS, where it was first called “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” (GRID) and even Wrath of God syndrome. Some people wanted all infected people or even all gay men quarantined. I remember those days of panic.
The film could be compared to the much larger film, “The Normal Heart”, from HBO, of Larry Kramer’s play, aired in 2014.
I’ve covered some of the argumentation about gay marriage in a review of a film about it here July 5. But an encyclopedia-like book like Nathaniel Frank’s “Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America” (2017) can cover a lot more detail than a documentary film or video. Still, this particular issue seems to have both sides talking at or past one another, playing with the subtleties of language itself, like in “Paul’s” Youtube videos.
I have to admit some distraction. I had to finish reading the last chapter on Obergefell and then the philosophical Epilogue (Arnold Bax-like) just as the news exploded this morning with Donald Trump’s edict by twitter banning transgender troops from the military. Different topic (I’ll come back to the military thing soon with another post) – and indeed a marriage with a transgender person can turn into a straight marriage but without the possibility of procreation, exactly like a heterosexual marriage when the woman is past menopause. I guess that shows partly why tying marriage to procreation gets so problematic.
At the very beginning, Frank says that marriage law is important by indirection: logically, those who are not married or do not have the benefits of marriage can be excluded from some of society’s benefits as a consequence of mere logic. In fact, that generally describes how things were in my own life in a world that (until very recently) where being married usually meant having minor dependents that one had sired – but it didn’t always mean that. And single people and same-sex couples have always had dependents. But someone without dependents can find his life disrupted by the needs of others anyway – as I found out with my own eldercare situation. There is a “dynamic imbalance” in life (like in a chess position, say a Sicilian) between having fewer responsibilities and more disposable income, and at the same time being less welcome in some situations,
The debate over “gay marriage” has become sometimes interchangeable with “gay rights” or “equality”. Or let’s say “the right to marry” is a tricky idea. As a logical matter, anyone has the same “right” to marry a consenting adult member of the opposite gender (when gender is binary), but not the same capability to procreate or even enjoy penetrative heterosexual activity in a relationship. Frank talks about discussions about marriage as early as 1963, and then about the Baker case in Minnesota in the early 1970s. Frank also explains how marriage became a focus (among gay “activists”) as to whether gay people should assimilate (and share risks and responsibilities, including serving in the military) or resist. Did liberation mean walling off the outside world and creating your own (like in the East Village and the Ninth Street Center, with its polarity theory, in the 1970s)?
Indeed, overseas, “gay marriage” as been illogically comingled with gay rights in general, as in Nigeria with its draconian law in 2013.
Frank indeed covers the history of gay rights in general, including Stonewall, Anita Bryant, the Moscone-Milk assassination in San Francisco in 1978, the Briggs Initiative in California that could have banned gay teachers (1978), the AIDS crisis and Reagan’s indifference, the sodomy law litigation (Hardwick v. Bowers in 1986 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003), and the history of “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military. In the 1990s, particularly in Hawaii, debate on gay marriage for its own sake as a marker for personal equality in general, started to develop, even as cases like Romer v. Evans (Colorado Amendment 2) grew. Then, of course, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, under political pressure. Frank presents the 90s as more negative for gay people than it really was for me. Frank gives many side anecdotes that are important for other issues: Dan Choi and don’t ask don’t tell as a valued Arabic translator needed for intelligence purposes; the fact that one of the important marriage cases involved a person who died of ALS; the male couple in Florida who took care of foster kids with HIV.
Then , in the 2000s, the cascade of litigation started, with Massachusetts in 2004, leading eventually to Obergefell, with many steps along the way. These included the idea that you could encourage the states to go their own way and experiment first, before solving it federally, although then you had the Full Faith and Credit issue (to be resolved in Obergefell). Along the way came Gavin Newsome’s marriage day, and then the whole Proposition 8 saga in California.
Frank has a few juicy quotes that show how gay marriage became a cover for a bigger question about hyperindividualism and sexuality. On p. 236 he refers to the risk that the “gradual transformation of marriage from a pro-child societal institution into a private relationship designed simply to provide adult couples with what plaintiffs say is personal fulfillment. It was a sinister echo of the old canard that homosexuality was primarily about indulging individual selfishness, while somehow heterosexual pairing was about contributing to the greater good.” When was this canard actually stated? Is the greater good to be found in protective courtship and doting? It strikes me that this is like a three-lane highway in Virginia (indeed, Marshall-Newman, 2006): it can be more challenging to raise adopted kids in a same-sex relationship that survives a few decades of aging than a conventionally heterosexual one with biological children. If marriage is expanded to include relationships with no penetrative complementarity, will heterosexuals decide that it isn’t important to marry before having kids? Indeed, the record so far is that gay marriage does not encourage heterosexual divorce or discourage heterosexual marriage. (Baseball player Bryce Harper beamed his Mormon heterosexual wedding celebration on Superbowl Sunday on Facebook.) Later, on p. 349 (in a chapter on Obergefel there appears, “While defenders of gay marriage bans in 2015 did all they could to avoid appearing anti-gay, the notion that letting gays marry would transform the institution from being ‘child-centric’ to ‘adult-centric’ fit squarely in the tradition of demonizing gay people as selfish and indulgent, and gay rights as the triumph of a narcissistic culture over a responsible and temperate one committed to the common good.”
In 2010, Nathaniel Frank had published “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” through St. Martins, about nine months before Congress approved the gradual dismantling of “don’t ask don’t tell”, the certification of which was completed in September 2011.
“Kept Boy” (2017), directed by George Bamber and written by David Ozanich, starts out as if it could be just a silly, facetious comedy about younger gay men living off of rich but aging sugar daddies in Tinseltown. Indeed, there are prior example-setters, like “The Houseboy” (2011) and “The Mudge Boy” (2007). But the film, however compact at 89 minutes, gets into other areas, international and scope, and turns serious and pertinent as it progresses.
Dennis Racine, played by British actor Jon Paul Phillips, dropped out of college in LA a decade ago and essentially became a houseboy of now 50-something TV producer Farleigh Nock (German actor Thure Reifenstein). Thure produces a reality TV show about fashion and interior decoration, and probably hasn’t taken “Blogtyrant’s” advice to heart on how he could increase his fan base and ratings by nice blogging. Having undergone angioplasty, he denies his health problems. He faces being cut off by investors, who like Nate Berkus better. (Nate’s show, which I liked, is no longer on, and Nate lost his male partner Fernando to the 2004 tsunami that hit Sri Lanka – a catastrophe depicted in the 2012 film “The Impossible”.) Complicating the question as to whether Thure can “afford” Dennis any more is the fact that Dennis approaches his 30th birthday. And another boyfriend Jasper (Greg Audino, who becomes the most likable character in the story) could take Dennis’s place.
Dennis may, in fact, be showing his age and preparing to go downhill fast. He smokes electronic cigarettes, which probably have nicotine. His body is just too smooth, especially in the legs.
The movie takes an interesting plot turn at midpoint (again, interesting from Hauge’s theories on how all good screenplays are structured) as the characters visit the coastal resort city of Cartagena, Colombia. They run into a closeted gay drug lord who creates some complications in protecting his own empire. If you look at a map, you see that Cartagena is not too far from Venezuela, and is facing bigtime refugee and asylum issues, brought on by Communism. Maybe another movie? A friend of mine visited Cartagena last year, before his very recent passing as I learned about from Facebook. I’m also reminded of the 2001 film “Collateral Damage” whose release was held up by 9/11.
The DVD will be available August 8, 2017 from Breaking Glass Pictures (theatrical was TLA). Expect more than just the usual happy ending; tragedy happens. There’s a lot more material under the covers that one could explore. I can remember once being counseled (at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s) that I ought to be open to being sponged off of.