Saturday, April 23, 2016

What We Pick Up At The Movies

Cultural sustenance is much the same as diet: you’re never quite sure if you’ve got the balance right. The healthy and unhealthy content aren’t as obviously presented as you’d hope. Our psychology can only be appropriate to the culture and especially the times, but the ethical aspects of morality are far more deeply embedded in our psyche. It’s that go-to place in our minds where something just seems inherently right, and stories and legends take us there if our rational thoughts don’t. 

The theme of one of the most enduring and soulful legends is redemption through love. But, as filtered through the ages, it presents significant identification problems for the modern male homosexual. We had it better in the lore of antiquity: heroic male-male relationships produced overarching respect with values of integrity and equality. The many faces of true love were as inspiring as they were diverse. Gilgamesh, David, and Alexander the Great go the core of our homosexuality, and they do it with epic heart-stopping drama of the most profound kind. The “gay zeitgeist” we often acknowledge is more likely to have its origins in our far-distant collective past than in the golden age of Hollywood, and the drama we crave isn’t as cheap as the drama we may resort to.

Those guys, their beloveds and the very heart of their shared melodramas went away with the help of determined and thorough homophobic scholastic interventions, but we didn’t. The sagas of redemption through love in all its forms still unfold, but at the expense of the homosexualist by virtue of systematic exclusion. Culture continues to shut out gay men from the eternally powerful paradigm. Denied as stakeholders in what’s taken for granted by everybody else, we’re left with a void, and that void is often filled with movie actresses and more recently “divas”. 

Campery aside, identifying with – and liking - actresses usually causes a gay man to be branded a sissy. That’s to be expected because in a rigid male-female storyline he’s already boxed in to identify with the female lead whether he likes it or not. His emotions have nowhere else to go. It’s highly debatable whether entrenched effeminacy is the cause precipitating the effect. As a homosexual, he can’t be reasonably expected to identify with the heterosexual imperative and confected masculinity of the male lead actor. At best he’s left to passively and hopelessly desire him. At worst, we take the lonely experience into our lives and do exactly the same thing with unavailable guys of any and all persuasions. For gay men there are no cultural blueprints for "getting the guy", or being the guy that's got. One hundred years from now we’ll be still trying to ascertain the knock-on effects of exclusion.

The archetypal tales however subliminally address our healthier inner desire to simply love and be loved. Consequently, the actress doesn’t embody a desire to be a woman or to have a female role-model – she broadly represents and triggers the love we deeply know we’re being cheated out of. She accesses and dignifies disparate parts of us and they become amplified with recognition. Little wonder we come to cherish those gals: from sirens to tough broads to dolled-up meeskites, they’ve actually done us a great service by stepping in to sub for us. They play the men who should be there experiencing the love and attention we know is due. An actress who doesn’t know why she should have a gay following is an actress of little insight. 

And the actresses were big, and the pictures did become smaller. And sadly, so did the actresses and the actors. Stripped of soul and multi-layered sexual objectification, both became the crashing bores that only advanced capitalism could breed in the name of franchising and normalcy. Elizabeth Taylor never held a job or raised brats onscreen, but she always showed up for love and desire and something more. And so did we.

Our actresses seem to have gone away, but we haven’t. The Golden Age Of Hollywood didn’t serve us well, and “the industry” today isn’t righting any wrongs by refusing us tales of idealized male-male relationships seasoned with unabashed eroticism. “Glee” doesn’t quite do it. While it’s great that young queers can - and do - access porn like never before, there are stories to be told of hope and magic instead of alienation and death.

We’re still overdosing on other people’s truths and lies – that’s probably why some of us experience a newish identity crisis every other week.


  1. One of the best clarifications of what is both simple and complex, but rarely spoken of: Gay men of our generation retreated to movies as both a means of search and escape. Being attracted to the same sex, the traditional hetero romantic narrative leaves us with no one we CAN identify with except the female. Especially with "Masculinity" framed in monochromatic tones of stoic, remote, and always certain (like my dad), and women allowed the rainbow spectrum of insecurity and emotion we were all feeling as we tried to find ourselves.
    Another superb essay and topic. Rick!

    1. I heard somebody snicker "gay men obsessed with actresses" once too often and gave it some thought...along the lines of "Why?" and "Why not?"

      And maybe the gay men who empathized so much with actresses of the golden age just simply grew up to be less misogynistic than many who came along later?

      And in terms of how it all plays out in real life, I much prefer a man with girlish emotions to a wooden gay stereotype. Better the needy & insecure than the two-dimensional emotional cripple!