My issues with gay movies, or why mezzos are better than the rest

I found this quote the other day, and I would like to pick up on it:

As someone who identifies as gay, I remember growing up and going to the bookstore and going to the gay and lesbian section and thinking to myself, “This is it. This is what we have. This one shelf. That’s it.” And, you know, we have some short stories, and we have some history, and stuff like that, but you know, like, the fiction all centered around being gay. Like, it was defined by that. And so, I think what I hear a lot from the fans, and I share their sentiment, is, here is something where being gay is just one aspect of a much larger world that we live in. And that world is beautiful, and terrifying, and insane, and funny, and it just fits in there, and for me, being a gay artist, working on a show like this, like, I like gay stuff, gay stuff is cool, but I mean, you know, so many times I see independent films and and independent books and they’re writing the “Oh, this is gay fiction.” Well, what does that mean? Like, does that mean you have to be gay to read it? Do you have to be gay to write it? Like what? I don’t understand…Like, just one aspect of Cecil is his sexuality. And, on top of that, in this crazy world of Night Vale, his sexuality and his relationship with another man is the least weird thing to happen on a daily basis. And it really makes me feel so good to think back on where I was when I was like fifteen, sixteen and thinking “Yes, this is it.” Like, we’re making it. We’re pushing boundaries out, and saying, “This isn’t a gay podcast. We’re not gonna check your card at the door.” I love that. Cecil Baldwin

Actually, that’s the problem I am mostly having when I hear that someone, some celeb that is, is gay. I fear they will be confined in just one corner, in just one category, which will limit in turn the roles they will be getting, and the questions they will be asked in interviews, as well as change the way they will be perceived in the public eye. Especially America, but the same goes for the yellow press everywhere, seems to be overly focussed on actors’ relationship status anyhow. In large parts, the however remote chance of hooking up with the object of adoration seems to comprise a large part of their attractiveness. If a man is gay, this probability is almost reduced to zero for a female fan. From 1 to several million against – but still, it seems to matter.

I think I am very atypical, as I am not getting a kick whatsoever out of anyone’s displayed heterosexuality. For me the fact of someone being heterosexual is almost inverse to their perceived attractiveness. But I digress; or maybe not. I think there are others like me, who don’t mind, or who like ambiguity, who like mystery, who like the distance, and the mental jump they have to do to bend their minds around what the other might like or fancy. But in essence … I think that people being overly focussed on the attribute “gay” is in large parts due to prevalent prejudices, which breed on fear, and also on jealousy at times. I don’t have any neat statistics at hand, but the gay people I know lead a different sex life from the heterosexual people I know. First thing, they seem to be less limited to the serial monogamy thing than their heterosexual counterparts. To question one part of traditional values might lead to questioning others as well, and this is not even limited to sex. (I find the people who had to find their place in the world and to set up their own set of rules to live by more interesting than others, this might in part explain the relatively small percentage of heterosexual individuals who lead a smug, neat life on my Facebook friends list.) This must be a factor that is contributing to the level of emotional involvement that some straight people seem to be having. Otherwise, it would be inexplicable why someone should mind at all. (Seriously, I haven’t seen people getting as upset about seeing war, deaths, or catastrophes on TV as they can get about gay pride parades.)

The quote I started out with reminded me of Max Goldt, a German writer, who reported he found his book between some gay cruise guide and a p*rn catalogue once. That’s exactly the problem I am having. There are a bunch of movies circling only around the topic of being gay, and about the problems arising from that. One, based on a play by and starring Harvey Fierstein, is “Torch Song Trilogy” – just to pick an example very worth watching. Just, while focussing on and addressing problems is great, it shows some internalized guilt and compliance with moral standards that almost all “gay” movies I encountered circle around problems. “Gay” problems. Not just problems. When I look at myself, I am having problems too, but at large, they aren’t of a heterosexual nature either. I would love to see more characters, or in fact any, in mainstream cinema, or in mainstream TV series who just happen to be gay, because they just are. At least one in ten could be, and please not the super-creepy psychic mass murderer … Pretty please? It’s ridiculous, if you think about it, how many actors are gay, and how little gayness there is in the films they are featuring in.

What I am not saying is that there aren’t specific problems, and specific dilemmas that are natively connected to the fact that someone is homosexual. Movies have to be made addressing this, and good ones please. But please, I don’t want them to be the only ones ever featuring a gay couple. Let me just highlight what I mean. (I can’t quite invert this to women and how they are depicted in movies. However, movies about women are mostly solely about soppy emotional issues as well. The 201xs are just not a time for well rounded female characters, apparently.) So, heterosexual men: Imagine there were only movies with straight male characters that would address fears of impregnating a woman, STDs, or drug abuse as the main topic, always wagging a moral finger at every behaviour that deviates from the accepted social norm, punishing it with instant disease or sudden death? Goodbye Loki, Thor, Star Trek, Fifth Estate, history features …  where male characters actually get stuff done, because they are not preoccupied with their own sexuality all the time. 

Oscar Wilde got stuff done – he wrote novels, and was in total a brilliant mind of course. Tchaikovsky, Turing, name who you may, they mostly got stuff done, and if I had a child who was gay I would tell him or her this: You can be anything, you can be all the things you want. Gay is something like blonde or blue-eyed, you just happen to be, and don’t let society tell you that the way you are is inferior to the way others are. One thing is being, the other is what you achieve, and do. With gay actors specifically, I note that the main interest seems to be that they are gay, which is pretty static. It’s is stated like a full stop, not like a comma, as I perceive it. In that light, I understand actors who are keeping it a secret for long. For Zachary Quinto, Andrew Scott, and others I wish they are getting good roles in the future, not “only” gay ones.  Let me randomly close with why opera is better than movies, or at least why mezzos are better than all the rest.

“They say ‘Off you go, up on the bed. You’re a 17-year-old boy.’ Suddenly I was making love to this Viennese woman, leaping around the room.” — Alice Coote on Der Rosenkavalier rehearsals

When was the last time a mezzo or soprano has been asked if they had felt awkward making out with a same sex partner on stage? I think it has never occurred, to be honest. Of course, there is also the twist of cross-dressing there, but that’s a topic I am going to leave for another day.

Featured image: Alice Coote as Nerone in Glyndebourne’s production of L’incoronazione di Poppea, via [x]

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2 thoughts on “My issues with gay movies, or why mezzos are better than the rest

  1. Fascinating proposition -do they do the gay thing better in opera? I wonder though if it is that they don’t ask because they are just not that focussed on the same sex or not issue, or they don’t ask because they are SO focussed they are too embarrassed to ask? I’ve always been struck by how amusing it is that opera audiences apparently are utterly oblivious to any potential queer reading of what’s happening on stage? I’m not always but sometimes it’s pretty damn hot *if* one reads it is queer but it gets glossed over… Hmm, don’t know but food for thought thanks!

    • Oh, thanks for your comment! Now, re-reading what I actually wrote – and what I did omit – … I left out the whole topic of cross-dressing on stage, and also the form in which this takes place. Almost every time it is female -> male, which is kind of society-approved. Crossdressing brings a highly interesting component into the discussion. Like, no one outs themselves concerning their preferences if they say they find Ruggiero/Alcina hot.

      And … I don’t know if they are oblivious, but it surely unsettles the audience if I like to talk about it I find. Some of the audience, not all. Not all relationships are so deeply complex like Posa/Carlos, where Posa obviously has a very serious crush on Carlos as I see it, and the other manipulates him a lot. Lucano/Nerone is another example of male/male crushes in opera. There are many where the male characters share a deeper relationship with each other than with the females involved, like Artaserse/Arbace. I don’t think the audience doesn’t perceive it, but they accept it more easily than in a movie, I guess. Yes, I think in total, opera is much queerer than main-stream movies.

      But there is also another aspect, the one of strong female characters that some gay men like to identify with a lot, I found. (Some, and some of the people I know, it’s hard to generalize there, and I won’t even try.) At any rate, strong, or complex female characters are more prevalent in opera than in movies as well.

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