website, blog and vanity nexus of writer R F Brown

Posts tagged ‘gays’

SIMON 2.GAY – commentary on Becky Albertalli’s novel “Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda”

simonSimon has a millennial age secret. He is gay and he is not ashamed of it. A 17-year-old suburban white kid with close friends and a chummy, functional family, Simon is not so fearful about being socially ostracized. His Gen Z size worry seems to be that people he already trusts to accept homosexuality will make his coming out a “big deal.” What is at stake for gay Simon in a post-acceptance era is that his differentness from the hetero default will eclipse the adult identity he is still in the process of constructing, and that people who would otherwise completely approve of his sexual preference, will appropriate their associations with him for their personal agendas.

As a coming-out novel, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, written with soaring emotional intelligence by Becky Albertalli, approaches the subject rather different than the kind of young adult material of my 1980’s teen years. If there were coming-out stories, I did not read them. What I remember is clunky afterschool TV specials like What If I’m Gay? and The Truth About Alex. In both of those stories, which intended to present an affirming message about homosexuality, a high school jock’s closetedness is exposed through accidental circumstances, unleashing havoc on girlfriends, families, and sympathetic friends. In subtext, coming-out was audacious and reckless. Were teenagers of the era ready for The Truth? Where I grew up the only thing these specials produced were homophobic punchlines in the locker room.

Closeted Simon, growing up in present-day suburban Atlanta, has been engaging in an anonymous online romance with a mysterious boy from the same high school, going by the faceless moniker Blue. Simon is not a jock but a theater kid with a popular personality. A less popular and more awkward classmate, Martin, happens upon a school library computer display of Simon and Blue’s private homosexually revealing emails, which Simon accidentally forgot to close. Martin is not even homophobic, but he is a conniver and he threatens to abuse the secret unless Simon helps Martin get the attention of a female friend who is way out of Martin’s league. When the girlfriend does not show romantic interest, Martin posts a vulgar, fake coming-out confession on behalf of Simon to the high school’s gossip blog, and also hints at outing Blue. Simon might try to deny the gay truth, but instead our Twenty-first Century hero reluctantly accepts it an opportunity to start coming-out publicly. Some taunting and humiliation comes down from the jock clan at school, but mostly what is unleashed on Simon is a series of embarrassing endorsements. A dozen straight kids make a point of saying they support him. His BFF’s pick out guys they think are boyfriend prospects and squabble over who got to be first told. Teachers stand on guard for bullies. A lesbian couple hugs Simon and hands him their phone numbers. One girl reassures him that Jesus still loves him. Simon tolerates the undue attention, but he worries that the hullaballoo will somehow collaterally uncloset Blue. Will he lose Blue after his own carelessness with the library computer has set off a chain of events that might include schoolmate’s being so determined to embrace gay people, they will shortcut Blue coming-out on his own terms?

In Simon’s generally enlightened middle-class suburbs, one coming to terms with one’s identity can be just as scary, or risky, or embarrassing as it ever was. Albertalli has released a version of the coming-out story that updates the order of consequences. Simon is not ashamed of being gay, but he anticipates the unfairness of people coming to know him as that one thing. Before he has even had any real sexual experience, he will be redefined as his sexual preference. As Simon writes to Blue, “Do you ever feel locked into yourself? …Sometimes it feels like everyone knows who I am except me.” If Simon comes out, will his would-be allies receive him as he truly is, or will they impose some new version of himself he does not even know yet? Simon, version 2.gay ?

What is so fresh about the Simon character is that as he experiences typical teen rites of passage, he is also emotionally mature enough to recognize sexual preference as one part of himself. “I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.” Albertalli is suggesting that all teenagers reach a stage at which the adult they are struggling to find within feels like a secret identity. That every teen feels like the person they are perceived to be is a disguise over the person they actually are. That it is a universal experience to come-out as someone other than who family and peers recognize. “I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out feeling like Simon. Because if they don’t recognize me, I don’t recognize myself anymore.” Albertalli’s suburbs are progressive, but imperfect.

Progress has another modern consequence, as demonstrated by people in Simon’s orbit who use his sexual identity like an invisible token that can be invested into some other enterprise. As when Simon describes his coming-out to his family on Christmas morning:  “I guess it’s about what I expected. My mom’s asking about my feelings and my dad’s trying to turn it into a joke. Alice is getting political…” What Simon intuitively fears is that his differentness is something other people will treat as an object that may be taken from his hands. And it is. Martin, a kid who cares about his own gay brother and marches in a Pride parade, selfishly outs Simon on the gossip blog thinking that while it might be embarrassing it would be relatively inconsequential. Simon has to chew out Martin: “You don’t get to say it’s not a big thing. This was supposed to be mine. I’m supposed to decide when and where and who knows and how I want to say it… You took that from me.”

Recalling the good old 80’s again, I am reminded of a friend who was forced out of the closet at age fourteen when his father caught him messing around with another boy in a tent. Not only did the father make the remainder of his teen years a torment, he became a pariah among his classmates and community. No doubt ostracization still happens to gay and genderqueer kids, but the queer stigma in most American places is fortunately becoming relic. Simon is less concerned with people disliking him or being violent towards him, than he is in being defined by his society in a way that is both narrow and manipulable.

My initial reaction to the Simon novel and its adjacent movie adaptation was: Hasn’t the teen coming-out thing been done enough? But, in fact, I am hardpressed to find a story about a teenage protagonist coming-out actually made into a major studio film. Even if the accomplishment is tardy, teenagers will love Love Simon’s thoughtful humor. The screenplay is a loose adaptation of the book, and cleverly executed given that the source material is about 1/3 epistolary (those email exchanges). It successfully regenerates most of the same dramatic beats with excellent young actors. It does not quite arrive at the post-acceptance angle portrayed in the novel. Instead of peers looking out for Simon, the movie’s drama leans on alienation, misconception, and, like the old days, making the gay teen seem responsible for his own victimization. Although, at the end Simon’s classmates rally around him. And Simon’s relationships with his parents are more fully realized. The movie was emotionally touching and I recommend it.

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a radical coming out novel. Because what is more salient now in our culture is not gay-or-straight, but the lingering requirement of a person to have a static sexual identity at all, or the requirement that one should have to articulate one’s sex life to the whole homo sapien demos. These issues are still confusing at a time when people are, for the most part, accepting of homosexuality, and people who are publicly unaccepting often become social pariahs themselves. Tolerance, fortunately came to sound too patronizing, and today in America acceptance might be said to imply cis-chauvinism, even when the accepting party’s intentions are good. Because knowing what sort of sex partner another person prefers, or knowing whether the person considers them self only male or female, is no longer an acceptable method of knowing the person. As it reads in one of Blue’s emails to Simon, “You can memorize someone’s gestures but you can never know their thoughts… people are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows.”

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

.

 

 

Media Log: FEBRUARY THEATRE SPECIAL

I had the opportunity to see a lot of theatre in the last week, both on Broadway and near home in Rhode Island. A reminder, I usually give theatre a simple SEE IT  or SKIP IT recommendation based on content not performance. In cases where good material is performed badly, I’ll add an additional note.

Take Me Out

TAKE ME OUT, writer Richard Greenberg. In 1993 the novelist Richard Lefcourt published a popular book “The Dreyfus Affair” not about the famous French Dreyfus Affair but about a gay, inter-racial  romantic affair between two major league baseball players. Although amusing enough, Lefcourt, whose primary occupation is television scriptwriter, clearly wrote a novel looking for movie rights. His actual knowledge of baseball seemed slight and as far as I can tell he is also a straight guy who failed to capture gay sensibility with any substance either. Lefcourt’s readers were sort of told: Dudes, just move those yummy, round tits down under a schlong and it’s the same thing. It aint. Also not the same thing is the 2003 play TAKE ME OUT by Richard Greenberg (and I confused these two for years) but it’s about a professional baseball player coming out of the closet. Fortunately instead of trying to tackle everything about baseball and gayness the play draws its dramatic energy from issues about all kinds of  intolerance. There actually isn’t any sex in it, which is ironic because many of the scenes call for full male nudity. The dialogue comes off too polished and overly theatrical for my taste, however the characters and the social commentary are complex. TAKE ME OUT won a Tony Award for best play. The cast at the production I just saw at 2nd Story Theater in Warren, RI was as talented as any you’ll see on Broadway.  SEE IT.

COMPANY, music and lyrics Stephen Sondheim, book George Furth. COMPANY is sometimes referred to as Broadway’s first successful “concept” musical. That’s historically arguable, but COMPANY was very influential in moving musical theatre away from the grand and formal Rodgers and Hammerstein book form. Instead COMPANY is a plotless musical about married couples done sort of in vignettes or review style. The common thread is the bachelor character Bobby who is a friend to each of the couples and a prism for their modern upper-middle class angst. COMPANY is my favorite musical on any stage, largely for Sondheim’s brilliant music. SEE IT for the music alone but be warned that the current production at Black Box in Mansfield, MA has a weak cast.

If you are reading this in the New England area both of these shows have their last performances this weekend through Feb. 19th, 2012.

Merrily We Roll Along

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, music and lyrics Stephen Sondheim, book George Furth. Another great Sondheim work, and underrated for decades, is MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG currently in revival at Encores in New York City. The concept here is to tell the story of three bickering friends in showbusiness starting at the end of the story and moving backwards twenty years to when they first met as idealistic young people. So we begin at the bitter end, and end at the hopeful beginning. The first Broadway production of MWRA in 1981 was an historic flop for Sondheim. It closed after two weeks. The music was brilliant but the concept was confusing to audiences. Over 30 years Sondheim and his collaborators have tinkered with the show. One of the big things that changed is the nexus of the story-  it’s gone from being a critique about artistic integrity to being more a reflection of how adult friendships change over time. I’m still  interested in that story but I think dramatic efficacy gets lost in backward plotting. I love MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG because it’s unique but I don’t know if the concept will ever really work. SEE IT.

Nick Jonas, How to

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, music and lyrics Frank Loesser. If Merrily We Roll Along is an intellectual musical H2$ is the opposite. H2$ is what everybody’s talking about when the say that musicals are dumb stories surrounded by sometimes good music. I love Frank Loesser’s score and I think there are sometimes brilliant subtleties to this broad comedy about a window washer who climbs the ladder of business. I did not have the opportunity to see this revival’s first cast with Daniel Radcliffe and John Laroquette. What they have now on Broadway with Nick Jonas and Beau Bridges is pretty bad, particularly Jonas. To me the character of Finch is supposed to be an opportunist but not necessarily conniving. The comedy is in that everybody at the company keeps promoting Finch because he stands in the right place at the right time. Jonas seems to think that the way to play Finch is to play Nick Jonas playing Finch and he just comes off as smug. Jonas’ vocal performance also isn’t ready for Broadway.  SEE IT somewhere but skip the current production on Broadway.

Football, Gay Sex And Other Things That Happen During The Superbowl

Outsports.com posted on their blog the link to this 1978 academic paper in the journal Western Folklore. In the piece the author, Alan Dundes, argued that American football  is a ritual between all male groups attempting to socially legitimate homosexual behavior. To prove this idea Dundes offers psychoanalysis of  signifiers in the game  and its folk speech:

I think it is highly likely that the ritual aspect of football, providing as it does a socially sanctioned framework for male body contact … is a form of homosexual behavior. The unequivocal sexual symbolism of the game, as plainly evidenced in folk speech coupled with the fact that all of the participants are male, make it difficult to draw any other conclusion. Sexual acts carried out in thinly disguised symbolic form by,and directed towards, males and males only,would seem to constitute ritual homosexuality.

The argument is a reach if not completely specious academically. But it is fascinating and a little horny making.  Here’s a link to the whole thing:

Into The Endzone for a Touchdown: A Psychoanalytic Consideration of American Football

What's EATGNU? (or Jeepers Creepers! Its The Gay Bogeyman!)

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club. Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended features are:

Jeeper Creepers (2001)

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

I finally watched both of the  Jeepers Creepers movies for the fist time after seeing a post that including them among The Most Unintentionally Gay Horror Movies [link].  I have to admit both were great, though not because they were unintentionally gay.  In fact, calling Jeepers Creepers unintentionally gay would be like saying the Kennedy assasinations were the result of unfortunate accidental gun discharges.  The serial of these films is most assuredly about a man-eating monster who favors the flavor of men.

In Jeepers Creepers a young brother and sister couple are driving home on break from college on a desolate country road.  Darry is bringing his laundry home to mother, who we are told dotes on him.  Trish is taking time off from her boyfriend to pepper little brother with jibes about his full masculinity and the suggestion that maybe people “know something you don’t.”  They cross paths with a menacing truck driver, who has the vanity license plate BEATNGU.  They witness the guy dumping sheet-wrapped bodies down a drainage pipe.  The kids sneak back to investigate the pipe and Darry daringly crawls in.   At the bottom he uncovers the body of a naked young man who has had his torso dissected and resown.  Further into the cavern Darry finds hundreds of dismembered corpses sewn into the walls like a quilt.  Darry and Trish drive to a roadside diner where they contact the police.  In the meantime, the killer has been tracking the couple.  Darry had used a pair of his dirty underwear, unintentionally died pink in the laundry, to tie down the broken trunk of their car, and this served as an unintentional baiting device.  The killer breaks into the car to enjoyably sniff the laundry and confirm that Darry has something he wants.  A policeman arrives and is escorting the couple’s car home when the patrol car is attacked and the kids get their first good look at The Creeper.  Despite attempting to  disguise himself with a wide brim hat and a tattered black duster, The Creeper is a tall moth-like monster with scales on his skin, and wings.  He is a creature who looks somewhere between Japanese kaiju horror monster Mothra and Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider.  In a demonstration of sadisitc homoeroticism, The Creeper decapitates the male police offficer with a home-forged hachet, and bites the tongue out of the severed head.  Darry and Trish escape to a police station where a local psychic, who has also been following them in her visions, catches up to notify them of what she’s learned from the dreams.   The Creeper, who aparently emerges from dormancy every 23 years for a 23 day feeding period, sniffs out people for specific body parts that he desires and eats.  She also implies that Darry, despite his denial, already knows what the monster wants of him.  I won’t spoil the movie, but suffice it to say that the end is more proof of The Creeper’s specific interest in male bodies and homoerotic voyerism .  I read this as an allusion to the idea of gay men may fetishizing male body parts, that they want to build a fantasy male from the combined parts of different men.

We get another clue what The Creeper has  desire for in the beginning of  Jeepers Creepers 2 when he swoops into a cornfield and flys away with an attractive, toe-headed teenage boy.  Nearby a school bus is  transporting a boys high school basketball team, and a few of their cheer girls, down the same country highway a few days after the incidents of the first Jeepers movie.  Where Jeepers 1 was a stand alone horror story, Jeepers 2 begins more similarly to what I would consider a copycat teen slasher movie: a lost group of teen characters are hunted and methodically killed according to an implicit order of punishment for boorish behavior and/or fornication.  Here, The Creeper disables the school bus on an isolated road and kills all the adult chaparones to enhance a sense of helplessness and  fear on behalf of the teens.  We learned in the first movie that fear emanates some scent The Creeper uses to identify which victims present the most desirable body parts.  In a scene I can only describe as out of the ordinary, The Creeper, while hanging upside down in the bus window points through the crowded alies of the bus at each of the teens he intends to consume, like picking live catch from a restaurant aquarium.  If the implication in the fact that each of his menu selections are male is still unclear, he advertizes his interest in the last boy with a disgusting, erotic sweep of his steaming tounge.  As The Creeper begins to tear apart the bus and pick off his selected male victims, the teens argue over whether they are safer on or off the bus, and whether they should take the doubtful step of dividing themselves into groups as The Creeper’s chosen and unchosen.  Ultimately this debate is of little value as when the kids make a run for it, The Creeper finds his marked boys and wings away with them anyway.  What they fear most is unavoidable.

To my surprise this teen horror movie turns far from the copycat rythm as the teenagers spend much of the time defending themselves not only from the attacks of the monster, but from the prejeudices of their peers.  In the midst of crisis some kids show the character to see the importance of being a team, other fall into patterns of self-preservation and bigotry.  There are unsubtle opinions raised about race, social status, and explicitly in the other boy’s suspicion of the “gay” kid.  The high school sports journalist Izzy, is frequently accused of being gay, “Izzy or isn’t he?”  As in the first Jeepers film, homosexuality left in question is ultimately more important than getting a definitive answer.  Where analysis of teen horror film often proposes a subtext of adolescent anxieties about sex, procreation, and marriage, Jeepers Creepers is a unique mainstream discourse in male anxiety about suppressed homosexual feelings.  If you are a regular boy and a gay monster, after smelling all your peers, selects you, what does that say about you?  Does the monster know something you don’t?  In the story the alleged real gay boy is actually overlooked by the The Creeper and survives to act heroically.  The Creeper is not only an eroticised homosexual killer, he violently demonstrates the terror of a sexual monster within, the fear of what happens to men who are tempted by underlying homosexual desire.

Its worth noting that despite being a different kind of text for a horror movie, the classic feminist critique of an ever present male gaze continues to stare longingly.  It’s just looking in the mirror now.  The Trish character in the first movie and the cheer girls on the bus still have little agency in these stories.   She is now just a bystander as opposed to the obect of male fetishism.  As a selection for the Halloween Movie Club, there are other reasons to like the Jeepers movies besides the feminist critique and the homoerotic text.  Both movies are sharply written, genuinely suspensful, and well acted.

Finally there is public information available about the film director having spent time in jail for child molestation before these movies were ever made.  I think knowing that may be prejudical to first time viewing although it opens the discussion to some other interesting analogies.  I recommend watching the movies before looking deeper into the director’s biography.

Jeepers Creepers (2001, d. Victor Salva)

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003, d. Victor Salva)