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    Just one smile on your face / Was all it took to change my fortune

    Joe thinks I’m being too dismissive of That Movie . He’s seen it and has posted about it. Here’s (to me) the important part:

    Homosexual and gay are not synonymous; all homosexuals are not gay. Homosexual acts may be circumstantial–a man in prison, a drunken evening–or experimental and do not mean an individual is homosexual by nature. But experimentation can lead to the discovery of a homosexual inclination.

    Once that inclination is realized, how it is addressed matters to all of us. Because then there is a choice to be made: to accept homosexuality or to resist and fight it. To embrace it is to become gay. To resist it leads to all kinds of trouble.

    Urbanization and mobilization–particularly World War II which brought women into the workforce and men together as it took them around the world–brought with it the beginnings of a gay identity. That identity is rooted in the collective experience of those who have gone through the difficult process of making the choice to embrace their homsexuality.

    The nuclearization of the family has had a major effect, too. When you bring people up to choose their own spouses, and when they know that the bulk of their emotional sustenance and support through life’s obstacles will be channeled through a partnership of two, it becomes far more urgent that their partnerships are based on not only duty but also compatibility. Extended family societies impinge more on individual identity–and they tend not to make the pursuit of happiness a high priority, let alone enshrine it in their founding documents–but they also provide a constellation of relationships with in-laws that makes difficulties with any one person easier to manage: you may not get along very well with your husband and mother-in-law, but your helpful sister-in-law and slyly sympathetic father-in-law can always be close at hand to keep you from losing your mind.

    Getting back to what Joe writes, the “collective experience” part is a little on the Richard Goldstein side for me, but in a major sense, he’s right. Those of us you see publicly calling ourselves gay are working culturally, both for better and for worse, off a framework developed by men and women after World War II, especially through the 60s and 70s.

    That doesn’t mean, of course, that our elders have turned their mind rays on us and turned us all into zombies. Poor Eric, practically tearing his hair out as usual to get people to remember that they’re in charge of their own lives, notes the reactions to Brokeback Mountain in a splashy Inquirer article:

    From what I’ve read, the film targets the mainstream heterosexual market, but that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be lining up to see it in large numbers. Hype won’t persuade people to see a film with which they can’t identify, nor will a good scolding. (It’s a real stretch to blame “heterosexual bigotry” for the failure of people to see a film.)

    If only there’d been a major coordinated attack on the film by social conservatives with massive boycotts and picket lines in front of every theater! That might have triggered a Brokeback Mountain backlash [Say that five times fast–SRK], but the social conservatives seem to be learning what not to do. (I guess I should keep my trap shut about such things….)

    MORE: I think, however, that it would be a mistake to misread this strategic silence as an indication of tolerance or an embrace of a live-and-let-live philosophy.

    That’s because the hard core opposition to the film arises from a moral collectivist belief that people are not responsible for their own actions:

    “If [Brokeback Mountain] encourages even one confused boy to engage in sex with another male, that makes it an instrument of corruption, not one of enlightenment.”

    I may be in a minority, but I can’t think of a single time–at any point in my life–where sex resulted from confusion.

    I haven’t read the short story for a while, but if the movie is faithful to it, the message it sends would seem to be that if you fall in love with another man, you end up living alone in a drafty trailer or murdered with a tire iron. Neither sounds all that encouraging, though naysayers can always work the angle of supposedly endless teenage impressionability.

    In any case, I’m not sure what real, wide-ranging effect Joe expects the movie to have. Most of the public positions people are taking in response to it don’t seem to deviate much from those they were already taking anyway, though I’m sure there will be at least some cases in which people are moved by it to think more sympathetically about gays. He ends this way:

    What we must see, all of us gay and straight alike, is that it’s in our interest to help open the closet door. We must make the choice to come out of the closet and become gay an easier one; the obvious one. Because that’s the right choice, the good choice, the healthy choice, for our society and for all of us living in it.

    I agree, obviously; I just don’t know that a movie like Brokeback Mountain helps much. I can only speak authoritatively about my own experience, but what made the difference for me was a conversation with my soon-to-be first boyfriend. I don’t remember it verbatim, which is kind of odd considering how it affected the way my life has gone since then, but what he said was basically this: “I’m not forcing you into anything. I couldn’t if I wanted to. You want to take the line that you’re just kind of feeling experimental and stuff, you go ahead. But let me tell you what I see: I’m offering you a relationship, and you’re responding. If you want me to go away, you can tell me decisively to get lost, and you’ll never hear from me again. But you won’t.” And I didn’t, because he was right. He was just naming what I already knew I was, and it mattered because he was an actual person that I knew. I don’t think even the most seductive pop culture artifacts would have really made up for the fact that the few stray gays I’d known until then (such as my high school homeroom teacher and the squalling brats in the college LGBA) were 180 degrees opposite from the kind of person I wanted to become. Cultural acceptance is important; it matters. But it can’t do the most pressing job of getting people to own what they are and decide whether they’re going to use it for good or ill.

    Added at 16:27: Joe has also commented on the Christianity Today review.

    5 Responses to “Just one smile on your face / Was all it took to change my fortune”

    1. joe says:

      Great post! I’d like to comment in more depth but I’m off on a very long drive home. Maybe when I get there…

      Briefly, I don’t expect magic from the film; it’s just another marker on the road to acceptance. But the heterosexuality of the project is important – it isn’t really a gay film at all. Whether or not it achieves the goal, it wasn’t made for a gay audience and it wasn’t made by gay people. Yet it is empathetic and insightful. I’m happy to see that from the heterosexual world and would like to encourage more of it.

      The film IS generating discussion. If you’ll forgive me please this one more shameless plug, I just posted my reaction to the Christianity Today review. I see it as deviating some from the postitions they’ve taken before. And that’s everything I could ask for.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Okay, Joe. That’s fair enough. Have a safe trip back.

    3. Steve H. says:

      It wasn’t made by gay people for a gay audience, but by god it’s doing the business:

      I have a girlfriend, but I saw the movie “Brokeback Mountain” and keep thinking about trying sex with another guy.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      We-ell, let me let you in on a little secret: I haven’t made a scientific study, but I’d be willing to bet that the incidence of gay guys’ pressuring straight men into experimenting with gay sex is way lower than the incidence of self-styled “straight” guys’ soliciting gay sex with the line that something has happened to–man, it’s the darnedest thing!–make them feel experimental. That something happens to make them feel experimental approximately once every three weeks, they don’t mention. There’s something about admitting that they’re experienced and know what they’re doing in bed with a man that freaks some men out.

      Me, I have to say that the thought of Beanie Baby Gyllenhaal naked in a bedroll is about enough to put me off man-ass forever. Different strokes.

    5. Maria says:

      I saw Brokeback Mountain a few days ago, and I agree with Joe’s statement, “…it’s just another marker on the road to acceptance.”

      “Graphic,” it is not. All one sees is the unfastening of macho cowboy buckles and then you hear a bunch of grunts…C’mon, “Christianity Today,” even the fishermen disciples did their share of grunting, and was it not Paul that was found on the road to Damascus upon his hands and knees? (Okay, that was a cheap shot. But, after my experiences in a fundamentalist cult–IT FELT GOOD).

      I don’t think those that “need” to see the film are going to see it. They’ve all ready made up their minds about the subject.

      Half-expecting to be moved by the piece, I was a bit disappointed. I didn’t really empathize with any of the characters all that much. Though I am not a gay man, nor a gay woman, for that matter, I have been intimately involved, both sexually and/or emotionally, with men that realized their gayness sometime after our relationship. The actors all did a superb job; I just didn’t feel drawn in. Or, maybe my past experiences weren’t fresh enough–I felt none of the former pain that I recall as being quite vivid and real.

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