The importance of queer cinema, and kisses versus killing
The importance of queer cinema, sex in Star Trek and a rant about toothpaste.
Also, the thing with the Centurion was NOT me, before anyone asks. And yes, the Icelandic horror thing really freaked my little socks off.
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It’s been a couple of weeks since I did one of these, hasn’t it? Probably shouldn’t have left it hanging on an episode about death, either. Talk about tempting fate… Still, I’m back. Hellooo.
The first week I was just a hangover. It wasn’t one of the power-through-it-and-you’ll-be-fine kind, but more the “lurk in bed and wank yourself into a coma” hangovers that wipes out a whole day.
Last weekend, though, I was actually busy. I was at a queer film festival in Cardiff, called The Iris Prize. It’s an annual thing, and I go every year, watch a load of LGBTQ movies and do lasting damage to my liver at the ‘networking’ events every night. It might sound like just an excuse to drink heavily and try to kiss pretty filmmakers, and that’s because you’ve got your mind stuck in the gutter and ought to be ashamed.
Because there’s also the films that you watch while trying to get over both the hangover and the feeling of awkwardness when the one you tried to kiss last night turns up with the random tart he went home with instead of you. For example. I’m not saying that happened, just that it could possibly have might happened to someone I knew. Anyway.
So, yeah, queer film festivals. When I told my minion at work that I was taking a week off to go to a film festival, he said “Why do gay people need their own film festivals? If a film’s any good, then it’ll get into a normal film festival…” So firstly I had to bend him over my knee and spank him for saying ‘normal’ when he meant ‘straight’; that is extremely Not Cool. Also he’s 23 and has an arse like a racehorse, so any excuse really. Anyway, while I was reddening his cheeks, I started thinking about why queer film festivals are important.
First off, it’s a safe space for us to tell our stories. Queer cinema isn’t just coming-out stories. It is coming out stories, but it’s also everything else. Love, tragedy, betrayal, comedy... The whole human experience through the eyes of queer filmmakers. Maybe that seems stupid, but movies with same-sex couple in the lead roles, even if the things they deal with during the narrative are entirely humdrum and everyday is still a new thing.
For example, the new Star Trek series has a gay couple in it. We know this because there’s a scene where they clean their teeth together and talk about issues on the ship. That’s it.
Although to be honest, that’s pretty astounding in itself. Talking to someone while cleaning your teeth. Even on my own, I usually end up dripping wwhite foam all over the sink. If I were trying to talk to someone at the same time, I’d end up drowning myself on it. To be honest, I think that might be the biggest technological innovation I’ve even seen on TV. Not warp drive or transporters, but just finding a way to clean your teeth that doesn’t mean there’s a good chance you’re going to have to change your top in a minute, because that stuff never washes out. It might seem like it’s gone, but give it ten minutes to dry and then suddenly it’s there, for everyone to see, as if you’ve just noshed off the Stay Puft man… What WAS I talking about? Oh, yeah. Gays on Star Trek. They just talk. And neither of them says “Fire your photon torpedos right on my face, big boy” or anything like that, either but from the number of headlines generated just by their existence and acknowledgement by the writers, you’d think there was a graphic depiction of them landing in one another’s shuttlebays.
So, yeah, part of it is simply normalising the queer experience. Being able to say “Hey, look, we’re people too - we do all the same things straight people do. Only slightly more stylishly. And also we have all this additional shit to deal with, because of who we love. But mainly, we’re people too.” And this might seem like it’s not a big deal, but it really is.
There’s a historical example here that I really like. In 1957, the Wolfenden Report was presented to UK Parliament recommending that homosexuality be decriminalised. At that time, as through quite a lot of history, being a homo was punishable to imprisonment for ‘gross indecency’ and ‘unnatural acts’. Personally I find a good hard unnatural act first thing in the morning sets me up for the whole day, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway.
In fact, being homosexual was so shocking, that even when the Wolfenden Committee were discussing their recommendations, they didn’t use the word, for fear of offending women. There was a tin of biscuits made by Huntley & Palmer on the table when the comittee met, so they referred to gay men as ‘Huntleys’ whenever the female stenographer was in the room. I’m not making this up.
I know what I’m like during meetings - I’d have been trying to stick as many Huntleys in my mouth as possible. Although more than two at a time makes it difficult to breathe. Same with biscuits, I imagine.
So, anyway, the report came out, recommending that consensual acts between two men in private probably shouldn’t count as a crime that could land you in jail. FUCKING SHOCKING, right? So the report was presented to Parliament and everyone agreed the law should change and that was the end of that. OH, WAIT, NO. I’ve got that wrong. The report was presented to parliament, and every single politician ignored it, because they were afraid that supporting it would ruin their career. How strange that politicians would put their own interests over that of their constituents… Anyway.
A few years later, a film called Victim was made, starring Dirk Bogarde as a successful, happily married lawyer who gets blackmailed for being a homo and his life is ruined. The film was refused classification, so it couldn’t get a PG/15/18 or whatever rating in both the UK and the US, meaning it couldn’t be shown to the public because the subject material was too shocking. Spoiler alert - the guy isn’t even gay. There’s no bumming scene, or spicy cockshot. He’s just blackmailed by someone who threatens to ruin his life by saying he is a big woofter. There’s no gay relationship in the movie, either shown or implied, it was literally banned for acknowledging that being gay was a thing and there was a concern that this would cause an outcry from the public.
Anyway, the film got shown in London regardless, because fuck you, we’ll do what we want. And it turned out there was outrage and shock. But - plot twist! - it went the other way. The public shock and outrage was more along the lines of “Why is this still a thing?” except this was the olden days, so it was probably a bit more “Hrrmph. Surely not, old chap. Might be time for a bit of a rethink, what…” and by 1967, ten years after the official report, being gay was partially decriminalised by Parliament.
I’m oversimplifying, of course; there were many other factors involved, but this film was definitely an important part of that shift.
So, yes “What a long way we’ve come”... But before we start getting too complacent, let’s look again at Star Trek, if only because there’s no way Kirk wasn’t stroking Spock’s pointy ears between missions. This time let’s look at the last two movies because I’m a massive nerd. One of the movies opens with a devastating terrorist attack in London and later crashes a starship into San Francisco (whoops, sorry, spoilers again), and the other has characters being shot, blown up, thrown out of airlocks, impaled… But both were deemed acceptable for anyone over the age of 12.
And yet the one second’s worth of footage showing Sulu greeting his husband with a kiss on the cheek and an arm around his shoulder had to be edited out of the US release for fear of offending its audience. This is the same movie that showed a character screaming as she was torn apart on screen by tiny robots, by the way. So however far we’ve come, mainstream movies are much more comfortable showing us violence and destruction than two men sharing an emotion that doesn’t involve fists.
Ooooh, that was a badly-worded sentence. Moving on!
So, yeah, it’s important that we have space to tell stories. And it’s not as if they’re boring. This year at the festival, among others, I saw a 65-year-old man accidentally become a drag queen, a lesbian luche libre wrestler, and some really fucked up Icelandic horror thing that even now makes me want to check under my bed before I go to sleep, so it’s not like queer storytellers can’t keep it fresh. And it’s not just the stories on screen that make it fun, there’s the stuff happening around you, like a young middle-eastern filmmaker who was in such a fragile state by the end of the week that he burst into tears in the middle of Starbucks when he got served by a ginger barista, because he didn’t know how to deal with someone so beautiful and exotic. Or when someone accidentally set their hair on fire while leaning in for a selfie, or that time I met a handsome filmmaker and ended up travelling thousands of miles to see him again… But that’s a story for another time.
Also, it’s important for us to hear these stories.
I remember being about 15 and going to see of Beautiful Thing with a friend, and having my mind blown because suddenly, it wasn’t just me stuck in a tiny town in Yorkshire. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore; there were other people out there, like me. I mean, I didn’t have their soundtrack, or casting, or flattering lighting but still, the hope, and the excitement felt by this young lad from a little town in Yorkshire was profound, and incredibly moving. I’m just glad I got to have films like Beautiful Thing and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert as I was coming out. If they’d been more like that Icelandic horror, I’d probably have gone back in.