April 25, 2011

Setting the Record Queer: Ruth C. Ellis, the oldest Lesbian.

It is said that Ruth Ellis was the oldest - as in first - known lesbian who was publicly out. What makes her remarkable was that she came out in 1915, which was 54 years before the Stonewall Riots that "started" the queer rights movement.

Throughout her long life Ellis was an activist for the queer community. Even more extraordinary was that Ellis was African American and therefor served a community that faced a double whammy of discrimination - racism and homophobia.

Ellis's main romantic partner - and the only woman she lived with - was Ceciline "Babe" Franklin. When Ellis and Franklin lived in Detroit, Ellis opened up a printing business and became the first woman in Michigan to own and operate a printing business in Michigan according to the GLBT History Month 2009 article on Ellis. Ellis and Franklin turned their house during this time period into a safe haven for black gays and lesbians and it was referred to as "gay spot".

Ruth Ellis died on October 5th, 2000. She was 101 years old at the time of her passing. Her legacy includes the Ruth Ellis Center which, on their website describes their purpose as "to provide short-term and long-term residential safe space and support services for runaway, homeless and at-risk gay, lesbian, bi-attractional, transgender and questioning youth in Detroit and Southeastern Michigan."

According to the center's website Ruth herself, "opened her home to the community on the weekends as a safe space from the 1940s through the 1960s, a time when African-American gay men and lesbians had few social venues." and "personally assisted young people with money for college, books, and food. She unselfishly gave everything that she had to whomever needed it."

In 1999, a documentary Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100 was released about Ruth Ellis's life which was directed by Yvonne Welbon.

Links and Further Reading:
Wikipedia Article on Ruth Ellis
Ruth Ellis Center
GLBT History Month 2009 Spotlight on Ruth Ellis
Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100 at IMDB

April 22, 2011

Queer Review: A Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

A Walk on the Wild Side
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Writers: John Fante, Edmund Morris, and Ben Hecht. Based on the novel by Nelson Algren.
Cast: Laurence Harvey, Capucine, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter

A sudsy melodrama about lost souls from the seedier parts of this world, A Walk on the Wild Side attempts to tell a tale of sin, longing, and regret. However, the melodramatic elements are overdone and the watering down of the racier elements of the novel in order to conform to the Hays Code cause the production to collapse faster than levees before hurricane Katrina.

Set during the depression in the 1930's, the story opens with Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey) on his way to New Orleans to search for his lost love Hallie Gerard (Capucine). At the beginning Dove meets Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) a rough around the edges drifter who teaches him how to ride the trains and other survival skills. However, they soon end up parting ways when Dove catches Kitty stealing from cafe owner Teresina Vidaverri (Anne Baxter). Now trusting Dove as he returned her jewlery, Teresina offers to help Dove in his quest. Dove soon finds Hallie, who is now working at a brothel called The Dollhouse run by Jo Courtney (Barbara Stanwyck). The problem though is that Jo is the possessive type and will not let her most popular prostitute leave easily.

The Queering
The most interesting element in Walk on the Wild Side is the coded lesbian relationship between Jo and Hallie. It is never explicitly stated but there are several scenes that suggest the reason Jo will not let Hallie be with Dove is not the money Hallie makes for The Dollhouse, but because Jo's interest turned to Hallie after her husband was disabled in an accident. Jo's husband is clearly eager to see Hallie exit and in one scene Jo asks Hallie not to continue to service The Dollhouse clientile.

However, Walk on the Wild Side was made at the wrong time. The novel by Nelson Algrenthat the film was based upon appears, based upon the research I did, to be a lot grittier than the film and more character driven. The film itself suffers too much from over simplification and bending over backwards to satisfy the Hays Code. The fact is that the Hays Code required criminals and those who engaged in sexual perversion to be punished either by going to jail ending up dead. Considering this, the death of a key character that causes the film to end on a sour note should not come as a surprise to anyone.

I believe that if Walk on the Wild Side had been made several years later, that is after the Hays Code had been abolished, there might have been a powerful film made from this material. As it is, between the cheesy dialog and watered down dramatic elements it's difficult to find anything to admire. Most of the acting is not terrible but not great either. Although, I must admit Barbara Stanwyck's performance as Jo is brilliantly fierce, while managing to subtle suggest the increasing fear and jealousy her character feels towards Dove. This is a woman I would not want to cross.

All things considered, there's not a lot here to recommend. Only those completists interested in seeing any film with queer themes, no matter how coded or potentially offensive, will have any reason take a Walk on the Wild Side

The Rating

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April 21, 2011

Queer Review: In and Out (1997)

In and Out
Director: Frank Oz
Writer: Paul Rudnick
Cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon

In spite of In and Out's over reliance on old formulas and familiar tropes, it still manages to be very funny movie. A charming leading performance by Kevin Kline, some smartly written dialog, and genuine humor manage to make this an entertaining film.

When Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) the former student of English teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is nominated for an Oscar, the small town of Greenleaf is eager to see one of their own make it big. Therefore everyone is watching Drake during his acceptance speech when he claims that Mr. Brackett is gay. Hijinks ensue as Bracket - who was engaged to be married Emily Montgomery (Joan Cusack) - must simultaneously defend himself against the reporters swarming into town - including Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) - and the homophobic school administration. Not surprisingly, during all of this Brackett finds himself questioning his own sexuality.

The Queering
There are enough familiar elements contained within In and Out that one might be tempted to label it a complete retread.. However, what saves it is the comedy - I spent a good portion of the movie laughing heartily at the antics of the characters. A lot of the humor is obvious but there's also many subtle bits as well. For example, pay attention to the song Bracket uses for his morning alarm.

While In and Out is consistently funny, it's not so consistent in other areas. The acting is good, but other than the self aware performances by Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck, not all that great. The characterization is also weak and too often relies on stereotypes and caricatures to create the individuals needed for the story to work.

I also have a few things to say regarding the film's characterization of gay men. 1) Not all gay men like Barbara Streisand. I don't. 2) We do not all have limp wrists.
3) Not all of us teach English and love Shakespeare. I mean seriously, while I do not wish to imply that there is anything wrong with flaming queens and effeminate males, it was the consistent portrayal of gay men as sensitive and swishy women trapped in male bodies - a fairly common portrayal for the 90's it seems - that was the reason why Brokeback Mountain was considered such a breakthrough nearly a decade after In and Out came out.

I will add though, that while the portrayal of Mr. Brackett as a limp wristed queer did not offend me, I was annoyed at the lack of acknowledgement by the characters that not all gay men act altogether effeminate and a not all straight men are macho. There are too many scenes where the possibility is completely ignored that a gay man might not be a stereotypical gay and a straight man might do things like dance to songs by The Village People or tuck in his shirt.

Humor may be subjective, but I doubt there will be many who won't find the jokes In and Out funny enough to warrant a look in spite of the problems I illustrated above.

The Rating

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April 20, 2011

Queer Review: The Laramie Project (2002)

The Laramie Project
Director: Moisés Kaufman
Writers: Moisés Kaufman, Stephen Belber, Leigh Fondakowski, Amanda Gronich, Jeffrey LaHoste, John McAdams, Andy Paris, Greg Pierotti, Barbara Pitts, Kelli Simpkins, Stephen Wangh
Cast: Laura Linney, Steve Buscemi, Christina Ricci, Janeane Garofalo, Mark Webber, Margo Martindale, Joshua Jackson, Nestor Carbonell, Jeremy Davies, Andy Paris, Frances Sternhagen, Clea DuVall, Ben Foster, Terry Kinney, Tom Bower, Michael Emerson

One of the most powerful and emotionally compelling examples of queer film-making to date, The Laramie Project tells the story of a town coping with a terrible tragedy that puts them in the center of an unpleasant spotlight.

In an attempt to make sense of a senseless event, the Tectonic Theater Company went to Laramie, Wyoming to conduct interviews with the residents. From those interviews, the screenplay for The Laramie Project was constructed, with the words of the real people affected by the tragedy being used verbatim to construct the dialog.

The Queering
To date, there are only a handful of films that have had the emotional impact on me that The Laramie Project did. Whilst I would rather not admit explicitly in a public forum how exactly I reacted, let's just say that by the time the end credits rolled, had there been a box of tissues nearby, I would have gone through the whole box. As it was, I merely ended up with a really wet shirt.

There are many scenes with the potential to bring audience members to tears, such as the bartender lamenting that he could have prevented Matt Shepard from leaving his bar with the two men who would ultimately become his murderers. Throughout The Laramie Project, the relentless assault on the audiences emotions never ceases. However, since this all based on real life, one gets the feeling that a true catharsis will be impossible. At the end, not even the sentencing of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson brings any relief.

The method used by those who wrote the play - using excerpts from actual interviews of those affected by Mathew Shepard's death - has been questioned. Many have not asked why not simply make a documentary? However, I think the answer is obvious. What The Laramie Project is ultimately a work of art. By having the words of real people given life by the actors, interpretation and certain themes can be highlighted and brought to the forefront. Yet the method used to give birth the screenplay gives it an authenticity that no project with the "based on a true story" can possibly match.

The town of Laramie is presented in the movie as an ordinary town in America that has been traumatized into a state of belligerent shock by Mathew Shepard's murder. The people interviewed claim that this sort of thing does not happen in Laramie, that the people here are neither homophobic nor gay bashers, and that the prevailing attitude is one of "live and let live". This key phrase is repeated several times throughout, but slowly the words and actions of other individuals paint a much different picture of Laramie where homophobia lurks beneath the surface, ready always to burst out into plain sight. Here too, Laramie appears no different than any other ordinary town in America.

The acting is strong across the board but because of the nature of the project and the large ensemble cast there are no standouts. The only problem I had was when I recognized a familiar face here and there and ended up trying to figure out what other movies a particular actor or actress had been in.

I had seen the play The Laramie Project when I was a freshman in college as part of my Play Analysis for the Stage class. As far as my hazy memories go, there appeared to be only a few changes, although I felt that some material must have condensed as I am sure there was some scenes that lasted longer and characters that were around more in the play version.

Highly recommended, except for those with sensitive constitutions.

The Rating

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April 18, 2011

Queer Review: The Opposite of Sex (1998)

The Opposite of Sex
Director: Don Roos
Writer: Don Roos
Cast: Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Galecki, William Lee Scott, Ivan Sergei

Some movies are great because they provide critical insight into the human condition. Others are great because they entertain and can make audiences laugh, distracting them from said human condition. The Opposite of Sex attempts to do both, but while failing to say anything interesting about human sexuality, it does succeed at being a hilarious look at the lives of several individuals drawn into increasingly outrageous events.

When Dede Truitt (Christina Ricci) moves in with her half-brother Bill Truitt (Martin Donovan). She finds herself attracted to Matt (Ivan Sergei), Bill's live in boy friend and earns the scorn of Lucia DeLury (Lisa Kudrow) the sister of Bill's deceased lover, Tom. It is not long before Dede is able to seduce Matt and shortly thereafter, she announces that she's pregnant. After Dede and Matt flee, Jason (Johnny Galecki) wanting to know where Matt is, blackmails Bill by accusing Bill of having molested him when he was Bill's student. Things are made even more complicated when Randy 'One Ball' Cates (William Lee Scott) - the real father of Dede's child - reenters the picture.

The Queering
In spite of The Opposite of Sex's attempts to the contrary, very rarely does it provide any intelligent insight into human relationships. The charaters frequently talk about sex and their experiences, but rarely does anyone say anything truly insightful. The most interesting thing said by any of the characters, is when Sheriff Carl Tippett (Lyle Lovett), who had pursued Lucia for most of the movie, observes that the purpose of sex does not appear to be for procreation or recreation but for focusing our attention on each other.

However, that does not stop The Opposite of Sex from being a whole lot of fun. This is still a well-written motion picture with some nicely developed characters. The plot zips along with several surprising twists and turns on it's journey to the characters final destinations.

Christina Ricci's performance as the troubled Dede is brilliantly caustic. Dede is highly cynical and while narrating the film shows she is not afraid of having fun at the audiences expense. At one critical juncture, she shows a serious of events that did not happen and then laughs at the audience for having been fooled by that scene.

While Christina Ricci's performance and narration is the standout, most of the cast is just as good. Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow, and Lyle Lovett all give strong performances. Johnny Galecki, William Lee Scott, and Ivan Sergei are not on the same level, but are not terrible.

Ambitious motion pictures should not be punished if they do not fail to achieve all of the goals they set out to accomplish. While The Opposite of Sex fails in some areas, it still manages to be a well written, well acted, and highly clever concoction.

The Rating

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April 16, 2011

Queer Issue: Pfox and the Ex-Gay Movement.

Recently I became aware of an organization called Pfox (Parents and Friends of Gays and Ex-Gays) that claims to support the rights of ex-Gays and gys. The basic premise of the group is that there is extreme prejudice towards ex-gays and that this prejudice is greater than that faced by the queer community in general.

The cursory examination of the articles and literature that I've read all have Pfox presenting itself as an organization that promotes tolerance towards all. However, a deeper look reveals that the group actively promotes extreme homophobia and transphobia.

Throughout their website and statements Pfox either directly labels or suggests that gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals are confused about their identities. Furthermore, Pfox goes out of their way to present gay men as predatory sex addicts and spares no effort in describing the dangers of the "homosexual lifestyle". There is no affirmation or support shown for gays, lesbians or transgendered individuals and while my research of the website was not exhaustive, there appears to be no indication of the existence of bi, pan, or omnisexuals. This is obviously done as bi, pan, and omnisexuality does in fact undermine so many of the arguments and studies that PFox uses to support it's rhetoric.

Furthermore, I admit to having a minor issue with the term "ex-gay" as it identifies an individual negatively based upon what they used to be, not as what they are. In the grand scheme of things, most people who go from having romantic or sexual relationships with someone of the same sex to someone of the opposite sex would probably identify themselves as bi, pan or omnisexual. I myself have a little a secret that I wish to share with you all. I am an ex-straight as I dated a girl back when I was in seventh grade. I am also an ex-college student and ex child. All I ask from the straight community is that I not be judged or discriminated against for being ex-straight, and that I not be judged for my choice to reject the straight lifestyle.

Something I found interesting that Pfox advocates for on a couple of their pages is that "homosexuals" be counseled on alternatives to homosexuality. Really? The implications of this are interesting as it appears Pfox is saying that heterosexuals are such a repressed minority that people have to be educated before they can become aware of even the possibility of heterosexual identity.

Actually what Pfox is really advocating is much more dangerous. There's an ugly truth about the ex-gay movement that Pfox deliberately ignores and covers up. This little secret is that the ex-gay movements tactics are far more extreme than anything suggested in Pfox's literature.

It is also worth noting, that in spite of homosexuality no longer being classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, the ex-gay movement is entirely founded on the notion that gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals are mentally ill.

The publication "Youth in the Crosshairs, The Third Wave of Ex-Gay Activism" by Jason Cianciotto and Sean Cahil makes for a good read on this topic and the tactics used by the ex-gay movement.

What I want to point out is this. It is within the ex-gay movement that the hypocrisy of the homophobic and transphobic movements within our society is revealed in all its ugly glory. We do not need to recruit, indoctrinate, or brainwash anyone in order for more queers to be brought into the world, as sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamentally innate characteristics. However, in order for ex-gays and ex-trans individuals to exist, there must be also be an ex-gay movement to create them.

If someone wishes to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, that is fine, no one should be judged for changing even something of that nature. Change, I will admit, is always possible, for obvious reasons. However, the ex-gay movement does not encourage self determination, rather it forces conformity to a straight identity. Within ex-gay camps, people are routinely brainwashed into believing the ideology of "straight is the only possible good".

In closing, I will say this. People should be allowed the basic dignity of self determination regarding their own identity. There should be no need to counsel people into choosing a particular identity. Unfortunately, the ex-gay, ex-trans movements, while trying to present an image that they do not indoctrinate or coerce gay, lesbians, and trans individuals into becoming straight, their actions are actually quite different.

April 11, 2011


Whenever homophobes refer to "The Homosexual Agenda" they talk as if though it was this highly secret, yet real document that specifies the goals of gay activists. The Conservapedia article on the topic describes the agenda as such:
The Homosexual Agenda, or homosexual ideology, consists of a set of beliefs and objectives designed to promote and even mandate acceptance and approval of homosexuality, and the strategies used to implement such. This article notes that the goals and means of this movement include indoctrinating students in public school, restricting the free speech of opposition, obtaining special treatment for homosexuals, distorting Biblical teaching and science, and interfering with freedom of association.

I can remember when I was in college being asked in jest by one of my friends about our methodology for taking over the world and if it involved tanks. I responded glibly with something along the lines of that tanks were not being used, but the subliminal messages and mind control would be.

However, I want people to brace themselves. What I am about to do may cause my fellow homosexual activists to think I am in need of another brainwashing and indoctrination session. Here now, for public review, I will reveal in it's full glory:


We the Gays and Lesbians; the Bi, Pan, Omni, and asexual citizens; the transgendered, the cross dressers, and the queers, genderqueers and genderfucks; alongside our allies and all others who know the dangers of silence, shall establish and hold these values to be sacrosanct.

We believe that we are deserving as the same rights as everyone else and that our regulation to second class citizenship is not to be tolerated.

We believe that we have the right live our lives with dignity, to be accepted as valued members of society, and that our families be given consideration, respect, and acknowledgement by society. That we shall not have to face discrimination in employment or housing, nor that we shall have to face bullying at our schools. That our expression of our identity, nor our capacity to love be considered a disease when it falls outside the realm of the socially acceptable.

We believe that our gender and sexual orientations are our own. That what is declared by a doctor at birth is not an absolute nor lifelong binding classification. We say that society has no right to tell us who we should love.

We believe that labeling us as confused only creates confusion, that saying we are all a threat to society is in itself dangerous, and that discrimination by those who believe us immoral, will only promote immorality.

We believe that we should not have to live our lives in fear or secret, to be only whispered in the darkest of nights. That fear of course is the constant threat of rejection, the loss of friends and violence. Instead we believe that we should be able to shout who we are to the masses and not be judged by them. Nor do we wish our revelations to cause fear in anyone but those who fear the exposure of truth.

Therefore, these are our goals:
That the truth be shown to the world.
That liberty may reign.
That equality shall become a reality.
That justice will be obtained.

We shall obtain these goals as follows:
By refusing to give in to fear or hatred.
By rejecting hypocrisy.
By promoting complete honesty in all our words and speech.
By recognizing the inherent immorality of discrimination.
By embracing love in all it's forms.
By living our lives as we were meant to live them.

Let us declare now that we will fight on, without rest, until all this has been done.

Queer Review: The Detective (1968)

The Detective
Director: Gordon Douglas
Writer: Abby Mann. Based on the novel by Roderick Thorp
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Tony Musante, Lloyd Bochner

When considering how potentially offensive any movie can be, one must take into account the historical context in which the movie was made. The Detective is notable for being the first movie to deal openly with the issue of "homosexuality" and to attempt a sympathetic portrayal of "homosexuals". However, even though it was considered progressive for the time, The Detective struck me as being a little condescending and potentially offensive for modern audiences.

When the gay son of a prominent New York businessman is brutally murdered, Detective Joe Leland (Frank Sinatra) is assigned to investigate. It does not take him long to track down the victims live in lover Felix Tesla (Tony Musante) and extract a confession. However, Joe is troubled because Tesla is clearly insane. When Tesla is executed, Jos finds himself ridden with guilt even though breaking the case helped earn his promotion to Lieutenant as Tesla clearly had psychatric problems making his confession suspect. Soon afterwards, Detective Leland is approached by the recently widowed Norma MacIver who asks him to look into her husbands suicide. While the two cases appear unrelated, they both turn out to be connected to corruption at the highest levels of the city.

The Queering
Like I said earlier, The Detective was considered progressive for the time period it was released in. However, it's attempts at sympathetically portrayals of it's gay characters falls far short of that lofty goal. The main problem is that the gay characters are either self loathing murderers, have serious psychiatric problems, or end up dead. Also, I later decided to watch the trailer and noticed that it appears to be using the term "perverts" to refer to gay men.

However, these complaints aside, one can forgive the filmmakers considering the time period. Remember, The Detective came out in 1968, a whole year before the Stonewall Riots that "started" the gay liberation movement and the now defunct Hays Code had only recently been officially abolished.

Furthermore, ignoring the negative stereotypes used to portray the gay characters, The Detective is a damn fine movie. The characterization of the non-gay characters is fairly subtle and complex, while the plot, while somewhat derivative, managed to hold my attention throughout. There are also some nice performances showcased within and after watching this, I can see why Frank Sinatra was considered the coolest actor of his generation.

On the flip side, The Detective was also trying to be progressive in areas beyond sexuality. To that end, Leland and his wife are suffering marital problems, the problems of drugs are not ignored, and the dialog tries to represent the way people and particularly police officers talk in real life. The film is somewhat succesful at this, the relationship Leland has with his wife is explored not only in depth but with a sensitivity rarely seen on film. Like with the presentation of the gay characters though, the film does resort to instances of facile melodrama that cause it to feel somewhat immature. These can be considered the growing pains of the Hollywood system following the aforementioned ending of the Hays Code.

Trivia: Roderick Thorp who wrote the novel The Detective the film was based upon, also wrote a sequel Nothing Lasts Forever featuring Detective Leland that was later used as the basis for the movie Die Hard. Other than that, it's difficult to find a connection between the two movies. The Detective tries to be gritty and "mature" film noir, whilst Die Hard of course was a typical 80's action flick geared towards adolescent males.

Once one gets past negative stereotypes, The Detective makes for an interesting diversion while showcasing a lot of old school Holywood talent. Considering the time period, I'm therefore willing to recommend it for anyone who may be interested in classic movies with queer themes. Personally, I enjoyed The Detective more for what it was attempting than what it succeeded at.

The Rating

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