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The Revenant

The-revenant-trailer

Maybe the greatest cinematography since Lawrence of Arabia.  

That's the only good thing I can say about this movie, though even it has a problem I will get to.  ***Beware of spoilers--though a reasonably aware person should know what to expect from this film plotwise just watching the trailers.***

Artists tell stories.  And great stories are told and retold many times and can and should be adapted in the telling.  Yet, any change should serve some purpose to the story or to a larger theme the story is drawing our attention to. 

Hugh Glass and his story are an authentic part of the American West, though quickly turned into folk tale and legend.  Jim Bridger became one of the great mountain men, explorers, and entrepreneurs in his own right.  I encountered Hugh Glass' story in the masterful A Cycle of the West by Nebraska poet laureate John G. Neihardt, a volume that should be in the canon of American literature read by every well-educated person.

The real Hugh Glass story is one of forgiveness overcoming violence and revenge.  The genuine story is both an unconventional Western and true, which is one reason the story is so subversive of our romanticized notions of the West.  

Inarritu has chosen to tell a different story--a very conventional revenge narrative.  In fact, so conventional, that I quickly became bored by the film and wondered why I needed to wait hours more for a bloody death scene (I actually was checking the time to see how much longer I had to endure).  This film ratchets up our romanticized notions of the West and employs every stereotype and trope.  Whereas the real story reminds us that our romanticized notions are inauthentic.  This strange choice of a conventional plot also led to thematic decision I greatly disliked.

I was, in fact, disgusted by the film.  Not its violence, but the filmmakers' decision to create a hypermasculine story.  

First, they manufactured a half-Pawnee son.  Why?  They seem to have chosen to do so in order to make the revenge all that more potent and guarantee a violent conclusion.  

They've also chosen to set the film in mountainous winter landscapes instead of on the Great Plains where the events occurred (Glass encountered Fitzgerald north of Omaha at Fort Atkinson).  This choice, which leads to the stunningly beautiful cinematography, also seems to be about ratcheting up the hyper-masculinity.  Crawling across the rolling hills and grassy meadows of the Plains would seem to be not effort enough for these filmmakers.  They need to manufacture sturm und drang.

Then they add repeated and unnecessary sequences of sadistic tortures of Hugh Glass.  Was the story of bear mauling, betrayal, and survival by crawling not powerful enough?

As told by John Neihardt, the story is rooted in the friendship between Glass and Bridger, a friendship completely lacking in the film (because of the manufactured son?).  Glass feels betrayed by a friend and the anger and bitterness motivates his crawl, but evaporates when he finally meets up with Bridger again.

Also, the Neihardt version reveals a homoerotic possibility to the relationship between Glass and Bridger.  We know from the historical record that the men who blazed trails in the West often engaged in same-sex relations, though the films and television shows often unqueer these stories.  

Which they've done again.  This time in service to a hypermasculinity that can't tell a story of friendship, same-sex love, or forgiveness.  That would be a good story.  An unconventional Western film with unexpected plot developments.  And, very likely, also a true story.

So, if this film wins the Academy Award for Best Picture, then I will be even more angry for Brokeback Mountain lost.  Clearly the lesson for filmmakers is that they should purge the queer elements of the great stories.

Read more about the Neihardt story here.

And an article that also disliked the film for its refusal to tell the genuine story.


Oklahomo: Lessons in Unqueering America

Oklahomo: Lessons in Unqueering AmericaOklahomo: Lessons in Unqueering America by Carol A. Mason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I met Carol when she was teaching at OSU and I was living in Oklahoma City. She was presenting on the connections between anti-Semitic discourse and the anti-abortion movement, which figured into her previous book. Later she invited me to participate as a presenter at a conference at OSU on reproductive justice along with a number of significant figures in the movement. It was an honor to participate, especially the after hours discussions over cocktails in her home.

This book is about the attempt by religious and economic conservatives to "unqueer" America, focusing specifically upon Oklahoma. She begins in the present and works backwards, with state representative Sally Kern up first. Of course, I dealt with Kern in my years in Oklahoma City, including our appearance together on Flashpoint, a televised debate show. Plus, I have a published academic article on her famous "gays are a bigger threat to America than Islamic terrorists" speech. So, the chapter on Kern was very personal for me.

The entire book resonated with my own personal story, and I think contributes some of the historical background and academic analysis for understanding my still unpublished memoir.

After Kern comes Anita Bryant, a chapter which also includes the ways Green Grows the Lilacs was unqueered in the making of the musical Oklahoma! This is also a chapter about the rise of the New Right.

Next is a discussion of Billy James Hargis and his evangelical empire built first on anti-communism and later on opposition to the sexual revolution and how Hargis himself was exposed as a sexual hypocrite. The white supremacist connections of the anti-gay movement are revealed in this chapter.

That's followed by a discussion of Bruce Goff, the great architect who was ousted from his position at OU as part of the anti-gay red-baiting of the McCarthy era. But Goff himself stands for a level of acceptance of the queer in the rural heartland before McCarthyism. Though Mason doesn't draw on it, I once heard a historian speak to how Oklahoma had been far more gay tolerant from the 1890's to the 1940's largely because of its frontier status, oil boomtowns, and military encampments.

The final chapter is about how Wal-Mart (founded by Oklahoma native Sam Walton) created a global retail version of homogenized rural family values which unqueers the real stories of the heartland. Particularly in Oklahoma where Native American narratives were also erased.

A cursory reading of Oklahoma history introduces you to a wild and eccentric group of characters. And much of the early twentieth century is filled with progressives. My own essay, "Capitol Ironies", develops that theme.

Sadly the current image of my home state is a very homogeneous, white, Republican, evangelical fundamentalism that betrays our heritage.


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More on Bowie

Yesterday morning when I called out to Michael the news that David Bowie had died, I added "He was so important to the struggle for LGBT rights."  I didn't see a lot of commentary on that in the first articles I read yesterday, but the sentiment has been more prevalent as the news sinks in.

I pulled out the one book of theology I own which discusses Bowie, Gerard Laughlin's rich and wild Alien Sex, and re-read the chapter on Bowie's film The Man Who Fell to Earth.  This sentence leapt out at me--"the adoption of a queer persona not only enhanced the allure of Bowie's androgyny for would-be rebellious teenagers, but it helped to create a space in popular culture where even heterosexual men could, for a time, be relieved from the burden of normative heterosexuality."

The, an article today about how Bowie "sexually liberated us all."  Excerpt: 

In his refusal to label himself, there didn’t appear to be a cowardice, but rather an honesty and maturity around how unfixed, at least for him, the notion of sexuality was. That proved to be its own liberation, or at least freeing, moment for so many of every kind of sexual orientation and gender identity.

One about his being a style icon which includes, "Bowie also remained, fundamentally, an enigma—the best kind."  And this comment on his final video:

You’ll find a meditation on love, loss, death, connection, and disconnection. And you’ll find an artist who ultimately survives, and endures.

As you watch it—perhaps baffled as many have been—you will also be bewitched, seduced, and charmed. You’ll feel all those things—the best, most enriching kind of sensory confusion and clash—that Bowie himself made us feel.

Finally, this author, put it succinctly:

He was a freak and a weirdo and a provocateur and an innovator and an icon.


A Buckley comes out

A member of the Buckley family (as in William F., God and Man at Yale) has come out and given his conservative argument for marriage equality, which includes this good paragraph:

Most people would agree that the shift from marriage focused on political considerations to marriage built on love was for the best. What they may not consider is that at its core, this shift was in recognition of a universal right to follow one’s heart. In this, granting the freedom to marry to all loving couples is not a shift from the central tenet of marriage, but instead a fulfillment of its most basic ideals.


It's not just Indiana

Ari Ezra Waldman gives a good legal analysis of the Indiana RFRA and why we shouldn't settle with changing it, we need to change the federal RFRA as well.  His conclusion:

We may win "clarifications" of Indiana's RFRA to make it more like the federal RFRA. That's not a victory. In fact, it's much more dangerous: it implies that the federal RFRA is a good thing that we're willing to accept. It isn't and we shouldn't.


Article on ruling

Reading today's Omaha World-Herald article on Judge Bataillon's ruling, there was something I really liked and a paragraph that was factually incorrect.

I was pleased that the article opened with the judge's primary concern--children of same-sex families.  For the last two years this has become a staple of the rulings (which it appears that our opponents never actually read).  This section was my favorite part of the ruling.

But then the article has a paragraph full of factual errors.  Here is the paragraph:

Bataillon struck down the state’s gay marriage ban Monday but stayed the implementation of his order for a week to give the state time to appeal.

Actually, Judge Bataillon rejected the state's motion for a stay.  He did declare when his ruling would go into effect.  It is often the case that a ruling does not go into effect immediately in order to give people time to prepare for implementation, which is what the judge did.  Here is the relevant paragraph from the ruling:

Because the standards for staying the injunction mirror the standards for issuing the injunction, the court's findings of likely success and severe irreparable harm make the court disinclined to stay the injunction. For the reasons stated herein and in the court's denial of an earlier motion for a stay, the court finds the State's oral motion for a stay should be denied.18 However, in an effort to assuage the State's concerns with respect to administrative turmoil, the court will delay the effective date of the injunction.

Note that he rejected the stay.  And unlike the World-Herald article's misleading paragraph, he did not do it in order to give the state time to appeal.

Also, a footnote explains why he did not grant a stay: "That stays have been granted in other cases in this Circuit pending appeal is of no consequence to this determination because those cases did not involve any showing of the sort of irreparable harm these plaintiffs (especially the Waters family) will suffer."


Bataillon's Ruling

The best part of Judge Bataillon's ruling that Nebraska's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional is this:

To the extent the State's position is that it has an interest in promoting family stability only for those children who are being raised by both of their biological parents, the notion that some children should receive fewer legal protections than others based on the circumstances of their birth is not only irrational—it is constitutionally repugnant.

The conclusion of the ruling deserves to be quoted as well:

Nebraska's “Defense of Marriage" Constitutional Amendment, Section 29, is an unabashedly gender-specific infringement of the equal rights of its citizens. The State primarily offers as its rational basis for this gender-specific discrimination the encouragement of biological family units. The essence of this rationale has been rejected by most courts and by no less than the Supreme Court. With the advent of modern science and modern adoption laws, same sex couples can and do responsibly raise children. Unfortunately, this law inhibits their commendable efforts.

For the majority of married couples, those without children in the home, marriage is a legal and emotional commitment to the welfare of their partner. The State clearly has the right to encourage couples to marry and provide support for one another. However, those laws must be enforced equally and without respect to gender.

It is time to bring this unequal provision to an end.


Sexual fluidity

An interesting article on sexual fluidity in males.  An excerpt:

As we can see here, bisexuality is only part of the picture when it comes to subverting the gay/straight divide; a growing number of people are choosing more-inclusive labels like queer, pansexual, and omnisexual. To match its users’ spectrum of preferences, OkCupidrecently expanded its sexuality options to include a variety of labels, including asexual, homosexual, and the controversial term sapiosexual, which means you’re attracted to intelligence. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. “Fritz Klein, the doctor who founded the American Institute of Bisexuality, released the Klein Grid in 1978, which analyzes seven aspects of sexual orientation in people’s past, present, and ideal lives, for 21 possible combinations,” writes theAdvocate’s Trudy Ring.


"I am beautiful no matter what they say"

Fourth in a series of listening through our entire cd collection alphabetically.

This weekend my project of listening to all of the cds in our (mine and Michael's) joint collection brought me to a couple of Christina Aguilera albums.  I was not enthused, and realized that some of this project will be a chore, when I'm listening to some of my husband's albums that I personally would not have collected.  Maybe this will be an opportunity to develop a little more patience, empathy, and submission?

I was at least relieved that none of them were from her bubble-gum pop error.  First up was her 2002 album Stripped in which she tried to be more adult and sexier.  There is little on this album to commend it, other than "Beautiful," which had such a deep impact on queer (and other non-conforming) teenagers.  It is difficult to imagine that was thirteen years ago.  

The video, of course, was a major source of the song's impact.   

The song was well-timed for the moment when LGBT rights burst into the mainstream, especially among young people.  And may have even played a role in their easy acceptance of difference.

After listening to this album Saturday afternoon, Michael and I left our house to attend a vigil for Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who recently committed suicide in Ohio because her Christianist fundamentalist parents rejected her identity, resisted her transition, and were forcing her into the long-discredited and in some places illegal reparative therapy.

The vigil was organized by the Queer Nebraska Youth Network, an organizaiton of over 500 Nebraskans under 25 who meet for support, fellowship, education, inspiration, and advocacy.  It has been a great joy of the last few years to watch the emergence of this new leadership cohort.  They are smart, bright, creative, passionate people, and they have radically altered the landscape of the LGBT community of Omaha.  

Alcorn vigil

A group like this feel deeply about this type of tragedy--the Alcorn suicide--and, through their wisdom, know that creating an opportunity to express those feelings and use them for inspiration is important.  So, we gathered in the snow at the Elmwood Park Grotto, lit candles, listened to music, had moments of silence, and then wrote on pale silver balloons our commitments to make the future better for trans teens, before releasing those balloons and watching them disappear into the clear blue winter sky.