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by Andrew Grossman
| Preface | Postscript |
Marching Toward the Joyous Death of a Pragmatic-Transcendental Subgenre?
This, my first film of any kind, is obviously not the first to address the hypocrisies, immaturities, and follies of religiously-defined sexuality—but perhaps, if we work hard enough, it could be the last. Occasionally confessional documentaries of comparable theme had branched out from that awkward shrub once dubbed the “new” queer cinema: Fighting in Southwest Louisiana: Gay Life in Rural America (1991), One Nation Under God (1993) and Dear Jesse (1998), to name only a few. More recently, films such as Trembling Before G-d (2001), Family Fundamentals (2002), and the heavily hyped, larger-budgeted For the Bible Tells Me So (2007)—which, like my far more modest film, features the gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson—have pushed into the limelight institutional religions’ selective reading of scripture, irrational fixation on matrimonial intercourse (which, of course, has a merely economic function), and unholy obsession with our mystified bodily holes.
If all these films basically recount the same story in differently personalized terms (and with whatever resources are at our respective disposals), a certain repetitiousness should not be suspect. Rather, these films’ commonalities signal the creation of a tentative subgenre. As such, their repeated, generic exposure of religion’s irrational hold on sexual culture is structurally no different from familiar images of sprouting anemone in equally generic nature documentaries, the contrived dialogs of clever serial killers in weekly policiers, or the ritualistic courtships of romantic comedies wherein beautiful heterosexuals (or, more recently, pretty queers) perpetually fall in and out of Hollywood’s bourgeois conception of love. Is it time, then, for the queer-religious documentary to go gloriously—yet dignifiedly—the way of the dodo? Have we finally put our cultural hypocrisies to rest, if not to bed? Because the medium is not entirely the message, however, I feel the tentative answer is “no.”
These documentaries are all at once utterly personal and utterly utilitarian; beyond the veil of their confessional tones and transcendental pretensions, such films will, we hope, soon become the happily dated artifacts of an ancien regime. Yet our culture, thriving on manufactured controversy, remains at a cultural stalemate that exchanges genuine activism for the jaded water cooler jokes and CNN Schadenfreude that occur each time a medium-profile politician is caught mired in a double life or discovered unzipping the merry bulge of a clean-cut adolescent. What is left to do but laugh, however emptily? Of course, we know those Republicans who hide their homosexualities behind a homophobic, apocalyptic religion are examples not of hypocrisy but a perfectly self-fulfilling logic.
Our two-party system—that which underlies the legal illusions by which our fifty tiny American nations are miraculously joined—is paradoxically energized by the cultural stalemate. Our alleged “progressives” (moderate by European standards), exploiting the stalemate in the most painful ways, become the true hypocrites. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards must publicly “struggle” with fully supporting LBGT rights, despite their private agreement with them. Attempting to appease religiously bigoted constituents and closeted congressman alike, they cannot even be good liars. We cannot feel sorry for their political dilemma or excuse their cowardice. We can only disparage the expediencies of the two-party system.
Our culture, of which these documentaries are a part, and our law, clutched in the residue of theocratic manias, push against one another helplessly. Potentially progressive judiciaries are enslaved to necessarily reactionary legislatures. Seemingly, the more we naïvely wish for a utopian, post-queer universe, devoid of difference and described by a single vocabulary, the more impotent our legislatures prove themselves to be. We can do little but repeat our arguments, in whisper or shout, and wait for the representatives of the ancien regime to die away from cancer, dementia, and withered organs, for it seems only their deaths can affect the great cure our frail activisms cannot. Do not despair, though—we have our art, our energies, our anger.
Tired of contemporary ennui, we may reach into history’s recesses, to the ephebophilic Greeks, the Japanese samurai and their wakashu, the upper-class Edwardians, or the Napoleonic Code, which, long before the Germans invented the word homosexuelle, openly sanctioned same-sex relationships between adult men. But such ephemera are relegated to academic interest. We awake into the present, into our small writings, small thoughts, impossible strivings, and unrealized hopes. One day, those hopes, too, will become ephemeral.
©2007 Ideal Spectator All rights reserved.