The concept and instance of homosexuality has ceased to become breaking news. The reality that men and women are physically and intimately attracted to the same sex or gender, and are being categorised into labels such as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer, and even Transsexual has stopped amounting to something which constitutes ‘new’ or ‘shocking’ to the heterosexual world anymore.
This doesn’t necessarily imply that the subject is free from the instance of detractors. General religious and conservative line of thinking dictates that homosexuality is a sin. Traditional societal norms ascribe gender in the binary, meaning there exists no sexual preference and orientation beyond the assumed role of ‘male’ and ‘female,’ and in turn, one particular sex or gender is supposed to mate and be attracted to its counterpart.
Yet despite being met with the skepticism of going against the prescribed norms, and being tagged as a sickness, a sin, or a form of aberrant and deviant bahaviour; as well as being regarded upon with prejudice and sentiments aimed to disparage, which comes naturally associated with the subject, the heterosexual world’s attitude towards homosexuality and the queer or homosexual population has grown relatively accepting and tolerant over the years.
This assumption is based on the queer content running increasingly rife in avenues which greatly influences and reflects a nation’s worldview, culture, and ideology; in the business and art form that is film and television. Feature films and television shows and programs have never been fully accurate in reflecting the extent of society and the individuals which comprise it; no art form can, and being businesses, content is generally dictated in terms of what would potentially appeal to the general masses, or to put it crudely, in terms of what sells.
But film and television nevertheless reflects aspects of individuals and society, however embellished or lacking in rendition. The instance of queer or homosexual themes and content in movies and television has no doubt evolved over the years. From one dimensional portrayals of homosexual men as effeminate, flowery and flamboyant, and of homosexual women as butch and masculine, and further back, having no visibility or representation at all; queer men and women are no longer solely resigned to the said stereotypes, and are now afforded the acknowledgment and on-screen recognition they deserve.
Although some films and TV series still affirm and reinforce stereotypes regarding gay men and women into being, other films and TV series conversely exist in which complex and multi dimensional queer characters are explored, portrayed, and given the spotlight as well. Recent shows which air with largely homosexual theme and content in television include Queer as Folk, The L Word, Nip/Tuck, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Will and Grace, and so on.
While the said television shows delve and center on the lifestyle and world view concerning and relating to the gay and lesbian populace, ‘homosexuality’ and ‘queerness’ is largely defined and anchored in areas of aesthetics and beautification, and that of promiscuity.
And while it is obvious that gay men and women are in no way different from their heterosexual counterparts in terms of being multi dimensional and multi faceted human beings, who are defined by a variety of factors other than their sexual orientation or who they are physically and sexually attracted to; television limits and confines their characteristics into the said stereotypes. Not every television show, however, intentionally or unintentionally subscribes to the said reinforcement of steroetypes.
Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-prize winning play adapted to the television, Angels In America for instance, aptly subtitled, “A Gay Fantasia On National Themes,” depicts homosexuality on a different note, delving on issues which appeared relatively new to television back when it aired in 2003, and departing from the stereotypical roles assigned to the idea of what constitutes homosexual proclivities and behaviour.
Such is made evident in the said mini-series’ plot. Angels In America revolves around the lives of different individuals in the year 1985 under the Reagan administration, awaiting millenium in an era plagued by the instance of HIV and AIDS, diseases which back then were regarded to be commuted and generally afflict the homosexual populace alone.
Events and circumstances shift and jump from one character and setting to another, from an apartment in Brooklyn to the North Pole, a city courthouse in New York, to an Alice in the Wonderland-type induced dream/hallucination, a hospital, a Mormon visiting center, to heaven and back again. The beautiful variety and colourful scenes and setting which takes place throughout the extent of the series match the equally disparate and colourful cast of characters portrayed therein.
The homosexual male is given a spectrum of attributes, features and characteristics embodied in the alpha male litigator that is the infamous Roy Cohn; in Joe Pitt, an in-the-closet married Mormon, republican lawyer struggling with his sexuality and tied down to a wife who has emotional problems; in Prior Walter, the seeming lead protagonist afflicted with AIDS, and abandoned by his partner because of it; in Norman ‘Belize’ Arriaga, an outspoken black nurse who dons feather boas, is comfortable with his sexuality, and despite being a skeptic and cynic, is a faithful friend; and in Louis Ironson, the ambivalent Jew who works in word processing at a federal appeals court, and is plagued with guilt for having left his partner, Prior Walter, because of his inability to cope with the latter’s disease. The said characters may not encompass and represent every gay man or male homosexual in every corner of society, but they are able to depict them on a variety of degree and levels which pronounces them ‘real’ and human. As Roy Cohn would pronounce, in a conversation with his doctor upon being diagnosed with AIDS, and relating to labels and representations: “AIDS. Homosexual. Gay. Lesbian. You think these are names which tell you who a person sleeps with, but they don’t tell you that… No.
Like all labels they tell you one thing, and one thing only: Where does an individual so identified fit into the food chain, the pecking order? Not ideology or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout. Not who I f*ck or who f*cks me, but who will come to the phone when I call, who owes me favors. This is what a label refers to. Now to someone who does not understand this, a homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men, but really this is wrong. A homosexual is somebody who, in 15 years of trying cannot get an anti-discrimination bill through the city council. A homosexual is somebody who knows nobody and who nobody knows. Who has zero clout.
Does this sound like me? ” As he already clearly and more than bluntly puts it, perhaps not in the most optimistic of manner, he refuses to be indentified as a ‘homosexual,’ despite engaging in sexual intimacies with men which inform us otherwise because of prejudices and negative sentiments attached to the label. And that based upon his reputation, as society would deem it, and as far as he is able to control what defines him, he identifies as a heterosexual male who just happens to be sleeping with men. This provides people a different take on the homosexual male in terms of his standing in society, and the role he has to play in order to remain that standing.
Angels In America is able to translate more than a single aspect of homosexuality into several precious episodes limited to a quarter of an hour or so of screen time, and is able to go above and beyond by effectively addressing issues surrounding ‘queerness’ which affects and concerns homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, ultimately appealing to human beings, despite whatever orientation and sexual preference they may choose to identify with. Moving on to the subject of queer content and the representation of gay people on the much bigger screen; perhaps the most notable film to be underlined with homosexual theme in recent memory is yet another American adaptation, taken from a short story of the same name by Annie Proulx and directed by Ang Lee, the controversial and much talked about gay love story to come out in recent mainstream history, Brokeback Mountain.
The movie relates the story of two cowboys, Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar, who are introduced and whose lives intertwine upon taking a job one summer in 1963 herding sheep in Wyoming, on Brokeback mountain. With the solitary closeness afforded by each other’s company in the isolation of the mountain and grasslands, the two begin to grow fond of each other, and ultimately consummate the sentiment by engaging in an act of sexual intimacy which repeats and progresses throughout the course of their stay in the mountain. After the completion of duties and obligations required of their said post, and upon reaching the end of the summer, the two are separated and pursue different paths which lead them towards individual heterosexual relationships.
Both would proceed to get married with the women they shared relationships with, but in the event of their reunion, the sentiments they had towards each other would begin to rekindle, and they would continue to pursue the happiness they found between each other regardless of the marital relationship they shared with their respective wives. Dialogue and implicit undertones in the film communicate how homosexuality is regarded in the American midwest at the time. Both are unaware of their capacity to engage in sexual intimacy with the same gender, let alone have feelings or desire for the other until the instance in which they consummated their attraction, after which Ennis del Mar insists, “You know I ain’t queer. ” and Jack Twist replies, “I ain’t either.
” Both remark are made not out of what the two had just engaged in, but on how they view themselves, in the context of the male and macho setting that society dictates rugged American cowboys like themselves are and should be. Homosexuality at this point, is portrayed as an instance which individuals have no control over, that people do not choose to become gay, and are unable to determine who they will be physically and sexually attracted to until it happens to them. This brings weight and form to the greater part of the film. At the very least, Brokeback Mountain depicts how ‘butch’ and ‘masculinity’ are also characteristics shared by gay men, and that being homosexual does not emasculate an individual of his male identity. The film is able to effectively render the said sentiment, and presents another aspect and representation of homosexuality.