02
Nov
15

gender and sexuality in the news

So much about the queer and trans community has been in the news lately. Here is the list I have taken up for discussion:

  1. The Danish Girl, a film about Lili Elbe
  2. Tom Hardy
  3. Mat Damon
  4. Stonewall (the movie) and what it means to whitewash our history

Lets start with Caitlin Jenner

There has been so much talk about Caitlin and what she should and shouldn’t do, say, or think. I find it so interesting how everyone wants to make her a hero. She is a woman who transitioned, a woman who, when she presented as male was a white Olympic Gold Medalist. She came from a place of privilege and a somewhat conservative base. There has been a great deal of chatter about her political leanings and what will happen with her reality show. Simply because she is in the spotlight does not make her a spokeswoman for the transgender community. Jennifer Boylan writes about her in this way,

“Living in the bubble is an impediment to understanding other people, … If Cait’s going to be a spokesperson for our community, this is something she’s going to have to understand.” 

I find this to be a double-edged sword. Caitlin is bringing the discussion into homes and places that never would have had this discussion or acknowledge trans people in the first place. A role model? Not too sure about that. She is making her transition her career, in the way the Kardashians do. Let me be clear, I think the entire clan is worse than useless; famous for being famous. It is perhaps a strange accident that Bruce Jenner, now Caitlin, fell in with them and has the ability to actually make a difference. This is certainly a happy accident, one that affords Caitlin the money and connections to have a very successful transition. Not everyone in the trans community has that kind of opportunity. Be that as it may, Caitlin is living a public life.

So this begs the question what is public and what is private?

Recently, Graeme Coleman, a “reporter” for a Canadian queer publication asked Tom Hardy a blatant question about his sexuality in a very crowded news conference for the new film Legend. Hardy shut the reporter down hard and quickly. The reporter was then eviscerated online for prying into something that isn’t anyone’s business. Here is Coleman’s response to the editorial backlash:

“The hostile reaction and personal attacks I’ve endured online, combined with Hardy’s apparent reluctance to talk about the issue, leads me to believe that I have my answer. Yes, clearly it is still difficult for some celebrities to talk about sexuality in the media.”

-Graeme Coleman Via Queerty.com

 

As a performer and director here is a list of questions, in my opinion, he could have asked Mr. Hardy:

  • How is the sexuality of this character relevant to the story as a whole?
  • What did you do to prepare for the role?
  • How do you find the acceptance and non-acceptance of the sexuality of this character challenging to play in 2015?

Instead, he chose to try to ‘out’ Mr. Hardy for a cheap headline claiming that we need more role models in the world.

First, Tom Hardy is an actor, he is not a public official, the spokesperson for a faith-based or political movement, engaged in hurting or blocking the rights of the community. He is an actor, doing his job. His personal life is just that, his. What he does on screen and stage is fair game what he does in private isn’t.

Just because you want to know a private thing about a celebrity doesn’t mean you have the right to know that thing. Everyone is entitled to a private life. Now, if he were a public official or head of some organization preaching bile then by all means have at it. The list of republicans caught cheating with other women and boys is legion, and it is always the ones who shout the loudest who are not playing by the rule book they want us to play by.

Stop beating the bushes for role models and heroes, and start being the kind of person you want to be. Tiger Woods is a great golfer, that doesn’t make him a role model in his personal life. You want heroes and role models try Jimmy Carter and Maya Angelou, not a sports figure or an actor.

Why is this important? Lets look at the other side of this argument let’s look at the debacle of Matt Damon as an example of why this is still a hot button issue for actors.

Matt Damon had two instances of foot-in-mouth. First with his bulldozing a black director in Project Greenlight and then his foolish attempt at discussing what it means to be a queer out actor when he is neither. Here is the quote from his interview with the Guardian.

“I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.   …But at the time, I remember thinking and saying, Rupert Everett was openly gay and this guy – more handsome than anybody, a classically trained actor – it’s tough to make the argument that he didn’t take a hit for being out.”

 

Kevin Fallon of the Daily Beast talks to this very well.

“What Damon should be doing … is using Everett as a case study for why the way gay actors are treated in Hollywood needs to change. What a waste that Everett’s career didn’t take off the way it maybe deserved to, and only because some casting directors were worried that he wouldn’t be taken seriously as a straight character because of his sexuality.”

 

In many ways Everett was and remains his own worst enemy, but the treatment he received does hold true for the time he was at his peak. Today we have several out actors doing very well. So Damon’s viewpoint is clearly that of the old cowboy town of Hollywood. We see even though he protests the opposite that he believes queer actors need to be quiet about who they are and who they love. Now for many straight actors it’s no big deal to parade out the spouse and kids at awards, the PR is great. But in a straight male world if a queer man does this it’s threatening and somehow taints everything this actor does

Really? Again, Kevin Fallon in the Daily Beast says it best regarding Hollywood.

“It’s an industry that has the power to influence public opinion and galvanize cultural change. The gay community is desperate to enlist it in its fight against institutionalized shaming of openly gay people and the dangerous repercussions it has not just on a micro, individual level—an ambitious actor who might hide his sexuality and true self to serve his career—but on the macro, cultural one: the impact on a demographic of young people whose rates of suicide, homelessness, and depression greatly outweigh their peers because of lingering prejudice against them. 

Damon is preaching about actors’ sexuality being none of the public’s business in the same interview in which he casually talks about his wife, kids, and fatherhood on several occasions. And I would like for someone to convincingly make the case that a straight actor who follows his advice—not talking about being straight—will see his or her career affected in any way by such secrecy about their heterosexuality. Or that their career would be harmed in any way by talking about their opposite-sex relationship or love life.”

So in the end it is the actor who makes the call not the press and when they do, they do it because they feel it’s right. It is us, the public, who should demand that we see this performer as an artist not who they happen to be boning on the day.

This brings to me to two films one is out and one is soon to be, let’s start with the big train wreck Stonewall. We have all heard the reviews and we’ve all heard the director’s defense of his interpretation of our history. Let’s start with the quote that sums up the problem

 

You have to understand one thing: I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people,” he says. “I kind of found out, in the testing process, that actually, for straight people, [Danny] is a very easy in. Danny’s very straight acting. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him.”

Roland Emmerich from his interview in the Guardian

First off, I really don’t care about a straight audience. I am beyond caring about the straight white gaze. They are not the only people who are important and who go to movies. The American film industry is the product of pandering to this gaze, the view of straight white men from the age of 14 to 24. And what do we have to show for it? A plethora of superhero movies, big men running around being manly, a lot things blowing up and a lot of people getting shot. The films of real content are either independent, low budget, or foreign. Here was a chance for a gay man to make a movie about our struggle and triumph and he whitewashes it.

The people who rioted were not all straight acting white boys, they were people of color, trans, queens, butch dikes, the people who took a stand so that this director could be out and work, and he repays them and us by giving us a rewrite of how it started so poor straight people can handle it. It’s not their history and it’s not their story, it’s ours. To have one of our own pander it in this way is a stab in the back. We are not out here demanding equality so you can change our history to fit a Hollywood version of the truth. If you can’t be honest don’t tell the story.

If you wanted to market the film try going outside the tired status quo. Who knows, you could have made something of value, something that would have got people talking. You missed it. We could have had another Milk or Selma, or Angels in America. What we got was a film telling us that a white straight acting boy started it all and the rest (that would be all of us) followed.

On to The Danish Girl.

It looks to be a beautiful film. I have my doubts as to the story they are choosing to tell. This film starring Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener, and Alicia Vekander as Gerda Wegener is billed this way in IMBD

“The remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.”

 

By all accounts the couple were openly bisexual. However, the preview doesn’t look like that’s the story being told. I could go off on how women’s sexuality is never taken seriously by the film industry, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole.

The preview itself looks to be stunning and well performed; I have no problem with that. My problem, they couldn’t find a trans actor or actress to play this role?

Okay, I know it’s all about the skill of the performer and we don’t mind asking straight and gay actors to perform against their nature. This is different; this has a weight that we can only guess at. I have no idea how this film will land I hope that it will do well as it looks to be a somewhat accurate telling of the tale. I still have research to do, so we will see. How we as artists choose to engage with the subject of sexuality and gender needs to be thought out, what we do has repercussions and we must remember that.

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