Saturday, 30 May 2009

Friends and Allies

Adam Lambert and Kris Allen
Kris Allen on his frustration with Christians who wouldn't accept Adam Lambert:

"There [were all these rumors] about how all the conservative, Christian people that would vote for me hate Adam and never want him to win because of who he is. Oh, it was so frustrating — really bad, because we are really good friends. Why can't everyone get along? It never made any sense for me to judge anyone, who they are. It frustrates me that people can't get along with people because of their differences. And I'll tell you what, especially Christians.

Christians have a hard time accepting people like Adam — liberal, from L.A., looks different, maybe acts a certain way. He's a great, great guy. They don't even give him a chance. And it's frustrating because I come from that. A lot of my friends are not that way, which I appreciate, but a lot of people in Arkansas or in the South or wherever are that way. We really hope that our relationship can be an inspiration to people. I could go on about that forever."

Source: Entertainment Weekly

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Playing gay, being gay

Jake Gyllenhaal, Bent cover 2005
24 November 2005

This well might be the Year of the Gay at the Oscars. Not the year of the gay actor - heavens forbid - but the year when actors are rewarded for playing gay parts. Philip Seymour Hoffman has produced what is said to be a virtuoso account of Truman Capote's mincing style in Capote. Felicity Huffman, the put-upon one in Desperate Housewives, has been persuaded to play a male-to-female transvestite in Transamerica. And Annie Proulx's great short story, Brokeback Mountain, about an extended and tragic love affair between two cowboys, has been filmed by Ang Lee with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in the leads.

Oscars surely await some of these. There are half a dozen other big name actors playing gay roles this season, and it's evidently now a safe career move. It's worth noting, however, that none of these actors themselves is gay, and indeed most of them have been at some pains to distance themselves from any such suggestion. Michelle Williams, the mother of Ledger's child, appears in Brokeback Mountain as his character's betrayed wife. That, one must assume, could only happen when there was no possibility whatever of it being, for instance, a sardonic joke on a real-life gay affair. The casting of Williams is a spectacular example of the sexual alibi; for anyone who cares to wonder, we are reassured that this could only be a piece of "let's pretend", and the actor's real interests are nervously displayed on screen.

As if that wasn't enough, the actors in these films are always at pains to stress the incredible trauma involved in having to pretend to kiss a person of the same sex in front of cameras. To be fair, this is always a subject that unhealthily obsesses interviewers, but actors' responses are often highly amusing. Jake Gyllenhaal has said: "Heath and I were both saying, 'Let's get the love scenes over as fast as we can - all right, cool. Let's get to the important stuff.'"

We are left in no doubt at all. The actors in these films are so extraordinarily heterosexual that playing gay presents them with incredible challenges. Personally, I've spent a day down a working coal mine, and think that, as jobs go, being asked to snog Heath Ledger is not among the world's more demanding professional tasks.

But Hollywood, evidently, agrees with the actors. When you look at recent Oscars, the tendency is fairly clear. Tom Hanks - famously uxorious - won for playing a gay man in Philadelphia. Hilary Swank's burlesque turn as a transsexual teen in Boys Don't Cry followed, and then Charlize Theron won for the fat, ugly, lesbian serial killer in Monster. Of course, as is customary, some of the Oscar-winning credit goes to the make-up artist here - golly, look at Charlize, she's made herself all ugly - but most of it is surely down to the incredible fact that an artist was prepared to demean herself enough to play a lesbian.

When you look at the history of Oscar-winning performances, Hollywood's new enthusiasm for embracing minorities seems less than profound. Notoriously, the easiest way to win an Oscar is to play somebody bravely fighting against a physical condition or a mental handicap. The easiest route of all, in fact, is to play a gifted artist suddenly struck down by disability - the early years of the Academy awards are littered with long-forgotten tales of deaf sopranos and ballerinas with gout. As the "Kate Winslet" character in Ricky Gervais's series Extras scabrously observed, "Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot? Oscar. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man? Oscar. Seriously, you are guaranteed an Oscar if you play a mental."

The way Hollywood is rushing to reward heterosexual actors playing gay roles does not, really, reflect very well on its engagement. It is just too much like its fairly disgraceful engagement with mental and physical disability, and too much like rewarding a variety turn. Hollywood, so admiring of an actor's ability to project a sexuality not his own in these cases, has never been in a hurry to reward those far more common examples of gay actors convincingly playing heterosexual roles. In most cases, that involves rather more than the requirement of kissing this year's starlet in front of the cameras - a requirement no less or more demanding for a gay actor than Mr Gyllenhaal being asked to kiss Mr Ledger, surely. It may involve an actor's whole life.

One of the very striking things about this whole curious fashion is that not one of the actors involved is gay themselves. Moreover, it seems fairly likely, in view of the tone of the attendant publicity, that a studio just wouldn't cast a gay actor in one of these roles. It is quite impossible to imagine Heat magazine asking a gay actor how they enjoyed kissing their straight co-star, or indeed, their gay co-star. It would raise questions of enthusiasm which the world of publicity is not quite ready for and we can only, it seems, watch such kisses with the assurance, as swift as can be arranged, that nobody involved could possibly have derived pleasure from it.

But there's another, rather bigger reason why the studios wouldn't cast a gay actor in such a role. In America, evidently, there aren't any gay actors. One may grow rather satirical on the subject, but the truth is that whereas in every other country in the world it is widely accepted that theatre and film offer a congenial and sympathetic area in which gay men and women can work, this is simply not true in America. There are no gay actors - or at least, there weren't until Nathan Lane, to everyone's utter incredulity, came out. Of course, there were gay actors in America's past - James Dean, Cary Grant, Dirk Bogarde, Rock Hudson, Danny Kaye. Plenty of them, in fact. But, for whatever reason, there's hardly a single gay actor of recognisable stature working in Hollywood. An incredible fact.

Sooner or later, one of those non-existent gay actors will take a role as a gay character, and tell us all subsequently how difficult they found kissing their co-star, to general derisive hilarity. In fact, it's not hard to think of a recent film where exactly that situation arose, starring one of those gentlemen with a boyfriend on the payroll and a lady hired for the purpose of premieres. But Hollywood will only seem truly tolerant when it allows gay actors to play gay roles, kissing included, and no whining about it in the publicity afterwards. Until then there's - how should one put it - a slight air of Al Jolson about the whole business.

Source: Gay for today by Philip Hensher, The Guardian

Saturday, 9 May 2009

This Is a Question of Fairness


It is by no means a fast and easy path, but the cause of same-sex marriage is moving forward — proof that justice can triumph over wedge politics and prejudice. It happened this week in Maine and New Hampshire, where both states’ legislatures voted to legalize same-sex marriage and promptly put the final say to their governors.

In New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch — who previously defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman — promised his “best decision” after consulting lawmakers and constituents. Mr. Lynch would be wise also to consult his neighbor in Maine, Gov. John Baldacci, who signed his state’s same-sex marriage bill. He previously had opposed the idea, with the familiar hedge of supporting the half-step of civil unions.

Mr. Baldacci described his change of heart — and what we hope is the changing sentiment of many other American politicians. “I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage,” he said. Precisely.

Maine was the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage. We urge Mr. Lynch to make New Hampshire the sixth. Similar proposals are pending in other states, with a major debate expected in the New York Legislature.

This week, the City Council of the District of Columbia took a preliminary step, voting 12 to 1, to recognize marriages between gay people certified in other states. A fuller debate is anticipated on a proposal to legalize same-sex unions. Unfortunately, there already are calls for Congress to once more tread on home rule and block this progress in the nation’s capital.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is right to caution against such grandstanding. Governor Baldacci heard the people speak. Congress should listen.

Source: The New York Times, 'This Is a Question of Fairness'

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Stephen Fry: Dearest absurd child

Just who was the young, arrogant and confused man to whom Stephen Fry recently felt compelled to write a long and heartfelt letter? Himself, 35 years ago.

Oh, lord love you, Stephen. How I admire your arrogance and rage and misery. How pure and righteous they are and how passionately storm-drenched was your adolescence. How filled with true feeling, fury, despair, joy, anxiety, shame, pride and above all, supremely above all, how overpowered it was by love. My eyes fill with tears just to think of you. Of me. Tears splash on to my keyboard now. I am perhaps happier now than I have ever been and yet I cannot but recognise that I would trade all that I am to be you, the eternally unhappy, nervous, wild, wondering and despairing 16-year-old Stephen: angry, angst-ridden and awkward but alive. Because you know how to feel, and knowing how to feel is more important than how you feel. Deadness of soul is the only unpardonable crime, and if there is one thing happiness can do it is mask deadness of soul.

I finally know now, as I easily knew then, that the most important thing is love. It doesn't matter in the slightest whether that love is for someone of your own sex or not. Gay issues are important and I shall come to them in a moment, but they shrivel like a salted snail when compared to the towering question of love. Gay people sometimes believe (to this very day, would you credit it, young Stephen?) that the preponderance of obstacles and terrors they encounter in their lives and relationships is intimately connected with the fact of their being gay. As it happens at least 90% of their problems are to do with love and love alone: the lack of it, the denial of it, the inequality of it, the missed reciprocity in it, the horrors and heartaches of it. Love cold, love hot, love fresh, love stale, love scorned, love missed, love denied, love betrayed ... the great joke of sexuality is that these problems bedevil straight people just as much as gay. The 10% of extra suffering and complexity that uniquely confronts the gay person is certainly not incidental or trifling, but it must be understood that love comes first. This is tough for straight people to work out.

Straight people are encouraged by culture and society to believe that their sexual impulses are the norm, and therefore when their affairs of the heart and loins go wrong (as they certainly will), when they are flummoxed, distraught and defeated by love, they are forced to believe that it must be their fault. We gay people at least have the advantage of being brought up to expect the world of love to be imponderably and unmanageably difficult, for we are perverted freaks and sick aberrations of nature. They - poor normal lambs - naturally find it harder to understand why, in Lysander's words, "the course of true love never did run smooth".

You would little believe that I can say to you now across the gap of 35 years that we are the blessed ones. The people of Britain are happy (or not) because of Tolpuddle Martyrs, Chartists, infantry regiments, any number of ancestors who made the world more comfortable for them. And we, gay people, are happy now (or not) in large part thanks to Stonewall rioters, Harvey Milk, Dennis Lemon, Gay News, Ian McKellen, Edwina Currie (true) et al, and the battered bodies of bullied, beaten and abused gay men and women who stood up to be counted and refused to apologise for the way they were. It has given us something we never thought to have: pride. For a thousand years, shame was our lot and now, turning on a sixpence, we have arrived at pride - without even, it seems, an intervening period of well-it's-OK-I-suppose-wouldn't-have-chosen-it-but-there-you-go. Who'da thought it?

But don't kid yourself. For millions of teenagers around Britain and everywhere else, it is still 1973. Taunts, beatings and punishment await gay people the world over in playgrounds and execution grounds (the distance between which is measured by nothing more than political constitutions and human will). Yes, you will grow to be a very, very, very, very lucky man who is able to express his nature out loud without fear of hatred or reprisal from any except the most deluded, demented and sad. But that is a small battle won. A whole theatre of war remains. This theatre of war is bigger than the simple issue of being gay, just as the question of love swamps the question of mere sexuality. For alongside sexual politics the entire achievement of the enlightenment (which led inter alia to gay liberation) is under threat like never before. The cruel, hypocritical and loveless hand of religion and absolutism has fallen on the world once more.

So my message from the future is twofold. Fear not, young Stephen, your life will unfold in richer, more accepted and happier ways than you ever dared hope. But be wary, for the most basic tenets of rationalism, openness and freedom that nourish you now and seem so unassailable are about to be harried and besieged by malevolent, mad and medieval minds.

You poor dear, dear thing. Look at you weltering in your misery. The extraordinary truth is that you want to stay there. Unlike so many of the young, you do not yearn for adulthood, pubs and car keys. You want to stay where you are, in the Republic of Pubescence, where feeling has primacy and pain is beautiful. And you know what ... ?

I think you are right.

Source: Stephen Fry's letter to himself: Dearest absurd child
Official website: The New Adventures of Mr Stephen Fry
Wikipedia: Stephen Fry