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June 23rd, 2021

Gay Vague = Silence =

Earlier this month, in the run up to the release of Pixar’s newest, Luca, the chatter that it was a coded gay teen flick was hitting my social media pages fast and furious. This from Collider was typical

‘Luca’ Review: Pixar’s Lovely Italian Getaway Gets Its Spark from Its Homosexual Romance Subtext

While one could argue that ‘Luca’ is simply a story about accepting outsiders, there’s more happening with this movie.

If you just read between the lines…. Yes. Quite. I’m sixty-seven years old, I came out to myself in December of 1971, having awakened to my first…er…Homosexual Romance Subtext…and I went cross-eyed long ago from having to read between the lines.

Well…it didn’t last very long.

Luca Director Says Film Is About the ‘Pre-Romance’ Time in Boys’ Lives

It never does. Nothing is more short lived than the Homosexual Romance Subtext. Sooner or later, usually sooner, homophobia demands an explanation, and the Homosexual Romance Subtext promptly skitters back into the closet. Vito Russo nailed it decades ago:

American society has willfully deleted the fact of homosexual behavior from its mind, laundering things as they come along, in order to maintain a more comfortable illusion. The censors removed it; the critics said, “Well, look! It isn’t there”; and anyone who still saw it was labeled a pervert.

How I wish he was still with us. Back in 2014 I wrote here about how his book, The Celluloid Closet, was probably the thing that radicalized me more than any one other thing. I bought a copy of the first edition when it came out in 1981, at Lambda Rising, the Washington DC gay bookstore I was lucky enough to live close to, because you just didn’t walk into your local Crown Books in 1981 and expect to find anything relating to the love that dare not speak its name. It was nearly ten years since I’d had my first Homosexual Romance Subtext, but this was what Hollywood was still telling everyone about people like me… 

Back in the 1970s, that homosexual characters were occasionally included in movies, either for laughs if they were flaming sissies or as the embodiment of unnatural evil, was something probably everyone knew. Russo was the first person to actually gather all the pieces together, all the little walk on toss off parts along with the major roles, all the sissies, all the evil psychos, all the tragically damned, and look at all critically. And the book he produced hit gay people everywhere who read it like a ton of bricks, because you knew the scapegoating and stereotyping weren’t just how your heterosexual neighbors were taught to look at you, but also how you were taught to see yourself. Heterosexuals could dream of the happily ever after, could see that dream on the silver screen, could picture themselves there, having that life, or something like it. Hollywood flushed our dreams into the sewer from the moment we first walked into a movie house. We weren’t lovers, we were sissies, we were dangerous sexual psychopaths, we were the butt of dirty jokes, we were the personification of unnatural evil, we were pathetic, we were terrifying, we were not human. But you really didn’t see it all that clearly because the one thing we were most of all was something not to be discussed in public among decent normal people.

Then Vito Russo gathered it all together and put it in front of us. And it just took your breath away…to see it all there, laid out in front of you.

And it made you angry…

…the one thing we were most of all was something not to be discussed in public among decent normal people. So let’s talk about “pre-romance” shall we? What would that even be? Too young to have a crush on someone? Too young for puppy love? I had crushes back in elementary school. Of course they were platonic…I was a child. But I wasn’t dead inside either. The fact is crushes can and do happen early in life. And gay adults will tell you, assuming you are willing to hear it, that we knew even then that we were different in some fundamental way from the other kids in the way our crushes were aimed. We knew, even then. And the boys in Luca are 13…

Though the argument can be made that more movies need to show platonic male friendships (that’s definitely a good thing), after seeing the way Luca looks at Alberto whenever he introduces him to something new for the first time (like a Vespa) or the way Alberto gets jealous whenever someone else is getting Luca’s attention (especially form their new human friend Giulia, played by Emma Berman), they have a fondness for each other that queer viewers can easily recognize and read as something more than just friendship: a young, budding, queer romance.

But was that intentional? Well, according to the film’s director Enrico Casarosa, not quite. In fact, he even said that Luca is actually more about friendships, if anything, and that he created the film to be about a time in kids’ lives before romance was even a thing on their radar.

Speaking as someone who was a teenage boy once, let me assure you that when a boy is old enough to desire motorcycles, he’s old enough to have crushes on other boys. Okay…a scooter. But they’re still young.

So what is “pre-romance” let me hazard a guess: What he means, is pre-sexual. Which is nonsense when applied to teenagers, even as young as thirteen. Oh for sure you don’t understand it like a fully mature adult does, it can be confusing, mysterious, even frightening, but your hormones are already having their way with you. So really, even “pre-sexual” doesn’t quite get it. 

How about “pre-gay visibility”. A time when movies could stray into close friendship territory, without having to address the question of is this or isn’t it a romance. Especially to a mob of angry vein throbbing homophobic social media commenters. Maybe Casarosa never actually intended his movie about two boys who become very fond of each other but have to hide their true selves from the townspeople, to be yet another gay vague have it both ways for box office movie. He just wanted to go back to a simpler time when Teh Gay was invisible on the silver screen. Except when they’re monsters. Lots of people long for those days still.

There actually was a sweet little film four years ago about that first teenage crush between two boys. In A Heartbeat. It was a short computer animated film made by two students. It got a lot of positive reviews and won some awards. Mainstream Hollywood completely ignored it, being shortlisted for an Oscar in the best animated short category but not even getting a nomination, and it got a torrent of abuse from the usual suspects about why are you pushing sex onto our kids. Of course there was no sex anywhere in the film, just a sweet story about a boy’s crush on another boy. But the homophobe reliably jumps to complaining about sex when confronted with any hint of gay love and romance. There is no such thing as “pre-romance” when it comes to gay kids, because homosexuals don’t love, they just have sex.

Vito Russo nailed that one too:

It is an old stereotype, that homosexuality has to do only with sex while heterosexuality is multifaceted and embraces love and romance.

Back in 2002 I wrote here asking where our Casablanca was, where was our To Have And Have Not. We’ve gained a lot of visibility in Hollywood, but if you subtract all the gay vague and the blink and you’ve missed them gay moments it isn’t nearly as much as so many often seem to think. And what is left of our lives is shunted off to a corner somewhere that corporate can keep safely at arm’s length. So Disney+ can have Star Girl but not Love Victor.

After Brokeback Mountain lost to John Wayne at the Oscars, I did a Mark and Josh cartoon about it, where Mark says that all Hollywood ever does for us is laugh at us and spit in our faces. That’s not quite the case anymore. Now it gives us rainbows and bumper stickers about inclusion. But our lives and our stories are still radioactive to the studio boardrooms and I am deathly tired of having to read between the lines to see a love story that might actually speak to me, and to the teenager I once was, and to the teenagers that experience that first crush every day all alone. They’re still dragging kids into ex-gay therapy camps in parts of this country, and in some parts of the world they’re killing them.


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