Following my post from Tuesday on Kirby Dick’s new film about politics, homophobia, and the closet, some further thoughts:
When ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was released almost four years ago, it elicited acclaim from people who identified or empathized with the story of love between men whose social contexts had led them to repress their sexual orientation. The film’s central characters had both married, and ultimately were unable to keep their vows in the search for a relationship that felt more authentic for them. The social conventions of the time eventually made their relationship impossible; and one of them was ultimately killed for being gay. The film did an excellent job of exploring the moral ambiguities of repressed sexuality (it’s a story in which nobody wins), and its impact on the culture was palpable.
Something ironic happened in the period since then. At least three national US figures have been the subjects of same-sex scandals. First, a well-known Christian leader was found to have had ongoing encounters with a male escort; then a Florida state legislator was arrested for allegedly offering $20 to a police officer in exchange for being allowed to perform a sex act; and most notably, a conservative Republican Senator resigned under the media microscope (and then un-resigned) for some alleged ambiguous business in an airport restroom. Some public commentators are having a field day, with mockery of the Senator drowning out serious discussion of human sexuality, which is of course a central part of this story.
I feel ambivalence because of the damage I believe their failure to publicly challenge homophobia has done to gay people trying to make sense of their lives in an often hostile world. But I also feel empathy toward them because while they may indeed be simply confused about their sexuality, or experiencing the kind of sexual repression that often accompanies fundamentalist religion and conservative political culture, it would appear that they have had to hide all of their adult lives. They may even have been hiding from themselves. I hope that they can find healing, and develop a healthy emotional life. But their strong denials of ambiguous sexuality suggest a degree of self-loathing that should surprise even seasoned fundamentalism-watchers, not to mention the fact that they reinforce the social paradigms that contribute to the serious mental health problems that afflict many gay people.
I’ll post some more questions about this later today.