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Richard Cohen Goes To The Movies

Jim Burroway

November 10th, 2007

As I was reading ex-gay gadfly Richard Cohen’s book, Gay Children, Straight Parents, I kept encountering passages that I thought would make great material for future blog posts. By the time I reached the end of the book, I looked back at all the dogears and concluded that this book could give me material for weeks. But since I don’t want to make this web site all-Cohen-all-the-time, I’ll just offer you this nice excerpt. The following is from Step 4 (“Investigate the Causes of SSA”), from his 12-step plan for parents. Enjoy!

Movie Therapy

There is much to learn about the culture by observing art. Art imitates live, and today, because there are so many SSA men and women in the entertainment industry, life is imitating art. I have rented dozens of movies with homosexual themes written, directed or produced by SSA men and women. These films are the best testimonies about the unhappiness and misery of the SSAD condition. They teach us how lonely and unfulfilling a homosexual life actually is. Be forewarned: If you rent any of these movies, it may cause you or other family members emotional pain and unrest. Consider watching one or more of the following movies, but do so with a loved one (not your SSA child), and share about your thoughts and feelings afterward.

The Deep End. The mother is overprotective, indulging her son while the father is away at sea, and the son hungers for his father’s love. This is a typical triadic relationship: sensitive and artistic son, overattachment to mom, distant from dad.

Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story. Again, the typical triadic family relationship is depicted. Olympic gold medal diver Greg Louganis is an adopted child with an abusive father and an overprotective mother. The sensitive son tries desperately to obtain his father’s love through athletic achievement and finally in abusive relationships with other men.

Latter Days. A disturbing commentary about religious rejection of those with SSA, this movie shows that great harm that comes from ignorance. This is the story of a Mormon missionary repressing his SSA and being seduced by a “gay” man. It shows his parents’ reacting in all the wrong ways — with judgment and condemnation. They send him to a horrific program to “cure” him, but he ends up running back to his boyfriend.

Angels in America. This 2003 Emmy-winning HBO drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kirshner is a truly tragic story of tormented SSA souls seeking solace and comfort from one another as they confront the onset of AIDS in the 1980s. There is no hope or redemption offered. The author has no understanding about the true nature of SSA and the potential for damage.

Normal This 2003 HBO movie portrays a man who believes he was born in the wrong body and sets out to change his gender from male to female after twenty-five years of marriage. Again, it shows no understanding about gender identity disorder. There is a brief allusion to the relationship with his dad — shaming, name-calling, verbal abuse.

Let me break in here and point out something. After Cohen claims that the author of Angels in America “has no understanding of the true nature of SSA,” Elsewhere in the book, Cohen refers to homosexuality as being fundamentally a gender identity disorder. Cohen here repeates his utter confusion over homosexuality and transgenderism. He’s not alone. Ex-gay and anti-gay activists often are unable to see any difference between the two. The first refers to the gender of the object of one’s attraction, the second refers to the gender one sees onself. The one often has little to do with the other, and for most people there is no overlap. With this passage, Cohen himself has demonstrated that he has no understanding of the nature of homosexuality or transgenderism.  Okay, back to the review…

Brokeback Mountain. This Oscar-winning 2005 film depicts the unhappiness of two very confused cowboys. The movie sadly leaves out the unfulfilling life they would have had if they’d lived together. Both parties are wounded and looking for the same thing that neither one of them had experienced: healthy parental love.

Queer as Folk and The L Word. These two Showtime series depict the ephemeral lifestyle of men and women engaged in homosexual activity. Watch these shows only when you feel strong. They will evoke emotions of disgust, shock and pain.

What important movies do you think he left out and why do you think they’re important? You can leave your suggestions in the comments. And as Siskel and Ebert used to say, see you at the movies!

See also:

My review of Ricahrd Cohen’s Gay Children, Straight Parents: From Buggery To Huggery: Richard Cohen Has A Plan For Your Family

Comments

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David Ehrenstein
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

Movies he left out:

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train : Gays, straight an transsexuals in the same movie — Oh Horror!

Un Chant d’Amour: Jean Genet. “Nuff said.

My Own Private Idaho: Gay hustlers in love! One goes straight the other doesn’t.

Poison: Surprised he overlooked this Todd Haynes gem as the fact that it got NEA fundinging created a Fundie Firestorm that led to the collapse of the NEA.

Far From Heaven: More Todd Haynes. Closeted gay husband comes up and as a result the wife he left behind falls in love with a Negro !!!

Mysterious Skin: MORE gay hustlers and the child molesting baseball coaches who made them. Clearly baseball is a “gateway drug” to gay sex!!!

Kismet: Lavish musical numbers with Dolores Gray. “Nuff said.

Allyson
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

I know the trans community is split on TransAmerica, but it was important for me. I’m so glad Cohen doesn’t mention it; I’m sure his comments would “evoke emotions of disgust, shock and pain” in me. =)

Thanks for reading this book and saving me the pain.

Dave Rattigan
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

Maurice (1987). It’s a period piece (set in Edwardian England) about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality. Surely one of the first mainstream films to treat homosexual relationships with the respect they deserve. It certainly wouldn’t fit Cohen’s agenda.

Jason
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

Adam and Steve. A pretty charming romantic comedy. Not the smoothest of endings, though.

I love how he completely missed the point of Brokeback Mountain. It’s the same point that’s in every Ang Lee movie: unexpressed or unfullfilled love serves no one and ultimately destroys those involved.

Ben in Oakland
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

typically, of course, Cohen ignores people that are perfectly happy and gay. And more importantly, he ignores the role that homophobia plays in creating those conditions that he so deplores– Brokeback being the perfect example. Jack wants to live happily ever after with Ennis. Ennis remembers what happened to those two gay cowboys that were murdered by the good ole boys.

Cohen lacks either basic contact with reality, or with honesty. Hard to say which.

quo mark II
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

There’s a widespread impression that Brokeback Mountain is a pro-gay movie. I don’t see it that way. Brokeback Mountain shows that homophobia is brutal, sure, but arguably it also suggests that homophobia is an inescapable part of gay life. If you suggest that homophobia is unavoidable, then there is nothing inherently pro-gay about showing its brutality. Doing so could be a rather subtle way of expressing an anti-gay point of view.

Ennis’s father is giving him a message by showing him the bodies of two murdered gay men. He’s telling him, ‘Don’t be gay. Gay men suffer nasty, violent fates.’ And sure enough, Ennis’s lover Jack winds up dead, which might suggest that Ennis’s father was right about homosexuality. Pro-gay? Hardly.

PiaSharn
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

He left out my favorite movie of all time, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is about a transsexual rock star who comes to the U.S. in attempt to find fame, fortune, and hir other half.

Not only does it have a touching story and good music, but it also has a happy ending.

As to why I think it is important, I love that it not only addresses, but outright celebrates, sexual ambiguity, nonbianary gender, androgyny, genderfuck and the like. I could list numerous other reasons, but it would make this an insanely long reply, so I just suggest that you read the wikipedia article linked to above.

Steve - Geneva, IL
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

He missed something else from Brokeback Mountain that was so well depicted. A mindset and a society that says two men cannot love each other is tragic not only for the two lovers, but for many others as well. We saw many other innocent victims in Brokeback Mountain. We saw women who did nothing to deserve a husband who could never truly love them in the passionate way they deserved. We saw them endure bad marriages and divorce. We saw innocent young children who ended up in broken, rather than loving homes. We saw a girlfriend who was deeply hurt because a gay man was still trying to be straight.

The movie was fiction, but the tragedy it depicts is very real to many. It’s ironic that the root of the problem which causes these doomed families to form comes from those who say they are standing for the family.

Paul
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

I nominate Big Eden (2000) a gay love story in a town where being gay is no big deal. The only aspect the anti-gay might latch onto is one of the lovers can’t seem to tell his grandfather than he is gay, then regrets not having done so when his grandfather dies. And that’s probably stretching it. There aren’t even any sex scenes.

Ben in Oakland
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

Quo mark. sounds like you are blaming the victims. Except for illustrative purposes, i am not comparing these two, but that is a bit like blaming slavery on being black. Like gay people (but with different results) black people were seen as being inferior, less-than, barely human. If only they hadn’t been, then….

The problem is not homosexuality. the problem is homophobia. Gay people aren’t attacking straight people for being straight, villifying their lives, putting them in prison, making and possibility of love and happiness impossible, etc etc etc.

Brokeback indeed showed the consequences of being gay in a homophobic and violent society, both for gay people and straight people, as Steve points out. It is not so much pro-gay as anti-homophobic.

The point of websites like BTB is to provide a forum for discussion to change the prejudice of society, because honey, that’s all it is. I have yet to hear one argument against ending this stpuid and wasteful prejudice that doesn’t boil down to:

1) I hate queers. It’s honest, but that doesn’t mean it’s not prejudice.

2) My religion tells me its ok to hate queers, but we’ll call it loving them and hating the sin to give it a veneer or respectability.

3) Anything about sex scares the hell out of me.

The secondary problem is that not only do we live in homophobic society, though that is changing slowly– but that we also live in a sex-phobic society, one that glorifies and prohibits sex simultaneously, and that conflates the notion of sin with sex, leaving both poorer. You don’t hear fundi preachers peaking against the carnage in Iraq or the carnage (except occasionally) in the movies–Star wars is considered a family movie(!)– you hear them worry about what gets my genitalia going.

This emphasis on sexual morality is another twister of reality. It gives anything remotely sexual far more importance than it actually has in reality. By the estimates of conservatives, who should know, gay people comprise no more than 3% and probably 1% of the population. That two members of this small minority have sex is of no consequnce to anyone outside of the two of them–unless, of course, they are passing a diesease, but the same could be said of heterosex. In addition, which gay people do not do,hetero sex produces babies, sometimes wanted, sometimes not, sometimes cared for, sometimes not. The orphanages and abortion clinics and ghettos and refugee camps are full of those babies.

but somehow the focus remains not on rampant irresponsible hetero behavior,
but on what gay people are doing that some heteros do not like, (Let he among you…).

Or think their god doesn’t like. I have yet to see what the difference is.

Moreover, the active suppresion of gay sexality, in itself an impossibility, and therefore also destructive to reality, does have major micro consequnces, whether it was what happened to all of the people in Jack and Ennis’s lives…

…Or macro consequences, if indeed it led to the utter disaster in every way that is known as the second term of George Bush.

Thus the funny/sad part: one of the homophobic beliefs is that homosexuality, through some mysterious agency unknown to historians and scientists, and undemonstrable in serious social and historical study, has brought about the fall of mighty empires, and that gay people in our country and time must be stopped to prevent the same thing happening to us. All utter nonsense, unsupported by reason, fact, or intelligence– or even a high school text book. The sad but delicious irony is that given the quality of people homophobic people insist on electing for the reasons they elect them, it is more likely that fear of homosexuality will ultimately bring about the downfall of the American Empire.

Did i answer your question?

quo mark II
November 10th, 2007 | LINK

One’s personal opinions about homosexuality are a separate issue from the question of what Brokeback Mountain really says about homosexuality.

Consider it for a moment. Ennis’s father is trying to tell him something by showing him those murdered gay men, and it’s hardly that gay men shouldn’t live together – as if he were the kind of man who thought that it was OK to be gay just so long as you don’t have a stable relationship with another man!

Ennis’s father is simply trying to show his son that men shouldn’t be gay, period. He’s trying to show him that homosexuality leads to violent death. That this is what eventually happens to Ennis’s lover in a sense shows that Ennis’s nasty homophobic father was right all along (being nasty doesn’t mean you can’t be right). Whatever its producer’s intentions were, Brokeback Mountain can be read as a subtle endorsement of anti-gay violence.

Brokeback Mountain might not come across that way if there were something in it that suggested that gay men can improve their lives or escape the effects of homophobia, but there isn’t. A stable gay relationship and an on-again-off-again gay affair end in much the same way: death and tragedy. If that’s a protest against homophobia, it’s a very strange one.

Emily K
November 11th, 2007 | LINK

I nominate “Show Me Love (aka, Fucking Åmål)” in which the two main characters are UNhappy until they admit their love to eachother. I ALSO nominate “But I’m a Cheerleader,” in which the happy ending involves two girls running AWAY from their ex-gay “therapy” camp and into eachothers’ arms. And what about “SAVED!”? that movie opens with a girl trying to “save” her boyfriend from gayness (even though he’s sent off to ex-gay camp anyway). At the end we see he’s found peace w/ another boy he met at the camp whom he ran away with. It’s a sweet movie and teaches us about faith, religion, and tolerance in the process.

Jim Burroway
November 11th, 2007 | LINK

Quo, I really don’t understand how you can say Brokeback is anti-gay. You’re confusing what individual characters in the film say about homosexuality with what the film says. By your logic, films about the life of Anne Frank is anti-Semitic. As a protest against homophobia, Brokeback is following a very long tradition.

Is that fact that Brokeback mountain doesn’t have a happy ending troubling to you? (And maybe I should ask, did you see it? I don’t want to make any assumptions.) Well, if so, real life doesn’t have a happy ending yet either. Not while people are still being killed as a consequence of their sexuality. If you don’t like that, then welcome to my world and help us do something about it so that Brokeback becomes the period piece it ought to be.

Timothy Kincaid
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

One’s personal opinions about homosexuality are a separate issue from the question of what Brokeback Mountain really says about homosexuality.

Yes.

And what Brokeback Mountain says about homosexuality is… (wait for it) … NOTHING.

This story did not set out to tell anything about homosexuality, per se. It’s just a tale about unfulfilled love.

And the story itself is a very old fashioned one that we’ve seen many times before. In fact, it isn’t much different than Gone With the Wind.

The fact that this story isn’t “about” homosexuality is what made it resonate with so many people in this country. It’s why matinee shows were full of octogenarian. It’s because it tells a more universal truth about all of us – and it is only incidental that the relationship is between two men.

Timothy Kincaid
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

I’ll also nominate:

The Sum of Us – a father and son (Russell Crow) have a close bond with the father helping his son open up to love.

My Beautiful Launderette – a Pakistani emigrant and a ruffian (Daniel Day Lewis) confront racial and class issues. Lewis’ character had a missing mother and a father that was becoming senile.

TJMcFisty
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

I nominate “Before Night Falls”. Wrap everything Goober Pyle Cohen doesn’t like into it: Commies. Artists. Cuba. Queers. All right there in a nice neat package.

Christopher™
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

Timothy beat me to the punch with “The Sum of Us,” but I’ll add “Mambo Italiano.” Yes, it’s silly and frothy, but the basic story is that two guys fall in love and everyone ends up happy.

Todd
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

As an ex-mormon, the movie “Latter-Days” really resonated with me. I did not think it was a negative portrayel of the gay lifestyle at all. Rather, a rather bleak and negative look at the reaction of the strongly “Mormon” family. I liked the ending and it gave me hope.

Like all art, movies are subjective and we often get very different reactions based on our own experiences. I get that Richard may have had some negative experiences in his own life, but he seems to assume everyone should get the same impressions he did.

Zeke
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

I nominate Another Country (about a homo who’s a communist sympathizer who defects to the Soviet Union, Cohen should LOVE that one!), The Lost Language of Cranes (an AWSOME book/film) and Making Love (for being way ahead of its time in portraying a relatively positive gay storyline in the early 80′s).

I look forward to the day when we will have interesting gay storylines that don’t entail plot involving a gay man married to a woman and screwing men on the side. That seems to be the only gay themed storyline that writers, producers and directors think will be of interest to the general public. Whether it be Making Love, Brokeback Mountain or The Dreyfus Affair, I’m really getting tired of that same old story.

Zeke
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

I thought Mambo Italiano was absolutely horrible and was one of the most offensive gay plots that I’ve seen. It was basically a two hour advertisement for the “ex-gay” industry. Of course it was the hot, masculine character who “went straight” and lived “happily” ever after. I can’t imagine anyone thinking that that movie had a positive message.

Timothy Kincaid
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

Zeke,

I didn’t much like Mambo Italiano. It was poorly written and played too heavily on stereotypes.

Nonetheless, it certainly wasn’t an advertisement for the success of the ex-gay industry. Perhaps you failed to notice that Nino went on “camping trips” with his “buddy” during his happily ever after marriage. It was pretty clear that the audience was supposed to recognize that Nino did not rid himself of his attractions but instead was behaving stealthily.

Ben in Oakland
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

I enjoyed it a lot, myself. The stereotypes were obviously that. It was just positive, and the ordinary guy got the boy. Also nice that it avoided THAT stereotype.

Steve
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

Two foreign films:
1. Bear Cub. An out gay man becomes an accidental parent to his nephew, comes to like it, then has the sone taken away from him. The story is a little movie-of-the-week, but the men at the center of it are real.

2. 20 Centimeters. Now HERE is out, brazen transexuality. The main character dumps her stunningly gorgeous new boyfriend–in part because he has no manners, no ambition and lives at home with his parents, and in part because he’s far to enamored of the one part of her body she’s trying to raise enough money to have removed. Despite financial problems, heartbreak, and being forced to live on the edges (and hustling to get by), the main character’s belief in herself as a woman carries the day and emblazons the movie with infectious spirit.

quo mark II
November 12th, 2007 | LINK

Jim,

For what it is worth, I saw Brokeback Mountain twice. I also read the short story it was based upon, and parts of the film-script (I had it with me while watching Brokeback for the second time because I was having trouble understanding Ennis’s mumble).

I can see that you aren’t going to agree with me about this. I don’t want to get into a long argument about it. I don’t think Brokeback is necessarily similar to films about Anne Frank, or to most stories that happen not to have happy endings. It’s its own thing.

I won’t repeat points I’ve already made, but I’ll note a couple of other things about Brokeback Mountain. One is that Ennis and Jack both have hostile, rejecting fathers, and we all know what that’s supposed to mean, don’t we? Warren Throckmorton certainly does:

http://www.narth.com/docs/brokeback2.html

Finally, is there any special reason why Jack’s murder happens right at the beginning of 1980s, just as the AIDS epidemic was starting? It’s difficult to see why Jack has to get murdered then, rather than at some point during the 1970s, unless they’re trying to send us a message. Whatever message that may be, it’s a troubling one.

Boo
November 13th, 2007 | LINK

When Night Is Falling- the lovers end up running away to (yes!) join the circus! Nuff said.

Joel
November 13th, 2007 | LINK

Queer as Folk…
This plays right into the hand of Cohen
“These two Showtime series depict the ephemeral lifestyle of men and women engaged in homosexual activity”
Promiscous, only for the young, atheist… Does this depict the life of MOST gay ppl, like Cohen insinuates? I don’t know… if it does, its bonus pts for Cohen.

Jason
November 13th, 2007 | LINK

I stopped watching QAF pretty early on because it was a trite and ridiculous soap opera. I didn’t and still don’t know anybody who’s life remotely resembles the characters on the show.

Christopher™
November 13th, 2007 | LINK

I remember watching the QAF pilot episode with two friends of mine who aren’t Christians, and during the first sex scene with Brian and Justin, one of them leaned over to me and said, “Should we be watching this?” Even *they* were embarrassed.

Later, I used to go to a bar in West Hollywood to watch it every Sunday, just as a way to hang out with my friends. Almost all of us agreed that the writing was atrociously bad, and that the series didn’t represent anything close to our lives, but at least we were guaranteed a few laughs.

During the series’ run, I met one of the series’ writers, and when I learned he wrote for QAF, I said, “Don’t get me started.” He raised his hands and said, “I know… I know. Don’t blame me… Ron and Daniel rewrite every script, for better or for worse.” I said, “Mostly for worse,” and he laughed. Even *he* knew the writing was awful, but hey, it was a paycheck.

Plus, QAF was on pay cable, so of course it was going to push the envelope in terms of what it could show, sexually and otherwise.

QAF *is* a wonderful unintentional comedy series, though.

Steve
November 13th, 2007 | LINK

The original British QAF was well-written and witty–and there were consequences. The timid character who hooks up and goes on a bad drug trip early in the first season–his equivalent died in the British series, which made (most of) the rest of the characters reassess their choices–in various ways.

The British series made you care about the characters and their fates. The American one didn’t, at least in the few first-season episodes I saw.

The creator of QAF in Britain is now the producer/head writer of the new Dr. Who series–and the spinoff “Torchwood.” One of the delightful things about Torchwood is that the whole Torchwood crew is bisexual and that, within the world of the story, no one seems to find this remarkable.

Richard Cohen will never mention Torchwood in his books–and not just because it’s British TV, but because it will not fit in his worldview. Here is a world, very like our own, where people face tremendous life-threatening problems, and have relationship issues, but why you’re attracted to a guy this week and a girl the next isn’t worth thinking about, much less defining one as normal and the other as pathological and then trying to root out the pathology.

And in this world, while you might get distressed over a co-worker who fancies you–or who doesn’t fancy you but fancies someone else, or who fancies you AND someone else and you don’t know whether you or your competitor will win (and aren’t even sure if you want to win), the gender of who fancies who just isn’t an issue.

And what scares Cohen and all the rest of them is that in some places, this worldview is already real (visit Travis Oliver’s MySpace page and read the blog entry “Metrosexual Etiquette,” and you’ll see what I mean), and they’re just afraid it will spread.

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