S1: Hello and welcome to the October 20 20 edition of Outward. I’m Christina Carucci, a staff writer at Slate. And I, for one, welcome the season where queer women’s fashion truly takes center stage. We’ve got beanies, we’ve got Doc Martens, we’ve got flannels, we’ve got cardigans, we’ve got hoodies. It’s like we’ve got cargo pants and Carhart’s. This is truly the season that was made for lesbians. And every year it’s like we come out of our, you know, whatever we wore during the summer, some of us, it was little bikini as some of us it was, you know, board shorts. But we coalesce as one each fall and I am proud to see it every year.
S2: This is your moment to shine, Christina.
S3: Beautiful. Yeah, that’s beautiful.
S2: Vermont alum. And this October is even scarier than most because I’m talking about the election and the way that I’ve been dealing with it is by stocking up on candy. It’s not for trick or treaters because part of what’s scary about this moment is we don’t even know if we’re going to have any of those. So every night for the past few weeks after the kids are asleep have found me in the kitchen scrolling the headlines on Twitter, shoveling Hershey’s Kisses into my face. But, you know, whatever it takes. And as Christina noted, I could just put on a cardigan and sort of hide my winter body that way.
S1: No, let it shine. Let it go.
S3: Speaking of hiding, I’m Brian Lauter, editor of Outward. And I only came out from the rock that I’ve been hiding under until the election out of my deep love for y’all and our listeners. But please, let’s really make this quick so I can get back in there because I want to know what’s happening at all.
S2: Have you been Brian, have you been avoiding the news? I know it’s impossible in your job.
S3: I think I’d be fired from Slate if I said I was a boy. So no, but I have tried as we’ve gone on to reduce my intake outside of work necessities because it is, as I’m sure for many folks listening, it’s not healthy to be to be whiplashed every time a push alert comes. So I’ve actually been hiding, but I have been definitely been sort of trying to control the flow until we actually know something.
S2: Then I highly recommend getting a bag of Hershey kisses.
S1: That is like the the classiest little like mass market candy you could possibly be eating rumah I’m a class act sestina. So before we get into today’s show, I have a request to make. If you’re listening, if you like this podcast, subscribe teleprinter subscribe. Give us a five star rating. Show us some love. All right. As you all know, or as you may not know, October is LGBTQ History Month and we are staying on theme with our episode. We are going to take a look at two recent entries into the queer historical record, two different views of queer history, two, which I guess will pose the question, how do we remember the past and how does the form of our historical documentation affect the way the content is understood? So the first thing we’re going to talk about is a new Netflix remake of Boys in the Band. It was a 1968 play, a 1970 film. The play was revived in twenty eighteen and now it’s a twenty twenty film with the same cast from the recent play. The original was one of the first, if not the first cultural products to focus exclusively on gay people. So we’re going to talk about what that production meant back then when it came out and what place the new version might hold in our culture today. Then we’ll discuss Equal, a new HBO docu series about major players in LGBTQ life in the decades before Stonewall. This series is very clearly trying to do something new in terms of representing history in a relatively straightforward way, but with a mix of primary source documents and footage re-enactment. Dramatic voiceover We’re going to ask what is that new thing that it’s trying to do and does it succeed at doing that? We’re going to attempt to figure that out. And finally, for our gay agenda, we will present to you our favorite things to do watch, read, etc. to better understand queer history. But first, we begin, as always, with our prides and provocations. Brian, what do you have for us?
S3: Well, first, I think we have a sort of pride within our organization here at the Outward podcast as you go out there. And they know our colleague, Remon alum has published a new book this month to much acclaim. It’s called Leave the World Behind. Is a National Book Award finalist and fiction, I’m reading it now, and I’m going to give you all the real. It’s kind of just OK, actually actually it is really it’s really fantastic. And it was all right. And this isn’t an ad this is not an ad, but we’re just so proud of him. Yeah, we’re proud. And you could do far worse than reading or reading about this thing. Also, congrats, Remon.
S1: I feel like we’re just basking in your glow, like when Jenna Bush is on the friggin Today show promoting Rumana Lamb’s book. I mean, how do you how do you ascend from there? You’ve been getting acclaim from all corners of the cultural universe. How are you dealing with it?
S2: It’s extraordinary. It’s extraordinary. I mean, the thing about writing a book is that it’s just such a long, long leap of faith that when the brain is engaged in right now personally and so he knows this well. And if you’re lucky, you have an editor telling you that your work is good or you have an agent telling you that your work is good. But that’s a lot like having your parents tell you that you’re handsome. Of course, you expect to hear that. And to watch the book come to life when it goes out to a readership is just extraordinary. It’s exactly what you always hope for. And I’m so happy. I’m so thrilled. So thank you for mentioning an embarrassing me in this context. It’s very sweet of you guys.
S1: It’s been a great I can’t think of a better person for this kind of success. Thank you. So it does make me really proud. I appreciate it.
S3: Thank you. Absolutely. So now we’re done with that. So moving on on in addition to that pride, I have another one which is about the New Fast, which is a New York LGBT film festival. It’s existed for like thirty two years. But this year they have made us proud by going all the way online in the midst of the pandemic. So they’re like one hundred and twenty films that normally you’d have to be in New York to go see, you know, from shorts to features and all the rest. But now they’re all streaming online. And you can catch them from I think it’s the 16th through the twenty seventh. I’ll put a link up but six to the twenty seventh of October. And I’ve just to slightly broaden the pride a little bit. I’ve seen a few of our queer film festivals sort of attempt this to varying degrees of success in the past six or seven months. And it’s a huge undertaking and I’m just amazed to see it happen. And this is a highlight of my fall every year. So I’m glad that it can be a highlight of other folks. So props to the new people for making the transition to digital so seamlessly.
S2: That’s so great. It is great. And, you know, it’s like you hope that these arts organizations and institutions are able to adapt to this current moment so that they can survive into whatever the future looks like. So that is reassuring to hear that people are responding so creatively to the challenges of this moment, you know? Yeah, totally.
S3: So if you want to go check out any of the films and the festival this year, check out New First Dog.
S2: Remon, how are you feeling this month? You know, I’m feeling a little provoked and I’m sort of struggling to articulate the nature of this particular provocation. So people in the Internet in the last couple of weeks have been trying to reclaim proud boys to be not about the white power organization, but to be about gay pride. I mean, to be clear, what I’m talking about is really my own sense of being provoked during the presidential debates. And I’m making air quotes around debates when the president and I’m making air quotes around president declined to condemn the so-called proud boys. Right. This was a response by the sort of chattering classes on social media to say, let’s defeat the old boys by redefining proud boys as gay couples, making out with one another or just sort of being proud and out. I struggled with this because gay pride is a very necessary rejoinder to a culture that treats gayness queerness as shameful. White pride is just an aggrieved sense of hatred that’s based in delusion. So to counter the one with the other seems to misunderstand the language itself. And it makes me irritated in some strange way that I have trouble holding on to to change the subject from the pernicious evil of white pride to what gay pride is meant to represent. The one has very little to do with the other, and it feels, instead of it’s meant to feel sort of like this act of revolution. But to me it feels diminishing and sort of frustrating.
S1: Yeah, I see what you mean. And it when I saw that happening on social media, it brought to mind how I feel when I would see pictures of people like making out in front of the Westboro Baptist Church protesters. Yes, exactly. Actually, I think the best. Thing to do is just starve them of attention. I realize that it’s kind of impossible when the president is on television provoking and encouraging them, but I don’t feel like we need to be a part of, you know, giving them exactly what they want by calling attention to them and making them more of an influence in public conversation, especially in so juvenile and like overly demonstrative of fashion, as you’re saying, like the Westboro Baptist Church is engaged in something very serious and very evil that deserves to be talked about for what it is.
S2: And, you know, kissing in front of those protesters is not the rejoinder that it sounds like. It’s not the triumph and it’s not like a triumph. You know, it seems very small to me, actually, and they’re not triggered by that.
S1: I don’t think they’re like triggered in the same way that we are, because, as you said, their pride or whatever is not motivated is motivated by hate. It’s not motivated by any legitimate sense of, you know, discrimination or like feeling or reclaiming any sort of marginalized characteristic.
S3: Yeah, I’ve seen I’ve also seen like other another reaction to the Westboro folks, which is interesting is, is instead of doing the kissing thing, it’s like actually blocking them out. So, yeah, you know, big like large rainbow flags are doing sort of like, I think angel wings. Yes, angel. Oh yeah. Yeah. I think I might have seen that in Orlando after Pulse actually. But but yeah. So instead of instead of sort of there’s something different about the kissing which is like you’re right, they’re not triggered by that, but just blocking them out entirely makes more sense to me as a reaction. And I don’t know how you do that with like a hashtag exactly. But but but it feels like that’s the kind of thing you want to do. You want to starve it rather than just give it this this enhanced energy.
S2: I mean, taking taking white pride seriously, intellectually at all is a pointless endeavor. And so choosing to talk about other things, and especially when you’re talking about the Cowboys stand in opposition to, you know, the kind of society that we ought to strive for. So to choose not to take that seriously, rather than changing the subject back to queerness seems more effective to me anyway.
S1: Yeah, it also just occurred to me that, like the Cowboys is not an anti LGBTQ. Exactly. Exactly. I mean, I’m sure they’re not particularly welcoming of queer people, but their main focus is racism. Yeah, I just feels like take on that.
S3: I’m sure that there are probably some white gay guys. And the problem. Yeah, I would not that wouldn’t surprise me at all. At all.
S2: Well I mean, there’s always something suspicious about a group that terms itself boys. Right. It’s a little queer if you ask me.
S1: And he was like, number one rule is that no one’s allowed to masturbate. Right? Exactly. Christina, how are you feeling this month? I’m feeling pride, so I’m not sure if y’all are aware of Cejka, who’s a fantastic hip hop and RB artist who has really achieved a lot of well-deserved acclaim this year. So she is gay. She released a new EP in the spring and did an NPR Tiny Desk concert and has been sort of gaining fame since then. This month she was on Jesus bone marrow and did an acoustic version of her song, You Should. And for me, in a season that has been so full of estrangement and fear, so many feelings of alienation from my community, in part because of the pandemic and in part because of politics, it was just it filled me with warmth to see this incredible queer artist doing what she does best and getting so much love for it. And I mean, her voice is just like hot apple cider. It’s comforting and also incredibly sexy. And I though queer people are so highly represented in art and in music, it does feel to me like there aren’t that many songs that are just explicitly gay. When you like love songs about gay people loving on gay people and admiring other gay people. And this song is just full of desire and admiration. It’s about seeing someone at a party who’s dancing and you can’t stop looking at her. And it reminded me what being at a party felt like. And it already kind of made me excited for next summer. Just seeing somebody talking about love and what I imagine is like L.A. or somewhere that’s a lot warmer than where I am right now.
S2: I love her. And the power of art in this moment, like, as you said, like if you’re feeling isolated, if you’re feeling apart from your normal life, like art still has that power to move us out of that temporary and that. So wonderful. In a moment where the power of so many other things has been degraded, like you can’t run to a restaurant with an old friend and quite the same way. So it’s so great that you can hear a song and have that emotional response I love. Yeah.
S3: All right. So as Christine noted at the top of the show, this Queer History Month, we’re looking at two different approaches to understanding our past. Mark Crowleys 1968 play and now Netflix movie of the boys in the band and the new HBO Max series, Equal with Boys. We have an iconic piece about gay life in the 1960s, being resurfaced and only slightly reimagined for a new audience with equal. We have very modern media sensibilities being used to present important figures and events from the decades before Stonewall, a period that popular understandings of queer history often ignore entirely. I think we probably want to talk about each of these projects separately first and then we’ll try to bring them into conversation. Christina, you said that this was your first time experience in boys. And I just wanna say it’s for me, it’s been a super important text as a gay man. I think I’ve I think I watched the 1970 movie version like every year probably. And there was this revival on Broadway in twenty eighteen that I saw. So I’m so, so curious to hear what it was like to see it for the first time. And maybe you can begin also by explaining just what the basic plot is.
S1: Yeah. So the plot is pretty simple. The main character is a guy named Michael who is a fashionista in deep debt and he’s hosting at his apartment in the village, I imagine, a dinner gathering for his friend Herold’s birthday. So one by one, their friends come over. They each sort of represent a certain type of gay man. And eventually they’re joined by Michael’s old college roommate, who is ostensibly straight. And, you know, drama ensues. There’s some homophobia. Eventually, Michael, who has who’s a recovering alcoholic, starts drinking and forces them all or, you know, sort of aggressively encourages them all to call somebody who they had had a crush on, who they had never told that they loved. Michael tries to get his old roommate to admit that he’s gay. And, yeah, I won’t spoil much more. But that’s the basic gist. And I watched the 20 20 movie first and then I watched the 1970 movie. The I thought the performances in the new version were fantastic, and I believe all of the actors were reprising their roles from the Broadway production. So they were very well lived in characters. But for me, it was it made me feel. Bad because the men are incredibly mean to each other, which is part of the point, but I don’t think I grasped the full resonance of the point until I watched the 1970 version, because it it feels a little bit out of place watching this in twenty twenty, where it’s it feels like to the point of remaking it now is just to say like, oh, look how bad things were back then. Watching the 1970 version, it, it was a lot more clear to me or was easier for me to imagine what it was like to live in that moment and why. Part of why these men were terrible to each other is because, you know, they were putting each other down to make themselves feel better and also because they hated themselves and were projecting that onto other people. So their own insecurities were sort of like ricocheting around the dinner table and. I’m curious what you get out of it when you watch it every year, because I. Don’t feel like I need to watch it again, in part because it feels like such an important relic of a time that maybe now has passed. Hmm.
S3: Well, I will answer that question and I will talk about what meanness means. But, Remon, I want to I want to get you in first, though. Well, yeah. What’s your reaction.
S2: I mean, I have the shameful confession that I have never seen the original. So this is not a text that had any meaning for me the way that it does for you, Brian. And so I watched it and had a very similar response to Christina, which is that I really enjoyed some of the performances. I really enjoyed Jim Parsons performance. I’m sort of I’m sort of a sucker for him anyway. I think he’s he’s very good and utterly charming performer. There’s a lot of charisma and a lot of imagination in these performances, but it is an historical text. And the remake or this version is so faithful to that text that it doesn’t have any kind of perspective on what it’s showing us. It’s simply showing us the thing. And so it’s very hard to understand how you’re meant to think about it as it relates to the contemporary moment. I mean, it’s depicting a pre AIDS New York City. Right. And so even watching the original, you you understand. You understand the the moment that these characters are headed for in a way that they don’t understand because it’s an historical document. Mm hmm. A remake can’t offer that. At least a remake made so faithfully cannot offer a larger sense of context. And so what you have can feel easy to misunderstand as a reductive or small, as opposed to capturing an historical moment, if that makes any sense, like the original feels like a fly trapped in amber. And that is part of its value. Yeah, and the remake feels like a weird postmodern exercise almost. It’s hard to make sense of it for me.
S1: And when you say it was a faithful remake, I mean, they basically recreated the entire set, the two of the characters, the guy who plays Hank and the guy who plays Allen. I mean, they look exactly like the actors who played them in the 70s.
S3: And we should say, I mean, the only thing they added, I feel like were these weird when the during the parlor game that Christina mentioned, where people are supposed to call the the one person that truly loved in the new version, they added these sort of cutaways to like whatever that memory was. Yeah. Which I thought was kind of stupid mostly. But but that’s that’s kind of the only beat that’s new at all. And the new ones are just to Remans Point, like it’s sort of a strange exercise to to just literally remake a movie like Beat for Beat.
S2: But Brian, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about because you do have this relationship to the original. I wonder if you could explain, like, why it matters to you why that film has been important to you as a viewer?
S3: Yeah, I mean, encountering that encountering the first way I saw it was the 70s, 1970 movie version. When I watched that, it was like stumbling upon this, like, I don’t know, set of Egyptian hieroglyphs like Katniss or some sort of Rosetta Stone is not the right word. But you know what I mean? Some some sort of codex that explains everything about me and the way I talk to my friends in the way like, you know, I don’t see it as me. And I think it definitely goes to a mean place. But I think a lot of the stuff in the first I don’t know, half the cattiness, the the joking I don’t take to be me. And I take it to be a kind of a style of gay, maybe gay male, particularly socializing that that is loving and a lot of ways and is and is sort of sweet and and certainly comes out of, you know, perhaps sharpening their claws for the outside world. Right. That’s like a that’s kind of an understanding of of of shade or sort of intra queer dynamics like this. But but all the same, I don’t I find it a very funny and kind of lovely play until he turns and then and then I think you see the dark side of the Internet, the sort of where the communal playfulness around around that kind of thing goes goes dark. But before that it doesn’t. And I mean, actually among certain friends of mine, like I quote a lot of the lines, you know, as as as jokes that I love. So so I really do see the play at least that first half of it differently. And then I think the second half is like a warning about where where it can go if if we’re not going to become more healthy about it. But I don’t know if that that was long said maybe that, you know, that makes a lot of sense.
S1: And I also it struck me watching the original, that I was probably the oldest depiction of gay culture that I had ever seen. And yet so much of the language and the gestures and aesthetics remain the same are very current feeling, which speaks to an incredible continuity of culture and I think is something that gay people should be really proud of. I also think that part of my discomfort comes from watching it as a woman where this is not my culture. You know, we share some things and definitely don’t share others. You know, like if people in my friend group whatever, call each other a bitch or a cunt like. Right. That is jarring to me. They use that language a lot and I don’t like it and I don’t like when gay men use it. So I think part of it is just like some cultural differences between gay men and and gay women and also historical differences.
S2: Right. So like this is a text from 1968, it’s 2020. So, yeah, some of those attitudes have been modulated. There are still gay men who speak this way, but there are also men who understand that, like, that’s not a productive way to speak and that you can show this kind of. Bickering affection without sort of denigrating womanhood, that there are other there’s other ways to discharge that language. And so for me, I am left wondering how a much younger person than me would watch this film and be meant to feel about it. And so in some ways, I, I, I enjoyed the experience of watching the movie, but it felt like a lot of set dressing and a lot of like expensive aesthetic gesture that didn’t feel anything. Yeah, yeah. I mean it just felt ultimately like a little emotionless or that or that you needed to put on, you needed to approach it almost as an anthropologist to be able to make sense of it.
S3: And you know what? I think that’s such a great that that that line is so important because I think I always have like I didn’t mean to say that. I think those words Christina said should be used. I don’t use them, but I. I think if you are if you and I should also say I was introduced to this to the film version by a queer historian friend of mine. So I was I was given that context from the get go. Right. It wasn’t just something that showed up in my Netflix queue, and it was like, what is you know, here’s a gay movie. What is it like that? That is a very different experience. And I share your sort of concern, Remon, for for what? What are the youths? What what do they make of this thing without without context. But, you know, Ryan Murphy has had a project of dropping these things on us now for a few years. And I wonder, we actually wanted to bring in our producer, Daniel, to maybe talk about Ryan, our resident Ryan Murphy, with the pink microphone, the Ryan Murphy over. Here we go. So, yeah, what what do you think about that?
S4: Yeah. So I think Ryan Murphy is a interesting creature of American cinema because he has kind of become the like lead go to person about anything gay, and especially since, like, he’s made this deal with Netflix in twenty eighteen to make a bunch of content for them. He has kind of become the gay dictator of Netflix. And in some ways you could say that’s great. It means that they’re getting like more gay content out for viewers to see. But then you watch the content and to me it’s concerning. If it’s disappointing and then take it a step further, I worry about it because as you’re talking about the lack of context for these films and a lack of understanding that a lot of younger people have about the older generations of gayness, Ryan Murphy seems to be much more interested in actually kind of rewriting those or not really kind of maybe making the version of what he wished his past were like, as opposed to like that criticism of Hollywood, right. Yeah, that’s that’s my big problem with Hollywood, actually, which is one of the series that he made for Netflix before this that is also very explicitly gay. It is about a few young people in Hollywood trying to make it big. One is a film. One is a screenwriter, one is an actress. One is an actor, et cetera, et cetera. And the one of the main characters is Rock Hudson. And it’s the reason I’m concerned about that series is that it’s Ryan Murphy tried to do nonfiction narratives with Feud, and that didn’t pan out for him. I don’t know if it’s because people didn’t watch it or he wasn’t good at making reality, interpreting reality. So he was like, you know what, I’m just going to make past fiction. And so he kind of rewrote all these like he rewrote Rock Hudson story. And Rock Hudson is a important gay cinema figure in a lot of ways. And there are just a number of ways that he dumbs down history, particularly gay history, in a way that is a loss for a lot of younger viewers. And it’s just really disappointing that we’ve kind of coalesced around him as the only mainstream gay voice and that like his. Name kind of has to be attached to things now, though, when it is, I don’t know any gay person who rushes to see it.
S1: Yeah, I think this I think straight people have coalesced around him.
S4: The gay boy, he Ryan Murphy is ally content.
S1: I think what you’re talking about, I haven’t seen Hollywood, but the way you’re describing it, Daniel, speaks to a debate that I’m always having within my own head and that I think has been coming out in a lot of debates, not just around how we depict queer people and queer history, but also the history of enslavement and other terrible things that have happened in the past where there’s a very delicate balance to be struck between depicting people suffering too much and depicting it so little that you’re just glossing over the reality of the world. And in the boys in the band, there really was only one moment where I could see queer joy happening. And it was when they were doing a dance together that they had learned at Fire Island, you know, sort of remembering a fond moment from their past as friends. And it’s interrupted by the straight guy walking in and they have to immediately mascotry themselves. And I think there’s a lot of talk right now about how damaging it can be to only have narratives of suffering, homophobia, racism, be the kind of representation that we see because it’s there. There’s then no blueprint for creating a life full of love and and purpose. And I I think that remaking the boys in the band in twenty twenty could have been an opportunity for somebody to change the balance a little bit in that script, or at least in the way it’s depicted in the show, because things have changed since 1970. And I just wonder, I mean, the original film was a very faithful adaptation of the play, and the 20/20 film was, as we’ve discussed, a very faithful remake of the 1970 film. And it it you know, I feel like it was a little bit of a transparent bid for viewership based on the celebrity cast and the Ryan Murphy name and, you know, maybe trying to get people to watch a thing that you can’t you know, the 1970 film isn’t available anywhere online. Maybe they’ve heard of this and I’ve never seen it, but it doesn’t feel particularly responsible. Maybe that’s a. part of me to expect art to be responsible, but.
S4: Well, and it doesn’t feel like there was an artistic reason for this. There’s no. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
S3: Yeah. No, I think I think that’s so interesting. I’m coming around. I’ve been grappling the whole time since we chose this topic with just this question of like, should it have been done? And I kind of am coming around to thinking no, which does feel anti art. But but yeah, I don’t think like making that writing that play in 68 and then making that film in 70, I think are responding to a very specific moment in gay consciousness. Right. Where already Mark Crawley already could see that like liberation was coming like he did if Stonewall was going to happen. But like the trends that led to the 70s were already underway. He’s thinking about that. Right. So the play is commenting on this this experience from sort of the past that a lot of these men had lived through, especially the older ones in the group. And I think you see within them, like the younger guys already have a sort of slightly different consciousness about. Yeah, about themselves and a sense of competence even compared to like Harold and Michael Crowley knew knew what was going on. And I think he was sort of trying I mean, actually, we had a piece in Slate a few years ago for the Broadway revival from A Queer Story in Charles Kaiser that talked about this, where it’s like he he was thinking about what was going to come next and how do we how do we as a as a as a community of gay man, at least like change our consciousness and stop hating our that’s the line. The big line at the end is like if we didn’t hate ourselves quite so much rebelling against psychiatry, like all the things that were telling us that we were bad and to hate ourselves. So it speaks the play speaks to that moment and the film speaks to that moment. And we don’t live in that moment anymore. So what is the place speaking like? It’s it’s it’s you know, I think the film thing I can’t quite get to. Maybe you guys can’t I can’t articulate why that feels just kind of worthless to me. But but that is how it feels. It just feels like it’s it’s not the sort of cause is not there to to explain the effect of some degree for viewers. Yeah.
S2: We don’t live in that moment anymore. That’s exactly right, Bryan. And that’s not to suggest there’s no value in preserving that moment so that people, younger people who didn’t live through that understand what it was. There’s a lot of value in that. But we already had that artefact, which is the original. The original text, and I’m not sure that this film, the new version rises to the particular challenge that I think a remake must address, which is why I do this now, especially if the only answer I can offer is gay people hate themselves. Certainly, or certainly that is still a very prevalent feeling among all kinds of people who embody difference. But I think the cultural conversation around that has changed and evolved and moved beyond the hands of Urbain. Upper middle class, mostly white gay people, to be about a whole coterie of people, an umbrella to which we all belong, and I would have loved to see a broader perspective here. And an art allows you to reinterpret it gives you a lot of room. So an artist could have really pushed this text. That wasn’t the agenda. And so it’s not fair for me to, like, hold the film to a standard. It was not trying to meet. It was aiming to recreate something. And it does that pretty well. But I’m not sure it’s what is most necessary in this particular moment.
S4: Well, thanks for letting me join you all, but I’m going to I’m going to drop off so I. And talk about.
S2: Documentaries, thank you for your Ryan Murphy expertise, Daniel.
S4: Yes, thank you so much. Any time.
S3: All right. So let’s maybe now turn to equal this is the four part docu series on HBO, Max, that tries to acquaint viewers with central narratives and actors and queer history that happened before Stonewall. So we saw three episodes that are going to come out later this month. And they covered the early gay rights organizations, the daughters of the leaders and the Mattachine Society, trans pioneers like Lucy Herkes and the particular contributions of people of color like Lorraine Hansberry and Hosie. Sorry. This is done with a, let’s say, exuberant combo of archival footage, staged scenes featuring contemporary queer actors and a sort of overall narration from Billy Porter. My friends, I gather from our preshow Slack’s that you were not huge fans of the show remind. You want to start us, start us off with why that might be.
S2: I appreciate the particular conundrum for the filmmaker working in the documentary form. A documentary like a documentary is nutritious. It’s a vitamin packed. It’s boring, right. And the filmmakers seem determined to in dealing with this material to give us something that is alive, that shows us how vibrant and how imperative it is for the contemporary generation to understand this history. Unfortunately, I think that the way that they’ve tried to do that is in there in a very complex aesthetic approach that is almost like a collage. So we have this mix of historical footage of contemporary reenactment that’s quite stylized. For example, when we see Lorraine Hansberry in her New York City home, what we’re seeing is a stage set because, of course, she was a playwright. So there’s all this sort of like aesthetic gesture that to me undermines the reality of the material. What’s fascinating about Lorraine Hansberry is that she was a real person. She lived in this very real moment. And her story is fascinating and very worth looking at. Unfortunately, when it gets so stylized, it feels less relevant or it’s harder for me to hold on to. We hear we hear contemporaneous audio and then we also hear inact re-enactment performed by actors. The whole thing is overlaid with a very present narration by Billy Porter that is very, very conversational, very chatty, very informal. It it doesn’t suit to me the significance of the material being discussed and so there’s a very strange in this thing moves very quickly. So, in fact, what I said to Christina Overclock, and I think this is true, is that this is a document for a tick tock generation. It is very quick. It is very loud. It is very it is this thing and then that thing and then this thing and then nothing. And so I felt really alienated from it. But what did you guys think first?
S1: I have two major quibbles with it. Quibble is not strong enough for the way I. I have two major problems with it. The first is the lack of continuity. So some of these actors who we see in reenactments, incredibly talented actors who I would love to see in actually well done historical fictionalized historical films about these incredible people. Meanwhile, Billy Porter is doing his over the top what I perceived to be as like a Rupal Drag Race sort of version of a Ken Burns narration, where he’s peppering everything with, like, Harry, hey, it was a fabulous leader. OK, honey, like, I felt like a homophobe watching it honestly, because it disturbed me so much. And I was constantly like, is he really saying this? Is this really how when he introduces the daughters of Bilitis, this incredibly important lesbian organization that could be made fun, these women had fun. Yeah. He introduces them by saying, and now it’s time for the sisters to do it for themselves, like the laziest possible writing when actually when you think about what he’s saying there, were they not doing it for themselves before? Like words have meaning instead of making his words have meaning, he’s just peppering it with recognizable phrases. So the form bothered me a lot. And like Remon, I had even trouble following it at times because it was switching between all of these different forms of representation. The other major problem I had is that as they were trying to make it more interesting, by which I think this was probably made to be shown as a curriculum in California. So you must teach about LGBTQ history, public school curriculum or something. I think they actually made it more boring because the instead of trying to humanize these people, which I think is the most important thing you can do in history, to show that these weren’t heroes. They were people which I commend them for, including a bunch of trans characters who were just people and actually weren’t activists in any recognizable way. They made it sound like a museum exhibit, like where you would just walk up to, you know, a placard, put on a pair of headphones and hear Bayard Rustin say, hey, if you read my FBI file, you know, while getting his ear licked by someone, he’s making out with it. At times I felt like it was like I was watching the Hall of Presidents at Disney World, which there were enough hints of interesting and new things that it made me realize how much wasn’t in there. So there were a lot of there was a lot of footage of Lorraine Hansberry, of Christine Jorgensen that I had never seen before. And that captivated me. And I thought, why did they need to have these actors play these roles? When you actually had this great footage and the things that I didn’t know about that or that I wanted to learn more about Christine Jorgensen and Lorraine Hansberry was more about their human lives outside of their incredible accomplishments. And I think that that’s actually what is missing from queer history, not something like this. What did you think, Brian? You liked it, right?
S3: Yeah. So well, so actually, I agree with all of the criticism of the production, let’s say. I think I did like it more than you guys, though, because so, you know, as a as an LGBT, the editor and writer on Queer Stuff for ever and just just someone who thinks a lot about queer history all the time. One of my biggest just not pet peeve is not a strong enough word for this. Like just things that drives me insane is the idea that seems to get reinforced more and more every year. That Stonewall was the beginning of gay time, that that narrative is just so strong and popular history not this is certainly not true in academic history or even, you know. So if history meant for normal people, but you can read about all of these all marching society, all that exists, but in sort of popular media history, it doesn’t. And so having this series just attempt to tackle some of these narratives that existed before, not even just the figures who are themselves, of course, fascinating, but just the idea that there were that communism was like, yeah, that’s true of queer thinking and the 50s and 60s. Right. These are all things that fascinate me, but like you never hear about. And so I was I guess I guess it’s almost like a representation argument. I was like excited just to just for the possibility that some particularly younger people and I feel I’m thirty three, I don’t know why I sound so old. The younger people might encounter this stuff because it just it just is not out there in most cases otherwise. So I appreciated the the effort. And I do think despite all of the filigree that the archival footage was fantastic. I saw a lot of stuff I’d never seen either Christina and I. And I was just, you know, I mean, I did not know clearly enough about Christine Jorgensen. Yeah, I want to know so much more now than I was just for our listeners.
S1: She was the first person to, I think the first person. Right. Not just the first transwoman, the first person to get gender affirmation surgery and then became quite famous in the US for it.
S2: And the archival footage shows us that she was actually an extraordinary advocate for herself and for using the media to tell her own story as she wanted it to be told. Really an extraordinary presence on camera. Like really hard to overstate that. And watching that footage felt like it really did move me a great deal. Unfortunately, it’s so buried in this aesthetic gesture of hipness. It’s you know, what I thought of it is I thought of Steve Buscemi pretending to be a teenager and look like it’s just like, hey, kids like, you know, and and and again, the narration. And I don’t it’s hard to know who to fault. It’s not Billy Porter’s fault. It’s the writing’s fault. The show as an historical text must use outmoded languages as a way of explaining what was happening. And so when there’s a point at which Billy Porter says that and in what he says is like don’t get it twisted, like this is like don’t don’t be offended by hearing something that doesn’t meet the standards of contemporary language. Useful to say, but really maddening to hear. Somehow it just shows me how feeble a contemporary perspective on history can be.
S3: Or at least this show thinks thinks of the audience. Right.
S2: That that’s even better, Brian. Yes, absolutely. I mean, who do you guys think this text is for? Who is the audience, the intended audience for this show?
S1: I Lagus, that I think it’s schoolchildren or young adults, but in a in a decidedly academic setting. I know when you talk about documentaries as vitamin rich and too nutritious, unlike your beloved one bars, which are both nutritious and delicious, I, I think as much as the it tries to stave off that sort of brittleness with its flash and fanfare, it still is that, you know, they they are still just reciting history. Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with it, but with such great actors, you could have made some incredible biopics that really delved into what I think is missing in queer history, which is more information or even just imagination about what these people’s social lives were like and human desires were like outside of their actual accomplishments in the public eye.
S2: So in this episode, we’ve talked about fact and we’ve talked about fiction. Do you feel like there is a more appropriate strategy as a way of understanding queer history?
S1: I think what these two different approaches to Queer History told me is that we actually know a lot about how people have suffered, how queer people have been oppressed, discriminated against, and how they’ve fought back against it. And what I am hungry for now and what I think both pieces fall a little bit short of delivering is more a more well-rounded understanding of what queer life. Like in previous eras where, yes, you know, discrimination, abuse or alienation were more pronounced than they are now in many places, but where people still built incredible communities, personal relationships, entire cultures that we don’t know a lot about, and that I would love to see either imagined on a on a fictional level or described on a historical level, like there was one line in one of the episodes of Equal where they just casually mentioned that there were 80 gay bars in Los Angeles. What what were they like? You know, I’m sure there was a taxonomy of where different people hung out. And I would love to see a film that’s just a, you know, day in the life of the 80s, gay bars in Los Angeles. It’s like there’s I just feel so oversaturated with narratives of discrimination and overcoming discrimination that I’d like to see more narratives that just take me back into that time in history and allow me to put myself there and and claim these people as my ancestors on a more human level.
S3: I think that’s that’s so well put. I agree completely. Maybe the only thing I would add is just it seems like in both cases, the case of the boys in band abandoned the remake and the an equal that there’s an issue with with how the the creators or the sort of people managing these products are thinking about their audiences. And I think, you know, one way of putting it might be that I hope whether you’re doing fiction or historical fact work, that that you sort of trust your audience more to be able to handle more or. And I think in the case of boys, that might have looked like, you know, either either changing the play and we talked about whether that’s possible, but or or providing more context in this dropping it and your Netflix future. I like giving us a little bit of a sense of why this thing is happening, et cetera, with equal. I think it’s trusting that we can handle a full 30 minutes about one person maybe that that, you know, we are actually hungry, I think, for four stories of our past and a sense of where we come from and all of that. I think that matters to a lot of people. And I think you should just as a creator, just trust that and and don’t feel that you need to make it sexy or exciting or taste good or something. Right. Like, you know, Billy Porter could still do the narration, but like, he doesn’t need to or whatever it is.
S1: Like Roman said, like, I actually think we’re how do I we, like, have scurvy to continue that vitamin analogy. You know, it’s I don’t think there’s a problem with a vitamin rich piece of queer documentary in a diet that is not so full of that vitamin.
S2: Yeah, yeah. And by the same token, I don’t think that there’s a problem with approaching fiction as a way of containing our history or showing a way forward. In fact, I think fiction is a remarkably useful tool for that. But, you know, what I want is the Christine Jorgensen biopic. That’s what I want. That seems very rich material to me, a story that genuinely is not well known, not well understood and could really show this contemporary moment how to understand how to talk about our trans allies like the trans people in this culture, and to take one person’s specific life experience and learn something from that and make it not a tragedy, but a triumph. I’m also a little I mean, I think as we all are, I’m a little tired of the sort of conventional narrative of the tragedy that we’ve had enough of that. Where can we go from there? Again, I don’t think that was the interest in the production of boys in the band. But I do think that is part of the interest of equal is to show to show this relationship between the past and the present. And I would love to do that. I’m just not sure that either one of these is that.
S1: All right? I think that’s all the time we have for all of this listeners. If you’d like to watch the things that we did, you can watch boys in the band on Netflix available now and Equal comes out on HBO, Max, on October 22nd second. All right. Now it’s time for our Gay Agenda, Queer History Month Edition. Remon, what are you going to recommend?
S2: So we were really talking about the past in this episode, and I think it is very valuable to see ourselves in queer history. But the shortcomings for me of equal in particular are that sometimes you sometimes you need to read up on the facts. Right. Sometimes it’s useful to know the dates, the names, the players. But my own experience of encountering queerness with that uncomfortable shock of recognition didn’t come from history. It came from art. And I don’t think that’s uncommon. I think that’s why we talk about Will and Grace, for example, as a turning point in the cultural attitude. So I want to talk about a book by a writer named David Leavitt. It’s called Family Dancing. He published this book in 1983. It’s a collection of short stories, several of which had first appeared in The New Yorker in the years just prior. The writer at that time was only in his 20s. I read this book furtively when I was a teenager and I marveled at its depiction of gay life. And yes, it is white, middle class gay life. But it’s revolutionary, you know, The New Yorker was and remains the arbiter of high literary taste and that they would look at this work of a young artist and say, this is art means a lot. I loved that book then as art, but I loved it more as a mirror. And I really think that matters. It’s worth looking at queerness in art and how that’s changed, and these days we have a very vital queer literature. We have Carmen Maria Machado, we have Brian Washington, we Ocean Vollen David Lovett as a great artist, but should also be thought of as one of the very few who paved the way for the many. So losing yourself in fiction can be really fun and rewarding. And I highly recommend picking up family dancing because Christina, what do you have on your gay agenda for the month?
S1: I’m going to recommend an experience that you can only avail yourself of in Washington, D.C., where I live. A few years ago, I did an LGBTQ history walking tour of the Congressional Cemetery, which is thought to be the only cemetery in the world with an LGBTQ section. It’s a nondenominational cemetery. Contrary to the name. You don’t have to be a member of Congress to be buried there. In fact, you can buy a plot there if you want to be buried in the gay corner of the cemetery. It’s a beautiful place in the spring. They have a lot of flowering trees. You can bring your dog there. This one, walking through the cemetery in itself, won’t tell you a lot about queer history. But if you if it means something to you to be in places where you can pay tribute to queer elders, this is a place to do it. But if you aren’t able to do a walking tour there that’s guided, which I think Atlas Obscura does a guided tour every now and then, you can Google it online. You can do a self guided walking tour. There’s a pamphlet that you can download to do it yourself.
S2: That’s such a nice reminder that like all of this history that can feel so abstract is fundamentally really human. But these were real people and that they lived on this planet and that they are interred in its earth. That’s very moving. Yeah, it’s really lovely.
S3: Yeah, I definitely want to do that next time I’m in DC. That sounds amazing. I’ll do it with you, Brian. Yes, please.
S1: What are you going to recommend for us? So I have a side one this month.
S3: We just I think maybe two weeks ago now or earlier, an October lost Monica Roberts, who was a really fantastic journalist and activist. She was best known for her work for her blog, which is called Tranz Grio, where she blogged about trans and queer issues. Twenty six. She died suddenly. This was unexpected. People are very much grieving in the trans community and the trans community and in general, queer journalism, certainly. So I just want to encourage our listeners to go. If you don’t know her work, to go look her up, you can read everything that she wrote on the blog. We’ll post some obits and a profile as well on our show page so you can learn more. But she was just amazing. She she was really ahead of her time covering the things she did, especially she would cover murders of trans women and trans women of color. Well before any mainstream outlets were doing that. She she was a really a force for that for that journalism work. So it’s very sad that she passed. But her work was amazing and that will live on. And she has certainly inspired a whole younger generation of journalists, including myself. I got I didn’t know her personally, but I got to sort of be with her at LGBT journalism conferences, and she was just incredible. So sad. Sad to lose her. But but the work is there. And so I hope everybody can go look at Monica Roberts and learn more about her part of our queer history.
S2: Yeah, that’s that’s beautiful. Like, it’s it touches on that notion of journalism as the first draft of history. Right. Like what an important corrective what an important perspective to have and what a terrible, tragic loss. Yeah. So that is what we have for this Queer History Month, as always, please send us your feedback or topic ideas at our podcast at Slate Dotcom or via Facebook and Twitter at Slate Outward. Our producer is Daniel Shrader. He’s also our resident Ryan Murphy expert. And we’re so happy that he was able to join us on this episode. I learned from Wikipedia that the title of boys from the band comes from something that was said to Judy Garland that she was singing for the boys in the band. Huh? We are singing for June 29th, the senior managing producer of Slapshot. She’s our boy in the band. If you like that word, please subscribe in your podcast app and tell your friends about it and review the show so others can find it at word. We’ll be back in your feeds on November 18th. Until then, please stay gay.
S1: Stay gay, you guys. Yeah, Bivalve.