S1: Hi and welcome to the December 2020 edition of Outward Immerman album, and I’m done, I’m calling it. I know there are still days to go and we have every reason to believe that something bad might yet happen to us. But while the year might not be done with me, I am done with 20 20. So if you need me, I will be here eating Christmas cookies.
S2: That is completely fair. I’m Brian Loutre, the editor of Outward. And if you need me in the next few weeks, I’ll be writing out the rest of twenty twenty on the island of Misfit Toys, which in the years since the events of Rudolph has become a chic where resort and spa.
S3: I’m Christina Carucci, a staff writer at Slate, and I’m ending the year on a high note because this week my trivia team do you queer what I queer won second place in our local dyke bars virtual trivia tournament, second place out of, I might mention, about 30 teams. While we were very proud, it was still a little bit of a tough loss, made better only by the fact that the winning team was called Labia Menora. I hope the victors are having a very, very happy Hanukkah this week. Congrats to lead the menorah.
S2: That is incredible. All right. First up, this month, we will honor World AIDS Day, which is December 1st by speaking with Ruth Coker Burks, the author of a remarkable new memoir about her work, Caring for Gay Men in Arkansas. In the late 80s and early 90s, Ruth was not a doctor, a nurse or a social worker or even queer herself. She was just someone who thought called to help people who needed helping in a community that would rather they didn’t exist. And her story adds a crucial new piece to our understanding of the darkest moment in the ongoing HIV pandemic. Then we’ll test the holidays with a look at a handful of the many new queer Christmas movies out this year, including Who’s Happiest Season. Netflix is a New York Christmas wedding and lifetime’s The Christmas setup are the gift of representation. Do we love it or are we looking for the receipt? And after that, we’ll wrap up with a special year end update to the gay agenda. But first, as always, it’s time for a round of pride and provocations. Christina, I think I know what you’re going to have this, but let’s let’s hear it.
S3: I am proud. This month I was filled with pride and more specifically gratitude for Elliot Paige when he came out as trans and non binary earlier this month. So, Elliot Paige, for those of you who have been living under a rock, was nominated for an Oscar for Juno and has generally been very valuable and out queer celebrity and has done a lot for visibility. And one of the reasons why his coming out filled me with such pride was because of the letter that he wrote to announce his new name and new pronouns. He had one line that I thought really spoke to this moment where rising trans visibility and representation has been met with rising backlash to trans rights. And he addressed people who are saying, like, why am I being castigated for my transphobia, basically? And he just said, yeah, you’re not being canceled. You’re hurting people. And that was such a beautifully simple way of putting of laying out the stakes here where, you know, some people are trying to spin transphobia into some kind of free speech issue. But really, it’s just about treating people with respect. And I also wanted to call out my girl, not call out. I wanted to give a hat tip to my colleague Evan Urca, who’s trans and wrote a great piece for Slate called No. Elliot Page is not abandoning lesbians because there were a few lesbians out there, you know, all the usual suspects who are saying things like, oh, it’s so sad that we’re losing a lesbian and Elliot’s coming out as a lesbian meant so much to me. It’s so sad that he’s trans. Now, he pointed out that this reaction is obviously rooted in transphobia and in the idea that Elliot’s coming out is somehow a rejection of lesbianism or womanhood rather than an embrace of his own identity. But what I really liked about Evan’s piece was that he talked about how trans masculine and lesbian community is in real life and not in the imaginary world that transphobia would like to paint are actually very intersecting and intertwined. And it’s really. Easy for a lot of people to understand instinctually, I think, and so it’s not only trans phobic, but also inaccurate to imply that broadly trans masculine people are somehow abandoning or rejecting lesbians when they decide to transition and then to respond by abandoning or rejecting them in return. So to end this pride, I would also like to say that I’m proud of the lesbian community that has been, as Evan writes, choosing exclusivity over exclusivity for a very long time.
S2: So I have a sort of a provocation, but it’s a sad provocation. I just learned that the storied queer compound, let’s call it, called the Parliament House in Orlando, Florida, has closed. So if you haven’t heard of it, the Parliament House is this sort of old school style of a gay establishment that is both a hotel, a dance club, a drag theater, a leather has a leather shop. It has like a pool. It’s just like it’s got every sort of every single kind of like exclusively gay business that that was sort of invented in the 70s or thereabouts in one spot. So you would you would go in and you pay a cover to sort of come in. And then all of these various kinds of things are going on there.
S5: And I was introduced to it when I went down to Orlando to report on the fallout from the palace massacre. I actually stayed there because I heard that it was it was sort of one of the centers of queer life in town. And that is indeed true. And it is it was it was just a magical sort of throwback, but still very vital at that time place. And it just I saw some of the most beautiful instances of grief that that were happening there when I was in town, but also joy and and just sort of queer magic generally. I mean, there’s just such a weird little special place. They say they will be potentially reopening in a new location. Who knows if that will happen. But regardless, even if that does happen, this particular spot was just just sort of, to me, hallowed ground in a lot of ways. And so I’m sorry for for the Orlando community that’s losing really the larger sort of central Florida community. People come from all over this, losing that, and also for so many of our so many of our places are suffering this year and closing. And that’s a that’s that one hurts me personally because I really felt lucky to get to see it.
S1: So that’s disappointing. It’s the kind of thing that you can’t necessarily pick up and replicate in a new geography in that way. It’s certainly the kind of thing that Zoome is not able to provide. Remon, how are you feeling? Well, I’m also feeling proud this month and I’m also feeling proud of a celebrity, albeit in a very different context. Harry Styles appeared on the cover of the December issue of American Vogue, wearing a dress. Predictably enough, crockpots like Candice Owens kind of threw a fit on social media talking about real men and, you know, the usual sort of culture war boilerplates. You know, Harry XL’s is rich, adorable, famous rock star. It sort of costs him very little to put on a dress. It’s not an act of personal risk in the same way that it is for so many people. But I do think it matters the fact that the sort of culture war players can even try and stoke controversy around something like this reminds us how silly and feeble our notions of masculine and feminine are and that there are people who really are clinging to them and. Well, it’s sort of provoking and irritating to see celebrities who don’t really have any risk involved play with this line. There’s something about Harry Styles that I think I think he’s doing it in good faith. I think it has to do with him being a younger person and representing a way that younger people, his fan base, actually do think about sex and gender more fluidly and less forcefully than their parents did. And I appreciate that. And I do think that that particular visibility really matters. I think about the little kid who is at the checkout with his parents and seeing that in the grocery store and what that might mean to them. And I think that that’s kind of a lovely thing to think about. And so and also everybody else as cute as a button. So I feel proud, like I just feel proud about that. I think that that kind of thing matters. In nineteen eighty six, Ruth Coker Burks was visiting a friend and hospital when she overheard another patient feebly calling for help, she went to him realizing the nurses wouldn’t. He was dying of AIDS and his room was sealed off like a biohazard. This was a period when the disease was new and poorly understood, and those ministering to AIDS patients often more head to toe protective gear. That patient Ruth overheard was calling out for his mother and Ruth did something extraordinary, but also simple and human, she phoned the man’s mother when that woman declined to come visit her ailing son. Ruth sat with him as he died. All the young men is Coker Burks memoir of that moment and what followed a period in which a young single mother with no medical training and no personal connection to the community, primarily gay men ravaged by the disease, became an outspoken AIDS activist in the tiny city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s a useful document of the ways in which one person really can make a difference through stubbornness. It’s also an important reminder of our very recent history. Ruth Coker Burks lived to bear witness, as so many of the men that she writes about did not. We’re so happy that Ruth was able to join us today. Ruth, welcome to Outward.
S6: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
S1: The first thing that I wanted to ask you about that I thought was so striking is that in the cultural imagination, when we conjure the crisis of AIDS in this country, we think about New York City, we think about San Francisco. But of course, disease doesn’t have any borders. Were there particular challenges to you in dealing with AIDS in the south?
S7: Oh, my gosh, I don’t know that it could have been a worse place. I mean, I’m sure it could, but it was brutal back then. And it came from the pulpit of the church’s. They thought that that was God’s punishment for gay men for having that lifestyle and they would preach it from the pulpit. This is what happens to you if you’re perverted, if you’re whatever. This is God’s punishment and this is how you die.
S2: Ruth, you write so beautifully about being Christian and that informing, I think, why you chose to do this work. I felt called to do this work. How did you sort of square that with what you were hearing from the pulpit?
S7: You know, I had heard God wants us and Jesus wants us to love the sick, love the poor, take care of people. So I had grown up that way so we would hear from the church, go out and feed the hungry and do all this and that and the other. And that lasted just as long until the club cafe opened for lunch. And then everybody left and they left the sermon at the church. Well, I took my daughter out and we took lunches to people that were homebound instead of sitting in a restaurant, eating after church, talking to the same people with just saying for two hours, I thought that the leaders of the community, if I let them know, look, we have these people who are dying and I let the pastors and the I just thought, yay, I’ll go tell everybody and they’ll go, wow, yeah. We’re waiting to help these people. Where are they? We’ll go help them. They never tell me. They I felt like in the movie Dances with Wolves, where Kevin Costner’s character goes out on the Western Front to wait for the cavalry to come clean up this little for. And he does all this work and he finally realizes the cavalry is not coming. He’s in. And that’s kind of that’s exactly how I was. Yes.
S3: And a lot of these people whose cruelty that you document, I mean, they were your neighbors and they were sitting next to you in the pews. They were doctors and nurses who refused to care for the sick. I mean, how did that change the way you saw your neighbors and and your community?
S7: Oh, it changed it a lot. Yeah. I was just shocked. I could not believe that there were human beings who could walk past someone who was obviously dying, obviously weighed less than one hundred pounds and throw them to the side and put their price of food on the floor in the hospital for them to eat.
S1: So what actually happened is that you met this one patient that became a kind of it’s sort of spiraled from there, you met other patients and other people negotiating with AIDS. You learned a little bit about the disease. You felt an impulse to share what you knew with people who may not have known what it was they were themselves suffering from. Did you consider that a form of activism because you weren’t connected to an organization, you were just sort of one woman feeding people and teaching them how to get Social Security benefits? Do you think of yourself as an activist now? Did you think of it then or did you see it more as a sort of mission work?
S7: It was a mission, I just decided that that was what God must have wanted me to do.
S2: You write really beautifully about this gay bar called our house that you sort of are introduced through a little bit like, I think maybe three or four years into into this period. And there’s drag there. There’s this whole community there that you sort of meet. I just wonder if you could just describe for our listeners what that place was like, because it just sounds so incredible.
S6: Oh, it was so diverse. I mean, you felt like you needed to wipe your shoes off before you walked out the door and, you know, just from all the stuff spilled on the floor. And it was just it I think it was an aisle filling station, a gas station. And it looked like it had been burned to the ground and built back up a couple of times. It was just magical. The people in there were just incredible. And I thought, oh, my God, I found my people. I would show up for Sunday school every Sunday morning smelling like smoke because my hair is really, really thick and it would take me two hours to blow it out in the morning. And so I would put it up on a French fry I had on clean clothes, but I didn’t realize I was too fast and they didn’t know which bar it was. I just knew I’d been out at a bar and but I was there every Sunday with my daughter. So you think I got a little extra credit for that.
S3: So you talk about the men who were regulars at the bar, but a lot of the men you cared for actually didn’t live in Arkansas. They had maybe been born and raised there, but moved away. And why did they come back?
S6: If you have two nickels to rub together, you get on a bus or whatever you can, and you get out of Arkansas or the South or Iowa or Indiana or wherever it is, you leave the center of the country and you go to the coast where life is. And then, you know, they would have a wonderful life and it would be everything they ever wanted. And they had a great job and they had a great social life. And then it started hitting their friends and then their friend would die and they would go and stay with another friend and take care of them until they died. And so they would kind of couch surf their way back to Arkansas because all of their friends had died and they didn’t have any place else to go. And they knew they knew that their family would take them in. If they would just show up on that front porch, their momma would open her arms and say, honey, I’ve been waiting for you to come home. And they didn’t. They did. And it was so horrible and heartbreaking and disappointing. Just every word you want to add to it. And so they came home and they ended up with me. And so I just love them and took care of them and everything I could to make them the last part of their life. The best part of their life is I.
S3: Could you write about going to DC and being part of a task force with a lot of people from major cities the coast. And you notice that their understanding of gay lives and the needs of people with AIDS was a lot different from yours, which was informed by obviously men in the South. Tell me what they were missing and what they didn’t understand about the men that you were caring for.
S6: I was up and I was part of the committee that wrote the Ryan White Comprehensive Care Act, said we have got to get them on Social Security. I said, and their families, their children will get a check, too. And they this one man, I mean, he just he had the little wire glasses and just very stereotypical of the older gay men back in the days. And he looked at me in that meeting and he goes, Honey, I guess you just don’t understand. Gay men don’t have children. And I’m like, oh, yes, they do. In the South. They do. And the rest of the country.
S1: I just want to end by asking the thing, the lesson that you feel like we should take away from this book and this and the crisis that you’re writing about, whether that relates to the crisis of the current moment or just generally like what is do you think the lesson that you learned and that you want readers to learn to step through your fear?
S7: If you have any fear, just you have to be brave and step through it, walk through that door. And we are our brothers and sisters keepers. We are. That’s just the way it is. And we weren’t put on this earth to walk.
S6: Alone and the gay community was desperate to find out how to protect themselves and a condom war. It was as simple as using a condom. We just need to use a mask. You can find your family anywhere and you have to know that. And you just I wasn’t looking. Well, I was looking for a family. I was. And I thought my church was my church family and they weren’t. And who would ever think that a single woman going to a gay bar or a church going woman would find my family at the gay bar and then the gay community and you all have embraced me and taken me in and took my daughter and and I I could not have been treated any better by any straight people. And I actually think that the gay community are the body of Christ because they’re the ones that were thrown out of their church and thrown out of their families, but still go back to their churches wherever they’ve made their home church as adults.
S4: Our guest is Ruth Coker Burks. She is the author of a new memoir, All the Young Men A Memoir of Love, AIDS and Chozen Family in the American South.
S3: So this year seems to have been a tipping point for the queer Christmas movie, the culture hit a lot of absurd sounding but not insignificant milestones. There was happiest season written and directed by queer icon Clea Duvall, which is the first studio backed holiday rom com about a queer couple. It’s streaming on Hulu. There’s also the Christmas set up, which Lifetime’s Press person told us is the network’s first Christmas movie with an LGBTQ holiday romance as its lead storyline. They did clarify that there has been a gay kiss in one of their movies before it was last year in a movie called Twinkle All the Way. And last but certainly not least, and this is not an encyclopedic roundup of this year’s queer holiday movies. There’s a New York Christmas wedding, the real wild card of the bunch. It’s a drama. It was written and directed by a todger, a beat, and that is streaming on Netflix. So I love Christmas movies. I love the cheers. I love the cheer. And I enjoyed all of these films for very different reasons, even though some of them were objectively bad. So I want to talk about the Christmas setup first, because this one was the most formulaic of the bunch. They basically poured a gay storyline into the lifetime mould and added Fran Drescher. It’s like a mad lib of holiday movie tropes. A big city gay comes home to Milwaukee for somehow a two week holiday break from his law firm. He encounters an old high school acquaintance who is also gay, conveniently also a millionaire now, but runs a Christmas tree farm because he has a big heart and they basically band together to save an old train station. Brian, word on the street is that you frickin love this movie.
S2: I did. And I will say that I am very steeped in the lifetime Hallmark extended cinematic universe of sort of Christmas narrative. So I love the shape of these movies. I find it very comforting. It has its finger on like the urban rural divide total and the US right now.
S3: I would say Floyds that.
S2: Yeah, and it’s been true for a few years. You have, you have this the sort of big city person or person who left home and went to the city and comes back discovers like a bookshop or a blueberry farm or a Christmas tree or whatever and rediscovers authenticity. Right. This I felt like hit all of those notes, all of the tropes that that it needed to hit to sort of fit into the mold, but also, like, really pushed the gayness far more forward than I expected. I agree. I really did kind of just expect it to be like a very chaste, like, kiss.
S3: You thought you thought they’d shake hands. I mean, they did say there was no sex scene, but there’s not sex scenes in Hallmark movies anyway.
S1: I don’t think I don’t think the men in those movies are allowed to take their shirts off.
S2: Lifetime can be a little more salacious, I’d say. But but generally in this Christian Usenet, there’s not sex. But what I mean by a gayness being sort of foregrounded was that for one thing, and we’ll talk about this, I think sort of overall with these movies, everyone in this movie is already out there already, like well adjusted. That’s not like coming out. And all of that is not like an issue. The parents know like like there’s no, like, sort of drama around being gay. The drama is just the normal kind of rom com a can I give up my career for this man kind of thing. But also like like there was a lot of innuendo and, you know, my dear beloved mother listens to this podcast, so I’m not going to let you get to hear much. But there is a lot of sex jokes, sort of like in the script that I don’t know that if you weren’t gay, you might not get to like, you know a lot about the tree not fitting through the door. I was surprised by how, I don’t know, just Frank. It was about not just not just the fact that they were gay men who fancy to each other, but like that that gay culture exists. The humor was there. It just it was a very gay movie. It wasn’t it didn’t feel like the Lifetime was trying to, like, do the least that they could. Yeah, they sort of did a lot.
S1: One of the things that I thought was so startling about this movie is that so the protagonist has a brother and his brother is also home for Christmas. And there’s a sense of distance in this fraternal relationship that is not situated in a rejection of his brother’s gayness. Right? Yeah, it’s a it’s a it has to do with their geographical distance that his brother is in the military in some I can’t remember.
S3: They had to balance out the gay part with like a military story.
S1: Yes, yes, yes. But it wasn’t like Liebert. It wasn’t like, oh, I’m a manly man and can’t know my sissy brother. It was just like, oh, we don’t know one another as adults.
S3: Because of the assistance and to your point, Brian, about them recognizing that there’s a gay world outside of this relationship, I think that’s something that’s missing from a lot of the worst queer movies out there, which really focused it on just like two people falling in love with each other, not recognizing that there’s like a culture out there, a history out there, that it’s a politicized identity. There’s an LGBTQ youth center, there’s a drag king scene, like they’re talking about this entire world outside of themselves that feels way more realistic to gay life than these movies that are a little bit like, oh, I could be anyone. And the person who I happen to love just happens to be of the same gender as me. Yeah, it really felt like there is a cabal of gays at lifetime who have just been like chomping at the bit for decades. And now they’re like, all right, guys, go all out on this one movie.
S2: I also just want to note very quickly that the two handsome leads in this movie are actually in a relationship now.
S1: But so their husbands, their husbands love this movie.
S2: Yeah, I love this. Just just note that it’s very sweet. The romance is real.
S3: So one thing that this movie made me realize is that one reason why I like watching queer movies is that I just don’t have to spend the whole time being caught in my head thinking about gender roles, because that is one thing that really takes away from the experience of watching a more traditional rom com or Christmas movie. Is that the whole time I’m thinking about like, oh, this is so sexist and why is the woman in this subservient role and why is he opening the doors? I just end up spiraling in my thoughts so much that I can’t enjoy it. Like I can either take the stifling cliches it are involved with Christmas or the stifling cliches of heterosexuality, but I can’t take them both in one sitting and in a movie like this, you only got one of them. And so I was able to just enjoy it in a very pure way.
S1: Yeah, I don’t think I could watch a straight version of this. Oh my God. I don’t think I could only go with, like, you know, those scenes where the the dude has to ask, like the girl’s father for her.
S3: And speaking of the asking dads for their blessing, maybe we should talk about happy a season and transition down season for sure.
S5: It is indeed.
S3: So this is definitely the most high profile film of the bunch. It’s starring Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, straight but not narrow. She’s played queers in the past. And Aubrey Plaza, who’s by yes, I need to specify who’s LGBT or not in every movie, it’s really important to me. Victor Garber, another gay dad, and Mary Steenburgen, a mom. Everyone had a great performance. I thought that was a high of this movie. The premise which Jim Thomas and I recount in greater detail in a slight spoiler special episode, please listen, is that Harper Mackenzie Davis is closeted. She takes her girlfriend Abby, played by Kristen Stewart, home for Christmas to a big, beautiful house. Her dad’s running for mayor, so they have to both stay in the closet the whole time. And Harper promises, Abby, that she’s going to come out after Christmas. Abby plans to secretly propose to harbor on Christmas Day because it’s her favorite day of the year. There’s been some debate at the LGBTQ community, to quote Britney about this one, in large part because the premise a lot of people have found to be a bit dated or offensive because it’s about trauma. The person who’s closeted, Harper, treats her girlfriend terribly, yet they end up together in the end.
S1: I think all of what you say is true because you know that, like, the movie has some some baggage. It’s not a sort of wholesale rejection of traditional romantic tropes. And it doesn’t really give the queer characters like The Heat and the love, the romance that come necessarily around. It really isn’t. But I also think that you can’t discount that representation does matter. And there are people who will turn this movie on, expecting it to be a rom com and maybe confront questions that they had not necessarily thought about before, like how damaging it might be to actually exist in the closet. So, I mean, yeah, I wish it had been a little different and maybe a little more fun, but you kind of have to take it for what it is.
S2: I think that’s such an interesting point or way of putting it, Remon, because I did not like this movie and I and I expect it to because I like all of the actors. I especially love Aubrey Plaza. And I found the the sort of premise of the conflict to be so upsetting and surprising that it caused a disconnect like the surface of. The movie is this very like sleek, sort of warm rom com space that we’re in, like that everybody’s dressed in the sweater is in the house, is beautiful and like all of that stuff is there. But then, like, what’s happening between the family members in between and even in the relationship between the two main characters is is was really upsetting to me. And like almost like, like Undermind kind of like that the movie would even happen. So, so there’s a point early on where they are going home and we’ve learned just before this that Harper is not out to her family and, and has not told this to Abbie. And in the car like on the way to the house she stops and reveals this and says not only am I not out, not only do I lie to you about being out back, like in the summer or something when she was supposed to have done it. But you have to come pretend to be my friend, roommate. And also you have to pretend to be straight. Right. Like, I would have been out of that car and looking at Reverso, like that’s like it. I don’t see how you could continue on with that person anymore. So the rest of the movie kind of doesn’t even happen to me because of that. And then, you know, I’ll stop ranting, but like, you get to the ending and it like it’s, you know, this Harpur person is just messed up. She’s like, oh, yeah. So what happens at the end is basically it’s revealed that Harper in high school had been dating Aubrey Plaza’s character and then was confronted about this and and basically threw her girlfriend under the bus was just like, I’m not a lesbian. Where are you talking about? This person tried to seduce me, you know, the classic sort of a gay panic. Right. And then she literally does the same thing to her current to Kristen Stewart at at the sort of the climactic moment at the end of the movie again. And so it’s like this person has learned nothing. Does this this real violence, I mean, it was just so upsetting to me to see it happen. And then, as Christina said, like, they end up back together again.
S3: And not only that, but then at the but Harper’s, the way she sort of makes up for it at the end is by saying, like, my family doesn’t matter. I’ll I’ll leave them, which like, you know, actually that you don’t need to do that either. Like, it doesn’t have to be like, oh, you’re my entire family. Now, that was sort of an intense way to end it.
S2: Yeah. It just it struck me that this person is not ready for a relationship.
S3: I agree with everything that you just said, Bryan. And yet I came away really liking the movie. I think I evaluated it differently than you did. So I evaluated it as like a Christmas movie first and a queer rom com second. Like, I actually don’t think it should have been considered a rom com com. Sure. But with an undercurrent of tragedy and horror, not unlike get out, I think. And in fact, Dan Levy plays a similar sort of best friend character that’s sort of like got the wool off his eyes all along and is telling her, like, get out of this fucking house. This family is traumatizing you. I liked that it was the inverse of the big city coming home story where it’s not like you’re in a big city person who’s become alienated from everything that’s important to you. And then you come home to your small town and realize what love is. It’s like, no, you’re a you’re a city gay. You come home and realize how alienating it is to be in a small town with all these homophobes.
S1: Arch doesn’t have to be perfect and queer doesn’t have to be perfect. I just love looking at Kristen Stewart and I’ll Muzz and that’s like ninety five minutes. Absolutely well spent. And there’s a lot of charm to be had here. It’s not Citizen Kane, but that doesn’t mean that it is like an abject failure. And I’m really glad that I spent that ninety five minutes with this movie, whereas our next film.
S3: Oh my guess it’s kind of a whole a horse of another color. Speaking to our listeners, if y’all haven’t watched the New York Christmas wedding yet, do yourself a favor. This is the rare, terrible movie that I think everyone should see. Agreed words really can’t express how bananas this movie is just to lay out the bare bones of the plot. There’s a woman named Jennifer who is about to marry a man played by writer director Atocha, a beat. She is then taken by her guardian angel, whose identity we will reveal later to an alternate universe in which not only is her dad alive for some reason, sort of like implying that she should be implicated in his death. But in this alternate universe, she ends up with her childhood best friend, who she was in love with, who was a woman named Gabby. It’s sort of low. A movie about homophobia in the Catholic Church, which was a surprise to me, Chris Noth of all represented by Mr. Big, is a priest who comes to believe that love is love and he needs to perform gay marriages in his church. What was your response to this movie? Because I think I told you before each of you watched it how wild and abysmal the movie was.
S2: Yeah, never, never has a movie have been so hyped for me by my colleagues and yet stood up and yet still shocked me.
S3: I still still manage, even though you’re basically new every single day. Yeah.
S2: No, you because you really can’t quite I mean, I feel like we’re failing our listeners. You should go read Cristina’s piece because it really does lay it all out if you don’t want to watch it. But but if not, like it’s so hard to explain all the twists and turns. But, yeah, I sort of went in thinking, well, it’s on Netflix for one thing, right? It’s like, well, this will be this will be like a quality production. You know, it’ll it’ll be not not that everything on Netflix is great, but just like it’ll it’ll reach a certain level. It really doesn’t. It’s like it’s someone else described it as like feeling almost like a like a student film project in terms of production, which is that’s a little mean, but like it sort of does. But then the the let’s say metaphysics really, really go crazy. I mean, you’ve got this, you know. OK, fine. So we’re exploring what it would have been like if this person had followed their heart, I guess, when they were when they were younger and become bi or a lesbian. It’s not entirely clear how we should define that, I guess. But this is one of those films where it doesn’t address the concept of identity at all, but then it veers so quickly from like, what would that life have looked like into, as you say, this this interrogation of Catholic feelings about sexuality, about abortion, about, you know, just like what is it like to be in the church?
S1: So I think this is just it’s a case of like a very ambitious writing project. Right. Like a writer who really wanted to interrogate a lot and couldn’t sort of restrain themselves, like the idea on the face of it, of kind of a sliding doors concept right off the road, not taken. The two lives one might have had is actually a really interesting idea if it encompasses a romantic partnership with a woman in a romantic partnership with a man. But as Christina is apoplectic, rightly, the movie needs to establish a sense of the central figures identity. If she were understood to be by the beginning of the film and that the film was sort of negotiating between these two paths that she might take, that’s one thing. What is less clear in the resulting film is whether she rejected her own homosexuality because of a conflict in childhood, which itself doesn’t make a lot of sense because it’s a very banal kind of conflict. Look, there’s just a lot that’s unresolved. You can feel the the the good intention, but it actually becomes very unintentionally kind of.
S3: Cruel and like limiting, it’s a very feeble understanding of queerness, so one of the problems here is that the friend with whom she has a falling out, you know, in their teenage years, it’s like Christmas. She’s going to Jennifer is going to tell Gaby that she’s in love with her after, you know, they have all these sort of like platonic romantic moments. They have a falling out because Gabby decides to sleep with a man that day and gets pregnant with the fetus who then dies in utero and becomes the guardian angel of Jennifer.
S2: Need to underline that a little bit. I, I want people to, like, catch it. Like she gets pregnant, the friend gets the love interest, gets pregnant on this day. That’s like birthdays on Christmas Day. The fetus.
S3: Yes, the fetus died tragically. And she’s right. She’s only nine weeks pregnant.
S2: Thank you. Yes. Yes and yes. And the angel that has come to take our protagonist into the alternate reality is, in fact, this dead, the now adult.
S3: Yes. Like a 31 year old virgin who’s also now gay. So continued to age in heaven, learned to speak, read, write a bike and become a girl and like, read honey.
S2: I mean, like the gay the gay is strong with this with this one. Yeah, that’s wrong.
S8: My soon to be in-laws are in town and a house in months may be Christmas Eve. That’s exciting. Everybody loves the Christmas wedding. Do you want to talk about it? No. Girl, come on, let it all out. I don’t know you you don’t know me, no judgment here.
S3: So anyway, back to the friend dying. You could have either had them fight and never speak again or have her die. But the idea that she spent her life regretting not reconnecting with this friend and saying she was in love with her, but then the friend died. So it’s like, oh, that chapter should have been closed because the friend is dead. Yeah, right. So the way the film resolves this point is by then taking the protagonist, all of a sudden she’s actually allowed to go back in time to that fateful day, sort of convinces Gaby not to sleep with the man by being supportive. That’s a little fun. Reverse psychology. So she never has the stillbirth. So she never dies by suicide. So now is able to live. And it’s like it conflates way too many things. The grief over losing parents and a friend, the grief of unrequited love and the formation of sexual identity in a way that felt so far from any, like, semblance of queer reality that, as I wrote in my review, like it doesn’t qualify for the program I have where I give extra points to gay movies for being gay. Yeah, this one doesn’t get that because I had so much trouble. I can’t even qualify it as a queer movie. Actually, the fact that this movie made it to Netflix, which I can hardly believe is a little bit a result of the growing acceptance and promotion of queer narratives in mainstream culture. So in previous years, a film such as this would have played at queer film festivals, perhaps become a cult classic that hardly anyone else had ever seen. Now Netflix, you know, who knows who at Netflix sees a film like this and thinks, hey, you know, we really need to elevate these kinds of stories. And isn’t this an important story to tell at this moment in time? The quality of the film be damned and then it ends up in the A1 space in my Netflix feed, because Netflix knows that I love gay movies and Christmas movies, and we’re left discussing it on this premiere podcast. Well, this was the highlight of my holiday season so far. Honestly, I want all of our listeners to watch all three films. You’ll love them all for different reasons, probably, or at least you’ll have something to complain about with your friends.
S2: All right. That is about it for this month and for this cursed a year. But before we go, it’s agenda time and for a special treat. This month, we’ll be joined by our colleagues at Slate to offer a holiday sampler of our favorite bits of queer culture from twenty to twenty.
S9: This is Daniel, the show’s producer. And the piece of queer culture that brought me joy this year is actually a full filmography. I have been utterly changed by the works of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, his luscious, sexy and at times alarming films have affected me in ways I still struggle to articulate. Before August, I’d never seen any of his movies. But thanks to my friend Inju, I’ve now watched them all and even started a podcast with her to talk about them. If you need one to start with, I’d say rent, talk to her or all about my mother immediately.
S10: I am going to break the rules and recommend to supremely joyful items from twenty twenty. The first is Jen Chaplin’s amazing book, my autobiography of Carson McCullers, which is funny and moving and recounts in an understated way all the obstacles career people have to scramble over to see our history and culture as it really is. And Mothell in Fort Salem, an absolutely bonkers and brilliant TV show on Freeform about an alternative history of the United States in which women, specifically witches, won the Revolutionary War and have been defending America’s freedoms ever since, including, of course, the freedom to be queer.
S11: When it comes to joy, I think the best thing that happened in queer culture in Twenty Twenty is when Untitled Goose Game released a new version where you could play with a friend as two geese running through an idyllic English village and just ruining everyone’s day. It’s communism, it’s community, it’s queerness, it’s chaos. It’s anti futurity. It’s perfect.
S12: I am recommending the nineteen sixty three film An Actor’s Revenge, which was directed by Kown Ichikawa. It’s about a Kabuki actor named Yuki Noguchi, who is an owner a. Actor who exclusively plays women’s roles and as was common during the period he dresses as a woman offstage as well, he seeks revenge for the death of his parents and uses his skills as an owner gatta to trick and deceive those he plans to kill. Because even though everyone knows he’s a man dressing as a woman, everyone constantly underestimates him, thinking him demure and innocent when he’s actually incredibly cunning and cutthroat. It’s basically a movie about using drag to get murderous revenge and what could possibly be better than that.
S3: The thing that brought me the most queer joy this year, I would say in New York Christmas wedding. But since we already talked about that, I am going to applaud the writer Jordan first men’s Instagram impressions of straight men. So he’s an Instagram celebrity who sort of rose to notoriety during the pandemic by doing impressions of sort of micro categories or micro situations or just like totally fake or contrived circumstances. He does a lot of, you know, very funny. And I appreciate that their hit or miss sometimes, too, like you can tell, he just puts whatever he thought of out there and sometimes they’re great and sometimes they go on too long. But I love when he mocks straight masculinity. One of his most recent ones was an impression of a straight guy trying to order French onion soup without sounding gay. So our community is diverse, oftentimes divided. We are far from a monolith. That’s what makes us beautiful and strong. But I take comfort in the fact that the one cultural touchstone we all share is making fun of straight men.
S2: So my favorite bit of queer culture from this year is a little meta, but it was the way that queer creators and queer audiences came together to sort of sustain queer culture during the pandemic. And what I mean by that specifically is all the Jews, the drag queens, the bars during trivia, all of these different institutions that we can’t be in person with right now actually coming together and finding a way through the Internet to sort of survive until we can be together again.
S5: That was one of the most beautiful things I saw and all of its various forms. And it gives me hope that when this is over, we will all be able to gather again just as strongly as we were before milit for the year.
S1: And also my recommendation for anyone who is shopping for Christmas gifts is a book called Sometimes You Have to Lie. It’s by a woman named Leslie Brody. And it is a biography of Louise Fitzhugh. Louise Fitzhugh is the author of Harriet the Spy, Seminal Childhood Classic Secret Gay Text. If you haven’t read it since third grade and you go back and read it now, you will be very surprised by how obvious a Harriet’s sort of, you know, nascent lesbianism is. And Fitzhugh was a lesbian. She negotiated with that in her writing. She had a very short and tragic life. Brody’s book is a really interesting encapsulation of the lesbian vanguard of writers and artists in New York in mid century. And it’s a great document of somebody whose life really should have been documented.
S3: On the heels of that veritable charcuterie platter of queer joy from 2020, we’d like to say goodbye to 2020 and goodbye to you.
S13: Please keep sending us your feedback. We love to read it. And any ideas you have for things you’d like us to discuss? Our email address is outward podcast at Slate dot com. Or you can find us on Facebook or Twitter at Slate Outward if you like out word. I know you do. Please subscribe and your podcast app. Tell your friends about it. Tell them to subscribe, read it, review it, make other people find it. Our producer this month is June. Thomas Junn is the managing producer of Slate podcasts. She’s also one of the hosts of the Slate podcast, Working and our Guardian Angel Outward will be back in your fields in January. Stay tuned. And happy holidays, you guys.
S14: Happy Holidays. And you know it in the words of the Guardian Angel on New York wedding. I just want to leave you with this message. Love deeply. Trust your heart and be brave.