CHANGING THE STYLES
When I was young I was never a great fan of Disney films. Donald Duck might be OK but cartoonish versions of classic fairy tales were mostly a turn off, too knockabout and yankee doodle. Early taken to those fairy tale-like villages and palaces of Mitteleuropa, I always felt I knew, helped by some classic illustrations, just how those stories should be rendered to screen but weren’t.
From what I would gather from clips, Beauty and the Beast which premieres in America on March 17th, promises to be closer to what I always imagined should have been a Disney treatment of fantasy. But just at the moment it becomes in some respects more fantastic real and European it also becomes a little bit gay too, briefly perhaps and almost exclusively towards its end, but evidently enough so to upset a sizeable minority of American citizens and some members of the Russian establishment. The latter regard it as bordering on forbidden “gay propaganda” but the nation has settled for a 16 + rating so that children won’t be influenced. The chief “moment” – about two seconds of two men dancing together – is nevertheless said to be so subtle it’s likely to go over children’s heads anyway.
I understand that no one is called gay or admits to be so the length of the film, but there are occasional vague hints LeFou, the companion of Gaston, could have something like a man crush on Gaston straight though the latter is. The film’s director does understand LeFou’s character to be gay but many may not. The sudden controversy over what seems not too much could owe something to the fact Beauty’s innovatory “moment” comes to the big screen in the wake of another recent but small screen “moment” in a more typically Disneyesque cartoon series, Star vs the Force of Evil. Amid a celebrating crowd, gay couples are briefly seen to kiss and again you might almost miss it. But what has now been labelled the show’s “unbiblical kiss” has drawn thousands of signatures from the Million Moms group (though given how many men kiss and embrace in the bible, “unbiblical kiss” can itself sound a trifle queer in the original sense of odd). Some Christians are however now debating how best to tell their children why they can’t be allowed to see Beauty and the Beast.
HOW FAIRIE ARE FAIRY TALES?
Disney’s ostensible aim in this instance is to be, as it has always aimed to be, “inclusive”, a buzz word and almost automatic policy in liberal circles today. Ironically however, one might well ask whether Disney, no matter how accidentally, has not finally arrived closer to the spirit of a lot of fairy tale material not just in setting and atmosphere but in being a bit alternative too.
I don’t seriously suggest that Grimm, Perrault etc were senders of closet gay/queer messages albeit, for what the information is worth, Jacob Grimm never married. Tales like Cinderella can be allowed their romantic/straight vision of things. Even so, a case can be made that “fairy tales” are a bit of a medium of expression for those persons themselves often called “fairies”. I made this point over a decade ago as a minor thesis within my at the time highly original doctoral thesis on gay spiritualities subsequently published in 2004 as A Special Illumination. goo.gl/qAqukK
From Oscar Wilde to Peter Cashorali (Fairy Tales: Traditional Stories retold for Gay Men), gays are masters of the genre with its observation and often subversion of custom. A Grimm’s tale like The Boy Who Wanted to Know What Fear Was, hints that marriage happy ever after and heterosex might not be so desirable, but rather something to be frightened of. In The Tale of the Two Brothers, who is that man in the woods who wants to adopt and mentor (classic gay roles) the lost sons of the brothers ? Why is he alone in the woods?
Inclusive though it wishes to be, it seems that Disney was somewhat pressured by ideologues of LGBT to include further. It will be clear from various blog articles that I don’t terribly like the direction in which especially American LGBT policy has been going. It’s arriving at something like the bullying of conscience and legal penalization of Christians. There are some tiresomely narrow Christians but all said and done why should they bake cakes for gay weddings if they don’t believe they should and be dragged to court and possibly have their livelihood ruined if they don’t comply? Would Democrats reckon to be forced to employ Republicans in their staff on the grounds of “equality” and “inclusion”? Some inequality and exclusion is a regular even necessary part of life. There’s a point beyond which no gay or straight person should impose themselves on society…..
DEMOCRACY WITHOUT VIOLENCE
However… where the Disney film is concerned, I don’t have democratic sympathies elastic enough to be generous to conservative protest and would-be boycotts and censorships…If you believe in democratic rights and freedom of gays within society at all, and especially if your idealism would wish that same-sex orientated persons interact at some level beyond the merely ghettoed, hidden and/or pornographic, then you must allow them what Disney is allowing them: the right to be seen, mentioned or self-declared. Also to help get beyond America’s unusually rigid traditional gendering which until quite recently has too often been of the “Me Tarzan, You Jane variety” in a way to hurt many people, not just gays.
if you can’t consent to this you are somewhere between blinkered or hypocritical. You put yourself in the socially retro position akin to that of Russia where homosexuality is technically legal but so practically unmentionable that any amount of homophobic violence is turned a blind eye to. And let’s face it, American Christians have traditionally allowed the bullying of gays and almost anyone different as a matter of course, accepting it as perhaps merely inevitable and deserved.
That attitude belongs to a whole social history that needs repenting before the spiritual atmosphere can be cleared; but far from any such thing happening the intolerance/aggression connection continues. Ironically I even note that the same evangelist, Franklin Graham, who has commended a cinema that refuses to show Beauty and the Beast and would like a general boycott of the film, is friend to the same pastor Saaed Abedini who has recently been guilty of breaking a restraining order put on him for abuse of his spouse. Abedini is OK in Franklin’s house though the increasingly conservative evangelist is on record as declaring gays “the enemy” whom one shouldn’t allow into one’s home.
Not to be free to be known for what you are only makes for dangerous repression in the person who is “other” and for mixed, confused signals within straight society like women who don’t know who they are dating and dealing with. And even if you still believe there can be no possible justification for “homosexuality” as you define it, it is still not helpful to the young to have its existence hidden from their eyes and arsenal of general knowledge. So why criticize Disney? Go and enjoy the film…
ALONE TOGETHER: THE FINALLY ADMITTED UNHAPPY GAY PHENOMENON
……With that said I could leave the matter except that I almost need to make a Part Two or Addendum to cover something else that has cropped up at this time. It has its connection to what I’ve been saying through its challenge to the very idea of being able to enjoy anything gay associated.
The same evangelical Christian Post which has featured re the Disney scandal has given room, yet again, to the inflexibly conservative Michael Brown (for whom homosexuality is just a curable disease or “lifestyle”, not any authentic or inborn orientation), to draw attention to an admittedly significant recent article by gay writer, Michael Hobbes. The feature is Together Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness and it actually made it into the liberal Huffington Post (goo.gl/Jq9wsQ). In light of it Brown cites the notable negatives of gay existence, which doubtless he is not unpleased to stress at a time when it has been claimed that the level of social acceptance implied by legal acceptance of gay marriage has in a short time reduced the chronic gay youth suicide rate in relevant societies by 7% .
Hobbes’ article stresses how despite all the advances in gay freedoms, virtually nothing has changed or improved. It tells how gays, many of whom spend (waste) their lives partying and chasing drugs, have fewer close friends and meaningful social lives than straights, are often (perhaps due to insecurities) unpleasantly mean to one another, and health-wise suffer more from cardiovascular disease, cancer, incontinence, allergies, asthma, erectile dysfunction. And overall there are more deaths from suicide than AIDS. Not just in America but even in Europe and liberal Sweden, places where difference is easier to realize than group conformist America, the facts are still confronting.
One could argue Hobbes’ picture is American extreme – healthy and well-adjusted gays do actually exist, I’ve known them – but I also recognize a lot of truth here too. The picture, by any standards grim, is the kind that the liberal press and tolerant society don’t know or don’t want to acknowledge but help nothing by pretending doesn’t exist. Yet however accidentally, I believe the truth, along with the possibility of a real healing linked to a sense of meaning and purpose, is contained in Hobbes’ conclusion: “We keep waiting for the moment when we feel like we’re not different from other people. But the fact is, we are different. It’s about time we accept that and work with it.”
DELIVERANCE TO AND IN DIFFERENCE
…..It is indeed high time and past it. Gays are different mentally, even somewhat constitutionally – much like the artists which quite a few notable gays have been. (Earlier eras might have called them constitutionally neurasthenic types). As a neighbour in London’s much artist inhabited Chelsea once asked me: ”Have you ever met a contented, well-adjusted artist?” Almost never and a reading in the biographies of most writers, poets, painters, actors and musicians across history including the religious ones, won’t alter the impression substantially. Such turmoil and often tragedy! And an honest reading of even various biblical figures like he poetic David who valued the love of men above that of women and the troubled unmarried Jeremiah who lived with Baruch, bespeak sexual marginality and its complexes and I would make a strong case for Jeremiah’s psychology being fundamentally gay (See Three Gay Theological Poems and its Jeremiah’s Loincloth goo.gl/dOHgGC). Be that as it may….expanded or marginal vision, marked creativity and its accompanying sensitivity all take their toll on the system and impose special responsibilities.
It might seem obvious that gays are different, yet plainly to quite a few it isn’t. The secular mind is as blinkered as the conservative religious one when it comes to the real meanings and uses of sexual orientation. Gays and their straight supporters delight in stressing “equality”, “inclusiveness” and a potential or actual “sameness” (Andrew Sullivan’s “virtually normal”) rather than essential difference needing special management. This year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras made “equality” it’s special theme. It’s all feel good largely irrelevant hooey but due to the American influence upon Gay Lib, LGBT agendas get framed in the light of those American values that long ago the himself Socialist and Liberal Bernard Shaw dismissed as untrue. People are not in many respects born equal and there never can and will be perfect equality. As to the right to the pursuit of happiness that too is a tricky one. Some of the world’s greatest achievements are born of a necessary suffering. Too much striving for happiness can itself create the very opposite as arguably some American lifestyles amply demonstrate.
I have been insisting on essential gay difference and the need to work with it for years. Despite obtaining a world first doctorate in gay spiritualities from any religion studies dept and this research being subsequently published as the mentioned A Special Illumination, I have been largely dismissed and ignored for it to a degree I now scarcely bother to make the important point further. All the while I have been painfully aware that too many persons, including academic leaders from Michel Foucault to Marcella-Althaus Reid who noisily espoused the basically amoral queer theory that teaches “identity without essence” and which virtually turns life into one long bi or pan sexual experiment, just don’t help gays to justify or manage their existence. Some might even be said to be exploiters of difficulty who lead confused minds to hell in a hand basket rather like Timothy Leary preaching the drug culture to sixties youth.
“Homosexuality is wasted on gay people” is one of the more meaningful statements for today from queer theorist, David Halperin. I’d say it often is; and my position is close to that of Camille Paglia in regarding homosexuality as one of the more crucial, vital elements in cultures (especially the western since the Greeks) and even, for good and ill, within religion. It is absolutely necessary to recognize and work with what homosexuality is and does in society and to be rid of the mere lies and superstition that it’s all and always bad, something to be feared, suppressed and even unmentioned. Without yet seeing the film, the controversy around Beauty and the Beast sounds like a storm in an evangelical tea cup amid which it’s just possible that Disney is helping something.