When I’m in heterosexual company I find that if the topic of the epidemic comes up in conversation, most people always say the same thing. They tell me how ‘wonderfully’ gay men have responded to AIDS, how ‘marvellously’ the ‘gay community’ has united. They don’t want to know anything whatsoever about the epidemic, but they do like the idea that there is a plucky little community out there on the brutal heath of Tory England, ‘bravely’ holding its own.
Simon Watney, Imagine Hope: AIDS and Gay Identity.
A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn’t have bothered otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood.
I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out of my ears, my eyes, my noseholes—everywhere. Until it’s every breath I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!
Audre Lorde, excerpt from a journal entry collected in A Burst of Light
You’re at a gender reveal party cutting a cake. But when you cut in to the cake, the cake is pie. It looks like a custard pie, but when you taste it, it’s a meat gravy. Cutting further reveals chunks of meat. You ask what kind of meat it is, but everyone around you remains silent. They’re grinning. Too wide.
You’re cutting in to a gender reveal pie, but it’s actually pie. What kind of pie is it? It’s cake pie. Everyone’s looking away. You cut in to the cake, and find a note. The note reads:
You cut in to a gender reveal cake, and the knife you were holding is gone, revealing instead a large sharp fish. It squirms out of your hand and flops on to the cake, which bursts its pie filling everywhere. Your guests applaud.
You wake up and cut in to the gender reveal fish. It tells you to mind the bones or you’ll be in real trouble. You’re walking down 51st street in New York. Now you’re in Paris. Now you’re in City-5 on Mars. Now you’re holding your child. They ask you why their genitals should decide their gender.
You push the plunger on the gender reveal dynamite. As it blows the side off your house you wonder how this was meant to inform anyone of the baby’s gender. ‘Congratulations,’ say the partygoers, ‘it’s a beautiful baby meat’.
You’re holding a baby and they reveal their gender to you. It shines brightly, cycling many colours. Vibrant blues and greens, then purplish oranges, greenish reds, colours you’ve only dreamed of. You’re holding a baby. You’re sure you’re holding a baby. What else could it possibly be?
You’re revealing your own gender. No one accepts it. You’re turned away from all support, you’re fired from your job, your wife leaves you, your mother and father won’t talk to you, everyone you’ve ever known questions and critiques you endlessly about the gender you’ve revealed to them.
You’re at a gender reveal party and you’ve never felt more alone. You’re at a gender reveal party and you want to sleep. You’ve been at this gender reveal party for so long now and it follows you wherever you go. You’re at a gender reveal party and you can never leave.
This is a series of Thank You notes to those figures featured in Prager’s book who have paved the way toward today, where Pride parades (or marches) may dance down city roads, streets clogged by the sheer multitude clamoring to participate in festivity; where marriage equality drapes its long laced veil across a vastly more accepting world, nation by nation; where LGBTQ stories win the highest cinematic awards; where LGBTQ athletes can proudly reveal their truths; where LGBTQ world leaders stand tall amongst their peers; and where there’s still terrible things we need to fix, but we know it gets better when we look behind us and see all that has hitherto been accomplished.
Dear Lili Elbe,
Thank you for your bravery! Not only did you transition in a time when such a thing was unheard of, but after the fact, you told the world. Your example gives us hope, and teaches us that transparency is not invisibility. When you were Einar, you were a painter. But as Lili, your brushstrokes were most purposeful, your colors most beautifully vivid.
Dear José Sarria,
Thank you for utilizing your creative, curious mind to defend the queer community throughout your lifetime. When laws were written against us, you found the loopholes that would uphold our dignity. And as a renowned performer, you made sure we knew we were correct, and valuable. We are so grateful for you, an empress whose conquest was unforgiving stigma, and who crushed it beneath his red stilettos.
photo: Nate Gowdy Photography
Dear George Takei,
Thank you for acting as such a figurehead, piloting us into a more visible world. Despite the injustice done to you and your family during the period of Japanese internment in the 1940s, you have dedicated so much time and energy as an activist fighting for LGBTQ rights in a country that had once turned its back on you. Your voice, amplified so loudly despite its deep register, has given so many people hope. Thank you for widening your spotlight to land on our whole community.
More thank you notes throughout this week.
Find out the full true stories of these people and 20 others in Queer, There, and Everywhere, on sale nowhere.
employer: would you say you have any special talents
me: yeah well not to brag but I’ve gotten pretty good at sensing if books and movies are gay based on the vague language in the summaries… let me give you a hint: “close bond,” “has always been different,” “intriguing new boy/girl” “strangely drawn to”…
Last year, Merchant Ivory’s Howards End, now a quarter of a century
old, got a 4K digital restoration that didn’t seem obviously required.
Until, that is, you saw the result. Those ornate Edwardian interiors,
the sea of rain-spattered umbrellas, that field of bluebells, all made
newly sharp and iridescent – it seemed appropriate treatment for what
stands as the quintessential work from a film-making team now synonymous
with elegantly reserved costume drama. With US distributor Cohen Media
Group having bought up the Merchant Ivory library, one might have
assumed A Room With a View would be next in line for this pristine
treatment. The Remains of the Day, perhaps.
Instead, we’ve been thrown a curveball. Maurice, undervalued in 1987
and underseen today, is getting the digital makeover, hitting cinema
screens in time for its 30th anniversary. It’s a surprise, but a welcome
one. Adapted from a posthumously published EM Forster novel that is
likewise overshadowed in reputation by other works in his canon – like,
well, Howards End and A Room With a View – Merchant Ivory’s film opened
hot on the heels of their broadly beloved, Oscar-garlanded adaptation of
the latter. Almost immediately, it was filed away as, if not a
disappointment, a lesser diversion. The Venice film festival jury was
highly taken with it, handing prizes to James Ivory and then-fresh-faced
stars Hugh Grant
and James Wilby, but despite admiring reviews, few followed their lead.
Box office was barely a 10th of A Room With a View’s; where that film
had been nominated for eight Oscars, winning three, Maurice scraped a
solitary bid for its costumes.
The film wasn’t at fault. A tender, graceful love story, performed
with quiet emotional conviction and crafted with Merchant Ivory’s
signature visual serenity and meticulous period detail, it was an
exemplary distillation of its literary source – and a heartily realised
passion project for Ivory himself, who adapted Forster’s novel in place
of the team’s usual screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. What was
different? Those even glancingly acquainted with the film or novel can
probably work it out: Maurice was, put bluntly, too gay.
Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant were romantic partners as well as
professional ones, though their films rarely reflected their sexuality
in anything more than an oblique sense. Many of their greatest films
evoke a sense of unspoken desire, of any persuasion, simmering beneath a
placid surface of decorum – a repression with which many a gay person,
unable always to freely articulate their romantic self, has been able to
empathise. Maurice, in a sense, was the duo’s cinematic coming-out: the
story of a young man growing into his homosexuality in politely hostile
English society, it’s a film that exquisitely queers the
stiff-upper-lip emotions so central to the Merchant Ivory oeuvre.
There’s a slight aloofness to Maurice that is part of its beauty.
Shooting with glacial reserve, a minty chill present even in scenes of
the great English summer, Ivory languidly explores the stuffy Cambridge
social circuit, with its cricket matches and country-pile parties, that
the title character is expected to inhabit; Wilby’s painstaking
performance, too, initially comes over as glazed, absent, a man in
search of something to want. The film only breathes when he finally
does, first via a frustrating romantic affair with fellow student and
social climber Clive Durham (Grant, perfectly his floppy charm years
before Four Weddings and a Funeral) – but it’s heartbreak that gives the
film its red-blooded feeling.
From there, as a second romantic chapter with gamekeeper Alec Scudder
(Rupert Graves, completing perhaps the prettiest posh-boy triangle in
screen history) begins, Maurice gains both in emotional sweep and
intimate psychological detail: a tame entry it may be in the LGBT canon,
but few films have expressed quite so sweetly and nakedly the
challenges of simply being a gay man, partnered or otherwise – how difficult it can be to run with human nature.
This is not emotionally universal terrain, and was a rare subject for
prestige heritage cinema to take on: the film’s respectful but
dispassionate reception in 1987, not an era rich with queer art in the
mainstream, is no surprise in retrospect. Had Forster, for whom the
novel also represented a cathartic release of his own sexuality,
published it in his lifetime, he might have encountered similar
resistance. In 1971, Maurice was received by the literary fraternity as
minor by his standards – a verdict that all too often plagues depictions
of desire that, while far from minor, is shared only by a minority.
Fast-forward to 2017, in the midst of a thriving LGBT cinema scene
and in afterglow of Moonlight’s barrier-busting Oscar triumph, and
perhaps audiences will be a little warmer, a little kinder to Maurice.
Coincidentally, it hits screens again in the same year that Ivory is
basking in the glory of a very different LGBT triumph: now 88, he’s a
co-writer on Luca Guadagnino’s queer coming-of-age rhapsody Call Me By
Your Name, a Sundance sensation that realises the first rush of gay love
with all the woozy sensual excess that Maurice, true to its period,
eschews. (They’d make for a remarkable, mutually flattering double
bill.) Far from dated, Merchant Ivory’s Maurice looks positively ahead
of its time: an honestly strait-laced depiction of alternative sexuality
that dared to play by the same rules as any other respectable costume
So I recently finished the complete works of Sappho and in the afterward–which was a ton of historical reference, literary analysis, and tribute writing about Sappho and her work– I found repeatedly that she was referred to by many as “The Manly Sappho of Lesbos” or just manly Sappho. Plus all physical descriptions of her say that she was short, dark skinned, had short hair, and was not very feminine or attractive.
So my point with all this is, Sappho was one of the first butch woman of color loving other women who didn’t conform to conventional beauty standards and I just am so much more grateful to have her as our sapphic saint after learning this.
I name myself “lesbian” because this culture oppresses, silences, and destroys lesbians, even lesbians who don’t call themselves “lesbians.” I name myself “lesbian” because I want to be visible to other black lesbians. I name myself “lesbian” because I do not subscribe to predatory/institutionalized heterosexuality. I name myself lesbian because I want to be with women (and they don’t all have to call themselves “lesbians”). I name myself “lesbian” because it is part of my vision. I name myself lesbian because being woman-identified has kept me sane. I call myself “Black,” too, because Black is my perspective, my aesthetic, my politics, my vision, my sanity.
Cheryl Clarke, “New Notes on Lesbianism in The Days of Good Looks: The Prose and Poetry of Cheryl Clarke, 1980-2005