Once Upon a Pride

June has been dubbed Gay Pride Month and you know what that means. 

Woo!

Well, okay, it means many things.

But among them is the launch of and spotlight on anything having to do with the LGBTQ community, a 30-day period where we are discussed, referenced, represented and respected. 

Okay, mostly respected, because there will always be haters of any marginalized group.  This is true even in the case of women, who happen to be in the majority of the U.S. population (Note: 50.52% to 49.48%).

And yet here we are again

Nevertheless, power is not always a numbers game.  That is why any number of us groups of people who consistently get picked on, nee marginalized, many of which I find myself a member of (Note: Gays, Jews, nerds, height challenged and old(er) among them) have had to get loud, annoying, crafty and smart in order to survive.

But let’s stay with the gay of it all.

Or shall I say queer?  Or LGBTQ plus, plus, plus.

Who can keep up?

which brings us to…

A new film from Fox Searchlight opened/dropped on Hulu this Friday called Fire Island, a romcom with a handful of very, very, VERY light dramatic undertones.  It stars two gay Asian men and has a multi-ethnic mostly LGBTQ+++ cast playing friends and frenemies experiencing a week of fun, frolic and life lessons at one of the most renowned gay vacation spots on the planet.

It’s niche but it’s not, not really.  There are now dozens of movies, TV shows and limited/streaming series with LGBTQ characters of every sort and, in the last few decades, we’ve gone from being the comic relief and/or supportive friend to full blown leads.

Take this absolutely adorable example

It’s far from perfect but what is progress anyway if not a two steps forward, one step back proposition?  I mean, there was a time not so long ago where many in the U.S. figured that once a Black man was elected U.S. president and served in the White House for eight years that the country would…

Oh, never mind.

It will surprise no one my age and likely everyone under 30 years old to know that when I was a boy growing up in the late sixties there were ZERO gay characters on TV series.

Here’s whom we had:

– Actor Paul Lynde, the center square on the game show The Hollywood Squares (1966).  A saber-tongued wit that was so quick, cunning and cutting that no one in their right (or wrong) mind would f-ck with him.

He’d also pop up on Bewitched as our favorite Uncle Arthur

– Nancy Kulp, an actress who played the smart and long-suffering character of MISS Jane Hathaway, the real brains of her banker boss on the half-hour comedy The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971)and…

And let’s not forget her turn in Haley Mills’ Parent Trap!

Charles Nelson Reilly, the famed actor-director who was a series regular on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968).  He played Claymore Gregg, the wacky yet caring great nephew of the ghost that haunts the seaside cottage he rents to the lovely yet classy widow Mrs. Muir and her two extremely adorable kids.

Lest we forget his legendary run on Match Game

Mr. Lynde, Ms. Kulp and Mr. Reilly were all gay in real life and it is a testament to their honesty, talents and personalities that they created people and personas that let us know they were fun and, ahem, different at a time when you could never openly say you were, ahem, different, to the masses.

Certainly, you couldn’t do it openly or even directly.  Yet somehow I knew and, as I would find out over the years, so did every other gay friend and acquaintance, as well as some very savvy straight ones. 

What they were telling us was that even if you weren’t like everyone else at least you could be…entertaining!  And intelligent, gainfully employed AND enjoy your life.

And be fabulous!

If that doesn’t seem like enough, and it certainly wasn’t, it was still A LOT back then.

Even as a pre-adolescent who didn’t yet have a name for what I suspected I was, I figured if being the smartest person in the room, the center square or the landlord was the best that could happen, well, that’d at least be something – and worth surviving for.

Even now I feel humbled for having learned that lesson and pride to have lived, persevered and thrived to heights I never could have imagined at that time.

… and can laugh about it!

Decades and decades of TV and movies and streaming shows (Note: The latter being the true hybrid of the aforementioned two) have since followed to the point where now being LGBTQ is no longer coded, often embraced and almost always integrated into the whole of whom those people are that we are watching.  And in those moments that it isn’t, it is, these days, almost always done for dramatic effect, not because LGBTQ+++ creators can’t or won’t do it for fear of mass career and/or pop culture reprisal.

It is difficult at this moment to come up with a single network or studio that at some point has not released some content with an openly LGBTQ plus character.  (Note: Ahem, even the conservative skewing Hallmark Channel?!)  Also, a coming out journey is no longer the required centerpiece of how each of them are presented (Note: Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either).

See: Ava on Hacks (watch season 2 now!)

A faux naughty romp fest like this week’s Fire Island might not be the gold standard for LGBTQ plus content, but it doesn’t have to be anymore.  It can simply exist as a diversion, or a dislike, or a meh or even a niche only love and not ruin the chances for every proposed project with gay content that comes after it. 

Progress?  I’d say so, as well as in one other way.

Fire Island is not even so much about being gay but rather about class, as well as a touch about race. The drugs and the sex it features might still seem a bit far out for some but in a strange way the film also never goes far enough in what it seems to really be trying to say.

It can just be fun.. you know?

That for many city gays, and others, it is not so much being LGBTQ anymore but existing in a community that marginalizes you by class, or the color of your skin, or your looks or your view of sex, romance and commitment.

The issues and challenges in most every other subset of a community, or in the entire community itself. 

We struggled for acceptance and representation and to some extent we gays are now in the process of having it onscreen.  We get to be shown, both rightly and wrongly, as pretty much every other niche group rather than being the love (or the person) that dare not speak its name.

What we need to do now is figure out a way to bridge the gap in real life.

and continue the fight

To continue to be our smart, entertaining and cutting edge selves.  But to also open up our bank accounts a bit more and to once again take to the streets when it’s necessary.  And it is.

A new movie or TV show alone isn’t going to help openly transgender high school athletes in Ohio and Florida who might be banned from playing for their teams or the gay teachers in red states across the country once again being branded as immoral threats to the children they teach who nevertheless adore them. 

To merely be seen these days is not enough.  Not nearly.

Muna – “Sometimes” (from Fire Island)

Life in the Upside Down

So how was your week?

Did you know the fourth (and final?) season of Stranger Things dropped on Netflix?

What about that sequel to Top Gun, the trashy, watchable and massively popular 1986 film starring Tom Cruise that I never quite liked (Note: Oh, who cares, Chair?!) but yet managed to be moved by (Spoiler Alert:  I can’t reveal that moment but it’s as cheap, effective and mind-numbingly obvious as anything to come out of the 80s).

Anyway, do you know that Top Gun: Maverick (2022) is having the biggest opening of any Tom Cruise film EVER this Memorial Day weekend, grossing upwards of $260 million internationally?

Everything old is new again

I bet you didn’t know THAT.

But even if you did, who cares, right?

Because none of it truly matters when you’re livin’ life in the upside down.

If you don’t get that reference, the Upside Down is the crazy underground alien world we were first introduced to in the first season of Stranger Things.

It is an evil, ruthless, violent dystopian place where anything can happen and you will more likely than not, not survive.

Think of it as, well,  an American classroom in the midst of a school shooting.

Too soon? 

I don’t think so.

Might as well just cut off the top of the pole

I can tell you that episode one of ST’s fourth season opens with a short sequence that ends with a series of cuts to the maimed, bloody corpses of a group of pre-teens at the hands of…  Oh, well, why spoil the fun?

Just know that the Duffer Brothers once again have their hands on the deadening pulse of America. 

So much so that several days ago there was a warning card inserted right before the episode began that lets us know this season was shot a year ago, and that we’re saddened by the recent blah, blah, blah, etc. etc., etc….

But talk about prescience.

It’s like Eleven could sense… the most predictable thing

On the other hand, maybe these images, cuts and, well, shots are just the kind of thing we take for granted these days.  And what are writers anyway except a delivery system of artistic truths for the masses to see and contemplate and feed upon?

At least that’s how I talk about us when I’m at my most cynical.

And this would be one of those times.

There is no sense to be made of the shooting deaths of 19 children and two of their teachers at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday because one can’t make sense of the insane and nonsensical.  That’s what makes us categorize those events as such.

Senseless

And yet there is no lack of would-be sense makers trying to deny the obvious with lies, tortured statements and contorted half-truth answers to the obvious.

Here is a list of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S, over the last two decades.

The majority of these were done with military style weapons like the AR-15, the gun of choice for that 18 year-old shooter at Uvalde.  The gun the NRA backed Republican Party refuses to ban. (Note: Heck, they don’t even want universal background checks).

And there is a reason for that.  This gun can shoot a bullet a second, eviscerating the flesh, bones and organs of its human targets like no other weapon in our history.

It’s speed and efficiency has made it BY FAR the most popular and PROFITABLE  gun out there.  And that’s quite an accomplishment since at this point there are way more guns than people in the U.S.

You read that right.

Who else is mad as hell?

No wonder the shooter bought two of them in the course of a week, along with more than enough ammunition to kill all those kids two or three times over.  And no background check required,  you can’t even get two handguns until you turned 21 and, anyway, these AR-15’s are much quicker, faster and FAR more fun.  Speaking from the merely logical perspective of an 18-year-old, they are the best and most efficient way to achieve your goals.

And yet we’ve got the Texas governor (Abbott) and senator (Cruz) on TV mansplaining to us all sorts of things.

– It’s single parent families and a lack of religion that has helped create all this.

– It’s mental illness (Note: Duh) in the last 20 years, especially because you used to always be able to buy rifles at age 18.

– It’s a excuse to take away everyone’s guns, a Democratic hoax to take over and politicize every single awful thing in the world to their favor rather than address the issues real Americans care about.

– Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns.

Of course, in reality Texas ranks last of all states in the country for money allotted to  mental health services and effectiveness in treating them.  It is also one of easiest states in the country to buy and possess a gun thanks to recent legislation signed by Gov. Abbott that vastly expanded gun rights.

The fact is, you can buy and carry pretty much any type of gun anywhere at any time. 

As for that final statement, more than a dozen police officers, all of them presumably good guys with guns, stood inside that elementary school on the opposite side of a classroom door where a bunch of children 10 and under lay bleeding, screaming, terrified and begging (Note: via recorded 911 calls) to be rescued.

Make it make sense

But the good guys were wrongly ordered to stand down by their supervisor when they should have gone in, or so it’s being said right now.  This was a different story than was announced on Tuesday.

 And it might get even worse by next Tuesday.

But suffice it to say, there is nothing simple about this story that any good guys vs. bad guys scenario might possibly address.

As much as the top elected officials in Texas and in the world of Republican politics want to make this into a simplified tale of life in the wild, wild west.

It is nothing of the sort.

This is life right now.

And as long as we remain the RIGHT side of the aisle up, we will stay forever in the upside down.

Lady Gaga – “Hold My Hand” (from Top Gun: Maverick)