Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gay Pride Month and the Gay Themed Documentary: Some Musings on "Be Like Others", "Anyone and Everyone", "City of Borders", and "We Were Here"

Last Sunday, as I mentioned in a previous blog post ("The Day of the Neoliberal Undead", 11 June), was Neoliberal Day on PBS World. Today has been Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transsexual Day on PBS World. It's Gay Pride Month, after all.

As a result of June being Gay Pride Month a number of gay, lesbian, and transsexual documentaries have been running on PBS World recently. I mentioned in a blog post a week and a half ago ("Two Spirits, One Acceptng, One Hateful", 5 June) that I watched the wonderful documentary Two Spirits. This week I watched the fascinating documentaries Be Like Others, Anyone and Everyone, City of Borders, and We Were Here. These four documentaries basically take us on a kind of world tour of what it meant and what it means to be transsexual, gay, and lesbian in the modern world and the difficulties transsexuals, gays, and lesbians face in a world that still largely thinks of gender in binary male-female terms and which still has an irrational often religious derived fear of transsexuals, gays, and lesbians.

Tanaz Eshaghian's Be Like Others takes us to an Islamic Republic of Iran where while it is a crime against, as one Muslim cleric interviewed in the documentary puts it, nature and Allah to be homosexual, it is not illegal to have a sex change operation. Be Like Others introduces us to several men, Ali, Askar, and Anoosh, who feel they are women trapped in men's bodies, men with, as they say, women's souls, who are considering and who, by the end of the documentary, get a sex change operation at the sex reassignment clinic of Dr. Bahram Mir-Jalali in Tehran becoming Vida, Nagar, and Anahita in the process. While sex-reassignment, it is called this because the gender of the men in the documentary is literally changed from men to women on their birth certificates, may seem like a rather enlightened option on the surface, the practise, as we sadly and tragically see very clearly thanks to this film, takes an immense toll on Vida, Nagar, and Anahita.

Susan Polis Schutz's Anyone and Everyone is an emotionally powerful documentary which focuses on the reminiscences of several American families from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, Japanese Americans, Bolivian Americans, Cherokee Americans, Southern Baptist Americans, Hindu Americans, Jewish Americans, and Mormon Americans, about how they came to grips with their gay and lesbian sons and daughters and the reminiscences of their gay and lesbian sons and daughters about their struggles to come to grips with and be who they were and the difficulties they had in coming out. Perhaps my favourite vignette from the documentary was that of the Graves family, a Mormon family from Salt Lake, whose son Robert, after much struggle, came out as gay to himself and to his parents. The reason I like this documentary so much, apart from the fact that I have long been interested in the history and sociology of Mormonism, is Robert's amazing mother, Lanette. As I watched Anyone and Everyone I kept thinking to myself how much I would love to have as intelligent, eloquent, and tolerant a mother as Robert had.

Yun Suh's City of Borders is a documentary about a land about a half a world away from Anyone and Everyone's United States, Israel and Palestine. City of Borders is about borders, several of them, in fact. There's the physical border that gay Palestinians cross to come into Jerusalem to have, as one of them, Boody, says, not to plant bombs but to have fun at Shusan the gay and lesbian club in Jerusalem. There's the ethnic and religious versus non-religious borders that Samira, a secular Palestinian Israeli, and Ravit, a Jewish Israeli, cross in their romantic relationship with one another. There's the border Sa'ar Netanel crosses to open Shushan in that city filled with physical and cultural borders Jerusalem, a city with a significant ultra-Orthodox Jewish population that is not, to say the least, particularly gay and lesbian friendly. There is the political and ideological border Netanel crosses to become, at the time the documentary was filmed in 2006, the only out gay member of the Jerusalem City Council. There's the border of hatred and violence established by fundamentalist Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Jerusalem that Jerusalem's gays and lesbians have to cross as they march through a gauntlet of slurs, hatred, and threats, to simply be gay and lesbian in Jerusalem and to hold the annual Jerusalem gay pride parade. And there's the national borders Boody has to cross to get to the United States in order to escape threats made against his life in Ramallah.

Finally, it's back to the United States, San Francisco to be precise, for David Weissman's We Were Here. We Were Here takes viewers back to the AIDs epidemic in San Francisco during 1980s and 1990s where almost 16,000 people died from the disease. Though We Were Here primarily focuses on the human and personal costs of the crisis thanks to its often emotionally powerful and moving interviews with five people (Guy, Paul, Daniel, Ed, and Eileen) who survived and tried to help alleviate the ravages of the AIDs plague while thousands of friends and lovers died from the disease around them. We Were Here also, if less centrally, touches on the first appearance of AIDs in San Francisco, the nature of the disease itself, the attempt to find a cure for it, the attempt to get the government to expand its funding for AIDs research, the voluntary organisations that arose to help gay men deal with the epidemic, and the homophobia, fear, paranoia, and attacks on civil liberties the AIDs crisis unleashed throughout the nation via very personal and very emotional reminiscences and through the use of photographs, newspaper clips, news reports, and obituaries.

Powerful cinema. Wonderful PBS. Check them out.

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