Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Harvey Milk

My wife and I went to see Milk yesterday.

First of all - Sean Penn was amazing! He became Harvey Milk. When I see pictures of the real Harvey Milk now - my first reaction is "no, no, that's not what he looks like - he looks like Sean Penn"

This morning my wife asked me how the movie affected me. In truth, I have to confess that it really didn't have much of an emotional impact on me. Although, I must say I'm a bit surprised at that. Given the other reviews I read, I expected it to have a great impact on me. The only time I started to get chocked up a little was when Harvey Milk was talking on the phone with a suicidal teenager who said his parents wanted to send him away to 'fix' him.

We saw the movie in the local mega cinema. Out of 30 screens - Milk was showing on the smallest - probably because there were only about 12 people in the theater. Not really surprising given that I live in one of the reddest parts of a very red state - and in the thick of the bible belt. It was, of course, dark in the theater; so, I couldn't get a good look at the other people. But, it seemed to be mostly male/female couples. In the row behind us was a threesome - a boy and two girls - who looked to be of high school age. I suspect he was probably gay and he had his flame dames with him.

I'm rather embarrassed to admit that, although I was of voting age at the time and from California, I don't recall anything about proposition 6 nor the resulting controversy. Probably because I wasn't actually in California at the time as I was serving as a missionary for the LDS church - in other words, I was pretty much cloistered and oblivious to current events. It's a miracle I was even aware that Elvis died a year prior to Harvey Milk being assassinated - and that was only because one of our investigators was totally distrait.

So, the movie served as a good history lesson for me in the gay rights movement. I also felt it depicted the gay culture of the time fairly accurately - warts and all. And, I think, that may be why it didn't have the impact on me that I expected. I believe one of the reasons it took me so long to accept my sexuality is because of my view of gay culture - frankly, I'm not comfortable with certain aspects of gay culture; and, I think, watching this movie reminded me of that discomfort, thereby negating the expected emotional impact. Although, I understand why such a culture exists. What else can be expected when you have a group of people living in a society that tells them that they are perverts, deviants, and that God doesn't love them.

I also realize that, as a closeted heterosexually married gay man, I owe a great debt of gratitude to people like Harvey Milk - and those who came before and after him in the gay rights movement. It is because of them that we have increased societal acceptance - which led to me being able to finally admit to myself that I am, in fact, gay. It is because of them that I do not fear losing my job were someone to find out that I am a homosexual. Were it not for their sacrifices - I wouldn't even dare think about having a blog and discussing my life as a married gay Mormon man.

The 70's is when gay culture began to evolve from an underground culture to one that is more open. That evolution is ongoing - but with that evolution, others have been able to come forward to show the world - and me - that gay people are everywhere. They/we represent a cross section of society - be it rich or poor, religious or atheist, republican or democrat - and that was the epiphany I needed to accept that I too am a homosexual. It showed me that I do not have to change who I am - I can be the same as I've always been. The only difference being that now I accept my true self.

But, the fight is not over, the war has not yet been won. There is still a lot of bigoted hate that needs to be eradicated. My particular circumstances do not allow me to step out of my closet - yet; but, I do agree with Harvey Milk - that is what it's going to take. People need to realize that we're not all just a bunch of sexual deviants out marching the streets in thongs. They need to know that we are their next door neighbor, the person in the next cubicle at work. They need to have the same epiphany that I did.

In particular, Mormon's need to realize that gay Mormon's exist. They need to know that we are sitting next to them in church, we are teaching their children. We might even be sitting on the stand presiding over a meeting.

So, I look forward to the day when I too will be able to step out of my closet to show the world that even slovenly old fat married Mormon dudes can be gay too.


Philip said...

I remember a time when the only place I could deal with my homosexuality was in my head.

During that time I had a very limited view of what homosexuality was.

I remember believing homosexuality was a perversion even though I was a homosexual and knew I was not a pervert.

I also remember believing everyone thought homosexuality was a perversion and I would be treated harshly if found out.

What Harvey Milk and other gays did in San Francisco was carve a little piece of real estate where it was safe enough to say it out loud; talk about it and even congregate with others just like them.

What happened afterwards was a testimony to what a little freedom will do for the human spirit.

I also was troubled by the excesses.

I kind of see the excesses that occurred and are still going on as one of two things. One is the excess of youth. The other is that as a people that most of us are still in the first stages of coming out and identity and gender politics where the focus is primarily on sex and not relationships or family.

I like that the movie reflected some of that excess instead of backing away.


Beck said...

I, too, have been mostly ignorant of the past history and I want to see this movie.

Perversion allegations and excesses of youth, as Philip says, do confuse the message and do drive some of us who lived through this period even deeper into our closets instead of openly coming out. But these expressions are part of the coming out history of the gay movement and its evolution and have led to where we are today and where you and I can at least admit that we are who we are (even in this limited way) thanks in part to Harvey Milk.

What impresses me the most is that you went with your WIFE to the movie! So, how did she react? What impact did it have on her? Where does she place this history (warts and all) within your context and reality?

I will never be able to get my wife to go see it (I may have to wait until it comes out on video). I mark the acceptance that she has made in seeing such things with you - and see these as good signs for you and for her trying to dialog with you and attempt to understand your feelings and longings. Don't you?

Meanwhile, we went to see "Marley and Me" and unlike you watching your film, I teared up quite frequently watching mine.

Chester said...

If you liked "Milk" then I encourage you to track down a copy of the documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk." It won the academy award for best documentary in 1984.
I really liked "Milk", but I thought the documentary was much more powerful. I also wouldn't hesitate showing the documentary to my extended family but would probably hesitate with "Milk."

MoHoHawaii said...

No need to track down The Times of Harvey Milk. You can watch it online:


Ned said...

"slovenly old fat married Mormon dudes can be gay too" That's funny and affirming to me. Thanks!

Nait Sirk said...

wow. this post is four years old, but it resonates very well with me.
I'm not saying that I am in your position, but just less than a week ago something happened again between me and an LDS guy who is one of the most active members in his ward. he is a returned missionary and I'd say that he's a TBM too. he's been telling me that he's not gay but he kept on addressing certain subjects and eventually initiating us to do physical stuff which is, to put it plainly, queer, to the point of being sexual last Saturday.
I personally let each person decide for themself if they're gay or straight or whatever other category they choose to identify themself with, and this person I've referred to can do whatever he wants if it makes him happy. in fact, I can imagine him marrying a woman. and I won't begrudge him that because over the course of many years now I've realized that sexuality is way more nuanced, beyond gay or straight, and that marriage is much more than just about one's sexuality.

I was thinking of sharing this post with him, but I don't want him to feel like I'm patronizing him.
so I guess I just want to thank you for this. this kind of writing opens the eyes of many people, including me, who am myself a rather religious person trying to reconcile my belief and my same-sex attraction. so thank you, and keep up the good work. :)