The Scene and the Sil­ver Screen

Hello Mr. Magazine - - CHALLENGE TRADITION - By Scott Ford

Fifty min­utes and forty sec­onds into The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show, I re­al­ized I was gay. I was 11 and sit­ting on the liv­ing room floor. My par­ents were on the sofa be­hind me. The “Time Warp” had come and gone. Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the “sweet trans­ves­tite from Trans­sex­ual, Tran­syl­va­nia,” had given life to the lamé-clad Rocky and bru­tally mur­dered his ex, all be­tween three songs and a reprisal. Af­ter­wards, the film’s bland but hand­some cou­ple are shown to their sep­a­rate rooms. Brad lays sleep­ing in blue-lit sil­hou­ette. Janet en­ters. They re­as­sure one an­other, first and then “heavy pet­ting.” Sud­denly, Janet’s wig comes off, re­veal­ing she to be a he – Frank-N-Furter.

I froze. Fear and ex­cite­ment coiled in my stomach and fas­tened me to the spot. Feel­ings I’d de­nied and kept se­cret and re­fused to name, even to my­self, es­pe­cially to my­self, had been cap­tured in cel­lu­loid and em­bla­zoned on the screen for the world to see. I was hor­ri­fied but at the same time hope­ful. Surely, my 11-year-old self thought, there’d be more movies like this.

If only. My love of cin­ema would sur­vive the years that fol­lowed; my love of queer cin­ema, how­ever, would ebb and wane be­fore al­most dis­ap­pear­ing com­pletely.

Like most people I know, the ma­jor­ity of what I learned about gay cul­ture I learned through pop cul­ture. My fam­ily was more lib­eral than most, but that didn’t mean guy on guy ro­mance was a topic of con­ver­sa­tion. And while I wasn’t the straight­est kid around, I wasn’t pre­pared to rent films like My Beau­ti­ful Laun­drette or Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, ei­ther. My se­cret ed­u­ca­tion, then, was left largely to the In­ter­net. For a 14-yearold boy, how­ever, the sites re­turned by search­ing “gay” were too tempt­ing to ig­nore. I learned a lot from porn, but very lit­tle that an­swered the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of how to live.

I en­tered ado­les­cence just as gay themes were reach­ing the main­stream. Friends had held a les­bian wed­ding, John Wa­ters had been on The Simpsons, and Daw­son’s Creek had Jack McPhee, while shows like Ellen and Will & Grace had prime-time slots all to them­selves. Not that I watched them, or at least not pub­licly. I was 13 at the time – just the word “gay” would send me into a flus­ter of self-con­scious­ness. The fam­ily tra­di­tion of watch­ing the Mardi Gras pa­rade was si­mul­ta­ne­ously al­lur­ing and panic-in­duc­ing; all I can re­mem­ber now is a flam­boy­ant mon­tage of feath­ers, se­quins, and bob­bing cod-pieces.

The older I got, how­ever, the bolder I be­came. Ev­ery Thurs­day night I would creep down­stairs to watch Queer as Folk. I’d perch on the edge of the sofa with the sound turned low to make sure I could hear the move­ments of my fam­ily. If I heard any­one com­ing I’d quickly switch to an­other chan­nel. In this way my ideal of “gay cul­ture” grew. Soon, I thought, I’d be part of it.

In hind­sight I was wildly naïve. Also gullible. Even if I’d packed my bags and moved to the big city of cin­e­matic cliché my ex­pec­ta­tions would have gone un­sat­is­fied. Worse still, I come from a city some­times re­ferred to as “a big coun­try town.” When years of me­dia-fed day­dreams fi­nally met with re­al­ity, the re­sult was a head-on col­li­sion of mis­matched ex­pec­ta­tions.

I wasn’t scooped up from the dance floor by a bunch of sassy fruits; I wasn’t saved from a bath­room brawl by a wiz­ened drag queen with a heart of gold; I didn’t un­ex­pect­edly meet a brood­ing but beau­ti­ful soul on the out­skirts. There was no makeover mon­tage. No eyes met across the

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