23 October 2014

Movie Review: Dunno Y... Na Jaane Kyon


Indian and Gay? While there is something about it that seems quite natural, you never really consider it in the filmic realm. When I think of Indian movies, I think of Bollywood. I think of a clan or tribe of people dancing in the background as the young maiden lip syncs to Lata Mangeshkar. Some movies push the limit of what I'd call soft porn but you never see full on kissing, as the kids call it these days "lips to lips." But you never see positive representations of gay men in Indian film. The hijra are assigned to the same tacky bakla status of Philippine comedy.

As you know I've written about aspects of gay India, mostly in the juridico-political realm, but also White's Kiss of the Yogini, Reddy's ethnography With Respect to Sex and the now banned-in-India The Hindus, An Alternate History.

But this movie was surprising. First, I have to admit that I watched it without the benefit of English or Vietnamese subtitles so when the characters go into extended dialogues in Hindi, I had to somewhat guess at what was being said. Fortunately, only the poor, old and other marginalized characters spoke in Hindi. (And surprisingly, the male boss who is a fat, sexist pig, exclusively spoke in Hindi, but because he was so obnoxious and slimy, it was not difficult to grasp what he was saying and doing.)

So, like any good Indian creative expression, there is about an hour of set-up regarding the main character's family. What made it a little confusing was that I think the family or part of it hails from a "Saint Thomas Christian" community -- that is the ethnic group in India that descends from a community of Christian believers from almost 2000 years ago or a "mixed" family of Anglo-Indians. (Yeah, if you didn't know, Christians went both east and west and not all of the communities established in the eastern direction remained in communication with either the Roman or Byzantine hierarchy!)

But what we find out is that, irrespective of those details, they still comport with the major Indian traditions of arranged marriage, blind deference to elders, etc.,. Everyone is miserable. The main character lives with his wife, mother and paternal grandmother in their house. He works as a manager in a corporation. The mother also works. The younger brother doesn't work. The younger brother is in love with the main character's wife. And after an hour of nothing having to do with homosexuality, we find out the main character is a gay.

The story is then about the middle-class bourgeois married guy and his falling in love with a club prostitute who hustles the rich and famous of Bollywood. Things are just lovely. The prostitute breaks up with his regular, famous and discreet tricks to be with this guy solo. The prostitute is an orphan where the middle-class guy has a giant Bollywood family. Then, things start to strain when the police catch them making out in the middle of nowhere. The prostitute tries to stand up to the police harassment and shakedown while our burgis main character takes up the bribe challenge. He then admonishes his lover with "you have no family, you have nothing to lose." They then decide it best to split up. The last 15 minutes were perhaps some of the most interesting.

To sum up the lessons I learned: it's better to be dead than gay in India and the only thing that matters is the good name you give to your family.

It is worth mentioning that the main character, Yuvraaj Parashar, was actually sued by his real parents after the movie came out. Apparently, "it's better to be dead than gay in India" also applies if you only act the part of a gay in a movie because "the only thing that matters is the good name you give to your family." It was reported that his family said that they did "not want to see his face even in death." I thought it a little bit excessive since a majority of the movie dialogue was carried out in English, the people are, for the most part, fair skinned Christians, but what do I know about modern Indian mores.

If you watch it and have no exposure to Hindi, I'd recommend watching it with subtitles. It lacked the customary singing and dancing I associate with Bollywood, but the theme song was sung by Lata Mangeshkar so at least you have that.

22 October 2014

Movie Review: Change : รัก..ไม่เปลี่ยน


This is another short film based upon the radio program of Love Actually where young adults call in about their tragic and sad love life and the DJ calls the other person and asks if they'll be with the original caller or not (answering: true love or one-sided crush).


Change is about Champ (left) and Jay (right). Champ is a young and gentle boy. The boys in school tease him constantly and Jay regularly comes to his defense. The other boys tease Jay calling Champ his wife. They go through their ups and downs but Jay has a genuine affection for Champ.

The story takes place after both have gone to and through college. Champ has become a successful beauty products store owner and has saved for an operation to become a "real" woman. You see, Champ revealed one day to Jay that he liked Jay. Jay said that he was not disgusted or repelled by Champ but that he did not like men. That they should talk when Champ became a woman. For Champ, this was an puerile command to become a woman.

And become a woman Champ did. But as for Jay, whether Jay says yes or no, I'll leave to you.

My only comment is that these are the fairytales, good and bad, that young gays need to be exposed to. These short stories based upon the wildly popular radio program are beautiful in their archetypal reality. The stories end with, what I value, as an appropriate moral for the audience.

And one more thing, Fluke Pongsatorn is adorable. I enjoy the roles he is cast as the meek and sweet gayboy. I identify! haha

 Fluke Pongsatorn

21 October 2014

Book Review: Gay L.A.

Lillian Faderman is an American scholar of lesbian history and Stuart Timmons is another American independent scholar of gay history. This is their first book together about the history of the American LGBT movement with the focus on the county of Los Angeles, California.

This book is the political tour de force that the Gay Metropolis was in tracing the history of the American LGBT movement with the focus on New York City. Whereas the Gay Metropolis was much more philosophical and abstract, social and cultural, Gay L.A. is much more political.

In fact, they don't come out and say it, but if you follow the events of the 1960s from a political and legal perspective, its clear that it was the political and legal challenges launched in Los Angeles that created the circumstances that made the Stonewall Inn riots, the "birth" of the LGBT movement in America -- if that can really be called true and not just myth making for the New York tourism board. All of the significant legal challenges that went to the Supreme Court that allowed for a free LGBT press arose from L.A. cases. The LGBT organizations present in New York City in the late 1960s all originated from 1950s gay L.A.

Philippine Gay History, authored by Neil Garcia, is a fascinating book for its investigation of ideas. But what would really be of use, in a more practical sense, would be more history of the gay Philippines or public sexuality. There are a number of Supreme Court cases where provincial judges had removal cases filed against for being "homosexual." As far as I understand it, the Philippine Supreme Court, as long as it has entertained such cases, has denied them -- saying it was not in itself relevant to holding judicial office. It has allowed individuals diagnosed (medically) with sexual ambiguity to chose a gender and have the birth certificate reflected in that change. Yet, on the other hand, it refused to allow Rommel "Mely" Jacinto Silverio to change her birth certificate to reflect the fact that she had undergone medical treatment and became a woman.

Cinema has provided us with stories of transgenders who suffered during World War II -- Markova: Comfort Gay and Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita. We have limited accounts of LGBT life in various diaspora contexts.

But what we are lacking is a coherent and broad narrative, much like Gay LA, that can give us a coherent and long-term view of the history of making intelligible same-sex desire starting in the nineteenth century. Even a deeper and more sustained approach to the available documents in the Spanish-language archive and comparative ethnographic materials that can trace all the various lines of how desire was rendered intelligible to help us understand the palette we currently paint from.

Nevertheless, because the American LGBT movement has dominated the drawing of the contours of the global LGBT movements, Gay LA is really necessary reading -- much like the Gay Metropolis -- in telling about the historical and material forces and struggles that shaped the American LGBT movement.

It is fascinating to consider the story of police persecution repeat itself for over 50 years and how the persecuted and persecutors respond to each other over time -- culminating in the 1960s! Even without such militant activism, the material experiences of the gay Filipino over the last century have created the current conditions. Let's know what this history is.

As Marx noted, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language."

Let us know what traditions our meaning making has conjured up as spirits of the past to our service. And for that, we need practical history.

The version I read was a 464 page cloth published by Basic (Perseus) on October 2, 2006. ISBN: 046502288X. Lowest price seems to be abebooks.com and amazon.com

20 October 2014

Movie Review: Secret Love รัก ลับ หลัง


This movie is apparently part of a series of short films called "Love Actually". It is based on a radio talk show where someone calls in, tells the sad love story with a conflict. The DJ then calls the other party and asked them, at the count of three, whether they will be with the original caller.

Secret Love could be used as a textbook example of what NOT to do in an employment situation. The story begins with Wan and Tar who are boyfriends and live together. As I gather, Wan lives with Tar at his apartment. He has recently graduated from college and we start the story where Wan has been hired by a prestigious ad company.

Wan is introduced to his co-workers and then Ohm, the creative director. Now Wan is the happy guy who goes along by getting along -- a happy-go-lucky chap.  And Ohm wants Wan. It's not clear if Ohm is in love with Wan or just wants to win a game that involves Wan as a problem.

In any event, Ohm pulls out all the stops with Wan. As his superior, he engages in what can only be understood as classic sexual harassment. Wan informs him that he has a boyfriend but it doesn't stop Ohm. Meanwhile, Tar is at home pining and worrying about Wan. Wan becomes distant. It's not initially clear if its just the fact that he is now working or something else. But as Ohm continues to put the moves on Wan and Wan relishes the flattery, a nothingness appears between Wan and Tar.


This nothingness culminates in the shocking climax of this story - which also was the opening scene of the short. I won't give it away. It was an interesting story and I liked the ending. A series of these story is just what the young gay needs to see and here. These melodramatic high-school type stories is chicken soup for the young gay soul. More please.

19 October 2014

Movie Review: My Bromance พี่ชาย


I had some skepticism going into his movie. Actually a lot of skepticism. My mind could only conceive of a few plots that could embrace the topic without getting creepy-Japanese-incest or boring Catholic-Bishop-inspired milquetoast.

In short, Golf is a Thai teenager who has spent much of his adolescence alone as his father makes lots of money as a constantly traveling businessman. He returns from a long absence with a new wife, much to the displeasure of Golf. But in addition, the new wife also has a same-aged son, Bank. Bank is very gentle and mild mannered. He immediately starts using the honorific "older brother" moniker on Golf. Golf is wildly annoyed by the submissive, gentleness of Bank. And let me be honest, in my years on this earth, Bank was not giving Golf the idolizing look at first eye contact. It was much more along the lines of when Tong met Uncle Jonbert.

Golf throws tantrums, humiliates Bank and is just an ass while Bank just perseveres as the gentle, mild but consistent steady charmer. Things start to get clear for everyone just around the time campus heart-throb starts putting the moves on Bank. Bank is polite with the attention.

 A new life as step-brothers

But I guess at some point one must ask oneself: if one's parents can't accept homosexuality, could they accept it between step-brothers?

 Two very happy step-brothers

I'll leave you to imagine how this plot thickens (or better go and watch it) but I'll let you know I cried at the end. Yeah, pretty gay. If you liked Love of Siam, you'll like this for sure.

18 October 2014

Movie Review: Timeline เพราะรักไม่สิ้นสุด

 
 This is the official movie poster for the movie.

So this is not so much of a feature length movie as it is a collection of three shorts that may or may not in the very end, sort of come together as one narrative. Still not sure.  The first short was my favorite. There is nothing more exhilarating that experiencing a story of discovery and openness to vulnerability in love and sex with age-appropriate peers. So I liked it very much.

Pictoral sum-up of the First Short

The second short turned out to be a thriller-horror type film and would have been interesting if the director had 80 minutes to flesh things out. But it ended up just being weird after the first short. There really is only so much one can do with allotted time and having to use a two minute flashback to explain the entire short, is well, unfortunate.

The third short would have been nice if it ended differently. I understand the martyr theme and they did it well. But what was weird at the end when the martyr ends up in the negative father complex twilight zone. Even if its not literal daddy incest, it certainly is symbolic and well its just weird. Especially after the psychologically pleasing first short. Maybe the director just needed another 10 minutes?

It's worth watching for the first feel good one and there are a lot of pretty young men so at least on the second two you aren't bored with ugly and bad actors.

17 October 2014

Book Review: A Queer History of the United States

Michael Bronski is an American professor of Women and Gender Studies at Dartmouth College. He's written extensively including The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash and the Struggle for Gay Freedom.

Much of the "history" I read as an adolescent about LGBT life fell into two categories: (1) major excavations in the historical archive to find a continuous "gay" identity in the remote past and (2) modern narratives of living "gay" identified individuals. This book is as conservative as I think it can get, yet it is radical in that its ideological commitment is to anarchism and transgenderism. It starts with Thomas Morton's break with Plymouth Colony in the 1620s to start Merrymount which embraced same-sex desire, atheism and interracial marriage.

This book does not just challenge American history, it also challenges American LGBT history and the joint project of liberal and conservative American LGBT  historians who do not challenge the major historical mythologies of America in their quest to normalize or naturalize LGBT movements, persons and desires, through the ages.

Bronski's Queer History constructs a narrative of America where sodomy laws were ineffective as much as political movements in eighteenth and nineteenth century America had a strong focus on the regulation of sexuality in general. In this way, he shows that LGBT identity is much more universal to the American narrative contrary to the various persecuted minority narratives that have dominated LGBT historiography.

I read the 312 page cloth version (ISBN-13: 978-0807044391) published by Beacon Press on May 10, 2011. It was heavily discounted and likely can be found at abebooks or amazon.