Friday, March 7, 2008


My friend Don Charles was kind enough to send me a DVD of the 1961 film, "The Children's Hour." It stars Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.

It is a compelling story of lies, love, and individual and collective evil. I don't want to say any more about the film as I don't want to spoil it for you. My wife cried and I was shaken! Suffice it to say, I strongly urge you to rent or buy the DVD, if you already haven't seen the film. You will never forget it!

One of the many things that struck me about the film is that what was "the norm" in 1961 remains "the norm" in 2008. With the exception of Pride parades, changes in the sodomy laws, the founding of the MCC by Rev. Troy Perry (All three of which, particularly the latter two, have been a boon in the civil rights movement for LGBT people.), Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions, both of which I think have done far more to retard same-sex marriage rights than had they not existed in some jurisdictions in the first place, my perception is that the same social and psychological dynamic that this film depicts exists to this very day.

The self-loathing manifested by the apolitical nature of all too many in the LGBT community, their use of pejorative self-identifiers that have been imposed on them by their very oppressors, their revulsion against anyone who would dare suggest that enmeshing oneself in embracing negative stereotyping is counter-productive and personally hurtful, bespeaks to me the same mind-set that existed in 1961.

We have gone from the likes of Rev. Troy Perry, Barbara Gittings, Franklin Kameny, Harry Hay, and others of their caliber, to having relatively few who are engaged in meaningful activism in the fight for LGBT civil rights, such as Larry Kramer, Andy Humm, Ann Northrop, and Mike Signorile.

There are undoubtedly some, perhaps many, I have missed, but the point is that not much has changed regarding self-loathing by all too many LGBT people; more than a few viewing themselves as "outsiders," as "deviants," perhaps even as "abnormal," that is very much like the perceptions evinced in the 1961 film, except that today all too many LGBT people embrace and identify with the oppressors' hateful terms for them, and see themselves through the very lenses of these historically used derogatory terms.

Moreover, in most parts of this country, the same attitudes of others toward LGBT people largely remain the same, save for some cosmopolitan areas that would make up a relatively short list.

The major difference between what this film depicts and the current state of affairs, however, and the one that is the most disturbing to me, is the fact that in 1961, LGBT people viewed themselves as "outsiders," as "deviants," as "abnormal" and viewed that perception as fact and terribly resented their plight and that perception.

Now, however, many LGBT people, undoubtedly as a defense mechanism, have more than willingly embraced "outsider" status and have made it their very own, thereby becoming the unwitting allies of, and accomplices to, their oppressors, and doing inestimable harm to the cause of civil rights for themselves and for other LGBT people.

And, by their unwittingly becoming allies of their oppressors, the oppressors have that much less work to do, and mystification, that transmuting of "evil" into "good" regarding those obscene self-identifiers are viewed by many LGBT people as being evidence of their "liberation."

When buying into the rhetoric of one's oppressors is naively viewed as being evidence of "progress," and as a means of "liberation," we can see that a lot of work has yet to be done to acquire full and equal civil and sacramental rights for our LGBT sisters and brothers.

In any event, please see this film!
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I think seeing this film may have been the beginning of my decision to deal directly with the pain of living as an LGBT person. I wish it were more respected by film critics, Gay and Straight alike.

Jerry Maneker said...

It is a powerful film, made more poignant in that the same cultural, social, and psychological dynamics seem to be operative in 2008 as they were in 1961 when the film was made. There are some changes, of course, but those changes haven't resulted in LGBT people still being part of a despised minority group in most parts of this country, and the target of "religious" and other hate speech.