The night before my ex-girlfriend broke up with me, she stood with her arms crossed over her chest, by the hot buffet at her office's holiday party, and said, "Why would you sell your movie to a gay film distributor?" She shoved a dripping barbequed rib into her mouth, asked me to leave the party, and dumped me the next day.
Something in her voice insinuated, "You're not gay enough, not queer enough, or haven't been queer long enough to make a queer film." As I stumbled onto the freezing cold street that night, carrying the 3-foot-tall Christmas tree I had planned to decorate for us, I was hurt, but I was instantaneously forced to redefine both my connection to the queer community in Brooklyn and my identity as a queer filmmaker, two things I had come to cherish in the previous two years. These were not associations I had planned per se, but they had happened, and I was grateful.
A few years ago my friend Alana Kearns-Green and I, without much money or experience, decided to make a feature film, Mary Marie. The film tells the simple story of the two main characters' complex relationship. Though the film does feature naked girls in a bathtub together and lots of girl-on-girl spooning, we did not intend to make an LGBTQ film, and I did not set out to be a queer filmmaker. Despite this, the film has screened in many queer film festivals and was purchased by TLA, a gay and lesbian film distributor. And that randomly, and perhaps serendipitously, coincided with my first serious relationship with another woman. I fell in love with queer life, and deeper in love with the process of feature filmmaking, all at the same time.
Recently I finished writing a script, a road-trip comedy entitled Brooklyn Flee, with co-writer Devon Kirkpatrick. We sent it to a potential manager, who said, "This seems really gay. I just don't think it's a big deal to be gay anymore. There are gays all over the media. Don't you watch Modern Family?" At that moment I was in a tiny mall in Georgia, multitasking, looking around a Forever 21 store for a dress suitable for my cousin's traditional Southern wedding that I could still pull off at age 28. However, his words rang clear above the blasting Katy Perry song. Politely I said, "Thank you. I don't think this is going to work between us." I hung up the phone and purchased the only $20 dress that I deemed appropriate for dancing with boys in khakis to some cover band's maudlin rendition of "When a Man Loves a Woman."
So just because there are gays on Fox TV in Glee (which is great), I shouldn't bother writing a film with a bunch of queers in it? Hmmm. Lately, I just want to go to a movie theater or on Netflix and watch something decent that reflects this part of my life, and it's not easy to find. I live in New York, where there are 1,000 LGBTQ things happening. But does the 22-year-old queer girl in Marietta, Ga. (where I'm from) have access to "queereoke" night or a "reggay" dance party? I don't think so. Some just have a Netflix account, a local movie theater, or access to the only lesbian TV show out right now, The Real L Word, which I admit I would absolutely be watching, out of desperation for content, if I had Showtime.
Recently I've heard people say that we live in a post-gay world where it's OK to be gay, lesbian, or trans -- or anything other than straight. Perhaps in New York this is true; however, this city is an exception. What happens here is in no way a measure of progress of other parts of the country. Still, living in New York, I yearn for more content in film (and media in general) that reflects the changes society is growing through and what it's like to be a queer 20- or 30-something.
When I spoke to the potential manager again, I attempted to explain to him that although the script might seem "really gay" to him, it just reflects my experience. Would he criticize The Hangover for being "really straight"? This kind of response to my screenplay shows how much it's not normal to be queer. If it were totally normal, then the amount of "queerness" in a film wouldn't even be an issue. If queer artists don't continue making art reflecting their experience, how will it ever become normalized and part of the mainstream? I certainly do hope there comes a day when queer cinema can just be a part of cinema in general.
After flying to Prague for the Mezipatra Queer Film Festival last year with my film Mary Marie, I sat and watched all of Todd Haynes' films in a dark Gothic cinema, alone, and I was moved. I cried during Poison upon seeing the two men get married in a prison yard. I couldn't believe I was just now seeing this film. Haynes' courage to make artistically brilliant and challenging films blew me away. Afterwards, he and I sat in a smoke-filled bar, drinking 50-cent Pilsners and discussing queer cinema today and how things have changed.
In addition to Haynes, queer filmmakers like Lisa Cholodenko, Tom Kalin, John Cameron Mitchell, Gus Van Sant, and others have bridged the gap into mainstream cinema and paved the way with high-quality movies featuring rich content and big-name actors and made on substantial budgets. In the past few years directors Dee Rees (Pariah), Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On), Morgan Jon Fox (This Is What Love in Action Looks Like), and others have told personal stories beautifully, with bravery and honesty, on modest budgets. The bar is continuing to be raised for queer cinema. Films centered around gay stories are not a passing trend but a constant reality of the world we live in. Whether the characters are gay, straight, transgender, or other shouldn't be reason enough to deter someone from making a film. It's about telling a good story.
Hopefully we will arrive at a day when characters' sexual orientations won't matter, because, ultimately, their experience is human above all. That'll be the day when we can say we live in a post-gay world. Meanwhile, I'll be making my next film and happily embracing all the comedy and queerness it has to offer.
Watch a trailer for Mary Marie: