Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“BETWEEN TWO-SPIRIT: BECOMING A WOMAN AT SIXTY”— Changing

between two spirts

“BETWEEN TWO-SPIRIT: BECOMING A WOMAN AT SIXTY”

Changing

Amos Lassen

Chris Muth was a professor of Management at a high school of Engineering in Geneva and was turning sixty years old and had just come through a threatening illness. He decided that it was time for a change and not just any change. He wants to become a woman or has he said—to make his outside appearance fit how he felt inside—the person he had always felt he was. While in this 20s and at college, Chris had lived in a commune in Zurich and joined a club where for transvestite women and he began cross-dressing for the first time. Then he met his future wife and his life took a different direction—he became more conventional and settled down and became a father and a businessman before he entered higher education as a teacher. We are not told what happened during those years but we can imagine that he had always lived as a man. When he flew from Geneva to Thailand for gender-reassignment surgery, it is the first time that any of his friends had ever seen him dressed as a woman.

 Filmmaker Laurence Perigaud met Chris by coincidence at a Conference on Transexuality just before the movie was made. It starts with the surgery and follows Chris during the first year of her transition. In the film Chris’s doctor explains that people who want to undergo hormonal or surgical transition to the opposite sex, the Harry Benjamin Code of Practice that is recognized by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health provides the protocols that should be adhered to. In the case of Chris, the doctor allowed him to fast track the entire process—Chris had actually only been on hormones for less than a year (eight months) and had never lived openly as a woman as all other patients do. Chris’s doctor replied with that it was not fair to make someone of Chris’s age wait to transition.

Chris’ doctor in Thailand supplied him with a soft and feminine face as well as altered Chris’ sex organs. Upon recovery, Chris returned to Geneva but only partially ready for the entire change. Now while home, Chris is Christa, a new woman but at work and out in society, he is Chris. He dresses in unisex clothing and he ultimately plans to let his employers know. Aside from teaching, Chris is the director of an industrial association. It was his plan to also let his teaching colleagues know at the semester’s end but rumors got to them first and he had to do so earlier than planned.

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European academia is conservative and his teaching fellows are struggling with this new identity. Some are okay with it albeit reluctantly and the president of the school has offered support. Unfortunately the news reached the association and Chris has been asked to resign. His ex-wife finally files for divorce and their daughter will have nothing to do with her father at all.

The movie looks at these rejections but the main focus is on the transition and is positive even though it all seems so unreal. In effect, it seems to agree with the fast track way the surgery was performed and this means that it agrees with bypassing the safeguards.

 Today, it seems that Christa Muth is an extremely likable and personable woman who loves sensible shoes and has a fine sense of self-deprecating humor. She makes fun of the clothes she wears and admits that her taste is terrible. I am still, however, not sure if this is a remarkable story of bravery and courage or something else. What we do see is that it is never too late in life to become who you really are regardless of the consequences.  

 

 

 

“ROYAL ROAD”— Gender Dysphoric

royal road

“ROYAL ROAD”

Gender Dysphoric

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Jenni Olson gives us a film documentary that is, in essence, an essay on gender as we meet a Midwestern tomboy who is searching for a place in society. One way some people do this is to take on an identity of a character in a movie. Our tomboy borrows masculine personas of movie characters as a way to understand how to handle being attracted to women who are just not available. I suppose e can say that this is a film about reinvention. The film not only looks at this kind of channeling but also at Mexico and its conquest and colonization, the fading urban landscape of urban California and how the passions that arise from adopting a “butch” identity form a way to remember. I would not be surprised if, at this point, you do not understand what I am talking about.

The film looks at roads that include The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, El Camino Real and the road in front of the house. What we see is an observation of the human condition as it strives for redemption. We all need to remember and as some of us age we lose the ability to remember things exactly as they once were. Olson gives us a look at the Spanish colonization of California and the Spanish-American War along with the afore mentioned themes and it is all seen against landscape of urban California. Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) provides a cameo lyrical voice over. We hear a personal monologue in the stream of consciousness and we learn of stories that come together to weave a story that is unique to California. It is all about memory, landscape and history as they come together to become the stories that we tell.

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The title, “The Royal Road” comes from the fact that California’s once local roads have now become freeways. These earlier roads were what united the north and the south of the state. We look at El Camino Royal, the first and most important thoroughfare of early California and it went from San Diego to the missions of Sonoma for more than 150 years when the areas were annexed to the United States. Olson provides the history of people and places. She also sees desire in the topography of the land just as she does in classic films and she compares this to her own personal journey.

I am not sure that I understand where she is going with this film and were it not for the beautiful cinematography, I might have been temped to stop watching but then I realized that I would be missing quite a cinematic experience.

We learn of Olson’s three major loves—women, California and classic films. This is quite an experimental film but that does not mean it cannot be understood. We just have to think a little more than usually. It all comes together with the director’s love of women and nostalgia being reflected in the history of her adopted home state, California. We most definitely sense the romance that she feels— she says she came to California to find happiness and to reinvent who she was/is and that both she and California are built upon and are the result of this idea and ideal. We indeed see that one can feel nostalgia for an adopted home.

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“THE YEAR WE THOUGHT ABOUT LOVE”— Boston’s Queer Youth Theatre

the year we thought about love

“THE YEAR WE THOUGHT ABOUT LOVE”

Boston’s Queer Youth Theatre

Amos Lassen

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Filmmaker Ellen Brodsky brings us a new documentary about the oldest queer youth theater in America. The camera crew goes into classrooms, kitchens, subways, and rehearsal rooms with this troupe of players. This is the Boston-based True Colors OUT Youth Theater that manages to transform daily struggles into performance for social change. The actors us wit, candor, and attitude as they perform before audiences who are surprised to hear the stories that they tell, especially in school settings. In the film we are introduced to a transgender teenager who was kicked out of her house, there is a devout Christian who is challenging his church’s homophobia, and we meet a girl who prefers to wear boys’ clothing even as she models dresses on the runway.

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Watching this documentary answers the question of what happens when LGBTQ youth of color band together and dare to be ‘out’ on stage about their lives and their loves. “The cast of True Colors: OUT Youth Theater transforms their struggles into performance” hoping to bring about societal changes.

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The experience of the Boston Marathon bombing very close to where the troupe rehearses gives the actors a sense of determination to share their stories as a way to help the city of Boston heal. explode yards from their rehearsal space, the troupe becomes even more determined to share their stories of love to help their city heal.

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“WE CAME TO SWEAT: THE LEGEND OF STARLITE”— Brooklyn’s Oldest Black Gay Bar

we came to sweat poster

 

“WE CAME TO SWEAT: THE LEGEND OF STARLITE”   

Brooklyn’s Oldest Black Gay Bar

Amos Lassen

When Brooklyn’s oldest black gay bar, the Starlite Lounge, is faced with eviction, the community decides to fight back. They face two important questions–Will they be able to save this pre-Stonewall safe haven? Or is gentrification unstoppable? Filmmakers Kate Kunath and Sasha Wortzel bring us a timely portrait of a community banding together to preserve their culture and history.

In 1962 Mackie Harris founded a gay bar for his Brooklyn community in a highly charged climate of Civil Rights. The gay liberation movement was happening but the Starlite Lounge would come to represent the enclaves of gay communities living outside of the metropolis whose revolution was in the hearts of its patrons.

 We hear many voices in the film that reconstruct this history. One gay elder tells us that, “There was the Stonewall across the river raising a whole lotta hell, but this is the only place us African-Americans had to go.”  Sixty-eight-year-old Millard remarks that back in the day “In the Life”, he and his friends were committed to protecting their neighborhood and their “non-discriminating” safe space. This commitment took place through the one of the most serious crisis of our time, the HIV/AIDS crisis, but that did not stop them and they marched on with their friends and allies. Relationships built across generational, racial, class and lifestyle divide and this is what characterizes the Starlite by 2010. But just as the Starlite has profited from social progress, the bar has also suffered the impact of rapid gentrification in central Brooklyn.

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Michael prays at a family meeting that his place will not be moved even though a new building owner and non-resident of the neighborhood had just served the Starlite a notice to vacate. The film follows the owners of the bar, Linda and Dennis, and their cousin, longtime community activist, Debbie, who mobilizes support to fight for their location and for their history. Patrons and employees with ties to the bar are compelled to join Debbie in the fight to demand community representation in development. The problem is that impending displacement weighs heavy as so do the challenges of everyday life in New York. Suddenly the one place people could go to relax was now a battleground, yet the rituals and celebrations continue as some are resigned to change while others insist that, “You can’t change a legend.” The Starlite represents “a family, a legacy, a safe haven, and a living history of the LGBTQ community.”

 “We Came to Sweat: The Legend of Starlite” is a portrait of this historic gathering place and the battle for survival that it lost in 2010. The bar has witnessed a lot—the Civil Rights Act transformed America, seven New York City mayoral administrations came and went, and AIDS/HIV devastated communities. Through it all the bar’s patrons were there to celebrate, mourn, organize, or meet friends.

 “As neighborhood property values began to rise, the Starlite’s future became uncertain and eventually its owners faced eviction. Members of the Brooklyn community—as passionate an engaged as ever—fought to protect this landmark and the history it held. The questions they raised still remain unanswered: why did the Stonewall survive, while the Starlite died? How can communities protect their historic sites in the age of gentrification? And above all: Whose history matters?”

We see here that the history of the Starlite and its brave culture of affection and inclusivity, its critical history as a Civil Rights-era landmark, and the passionate advocacy of its community are important parts of LGBT history. ‘The result is a portrait of an LGBT community of color that refuses to be invisible.”

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“NERDGASM”— A Nerd on Stage

Nerdgasm

“NERDGASM”

A Nerd on Stage

Amos Lassen

Actor/comedian Tom Lenk says that he has been a nerd all his life— whether on stage, on screen, and in reality. He is best known for his comedic roles in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Cabin in the Woods,” “Transformers,” and “Much Ado About Nothing” . Lenk has dreamed about taking his story as a s live solo comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, the largest and most famous theater festival in the world. Now that show is a “dorkumentary,” as well as, in part, a concert film. We go behind the scenes of this unusual, exciting and sometimes lazy approach to creating a non-traditional “one man show”. We see practice shows in L.A.’s low-rent Theater Row as well as in some of the grand and historic British venues. Throughout the film, Lenk tries to satisfy his own personal Scotland-centric geeky cravings for Harry Potter, underground cities, Loch Ness Mythology and delicious sausage rolls. Lenk is a fun loving and neurotic persona and he is puts this the test on stage, “in the Scottish Highland wilderness and in the “Buffy” themed memorabilia room at the home of his biggest local Edinburgh fan.”

Lenk has some wonderful one-liners such as “Don’t you hate when you pay $150 for a Madonna ticket and she doesn’t sing ‘Like a Virgin’?” and then goes on to tell his audience stories from his days on cult television classic ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.

Lenk has now moved on to other things, but for those people who have come to see this performance, he will always remain the “dorky Andrew” from a television show role that ended in 2003. He is completely aware of this, and shows no signs of resentment.

Many find it both interesting and gratifying that Lenk himself does not seem vastly different from the small screen character he portrayed. He has, he tells us, spent his career playing nerds in theatre, film and reality. He then supports this statement by showing a selection of photos, artwork, etc from his own high school years. 

The film contains a lot of storytelling, quite a few laughs, some musical interludes and projections and there is rather innovative segment in which audience members contribute illustrations, created in secret, to a song Lenk performs. Not everything works but the audience does not care. What Lenk wants to achieve here is time at the theater with people having fun with a nerd like him. He succeeds wonderfully.

I could not find a trailer.

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“THE NEW MAN”— Striving for Acceptance

the new man

“THE NEW MAN”

Striving for Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Aldo Garay’s new documentary is a look at what happens when a person returns home in a different gender than before. When he was just twelve-years-old, Roberto was an ardent supporter of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and he even fought for social and political reforms. He had a true revolutionary spirit and calling and went on

to continue his political struggle fighting alongside the communist Tupamaros in Uruguay. Now, some thirty years later, he is struggling to live his life as Stephania, a woman who struggles and strives to be accepted by both society and his family.

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Director Garay has followed Stephanía for over twenty years and in “The New Man” he gives us a personal and tender portrait of a woman who looks back on her life of in which violence, drugs, prostitution and political commitment had their places. We see scenes from her day-to-day life, hear interviews that include conversations with old friends, fellow travelers and siblings and a heated, yet passionate exchange with Stephania’s mother. We get a picture of society that emerges “as diverse as it is intimate, and spans a time of great political upheaval in the 1970s to the present day”.

“The New Man” was the winner of the 2015 Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

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“THE CULT OF JT LEROY”— Writing His Life?

 

the cult of jt leroy

“THE CULT OF JT LEROY”

Writing His Life

Amos Lassen

JT LeRoy was a teen prostitute who was both addicted to heroin and infected with HIV. His therapist encouraged him to write his life story. He eventually published three critically acclaimed books. However, as his fame skyrocketed, e shocking truth emerged: JT was not who or what he seemed. What followed was a spiral downfall that was both tragic and bewildering. Director Marjorie Sturm was a member of JT’s inner circle before the truth came out and with this film and intimate interviews with many that were close to JT, she tries to untangle what really happened, and in the process also looks at how his deception questions not only his writing but our celebrity obsessed culture. The film is ethically charged, controversial, and confusing and we see that JT’s life and death caused a lot of “powerful questions about literature and culture, identity and celebrity, and the reality of the society we live in.”

The story goes that JT (aka Jeremiah “Terminator”) LeRoy had been abandoned by his “truckstop prostitute” mother after a road trip. After years on the street, MJT became involved in drugs and prostitution and when he was just 15, he was encouraged by a therapist to write “as a form of therapy.” By 1994, JT began soliciting long-distance mentoring relationships with established writers, editors and literary agents, all who were at first intrigued by his circumstances and excited and enthralled with his writing.

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In 1999, JT published, “Sarah”, an alleged autobiographical novel and this increased his following. It is a lurid look at an androgynous boy pulled into his hostile mother’s trick-turning lifestyle; white-trash epic. It made him something of a celebrity. There were contradictions in his fiction and real-life history, and he wrote of timely issues— child abuse, sexual exploitation, gender dysphoria, homelessness, and so on and there were just what the media was looking for. JT’s personal story attracted celebrities from all over including Sandra Bernhard, Michael Musto and Susan Dey, rock stars Stephan Jenkins and Billy Corgan. Asia Argento directed a film feature of the based on his supposed autobiographical story collection, “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things” and in 2004 other writings were sold as screen properties.

JT was enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, when some began to question him. He appeared in public in strange outfits—wigs, sunglasses and other disguises and remained androgynous. He had once been a vulnerable, stuttering, schizophrenic kid but he became a “monster of ambition.” Others began to notice that his stories and trauma tales contradicted each other and those who had either lived in San Francisco or worked with the city’s mentally ill and homeless populations during the time he was on the streets found those stories didn’t jibe and that they could not be confirmed by witnesses aside from JT’s adopted family— Laura Albert and musician Geoffrey Knoop, who happily used his fame right along with him.

Then in 2005, articles that ran in “New York” magazine and the “New York Times” showed that there was no JT LeRoy; he existed only as a construct revealed the truth: There was no JT LeRoy, save as a construct. It turned out that Albert had been the actual writer all along, while Knoop’s half-sister Savannah pretended to be LeRoy in public appearances. There was widespread anger and embarrassment from those who’d been pulled in and there was at least one lawsuit. Albert let many questions go unanswered even after she came out of hiding later. It is interesting that the mystery continues even today.

In Sturm’s film she lets those seduced tell their own stories and how they felt when the truth came out. Not everyone agreed to take part in the film (Albert and Knoop). There are re-enactments and archival footage. Because Arnold chose not to defend herself, she comes across as without a conscience. Some of the questions that still remain are whether Albert was just a grifter who managed to find fame in obscurity, was the construction of JT deliberate and was it just a performance or was the persona really therapy for someone who was indeed disturbed deeply like Terrance Owens, the San Francisco psychiatrist maintained when he faced a court-deposition?

This is an amazing and absorbing film that will keep you thinking long after it is over.

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“OYLA’S LOVE”— LGBT in Russia

olya poster

“OLYA’S LOVE”

LGBT in Russia

Amos Lassen

Director Kirill Sakharnov takes us into a world we know very little about. He introduces us to a lesbian couple living in Russia. Olya is a fighter and an active member of the LGBT-community while her partner, Galiya doesn’t want to let politics rule her life. Nonetheless, they are very much in love and want to have a child. However, the Russian Duma does not agree with their lifestyle and sets forth discriminating laws against homosexuals. This make Olya start to fight even more and this puts Galiya’s and Olya’s love and relationship to the test.

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This is the Russia of today, of Vladimir Putin where two members of the political punk band Pussy Riot are put in prison and the Russian parliament adopts controversial anti-gay legislation. We follow enthusiastic Olya who is in her twenties and struggles constantly for equal rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. She organizes exhibitions and coming-out events and demonstrates actively on the streets. She is often right on the front line between demonstrators, riot police and opponents. But she also loves her partner very much.

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We see a beautiful scene in which Galiya and Olya stand before the clothes closet in their small, Moscow apartment and ponder what to wear for the demonstration that they are about to go to. They have been a couple for two years and not only openly declare their love but they also participate regularly in marches and gatherings protesting Russia’s anti-homosexual laws. Whereas Galiya, who is from the Urals, tends to keep more in the background, Olya, a city-girl and Moscow native is the driving force, in more than just their romantic relationship. She is an active member of the LGBT-movement, gives speeches, organizes events—and wants to demonstrate her love to Galiya with their own child.



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Director Sakharnov accompanies his two protagonists through their everyday life that is determined mainly by the events on the streets of Moscow and conversations at home. What strongly characterizes this film is its clever overlapping of private and public, especially within the context of a restrictive social system. We wonder and we see to what extent are the freedoms that one fights for everyday, also possible in one’s relationship? When during a demonstration Olya persists in talking to a policeman who remains silent, then her voice seems to collide against Putin’s state apparatus yet she is determined to make her voice heard and does so. She knows each step to democracy, no matter how small, is important and this is true regarding her own and Galiya’s happiness.

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This is an intimate film in which close-ups are preferred to an overview. The film moves at the tempo of its protagonists, and sometimes they even hold the camera. The film is shot much like a home video and this emphasizes just how personal it is even though it deals with a highly politicized issue. Olya learns to use the camera herself so she can film in the intimacy of her apartment – while her girlfriend is fitting a wall socket or they are talking with friends about having children. The private footage is interspersed with material shot by an external cameraman (often rough material from the street, just when something is happening such as beatings not only during the demonstrations in front of the Duma, but also on the escalator in the metro, where women are attacked by members of an anti-gay group). By letting the camera into her life, Olya shows us the cost of standing up for your sexuality is in today’s Russia. Yet, above all else this is a film about love in the time of resistance.

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“OUT HERE”— Queer Farmers

out here

“OUT HERE’”

Queer Farmers

Amos Lassen

“Out Here” explores what it means to be a modern-day queer farmer here in America. It is a full-length documentary that looks at the relationship between the growing community of queer farmers and the larger modern food production industry that sustains our country. It was in production for four years and now we finally have it. It asks the questions of what it means to be a queer farmer, if agriculture is a safe space for queer people, and if there are what relationships between food production and queerness.”

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Jonah Mossberg is a farmer and a gay man living in rural America. This is first film and he made it because of the lack of visibility his community, gay farmers, has had. His film could possibly bring what he has to say to other queer farmers thereby letting us know about a group within the LGBT community that until now we have not been aware of.

The photos of rural America are gorgeous and what we see and hear in this documentary fall somewhere in between telling stories and speaking from the heart. Mossberg wanted the film to tell the stories of diverse and different kinds of farmers and so we hear from urban and rural farmers, people of color, young people and older people. It is interesting that many queer farmers speak about their spiritual connections to the earth.

Then there are farmers who feel that there is a strong connection between gay people and the land—something that heterosexual people do not feel or sense. Today sexuality no longer is just for the purpose of reproduction yet some of our queer farmers feel the need to bring life to the world and this is seen through planting and the fermentation of food as well as the animals giving birth on the farm.

With the film came the creation of the queer farmer project and some feel that they do not want to be primarily labeled as queer because they feel it separates them from others and I suspect that one day we will no longer see such a label—we will be simply “people” or “farmers” without an additional descriptive term. Labels and names affect the way we go through life and since being gay or queer is only one aspect of who we are, some find the word to be too defining and constrictive. We also hear that the term “queer” does not define the way the farmers work.

We meet partners, Kay Grimm and Sue Spicer, explain that the name of their farm, Fruit Loop Acres, was chosen because of its many double-entendres: “We’re fruits!” They grow fruits, and they participate in a closed loop, using as many of their and neighbors’ products and byproducts as possible. Again, the cinematography is gorgeous and I find it fascinating watching others do the work that most of us have never thought to do.

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In the experience of his identity in his chosen profession, Mossberg says, “Farming is the first place where I don’t need to break down into my component parts.” Then there are those who speak about being outsiders in that they are both gay and farmers. (I am so reminded of the many years I spent on a kibbutz in Israel doing the kind of work that many gay people eschew and loving every minute of it).

It is the Mossberg’s dream that this project and film will bring notice to queer people in agriculture and inspire a national discussion about gender and sexuality as they are related to our food system.

 

 

“SEED MONEY: THE CHUCK HOLMES STORY”— The Changing Gay Male

seed money poster

“SEED MONEY: THE CHUCK HOLMES STORY”

The Changing Gay Male

Amos Lassen

Chuck Holmes is a gay San Francisco pornographer who became a philanthropist. He was responsible for helping to change, shape and create a gay identity during the period that followed Stonewall. He was a founder of gay advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Victory Fund but then discovered that his money was wanted and welcome but he was not.

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Holmes’s porn studio changed the way gay men looked. If you can remember back to the 1980s and 1990s, the in-man was preppy, smooth, blonde and self-assured. This what we saw in gay porn. Many say that Holmes was the gay Hugh Hefner. He was charming and suave, a businessman par excellence, his taste was impeccable and he loved the best. The word no was not one that he used and neither was it used on him. He wanted to give back to the gay community—after all, they had made him rich and as I stated before, his money was welcomed but his business was a liability. I wonder if HRC would still be begging as much as do they do had they taken his money.

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In 2002 when his name was installed over the San Francisco LGBT Center, people were outraged. The directors of the center called it insane even though they had accepted a million dollar bequest to the center that had fallen on bad times. They were afraid that the donation and the name on the center would cause right-wing allegations against the gay community and its obsession with sex. They did not understand the importance of what pornographers had given to the community.

They played a very important role in building the gay rights movement. Michael Stabile, the film’s director tells us that he discovered, while working on the film, that or community owes a great deal to porn barons who risked their lives in order that we are able to live ours. In the 1950s the government of this country saw no difference in homosexual rights, manifestos, dirty pictures and gay erotica. All were against the law and using the postal service for distribution could and did bring prison sentences.

Pornographers provided an advantage to the liberation movement—they knew the legality of the restrictions and they had money to fight obscenity battles. Chuck Holmes was especially helpful to those who lived outside of the major urban centers. Because Falcon was such a well-established studio, he had a very wide reach and he was quite vocal about creating imagery that would make gay men feel proud of their sexuality. For many closeted customers in small towns across the country, those Falcon films brought gay life to them and for many they were as important as the “It Gets Better” videos of today. Pornographers also contributed in many other ways—they gave directly to the liberation movement, they lend resources, they educated audiences about Safer Sex during the AIDS epidemic and gave their mailing lists to new and struggling organizations such as HRC to whom Holmes gave a great deal and later sat on its board of directors.

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As the liberation movement became more mainstream, pornographers became less and less welcomed. Checks were actually returned. Holmes kept his business in the closet even though he was a tireless worker for our rights. Even when he died, his name and money were considered to be stigmas. Michael Stabile, the director of this film says that the reason he chose to make this film was to give Holmes and the others the recognition that they deserve. He says that this has not been an easy film to make. Some people still see this a shameful mark against us and that it will hurt us politically. However, if sexuality is a source of embarrassment and we hide our history to keep good relations with our critics, then we have not yet hardly achieved the freedoms that we think are ours.

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Appearing in the film are some very familiar names—John Waters, Jeff Stryker, Holly Woodlawn, Jake Spears, Chi Chi La Rue, Zak Spears, Jim Bentley, John Rutherford to name just a few.

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