Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“PIGS WITHOUT BLANKETS”— The Penis Documentary

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“PIGS WITHOUT BLANKETS”

The Penis Documentary

Amos Lassen

I just learned about “Pigs Without Blankets” from its Kickstarter campaign. What I am reporting on here is what I have learned from the site. We do not talk about penises in this country and we certainly do not talk about circumcision. The fact that we never discuss a surgical procedure done to millions of American baby boys moments after their birth is, quite strange to some people. When the subject comes up, the reaction is somewhat hostile even when speaking with a stranger. The filmmakers want viewers to meet the group of people who fight against circumcision, discover what motivates them, and understand why they feel the best penis is the one left intact. The film was meant to be public service announcement but it has evolved into a documentary about circumcision.

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Featured are Alan Cuming (whose book on the subject I have been waiting to read, as well as Steven Svoboda, who is the head of the Attorney of the Rights of the Child and Eric Clopper, spokesman for Foregen a company that plans to use stem cell science to restore foreskins. The film is produced by

Kenny Neal Shults and stars Eric Clopper. Shults is a stand-up comic, writer, actor, filmmaker, and public health consultancy  owner living in Brooklyn. A self-described “intactivist,” he’s now creating two comical digital shorts exploring the American practice of secular circumcision. When Shults lived in San Francisco from 1996 to 2002, he did quite a bit of anti-circumcision activism. He made a connection with a local gay guy who helped run one of the primary anti-circ efforts called NOHARMM, the National Organization to Halt the Routine Mutilation of Males, and met many of the major players in the anti-circumcision scene; an exclusive band of mostly older gay men whose lives essentially revolved around the discussion of, the fight against, and the recovery from circumcision. When they needed a break from circumcision, they discussed foreskin restoration. These guys called themselves intactivists. He gained insightful perspectives and ideas about how to combat the practice, and was inspired by the number of smart, thoughtful, measured people who were a part of this movement.

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As an HIV prevention specialist for 20 years, Shults has been deeply troubled by the idea that mass circumcisions in Africa or anywhere will contribute to a decrease in incidents. Many men in Africa for example are getting circumcised so they do not have to use condoms. In America people have rationalized circumcision as a means for preventing HIV and STDs. He and his team would so love to dispel this dangerous myth, and with Alan Cummings star power we have a real chance to create some norm-altering discourse.

America is a circumcising country and being circumcised is considered normal. Many of us went through periods of making fun of uncircumcised kids. When you grow up in a non-circumcising country, having a foreskin is normal so naturally and it is the circumcised kids who are made fun off. A circumcised penis does not exist since it is purely a social construct. There is no such thing as a penis without a foreskin, the foreskin is the penis just as much as fingers are your hand. This is simple to understand because the penis invariably comes with a foreskin and no matter how many times it is cut off, it will always a part of the penis. This is hard to comprehend because of the social context of today. If a male is circumcised as a child, he you grows up identifying as a boy so naturally he identifies his penis as a penis from an early age. However, what he has is not a penis but simply part of his entire penis, the other part having been cut off when he was an infant. What makes this even harder to understand is that most if not all of one’s peers and fathers are circumcised as well, which further reinforces the false belief that what one has is a penis and not part of one. Because of the psychological importance of this body part, it is far easier to escape reality and console oneself in “mass delusion”.

The average foreskin is 12-15 square inches of the penis, contains most of the nerve endings, all the natural mobility, lubrication, and sensitivity preserving functions the penis has evolved to have and that effectively 0% of men willingly remove it because no one wants a smaller, less pleasurable penis.

Circumcision is a practice that causes harm, and the basic, common sense injustice of it is something to be opposed. Most men in the dark about this— they don’t even know it happened, don’t know they have a scar on their penis, don’t know their penis was supposed to look and feel differently, and don’t have access to feelings that their infant selves undoubtedly experienced and stored for later displacement.

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The form and function of genitalia needs to be discussed on a national scale. That is the goal of this film—the average circumcised dude can identify with and understand what it says (and it does so, in part, with humor.

Anti-circumcision has been taken up by a group of intactivists. They are activists who believe in keeping babies intact by not circumcising them, and want to change the false perception that circumcision is harmless or even beneficial. To an outside observer not familiar with the topic some intactivists may appear crazy. The foreskin is just a normal body part like any other, this particular part conveys sexual pleasure to its owner, “just as eyes convey sight, noses convey small, tongues taste, etc”. The only unique aspect of the foreskin is that it is the only part that has been cut off from hundreds of millions of men, mostly for sexually repressive religious reasons. In the US it’s for profit.

“Pigs Without Blankets” is a different kind of film in that it champions the cause. Circumcision was essentially introduced by John Kellogg (of corn flakes fame) as a means of preventing masturbation.

To learn more go the Kickstarter page and learn how you can help make the picture a reality.

“THE GOOD SON”— Quite a Story

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“The Good Son”

Quite a Story

Amos Lassen

“The Good Son” is the story of a young Israeli man … who takes the radical step of changing his gender without telling his family first. Or is 22 years old and he manages to secretly finance his sex change operation in Thailand by lying to his conservative parents. He then returns home as a woman to face her new life, her family and the cost of living her dream. Naturally there are questions—will her mother and father accept her back? Will she learn to take responsibility for her actions? “The Good Son” looks at how far we are forced to go in compromising our morals, our loved ones and everything that is familiar to us in order to become whole with ourselves.

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Or’s own home videos make up the first part of the film – the emotional lead-up to the procedure, lying to his family about his acceptance to university abroad and stealing from them to pay for the operation in Thailand. He then teams up with filmmaker Shirly Berkovitz (correct spelling of first name), who not only documents the remainder of Or’s lonely and guilt-ridden journey through recovery and personal reinvention, but also acts as friend and confidant. Berkovitz has captured Or’s first steps in her new life as a woman, talking with fellow transgender people and finally, confronting her family and the price of seeking her true identity. This is an extraordinary tale about overcoming self-doubt, conflicted loyalty and being true to one’s self.

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I understand that the story came to director Berkovitz through some 40 videotapes that were delivered to her front door by Or in person. “The footage in the first part of the film was all filmed by Or himself and in it Or really created the plot of the film. He filmed himself during the highly emotional in the emotionally build-up to his sex-change operation, including the subterfuges and deceits that he had to arrange and fund the operation without his family finding out about it. What is so compelling in the footage are Or’s inner struggles as well as his struggles with his family and society at large. Or knew what he wanted to do and began filming himself and as he did, he realized that he wanted someone who would not only film his story but who would also be his friend as he went through everything. Berkovitz had already made a film (“The Way Up”) on the subject and this was how Or got to her.

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Berkovitz followed Or to Thailand where he had booked himself into a sex-change clinic in Bangkok. Before that, she had tried to talk Or out of what he had planned basically because she felt badly for his parents but then she realized that Or was a man and he had decided to do this. He had already paid half the money for the operation. A bond soon developed between the filmmaker and her subject. She was with him during his recovery at the hospital and she became more than a filmmaker. The film’s final ending when Or returns to Israel to confront her family with her “new me”, is emotional and very dramatic. Berkovitz feels that Or did the right thing and she is a very brave young woman.

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Or had flown to Thailand alone and underwent eight different surgeries over a month – nose, jaw, forehead, breast and, of course, gender reassignment. Berkovitz decided that she wanted to “show the secrets we keep from our family that we are afraid to share. We seem to be afraid of sharing and we know that everyone has secrets. Or wanted to be who he felt he had to be and she did what she had to do. (I know that the pronouns are confusing).

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The film has been quite a success and after ayear and a half of filming and two years editing. “The Good Son” aired on the Yes Docu channel from Israel and sold to 10 different TV channels around the world. It competed in the main category at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam where it won the People’s Choice Award. It opened the Docs Barcelona festival, competed in the Israeli film category at the Jerusalem International Film festival, and was screened at over 20 other film festivals around the world. “The Good Son” has also screened to hundreds of fans at Nay Pyi Taw Cinema as part of the third Human Right Human Dignity International Film Festival in Yangon.

So now everyone wants to know what happened with Or. Though she returned home to Israel after her month of painful surgery, the recovery did not begin right away. Her father refused to meet with her and her mother cried; both parents were angry and afraid. Luckily, time slowly began to heal the wounds and love found its way back into Or’s family. Or has started working two jobs to repay her parents money, and in the meantime she found love and earned a chemistry degree. We all need to deal withacceptance and our ability to forgive someone who we really love and this is not a story about a sex change but about love in a family.

“THE QUEEN OF IRELAND”— Meet Panti Bliss

 

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“The Queen of Ireland”

Meet Panti Bliss

Amos Lassen

Rory O’Neill is Panti Bliss, a “wittily incisive performer with charisma to burn who is widely regarded as one of the best drag queens in the world”. She is also an accidental activist and in her own words “a court jester, whose role is to say the un-sayable”. Of late, Rory has become a figurehead for LGBT rights in Ireland and since the 2014 scandal around Pantigate, his fight for equality and against homophobia has become recognized across the world. However, in America, we have not been lucky enough to learn all about Rory/Panti so here is our chance.

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A documentary, “The Queen of Ireland” is a film, chronicles the change in an Irish society afraid of the different to one tolerant of the different, to one that is ready to embrace the different and much of this due to one man his alter-ego. Filmmaker Conor Horgan embarked on the journey to bring the life of Rory O’Neill to the big screen in 2010 and then nobody could have imagined the events of the next 5 years, and how vital it would be that cameras were there to document it all. In May 2015 Ireland became the first country in the world to put the issue of marriage equality to popular vote, with O’Neill and his drag queen alter-ego Panti Bliss were “a beacon around which the Yes campaign rallied”. The momentous occasion, hen the Irish people overwhelming voted in favor of equality gives the film a perfect launching point and provides a destination for the journey on which the audience goes with O’Neill/Panti.

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Growing up gay in rural Ireland, a country that still criminalized homosexual behavior at the time, O’Neill speaks of hid feelings of isolation and confusion. He speaks of adventures with his first sexual experiences, finding himself in college, before moving to Japan to experience a whole different culture. We see archive footage with O’Neill’s recollection and the recollections of those who knew him through the years the film charts. In Japan he finds his other self, becoming as he calls it a “giant cartoon woman” now known the world over as Panti. The film documents his return to Ireland following the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1993, his founding of Pantibar (an iconic Dublin bar), and accelerating towards the moment that would catapult him to world attention.

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O’Neill shrugs off the attention, with his honest and hilarious sense of self and credits Panti as the one who allows him to “commentate from the fringes, to stand on the outside looking in shouting abuse”, and the symbiotic relationship that he has with his other self is great fun to see.

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The campaign for marriage equality found a face and a voice with O’Neill and Panti, and the film captures its heart. The campaign was about people and Horgan and his editor Mick Mahon deserve real credit for the way in which the use this one man’s journey to tell the story of a people and of a time. Focusing the narrative on O’Neill, with Panti remaining an enigmatic stage presence the film achieves a true warmth. The addition of other voicesgive the film other experiences and take on the man behind the queen, but never distract from the narrative.

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Panti and Rory O’Neill’s story is Ireland’s story. Just this year Panti Bliss addressed the nation over the holiday with a Christmas message broadcast on Irish television. Speaking about the events of the past year, which have been huge for Ireland, most notably the May referendum that set in motion the legal changes that led to marriage equality, we see just what a personality this is.

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Panti said: “In some ways it wasn’t a big change…we were just asked to let more people get married if they want to, but to some people on both sides of the question it was huge. For some of us, me included, we were being asked to finally decide forty years after a few brave men and women first asked whether or not LGBT people are full and equal members of this society and deserving of the same respect as everyone else. But others didn’t see it that way”.

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“They felt we were being asked to change a fundamental social institution that they cherish and admire and they worried that changing it might weaken or even ruin it. And that’s ok. You know on the day of the referendum result a mischievous English journalist asked me in front of the world’s media at Dublin Castle whether I could forgive the people who voted no and my answer today is the same as it was then. I have nothing to forgive them for. For the most part, people who voted no did so out of genuinely held concerns but I hope and believe that in time they’ll come to realize that their concerns were unfounded and come to agree with the rest of us that may 22nd was indeed a good day for Ireland. If they haven’t already. I hope so anyway. Change isn’t always easy but it’s absolutely necessary. …”

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“So let’s stop fearing change. Let’s look at ourselves, at Ireland, with an open mind and credit ourselves with what we do well but also have the courage to see what we don’t do so well and then have the courage to change it.”

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Panti also gave some advice for the nation in helping the disenfranchised: “Our Constitution promises to cherish all of the children of the nation equally but until May we failed to live up to that promise for gay people. The referendum result felt like an acknowledgement of that failure and the closest thing to an apology for forcing generations of LGBT Irish people to emigrate or lead miserable hidden lives.

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“For people like me May 22nd felt like a fresh start and for that I am very grateful but LGBT people aren’t the only ones for whom we have failed to live up to the promise of cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.

“I don’t think the young man settling down to sleep in a doorway tonight feels equally cherished. I don’t think the mother spending Christmas with her kids in a B&B feels equally cherished. I don’t think the travelers spending Christmas on a rat-infested temporary holding site feel equally cherished. I don’t think the elderly woman on a trolley in a crowded hospital corridor feels equally cherished. I don’t think the kid who can’t get into his local school because he’s not the right religion feels equally cherished. I don’t think people with a disability or struggling with mental health issues feel equally cherished. There are times when Irish women don’t feel equally cherished”.

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“The kind of change that we need to make to live up to that promise to cherish all of the children of the nation equally may seem daunting but if May 22nd taught us anything it’s that if we feel strongly enough about something and if we work together we can achieve incredible things. We can move mountains. If I had told them what twenty years ago that someone like me would get to speak to you all in your Christmas living rooms today they’d have quietly called the doctor. I don’t live in Ireland because I have to. I don’t pretend to live in this elegant residence that we’ve borrowed from the afternoon because I have to. I live in Ireland because I love it. I love it fiercely. But I wasn’t always sure that Ireland loved me back.”

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Much of the film deals with the same-sex marriage referendum, which Panti was a prominent campaigner. This was preceded by Pantigate, and his brilliant Noble Call speech that was tweeted around the world with endorsements from celebrities from Stephen Fry to Martina Navratilova.

We get quite a good overview of the struggle for LGBT equality in Ireland from the 1970’s to the present day with contributions from some of the leading figures such as David Norris and Tonie Walsh. However, this is a very personal film about Rory O’Neill and it concludes with a homecoming show in Ballinrobe where he returns as a star. We see why Rory/Panti is such a very likable character and why Miss Panti Bliss is so popular in Ireland today.

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She is quite simply The Queen of Ireland, an iconic figure known the length and breadth of the land, a gay icon and a ‘heroine’ to the Irish people.

Conor Horgan’s terrific documentary “The Queen of Ireland” begins on the day of the vote then takes us back, via home movies and various other footage, through Panti/Rory’s life. This is a funny, deeply moving picture of one boy’s life in the first instance and of a history of the Gay Right’s Movement in Ireland in the second, making it a wonderful historical, as well as a wonderfully personal record, fueled by its tremendously likable central character.

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Panti is, of course, the almost perfect (I really want to say “perfect” but some vicious drag queens I know would come after me) drag queen; funny, eccentric and so over-the-top she’s already half down the other side, “a cartoon woman as she describes herself, part Betty Boop and part Jessica Rabbit while Rory”. Her real-life alter-ego, is the sweetest of men who simply can’t believe his own good fortune and who has taken the blows that life has dealt him with a self-regarding shrug and a ‘let’s get on with it’ attitude. Of course, as a gay man growing up in rural Ireland he was blessed with a highly supportive family and a community that was more embracing than not, (his return to his home town in the guise of Panti is one of the film’s highlights). Here is a ‘gay’ movie with the widest possible appeal that certainly shouldn’t be missed.

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This is a compelling story of how a pub owner exploited a country.

“THE GAY WORD”— “That’s So Gay”— Good or Bad?

the gay word

“THE GAY WORD”

“That’s So Gay”–Good or Bad?

Amos Lassen

Amy Ashenden’s new documentary looks at the resurgence of young people saying “that’s so gay” to see whether that phrase is homophobic or whether, in her words, “language has evolved.” Ashenden has observed that “gay” is often used to mean “bad” and she tells us, “When I was growing up, I noticed something about the word ‘gay’. The more prevalent it became, the more negative its connotations. A word that originally meant happy and carefree became a neutral label to describe homosexuality, and ended up being a term used to pinpoint something people don’t like, find embarrassing, or want to distance themselves from.”

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She suggests that perhaps “gay” is being used as a negative descriptor more and more by today’s youth. This has caused her to wonder if this means that young people are more homophobic than ever before. This is her starting point in the film.

She interviews people both gay and straight, older and younger, to find out what “gay” means to them. She also talks to a sociologist who argues that saying “that’s so gay” isn’t homophobic, along with an activist from an LGBT organization who takes the opposite view and wants us all to “get the meaning straight.

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Ashenden says that while making the \ film, she learned just how much loaded term the term “gay” is. She believes that we can’t overlook the damage that’s done when we conflate a word that describes someone’s identity with something negative; saying “that’s so gay” shows a lack of collective understanding of what it means to identify as gay.

“BORN THIS WAY”— Gay in Cameroon

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“Born This Way”

Gay in Cameroon

Amos Lassen

“Born This Way” looks at the underground gay and lesbian community in the intensely homophobic culture of Cameroon where the first steps toward acceptance are taking place. The largest number imprisoned annually for being gay is in Cameroon and the sentences can be as long as five years. The two characters we meet here— Cédric wants to come out to his mom, and Gertrude who wants to come out to the Mother Superior who raised her in a Catholic convent dream about a time when they can be who they really are.

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Cédric and Gertrude both work at a nonprofit that officially operates as an HIV/AIDS clinic, but also functions as a safe space where LGBT people can come together without fear of going to jail, being attacked or being rejected by family and friends. When two young women in a remote village are arrested for lesbianism and witchcraft, they look to human rights lawyer Alice Nkom to defend them. Their activism becomes bolder and stronger as they work with Alice to help the two women.

“Born This Way” is an amazing view from the inside of a secret community that is on the verge of transforming into a social movement. It is an inspiring look at the young, courageous community of Cameroon as it struggles to find its voice and its place in a deeply traditional culture.

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It is very easy to forget how it was in this country before activists were able to get America to become the kind of world that has a place for all of us. That is why this film is so important. Perhaps we did not go through things the way Cameroon is doing now but it was once very difficult for gay people here to live openly and this is very important that the younger members of our community know this.

Aside from being a beautiful film to watch, this is a part of the global campaign to raise awareness about unjust laws and compromised legal systems that are still in existence in many parts of the world today. We see here what must be done.

Gertrude and Cedric share their experiences and opinions as they attempt to shed light on the extreme homophobia in their country. Alice Knom, a human rights defense lawyer is often the only person is willing to defend LGBT people in Cameroon.

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Knom’s story is concerned with defending two women being pursued by the state on the basis of their homosexuality. We learn early in the film that homosexual acts are illegal in Cameroon and are punishable up to 5 years in prison. Regardless of the actual outcome of the case people accused of being homosexuals face the wrath of their community.

Hearing the ignorance of the arguments of the prosecution and the bigoted words of an angry mob is one thing and actually witnessing them as we do here is something else—we actually what we have heard about for so long and it is alarming.

Gertrude, Cedric and the two prosecuted girls share their touching, honest and revealing stories. The main issue is that these stories are only connected in theme, never coming to any consensus on the issues. Cedric for example seems to believe the problem lies in fundamentalist religion, while Gertrude believes local cultural superstition is to blame. These varying opinions allow us to gain a perspective on the issue. This is an enlightening and touching look at how ignorance and homophobia harm people’s lives everywhere.

In Cameroon, people are killed and abused simply for loving someone of their same gender. This film calls for people to be aware of what is happening in Cameroon. This film is a very intimate portrait of members of the gay community in Cameroon.  Some sections are incredibly revealing, but also humanizing.  We get to know the main subjects well thanks to Directors Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullman’s ability to capture some extraordinary scenes. 

According to section 347a of the penal code in Cameroon, homosexuality is illegal punishable by up to 5 years in prison and 200,000 Francs.  Yet campaigners art trying to raise this up to 15 years, 

The bigotry on display is unbelievable and hard to watch. It is the strength of will that the young protagonists display that makes this such an incredibly touching documentary. We see that even with the terror, there is still “an irrepressible, often revolutionary community and love”.

“WHEN AIDS WAS FUNNY” (and Ronald Reagan’s Staff Was Not)

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“When AIDS Was Funny”

(And Ronald Reagan’s Staff Was Not)

Amos Lassen

It is now common knowledge that during the early days of AIDS that American President Ronald Reagan did nothing and would not even mention the disease until over 5,000 American citizens died. He waited until four times that number were dead before he made a speech about the health emergency going on in this country..

We have all wondered why that was and we had to deal with the contempt the Reagan White House held toward those suffering from the disease – largely because at the time it mainly affected gay men. A new short new documentary just released on the Vanity Fair website shows just how little they cared with staff joking about people dying of AIDS.

The words come from White House Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes in previously unremarked on audio from press conferences, where he seems to think the fact it’s happening to gay men makes they tragic death humorous.

 

https://thescene.com/watch/vanityfair/the-reagan-administration-s-chilling-response-to-the-aids-crisis?source=player_scene_logo

“CHEMSEX”— A Documentary

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“Chemsex”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

Filmmakers Max Gogarty and William Fairman of “Vice” show how drugs are deeply affecting a certain part of the urban LGBT community. The topic is known as  ‘“slamming” which I understand to be a sociably acceptable term now used for injecting drugs and shooting up, and all for the purposes of having some very extreme sex. While this might sound quite easy to understand, it is actually more complicated than just wanting to have the best-uninhibited sex that is possible. The men interviewed here have taken a hefty combination of ‘recreational’ hard-core drugs such as meth, meph and G  on a regular basis.

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The film was made with the cooperation of 56 Dean Street, London’s first Sexual Health Clinic. The addicts we meet here tell their stories and there are no judgments of any kind. We see some very disturbing graphic images of naked men intravenous taking copious drugs and then immediately getting sexually aroused and participating in completely inhibited and wild sex as we watch. The men gleefully boast that the drugs are an enabler and result in a sexual highs that they can never hope to even come close too when they ever try to have sex when they are sober.

Those who indulge have their own preferred hook-up websites and an on-line language that indicates to each other their own particular drug-fuelled practices, and a network which obviously leads them to  the sex parties and the drugs themselves. For those who are not involved what we see is completely foreign to us.   The film does not hide that these disturbing and dangerous practices are very obviously a realty to a growing population.  I was very surprised to see that those interviewed are extremely clever and articulate men and very much aware of the self-destructiveness of their chosen behavior.

The men do not have protected sex even if they are HIV positive and some actually seem to be quite proud that because of the drugs their viral load is undetectable. We are told here that five gay men are still being diagnosed with HIV in London every single day. 

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David Stuart an ex-addict who now is a Counselor at the Dean Street Clinic and he is one of the people who attempts to explain the possible circumstances of why this scenario is prevailing now. He says that most gay men in the past considered drugs and sex as two separate entities but now many see them as one, and in fact  dress it all up to make it seem more respectable and socially acceptable. Further, he says, that not every gay man wants to assimilate into society, especially as a community where we have never fitted into the heterosexual norm.  We have always been outsiders in many ways marginalized and we have written our own rules and even policed ourselves to a certain point.  Another factor is the internalized homophobia that each gay man has to address when he comes out of the closet and deal with the issue of shame.

Whether or not we agree with this reasoning, we see, that by the end of the 83 minutes of watching this all unfold on the screen, it is extremely difficult not to be totally shocked and amazed by what we see here.  As the final credits roll, the update of a few of the men interviewed who are doing their best to stay sober, at least gives you hope.  

“TRACK TWO”— Being Gay in Toronto

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“Track Two”

Being Gay in Toronto

Amos Lassen

“Track Two” is a documentary on the growth of Toronto’s gay community. Canada’s “Stonewall” was the 1981 Toronto Bathhouse Raids (Operation Soap). In Montreal, Quebec, depending on who you ask, it’s either the 1977 Truxx raid, or the 1990 Sex Garage raid. As far as is known, the only film about early Canadian gay activism is “Track Two”.

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The film begins with an overview of the atmosphere in which the raids took place. It was a time when “Track Two” (an area for hustlers) was the main identity that straight authorities had of gay people in Toronto. LGBT visibility to other Torontonians was limited to Halloween drag promenade on Yonge Street. The raid came a few years after the sex slaying of Emanuel Jacques, and the controversial “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” article by Gerald Hannon. But it was also just after Mayor Sewell backed anti-discrimination, and supported a gay candidate for council. The film covers the raids themselves (re-enacted, sort of) and the turbulent aftermath (political, legal, social) that resulted in the transformation of gay individuals into a gay community in Toronto.

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What is really incredible about this film is that it is possible to feel its intensity as we watch. The community defied the police after the earlier raid on the bathhouses of the city and in this documentary, we see Toronto come of age sexually. The police closed four local bathhouses on February 5, 1981 and violated the rights of 286 gay men. The police obviously did not know what would come as a result of their actions.

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As a historical document, the film confirms who gay Canadians are what they’ve been through. “The film holds up fairly well as a vivid period piece, still capable of fomenting strong responses, although some spectators born around the time of the raids themselves find the low-budget celluloid vérité style somewhat roughhewn and the fervent plaid-shirted talking-head activists creatures from another planet–as indeed they are”.

“CBS REPORTS: THE HOMOSEXUALS”— Indeed We Have Come a Long Way

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“CBS Reports: The Homosexuals”

Indeed We Have Come a Long Way

Amos Lassen

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In 1967 Mike Wallace hosted a controversial CBS TV documentary titled “The Homosexuals” as part of “CBS Reports”, a precursor to “60 Minutes”. The program marked the very first time the topic of homosexuality had been broached on a national television news show (there was an earlier local San Francisco PBS program called The Rejected from 1961, which featured anthropologist Margaret Mead). “The Homosexuals” went through two producers and several iterations over the course of three years before it finally aired on March 7. I understand that it is being released on home DVD so you should keep your eyes open for it.

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At the time the show was made, it was stated that nine of every ten Americans saw homosexuality as an illness or a disease and as a social problem worse than prostitution, abortion and adultery. A majority of the country believed homosexual acts done in private between two consenting adults should be illegal and punishable by law.

As we can expect, there are several really cringe-worthy elements in the film, although the intentions on the part of the original producer seemed to be good or at the least educational. The inclusion of Dr. Charles Socarides, the psychoanalyst who is widely regarded as the father of “conversion therapy” is one of the first red flags of “balance,” but Socarides was a man taken very seriously at the time. (I should say that his openly gay son went on to be a top adviser to Bill Clinton.) Dr. Irving Bieber, another prominent “expert” of the day viewed homosexuality as a pathology brought on by over-protective mothers (and absent or competitive fathers) and he gets his share of screen time. Looking at them today, Socarides and Bieber both come off very poorly in hindsight, they sound like “experts” who don’t know what they’re talking about and we can be assured that history will not look at them favorably.

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One of the men interviewed was a 27-year-old gay man whose face was obscured by a plant and is described as someone facing life in prison if he is arrested again for attempting sexual gratification. He seems himself to believe that he is sick.

Mike Wallace’s disapproving commentary is indicative of what attitudes towards homosexuality were like at the time and these are they: “The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one–chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits. And even on the streets of the city — the pick-up, the one night stand, these are characteristics of the homosexual relationship”.

The legendary CBS newsman Fred Friendly (the man who worked with Edward R. Murrow to cut Joseph McCarthy down to size) was the executive in charge of the special and asked the producer William Peters to add in something explaining to the viewers what it was that homosexuals actually did. When the mechanics of gay sex was explained to Friendly, the veteran journalist changed his mind very quickly.

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Jack Nichols, one of the prominent early gay rights activists and co-founder of the Washington DC-based branch of the Mattachine Society appeared on the program under the pseudonym “Warren Adkins” due to the fact that his father was an FBI agent and would have lost his security clearance. When he’s asked about his sense of self, he answers in eloquent words that still ring true today: “I have thought about it, but it really doesn’t concern me very much. I never would imagine if I had blond hair that I would worry about what genes and what chromosomes caused my blond hair, or if I had brown eyes… My homosexuality to me is very much in the same category. I feel no more guilt about my homosexuality or about my sexual orientation than a person with blond hair or with dark skin or with light skin would feel about what they had.”

Before the film was to air, Friendly left CBS News over an argument about the Vietnam War. It seemed like we would never see the program. However, there were news reports about it that had leaked since 1964.. Friendly’s successor, Richard Salant, thought that the doc was too pro-homosexual and hired another producer, Harry Morgan, to redo it, practically from scratch. All but ten minutes of the original edit were dropped. Interviews where the subjects were previously portrayed as happy about themselves were re-edited to mislead the audience into coming to the exact opposite conclusion.

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Some of the participants were furious when the show was aired. Jack Nichols was fired from his job the very next day. He later had this to say about his encounter with Mike Wallace:

[“After we finished and the camera was turned off, Mike Wallace sat down with me and talked for about half an hour. He said, “You know, you answered all of my questions capably, but I have a feeling that you don’t really believe that homosexuality is as acceptable as you make it sound.” I asked him why he would say that. “Because,” he said, “in your heart I think you know it’s wrong.” It was infuriating. I told him I thought being gay was just fine, but that in his heart he thought it was wrong”].

As late as 1995, Wallace said and in public that he thought people could chose not to be gay. What we do have to agree on is that the film has a certain fascination. It includes a sting in a bathroom and other undercover cinéma vérité camerawork. The wonderfully open-minded Reverend Robert Bruce Pierce says that he knows that it is wrong when he feels uncomfortable around gays and tries to change himself. Biographer Albert Goldman and Gore Vidal debate the notion of a “gay mafia” in the arts. Goldman sees homosexuality as one of several factors that would bring about “the final erosion, of our cultural values.” Vidal, on the other hand, says “The United States is living out some mad Protestant nineteenth-century dream of human behavior….I think the so-called breaking of the moral fiber of this country is one of the healthiest things that’s begun to happen.”

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It is interesting to note that there are no lesbians represented in the program. It was thought that including ladies who love ladies would confuse Americans (whatever that means).

Every member of the LGBT community should watch this, especially the youngsters. It is not old news—this was done just a few years ago. Some of the views that we hear on the program are still held and promoted in too many countries and communities throughout the world. This is how we were viewed, how we were treated, how we suffered. “Experts” tried to change us and we now know that most of what we see on this program is fiction, horrible and disgusting fiction.

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Mike Wallace was a highly respected newsman and he was a homophobe. He knew that documentary was rabidly biased and homophobic, even for its day. Knowing that it was loaded with lies and propaganda, he did not make a documentary based on truth—he chose rumor and suspicion. He could have set the record straight and expose all the indignities, misinformation and outright irrational homophobic fear and hate before he died but he chose to die as a lived, a bigot. On the program he appeared smug, apathetic and condescending but I also understand that he lived that way.

At that time, most Americans believe that homosexuality (the word “gay” is never used) was a harmful serious problem–worse than adultery, abortion and prostitution. Being caught in a homosexual activity mean being arrested and the names printed in the press. There was no such thing as consenting adults. We get the message that homosexuals must be cured after being punished for their “crimes against nature”, a catch all term that means nothing. The only objectivity in the film is in its presentation; otherwise it is frightening to think that people believed what they saw.

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The entire documentary is here:

“CROCADYKE DUNDEE”/”WINE, WOMEN & FRIENDS”— Two Documentaries from Fiona Cunningham-Reid

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“Crocadyke Dundee”/”Wine, Women & Friends”

Two Documentaries from Fiona Cunningham-Reid

Amos Lassen

Two lesbian-themed documentaries “Crocadyke Dundee/Wine, Women & Friends” are being released on DVD in the UK from November 23rd and hopefully an American release will follow. “Crocadyke Dundee” tells the story of Dawn O’Donnell was a convent girl who later became a professional ice skater and traveled the world ending up in Australia in the 1950s with almost no money. By the time that she died in 2007, she had stormed through Sydney’s gay underworld and built herself an empire of bars, clubs, steam rooms, sex shops and drag shows, inspiring “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”.

O’Donnell was a bit of a legend in the Sydney gay scene. She opened numerous bars, clubs and other venues (including sex shops). But the film is not just about her—we see how gay life has changed in Australia’s most populous city and we also see that involvement started back when being gay was illegal. At that point there were few gay venues and those that existed were at risk of being raided (indeed it’s suggested that having half their clientele occasionally locked up was built into the business plan of some of these bars). But even with the oppression and the disdain of society, we see that those involved generally had a great time. O’Donnell became a key figure in the Sydney gay scene after she was fired because someone recognized her voice in a documentary about lesbians. She went on to build a mini empire, with many of her establishments featuring over the top drag shows which became the influence for “Priscilla Queen Of The Desert” and she actually owned the hotel seen at the beginning of the movie and milking it for all its worth.

She was a fascinating woman who had a knack for turning a profit and taking no prisoners. There were rumors that she was connected to organized crime and may even have had someone murdered. This is a really interesting movie and we see the woman at the center as a way to look at he LGBT community. We see how the bars and other gay helped to shape and build the community. Additionally we get the thought that as LGBT life goes more mainstream we’re in danger of losing something special.

“Wine, Women & Friends” is about Carole Leblanc and Jo Béfort who started their wine adventure six years ago in Collias, France. Their dream was to produce excellent wine. They had passion but no experience and winemaking is a complex and labor-intensive process that has been traditionally belonged to men. Yet this film shows that it is possible for two women who are willing to work hard.

The film takes us to the French countryside and the vineyard of the two women who six years before decided to start their own wine business. The documentary was filmed over the course of a year and shows the fields where the grapes are harvested through the winemaking process to the point where the drink is ready to be bottled. We also get insights into the fact these are two women making headway in a winemaking world that’s still rather macho, and that they are lesbians living in the sort of place you wouldn’t think would be accepting of alternative lifestyles. Even though there are some who don’t approve of these two women and what they’re doing, they have built a network of friends and knowledge that has allowed their label to thrive.

The film is slow in the beginning just as making wine was for the two women and to be completely honest not a subject that I am interested in or want to see a film about. But then as we near the end it becomes more interesting when we understand that there is more going on than we see. It is a pleasant film but I am afraid that it will have a limited audience. It indeed helps that it is packaged with another mote interesting movie.