Sunday, March 26, 2017

He's Holding His Man and His Parents Mind But Not as Much As I Thought They Would

I recently watched the movie Holding the Man.

It's a romantic true story about two men, John Caleo (Craig Stott) and Tim Conigrave (Ryan Corr) who fall in love as teenagers during the 70's; then sadly die of AIDS in the 1990's.

The movie is based on the memoirs of Tim Conigrave.

What surprised me about the movie is the reaction of the parents to their sons being gay.  Three out the four of them seemed pretty cool with it.  Mr Caleo (Anthony LaPaglia) was not okay with his son being gay, but compared to what I'd expect in those days, he was pretty damn tame.

From the stories I've encountered about being gay in the 20th century, I've come to expect screams and cries of, You're going to rot in hell!  I picture young adults being kicked out of their houses, being told never to return.  I picture clothes, and other belongings, being dumped out of upstairs windows onto a picture-perfect lawn.

In other words, I pretty much tend to imagine 20th century parents of gay children all acting like they're members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, I'm sure many young gay men and women have had to endure Westboro-type parents. The movie did make me question how many, though.  Were most parents like that in the 1970's-1990's.  About half?  Just a few, but like Muslims they've been pigeon-holed into something awful?  

Now that I think more about it, I'm guessing I probably had two type of parents in my mind.  The first type would be the large majority. They would hate their child for being gay and send them away forever.  Then there'd be the rare, super progressive mom and dad who would be totally accepting. When they heard the news, they'd act happy-happy and have some kind of pot-smoking ceremony with their gay son or daughter.

I don't think I pictured there being a in-between those two groups, so the movie challenged my mind a bit.

Mr. Caleo does forbid John from dating Timothy. In the beginning of the relationship, he even threatens law action against Tim's family.  Still. In the movie, at least, it all feels a bit half-hearted.  It's kind of like when a mother declares the family is going to be eating only fresh fruit for dessert for now on; then a month later they're all eating ice-cream sundaes again.

Please don't be offended by my analogy. I'm not trying to say that being gay is like indulging in an unhealthy dessert, and that not-being-gay is all wholesome and healthy.   What I'm trying to convey is that the dad seemed firm with his uptight, conservative morals at first, but then seemed to reluctantly relax a bit.  He never welcomed Timothy into his heart, and he never acted okay with his son being gay.  But he was much more first-season-Jay-Pritchett than Westboro about the whole thing.

One thing I'm wondering, though, is if the Dad was more awful in real life—that this was conveyed in the book, but left out of the film.

Or maybe not.  Maybe Mr. Caleo was like the way he was portrayed in film.  If that's the case, I feel compelled to give him credit.  But then I worry. Am I being too lenient?  Are my expectations too low?

My expectations would be much higher today.  If a 21st century parent acted like Mr. Caleo, I'd see them as being a pathetic loser.

But for those days....

He didn't kick his son out of the house for being gay.

He never seemed to like Tim, but nor did he act like absolutely despised him.

He was there for John when he was dying of AIDS. Though he seemed to blame Tim for his son contracting AIDS, there were no dramatic scenes with him trying to kick Tim out of the hospital room.  Parents and partner were in the room, in sort of harmony, for the death scene.

Anyway....

I'm glad I watched the movie.  It opened my mind a bit. If I watched something like that in the 1980's, it would have probably been mind-opening in terms of sexuality.  But I'm a 21st century woman now. When it comes to sexuality, my mind is way opened.  But it MIGHT not be that open when it comes to parents of the bygone days, or about how families are different.

I saw parents of gay children in a stereotypical way, and now I'm more open to the fact that not everyone fits the extremes I had in my mind.

You know....

I'm thinking it's dumb I had these stereotypes. Why? My own parents. They were parents of teenagers in the 1980's and 1990's.  They've never been super progressive. But I can't imagine they'd ever disown us for being gay.  Like the parents in the movie, they'd reluctantly accept the whole thing.  I guess my image of the whole situation has been shaped more by the stories I've encountered than my own personal experiences.

I just thought of something else. It wasn't just the parents, in the movie, that were less homophobic than I expected.  John and Tim's classmates and teachers were as well.  There was some teasing and negative comments, but for the most part, the people seemed fairly okay with homosexuality.  There were no scenes of evil bullying.

Does the movie downplay homophobia?

Were John and Tim simply lucky...at least in that regard?

Is there less homophobia in the world than I've imagined?  I mean, actually the amount of homophobia I saw in the film, for the late 1970's is even less than what I imagine many teens encounter these days.

Well....I'm sure there are many variables.

Statistically there's going to be less homophobia in this decade, but that doesn't mean it's not out there. It's doesn't mean there aren't gay folks being treated horribly by their parents, siblings, grandparents, classmates, neighbors, coworkers, etc.  The chance of this happening is less than it was decades ago, but then decades ago, there were probably gay people who were lucky enough not to endure horrific examples of homophobia.  


2 comments:

Annie ODyne said...

wonderful movie In And OUT depicts reactions to gayness being revealed.
Joan Cusack deserved her Academy nomination for her middle-of-the-road in bridal-gown breakdown scene. I commend this film to all who have managed to avoid it since 1997 when it was made. Debbie Reynolds magnificent Mom, and Tom Selleck kissing Kevin Kline were just bonuses.
It was inspired by Tom Hanks acceptance speech for his gay role in PHILADELPHIA where he thanked his drama teacher and outed him to a worldwide audience.


Happy Easter Monday dear Dina - it's a day of rebirth for anything that needs it.

Dina said...

Anne ODyne,

Yes, I remember that movie!

Happy Easter to you as well!