If you were a teen in the 70’s and 80’s, there weren’t many places to see yourself in the movies. Gays were serial killers like in THE FAN, or they were comics like Paul Lynde, who would still never ever say the word gay. I looked for who I was deep inside and it took a long time to figure out why I felt different. But these films seemed to slowly nudge me a bit out of that space and push this gay boy out into the light.
THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT
Although a British TV movie, it had to have been the first time that I ever saw a portrait of a gay man. Although Quentin Crisp was effeminate, he never compromises who he was. I watched this every time it aired on PBS.
It’s hard to talk about this without giving away a SPOILER. But Deathtrap was the first time that I ever saw two men kiss on screen. It was followed by the audience disgusted screams. But at 19, I thought, huh… what’s this?
With the advent of the VCR, I was able to watch movies that I wouldn’t be caught dead watching in a theater… CRUISING was one of them. I haven’t seen it in thirty years, but I think as Al Pacino’s character delved into dark world of leather, I was nudged a little more into wanting to explore this dangerous new territory.
This movie was a comic take on the same story, gay serial killer. In it, Ryan O’Neal has to pretend to be gay and work with a gay partner. Again John Hurt plays another effeminate gay man, but he was a lead and Ryan O’Neal goes from being disgusted to accepting him for who he is, his partner.
Again, I hope I’m not giving away a SPOILER, but who hasn’t seen this film? Alex Karras, who recently passed away, plays James Garner’s tough bodyguard. When it is revealed that he is gay, it’s a shock and played for laughs. But it was so important because it was the first time I could remember a gay character being the tough guy and the audience is glad that Robert Preston is going to have him as a boyfriend.
There is a scene in YENTL where Barbra pretending to be a man comes face to face with her sexuality. Although she was a woman pretending to be a man, watching this scene hit me like a brick, because this was what it was like to be a young man trying to hide feelings that I had for other men. I was terrified that someone would find out about me, but I wanted to get naked and swim with the other boys.
THE WIZARD OF OZ
I know this is trite to include this film, but I will always remember after I had come out, I had a boyfriend and was well on my journey when I went to see a screening. It was theater packed with gay men. The electricity in the audience was palpable. It was like I had finally come home.