Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

February 18, 2018

Boy





Timeline's 'Boy' offers transformative look at gender identityby Catey Sullivan 


When David Peter Reimer died in 2004, it marked the tragic end of one of the most cruelly misguided medical experiments in the history of gender science. Born a cis-gender male in 1965, Reimer endured a horrifically botched circumcision as an infant. The baby's penis was wholly destroyed.Reimer's parents turned to Dr. John Money, then viewed as one of the world's leading pioneers in gender identity and intersex children. Money told Reimer's parents to raise their child as a girl, to keep the truth of his birth a secret and to subject him to multiple surgeries and hormone treatments designed to feminize him. It didn't work.
David Reimer rebelled early on, as detailed in As Nature Made Him—The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl." At 15, he started presenting as male, and speaking out against "treatments" such as the ones he'd endured. At 38—after years of struggling with depression—Reimer killed himself.
Yet the story of David Reimer is not wholly grim. Thanks in part to Reimer's outspoken criticism of Money and willingness to tell his own story, many of the doctor's methods have been discredited. And Reimer's story led playwright Anna Ziegler to Boy, a gender-transcending love story running through March 18 at TimeLine Theatre.


Ziegler and TimeLine dramaturg Josephine Kearns stress that Boy does not tell the David Reimer story. But there are similarities. In the character of Adam—raised for years as a girl after a circumcision gone awry—Ziegler spins a narrative where Adam's own empowerment ultimately triumphs over his dysphoric certainty that he's an imposter in his own body.
"I'd been fascinated by the whole nature-versus-nurture question, and I knew I wanted to write about science," said Ziegler. "With I found Reimer's story I was so shocked and saddened. 'Boy' is very different in some respects, but at the core, I wanted to dig into the mistakes that people make even when they're coming from a place of love and desperately trying to do the right thing. "


With a cast and crew that includes half a dozen non-gender conforming artists, TimeLine's "Boy" marks the first time the play will be produced with a trans actor ( Theo Germaine ) in the role of Adam.
"It never occurred to me before TimeLine that the play could hold a trans actor in the lead, because the play isn't about a trans person," Ziegler said, "It's about a person who was born a boy and always was that boy despite being told otherwise. I'm thrilled with this casting. There is something so very powerful about seeing someone onstage who has dealt with the very things Adam has dealt with; it adds so many layers."


Kearns transitioned about three years ago, with TimeLine bearing witness to her metamorphosis; "Boy" is the 28th production Kearns has worked on with the company. She was a driving force behind casting a non-binary actor as Adam and making sure the entire creative process included as many non-gender conforming artists as possible.
"TimeLine has given all of us non-binary folks an enormous voice in this show," Kearns said, "There's at least six of us. And every time there's been a decision made, there's been multiple gender non-conforming people in the room to make sure that decision is right. All of the cis-folkx have been hyper aware of how much they need to listen."
"Casting a trans or a non-binary actor as Adam, I felt that was important from the start," Kearns added, "Even though Adam is really a cis-male, there are similarities between what he goes through and what trans people go through. Adam has the experience of growing up in an identity that doesn't fit him.


"That's a crucial part of this story—what it's like to be assigned a gender that isn't yours. To have that forced upon you, whether it means having to wear dresses or being subjected to surgery before you can speak up for yourself.
"One thing I discovered when I was transitioning is that it just isn't fully possible to articulate what it's like to somebody who hasn't gone through it. It's kind of the same way that it's not possible for me as a white person to ever really comprehend what it would be like to be black in this country," Kearns concluded, "I will never understand that, obviously. Having someone non-binary play Adam beings an authenticity to the role that you can't achieve with a cis actor."
That's true, said director Damon Kiley, but nobody should make the mistake of thinking Germaine ( whose pronouns are they, their and them ) was cast solely because they are gender non-conforming. "I want to be very clear," says Kiley, "We cast Theo because they're extraordinarily talented. They're not a trans actor. They are an amazing actor who is trans."
Kiley—who is a cis, hetero male—brought Boy to TimeLine after reading it in one sitting about four years ago. Ziegler acknowledges Kiley in the title pages as someone who championed the piece in its earliest stages.


"As a cis male, I have no qualms about directing this," Kiley said, "It's not the same as me directing an August Wilson play—which I would never do. I've said from the start that it's a love story. It's the story of a young man who falls in love. It's also the story of parents trying to do the right thing by the child they love."
Still, Kiley said there's when it comes to gender identity and expression, there's been a learning curve involved with directing Boy. The learning process isn't relegated solely to Kiley. TimeLine staffers have all been enrolled in Gender 101, a 90-minute workshop on gender issues.


The workshop was created in partnership with Lurie Children's Hospital, where Kearns is the program coordinator for the Gender Development Program. With Lurie's Gender Development Program Manager Jennifer Leininger, Kearns crafted Gender 101 as a crash course in gender-related issues.


"The program helped teach our box office staff how to talk about the show, how we teach the show to students and how we do talk backs after the show," said Kearns. Also designed to help TimeLine market Boy, Gender 101 deals with everything from language and pronoun use to "how to deal with tough situations" that might come up. Those touchy situations sometimes feature intrusive, abusive or just plain rude questions, Kearns said.
"Trans and non-binary people, we get asked a lot of awkward things," said Kearns, "You get asked about your genitals. Your sex life. People ask all kinds of inappropriate things—sometimes people you don't even know."
Another issue: The often negative way pop culture depicts with non-binary people. From Dressed to Kill to Zoolander to Nip/Tuck, trans tropes turn people into punchlines or dysfunctional misfits.


"Being trans doesn't mean your entire life is angst," said Kearns, "To have a character like Adam, who falls in love and is finally able to live his truth? I love seeing that on stage."
"One of the big things I hope people walk away talking about is what gender identity means," said Kearns, "And how our society's enforcement of it affects people. I hope they also leave talking about why we can get so obsessed with bodies being quote normal unquote, and the damaging lengths we go to make people fit into what is supposedly normal."
While the education curve surrounding non-binary issues is steep, the world at large seems to be making steps toward the ascent. Laverne Cox on the cover of Time, the runaway success of Jill Soloway's Transparent, RuPaul's Drag Race excising the word "she-male" from the script all point to an evolving world, albeit one evolving at a pace that some view as glacial.
"We've come a long way," said Kearns, "But we still have a long way to go."

Something extra 
TimeLine's lobby display for Boy includes an art installation of eight photos ( and accompanying audio ) that explore the experiences of intersex, trans and gender non-conforming Chicagoans. In the piece curated for the People Artists Collective by Jireh L. Drake, and K. Rodriguez, participants talk about how they navigate a world where an oppressive gender binary insists everybody identify as either male or female, depending on their assigned gender at birth. The installation also forces its viewers to confront their own participation in the oppression of intersex and trans or non-conforming people. People can download the audio reflections via TimeLine's mobile app here: http://services.instantencore.com/Util/Share/DownloadApp/5183616/TimeLine.
Boy runs through March 18 at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Tickets are $40-$54 each; visit TimelineTheatre.com .






January 26, 2015

Sundance’s Review: James’ Franco “I am Michael…”


                                                                            


Even though he’s straight, it sometimes seems like James Franco, the star of Milk and Howl and director of Interior. Leather Bar, is this generation’s foremost gay actor, toying with ideas of gender and sexuality in his artwork and even his Instagram account. It’s commendable he wants to try something slightly different in I Am Michael, a new movie where he plays a gay activist who decides he’s not gay anymore. Sadly, just like the movie’s main character, the film around him – the feature debut of Justin Kelly – is fatally unsure of its own identity.


Michael is Michael Glatze, who moves to San Francisco with his partner, Bennett (Zachary Quinto) and lands a job at XY magazine, a seminal title for young gay men who came of age in the late 1990s. Our plot is taken from an amazing New York Times Magazine story by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, who worked with Glatze at XY. The couple return to Bennett’s native Halifax where Michael is listless and slowly becoming unmoored without a job or greater purpose. 
Michael starts having panic attacks, plagued by the fear it’s the same heart disease that killed his father when Michael was young. He becomes increasingly interested in Christianity as an answer to his acute existential crisis. He eventually decides that he no longer wants to be gay and ends up at a Bible college in Wyoming where he meets and marries a fellow student (Emma Roberts). 
The movie wants to show Michael as someone who needs to follow his own path, who can’t be defined by labels. He also wants to be a leader of people, whether gay youth or members of his congregation. But by the time it gets around to such interesting territory, the movie is spent. It shows his conversion not as one of conviction but as an ill that besets a young man without direction. And with that it becomes, in essence, identical to some of the evangelist propoganda dished out on public transportation. If you’re not careful, gays, Jesus will come along and take away your Tori Amos posters.
The structure of the movie doesn’t help its propensity to preach. It’s slow and plodding, set up in a series of flashbacks, the years flagged on title cards, to further arrest the pace. The dialogue is stilted and full of cliché. Franco, unusually stoic, doesn’t give Michael much of an inner life and his conversion is shown less by anything the character does and more by his hair colour and style of dress. Quinto is flat in a thankless, underwritten role.
Part of the problem resides in the feeling that Kelly isn’t convinced Michael isn’t really straight – something the movie follows. It feels like it’s hewing too close to both an agenda and the truth of the story instead of exploring the emotional and intellectual truths that lie beneath it. There would be an interesting movie to be made about the interplay between identity, sexuality, religion and self-identity,in the events and intellectual leaps it would take to turn a gay activist into a proselytizer for heterosexuality. But I Am Michael does not manage it. In a film where the Bible convinces a man to rearrange his entire life, it commits the cardinal sin of being dreadfully dull.      
                                                                         

        by Brian Moylan

March 20, 2014

Nashville Review on “Stranger by the Lake” with Explicit Sex Scenes

                                               

Explicit Stranger by the Lake Opens Friday at Belcourt (NSFW)

 

French director Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake received much attention at Cannes last spring, largely for its unsimulated explicit gay male sex scenes. It's the first Guiraudie film to be released in the U.S., and its success has led to a retrospective of his earlier work and a release of his 2009 film The King of Escape in New York. It opens Friday night at The Belcourt, with Scene critic Jason Shawhan introducing the 9:30 p.m. show.
So far, it’s been almost universally praised, apart from a few closed-minded straight critics — a strange fate for a film whose vision of death-haunted gay sex isn’t too far from magnets for queer controversy like Basic Instinct and Cruising. Indeed, critic David Ehrenstein has suggested thatStranger by the Lake is essentially Cruising as made by a gay man. To my mind that's not uninteresting, but it's certainly problematic.
At a lakeside cruising area, Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) witnesses Michel (Tom Selleck lookalike Christophe Paou) kill a man. Rather than turning Michel in, Franck finds the handsome drifter even hotter. As they start having sex, Stranger by the Lake knowingly toys with stereotypes of gay men as hedonistic, promiscuous creatures who have disconnected sex from emotion.
As that description sounds, the movie's critique of gay culture is harsh. It takes place in an isolated world where there are no alternatives to this chosen mode of existence. Here, the utopia of ‘70s sexual liberationists has gone badly awry — the characters can barely sustain enough intimacy to have friends — and Stranger by the Lake charts the consequences. Lars von Trier's comingNymphomaniac does a better job of it: it doesn't critique its characters for having too much sex, but for lying and manipulating their partners in order to do so.
I think it might have worked better as a period piece — which it feels like apart from one discussion of HIV — or if it acknowledged the possibility of gay men having long-term relationships as something more than a distant likelihood. For young gay men, the "new normal" is pressure to settle down, get married and raise families (where possible), not to go out and cruise in public. (Hook-ups still take place, but the Internet provides much more of an assist.) That said, many of my qualms evaporated in the movies brutally suspenseful final 10 minutes — in which Franck has to face how much his desire for sex really is a death wish.

POSTED BY  

June 30, 2012

Queer Activism Before Gay Inc Bought it Off, A Movie

I think the review by Steven Thrasher is accurate and fair to the movie.  Therefore I’m posting his article as it appeared on the Village Voice.

How To Survive a Plague: Queer Activism Before Gay Inc Bought it Off


HowToSurviveAPlauge1.jpg
Sundance Selects
Peter Staley in David France's How To Survive A Plague

Two things starkly colored my experience as I went to a screening of David France's fascinating documentary How to Survive a Plague, about the heyday of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), earlier this week.The first was seeing the film through the prism of my feature article in last week's Voice Pride issue, "Does 'Gay Inc.' Believe in Free Speech?" The correlations between the questions the film explored and my article raised of queer activism (and, in a few cases, the actual same activists) were for me many.
I've also never had such a strong experience of feeling like I was watching my current day to day life replicated onscreen, although experienced in a different era and under different circumstances (like in a sci-fi, parallel universe) as when I was watching How to Survive A Plague. Part of this is because David France wrote the first articles in the Voice about ACT UP 25 years ago and my reporting, on similar topics, owes a great deal to his legacy at this publication. Most eerily, I'd spent the day before I saw the film at the Pride march talking for a good thirty minutes to State Senator Tom Duane. The loquacious politician was waxing especially freely as he contemplated his last Pride before leaving the Senate and reflected on his life in politics as the parade passed by. We stood talking about the fights for gay marriage in New York and the right to be able to openly serve in the military in the past tense. To see him the next day in the film at least 20 year earlier, young and lithe (and long before drug cocktails gave any hope to those with HIV), was startling.
For me, the first half of the film was a fascinating exploration of this thought: Aha! This is what queer activism looked like before we were bought off. It's 1987, and gay men were inflicted with a disease that by now had a name (even though it wasn't mentioned much by President Reagan). The answer, the young, tough activists seemed to conjure up, was the educate themselves. Their empowerment was not, unlike today's LGBT movement, to host a gala, go shopping or stand up for Ellen on twiter. Queer people were not yet seen as consumers, even by their (few) advocates. They were largely considered untouchable, and to many Americans, they were willfully deemed invisible.
The response to this leper status in the activist communities portrayed in the film was astounding: to educate and empower queers by understanding science, understanding politics, and becoming so fucking knowledgeable about substantial, intellectually rigorous concepts that they could walk into (by force when needed) drug companies, Congress, the National Institute of Health or the Federal Drug Administration armed with knowledge. And when they did, they knew so fucking much, they could participate in and influence conversations with the world's top scientists and policy makers.
Can you imagine any such thing today? A gay group telling gay people to educate themselves in medicine rather than to go shopping? Afraid of rabble rousing, the line from Gay Inc.'s main lobbyists these days is usually, Don't worry your pretty little head. Leave everything to us. When Queer Rising took to the streets (à la ACT UP) last year demanding marriage equality, the main lobbyists were not pleased. Today's major gay activist groups were nowhere to be found in Zuccotti Park, as Occupy Wall Street staged a descendant protest owing much to forefathers and mothers like ACT UP.
Of course, LGBT people today are in such a different space in 2012 than in 1987, and for those of us who came of age after that era, it's hard to imagine where things were during the heyday of ACT UP. We have a president who supports equal rights for queer people, and who has reversed the U.S.'s policy of denying entry visas to people with HIV. [Note:Jeremy Sapienza points out that the HIV travel ban lift process started under George W. Bush.] (There is a great scene about this policy in the film.) It's a sign of progress that we can entertain other thoughts as an LGBT community other than attempting to stave off the existential demise of all gay men.
But there is still work to be done here. HIV infections have reached a plateau of about 50,000 new infections a year; this number stubbornly refuses to go down (and rates in some populations are even going up). There are serious health risks for people with proper medication for HIV/AIDS (like, as the Times reported last week, an increased rate of heart attacks). But for those who don't get proper medication because of the prohibitive costs (according to the film, about two million human beings a year globally), HIV is still a death sentence.
How to Survive a Plague treats AIDS as a plague, an onslaught demanding the most urgent attention as an entire generation of gay men faced an abyss. Although there is humor in the film (more on that later), there are no corporate tie-ins with the activism, nor anything cutesy about what's happening. In my reporting, I've found that there is little of that same sense of urgency on a large scale in queer activism today; gay people have become consumers, encouraged to think everything is alright, and (largely in the United States) have been led to believe that popping some pills will make everything OK on the HIV front. Fervency about the worldwide epidemic is largely absent in our nation, economic barriers for queer people are too often ignored and, with a few notable exceptionsorganized political life in the queer community focuses on the one percent as much as politics in general. But in the 1980s, there was a creative, dynamic, utterly brave and totally in your face attempt to make gays snap the hell out of any kind of complacency.
Given my last article about trying to keep conflict out of the LGBT Center, the raucous scenes in the same building decades ago were thrilling to watch. (Indeed, given how the Center would stop allowing public comments even on its Facebook wall to avoid questions from a member of the press a few days after I saw the film, this was all the more fascinating.) In the Center's only public meeting on its policies last year, board member Tom Kirdahy said he didn't like the idea of a Palestinian sympathetic queer group meeting there because vulnerable people, like those in recovery programs, might feel "unsafe" from conflict and controversy. But there was huge, rousing, roiling conflict documented in How to Survive a Plague. Scores of people of people are passionately debating what should be done about AIDS, often screaming at each other in the Center's first floor meeting room. There are no pre-approved talking points. Unlike at garden parties or black tie fundraisers, almost none of the queers are wearing suits. It's direct democracy in what looks far more like an Occupy Wall Street General Assembly than a Goldman Sachs diversity awards ceremony.
As I watched ACT UP get into board meetings of the FDA and storm the campus of the NIH decades ago in the film, I couldn't help thinking how the Center itself (where ACT UP often debated and plotted its shenanigans) does not hold public meetings of its board in 2012. In the film, Ann Northrop is seen passionately debating as a young woman. Last year,Northtrop moderated that one public meeting on the Center's space policies, which went nowhere and resulted in the Center simply refusing to speak about the issue any further.
And the actions ACT UP engages in are almost unrecognizable in their confrontation, even by the most radical Occupy standards of demonstrating. Without giving away too much, I'll just say this: when I met Lt. Daniel Choi to photograph him in front of the White House two years ago, the Secret Service was on top of us before he'd done anything. Simply having handcuffed himself to the fence previously was reason for them to pounce. Yet there's a scene in this film where hordes of ACT UP queers boldly storm the White House fence and throw something unimaginable onto its pastoral, green lawn. Today, I can't imagine that the Secret Service wouldn't shoot them for such an action (and evacuate the entire First Family from the mansion until terrorism and toxicology sweeps could be performed). I thought I knew something of LGBT activism history, but I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't seen it in the film.
But if the first half of the film read for me as a mediation on queer activism life before it sold out, the second half made me think, Ah, the age old split has always been there.
There were inevitable charges that some ACT UP member were elites, specifically those on the medical science committee, who broke off to form TAG (Treatment Advisory Group). Resentment brewed that some were too close to the drug companies and the government, and some had forgotten the roots of the movement. In this way,it was humbling to see that my reporting on these fights is nothing new. The dilemma over how close activists should be to power (be that power reside with drug companies and the FDA in 1987, or with the White House, corporations and the DNC in 2012) is as old as queer activism itself. (My favorite moment in the second half is hearing an off-screen voice I am sure belongs to Bill Dobbs, a major source for last week's story, screaming in just as cantankerous a manner decades ago as he is apt to now. And then Larry Kramer, who can now be so mellow he wouldn't speak to me for the 'Gay Inc.' article for fear of making gay organizations look bad in an election year, screamed him down.)
The film is weakest, for me, in exploring the split between ACT UP and TAG. It was unclear to me from How To Survive A Plague if and how these groups interacted over the years after the divorce, how close TAG got to the drug companies, and if the two factions resolved their differences after the worst of the plague (in the United States, anyway) was over.
The film is most successful for me in two ways. As the press packet notes, "It's a quirky, but not inconsequential, fact about HIV that the virus made its hideous debut in medical journals just a few months before the first camcorders" hit the stores. The home video which comprises so much of the film holds up beautifully, the audio is shockingly clear, and there is an unexpected elegance in the way France's camera (through editing archival material, as well as shooting new interview footage) has a surprisingly aesthetic consistency. You'd think he and a director of photography had planned an arc with constructed precision, rather than cobbled together found footage.
The other way it flies is in its use of humor. Like African Americans who can get bogged down with "uplifting the race" pabulum in documenting the civil rights struggle, LGBT history can get whitewashed (especially when corporate sponsorship is involved) and trimmed of the sex, aggressive activism, and comedy. How To Survive A Plague made me laugh out loud more times than sniffle (though it did that, too). There's gallows humor through out, and also a kind of uncomfortable laughter born from the shear audacity of what these men and women of ACT UP dared to do. And the scene with CNN proves that the TV idea of "the left," whose representative on a debate show seems less sympathetic to the tactics of gay men with AIDS than a Reagan/Bush I era Pat Buchanan(!), has been laugh out loud funny for decades.
In a way, the creative, comic elements represent one of the greatest triumphs of what those in ACT UP achieved: a refusal to give up being human, even when society shunned them and death stared an entire gay generation in the eye. They still loved, and fought, and kissed, and laughed.
How To Survive A Plague premiered at Sundance in January and is opening theatrically in September. I'll be checking out United In Anger, the other ACT UP documentary (culled from the group's oral history project) next week when it opens at the Quad. 
 Steven Thrasher

Thrasherhalfthumb50.jpg
 

Featured Posts

Behind The Back of The Vice-Cheney Family

The Cheneys at former Vice President Dick Cheney's swearing-in in 2005   EMILY DAVIES People ...