2:32 PM |
Trevor and Memories of Our First Stirrings
What better way to begin Pride Month than by rewatching a classic of gay cinema -- albeit a film that's largely overlooked simply for the fact that it is a short film. (For some reason, feature films have more traction in our memories, which is too bad. Many of my favourite films are short films.) But Trevor (1994) -- directed with an abundance of wit by Peggy Rajski, and produced by her and Randy Stone with a screenplay by James Lecesne -- earns its place in the pantheon of queer cinema, and it is truly satisfying to note that it won an Oscar for Best Live-Action Short Film in 1995, in a tie with Peter Capaldi's Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life.
Set in 1981, this very funny film follows the misadventures of the 13-year-old titular character, as he struggles to articulate his crush on his best friend, a hunky schoolmate named Pinky Faraday -- and then struggles to cope with the brutal aftermath of the discovery of this crush by the rest of his schoolmates. He copes by succumbing to the music of Diana Ross, and by a rich fantasy life that reminds me of the deathly whimsy of Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude (1971). The film deftly pursues a complex narrative that tackles teen suicide, bullying, OGTs, and burgeoning sexuality, and I cannot recommend it enough for the heart and the humour it brings to that pursuit. A lesser filmmaker would have gone for blatant pathos, but not Rajski -- which makes the film memorable instead of disposable.
It reminded me of my own coming-to-terms with my sexuality -- and the struggle to put a name to the stirrings I felt that I knew could not be common. How did I know I was gay? I didn't. There are specific circumstances in my life (best left unsaid) that I think made up a basic blueprint (or pinkprint? hahaha) but I remember having no working vocabulary to describe those old stirrings I felt when I was a kid. The poet Adrienne Rich once coined the term "compulsory heterosexuality" for the culture we are all born into and unconsciously learn to participate in without any question -- hence, my first utterance of "love" was for a girl named Deidre in grade school. Her undisputed prettiness overwhelmed me enough to convince me that I was in love, and steadfastly so throughout those six years in school. How "in love" was I? By the third grade, I announced to my mother that I was ready to marry, and that my heart belonged to Deidre. (She laughed at me.) In fourth grade, I learned to stalk Deidre a bit: I followed her home one day in order to find out where exactly my beloved lived, and it brought small consolation to me that I knew where I could find her, just in case this love I felt became requited. In the sixth grade -- the last year of elementary school -- we found ourselves on the brink of things ending as high school approached. I was disconsolate, and I swore to love her forever.
Was I heterosexual in the very beginning then? I don't think so. Now I think I was just buying into the normative narratives that my culture surrounded me with. All the books I read and all the movies I saw told me I was supposed to fall in love with a girl -- and I obeyed without any objection.
And yet, a stray memory comes to me now from somewhere in the mist of those forgotten years: I think I was ten or eleven, and in my church I was part of a troop of kids that regularly sang songs from Kid's Praise, a popular series of Christian albums where kids sang about God in the company of a talking book named Psalty and his partner Psaltina.
When my church advertised that a visiting group of kids from Manila was coming to Dumaguete and was going to give a series of Kid's Praise concerts in a nearby church, we were ecstatic and made immediate plans to watch one of the shows. On the first night, I found myself enraptured by the songs and by the kids my age who were singing them.
And there was one boy among them who was so beautiful I remember it left me breathless. I can't remember now exactly how he looked like -- but I remember vividly the tightening in my chest the first time I beheld him. I saw him, and I couldn't take my eyes off him. I think it was love. And so I came back the next night ... and the next night, and the next night. And I didn't quite know what it was that transfixed me. I'm not sure I even cared to give it a name. And I'm not sure that it even troubled me when I began to have those feelings. There was no guilt at all in my beholding of that boy's beauty; just a certain specific breathlessness that comes to me now as something perfectly understood and recollected and intact through the forgetful fog of the intervening years. I didn't know then that it was a stirring of gayness. I had no idea what "gay" was. I only knew that it felt perfectly natural, and I succumbed to it.