Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of… butt sex
Kudos to anyone who got the Homeric reference, but you don’t need to be an ancient Greek scholar to be enlightened by the great, marginalizing mythology of the young gay. It is a simple and easily repeatable one. All you need are some female props, like a tiara and beauty pageant sash to establish early onset partial gender-identity dysphoria, an insecure straight boy to lead you astray only to betray you ultimately (in abundance these days, especially in Flanders, apparently…) and an older ally or mentor to have a semi-fucked up relationship with that will probably help you learn something about yourself. Once you’ve got all these elements just throw them at your young gay male protagonist, and voila! You’ve got yourself an Odyssey (of ass). Stacked to the brim with cliché coming-of-age tropes, North Sea Texas is a perfect execution of an unfortunately staid and obnoxious stock gay narrative.
Quick sum-sum: Pim is a little gay boy who likes to put on his deadbeat mom’s makeup. He falls for this boy next door straight-but not narrow kid named Gino. They jerk off together and Pim collects Gino’s cumsock and other autistic memorabilia. Then, lo and behold, Gino starts dating chicks. Pim is betrayed and slashes Gino’s tires. Gino’s sister Sabrina, feels slighted by Pim, who she’s triangularly fallen for, when she finds out he’s a fag. They end up bonding when Pim’s mom skips town with Zoltan, a gypsy that Pim has had a crush on his whole life. Doubly-betrayed-Pim has really been through the ringer at this point, when Gino and Sabrina’s mom gets really sick. On her death bed, mom silently requests that her son and Pim be friends (or more!?) by joining their hands, then kicking the bucket. This kind of reunites Gino and Pim and it kind of maybe ends happily.
In between in there, there’s some accordion playing, a few more jerk off scenes and a breakdown moment in which Pim runs dramatically into the North Sea while reciting the alphabet – this maybe was some kind of Flanders reference to something that was lost on my US-American mind.
But here’s the point. You know where this film is going from the get go – you see each plot point approaching from a mile away. I could choose to be critical of the back-to-gaysics filmmaking here, but instead I’d like to interrogate the basic narrative that this film follows. This seems a bit more apropos to our new and improved smarty-pants version of Homoflix, and will ultimately help me and you, dear reader, organize our thoughts on the sad sack state of ssssinema.
In heterosexual coming of age narratives difference is paramount. Boys realize they’re different from girls, and that difference is often initially a point of confusion, slapstick antics, embarrassment or trauma, but ultimately is relegated to a beautiful thing (no pun intended) that should be cherished, loved and is the basis of any heterosexual relationship – that’s literally what the damn prefix “hetero” means. With homosexual coming of age narratives, difference also represents a foil for the main homo character, however he never learns to embrace it. In fact, his entire homo-being desires sameness, and when boy-next-door crush starts to grow into his natural hetero self, the difference between homo protagonist and hetero object-of-desire doesn’t subside or blossom into something beautiful, it festers and breeds a new experience: shame. The gay male protagonist is placed in society in relation to the heterosexual male, thus, ultimately defining him as something less valid than or deviant from the norm.
But who are these vessels? These “straight” characters that provide enough gay romance for you to figure your shit out, and then up and leave for some French chick who is unimaginatively named Françoise? Why are young gay male narratives so obsessed with the unattainable object of the heterosexual male and how the desire of whom provides the genesis for a mutual acceptance and repugnance for one’s own homosexuality?
Perhaps it is because, like most cultural, social or economical issues, the trope of burgeoning homosexuality wouldn’t be valid without a normal, straight man to contrast it with. Or maybe, if there’s nothing normal about being a fag, there’s something acceptable, to say the least, about respecting, relegating and praising a straight man. The global contemporary narrative of success puts straight men at the top of the pyramid, and while socially, it would be bedlam and broomsticks if gay boys got anywhere near the tip (top), the next best, slightly socially acceptable thing is to allow them to desire the position of king pharaoh straight man like the rest of the world, bitches and bros alike. Interestingly enough, positing the heterosexual male as an object of desire only empowers him, unlike the fate of objectified females in most narratives, who end up getting fucked to death on an oil tanker (please only watch Breaking the Waves if you have a lot of emotional space and/or ice cream).
In a sense, the shame that drives the narrative of North Sea Texas and almost every other gay coming-of-age film I’ve seen doesn’t manifest from within, but is inherited from the straight, de-virginizer upon promptly shattering your young gay heart. What interests me as cinema and society progress, is how will this exchange of shame evolve as the inherent shame of the male homosexual act dissipates? When the need to self-identify as straight or gay becomes less important, how will anyone learn to love themselves? What will they have to bravely overcome? I think it is a great misconception that gay identity requires struggle to develop – an awareness of historic struggle and the past, absolutely (see my proselytizing about ‘Mo Classic, Longtime Companion). What will the new gay male narrative be when we remove the elements of shame, deception and betrayal? And an even more instigating question: What will the new straight male narrative be when relationships with other men are no longer taboo, and how will this effect their relationship to women?
As a feminist and hippy, I would like to hope that the shame-fueled narrative of this film is on it’s way out of the world of Homoflix, ye, of all flix. I hope that the more we implicate heterosexual men in the promotion of egalitarian society, that they will rise to the challenge of helping to positively mold the world they have inherited.
For some further (and super poignant) reading on this topic check out Jacklyn Friedman’s article “Toxic Masculinity” on The American Prospect.