In honor of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, we wanted to
mention military flicks that are actually relevant to a queer or trans audience.
But leaving out documentaries (like the brilliant Paragraph 175) and some great films like Aimee &
Jaguar and November Moon — all of which tackle the Nazi war era but from a
primarily civilian perspective — it’s clear that movies about LGBT soldiers are
still in their infancy.
Perhaps in the next decade we’ll see our community serving
openly in a flourish of diverse military films (like A Few Good Men, Universal Soldier, Avatar,
all of which we could argue for inclusion on this list but none that have
openly LGBT characters).
A perfect one to watch to remind viewers of why DADT was a
flawed policy. Glenn Close and Judy Davis both won Emmy awards for their roles
in this iconic made-for-TV film about a decorated Army officer who decides to
upgrade her security rating and in doing so tells an investigator she’s gay. As
the Army proceeds to discharge her for the omission, Close as Cammermeyer
fights back — alongside her family, partner and Lambda Legal. Cammermeyer wrote
the intro to a new
book on the time as well, called Making WAVES, which she surely did.
In the videos, below, watch
Close with Ryan Reynolds as her son, and then Close and commander:
Walk on Water
Director Eytan Fox’s 2002 gay
and Jagger, offered up a love story
of two Israeli soldiers, but this later film is equally remarkable. It follows
an Israeli Mossad agent assigned to assassinate a Nazi war criminal and
questions the nature of what it means to hate and the nature of revenge. It’s
not what some would call a “gay” film but it invariably is in the widest sense
of the word. Watch a clip below (but it includes a spoiler).
One of the most provocative movies about military life is
the story of Barry Winchell (played by Troy Garity) who falls in love with a
transgender performer while
stationed on an infantry base in Tennessee. As his romantic relationship
develops, Winchell’s friendship with his fellow soldiers — especially the
repressed guy who dragged him to a drag club to begin with — and his safety in
the military wither. Based on a true story of Calpernia Addams (now an actress
who consulted on the film) and the real Barry Winchell, Soldier’s Story is an intelligent and heartbreaking must-see. After
you’re done crying, look up what Calpernia’s up to now for inspiration of life
As the sheltered, spoiled Paris Hilton of her day, Goldie
Hawn is brilliant as the Jewish American Judy Goodman-Benjamin, a woman who
accidentally enlists in the Army after her hubby drops dead during sex on their
wedding night. Boot camp kicks her ass, but Private Benjamin discovers she’s
got a fight in her as well. Oft her nemesis, is the excellent Eileen Brennan as
Doreen Lewis, an uptight military rule-seeker who finds Benjamin’s
frivolousness contemptuous. Lewis — who’s played for laughs a lot — starts the
film in love with a man but in later scenes finds her constant companion in
Sally Kirkland’s Helga and while a big bisexual (or lesbian) coming out would
have been nice, this is the Army pre-2011we’re talking about.
Gun (1986), Gay
OK so there’s no LGBT film festival playing this classic at a midnight showing,
but Top Gun —
the story of a handful of guys training to become elite fighter pilots for the
U.S. — has some of the best homoeroticism (just say “Iceman” to any gay man and
dreams of Val Kilmer’s half naked body still comes to mind), a bromance between
Maverick and Goose (Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards), and a closeted lesbian
actress playing a hot semi-cougar flying instructor (Kelly McGillis). It don’t
get much gayer than that. One enterprising YouTuber even recut the film as a 2
½ minute love story between Kilmer and Cruise.
A Marine Story
It’s no wonder lesbians (and awards boards) love this film:
star Dreya Weber, a hard bodied actress and aerial performer who starred in the
Gymnast, and whose abs rival Jillian
Michaels. Weber is Alex, a Marine who is discharged, goes home, plays Mr.
Miyagi to a local teen who needs direction (Paris Pickard as Saffron).
Throughout, both must face their proverbial demons. Did I mention the hard
(1981) Gay Adjacent
This Bill Murray classic is an early one for the comedy
king, who has played transgender (Ed Wood),
gay adjacent (What About Bob, Little
Shop of Horrors), and a lover of lesbians (Wild
Things, Broken Flowers). Murray and Ivan Reitman (himself a comedy legend,
behind the screen mostly) are new Army inducts at the start of the film, where
a hilarious exchange between a recruiter in the pre-DADT era shows how much the
funny men’s characters were OK with their sexualities. As the recruiter asks if
either is gay, Murray says, “You mean like flaming?” and Reitman says “No but
we’re willing to learn.” Hilarious.
(1997) Lesbian Adjacent
Sure, she’s supposedly straight to begin with but after a
few designating scenes, Demi Moore as the Navy Seal Lt. Jordan O’Neal in G.I.
Jane morphs into a butch hard-body. We
never see her having sex with women but she turns down male advances, hangs
with women coded lesbian on the beach, endures test after test to prove she can
take it like a man, and at one point tells another soldier to suck her cock.
Greatest. Sequel. Ever. (Don’t ever start with me Godfather
II fans.) Sigourney Weaver is Lieutenant Ellen L.
Ripley and Jenette Goldstein plays the lovely butchy Marine Pvt. Vasquez. They are space
Marines on a quasi civilian-meets-military operation (the parameters of
“company” is never clear) to a colony Ripley believes is inhabited by aliens.
Ripley — no slouch in the body department — must accompany a team of rugged
tough asses to the planet and survive. Thankfully, Vasquez is there to help.
Whole dissertations have been written about
why Platoon is a gay film, or at the
very least, so rife with homoerotic subtext that you’d have to be Fred Phelps
to miss it. And it has little to do with the fact that there are barely any
female roles in the movie. Christina Judith Hein’s Battleground
Masculinity: Gendertroublers and Gatekeepers in Oliver Stone's Platoon is among the best to explain its
gayness; read her if you doubt me. In the film, Charlie Sheen is Army private
who volunteers for combat during the height of Vietnam in part because he’s an
idealist. He soldiers through bullying and atrocities and along the way is torn
between two camps of men — one hyper masculinized, the other more modern, and
thus, more feminized men. The latter camp, led by Willem Defoe as Sgt. Elias,
full of smoking and dancing and half-naked men, feels queer and uninhibited. As
Hein points out, “ Rather untypical of a courageous and
responsible authority figure in a war movie, [Elias] acknowledges Chris's
presence by waving at him, languidly reclined in a hammock, only half-clad, and
sensually eating a banana. The ceremony of initiation that he performs later on
with newly recruited Chris involves not only the passing of marihuana smoke
through the phallic barrel of a gun but is also accompanied by a conspiratorial
look and smile on the side of Elias and a somewhat curious yet disconcerted
gaze by Chris – as though he were checking if anyone might watch and disapprove
of this erotically charged moment. With its homoerotic overtones, the scene is
strikingly reminiscent of the sexually coded passing of smoke through a straw
in Jean Genet's gay prison art film, Un Chant d'Amour (1950), and it dissolves into a scene
of soldiers relaxedly dancing with each other.” The movie is riveting and
challenging and imbued with a sense of what homo-awakening might have been like
for some men during the ‘60s sexual liberation.