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Straight Acting in gay New York

Straight Acting in gay New York


Debuting his first documentary, a filmmaker returns to the city where he first came out--only this time he's got the support of a worldwide network of gay men who like to get dirty the old-fashioned way, on a muddy field.

There's a scene in the movie Boiler Room where a group of stockbrokers are eating a celebratory dinner at a restaurant in Manhattan. They get into a drunken tiff with a table of gay men next to them. That's when one of the stockbrokers makes a suggestion:Stockbroker: "Hey, you know what they should do with you guys? They should take all of you guys and throw all of you on a fuckin' island somewhere."Gay man: "Oh, yeah. Hey, guess what."Stockbroker: "What?"Gay man: "You're on it."New York is gay. Gayer than a picnic. Gayer than an Easter parade. So it was only natural that the premiere of my first documentary film, Straight Acting, should be at New Fest, the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Film Festival. After all, it was NYC in all its gay glory that had helped kick my butt out of the closet and into queer life.The first time that I came to the city six years ago, I had been a supreme closet case, a moody Mormon conservative with my suppressed sexuality written all over my strained face. You know, like Joe Pitt in Angels in America. And like Joe I couldn't help but be seduced by the freedom of the city. On my virgin journey on the subway, timidly taking my seat on the L train, I ended up, like John Rocker had warned, across from two shaved-headed, tattooed, and pierced hard-core punks. As I stared like the tourist I was, the one leaned over and stuck his tongue in his boyfriend's mouth. Damn, it was hot.Later, standing in front of Titian's Venus and Adonis in the Met, and crying like a lost child, I realized that there was no question I was a queer. Who else cries over the pretty paintings at the Metropolitan Museum?So I went home and eventually got around to telling my family that I was gay, and then...nothing. I ended up in this kind of limbo, afraid to give up my old life and reach out for a new one. That's when the city rescued me again, this time with its tragedy.As I watched so many New Yorkers die on my television that morning in September, I started to get the shakes. All these folks, normal people like me, had gone to work and then disappeared without a trace. The mortality of it hit me with the bitch-slap I so richly needed. I didn't want to disappear without a trace. So within a month, I had moved to Hollywood, started a new job, and gone to my first L.A. gay bar. Life was too short to live other people's lives.There was one other fallout for me from that day. Not long after, I read an article in The Advocate about Mark Bingham, the gay man from San Francisco who had gone down heroically with his fellow passengers on Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field rather than into the U.S. Capitol or the White House. Mark was a rugby player, and he played on a gay rugby team in San Francisco. The idea of a rugby team made up primarily of the kind of queer guys who would play a hard contact sport intrigued me. I'd realized right away how little I liked hanging out in the bars with gay men I had nothing in common with--other than sex. I needed a way to meet other queers who were my kind of guys.So I joined the L.A. Rebellion, a gay-friendly rugby team, and met a bunch of men, many of whom were going through an experience similar to mine. Often dissatisfied with life in the gay ghetto, or tired of the stereotypes forced onto them, they were looking for a place where they could be openly gay while still doing the things that they liked to do as guys, like running around a muddy field trying to tackle a large man with a ball. When I later met the documentary producer Amy Sommer, a straight woman with the kind of open-mindedness you've got to look hard for these days, I talked to her about all these gay guys who were carving this new space for themselves.Thus the film was born.It wasn't just my rugger friends and I who were experiencing this newfound freedom to be the kinds of men we wanted to be. In other "tough guy" activities gay men were defying the homophobia of the sports world and claiming their space on the pitch. I ended up in Oklahoma and Las Vegas filming rodeo riders, in Texas and London filming rugby tournaments, and, inevitably, back in New York, this time for the Chelsea Challenge, a hockey tournament organized by the New York City Gay Hockey Association.I found a bunch of guys, some of them with "New Yawk" accents, who were also out athletes, putting themselves on the line to play the sport they loved. I named the film Straight Acting to commemorate my own transition from "acting straight" while in the closet to being openly, honestly gay while playing what is erroneously considered a "straight guys' sport."

And in the middle of editing the film I came back to New York, this time for the Republican National Convention. While just a few years before I would have been expecting to attend the convention as a delegate, now I was on the other side of the barricades, protesting the cheap homophobia George Bush was using to get reelected. I watched in Times Square as activists from ACT UP were arrested for the crime of holding a "kiss-in," with same-sex couples openly making out in front of the delegates heading into the air-conditioned Broadway theaters that stifling Sunday afternoon. Unlike the two punkers in the subway six years ago, these queers were locking lips in a new, different New York. They left in handcuffs.But the old spark was still there, and on the last evening of the convention, as the president raised the rabble inside Madison Square Garden to a vicious frenzy with his antigay code talk of "defending marriage," our protest parade left Union Square and headed up Eighth Avenue. Along the streets of Chelsea, people leaned from their windows and fire escapes, beating pots and pans and blowing horns in support, their joyful noise rising up to the moon-filled evening sky.Once again, I felt New York reach out and embrace this particular misunderstood queer. Unfortunately, the rest of the country wasn't quite so supporting come Election Day.But now I'm back to the city one more time, film in hand, for New Fest, the fantastic gay film festival now in its 17th year. Checking into the Chelsea Hotel I requested from the elderly clerk the room in which Gore Vidal had once famously screwed Jack Kerouac. I figured it would be good luck. He laughed and informed me that he wasn't sure which room it was; Gore Vidal and Jack Kerouac had both had their share of tricks at the Chelsea. Instead he gave me the room recently used for the gay sex scene in Bill Condon's 2004 film, Kinsey. I figured that the lingering presence of Peter Sarsgaard's full-frontal nudity was a good karma substitute.That night, as a guitarist in the next room played me a beautiful lullaby, at the ragged edge of sleep I could hear the haunting ghost of Dylan Thomas imploring me to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light!"Film festivals are all about movies, of course. I saw some fine films over the first two days of New Fest, including the opening night gala movie, Loggerheads, and Hate Crime, Tommy Stovall's entertaining revenge thriller. There was also David Secter's documentary about the Gay Games, Take the Flame! as well as a revival showing of the '70s camp classic Saturday Night at the Baths.But film festivals are also about the parties. One of the great benefits of playing on a gay rugby team is being part of a worldwide brotherhood of guys who know how to have a good time. At my first practice in Los Angeles three years prior, I had met an Australian fellow by the name of Kevin Dickson, a strapping entertainment journalist who had taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes of how to live a cool gay life, one that didn't involve snorting bumps in the bathroom at Rage after spending all day at the gym. Kevin was my gay rabbi, and luckily he was in New York for the summer working for InTouch Weekly. This was a good thing, because if you are going to tie one on, you'd do well to have an Australian around to help you out of a jam.With Kevin filling me in on all the latest NYC gossip, we made the rounds from the official New Fest opening party in West Chelsea to our own tour of New York's finest drinking establishments. Along the way we picked up members of the NYC Gotham Knights rugby team as well as several buddies from the Dallas Diablos who had flown in for the occasion. They had welcomed me down to Texas while I was filming and had given me some of my best footage. Now they were here to paint the town like only Texas boys can. Tequila rounds at the Eagle can be a dangerous thing, and I'm still not completely sure how my white Converse low-tops ended up soaked through with red wine, but I don't think that we're welcome back at Barracuda anytime soon.Thus it was with a Q-tip for a head that I rode the A train up to midtown for my film's Sunday premiere at Loews Cineplex on 34th Street. My movie was partnered with another feature documentary, Original Pride, about a Los Angeles motorcycle club called the Satyrs, arguably the oldest gay sporting organization in America. If you are wondering where the Tom of Finland aesthetic was born, this was it. These guys were out and proud and unbelievably hot, all at a time when being queer could mean landing your butt in prison. It was a great reminder of the debt that I, and every faggot, owe to those who came before us.When my film started on that big white screen I had a severe attack of what can only be described as performance anxiety. I could sense the audience members behind me quietly making up their minds in those first few agonizing minutes. Then, the first bit of laughter at the jokes, and chuckles of sympathy in all the right places, and respectful silence during the serious moments.I think they liked it.After the lights came up, after the Q&A, after the handshakes, as we stood in the theater lobby my buddy Kevin leaned over and whispered to me that I should go check myself out in the bathroom mirror. Damn, had I just stood up there for 10 minutes in front of a crowd of strangers with food in my teeth or snot hanging from my nose?"Naw, mate. Go look at your face in the mirror. You're beaming."New York always seems to have this effect on me.Anyone know of a cheap sublet in the far West Village?

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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