When I first met critic Matt Zoller Seitz he disclosed that the initial thing he does when having a strong reaction to a film is to look in the mirror and ask, “Is the movie affecting me this way because I’m a white guy with a blue collar background?” It was a “Eureka!” moment for me, a summation of all the reasons I’d been a fan of his film criticism for so long, and why I’d always felt a kinship with his style. For questioning my own POV first and foremost has been my modus operandi for as long as I’ve been writing. And then I realized it’s also what elevates Matt above the rest.
Recently, I had another “Eureka!” moment when what I thought of as a “fairly innocuous comment” about the collective mindset of the movie-going public posted to my “Traitor” review at The House Next Door infuriated me. Instead of degrading the commenter I did what I normally do, took a good hard look in the mirror and asked, “What is it about me and my life experience that’s causing me to react this way?” Then I tried my best to candidly answer that question not as a “film critic,” but as a movie-goer in a personal essay titled The Movie-Going Public. And that’s where I got into a heap-load of trouble.
For any exploration of myself, my personal POV, inevitably includes a discussion of sexuality. For my gay male identity, my sexuality, inside my biological female form is a part of who I am, which isn’t all that interesting in-and-of itself. But that same gay male sexuality also guides my point of view, which is crucially important, since people like me on the margins of society don’t always have our viewpoints acknowledged. Tossing off what I thought was my own innocuous comment, a campy-toned reference to casual sex that didn’t make any of my gay friends bat an eye, I was chastened by the realization that not everyone in my audience understood homo code, taking the bite out of sex with flamboyant words (and perhaps simultaneously exploding the ridiculous myth about the “beautiful, dumbbell muscle boy” incapable of a conversation beyond protein bars and free weights. You know, just in case the governor of California hadn’t done so already).
The truth is I never even would have become an “erotica author” (a term as meaningless as “film critic” in this day and age), had it not been for my hustler/porn star lover who held a mirror up to my face, challenged everything I thought was “true” for six long years, sharpening my critical thinking skills, until he exhausted me – not with sex but with all his philosophizing. People like us are cut from the same cloth as Juan Antonio in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” who Javier Bardem, when asked about the in-your-face sexuality of his character, explained simply views sex as a starting point on a journey, not a goal. For me if the journey takes off great, if not it’s a fantastic daytrip, just another sport like the Thai boxing I’ve been doing for the past dozen years. And it never even occurs to me that someone might think I’d “brag” about an afternoon workout at the gym. But then I often forget my life experiences are not that of my audience, that my words are often lost in translation. Which is why I knew it was time for me to take another cold look in the mirror.
In all honesty, I often err on the side of candor because I packed up and left the world of the mainstream a long, long time ago. I’ve always been acutely aware that, straight guys especially, I make extremely uncomfortable so I’ve usually just avoided becoming close with anyone not on the margins, rather than sucking it up and having to censor myself. Subsequently, I haven’t learned much in the way of mainstream social mores, haven’t been exposed to as many hetero POVs as I should be. I don’t speak the language. (And it took me over a decade to figure out that as a genderqueer person, theoretically, I’m a straight guy’s worst nightmare, as bad as any horror flick body snatcher – a 100% biological female with an inner faggot out to suck their dick. The only difference between me and any other gay guy is I “pass” for a straight chick, foxily making my way into hetero beds without a hitch.)
And interestingly, I’ve discovered that a lot of the people I tend to offend with my bluntness are uncomfortable not necessarily with “strong women,” nor “female sexuality,” per se, but with flamboyant homos like me expressing sexuality if it’s not strictly within the confines of a pride parade, with our social code which very much includes talking flippantly about sex – i.e., with our POV – whether they realize it or not. But for me, not talking frankly about sex harkens back to the societal neutering of gays and lesbians in the fifties, when a seat at the table was dependent upon speaking a language that suppressed our sexuality. And like all those gay men who had to pretend they didn’t actually “do” anything with each other save for listening to Judy Garland tunes together, lest they offend the heterosexual majority by conjuring up horrific images of cock-sucking and anal sex (which, tellingly, are equally heterosexual practices), I instinctively respond with a rebel yell of “I’m here, I’m queer, I screw. Get over it!”
And rarely do I get flack from the margin, not so much because these people are my brothers and sisters, but because collectively we’ve known all our lives that our viewpoints are different from the majority. We try – and sometimes fail like all other human beings – not to blindly assume (like so much of the center does) that just because we think a certain way everyone does. In other words, we’ve been conditioned to be constantly checking ourselves in the mirror, the benefit being that it allows us to be open to self-doubt. So I have to say, the most humbling aspect of interacting with my readers online is I’m being taught to get over my own inexcusably innate, knee-jerk prejudice of straight people. For all those heteros who always seem to be rushing to my aid whenever I get attacked for causing offense aren’t defending a chick – they’re crying “not in my name!” Which is all the more humbling.