Gay boys growing up along with me in the 70’s and 80’s were sheltered from knowing there was a thriving gay community! Oh, we knew there was a “lifestyle,” spoken of in hushed tones and with sad eyes. But it always appeared to involve crack, or heroine and living in a van down by the river.
At 40 years old when I began to socialize with other gay men I found that I was 20 years behind them in gay pop culture and self-awareness. I hadn’t seen the plays. I hadn’t watched the TV shows or movies. And I certainly hadn’t had the social life.
I recall as a young boy hearing about Billy Crystal’s gay character on Soap and later about Ellen’s coming out but my Mom wouldn’t allow us to watch it and I didn’t allow myself to watch Ellen. It’s hard to believe now but you just didn’t see homosexuals portrayed on TV in the 80’s and rarely in the 90’s.
The first shows I eventually allowed myself to watch were powerful for me.
Back when I was still married, Mormon, very much in the closet, an employee of mine suggested I watch a show I’d never heard of. She said that she was sure I’d like Angels in America. She didn’t tell me much about the plot other than it was about a Mormon man in New York City and that I really had to see it. She even went so far as to tape it on VHS to give to me on her last day of work. Oddly, she said my wife probably wouldn’t like it, so I should probably just watch it alone. So I did. On my lunchbreak. In my Office. With the door closed.
That woman, my employee, obviously sensed that I was gay. Her gesture was a love bomb of the highest order.
So, I’m going to love bomb you.
Here are some movies, plays and TV shows that have powerfully touched me as I’ve walked forward to a more authentic life. I’m not going to present these as a list. You can find a bunch of top ten lists out there of gay movies, or shows with humanist values. Just google them. But these are some significant works of performance art that have meant something on my journey out. I’m only listing what I’ve actually seen. I’m sure there are many more.
First some housekeeping.
You’re going to want to get movie/TV streaming service or two. Most of these shows are available to rent, stream or buy. Some are just on YouTube. I recently cut my cable … kind of. My new job pays my Internet connection and the cable company gave me basic TV for only $5 more. Now, I have only very basic cable plus these streaming services and I’m saving over $120 from what I used to pay. I have Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Netflix and when I moved I got a killer deal on HBO and Showtime. There’s also a really cool app called Yidio that connects to all of these services and lets you search among them all to find the shows you want to watch.
You can watch all this stuff on your phone or other device so you don’t have to barricade yourself into your office on lunch breaks like I did! Happy viewing!
Make sure you come back to comment or add suggestions!!!
Heads up! These shows contain language and sexual scenes that might disturb fresh Mormon or Christian sensibilities. Most of my recommendations, but not all, are quite irreverent but not vulgar or pornographic.
My first suggestion is go to live theatre if at all possible. The reason live theatre tops my suggestions is that there’s a different dimension to the experience that you can’t get from watching a movie alone. As a young boy seeing A Chorus Line for the first time, it wasn’t necessarily the play that impacted me most. It was the overwhelming approval and acceptance I personally felt from my fellow audience members by them showing their approval and acceptance of the gay characters on the stage!
Angels in America is based on a play by the way. Go see it if it’s playing nearby. Same goes for A Chorus Line! (Don’t bother with A Chorus Line the movie though).
One play that does transfer well to the screen is The Normal Heart. It chronicles the AIDS epidemic at its inception. If nothing else, it will fill you with gratitude that you didn’t come out earlier and go through all that disease and death. Not coming out in my teens probably saved my life.
There’s also a one man show called Confessions of a Mormon Boy. I saw it in San Diego a few years ago and enjoyed it. I think it’s well written even if it did seem to be a bit overacted in places (In a BYU Young Ambassadors sort of way) for the small intimate setting in which it played. Still, Steven Fales has earned my respect for making lemonade out of lemons. So much of his story is my story. And there’s a large chunk of it that veers far from my experience, but it’s fascinating. As a gay Mormon man he married a woman who herself had had a gay father, believe it or not! He’s the former son in law of Carol Lynn Pearson if that means anything to you.
Speaking of one person shows, one weekend when my wife was traveling out of state I drove up to Hollywood to see Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go of God. The experience with that audience was a lot like my A Chorus Line experience. It helped me solidify that I really wasn’t the crazy one! I found Julia Sweeney so easy to relate to even though she grew up Catholic. She describes a gentle but hilarious visit with Mormon missionaries. You can see that portion here.
Other plays with gay or humanist themes that have touched me:
You may be more familiar with the movie Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane based on this play. The general theme is to be yourself – the haters be damned! You can watch on Hulu Plus or Netflix.
A musical that includes a closeted gay Mormon missionary and a missionary tap dance number complete with jazz hands? I’m in!
Back when I was still married, but was beginning to come out to myself I clandestinely watched Queer Eye For the Straight Guy and Boy Meets Boy. Those 2 shows were my first introduction into popular gay … stuff. No matter how you feel about stereotypical gay culture, they are fun shows to watch.
Queer as Folk. In another instance of a friend believing I needed to watch a show so much that he gave me the Queer as Folk series on DVD. One of my first fleeting boyfriends introduced me to it during the brief time we were together. If there were only one TV show to watch, this would be it.
Don’t take it too seriously, but have fun with the foreign way most of these guys are just so accepting of themselves and each other. The series got a lot of criticism for perpetuating gay stereotypes, but I enjoyed it. I found the characters well-rounded enough to keep my interest. They are a group of gay friends living in Toronto, I believe. This is binge-worthy TV.
I LOVED, LOVED 1 Girl 5 Gays! It’s not for the faint of heart and some episodes can also be full of stereotypes, but I grew to really like the men as I watched it on LOGO TV. This loosely structured talk show explores adult-oriented topics with a rotating panel of five gay men or five lesbians. The questions asked usually revolve around sex and relationships, although more serious issues, such as HIV and abortion, are sometimes raised.
I believe there’s a newer Canadian TV version. You’ll grow to love and dislike the rotating cast members. It gives you an idea what it would have been like to grow up gay in a metropolitan area in your early 20’s. 1 Girl 5 Gays definitely skews younger but it’s good entertainment for us old dudes too.You can find episodes scattered on YouTube, the LOGO TV web site, and Canadian MTV web site (although, I was unable to access these in the US)
Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt. OMG! Watch this show on Netflix if you are at ANY stage of leaving Mormonism!
In fact watch it if you’ve ever felt like a square peg in a round hole… struggling for a fresh start… like a middle aged recently out gay man. So, so funny!
Exes and Ohs. This is like a lesbian Queer as Folk. I only got into it because I knew the writer/actress Michelle Paradise (sort of..read about it here). Too often gay men and lesbians never cross paths. I went through a period where I thought one of my children might be lesbian so I thought I’d watch this. It’s a little less well known than The L Word, which I’ve never seen.
Other TV shows with gay or humanist characters that have touched me:
You have to be OK with anti-heroes as protagonists. If the picture above makes you uncomfortable don’t watch this show! One of the kids is gay. None of these characters are “good people”, but they are all likable in a very twisted way.
Like Shameless, if you want to grow to love a very imperfect person, get to know Nurse Jackie, starring Edie Falco. This show really has nothing to do with being gay or even leaving a religious tradition, but it has everything to do with a very flawed human being who at the same time just so happens to be a very worthy human being. If you’ve ever lied or felt out of control while on the surface appearing A-OK, in this show you can witness Jackie’s similar juggling act.
Loads of fun watching these sitcoms with gay lead characters, but then you probably already knew about them.
The last gay themed movie I saw was The Way He Looks based on the recommendation of fellow blogger, Gay Mormon Southpaw. The charm of this movie is that the underlying gay theme isn’t blown out of proportion. It’s an endearing coming of age story about a blind teenager, his best friend and the newcomer at the school. For a movie of this genre, it is incredibly well acted and produced. Believable. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Warning: If your taste in men is anything like mine, you’ll find yourself infatuated with Fabio Audi, the actor that plays Gabriel, the new kid. Just plain adorable…and he was actually 23 when it was filmed, so I’m not creeping on a teenager.
Beautiful Thing could be called the original The Way He Looks. It’s a classic among gay themed movies. It follows a similar story line. Two young boys fall in love and don’t know how to deal with the challenges of being gay in a straight world. The production value is a little rough around the edges compared to The Way He Looks and I find the ending a little unrealistic, but I definitely cried watching this one.
Milk was so amazing to me because it got me in touch with history that I had no clue about despite growing up at the same time period in California. I find the acting inspiring and the film a very good choice for your library. I rarely buy DVD’s but I have this one.
I think you’d have to be living in a cave to not be aware of the mainstream film, Brokeback Mountain. I experienced this movie on my first trip to Palm Springs with a guy I was dating. The theater was packed with gay couples. It was the first time I’d ever felt like the straightest man in a room! Driving home from this movie, one of our friends living in Palm Springs stated, “Wow! I’m glad we don’t have to live in a world like THAT anymore!” as if no one has to repress their gay selves anymore. Clueless. Growing up Mormon in this world still feels a lot like the environment in the movie and there are many many gay men who still live lives like the protagonists in the story.
Far From Heaven. According to Roger Ebert
The movie accurately reflects the values of the 1950s, and you can see that in a scene where Frank says his homosexuality makes him feel “despicable” but he’s “going to lick this problem.” The key to the power of “Far from Heaven” is that it’s never ironic; there is never a wink or a hint that the filmmakers have more enlightened ideas than their characters. This is not a movie that knows more than was known in 1957, but a movie that knows exactly what mainstream values were in 1957–and traps us in them, along with its characters.
I actually didn’t like this movie for the same reason that Roger Ebert did like it. It hit too close to home for me. But it got a reaction out of me, something good art is supposed to do.
For the same reason, I’d recommend A Single Man. Learn what not to do with your life
Maurice. Man I was shaken up by this movie when I saw it. I didn’t really like the ending. I appreciate stories without happy endings because I believe they serve as warnings. It’s still a beautiful movie and one I’d recommend to anyone longing for love or in the throws of it.
I’m not much into the drag scene but I really could identify with Torch Song Trilogy and I really like Harvey Fierstein and Anne Bancroft. There’s a really good scene where Harvey’s character confronts his mother, Anne Bancroft, when some horribly honest things are said. Respect or Nothing. Great scene for anyone preparing to come out.
Religulous. Some people can’t stomach Bill Maher. If you are one of those people, then skip this one. But I love his TV show and he’s in top form here in this movie. I highly recommend this movie for anyone comfortable with questioning religion. In one portion he interviews Tal Bachman, the Post Mormon singer famous for his one hit wonder, She’s So High
The Truman Show. I can’t get enough of this movie. Coming out of Mormonism is just like Truman hitting that wall in the boat.
American Beauty Such incredible themes of acceptance vs. intolerance.
Prayers for Bobby By some odd twist of fate I saw this back when it was on TV. I think it terrified me enough that I repressed the experience
As a former missionary I have a lot of problems with the believability of Latter Days but it is probably a must-see for any gay Mormon.
Some Cult Classics I love
This movie is my cult classic favorite and I’ve seen the play on Broadway too! As with most cult films, production value tends to be second rate but this movie is one of the better ones.
Of course, see this on Broadway if you have the chance, but you can rent the movie now. It’s not my favorite show, but it’s definitely a must see gay cult classic.
I just love it when she says, “why can’t you give me the respect I deserve?” And then her daughter Christina shouts, “BECAUSE I’M NOT ONE OF YOUR FANS!” Greatest movie line ever.
I’m not sure why this is such a gay classic film but all of my friends quote from it all the time, especially this scene. If you ever suffered abuse this is a good flick to see.
I’m not entirely sure this belongs in a list of gay classic films any more than Delores Claiborne but I was introduced to it back in high school by a fellow student who, looking back, was also gay and probably frustrated at my cluelessness. A young kid with an elderly fag hag… it just somehow feels gay.
This hidden gem is worth watching for the boy candy in the form of Daniel Lapaine alone. Also starring Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths, who went on to bigger fame this is a show I can watch over and over again. The wedding scene is my favorite. Like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert it’s chock full of Abba songs.