Somewhere around my senior year of college, I used to joke that I was “the last stop on the way to gay.” There’d been a brief rash of guys who asked me out or flirted with me quite a bit, and then several months later, they were all happily dating men. One of them was dating a guy from my biology lab that I’d had a crush on, so that street went both ways, I guess. It never really bothered me. I choose to find it flattering that if they were going to take one last shot at dating girls, they’d consider me. Truth be told, I think there are ways in which my gay friends appreciate me more than most straight guys do.
I finished reading The Mayor of Castro Street before going to see Milk on Friday, and I found both of them really powerful. The book, much like Randy Shilts’ other book And the Band Played On, was smart and funny, impeccably researched and incredibly sad. Shilts has a way of not just focusing on one story, but bringing in a lot of different people’s experiences to give a sense of how seemingly small things fit into a bigger picture of what was happening in the country at that time. They are amazing works of journalism. I found myself outraged over and over and by the end I was exhausted.
It’s hard to separate watching the movie from reading the book. I’m not one of those people who insists the book is always better than the movie or who always insist on reading the book first (although I did want to do things in that order for this one because I wanted a refresher course on Harvey Milk and because I was so in awe of And the Band Played On). Lately, I’m more interested in how books and their film counterparts relate to one another. But because The Mayor of Castro Street is so dense, it was hard to watch it without calling to mind a dozen or so facts that connect to each moment. It’s hard not to feel a little thrill when Emile Hirsch introduces himself as Cleve Jones and it’s hard not to tear up when Harvey goes to see Tosca. I actually went to see the movie on a date, and when we were discussing it afterwards, I caught myself talking a little too much about the types of bullets that were used and about the defense that got Dan White the minimum sentence for killing two people. Um, you guys, it’s possible I’m a terrible date.
Look, I mostly like to tell weird stories about blood-hungry spleens and the horrors of chocolate covered bacon. I should have another post ready soon about a fantastic little superhero novel. But I’ve had friends who were gay since I was in high school, and being straight, I have the luxury of forgetting sometimes that it’s still a big deal. It blew my mind how little regard there was for homosexual people as people. The idea that it’s perfectly okay to beat someone to a pulp or to deny them a livelihood just blows my mind. And while I used the past tense just then, it’s obviously an ongoing issue.