Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hollywood Needs to Stop Playing Chicken with Gay Sex

Yes you can do more

So the Golden Globes are now well behind us, leaving two inescapable truths. 1) Meryl's speech deserves to be broadcast everywhere between here to the furthest reaches of space, and 2) The Oscar is La La Land’s to lose. I was excited to see French thriller Elle finally get some of the Stateside praise it so richly deserves, because with its much talked about shortlist exclusion, it certainly won’t get this come Oscar time. Come on, kids! Isabelle Huppert is a goddess on par with Meryl.

Another critic’s favourite snapped up the award for Best Picture – Drama, despite not converting any of its numerous other nominations to wins. Okay, if you’ve been paying even a whiff of attention to awards season, it felt kind of inevitable that Moonlight would win, and I can’t say this makes me unhappy. After all, a major American movie about a man who’s poor, black, and gay just picked up a major Best Picture award.

I’ll say that again, a movie about a man who is poor, black, and gay.

In America.

Yet I also can’t honestly say Moonlight satisfied me all that much as a film.

Okay, so now I’ve blasphemed and probably micro-aggressed about half the world’s liberal film buffs, let me elaborate. I normally wouldn’t do this, except in this case, I was asked to elaborate after I tweeted my dissatisfaction with Moonlight (while appreciating the ideological value of its GG win), and my reasons tie into a challenge facing gay (and MM) fiction as well.

First off, I’m not calling Moonlight a bad movie. It isn’t. The entire cast brings their A-game, particularly Naomie Harris who brings a range and depth to Chiron’s drug-addled mother that the screenplay doesn’t really provide for her. It’s no accident that her one scene with the adult Chiron stands out as perhaps the film’s strongest. Then, there’s the film’s visual aesthetic. Even though I’m about to tear certain aspects of its writing to shreds, I will say, if you are going to see Moonlight, see it in a theatre. Don’t wait for VOD. You might expect a film based on a play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue to be big on visuals, but Jenkins brings such poetic visual flair to his film, making full use of the big screen canvas, that you really do need to see it on this scale to appreciate these strengths.

And yes, I know we’re not supposed to admire or dis movies based on ideology, but one more time: Hugely successful American movie about a poor, black, gay man. It kind of disgusts me that this feels like such a milestone achievement, but it does. Not all gays are rich. We’re not all fabulous. We’re not all white. Chiron is the ultimate symbol of the American dream’s betrayal.

And therein lies the movie’s main problem. It’s content for Chiron to be a symbol. Innocent. Child-like. Na├»ve. Emotionally stunted. Victimized. Because making him a fully realized person would have forced Moonlight to deal with two realities it takes great strides to avoid. One is that as a black, gay, poor man in America, Chiron has every reason to be mightily pissed off (Hell, even Jesus was less passive and tolerant than this guy). More dangerously, it would force Moonlight, and its predominantly straight audience to deal with gay sex.

Gonna say that again. Not gay marriage. Not gay equality. GAY SEX!!!

Warning: Major spoilers for Moonlight ahead.

Yes. Gay sex. That most wondrous of pleasures that we all know is awesome, yet which horrifies and alienates most of the straight world while strangely fascinating James Franco. Okay, there’s the bubble of the MM romance reading community that has occasionally called out my books (despite their explicit gay sex scenes) with reviews like this one. But that’s still a small, niche community that doesn’t really reflect Joe and Jane Multiplex-going Public. In theory, you know the adult Chiron could be having gay sex. Hell, with Trevante Rhodes' body, he bloody well should be having lots of it. Yet this absolutely cannot be allowed, since it undermines the story of Chiron as the perfect, innocent man-child. He’s the little boy on the movie poster we’re supposed to pity, which is okay when the character is actually a little boy. But by the film’s act three, he’s become a man. He’s done time in juvie, and is now a drug runner with a scary-ass golden grill in big bad Atlanta. I simply do not buy his weirdly symbolic celibacy as he spends 10-12 years pining for the boy who gave him a hand job on the beach that one night. It’s the kind of cute, contrived idea I might go for within the heightened reality of a stage play, but not in a film otherwise so devoted to realism.

But it does give a predominantly straight audience an easy out. A way to sweep the notion of gay sex beyond innocent teen experimentation under the rug while still patting themselves on the back for ‘supporting gay cinema.’ Moonlight is in many ways the ultimate gay/black movie for straight/white people. Sure, you went to see a movie about gay people. You just didn’t have to deal with what they actually do as sexually active human beings. I’m going to leave dissection of the story as a black narrative to other commentators more learned in that field, but there is little in Moonlight that we haven’t seen in other films before (even if Moonlight nails many of its depictions), and more than one black LGBT writer/critic has expressed frustration that it is yet another portrayal of American blacks as ghettoized victims, even as they praise the movie’s aesthetic and mainstream success.

The truth is, Moonlight doesn’t need explicit sex scenes to be a much more sensual and realistic film. I don’t need to see Chiron and Kevin getting it on, particularly after a decade of alienation from each other. This raises another issue with the film. The entire scene in which Kevin caves to pressure and beats up a defenseless Chiron comes from nowhere. Kevin has nothing to gain by doing this. The bullies hold nothing over him, and no, ‘toxic masculinity’ is not a magic bullet explanation. Granted, when Chiron gets his revenge (on the bully, not Kevin), it’s an immensely satisfying moment, if only because it’s the one point in the film Chiron seems to do something proactive. And of course, it lands him in jail. Yes, the film punishes its protagonist for his one interesting, independent action.

Some people have questioned why Moonlight doesn’t show Chiron and Kevin as having an intimate physical reunion at the film’s end. But frankly, if I were in Chiron’s position, I probably wouldn’t be in a rush to jump into bed with a guy who beat me up in high school, even if he had been the object of my first sexual experience and subsequent fantasies. But then, those experiences wouldn’t have stunted me into a decade of celibacy either. Perhaps I would have been forced into the closet, or drifted from one unsatisfying sexual encounter to another. But celibacy? This is Moonlight betraying its own commitment to realism when it’s convenient for avoiding gay sex. So if it has instead chosen the ‘romantic fan service’ route for its act three, why not just go there? Again, there are many ways to demonstrate physical desire and connection without depicting the deed. Is that kind of tension and gay sexual energy beyond straight director Barry Jenkins’ grasp? Well, no. Clearly not.

Let’s talk about that hand job scene on the beach, because despite everything I’ve said above, it proves that Jenkins is more than capable of imbuing a scene with gay sexual chemistry. It’s a tentative and credible teenager’s first time, and frankly, it’s exciting and pretty hot without ever being exploitative or creepy. It’s the only time Jenkins teases us with such skill. This idea that straight men (or women) can’t or shouldn’t write or direct gay stories is nonsense. But to be effective, that filmmaker or writer needs to understand the gay male gaze and shoot/write accordingly. Good female MM and gay fiction authors work this out very quickly and take it seriously. This falsehood that we’re all ‘fundamentally the same’ is what ultimately sabotages Moonlight, which is a film about a young man’s sexual awakening…with no awakening. We may be equal, but we are not all the same. Not when it comes to sex. Even if we have no contact with the gay world (as Chiron doesn’t), we still see our world – and yes, that means looking at many, many men – through gay eyes, and that needs to be understood if gay movies are crossing over for large straight audiences.

Is that the thought Moonlight finds too confronting to deal with? Is it too confronting for any mainstream straight audience to deal with? In Brokeback Mountain, the sexuality is safely channeled between the two characters, and never manifests much beyond some pretty intense kissing. In Milk, it’s channeled safely into the form of a famous gay activist, even though the film itself is the work of a gay man. In Moonlight, it manifests as a passive child turned man-child we just want to reach out and rescue. All of these are digestible manifestations of homosexuality that don’t require a straight audience to deal with gay sex, or with the idea that gay men are carnal, primal creatures just like their straight counterparts, and that no matter how genteel our behavior, our sexuality imbues the way we look at the world all the time. A film like Moonlight doesn’t need to go all Plata Quemada or Shortbus on us. Though I personally wouldn’t object, that's just not its speed or tone. I get it. But if it treated Chiron like more of a fully realized human being, full of honest, hard-earned desire and anger, I would have found much more to respond to. Alternatively, I could have accepted this chaste character as part of a feel-good movie that indulged such romantic fluff. Jenkins instead shoots for the middle, and so misses both marks.

Not every gay movie has to be Plata Quemada
but if this shot bothers you, that's a problem.

So that leaves Moonlight, perhaps appropriately, being more effective as a symbol than an actual movie, just as Chiron is more of a symbol than a fully realized character. It has delighted many critics, and has left tastefully unoffended mainstream audiences singing its praises, and that’s ideologically significant. Its Golden Globe win is ideologically significant. It has proven that a film about a poor, gay, black man can be a hit, and we can’t overstate the importance of bursting that dam. I just hope Moonlight’s success opens the door for other films just as beautiful, and much, much bolder.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Pre-Order Now for GRL 2017

I am now accepting pre-orders of all three of my novels for collection at GRL. Simply pre-order using this form, arrange payment via email, and collect your books at the con.

I am offering an exclusive deal for GRL attendees. Order both The Beast Without and The Orchard of Flesh together for just $25 (save $8 on GRL prices, or a whopping $18 on Amazon's price). 

In addition, those who pre-order will get to reserve a swag torch keyring in their preferred colour. I'm bringing these to GRL in strictly limited numbers, so this is a great way to make sure you get the one you want.

Pre-order your books here and I'll be in touch asap via email. Please note, orders must be placed by September 30.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Orchard of Flesh Promo (Mini) Tour

So this week is a big one for me and for The Orchard of Flesh, which released on August 1 through Bold Strokes Books, and today through Amazon and other third-party sellers. Follow the links to buy now, or just order a copy from your favourite indie or LGBT bookstore.

OTTAWA: This Thursday, August 18 I will be reading at Stonewall Gallery with fellow Bold Strokesers 'Nathan Burgoine (Triad Blood) and Stevie Mikayne (Jellicle Girl), plus James K Moran, whose literary horror novel Town and Train is published by Lethe Press. Start time is 6pm at 370 Bank Street, Ottawa. If you would like to go, please do RSVP for the event at Stonewall Gallery's Facebook page.

NEW YORK: Then, if that wasn't exciting enough I will be in New York this weekend, August 20 and 21, with the Genre Junkies at Flame Con 2. Those Genre Junkies will be Andrew J Peters (The City of Seven Gods), David Swatling (Calvin's Head), J L Weinberg (True Religion) and of course myself. We will be at table #128 (see the map that I have inflated beyond all reason below), so come say hi, talk about books, buy books (at some exclusive Con discounts, no less), and enjoy a great day of gay geekery with us.

TORONTO: Finally, the official launch for The Orchard of Flesh will take place at Bar 499 (formerly Byzantium) at 499 Church Street, Toronto. Wait, you say, wasn't this going to be hosted by Glad Day Bookshop? Well, indeed it is. In fact Bar 499 will be the new Glad Day Bookshop (and cafe and bar) as soon as the get their extensive collection of books moved over. In the meantime, it is Bar 499, but it is run by the Glad Day team, making this the first launch event in the new Glad Day! You can RSVP to the Facebook event here.

Remember, you can keep up with my appearances, readings and events via my website at www.christianbaines.com. Not currently listed there is GRL 2016. But soon. Sooooooooon.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Lock Up Your Burglars! He Returns to Europe.

I'm writing this in a mix of excitement and raw panic, because in just a week's time I'll be in Nottingham, enjoying Bold Strokes Books's UK Festival at Waterstones.

A week later, I'll also be in Berlin for the second ever Euro Pride Con. Somewhere in there I'm also meeting up with friends in a couple of other cities, so all up, it's a wonderful two weeks for me doing three things I love - talking books, catching up with friends, and exploring Europe.

And I'll be doing it on crutches!

Yes, about a month ago, the gods decided to, as my British friends would no doubt say 'have a laugh,' and shit me to tears test my fortitude, causing me to fall and dislocate a good portion of my midfoot. This stranded me on crutches for 2+ months, dropping me in the deep end of the Canadian healthcare system.

Travel insurance, peeps. Go nowhere without it!

All the same, I am super excited for this trip. It's not my first trip to the UK, but it is my first going outside of London - which many would say qualifies it as my first trip to the UK. And as much as I loved London, I never quite managed to shake the knowledge that I was in a 'tourist' city, mostly because I think it was my first time, and though I spent almost a week there, I was based in Soho, which was great for theatre and some of the more historic bars, but, if we're honest, has definitely been beset by the gentrification demons. Maybe London's new mayor can help turn or slow the tide. Who knows? This has been discussed to death by folks far more knowledgeable than I.

There were many aspects of London I loved, of course, but by far my favourite day was spent with a friend in Greenwich after a Sunday lunch in a pub partly owned by none other than Sir Ian McKellen. (Yes, shamelessly flaunting my nerdy tourist card now.) We ended the day with a show at the iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern (Calling it. Charlie Hides is one of our generation's greatest living drag stars), and it occurred to me afterward that this was as close to a perfect day out in London as I'd had in my time there. Why? Perhaps because we'd completely bypassed the tourist attractions, taken a break from Soho, and reminded...well, me at least, that this was a city where people still lived, played, and loved.

What's this got to do with Nottingham? I'm looking forward to seeing a bit of the UK outside of London altogether. Is it stupid to think of that day out in Greenwich as a taste of the England I'd always imagined, and to say now I want more? Maybe. Don't know. Don't care. I'm looking forward to it, and to getting a more balanced view on the country, and of course, to meet and chat with some UK authors and readers.

As for Berlin, what else can I say? I've had countless days like my 'Greenwich' day in this city, and my love affair with it just keeps getting stronger. At this point, I'm wondering if Germany should consider a new tourism slogan - 'Last in the Eurovision. First for coolest capital.'

Needs work? Yeah, okay, probably.

I'm also looking forward to meeting the variety of authors and readers from across Europe and elsewhere who'll be at EPC. I'd love to be all fancy and do a bilingual reading, but I fear any attending Francophones would flee the room in either tears or a blind rage, so I'll be sticking to English this time. I had hoped to make it to Munich last year, but no luck. So consider this my making up for it, now armed with a new book in Puppet Boy, plus another new book upcoming.

Will I see you in Nottingham or Berlin? Head to my website for all my event listings, including web links for Bold Strokes Books Festival and Euro Pride Con.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Cons and Cross-Continental Moves

So it's taken me a few weeks to decompress and get organised after fantastic week and a bit in the States, which included Saints and Sinners in New Orleans, and Rainbow Book Fair in New York City. 

First up, SASFest, which is just as much fun as I remember from last time I went in 2014. It was interesting to be on a totally different panel, talking about a totally different book this year, and not at all intimidating to have Andrew Holleran on one side of me and Laura Antoniou on the other. Not at all, I tell you. Also with us was fellow Bold Strokes newbie Ralph Josiah Bardley, whose novel Brothers is shortlisted for this year’s Lambda for Best Gay Romance. So if you haven't already, it’s well worth checking out.

There were also some terrific questions from both the moderator and audience including authors who were at the festival who came to hear and support us, so thanks! Truly, I love doing panels, but I also get super nervous on them. So for me they're always a balance of trying to be sufficiently in-depth without over-yapping. My fellow panelists hit that mark nicely, particularly Laura Antoniou, who I heard speak and read several times over the weekend. Whether BDSM erotica is your thing or not, she is razor sharp, funny as hell, and I think The Killer Wore Leather just crept quite a way up my 'to-read' list.

The other big event was Rainbow Book Fair, which was a new experience for me, and one that involved more direct, 1-to-1 chats with readers, which I really enjoy. Besides reading with a swag of great Bold Strokes authors, I got to meet some very cool and interesting readers, writers, publishing professionals, and even a couple of existing fans. Blame the absence of an open food vendor anywhere on site for the exhausting day, but so worth it. So if you came along and said hi, thanks. I know NYC always has a stack of events competing for your time, so I appreciate anyone who chose this. It was fun.

The rest of my New York time was all about theatre. Besides dutifully entering (and losing) the Hamilton lottery every night, my friend and I turned our critical theatre queen gaze upon Fun Home and American Psycho, both of which are superb, and Something Rotten, which is…less so, but still pretty entertaining. Kind of like what would happen if you gave Forbidden Broadway a $12 million budget. I also suggest checking out Locusts Have No King for yourself (closes May 1, so be quick), since any description I could possibly give would either spoil this bizarre little show or sell it way, way short.

Oh, and yeah…moved back to Toronto, Canada, after two years roaming around in Sydney, Berlin, and Melbourne among other places. So there’s that. The reasons are long and complicated and probably best left for another post, so for now, I’ll just say it’s good to be back!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Saints and Sinners Literary Festival and Rainbow Book Fair

Ever heard of (or Googled) Saints and Sinners or Rainbow Book Fair? Come see me at both! They'll be fun.

Saints and Sinners is happening the first weekend of April in New Orleans. I'm very excited to be returning this year, reading, and appearing on Saturday's Rebel Rebel panel, talking about The Outsider in Writing with Laura Antoniou, Ralph Josiah Bardsley, Andrew Holleran, and moderator Martin Hyatt. I'm particularly excited that Puppet Boy has been nominated for the Saints and Sinners Emerging Writer Award. Plus, it's New Orleans, people!

Saints and Sinners Literary Festival
April 1-3, Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA

The following weekend will be my first time at New York's Rainbow Book Fair. Come see me (and if you haven't already, pick up a signed copy of Puppet Boy) at the Bold Strokes Books table. I'm also doing a short reading alongside a bunch of brilliant authors, and it's FREE (Okay...by optional donation. But it's a few bucks. This is not the Met.). Who says a great day in NYC has to break the bank?

Rainbow Book Fair
April 9, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 534 W59th Street, New York NY

You can find more about both events on their websites, or my new site, www.christianbaines.com.

At Saints & Sinners, New Orleans, 2014.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Guest Blog - On the joys of short-term relationships

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Yeah, right. Actually I spent the day guest blogging for the highly talented Kevin Klehr on the merits and joys of those relationships that don't last (and special guest stars). Check out my thoughts over at Kevin's blog.

Thanks again Kevin, for having me on the site.

Paul Dawson's character in Shortbus discovers the joys and pains of extra-curricular activities.