Sunday, April 17, 2011

Movie review: Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open (2009) is a remarkable gay-themed movie from Israel that Tobi and saw recently.

It's one of the few movies made on the subject of mixed-orientation marriage, and it's the only one that I can think of that takes place in a conservative religious setting. The film very well done and in fact is so well done that at times it's painful to watch.

The world of conservative Judaism is foreign to outsiders, but I think the movie's setting will resonate with Mormon viewers. Group identity is so strong in this movie that a viewer can really understand why the characters see no way out. Nothing can replace their membership in the tribe. It's not so much that there are disincentives toward leaving; it's that the only life that can be imagined is within their community of believers. Religion colors every aspect of life from the moment these characters get out of bed in the morning.

I don't want to give spoilers, so I'll just summarize the plot as the story of a married Hasidic man and the younger man with whom he falls in love. The character of the wife is played with heartbreaking reality. To its credit, the movie never portrays the wife as a shrew. She is definitely a bystander but in a way that is human, believable and very poignant.

This action of the film is slightly more understandable if you already have some significant cultural exposure to Judaism. There are events in the movie that might seem poorly motivated without familiarity with practices like the mikvah (purifying bath) and the Hasidic concept of tzaddik (a righteous man of special devotion).

In terms of style, the film is clear-eyed and unsentimental. It has compassion for communities of faith and for those who don't fit the mold. It understands the emotional violence of ritual shunning and the compelling nature of the universal human desire to live among one's people.

There's a lot here that Mormons will recognize, a lot that gay Mormons will recognize, and a whole lot that Mormons in a mixed-orientation marriage will recognize.

(FYI, this movie is available in streaming format from Netflix.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Letter to a 17 year old

A Mormon-themed blog received this question from a reader:
I'm a 17 years old and I think I might be gay. I don't know who to tell because there really is no one. I have a very good relationship with my parents/family and I don't want to ruin it, but I can't seem to stop the way I feel. I don't want to be gay but I have never felt sexually attracted to a single girl. The only way I know how to describe what I feel is that when a cute guy walks past I stare at him, I feel interested. I don't even notice girls or if they are cute. Is there anything I can do to stop these feelings? I don't want to be gay.

The blogger, a "Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist," gave an answer which you can read for yourself. Her answer included a statement to the effect that contrary to the claims of organizations like Evergreen change therapy doesn't work. I'm glad that some therapists who are active in the LDS Church are willing to take stands such as this, but I thought the overal tenor of the advice was too tentative.

I left a reply addressed to the original questioner that said:
The first step is to break the isolation by finding a trusted person in your life with whom you can discuss your feelings. This person might be a teacher, a school guidance counselor, a family member or a friend. This is NOT a problem you can or should carry around alone. You need support, and you need it now. It's that simple.

I agree with the other advice given above, but I have to add one thing. There's an elephant in the living room, something that everyone knows is there but won't talk about. It is this: the official opinion of the LDS Church toward homosexuality is not held by many informed LDS people. As a result you will find that informed LDS people (such as [the blogger who answered your question]) will not steer you in the same direction as your bishop might. The answers you hear in Sunday School won't be enough, and you shouldn't assume that every active LDS person around you accepts them. As you start the journey of coming out, you will need to seek answers for yourself and evaluate what many people have to say. You're going to have to think for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

In all of this, be aware that you are not alone. Many of your peers share this issue (for example, on this blog). Others of us, myself included, have had to come to terms with our orientations during our lives. We can promise you: it gets better. It really, really does.

Stay safe and be gentle with yourself along the way.

Readers, what would you say to this 17 year old?