It Was Once Described to Me as “Gay Interest,” Composing, 17/03/2016

In the middle of all the madness that my life is today – communications contracts, a part-time sales job, volunteer work with the Syria Film Festival and the New Democratic Party – I still have new ideas for stories, novels, and films.

I say this as I continue to develop two independent film projects this year – Here Is a Man with director Lee Skinner and the film version of You Were My Friend with the theatre version’s lead actress Sam Nemeth directing. Even though I’m still working on these projects, I also think about other stories that would be interesting, provocative, and important to tell.

I have always found sports culture to be
pretty gay already.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with my GF about a very strange night I had back when I lived in St John’s. This happened to me more than a decade ago. 

I was invited to a party at a friend F’s house. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But F’s boyfriend The Clam set up her front room as a movie theatre – a projector and a white screen covering the entire north wall of the room. But this wasn’t to watch a movie. It was to watch a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game.

I remembered this night, and it stuck in my mind, because I’ve lately seen a lot of examples of Leafs fandom here in Toronto. I walked into the screening room and saw 15 fellow 22-year-olds bathed in the blue light of the projected rink, eyes fixed on the screen, their faces twisted by adrenaline, screaming in a demented ecstasy whenever a Leaf would take the puck. It was half religious mystic enthusiasm and half simultaneous seizure. I was a little disturbed.

So I did the only rational thing. I went to the kitchen and hung out with all their girlfriends for the rest of the night.

Telling that story a couple of weeks ago, the GF commented about how incredibly gay it was in that improvised theatre. That got me thinking of a story.

I'm not gay. But I think I'm more comfortable with alternative sexualities than the average North American white cis straight male, if only because gay people have been normal to me for my entire life. They’re in my close family and some of my oldest friendship circles. 

I’ve never been alienated or mystified by gay existence the way many men still apparently are. I think that’s why Lee Edelman’s philosophy of homosexuality alienated me so much. The notion that gay existence is radically different from straight life with its valuation of reproduction, is itself radically strange to me. Gay existence is my uncle, some of my oldest friends. 

I feel like it would be disingenuous of me to tell the story
of a gay man exploring gay and homosexual subcultures,
at least until I found a collaborator for the project –
whether a film or a novel – who was gay, and would
help me build a narrative from his experiences.
But I can’t tell a gay man’s story. I don’t have that kind of positionality. It’s difficult for me to get inside the headspace of someone who’s experienced those internal and social struggles his whole life. If I told a story of a gay man on his own terms, I know that I’d slip away from its visceral reality.

But I can tell the story of a straight man learning the stories of the gay men around him. Here’s the basic shape of the story I’ve thought about from this image of the ecstatic hockey game. It would be very explicitly gay. Think of an X-rated Alice Munro.

Calvin comes from a small city in Toronto's wide orbit. When he moves to Toronto for university, he meets up with a friend from high school a year older than him, Justin, who’s come out. They get to know each other again, Justin introduces Calvin to the city, and they have a semi-drunk sexual encounter that convinces Calvin that he’s very much not gay. But the night remains friendly, and their platonic love for each other deepens.

This Calvin-Justin story unfolds in flashback, interspersed with a mystery plot. The narrative begins with the kind of party I described, with this sexually charged hockey ritual. Unlike my night at that party, Calvin actually succeeds in hooking up with one of his friend’s girlfriends. 

He and Samira have a wide-ranging conversation, which includes some of her frustration with her boyfriend Marcus, and after a few more (what neither of them will admit are) dates, they start having an affair. Calvin eventually starts getting curious, ostensibly on Samira's behalf but also from a strange curiosity, about what secret life Marcus has.

From Mark Duplass' film Hump Day, which consists
almost entirely of conversations between two straight
men trying to convince themselves that it will not be
gay when they have sex with each other.
The narrative unfolds similarly to The Big Lebowski. Sequences of Calvin’s affair with Samira and investigating Marcus’ double life are interspersed with hangouts with Justin and his boyfriend Jamal. This gay couple is a sounding board for the investigation, and we also get to know their situation. Justin could pretty easily come out to his progressive white family, but Jamal is alienated from many of his old friends in his more socially conservative community.

Eventually, Calvin discovers that Marcus is involved in a secret club of straight-identified mega-fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs who regularly organize orgies of aggressive sex among their all-male membership. 

It’s one of these homosexual-but-not-gay subcultures that Jane Ward talks about in this illuminating lecture. She talks about different rules and caveats that exist among these communities of straight men who have homosexual sex with each other, to separate the act of sex between men from the self-identity of being gay. I found it an interesting dynamic.

That's all I really have of the story. I don’t know how it will end. I don’t have all the details. Samira's character is still incredibly hazy. All I really have a handle on is the relationship between Calvin and Justin. And the dynamic that this isn’t a story of gay people themselves, but of a straight man exploring the subtleties of gay and homosexual subcultures.

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