It used to be that every time gay pride rolled around, there would be renewed debate within the LGBT community over all the gratuitous nudity and sexuality. The backlash went something like – Of course the world thinks we’re a bunch of perverts. Look at this sick display. That doesn’t represent me!
The debate seems to have fizzled in recent years and I’m not quite sure why. Have our parades gotten lamer/tamer? Or has the rest of the country just stopped being bothered by it?
I think for most of us in the gay community, there’s a subtle tug-of-war between our desire to stand out and our need to fit in. We want to be embraced for exactly who we are, without fear of ostracization. It’s a theme that runs through “Tiger Orange,” the dramatic feature I directed last year about two estranged brothers, both gay, struggling to reconnect after the recent death of their father. Elder brother and semi-closeted Chet (played by Mark Strano who co-wrote the script and won the Best Actor Award at last year’s Outfest) runs his dad’s hardware store and is seemingly content to blend into the small town he’s called home his entire life. Don’t worry, I’m just like you is his unspoken creed. When younger brother Todd (played by Frankie Valenti aka former adult film star Johnny Hazzard) arrives, Chet’s carefully constructed world is rocked to the core. Confrontational and unapologetically gay, Todd’s tatted skin and skimpy tank tops scream I am NOTHING like you.
When Todd gets picked up by the local police for lewd conduct –
Chet: This is serious, Todd, your behavior reflects on me.
Todd: Oh please, no one’s going to stop buying nails because I got caught in the woods.
Chet: They might.
Todd: Well, you don’t need their business anyway.
Chet: I need everyone’s business!
I grew up in a small conservative town in South Carolina in the 80’s and counted the days till graduation. I fled to New York, a place where I could be whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It’s a familiar trope in LGBT films – the gay teen who escapes the shackles of small-town bigotry for the freedom of the city. But today things are changing for small town gays. They are digging in. They are putting down roots and raising up rainbow flags, starting families, spearheading town improvement initiatives, revitalizing main street businesses, growing the arts. They are changing the face of small town America. They are evolving the LGBT narrative.
And anyone who lives in or grew up in a small town can tell you, change does not come easy. When you know all of your neighbors, all of your neighbors know you, and it can be a challenge to break free from the mold of how others see you. When the entire premise/promise of the small-town dream is the slow-moving, easy-going life, anything too loud, too proud, can disrupt that very foundation.
When I set out to make “Tiger Orange,” it was important to me to tell a story that captured a bit of this new (but timeless) LGBT narrative. When Chet finally speaks up and breaks out of his don’t-ask-don’t-tell existence, even just a little, it is a liberating and terrifying act. He is visible now. And with visibility, of course, comes a whole new set of challenges. But that visibility is happening, right now, in our small towns – the new frontier. These are exciting times.
I wonder, as we spread out, settle down and become more visibly integrated into all parts of America, what will happen to our pride parades? Will we lose our edge? Our dyke marches, our leather daddies? What will happen when we stand out AND we fit in, when we dance naked on our floats while the whole world cheers? What will our stories be then?
“Tiger Orange” is available on Vimeo, Amazon and iTunes, and the DVD comes out today from Wolfe Video. Watch the trailer below: