Latter Gay Gaze

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My friend Troy hates the movie Latter Days--just hates it. A year or two ago at Sunstone when he and I were hanging out, I mentioned that I liked it; he countered that he despised it. “What do you think is so bad?” I asked.

“You mean, besides the script, the plot, the acting and the direction?” he replied.

I didn’t respond, except to shrug. Yes, the movie has problems. There are elements of the script that really bug me. There are elements to the plot I find predictable and cliched. There are performances I find really weak.

But I still like it. I liked it enough to buy a copy for myself and to give a copy as a gift to someone else. I liked it well enough to listen to the commentary.

One major reason I like it is that as far as I’m concerned, it’s about the only movie I’ve ever seen to get a mission right--I would argue it gives a more accurate depiction of a mission even than God’s Army, which I found thoroughly annoying and lame. (Don’t ask me why, because I don’t remember much about it aside from the fact that they make the new guy lug his suitcase around while they go tracting, which I’m fairly certain would never happen; that the main character goes back to BYU, dates and MARRIES his English TA while she's still his teacher (a BYU alum can correct me if I'm wrong, but I rather suspect the administration wouldn't be cool with that) and that the movie ends with her bringing him a cup of tea and sitting down at his feet to adore him; and that Richard Dutcher, who was about 40, plays a missionary of about 30 who dies quietly in his sleep from an inoperable brain tumor with no suffering or puking his guts out or whatever, so much so that no one even knows he's sick. I hate on principle all movies where people die quietly in their sleep from inoperable brain tumors. Anyway, aside from all that, I found the movie so vacuous and forgettable that I can’t remember what happened, and so can’t really tell you why I hated it in detail, though I think the reasons I’ve already listed constitute solid ground.)

But back to Latter Days. I like it for moments. There’s a moment where one elder grabs another and says, “I’m going to hit you, elder, and it’s going to hurt.” Pretty much. I liked it for Steve Sandvoss, the guy who plays the gay missionary--he has a sweetness and a decency I found both sympathetic and genuine, and it reminded me of the elders I liked best on my mission--some were really good young men.

But the thing I like best about it is the sex scene.

It’s not just that both actors are young, hot and well-muscled, so that the viewer is treated to some really nice views of beautiful male asses. It’s that the actors go for it. There’s a moment (one of those moments I like it for) when, after a hurried disrobing, they embrace and then positively fling themselves together onto the bed. It’s passionate, hot, and tender.

And after the sex, the guys sit naked on the bed and stroke each other and talk. The experienced guy in the equation says to the recently deflowered, soon-to-be-excommunicated elder, “I thought you’d be more reticent.” (Which is another reason I like it--reticent is a good word that people are reticent about using.) Rebecca, whom I try not to resent for deleting her entire blog, once wrote an entry about how watching these two guys make sweet love somehow brought tears to her eyes. I feel the same way.

I don’t always like sex scenes. A lot of them feel contrived, staged and manipulative (which isn’t surprising, since they are) and if I’m not emotionally invested in the relationship between the characters, I don’t really care about seeing them get it on. That’s one main reason I don’t care much for porn: aside from a sort of anthropological or informational interest--oh, so that’s how this industry works; that’s what the audience for this stuff expects; huh, I hadn’t known that particular activity was really part of the repertoire--I often find it fairly boring, which isn’t surprising since for the most part it’s designed to be emotionally vacuous.

But I love this sex scene. I could watch it over and over and not feel bored or dirty or cheap--or, for that matter, particularly aroused, since it’s a sex scene that has no room for me or any woman. I can’t imagine what I’d do in that scene; it sparks no fantasy; and so it doesn’t turn me on. (And I know all that because I did just watch it over and over, with the commentary on and off, so that I'd be accurate when I discussed it now.)

I remember reading a Dan Savage (whose most recent book is reviewed here) column in which someone asked him why straight men were turned on by lesbian porn, but straight women weren’t turned on by gay male porn, since in both cases what was depicted were scenes in which same-sex participants found ways to pleasure one another. He reasoned that in lesbian porn, men could always assume that they’d be welcome, and certainly there would be plenty of orifices into which a penis could be inserted, which, after all, is still what most people in our heteronormative world consider “sex.” Whereas in gay male sex, there are already accommodating orifices for any penis present, so any additional orifice is superfluous, and women therefore have a harder time creating a fantasy in which they’d be welcomed into the scene.

Savage’s argument about the possible welcomeness of a penis in a lesbian relationship is supported in part by this passage from Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King, about the early stages of her first lesbian love affair:

Taking turns making love to each other satisfied our need to experience total aggression and total passivity with no fear of settling permanently into either condition. It’s something heterosexual lovers would like to do but can’t. I always felt silly whenever I got on top of Ralph, but when Bres’s thighs were locked in the vise of my elbows, I really was in charge; yet when we changed places and she did the doing, I could let down my guard and wallow in the submission without worrying that she would get “the wrong idea.”
I had to admit I missed being fucked. Bres, who had slept with a man out of curiosity, said she liked it, too. We did our best with what we had but finger-fucking is inadequate even when you do it with someone you love. There is another problem for two women unless both of you are nail-biters, and neither of us was. Bres enjoyed it more than I did because she did not associate it with dates and fraternity boys, but every time she went inside me I could hear Faysie babbling, “I mean, it’s okay because we’re pinned!”
We had a few wistful discussions about getting a dildo but they were not sold openly then. Undoubtedly they were covertly available if you knew where to look, but we didn’t, and in any case, no Mississippi resident would have had the strength to embark on the search. Considering what we had to go through to buy hooch, God only knows what buying a dildo would have involved.
As for other foreign objects, we never used them.
Candles melt/ Carrots are tough/ Bottles can hurt you/ Might as well muff.

But countering the male fantasy of the “Hey, all these chicks would want me!” scenario, King also offers this insight, gleaned after her lesbian love affair ends and she goes back to heterosexual sex for a while:

After the third fuck, while drinking my fifth boiler-maker, I started crying. Most people are not in a position to realize it, but there is nothing sadder than being with one sex when you want to be with the other. I wanted Bres, but I wanted femaleness also. The sight of this naked man filled me with tearing pain; his hairy chest, his curveless trunk with no discernable waistline and the navel up so high, the tight flat nothingness of his buttocks, seemed like a mutation of the species.

Now, I really am going somewhere with this; I didn’t just set myself the academic exercise of analyzing a couple depictions of gay sex. But I have written enough for today, so you’ll have to come back later to read the rest of what I’m getting at.

6 Comments

I feel somewhat strange commenting on this... But, I will do my best to overcome my reticence. While I can certainly appreciate your admiration of Latter Days, I am less enthusiastic about the film. Yeah, the sex scene is pretty great. Not many movies go there in such a sensitive way and I can appreciate that.

My problem with the film lies in the relationship between the "good Mormon boy" and his family as he is coming out of the closet. Especially the scene with his Mother in the kitchen... It always hits a little too close to home and leaves me feeling nauseous.

I can't wait to see where you are going with this. I think Florence King is right, by the way. Carrots are tough!

I have to say I'm with Troy. Latter Days, to my eye, is almost a burlesque. I'm not even sure why the movie annoyed me as much as it did.

BUT,

I'm glad you liked it. I've always thought that there should be a larger market for romance stories that cross the gender divide. The straight female audience is largely untapped as consumers of male-male love stories. This is a potentially huge market, since there are 10 to 20 times as many straight women as there are gay men.

This is not quite analogous to the well-known straight male audience for 'hot girl-on-girl action.' The difference is that the male audience usually wants sex, while the female audience usually likes romance. So while I don't think gay porn has any chance with straight women, I think romantic dramas like Latter Days could be popular with women if properly marketed.

By extension, you would not expect lesbian romances do to well with a straight male audience, and I believe this is the case.

Hi SO. I'm glad you and I agree on King. And I'm thrilled to get two comments from you in two days!

MHH, thanks for your very interesting comment. You've said some things that help me clarify why I like the movie, but what you raise is so important that I think I'm going to devote a future entry to discussing what I think about it rather than respond here.

I liked Latter Days very much. I cried when I watched it. I watched it several times in a row. I wanted friends to watch it with me.

Like you, I enjoyed the portrait of missionary life. I thought it was reasonably accurate. I think my favorite character was Lila the restaurant owner (played by Jacqueline Bisset). I think my favorite scene is the part where Aaron (Steve Sandvoss) talks to her on the park bench outside of the hospital, while she weeps about her dying friend... It's such a lovely statement on what true religion should be about, whatever your religious stripe.

I would love to watch this film with my parents and see what they think, but the sex scenes I'm afraid would be too much for them. Ah, well.

Hi John--I'm really glad a Mormon man came to the defense of Latter Days. I also like the scene you mention--the way Sandvoss portrays Aaron there is part of what made me like the character so much.

My brother gave me the DVD for Christmas and I'm ridiculously excited about that. Steve Sandvoss is just so lovely and sincere. I think that's what I love so much - a lot of the acting is pretty bad, the movie is really cliche and not always well-written or -directed, but everyone in it and everything about it is so sincere.

I will start another blog someday.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 17, 2007 11:11 AM.

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