Queering Valentine's Day

posted by Madame Bubby

I've written about “this day” in a couple of past blogs, including this one on our website. Sigh. I even posted a tweet on my personal account that I “had no plans,” passive-aggressively playing for sympathy (or maybe a date?).

An article I came across in a student publication called the Miami Hurricane makes a strong point, almost a manifesto, “the fact that the day went from one about beheading to betrothing is proof that we have the ability to radically transform this day into anything we want. And transform we did.” To some extent, yes. A day commemorating an early Christian martyr was also proclaimed as the day birds began to mate and is now essentially aisles in retail stores filled with items in various shades of red and pink.

 

Valentine's Day aisle

But is that its end: Hallmark, kitschy images of cupids and teddy bears, overworked florists walking on floors covered with stem cuttings, angst about making restaurant reservations in time and buying the perfect gift?

The article I reference above mentions how some campus organizations are making the holiday more gender-inclusive and include queer narratives in its celebration.

It's interesting though, that queer narratives that either code implicitly or explore explicitly romantic relationships (with varying degrees of intimacy) don't subscribe (because they have to) to what is essentially a kitschy bowdlerization of Victorian sensibilities about gender relationships (which were perhaps more idealized than real).

In fact, in the heady days of LGBTQ liberation in the 1970s (essentially the product of social changes that began in the 1960s), an era that rejected aesthetically (and culturally to some extent) the “hearts and flowers/moon and June” sentimentality of previous eras, gay erotic filmmakers produced work that probes tensions in romantic, intimate relationships on so many levels. Marginalization in this case, as with much groundbreaking art, becomes the space and time to bend and even break conventional social boundaries.

For example, in Andrew Herbert's Song of the Loon, in the 19th century, Ephraim, a white man, has left his lover and taken up with a trapper, Cyrus. Ephraim wants to settle down to an outdoors life of bliss as the object of affection of only one man, but Cyrus knows that Ephraim isn't dealing with his own, or his lover's, emotions on a realistic level. He takes Ephraim to an old Native American medicine man, who imparts the wisdom of the ages to the young blond buck (through words and hallucinogenic visions): Sex and love are not one and the same.
 

Images from Song of the Loon
Song of the Loon (1969)

And in Tom DeSimone's The Idol, an young athlete's (played by Kevin Redding) struggles with coming to terms with his sexual orientation shows how sexual activity and intimate relationships are not mutually exclusive. In fact, no “one” person ends up being the ideal/idol in this film for its protagonist.
 

Images from The Idol
The Idol (1979)

Steve Scott's Track Meet parallels the story of The Idol, focusing on a young track star's (played by Gavin Geoffrey) tension in coming out and accepting himself. Romance, strength, affection, and lovemaking are explored by Gavin as he discovers himself and the world of gay sex.
 

Images from Track Meet
Track Meet (1976)

What's interesting is the coming out narrative present in these films, because of how its complex psychosocial dynamic of fear and repression but, more significantly, self-discovery and self-acceptance, and, ultimately, liberation, subverts the cloying and also creatively bland Valentine's Day sensibility.

Yes, of course, times have changed, but I do wonder if more LGBTQ-themed Hallmark Valentine's Day cards is the blessed fruit of liberation. The struggle of the past should have taught LGBTQ persons to expect more; that the hearts and flowers are transitory and superficial, and that the end is not finding the “One,” but the glorious and at the same time heartbreaking day-to-day challenge of loving him/her/they.

For highlights from more of our romance-oriented films, also check out this video on our YouTube channel.

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Of Trees and Bushes and Fun Beneath Them

The Christmas tree, O Christmas tree is a relatively recent addition to the Christmas aka Holiday aka Saturnalia festivities in America. Prince Albert the Good brought it over from Germany during his time as the husband of the great Victoria, and pretty soon the tree decorated with candles and then electric lights has become a staple of what has now become America’s end-of-the-year orgy of consumption.

Such trees, real or artificial, have become status symbols, and they even reflect changing tastes. I head somewhere that the retro Atomic Age white and pink trees (to us in our pseudo-organic age, so unnatural) are returning to popularity. In fact, smaller ceramic Christmas trees with bulbous light and garish ornaments painted on from this period are suddenly the rage on Ebay. Camp and retro and kitsch reign, and o so gay!
 

Ceramic Christmas tree

The proximity of the minor Jewish festival of Hanukkah to the season has created a cousin of the Christmas tree, the Hanukkah bush. Yes, bush. And not the burning one which was not consumed, which would be more appropriate to Passover. It seems that some more secular Jews tried some cross-holiday pollination here, even celebrating Chrismukkah (gifts and trees and menorahs, let’s do it all), much to the consternation of many more orthodox rabbis.

Now the more sensible Reform and Conservative rabbis have claimed that the holiday is mostly secular, so why not put up a tree or a bush if doing so is void of religious significance (its heathen roots in the worship of Odin in the primeval German forests notwithstanding). One woman recently tied in her bush specifically to Hanukkah, decorating with menorahs and little figures of the Maccabees, an interesting solution, but perhaps not one that will gain a foothold in popular culture.
 

Hanukkah bush

Now what’s really fascinating about all this tree and bush worship is the obvious sexual connotations. A tree is phallic, obviously (though as Freud says, a cigar can just be a cigar, and likewise the same could apply to a tree), and in Norse mythology, the great tree Yggdrasil held up the physical world. Its destruction meant its end.

J.R.R. Tolkien transformed this mythology into his own in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. The survival of the world and the fertility of a line of tall kings are dependent on first two trees, one silver and one gold, and after their destruction, then a white tree descended from their seed.
 

Tolkien's gold and silver trees

And the rabbis and the priests and the ministers of course have interpreted and reinterpreted those mysterious trees in the Garden of Eden, in many cases connecting them with sexual awakening and a fall from innocence into experience.

Thus, rockin’ around that Christmas tree could really in many cases mean sex, and not just the sex that makes babies. The prolific gay porn director, Robert Prion, seems to enjoy setting sexual escapades around and under Christmas trees. Of course these trees aren’t even really growing, because they are either artificial or real ones cut down, so one wonders if somehow the whole life/fertility mythological connection gets lost here. Whatever the case, it certainly adds a somewhat campy/kitschy o so gay aura to the scenes that feature them in our recent release Teasin' 'n' Pleasin' and our upcoming release Access All Areas.
 

Sebastian Jaymz abd Jay Richards in Teasin' 'n Pleasin'
Sebastian Jaymz & Jay Richards in Teasin' 'n' Pleasin'

Scott Spears in Access All Areas
Scott Spears in Access All Areas

A week ago I bought an used tabletop artificial blue tree with a stand covered in glitter that I was told, by the place that sold it to me, once served as a Hanukkah bush. I put some white lights on it, and It really glitters and sparkles. I just might keep it up through February or even March, despite that being a social faux-pas. I mean, who says that lights and sparkles and sex are only a holiday affair?

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