Sunday, December 2, 2007

Small Town Gay Bar

Ron and I watched Small Town Gay Bar last night. It's a documentary about small town gay bars in Mississippi, mostly about Rumors in Shannon MI, but also about Crossroads in Meridian, and the Sugar Shack in another town. Crossroads has since reopened as Different Seasons. The story is not a new story at all, but it pictures the isolation and fear and loathing of lesbians, gay men, and transgendered people is small Southern towns.

It's no joy growing up gay in rural Mississippi.

A couple of themes caught my attention. The first is the fascination with drag. Drag is a big deal in these places. Perhaps one of the most touching lines in the movie was Alicia, one of the drag queens saying, "My partner and I can't have children, but we have five beautiful dogs." That remark is so full of innocence and hope.

The second theme is the context of judgmental religious belief. Even those who don't believe couch their lives in the judgmental terms of "I'm just like everyone else, except...." One of the bar owners interviewed in the film actually did not see life this way, and he gets taken down a notch or two in the film by a lesbian who doesn't want gay people to act that way, and he gets taken down in life, by the small town police force that is out to close a gay bar.

This segment of the film is the only part of the film that explores the desires that gay men have in the midst of an oppressive, invisible existence. The bar owner opened a bar where people could be themselves, and he's clear that meant desire, lust, sex, and fantasy. In Mississippi. He tried to keep his bar open, but ultimately was arrested, jailed, fined, and his property seized.

Fred Phelps dispenses some of his wisdom throughout the film. Fred's theology is so ugly, and even older than the Old Testament. He's captured by the camera so that he looks like a skull talking, spewing. It's eerie watching and listening to him, because it sets off all the little voices in the back of your head.

The film shows the Westboro Baptist Church picketing the funeral of a gay teenager who was brutally murdered in rural Mississippi. The action is such a breach of civility and terrible in taste. This is ugliness of the first order. I wonder why Fred hates this much.

Gay people really are at the bottom of the social order in Mississippi (and most other places, too, although we try not to admit that to ourselves). These small town gay bars provide a community and a lifeline to lesbian and gay people who live in the rural parts of our country. Those of us who live in the city are fortunate, indeed. This film is quite a reminder of where our community has been, and how far it has to go.