A gay group kiss that took place at Carnatal in Natal in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil has gone viral on Facebook, racking up more than a million views. Why? Well, people are horny and they want to see handsome men making out with each other.
The Carnatal is an off-season Carnival-esque dance party revolving around a truck with speakers, various arenas and a traveling crowd. Maybe you should make your plans. Next year it takes place from December 6 – 9.
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The Black Gay Holiday Movie That Never Got Its Due
Before Happiest Season, there was Holiday Heart. The writer and director of the Showtime film reflect on its relevance 20 years later.
With all the notoriety about the Hallmark Channel airing its first LGBTQ+ holiday movie this year, I was nostalgic about other queer-themed holiday movies that might have been “firsts.”
Earlier this month, I wrote about the 20 th anniversary of the premiere of Queer as Folk on Showtime, so I was delighted to see that also 20 years ago this December the network aired what is now considered a LGBTQ+ holiday movie must-see.
Holiday Heart, stars Ving Rhames as the gay drag queen Holiday Heart, who after a break-up with his boyfriend takes in drug-addicted Wanda (Alfre Woodward) and her daughter Nicki (Jesika Reynolds) during the holidays. Showtime was pushing boundaries during this period at the new millennium, with the goal of capturing the LGBTQ+ audience. Holiday Heart, according to my unscientific research, was the first holiday film featuring a drag queen, and one of the first films ever whose lead character was an effeminate, gay Black man.
One of the film’s producers was Robert DeNiro, who as an actor had his own run in with a drag queen (played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) the year before,. DeNiro’s production company developed Holiday Heart for Showtime, based on a play by Cheryl L. West and directed by Robert Townsend, who is also an actor, comedian, and writer.
I had the opportunity to speak with both West and Townsend about the uniqueness of their LGBTQ+ holiday classic, its relevance today, and the impact of the character of Holiday Heart.
I remember the first time I saw this film, and my reaction to the casting of Rhames as the lead character. It was astounding to see a muscular, large, straight African-American actor, who seemed typecast as an action hero, playing a gay drag queen. Rhames casting didn’t fit into that neat little box that I had ignorantly put drag queens in at that time as white and willowy. I wondered if the casting of Rhames was intentional.
“The writer is usually the last asked when it comes to casting, particularly in film. At the time, we would never have gotten a green light without a recognized ‘star’ in the role,” recalled West. “Even with DeNiro’s company producing the film, we still ran into studios who were only interested if Nicki was white or if I would make the character Holiday white. Either choice held no interest for me. Though its themes are universal, the lens is distinctly Black. Holiday Heart is a story about Black family, Black love, and Black joy.”
And that’s why Townsend felt Rhames shined. “I really thought Ving brought Holiday alive. I am really big on casting. That’s half the job of a director, and when the idea of Ving came up to play Holiday, I wasn’t sure at first if it was the right fit, but once we started rehearsals and shooting the project, I watched Ving commit and transform into the soul of Holiday and he found the unique rhythm that Cheryl had written.”
Indeed, watching it in 2020, you can see the results of Rhames’s efforts, but I wondered if the movie were made today, would they cast differently, given the broader societal acceptance of gay Black men and drag queens? “Yes, there has been a change in attitudes,” West said. “Today, I would definitely want to see an LGBTQ actor have the opportunity to play Holiday and explore whatever nuances he/they might bring to the role.”
And Townsend seconded that thought. “The studio always has the final say in casting. They are trying to cast someone that people will want to watch, bring eyeballs to the film or get overnight ratings. But now we’re in a different time in history, studio executives are willing to take more chances on newcomers like the award-winning cast of the FX hit series Pose. So, today I definitely would look to cast from within the LGBTQ community.”
Developing, producing, and ultimately airing a movie like Holiday Heart 20 years ago was a risk. I asked Townsend and West what kind of reaction they received when the film first debuted? “A lot of it was mixed. Some of the reviews were very positive but many were extremely negative,” Townsend evoked. “No one had ever seen a story about a gay Black man like this and that film was truly groundbreaking 20 years ago. When it was first screened, the film tested through the roof, receiving some of the highest scores in Showtime’s history.”
“For me the reaction was also mixed. Some loved it. Some didn’t,” West remembered. “Some thought Holiday was an emasculated Black man and thus someone folks would laugh at, especially the dominant culture. My job is never to write for what is expected or tolerable to the masses. My job, always, is to create rich, complicated characters that have something at stake and have a compelling story to tell. Holiday wanted love in his life and was blessed to encounter a child who needed the same.”
Holiday certainly was an atypical lead character for a film, so did his portrayal end up having a positive effect on how drag queens were perceived 20 years ago? “I hope so. I think with Holiday Heart people saw that being a drag queen could be a performative artform but that there was also a real person behind the makeup and costumes,” West pointed out. “And for young Black kids, I think Holiday was for many an introduction to acceptance – you could cross-dress, be gay and Black and still be afforded love and respect. Now, we know more about fluid sexuality and transgender identities. Hopefully, there’s more acceptance and less hysteria regarding the entire queerness spectrum.”
In that vein, does the film still have relevance 20 years later for audiences with less narrow minds and broader access to LGBTQ+ stories? “It really put a human face on the drag community,” added Townsend. “Cheryl wrote a complicated layered character that speaks to the heart of love. I do believe when people watch the film, they come away not judging the book by its cover.” And West pointed out that the film is always trending on Black Twitter and Facebook this time of year.
So why build the storyline of this film around the holidays? Was it intentional since the holidays often find people more loving and accepting? “No particular reason except I love Christmas and its nod to a family’s demonstration of love,” illuminated West. “It can be a wonderful time and also one of the loneliest if you don’t have family, birth or chosen. We did not think of it as a Christmas movie, but it has become one. I find that heartwarming,”
“I agree,” Townsend concurred. “I never really thought of this film as a holiday film. I’ve always thought about it as a slice of life about strangers whose lives intersect on this one night, and they become a family. The fact that the story ends during the holidays was just the way Cheryl crafted the symphony, but now that people consider Holiday Heart a holiday classic, I’ll take it!”
21 Extremely Gay Movies You Can Stream Right Now
We get it — there’s a lot movies in that “Suggested For You” section of your streaming queue, but how do you sift through all the straight-to-DVD white gay rom coms starring D-list celebs to find something of true substance? Look no further. With our careful curation from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO NOW we have found what are the gayest streamable movies right now, according to science. Some old, some new, some canon, some hidden gems. There’s a movie here for every queer. Enjoy!
The Boys in the Band
Based on the groundbreaking 1968 play of the same name by Mart Crowley, The Boys in the Band is a look into the lives of gay men in 1960’s New York. Featuring a cast of all openly gay actors, this is a must see for anyone interested in gay history.
This clever and hilarious coming of age film stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as two teenage best friends who decide to go to one last party now that high school is over. Dever’s character has one of the realest young lesbian stories you’ll see in a movie.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Yearning, yearning and more yearning await you in this beautifully shot and acted period piece about two women falling love in 18th century France. The film stars lesbian actress Adèle Haenel, and picked up many awards, including the Best Screenplay and Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Catherine Yen’s superhero movie unlike any other superhero movie is all about awesome, complex women, including lesbian police officer Renee Montoya and bisexual Harley Quinn. This is the most fun you’ll have watching superheroes this year.
Want to watch a lesbian movie where neither of the leads die, get disowned or end up alone? Happiest Season is for you! Kristen Stewart, Mary Holland, and Dan Levy shine in this lesbian Christmas romcom, but Aubrey Plaza is definitely the breakout star. The movie has its fair share of tears, so be ready.
Your Name Engraved Herein
This film follows two teen boys, Jia-han and Birdy as they fall in love in the 1980’s just after Taiwan lifted its martial law. As the nation transitions from strict authoritarianism to become the most LGBTQ+ friendly country in Asia, the two boys grow and have their love tested.
Following his wildly popular BROTHERS SHOULD DO IT, William Higgins made another „family“ movie though this time the angle is all but played out after the first sex scene involving cousins Peter North (in his pre-straight porn „Matt Ramsey“ period) and one time only performer Billy Gant. It kicks off with one of the great gay seductions of all time when Billy removes a sleeping Peter’s underwear to admire and play with his genitals. After that, each goes his separate way and Billy’s never seen or heard of calls out for pizza and gets cute delivery boy Scott Roberts (one of the horny college kids from Lee Stern’s PHYSICAL EDUCATION, a vehicle for muscular Chad Johnson) who’s clearly game for more than a dip in the pool. Post-coitally, Roberts relates the story of his brother (Cory Adams, somewhat of a Higgins mainstay and featured in both CLASS REUNION and his Magnum Opus SAILOR IN THE WILD) playing around with the hired help while his sugar daddy’s away on business. The ensuing threesome stands as perhaps the hottest encounter in this collection of winners and can lay claim to the hands down funniest sex talk this reviewer has ever come across, delivered with super-bitch gusto by all too delicious little to Peter, now camping out in the wild with buddies Lance Whitman (also in Higgins‘ YOUNG OLYMPIANS), Brad Foxx and Steve Rodgers. Their mix ’n‘ match four-way is a marvel to behold with hunky dark-haired Rodgers who apparently never made another movie, for shame popping North’s back door cherry. Rather than focus on the other cousin, Higgins decides to trail pizza boy Roberts (huh ?) instead, engaging in a woodsy trio with soon to become professional „daddy’s boy“ Chris Allen (sizzling in Jim West’s paean to intergenerational romance CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK) making his dirty movie debut and some lanky dude I’m at a loss to identify.Continuing this apparently stream of consciousness narrative, Allen becomes the focal point for the film’s last portion, lusting after beer buddy Lee Landis, who finally yields to his amorous overtures in the back of a pickup truck. Just to make good on his star billing, North pops up (so to speak !) once more for a sweltering solo with flashbacks to Foxx and Rodgers doing same for good measure to bring matters to a satisfying the above synopsis clearly indicates, narrative’s not this movie’s strong point. Higgins never was much of a storyteller nor did he ever show any particular interest in becoming one. His films tend to follow a LA RONDE type structure whereby one character is shown meeting and interacting with another who then goes on to a third, the latter running into a fourth, etc. Characterization is usually kept to a bare minimum or supplied by the performer’s own personality. Higgins‘ interests lie, pure and simple, with the sex, not a bad thing when you happen to be a pornographer ! Invariably acting as his own cameraman, Higgins shot some of the greatest looking and steamiest romps in the gay porn pantheon, displaying a special knack for pairing (or tripling, quadrupling, ) the right guys, a gift that only seems to have failed him once, albeit spectacularly, with the distressingly lukewarm THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S BOYS.COUSINS has stood the test of time as one of Higgins‘ finest achievements in the field of homo erotica though one should be warned that it contains perhaps the most boring and aimless opening ten minutes of any adult film, a long sex-free segment introducing both cousins and their dreary parents. One set of elders is billed as „Ed and Francis Gant“. Does this mean that they were actually Billy Gant’s mom and dad ? Either way, their „spontaneous“ (all too obviously unscripted) interaction with „Dick and Doris Hagen“ makes for a painful prelude to all the good stuff waiting just around the bend. My advice to first time viewers is to be strong, grit your teeth if you must, and rewards will be plentiful !
Naysayers may argue that older men acting in this way are being superficially driven and inconsiderate of the feelings of younger men, who are arguably – perhaps stereotypically – more vulnerable and more malleable than older men. And there’s perhaps the idea that older men “should know better” and “date their own age”.
But these are toxic sweeping assertions about gay culture that enforce stigmas and demonstrate a lack of understanding about the complexities of male-male relationships and the psychological and emotional reasons why they happen in the way they do.
Luckily for older men, there’s a whole other set of younger men who specifically like to go older (that’s a whole other article…). So with the right search, perhaps using the right LGBT+ dating apps, men with specific age desires needn’t be alone.
And they needn’t suffer from stigma either. Let’s honour Wilde’s legacy by erasing ignorance and spreading understanding about the nuances of male-male romance. With a century’s worth of psychological gains at our disposal, we have a better understanding of the complexities of human behaviour than we’ve ever had before, and that means we also have the power to stop toxically judging people we may not instantly understand.
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“It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man,” began Oscar Wilde during his testimony for gross indecency in 1895.
“When the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. So the world mocks at it.”
Over 100 years on, it is still largely true that “the world does not understand.” So much so, these very words by Wilde are used in the context of contemporary queer cultural discussions today.
Queer Lives at The Tower, an immersive LGBT+ theatre show at the Tower of London, which draws historical parallels between the misunderstood lives of queer figures in the 12th century and those of us born today, quotes it this month.
Despite our continued struggles, here in the UK we are proud of our LGBT+ rights and advocate for equality. Yet there are still a disproportionate number of homeless LGBT+ youth and LGBT+ people with mental health issues; those minority groups are the symbols of the homophobia that lurks persistently across our society.
1. Will and Grace (1998)
As Wilde alludes to in his speech, one major misunderstanding about queer culture that persists – still, to this day – is a misunderstanding about male-male attraction between men of different ages.
While we celebrate media personalities like Phillip Schofield for coming out in their later years (it’s never too late!) the public can be guilty of expecting queer people to act like their straight counterparts when it comes to relationships when of course queer relationships are different.
Statistically, many more people that define as queer have been through trauma than straight people. This might take place in the playground or the workplace, or with family or friends and has drastic knock-on effects for queer relationship-building.
Science tells us that trauma is often carried with us for life and can lead to complicated repercussions when it comes to sexual attraction. One resultant effect is that gay men are far more likely to fetishise body image and form deep sexual attractions to certain types of men – such as an insistence on dating particularly masculine, particularly feminine or particularly old or young men – and are likely to carry those image obsessions with them throughout their lives.
It’ll help to humanise all this. The comedian Simon Amstell, 40, still says his “type” is an 18-year-old guy. His rationale, which he speaks about in more depth in his autobiography Help, is that he never got to experience being romantic with an 18-year-old when he was young himself, due to challenges around his own sexual identity and dealings with shame and trauma which forbade him from experimenting as freely as he’d have liked.
In his autobiography, Amstell recalls his own struggles as a teenager. “When I was 18, it seemed impossible to just accept who I was and have some fun with another 18-year-old,” he writes.
“And this was one of the key revelations from therapy – [throughout my life] I kept being drawn to these young, vulnerable men in an attempt to save the 18-year-old in me, who wasn’t saved. Poignantly, he adds: “You may prefer to think of me as a pervert… but this is an official medical diagnosis.
“That vulnerable 18-year-old boy, even to this day, is my type.”
So it’s important that before we criticise queer men for having a preference, we try to understand the experiences that may be the root cause for those feelings.
The challenge for men like Amstell is finding the right romantic and sexual partners without exploiting any power dynamics that might spawn from wide age gaps. It goes without saying that upstanding older men yearn for balanced and healthy relationships like the rest of us, so for that to happen with an age gap, they’d need to consider that the emotional maturity and motives of younger men match their own feelings and desires and that no one is ending up being exploited.