Rambling in a rip-off Robert Altman kind of way, the new film Playing By Heart focusses on the romantic ups-and-downs of several interconnected couples in Los Angeles.
Falling in it, fearing it, rediscovering one’s faith in it, the movie is all about the triumph of love – for old marrieds, for young club kids, for cheating unhappy spouses, for neurotic, once-burned-twice-shy career gals. For everyone, that is, except queers.
The one gay character in the film – save for a scene in a drag-queen-filled cliché of a gay bar – is a lonely guy in the last throes of an AIDS death. He’s paired with his mom, who comes to visit and is faced with the news that not only is her son gay, but he’s also dying. This Oedipal coupling is actually quite sweet, but riddled with stereotypes about gay life.
When the mom asks why the son hasn’t had any visitors, he tells her that all his friends are dead, including his “roommate” who passed away the previous year.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the other character in the film who has AIDS wasn’t straight, healthy and happily meeting the love of his life. The message is gay love equals death. Even straights can weather the “plague” with someone at their side, while homos are stuck with bewildered, weepy parents.
Our love lives often get short shrift. It’s so much easier to see us bravely dying, or as bitter and unhappy ironists, or perverts, or sexless manhaters. When it comes to The Big L, the grand fromage of human emotions, we don’t fit into the picture.
Which is strange, really, when you think about – because we’re a community of die-hard romantics and moony-eyed sentimentalists. We’re the ones weeping over operas, running flower shops and pushing to have our relationships publicly recognized.
And it’s obvious why this is the case – deny anyone the right to express their love openly and it becomes all the more precious. As a people who grew up with forbidden desires and attractions, who’s more familiar than us with all the great romantic themes – unrequited love, lost love, star-crossed love? Think of the celebrated love songs, poems and musicals written by queers like Cole Porter and WH Auden and Steven Sondheim. The straights might think romantic love is their narrative, but really it belongs to homos.
With gay men and lesbians, too, love isn’t so easily confined and narrowly defined. In addition to conventional two-girl or two-boy couplings, we revere other forms of amour. We raise intimate friendships to the level of family, we adore our icons, we keep our exes in our lives with an affection that’s only just slightly embittered.
And although some might dismiss promiscuity as being about the baser desires, anyone who swings knows that there can be plenty of fondness and respect in a quickie. You may not love your trick, but you can love what they do to you and vice versa.
Finally, the abundance of social workers, activists and artists among us demonstrates an enormous capacity for still other forms of love – love of ideas, of beauty, of humanity, of creativity, of expression and of the world.
So, although it may seem gooey and hackneyed, I say we should embrace and reclaim love in all its forms – from sloppy sentiment to fierce passion – this Valentine’s Day. It’s our birthright.
Rachel Giese is Features Editor for Xtra.