Small Town Gay Bar Reviews
As if the blatant homophobia and prejudice were not depressing enough...the fact that the "bars" that these folks relish and take refuge in are often little more then rundown houses or shacks with a strobe light, beer cooler and a CD player was just heartbreaking.
So desperate for a place to "fit in" and make some sort of honest connection with like minded people, these folks were just happy to be anywhere where they could be themselves. But I was more then a little amazed that in such a repressed part of the country that nearly every gay or lesbian shown in this film was "off the charts" on the gay meter.
We are talking Flaming Boys/Men, Raging Drag Queens, and some pretty Butch Lesbians. Not that I'm advocating hiding who you are. I just feel that if I were living in an area where my life could be at stake for "being who I am" I think I would make more of an effort to "blend in" or move to somewhere more civilized. Let the bigots and the Jesus freaks have the backwoods!
My main problem with the film is that I didn't feel that the point came across as clearly as it needed to, about how all of the negative aspects of "gay lifestyle" that the bigots and hypocrites always seem to focus on (promiscuity, infidelity, drugs, etc.) are for the most part just a prevalent in "hetero lifetyles" as well.
I guess as documentaries go...it does it's job for the most part. It makes you think.
Set throughout Northern Mississippi, this documentary examines gay life in the Southern Bible Belt of USA. The biggest question I have (which this film should have asked all of its subjects) has still not been asked: why the hell are these queers stickin around these shit places? Nearly everyone interviewed gets to bitch about widespread discrimination, but not a single one explains why they've decided to remain living in this oppressive environment. Seriously, not one person goes on about "Well, I still love it down here, raised here, my family's here," etc. But we do get the other side: Phelps discussing how "fags ruined the community" was his original "inspiration" for his widespread hate campaign. I wasn't aware that Phelps was broadcasting license plates of people who were "spotted at a gay establishment", but I'm not surprised by any of his tactics or beliefs as I've seen the American Family Association site before (and the Phelps freaks themselves at Decadence).
I think this film crew was not aggressive or planned enough with their interviews, and the result is an uninspired mashing of interviews. Perhaps important for the tiny gay community in Mississippi (all 100 of 'em) but I really can't see the relevance to gay culture in larger cities such as New Orleans where I live. Gay bashing ain't goin' nowhere, and there will always be a need for a community to aid people with "coming out", but the irking questions I had, like "how do queer people specifically deal and cope in pressure based small communities?" and "why the fuck don't they just leave?" were barely answered (the second question not at all).
[font=Century Gothic]The documentary is concerned with gay bars in the region, namely Rumors which is located in Shannon, while also providing a history of such establishments going back to 1978 which have a history of being harassed by police. They offer to the gay and lesbian community a sanctuary where they can relax, socialize and be themselves or a member of the opposite sex for that matter. In contrast, a nearby bar has a Confederate flag draped from the ceiling.[/font]
Oh well, this really was worth watching.. just fast forward when you see him start talking..
Up to this point in LGBT filmmaking/study we have focused on cities, New York, San Francisco, etc., or the home, the private, safe, world that many queer people in our country still feel restricted too. Even many ‚out of the closet‚? people speak of putting up their guard when they leave the confines of the home. So, while there has been a cultural revolution beginning in the anonymity of dense population centers, the rural areas of our country remain an identity battleground for those who choose not to chased from their roots. Mary L. Gray suggests this in her essay ‚From Websites to Wal-Mart: Small Town, USA:‚?
‚[There] is the pervasive assumption that rural environments are, by definition, hostile to queer desires and genders and, therefore, rural LGBTQ-identifying youth (at least the self-respecting ones?) must live in quite invisibility or have already left the small towns for the BIG CITY.‚? (289)
For this reason rural communities represent one of two major sites for identity politics in our country today, the other being the online community . There are a few reasons why the rural towns of America have not developed at the same rate as cities. As Gray pointed out many youths have left for the big city, there are simply smaller queer communities in smaller towns. Secondly, as an AFA spokesman says later in Small Town Gay Bar there is no anonymity in a small town. But another large issue is the difficulty to establish open, friendly places, as Gray says:
‚Most critically, rural queer youth do not have access to the material or social capital to establish their own freestanding counterpublics of gay owned or occupied neighborhoods, bookstores, gyms, or bars.‚? (291)
This is the key step forward that we see take place in the video. Malcolm highlights two such ‚counterpublics‚? in an effort to show the viability of these establishments and, in a form of camcorder activism, encourage future gay bar, gym, or bookstore owners to create something similar in their communities.
In her essay Gray gives these kinds of bastions of the queer community a name, ‚Boundary Publics.‚? On the topic she said:
‚Rather than thinking of boundary publics as tangible buildings, specific streets, or solitary websites, I suggest that we imagine boundary publics as strategies for space making and constitutive processes for the queering of identity.‚? (292)
While Rumors is a tangible building, to view it as such would be to deny the power such an establishment can have in a rural community. In a segment towards the end of the film Malcolm collects various answers to the question, ‚What would happen if the bar closed?‚? There is a unanimous outcry that the community would dissolve, individual people would suffer without their weekend outlet, and, comically, that people would have to start making the hour and half drive to the City. Perhaps not as comical as the Rumor's patron intended it though, the flocking to big urban centers is one of the main causes of weakened rural LGBTQ communities.
The bar, and the others featured in the video, offer many services, drinks, music, dancing, drag shows, and just the right amount of debauchery. I would like to praise Malcolm here for not shying away from queer sexuality. Roland Gregg, in his essay ‚Queer Representation and Oregon's 1992 Anti-Gay Ballot Measure‚? take a stance against the white-washing of queer sexuality for the straight public. This generates an environment were gays and lesbians feel they must keep their sexuality in check. Small Town Gay Bar is not afraid to show the truth of sexuality, there is courage in this action and I believe it speaks to the current state of affairs in queer filmmaking.
I digress to the services offered by the bar; the most important, more so than any I mentioned above, is a sense of security. In the video many people talk about the lack of security they feel in public places, at work, even in the parking lot of Rumors walking from their car to the front food, but once inside their was a unanimous feeling of safety. This speaks both to the physical threat of gay-bashing and they social threat of being seen by a family member or co-worker with their partner, Rumors is truly their place. Gray speaks to this very topic:
‚The boundary public ... was made all the more imaginable by the presence of friends working at the Super Center seen as having the authority to step in if their consumer citizenship was challenged.‚? (294)
We see something very similar at all three bars in the film where the openly gay or lesbian owners reside over their establishment like kings and queens (or maybe just queens).
However, the sad truth is that these establishments do not erase the threat to queer people in rural communities. On that subject Gray says:
‚even though boundary publics mediate the availability of publics to rural queers and questioning youths, they do not circumvent or neutralize the very real possibility of violence faced for queerly standing out.‚? (295)
About halfway through the film the story of Scotty Joe Weaver acts as a somber reminder of how far we have not come. Scotty, an eighteen year old gay kid from a small town, was beaten, stabbed, and ditched in a river. The perpetrators, three of his peers, were motivated by their homophobia. Scotty serves as a reminder that small towns remain hostel places towards queer-identified people to this day.
However, that is not to say that strides have not been made. Scotty was brave enough to be honest about himself and it is people like him that are helping to break apart the binary of visibility laid out by Gray, who cites Eve Sedgwick and others:
‚visibility operates as a binary: in order for someone to be visible, to 'come out,' there must always be a closet some place where others clamor or struggle to get out.‚? (290)
Historically the clamoring has always existed in the rural communities of our country. This is the biggest triumph of Small Town Gay Bar in my opinion; by demonstrating that the LGBT groups in small town America are standing up against the bigotry and slowly carving out their place they being to dissolve this binary. The feminist and queer struggles of the 70s, 80s, and 90s were aimed at breaking down binaries and this film shows us that the fight is still alive and well today, it has just moved back from the big city to the small town.
Gays are free as are the rest of us. Free to make our own choices, live life the we want, and love WHOEVER we want.
Talk about brave?! They gays are just as brave as our troops that serve this country. Think about how hard it is to be gay in a society that does not yet fully accept it. So BRAVE to overcome the fear of telling your family and living everyday of your life scared you could be another statistic of a hate crime.
This is NOT 1880 people!!!! This is the year 2012! It is time this country and its people grow up and learn from histories mistakes.