As I sat a few days ago pondering what I would write about for this month’s column, publisher Steve Polyak gave me the idea of tying the theme into the Fairy Tales Film Festival, running May 24th to May 31st, 2007 in Calgary (see www.fairytalesfilmfest.com). Consequently, this month Queer Quest focuses on queer fests!
I have always wondered if the film and music industries create reality, or whether they merely report it. Both are obviously true. The fact that the American film industry and its audiences tolerate aggression far better than sexuality in movies is as much a statement of a society’s priorities as it is a statement of continued indoctrination into this mindset.
The absence of gay male characters in mainstream film was common before 1990 [1, 2], and when they were portrayed, they were often presented in a very negative light. Filmmakers need to read their viewers – unsurprisingly, gay and lesbian themed movies have customarily been produced by gay and lesbian individuals themselves, and they targeted gay and lesbian audiences.  Since about 1990, gay themed movies have become increasingly mainstreamed and blockbusters like Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain, and 300 have hit the screen.
Lesbian characters in mainstream movies remain invisible for the most part, however. When lesbian women are asked to respond to their representation in mainstream films, most respond with, "What representation?" Lesbian women also tend to be stereotyped when they are portrayed, as in the movies Boys on the Side, Basic Instinct, Bitter Moon, Three of Hearts, and Higher Learning. 
The mainstream (e.g., heterosexual white men and women) are cautious in their indulgence of queer characters, however, and often the queer message is undermined in some way, either by minimizing the theme or by stereotyping it. About four dozen feature-length American movies have been produced about HIV/AIDS during the 1980s and 1990s, and the vast majority represent it as a gay disease that affects white males,  thereby creating the false impression that the white heterosexual majority is safe from acquiring it. One writer criticized Brokeback Mountain as really being about bisexual men and not gay men, and that the homosexual sex scenes were offset by equally explicit heterosexual ones.  The movie 300 minimized the homosexual aspect by focusing on the warriors’ incredible battle talents and their love for women (also apparently promoting a bisexual propensity more than a homosexual one).
The stereotypes of queer characters in movies and in made-for-television serials can be absolutely appalling. Often done for comic relief and with intent to target heterosexual audiences, the damage to people’s impressions of "what are queer folk like" continues. Really, what percentage of gay men are like Kevin Kline’s portrayal in the movie In and Out or character Jack in Will and Grace? How about the trans man in Trans America who acts more like a drag queen than someone who is truly transgendered? What tragedy awaits older gay men who fawn over younger men and perhaps desire or, God forbid, actually establish an intergenerational relationship? A recent example of death-through-loving-a-younger-man is found in Gods and Monsters, and most other films depicting intergenerational relationships have similar harsh endings. 
Many movies based on true stories get the facts wrong – I guess that is why they leave it as based on a true story. The movie Boys Don’t Cry is one such example where the movie depicts two murders while in actuality three occurred on the night of December 31, 1993 in Nebraska. The trans individual murdered was born Teena Brandon, and he reversed his name to Brandon Teena to be more consistent with his felt gender. One description of the movie created the impression of "deception, lesbianism and murder. . . . [the description recreated] the traditional Hollywood ‘invert’ story where homosexuality is punishable by death, or possibly worse." 
Quite a bit has been written about gay pornography, and writers celebrate both its desirable qualities (e.g., normalizing gay sexual practices, teaching viewers new techniques) and those that are questionable (e.g., to what extent does viewing hard-bodied perfect men with large endowments lead to body image disturbances and lower self-esteem?).  What can be said about any media that we turn to, whether it be film, fiction/nonfiction writing, radio, television, and other art forms, is the following:
1. We are only seeing a glimpse of some version of reality – in truth, there are multiple truths by which people live out their lives.
2. The version we are seeing is distorted if we believe it applies to all people, or perhaps even most people.
3. Media both creates reality (creating new truths and fictions) and reports on reality (describing present truths and fictions).
4. Descriptions of truth and fiction can stick with us and affect our behaviour toward others, whatever the source.
As we enter into the world of celluloid as Fairy Tales unfolds, remember to watch and listen critically. Especially pay attention to the depiction of the queer individual(s) that the film portrays and the message it is conveying about this person or this group. Each of us is living out a complex pattern of interactions and understandings within this particular psychosocial-political-historical time. No one can truly do justice to even this moment.
Below are several noncommercial films and videos that take a queer theory perspective. Unlike earlier perspectives regarding sexuality, queer theory works at taking apart identity categories (like gay, lesbian, straight), thereby blurring the boundaries that separate us. Queer theory also views sexuality as changeable and naturally fluid. 
The following list of films, videos, and the descriptive text that follows is quoted from a recent journal article :
1. A.I.D.S.C.R.E.A.M. (6 min; c.1990) – Examines the desexualization of gay men as a result of AIDS.
2. Anatomy of Desire (48 min; c.1995) – Analyzes how scientific inquiry has shaped debates around queer rights.
3. Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community (89 min.; c.1984) – Examines queer history before 1969.
4. Black Hair and Black-eyed (9 min.; c.1994) – An examination of the influences on Korean-American lesbian identity.
5. Black Is–Black Ain’t: A Personal Journey Through Black Identity (98 min.; c.1995) – Looks at African-American queer identity.
6. Bright Eyes (85 min.; c.1986) – Looks at homosexuality from three perspectives.
7. The Celluloid Closet (102 min.; c.1996) – Looks at the changing presentation of queer life in film.
8. Cut Sleeve: Lesbians & Gays of Asian/Pacific Ancestry (24 min.; c.1993) – An examination of the lives of queers of Asian Pacific Islander descent.
9. Fated to Be Queer (25 min.; c.1992) – Documentary regarding the lives of Filipino gay men.
10. Gay and Lesbian Images on Television: An Overview (89 min.; c.1998) – Analyzes images of queers on television.
11. History Lessons (70 min.; c. 2000) – Examines images of lesbians in popular media from the 19th century to the present.
12. Homophobia in the Media and Society: One Life to Live and Beyond (90 min.; c.1993) – Discussion of homophobia in the media at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
13. Honored by the Moon (15 min.; c.1990) – A portrait of queer life and identity in Native American traditional and modern culture.
14. I Got This Way from Eating Rice (45 min.; c.1999) – Seven short documentaries in one examining queer Asian/Pacific Islander lives.
15. It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School (78 min.; c.1996) – Looks at the presentation of homosexuality in elementary education.
16. Khush (24 min.; c.1991) – Examines the lives of queer South Asians and those of South Asian decent.
17. March on Washington (30 min.; c.1993) – Documentary of the March 1993, National March on Washington for LGBT/queer rights.
18. Off the Straight & Narrow: Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals & Television (63 min.; c.1998) – An examination of queer images on television.
19. On Common Ground (104 min.; c.2000) – Examines the joys and heartbreaks of the queer rights movement.
20. Out of the Past: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Rights in America (70 min.; c.1997) – Profiles of individuals who shaped the queer rights movement.
21. Paradise Bent: Boys will be Girls in Samoa (51 min.; c.1999) – Examination of transgender women in Samoa.
22. Paris is Burning (76 min.; c.1992) – Examination of the African-American/Latino transgender pageant culture.
23. Plates (35 min.; c.1982) – Early look at discrimination against queers.
24. Pride, Prejudice and Gay Politics (30 min.; c.1982) – An examination of queer politics in San Francisco.
25. Queer Geography: Mapping Our Identities: Detailing the Experiences of Four Queer Youth (12 min.; c.2001) – Portrait of queer youth identity by two high-school students.
26. Straight for the Money: Interviews with Queer Sex Workers (59 min.; c.1994) – An examination of lesbians working in the sex industry.
Dr. Alderson is an assistant professor of counselling psychology at the University of Calgary who specializes in gay and lesbian studies. He also maintains a private practice. He can be contacted by confidential email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by confidential voice mail at (403) 605-5234.
1) Coleman, E. (1981-82). Developmental stages of the coming out process. Journal of Homosexuality, 7(2-3), 31-43.
2) Kielwasser, A. P., & Wolf, M. A. (1993-94). Silence, difference, and annihilation: Understanding the impact of mediated heterosexism on high school students. High School Journal, 77(1-2), 58-79.
3) Cover, R. (2000). First contact: Queer theory, sexual identity and "mainstream" film. International Journal of Sexuality & Gender Studies, 5(1), 71-89.
4) Dobinson, C., & Young, K. (2000). Popular cinema and lesbian interpretive strategies. Journal of Homosexuality, 40(2), 97-122.
5) Hart, K-P. R. (2002). Representing men with HIV/AIDS in American movies. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 11(1), 77-89.
6) Brod, H. (2006) They’re bi shepherds, not gay cowboys: The misframing of Brokeback Mountain. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 14(2), 252-253.
7) Yoakam, J. R. (2001). Gods or monsters: A critique of representations in film and literature of relationships between older gay men and younger men. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services: Issues in Practice, Policy & Research, 13(4), 65-80.
8) Willox, A. (2003). Branding Teena: (Mis)representations in the media. Sexualities, 6(3-4), 407-425 [quote from p. 408].
9) Ellis, S. R., & Whitehead, B. W. (2004). Porn again: Some final considerations. Journal of Homosexuality, 47(3-4), 197-220.
10) Gamson, J. (1995). Must identity movements self-destruct? A queer dilemma. Social Problems, 42, 390-407.
11) Elia, J. P., Swanson, C., & Goldberg, A. R. (2003). More queer: Resources on queer theory. Journal of Homosexuality, 45(2-4), 391-400.