tw: mentions of oppression, stoning, su*cide, and forced labor.
From lesbian period dramas, or the odd transmedicalist, slightly transphobic period drama, to biopics about men that did SOMETHING in the past and happened to be gay, we can see a pattern of how queer people are presented in historical fiction: sad & yearning.
Which, to some extent, is true. The past, has had a very convoluted relationship with what we now know as queer identities or identities that deviate from the norm (in part because of colonization, but that’s another story), however that doesn’t mean that queer joy did not exist before the 21th century.
It is not secret that Hollywood favors queer pain over queer happiness, going so far as to re-write real life events: The Children’s Hour (1961), in which a girl makes allegations against her teachers of “homosexual activity” leaving the teachers to make a lawsuit of slander. In the movie the two teachers lose the case, and even one of them kills herself, whereas in the real-life case the movie is based on, the two teachers win their suit and no-one dies, although it did severely damage their reputation.
Another more modern case is the production of El Baile de Los 41/ The Dance of the 41 (2021) by Netflix , a movie that details the events before and after the infamous gay & gender-non-conforming ball in México through the eyes of Ignacio de la Torre, which outcome left 19 attendees being sent to Yucatán to do forced labor, however in the movie is implied that 41 of the 42 attendees were stoned to death (?), it is left very ambiguous.
I am not here to take the merit from any of these movies however, The Children’s Hour was a movie made under the jurisdiction of the Hays Code and The Dance of the 41 is the first movie I’ve ever seen that touches upon Mexican queer history (but not the only one, I hope).
What I’m trying to point out, is that although we are moving out from the bury your gays trope in contemporary stories we still see the past as a time in which queer people could not do anything but lost and that their lives couldn’t be filled with anything but pain.
And apart from that narrative being a myth, it makes for pretty dull storytelling. Stories can just be filled with so much angst until they get boring, we need the fluff, the in-between sweet moments that make the bad ones hit all the more harder, and makes the hardship worth it.
And what about the predictable ending? Unlike straight narratives, the default ending for queer ones, is that the protagonist loses, and the odds against them are significantly higher went it is set in the past. Having a queer person that wins in the 1900s, is unfortunately, a plot-twist.
If those were not enough crimes against storytelling, for some reason, queer protagonists in the past tend to be very passive. Even though passive protagonists have their perks, the opinion of the majority in the writing community is that active protagonists are all the better. Whether it be a character of your own creation, or you’ve decided to fictionalized a real person, the historically accurate fact is, queer people fought back, and they had agency.
Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Nancy Cardenás, Ernestine Eckstein, Tallulah Bankhead, Silvia Rivera, Mabel Hamptom, Bayard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson, Claude Cahun, Gad Beck, Gladys Bentley, Ruth Ellis, etc.
I like to remind myself of the story of Amelio Robles, a man, who people didn’t believe he was, who ended up fighting in the Mexican revolution because he was in his words “crazy”, bullied the Mexican government into accepting he was indeed a man, married and adopted a child. In the end, lived a sort-of happy life.
And yes I may be idolizing a flawed human, but I can help but ask myself: -apart from the Mexican film industry being in shambles - why aren't there any movies about him?
Dear Hollywood, queer happy people existed in the past, because people can not always be sad. Stories about our suffering are validating and important, but so are stories about our victories and joy.
Ari Ochoa Petzo
is a Mexican-Venezuelan bi genderfluid writer. They like dancing to old music and history. In their free time you can find xem trying to coerce their friends to participate in another of their crazy projects.
MORE FROM THIS AUTHOR: