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STRANGER BY THE LAKE Betrays Us

And I thought it was over. I thought that we were no longer blaming ourselves, and that others were through blaming us. But no, the blaming will never end.

            I just caught the movie Stranger By The Lake. I was drawn to it because it was a gay film – boasting graphic gay sex scenes. Indeed it is a gay film, and it’s very sexy.

I don’t know. I was crazy I guess. For one nutty moment I thought that someone might have made an intelligent gay flic for the 21st century. One that wasn’t homophobic.  

Boy was I wrong.

            The movie starts out well. It features very accurate depictions of cruising and park sex. I know cruising situations more than very well. So, I was at first impressed by the array of ‘types’ so faithfully displayed: the okay looking guy you have sex with to settle, the unattractive loser who follows you around (and ends up sucking you off when you’re horny), the ‘straight’ man who disavows any knowledge that this is actually a gay cruising ground, the sad but sweet bisexual guy looking for a friend, and – of course – the tall tanned super cute guy you really really want to fuck, and (finally!) eventually do.

            Yes, all this is portrayed with tact, sweetness and even beauty, Make no doubt about it, French director Alan Guiraudie is skilled at his craft. Too bad the movie is ultimately a big pile of steaming, smelly crap.

            You see, our young hero witnesses a really, really, cute tanned guy drowning someone at the cruising ground. Instead of reporting the crime to authorities, he proceeds to fall in love with the really, really, cute guy and – have an affair with him. I was still trying to like the movie at this point, shielding my eyes to the inevitable. I hoped it was just going to be about demon lovers in general, or human sexual ethics everywhere.

But, alas, no.

The movie is about us.

            For at one point the investigating policeman takes our hero aside, and berates him (or, rather, the whole gay community) for being so foolish. I must paraphrase, but it’s something to the effect of ‘”Why can’t you get some self-respect? You call this a community? A man has died and you don’t care? You just continue having sex with each other willy-nilly?”

            I think you get the idea. Now where might we have heard this before? Well it is certainly the subtext of countless admonitions the gay community has received from doctors, members of the religious right, and the straight establishment, concerning AIDS. You will find echoes of it in Dr. Brookner’s plaintive cry from The Normal Heart “Why can’t you just stop having sex?”

            Of course it is appalling that Stranger By The Lake (like The Dallas Buyers Club) manages to ignore the incredibly kindness, intuitiveness, co-operation, and heroism of gay men, who (in Western countries) within the space of 15 years, transformed what was forecast to become a ‘worldwide plague’ into a manageable disease – and quite often with no help from doctors. (And AIDS would today be a manageable disease worldwide if it wasn’t for the greed of pharmaceutical companies.)

            As irritating as that omission is, that is not the true crime committed by Stranger By The Lake.

Stranger By The Lake is a movie in which gay men are blamed, yet again, for simply wanting to have sex.

            So can I say, once more, that gay men did nothing wrong? That we didn’t ‘bring it on ourselves?’ Can I say that gays and lesbians are loving people, that they always have been, always will be, and that AIDS was not a mistake that gay men made, or a consequence of gay recklessness or gay ‘hypersexuality.’ The fact that gay men wished to continue having sex even when AIDS was ‘discovered’ is merely human. Would anyone in their right mind ever think of asking straight people to stop having sex? Wouldn’t straight people recognize such a barbaric demand as anti-human?

Sex is a human need.

Period.

And sex never killed anyone.

Only a disease can do that.

            Movies like Stranger By The Lake confirm something I’ve always wished not to  believe.

People want men to stop having sex with men. They wanted it before AIDS. They wanted it at the height of the epidemic, and now that AIDS is a manageable disease, they want it again. And homophobes will twist the truth about AIDS in any way they can, because the blame game will not be over for a very a very long time.

            But I ask you (no, I plead with you) must it go on forever?