I’ve always been solidly heterosexual, sort of.
I mean, I really, really like women, particularly older ones, and very particularly, my wife. But I find myself most at home in the borderland between men and women–where, like with any human behavior or morality, there exists a range of possibilities. This place reveals the deeper nature of our species. The cultures of sexuality and gender, both recognized and excluded, includes a mix of cultural, political, and social behaviors and languages. People are always in transition, using facets of language and behavior to their advantage to survive or disappear, often itself a survival mechanism. Here we accept and resist agreed-upon but frequently violated mores of identity and morality.
I am comfortable with men and the homoerotic languages that revolve around maleness and male bonding but I cannot claim manhood. At the same time, as a man, I cannot know womanhood, though most men and I are more familiar with womanly aspects of ourselves than either they or most women would ever admit. In the end, I understand feminine and masculine traits, in part, because they are indistinguishable from each other. Like everyone else, I make unrealistic separations between them, categorizing this or that trait as “manly” or “feminine” based on cultural expectations and socialization. All I know is that no matter how I make the inclusions and exclusions of male and female traits, I have plenty of both.
That is why I say with assurance that if I found myself in Stephen Rea’s shoes with young Dil, played by Jaye Davidson, in that surprise scene of The Crying Game, I would have become Dil’s lover. While sex is still a mysterious and magical force I have yet to understand, I’m sure that Dil and I could have figured something out.
Stephen Rea plays Fergus, whose romance with Dil nearly ends when Dil lets loose the family secrets. It is in that moment that Fergus disappoints me. Until this point in the movie, I have grown to love and sympathize with him. I watch that scene, even today, and hope to the bottom of my soul that Fergus will stick with Dil, develop his relationship, and come to grips with the sexual aspects of that relationship. Love, after all, has bound Dil and Fergus so far. Love motivates all relationships—friendly, romantic, adversarial, or in labor. Love haunts even relationships based on hatred. Why should surprise genitalia change that?
Love, I understand. I think we all understand it. It is only the culture of material consumption that leads us to believe we don’t. That culture convinces us we need rings, flowers, and other tokens to have love, as if material things can really bind two people together. Sex, on the other hand, almost none of us understand, though the cults of masculinity and femininity lead us to believe we should. Why else would we want to use sex to fill so many needs and voids, personal and social that it cannot?
When I was younger, and I suppose a whole lot less butch than I am now, I found myself not only courted by other men but also attracted to some of them. I was in my twenties when I lived in Germany and made a living as apprenticing in vineyard. The ancient town of Trier was my home. I met and made very good friends. Although I was often alone, after the first month or so of my stay, I was rarely lonely.
But I was sexually hungry and needy of love. During the Christmas season in the center of Trier stood a series of trailers decked out as small cabins. At the Weihnachtsmarkt vendors sold everything from bratwursts and gluehwein to tree ornaments and handmade jewelry. One man made and sold candles. He was about 25. He was tall, had long, flowing hair, and dressed in tasteful earthtones. His hands were lovely, long, and precise and he had smooth, olive skin. A glance from him made my insides melt. I went to the market every day with friends, stealing looks at the candlemaker, and trying to decide whether he would turn me down if I asked him to have a class of wine with me.
Oddly, I couldn’t think any farther than that, so certain was I of sex—though I didn’t know it. I had several girlfriends and even more soul-crunching infatuations. I was twenty-three and intrigued and naïve enough about the world that anything was possible. But when it came to imagining sex with the candlemaker, there was nothing. No fantasy. Nothing. All I knew was that he was a beautiful creature who moved me deeply and I wasn’t afraid to say it. I look back now and realize that I was in love but believed that love always had to include sex.
This is, in part, why the underlying themes of The Crying Game are so important. It was a few years after I left Germany that the movie hit the screens. As I watched it the first time, I had suspicions about Dil. When my ideas about him were, literally, revealed, my first thought was of the candlemaker. What if we had met circumstances similar to Fergus and Dil? What would I have missed outright if he had been a woman dressed as a man, and I, as a heterosexual male, dismissed a relationship with her because she merely looked like a man? What if he had simply dressed like a woman?
First, I’d hope that he was not accomplice to terrorist bombings and wouldn’t wind up in the Can. Second, I would have had the same kind of disastrous relationship I had throughout my twentysomethings. Drink, it seems, trumps all mysteries.
Of course, such speculation is, in hindsight, more a game than anything that raises doubts about my sexuality. To me, anyway. But it gives me keen insight into why the big, strong manly man IRA terrorist Jody, played by Forest Whitaker, might have a long-term relationship with Dil, and why I might want to as well.
To be honest, I was distracted from Dil by Miranda Richardson’s presence in the movie. She is intensely lovely, sexual, and brutal. Faced with a “revealed” Dil or Jude, Richardson’s character, and forced to chose one for a date, I would chose Jude in the same way I might chose Judy Davis or Isabella Rossellini or Angela Bassett over any one of their costars, male or female.
What the candlemaker and Dil reveal to me, however, is a range of possibilities, the gray area or borderland I inhabit. But borderlands are definable just because they have a name and can be ascribed certain characteristics. Language cannot encompass what lies beyond words’ socially agreed-upon meanings and limitations. By their very nature, these possibilities of gender and sexuality escape categorization. The names “gender and sexuality” cannot capture their essences, much less more specific categorizations of hetero- or homosexual, or feminine or masculine. They constantly change, rearrange themselves, disappear and re-form.
Queer theorists might see my perspective as recognition of a true human hermeneutic. That is, the recognition of the essential self, and through this, the social and political constructions of gender and sexuality. I suppose that’s why, in the end of The Crying Game, I was cheering for Fergus despite my initial disappointment. After all, enlightenment is a process of education for most of us rather than the sharp sting of a total consciousness. Fergus realized he was in love with the essential Dil in Dil. He knew and understood Jody’s love for Dil, and this made human and much larger than the political label of “terrorist.” Like Jody, Fergus had faced the headaches and irritations that come with dealing with any kind of relationship—and had not demurred. The movie leaves us with the feeling that he was going to reach a resolution with the expected sexual aspects of a romantic relationship and overcome the socially constructed obstacles that separated him from Dil.
Despite the prison bars, that’s quite a happy ending, particularly if we allow ourselves to abandon what is expected of us as hetero- or homosexual, male or female, and masculine and feminine. All of us generally like love. We nearly all like sex. It’s up to us, however, to find the human within us and others beyond the ascriptions and prescriptions we learned at home and in church and school. It’s up to us to become independent people, able to make choices without the judgments we ascribe to ourselves when we judge others.
On a more personal note, The Crying Game reminds me that, maybe, one day I’ll leave my wife and run off with Miranda Richardson. Or Judy Davis, Alfre Woodward, or Isabella Rossellini. Or the candlemaker. Or you!