The Gay Tragedy is when a same-sex couple, usually two men, fall in love and it ends badly. Often one of the men dies. At minimum, the two are separated and their relationship isn’t allowed to end happily. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the most famous example. When I saw that movie in the theaters, I thought it was poorly done. The characters’ relationship is neither believable nor explained–they love each other because the script says so–and in the end, one of them is murdered because he’s gay, leaving the survivor, who has lost his entire family as well, to weep alone in his isolated trailer. Because, you see, two men can’t have a happy, loving relationship that ends well.
TORCHWOOD does the same thing with Jack and Ianto. Just as their relationship is deepening, Ianto is killed. The producers said it was deliberately for tragedy, to change Jack so he could do important things later. Yeah, sure. But on an SF show that brings people back from the dead, they sure didn’t hurry to resurrect Ianto later. In fact, they only twist the tragedy knife by having Ianto’s ghost show up and make Jack feel even worse in a later episode and make it clear that Jack and Ianto won’t be together even in the afterlife. Because gay men can’t ever be happy.
Now, apparently, we’re getting more of it. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a gay tragedy novel (“beautifully written,” says one reviewer, which is code for “uses lots of flowery, incomprehensible language to camouflage the lack of actual story”). A seventeen-year-old Italian boy meets a twenty-something American visitor in Italy. They have a mad, tempestuous relationship in secret, but in the end, the American has to go back home. The seventeen-year-old is unable to forget or let go, and twenty-odd years later, he goes to Boston to find his long-lost love, only to find him married (to a woman) with children. Their love goes forever unfulfilled.
The book was made into a movie that got a lot of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival and was just recently picked up by a major distributor for wide release. Because, you know, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, right?
Screw you, Hollywood. And you, too, BBC.
Apparently, the only kind of gay relationship you can show is one that ends in tragedy. I won’t go see it. I won’t buy or rent the DVD. I will happily trash it, though.
After a thousand years of Gay Tragedy, I refuse to have anything to do with the idea until we’ve had a long, long history of Gay Happily Ever After. Straight people get the HEA as a matter of course, and the tragic ending is the exception rather than the rule. Showing Gay Tragedy after Gay Tragedy says that you think there’s something wrong with LGBT people, and we’re sick of it.
LATER: Gay Tease and Gay Promise
–Steven Harper Piziks