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Gay self-hating re-examined in new film

Mart Crowley’s landmark play The Boys in the Band was first produced in 1968, a year before the Stonewall rebellion changed the face of modern gay movement with defiance and pride.

In its bitchy and witty portrayal of a group of friends sharing dangerous New York party games that often verge on the sadistic and self-loathing, it represents a darker moment in gay identity—one the LGBT community has long wanted to turn its back on in shame.

But enough time has passed that people are more willing to embrace the play (and the 1970 film version, directed by Wiliam Friedkin) as an important step forward in gay representation and catharsis.

In fact, Boys has engendered so much new lovin’ that it’s the subject of a documentary, Crayton Robey‘s Making The Boys, coming out this month in an attempt to put the work in its proper historical place.

As one of the talking heads in the film—along with Crowley, Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, and many more—I’m qualified to make several defenses of the original play. First of all, it was totally of its time, and you can’t be mad at something for that any more than you can be furious because your old typewriter doesn’t have an internet connection.

Furthermore, when I first saw the film years after its initial release, it actually gave me hope because it showed a community of gay people who shared affection and intimacy—something I didn’t know existed in my angst-ridden teen years. The bon mots flew fast and furiously, and they were not only hilarious, they signaled the fact that these characters were close and connected enough that they could “roast” each other with verbal slingshots that were basically terms of endearment.

Even when things get ugly and the lead character (Michael) forces his guests to call the first person they ever secretly loved, it can be seen as his drunken attempt to make people look into a mirror of honesty before moving on with their lives.

And the play’s sexually ambiguous character who turns brutally homophobic as the party wears on always seemed to me to be a screaming argument against the closet!

So in many ways, The Boys in the Band not only plays on, it’s extremely relevant, whether you want it to be or not. And for those who find it offensive, I pray they’ll never be caught DVR-ing Gone With The Wind again either.