Sexuality as a Character Trait

Stonewall Inn, West Village by InSapphoWeTrust, used under CC 2.0

Stonewall Inn, West Village by InSapphoWeTrust, used under CC 2.0

SEEDS OF A REVOLUTION
    A Twitter acquaintance and fellow filmmaker Joshua Caldwell recently mentioned that he was working on a movie about a lesbian assassin, called Assassin. I instantly recognized Caldwell’s skills as a director with his movie Layover, which was beautifully shot and has a perfect ending!
    Regarding Assassin, Caldwell posted
a tweet “I think it’s pretty cool. It’s a different take on the hit(wo)man genre. It’s not about being LGBT. The sexuality is irrelevant.”
    Another filmmaker friend,
Paul Osborne, chimed in, tweeting: “Is sexuality irrelevant? Be honest. If your hitwoman fell in love with a guy and [sic] would you still want to make it?”
    I didn’t join the discussion because I felt I needed more time to think about the subject than a Twitter chat generally allows. What came about as a result was, for me a revelation, and maybe even a revolution!

 

HISTORICAL PRIMER
    Throughout the vast majority of mainstream literature there have been a wealth of character traits that have been variables within a story. Everything from sex/gender to vocation, height, weight, strength, nationality, language, travel history, eye color, dexterity (this is starting to feel like a D&D character attribute sheet (I don’t think that’s a bad thing)), etc.
    What was never in question was that women always wanted to have sex with men, and men always wanted to have sex with women. Sexual preferences was never a variable. The only variable in sex was whether and when the characters were going to get any sex.
    Qualifier #1: I write the above paragraph with the full knowledge that there were some “fringe” books that questioned sexual identity prior to the advent and rise to prominence of the
LGBT movement. But, they were never taught broadly, and I’d never heard of them until recently.
    Qualifier #2: Gender identity has also come into question. Men were defined as those who were born with penises, and women were defined as those who were born with vaginas. In order to address a difference, normal must be defined sufficiently, and in this case labeled in a non-derogatory way.
    Thus, men born with penises and women born with vaginas who wanted to have sex with the opposite sex have been called normal, which because it implies any deviation as abnormal, has been translated into the Latin “on the side of”, or cis. So, the above can now be labeled and discussed as a cis male, or a cis female. This is formally known as
cisgender.

WELCOME THE REVOLUTION
    When I think about character, if I start with the action I instantly run into a question my friend and often collaborator Edward Newton brings up, “Why?” The moment “why” is asked, motivations become an issue. Motivations stem from psychology, which means choices, which means history and brain chemistry.
    While research into LGBT motivations are varied, be they environmental, genetic or choice, or some combination of the three, (no different from just about every other human character trait) an artist’s choice of a character’s gender identity and sexual preference can say a lot about the character.
    For instance, if someone is gay and hasn’t yet made that public (this situation is often referred to as closeted), it means that character may be afraid of the repercussions of that information being known. Imagine being in a place that is extremely conservative (Iran/Alabama/Russia/etc.) where someone’s life may actually be at risk if they’re sexual preference was made known.
    And yet, when they see the object of their desires, what will be their emotional response? How would that response affect their reactions? What would the consequences of those reactions cause? Think: Romeo and Juliet? Is it worth the risk? Maybe they’re romantics and think that it’s worth persecution or death, but with the hope that they may change their culture!
    Or maybe it’s just how they feel and they won’t act on it at all? What kind of story would that be?

 

CLEARING CALDWELL
    This may appear to be a harsh critique on Joshua Caldwell’s point of view. It’s not. I think Caldwell’s perspective is equally valid and making sexuality relevant or irrelevant is a choice each artist should make while constructing the story they’re choosing to express. My point here is to say that, thanks to the LGBT movement, it’s now a choice we can make.

CONCLUSION
    I will be exploring sexual identity and preferences (and many ideas) in much greater detail in my next project Intelligent Design. But, for now, keep an eye on filmmakers who are doing it today: Jessica Jones, Sense8, Moonlight, Pariah, Sirens, The Danish Girl, Brokeback Mountain, Carol, and many more. Regardless of whatever moral or religious constraints we might have, more aspects of character that are variables means more and richer stories that can be told, from a wider variety of perspectives. That is the human experience, and I find it fascinating!