Monday, November 4, 2013

Bridegroom: The Love Story of Tom Bridegroom and Shane Crone, a Primer about Gay Youth, Coming Out, and Religion in the Heartland

I mentioned several days ago that the Oprah Winfrey network had aired several programs about being gay in America. One of the films that OWN aired as part of that initiative was Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's documentary Bridegroom.

The film documents the beautiful, painful love story of Tom Bridegroom and Shane Crone. I mentioned this story back in May 2012. You'll find abundant information about it at the film's website to which the second link above points. Shane tells the story in his own words in this Huffington Post article and at his Tumblr site, as well..

As he states, he and Tom had been together as a couple some six years when Tom died in a tragic accident. Though Shane's parents had accepted him as gay, Tom's had expressed considerably more opposition to their son's coming out and his decision to form a relationship with Shane, and so, not surprisingly, when Tom died, his family made Shane unwelcome at Tom's funeral. A relative of the Bridegrooms telephoned Shane at the time of the funeral, in fact, and warned him that if he showed up, Tom's father and an uncle would do violence to him.

Steve and I had taped the film when Oprah aired it some days ago, and we watched it this past weekend. Some impressions: Bridegroom does an exceptionally good job of showing how small-town America continues to be a place in which, on the whole, gay people cannot easily live happy and productive openly gay lives. Gay people do, of course, live happy and productive gay lives in communities across the nation. But they pay a price for doing so, and Bridegroom does a good job of depicting just what that price is. It also does a very good job of showing how difficult it is for teens growing up in many small towns across the nation to come out of the closet.

And it shows how much of the animosity towards gay folks throughout the American heartland is fueled by religious ideas. Both Shane and Tom struggled mightily with their sexual orientations because they were persistently told by schoolmates, family members, people in authority around them that the bible condemns homosexual people and homosexual lives. 

When Tom's tragic accident happened, Shane had to struggle all over again with feelings of guilt, with questions about whether the accident was God's punishment of them for being gay and for living together as a gay couple. A young woman who was their friend is interviewed in the film about this period of dark depression for Shane. She says that lots of voices all around tell us that gay folks end up in hell, but that she refuses to believe that people who love each other as Tom and Shane did, and who do good to others as they did, belong in hell.

Something that struck me, in particular, as the film moved to its close: in their years together, Tom and Shane had made it their goal to see as many of the official "wonders of the world" as possible. They had made it to a goodly number of these before Tom died, but some still remained on their to-do list.

As part of his healing process, Shane has decided to continue the plans to visit the various wonders of the world, and the documentary follows him to the Taj Mahal, which he visited at Christmas 2012. As he notes in the film, he chose the Taj Mahal for that Christmas visit specifically because it has long been regarded as a temple to love, and so it seemed appropriate that, as he continued visiting these world-famous sites alone, while keeping Tom's memory alive as he did so, he first visit a site that celebrates love. 

And then he said something else, and this is what sticks in my mind: he said something to the effect that the world is full of many different kinds of people and many different cultures, each with its different paths to the divine, and he wonders why we can't all discover ways to get along with each other and respect each others' different paths. At one level, this sounds like an entirely banal can't-we-all-just-get-along observation.

But at another level, read through the optic of the tremendous tragedy through which Shane has lived, and the years of extraordinary struggle both he and Tom lived through to come to terms with themselves as gay men--a struggle made hellacious specifically because of people who claim to speak in God's name and to know God's truth for everyone else in the world in a detailed way--it's an illuminating insight. It's an insight that makes me think of how important it is that we learn to speak about God or the divine or the ultimate or the soul or spiritual life from the vantage point of life experience, of our struggles, sorrows, woes--and the love that sometimes unexpectedly comes our way as we live our lives of difficulty and pain.

Too many people talking about God talk from the sky down to the earth, or from the head down to the toes, when they should talk from precisely the opposite orientation, if they expect their talk about spirituality to be credible. Their divine "truths" aren't in any way embodied, or so it seems to me, in their own experience. They sling those "truths" around and want to impose them on others so unthinkingly and so imperiously precisely because these are not spiritual truths that have been won through any hard experience of their own. 

They don't even understand the divine "truths" they want to impose on others--not in a lived, experiential, heartfelt sense. 

Why did Jung find that gay folks often prove to be conduits of the spiritual? I suspect he found that this is the case because our struggle to piece together the painful pieces of our experience in a world (and in religious communities) so hostile to us forces us to "buy" the spiritual truths we end up owning. They don't come easily to us, when they come to us at all (and it's entirely understandable that many gay folks turn their backs on religion altogether, given the misery many religious people want to inflict on us).

Out of our difficult, anguishing attempts to find meaning in our lives when some of the primary channels of meaning, the religious ones, often foreclose themselves to us, we who are gay sometimes end up leading spiritual lives that, one would think, the officially religious, the keepers of the "truths," might learn to see as precious gifts offered to the religious communities of the world. But unfortunately . . . .

I highly recommend this film to all of you. Those concerned about gay youth and the difficulty they have in finding a place in the world, especially in the nation with the soul of a church, may find it particularly meaningful.

The graphic is from the film's website to which the second link above points.

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