Arts·Queeries

10 ways to use our quarantines to become better people through queer film, TV, books and music

We're probably in this for the long haul, so why not take the opportunity to educate and empathize through a long history of LGTBQ artistic excellence?

We're probably in this for the long haul, so why not take the opportunity to educate and empathize?

It's totally okay to just spend your days gazing out the window waiting for someone to call you by your name. But if and when you're ready, there's a lot of books (and films and TV series and music and plays) to help you become a better queer while we wait this out. (Sony Pictures Classics)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.

For those of us privileged enough to being staying home through all this, we're probably in the middle of our third week trying to figure out how to make the best use of our socially isolated time. Believe me, I'm aware of how challenging that can be. On day one, I briefly found the will to devise an aggressive to-do list filled with everything from finally becoming ripped to writing several screenplays. By day 12, I had crossed no things off that list, mostly filling my time with assuming the fetal position, drinking wine while Zooming with friends also drinking wine...and Tiger King. But it seems likely that we're in this for the long haul, so I have decided to rally and at the very least do something that might just feel effortless once I get the hang of it: become a better queer by diving into all the queer art I've never had the time to consume.

There are so many things we can be doing right now to help our LGBTQ communities. Two weeks ago (roughly two years in COVID time), I wrote about some ways we can help our fellow queers if we're lucky enough to have the means to do so. There are also so many virtual performances and parties and festivals going on every day that our participation in and support of goes a long way. But we also have to look out for our own well-being — and I think the best way to do that might be to turn toward the decades of LGBTQ art that have led up to this moment.

So I've decided to offer this little guide to how we can use the plethora of content already out there to make us stronger, better queers when it comes time to take on post-COVID existence. Over the rest of the lockdown, I'll also be offering daily suggestions on my Twitter and Instagram, and encourage you to respond to them with your own picks. But this should definitely be enough to get you started:

Watch films about real-life queers rising up in the face of HIV/AIDS

How to Survive a Plague. (IFC)

The idea of passing the time through waiting out one global health emergency by watching movies about a different one understandably might not seem appealing. But I am fairly certain that the many films that document the queer heroes who rose up against powerful institutions who couldn't care less whether they lived or died will mostly leave you feeling inspired, resilient and brave.

Get started with:
BPM (Beats Per Minute) by Robin Campillo
Blue by Derek Jarman
Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein
How To Survive a Plague by David France
We Were Here by David Weissman

Take a crash course in New Queer Cinema

Paris Is Burning. (Off-White Productions)

Coined as a term by academic B. Ruby Rich in 1992, New Queer Cinema defined a movement of queer independent filmmaking in the late 1980s and early 1990s that, in many ways, was the defining cinematic response to the AIDS crisis (and birthed the careers of folks like Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant). If you want to be inspired what kind of subversive, powerful art can come out of challenging times, look no further.

Get started with:
The Living End by Gregg Araki
My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant
Paris is Burning by Jennie Livingston
Poison by Todd Haynes
The Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye

Read memoirs and biographies about LGBTQ folks who identify differently than you

Samra Habib is the author of We Have Always Been Here. (CBC)

When I started to assemble a pile of books to read during my self-isolation, I decided to generally go the memoir route. But I realized when it comes to non-fiction, my bookshelves are filled pretty exclusively with words written by my fellow queer white men. So I ordered (through local bookstores when I could) a bunch of memoirs written by LGBTQ folks who identify differently than me to use this time to expand my queer horizons (though if you are looking for some white queer man recommendations, pick up Bill Clegg's Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man and Tennessee Williams's Memoirs). 

Get started with the five books on my reading list right now, or alter accordingly depending on how you identify:
Dead Mom Walking by Rachel Matlow
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee
Rebent Sinner by Ivan Coyote
We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

Read LGBTQ plays (especially Canadian ones)

Terrence McNally, left, and his partner Tom Kirdahy at the 73rd annual Tony Awards in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/Associated Press)

Last week, COVID-19 took Terrence McNally, one of the greatest gay playwrights we'll ever share this planet with. And while there will be no way to witness revivals of McNally plays like Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class in theatres anytime soon, you can buy the scripts and stage them in your head. Purchasing scripts of plays is a nice little way to both support theatre makers right now and get caught up on plays you might not have had the opportunity to see. Beyond McNally's work, I'd recommend trying to specifically support our queer Canadian theatre makers by scrolling through the LGBTQ section on the Playwrights Canada Press website

Get started with:
Black Boys by Virgilia Griffith, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Tawiah M'Carthy, Thomas Antony Olajide, and Jonathan Seinen
Body Politic by Nick Green
Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom by Jordan Tannahill
Gertrude & Alice by Evalyn Parry & Anna Chatterton
Lilies by Michel Marc Bouchard

Make a queer pop playlist for your COVID walks/runs

One of the primary things keeping me sane right now are my nightly runs through the empty streets of Toronto's west end (where I effectively maintain a two metre social distance from my fellow runners and would very much like more people to put effort into doing the same!). The runs have been aided by a playlist of energetic and escapist pop music that is largely drawn from the explosion of young LGBTQ pop stars the last few years has given us. Any hesitation I had being a man in his mid-30s running through the streets to music made by (and perhaps for) folks nearly half my age has melted in the "nothing matters" vibes of COVID times, and I highly recommended trying it out for yourselves!

Get started with:
"Curious" by Hayley Kiyoko
"Heart To Break" by Kim Petras
"Just like We Never Said Goodbye" by SOPHIE
"LOST BOY" by Troye Sivan
"All For You" by Years and Years

Download some queer CanLit audiobooks

Vivek Shraya. (Heather Saitz)

Music isn't the only audio option to keep you company on walks (or indoors while we clean our floors for the hundredth time). Audiobooks are here for us, and there's no shortage of recent options from the Canadian queer literary community that I suggest moving to the top of your Audible (or wherever you listen) queue. It's a little way to support our writers so that when this is all done, they'll have the means to write the words that help define our post-COVID existence.

Get started with:
I'm Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
Johnny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
Little Fish by Casey Plett
Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez
Sodom Exit Road by Amber Dawn

Actually get caught up on "peak queer TV"

Work in Progress. (Showtime)

Remember a month ago when the idea of ever getting caught up on how much great TV has been coming out in the last few years seemed legitimately impossible? That was then, and this is now: an opportunity to actually watch all of those shows, particularly the dozen or so exceptional series from queer creators that we've been lucky enough to get recently. It might be a while until production on new seasons of shows like Feel Good and Work in Progress can even start, but we'll sure be ready when they are.

Get started with:
Feel Good (Netflix)
Now Apocalypse (Starz/Crave) 
Pose (FX)
Vida (Starz/Crave)
Work in Progress (Showtime/Crave)

And then when you're done that, ensure you're just generally caught up on the best queer film and TV ever made

Carol. (Killer Films)

One thing I can promise: you aren't going to run out of quality queer content to watch while this is going on. What I've decided to do is write down every LGBTQ-themed film or TV series I want to watch (or re-watch) on little pieces of paper, placing them in a bowl. Every time I'm ready to take one on, I pull out a suggestion. It's a cute little way to boost what little morale remains in our self-isolations — that is, until you start talking to the bowl like it is your friend (which I am a week or two away from).

If you haven't seen anything on this list, I'd suggest adding them to your (metaphorical or literal) bowls:
All About My Mother (film by Pedro Almodovar)
Angels in America (TV miniseries adapting the play by Tony Kushner)
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (TV miniseries by Ryan Murphy)
But I'm a Cheerleader (film by Jamie Babbit)
Call Me By Your Name (film by Luca Guadagnino)
Carol (film by Todd Haynes)
Death in Venice (film by Luchino Visconti)
A Fantastic Woman (film by Sebastián Lelio)
Female Trouble (film by John Waters)
Fox and His Friends (film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (film by John Cameron Mitchell) 
High Art (film by Lisa Cholodenko)
I Killed My Mother (film by Xavier Dolan)
I've Heard The Mermaids Singing (film by Patricia Rozema)
The Kids in the Hall (TV series by Scott Thompson, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney)
Moonlight (film by Barry Jenkins)
My Beautiful Laundrette (Film by Stephen Frears)
One Mississippi (TV series by Tig Notaro)
Orlando (film by Sally Potter)
Outrageous! (film by Richard Brenner)
Pariah (film by Dee Rees)
Parting Glances (film by Bill Sherwood)
Please Like Me (TV series by Josh Thomas)
Portrait of Jason (film by Shirley Clarke)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (film by Celine Sciamma)
"The Puppy Episode" (Episode of the TV series Ellen, available entirely on YouTube)
Queer As Folk (the U.K. version of the TV series by Russell T. Davies)
Six Feet Under (TV series by Alan Ball)
Stranger By The Lake (film by Alain Guiraudie)
Tangerine (film by Sean Baker)
The Times of Harvey Milk (documentary film by Rob Epstein)
Torch Song Trilogy (film by Paul Bogart)
Weekend (film directed by Andrew Haigh)
Zero Patience (film directed by John Greyson)

Keep a reading/viewing log

This is the actual screening log the writer of this article has been maintaining. He promises it will soon start to actually reflect the suggestions he is making to you. (CBC Arts)

Maybe it'll be fun someday to look back at what you watched and read to fill your time during all of this? Or maybe we will never want to be reminded of that Saturday we didn't get dressed or brush our teeth and just watched all of Tiger King in one sitting. But either way, it's a way to feel a tiny bit accomplished through all of this!

Don't be too hard on yourself if you don't do any of this

If you prefer to spend your days sleeping, we don't blame you. But this is also a scene from Andrew Haigh's Weekend, a movie you should watch when you're ready to be awake. (IFC Films)

If reading these suggestions mostly just made you feel overwhelmed, fair enough. Finding a relaxed enough mindset to take anything on isn't exactly easy right now. So please don't allow this article to make you feel bad if your lockdown isn't going to be your own private crash course in LGBTQ art. But if you do feel energized by these suggestions, feel free to go down the queer content rabbit hole with me on social media and let me know what I should be adding to my own viewing/reading log.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also a stand-up comedian, the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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