By Dan White
October 8, 2016: Who's the fork? Thank You for gathering us to discuss this important film “A Very Natural Thing”. This was the first mainstream film to feature a gay love story! People (even gays) had never seen a gay relationship on the big screen of the neighborhood movie theater!
As the LGBT's began to become a tribe we needed definition. This was one of the reasons this film is so very important.
I was there at the screening in question. On that day in the mid seventies, in the Maplewood theater a very important epiphany hit me. Allow me to explain.
I'll skip the lecture of physiologic and psychological effects that happen while watching a movie in a theater in the company of hundreds.
I had graduated from college and was trying to get a toe hold in my career but more importantly I was finding the company of others like me.
I have a vivid memory of a scene in this film. The two had been apart and were rejoining for dinner served in the living room. Neither were very hungry. They were too excited to just be back together. They stood up, embraced and softly kissed.
For the first time in my life I KNEW what that felt like! For almost a quarter of a century I had been forced to “interpret” the love scenes, to guess what a big screen kiss felt like. Imagine myself as the heroine being swept up into his arms as the music swelled.
No THIS I knew! I had felt it. I knew the electricity, the feel of lips, the comfort of embrace. This WAS ME!
I remember thinking: so this is what everybody else feels watching a movie kiss! No wonder there are so many! This revelation went deeper, it showed me being “gay” was more than what brought sexual climax! There was more to it. More to me! I was part of a “tribe” a “people”...and we are different!
Perhaps the second most important realization to hit young LGBT's is when we find we are not alone!
Many people point to the Stonewall riots in June of 1969 as a time when the homosexuals came together as a people. I point to the drag queen arrests on Halloween here in St. Louis that year. When the brave people from a group called the Mandrake Society formed a phone tree and urged their members to leave the safety of being hidden and come to the aid of other homosexuals. It was historically the right time for a people to come together as a group.
For 600 years western culture had done its best to hide all mention of homosexuality, to erase any of their contributions and to paint them as monsters.
I refer you to the monumental work of Vito Russo: “The Celluloid Closet” for descriptions of how homosexuals had to die in every film.
Here was a movie, perhaps the first in this culture to show a homosexual love story. It was not a sex film loop that could be watched in a dirty, smelly booth down on Grand and Gravois.
With a working title of (For As Long As Possible): “A Very Natural Thing” helped to portray as well as to define just what our relationships are all about. It stands not only as a history of life in the seventies (scenes filmed inside the Club Baths, or at the Pines of Fire Island). It promises us we can define just how we relate and form bonds outside of the hetero-normitive formula. All to often our view of a relationship today is still based on a heterosexual marriage. We don't have to be either a fork or a spoon!
In this effort, it is as fresh and challenging today as that day in the mid seventies when a slightly uncomfortable young man, surrounded by others like him, watched two men kiss on the big screen. It reminds us that we don't have to become “purple-painted straight people!”
Remarks given by Dan White at the St. Louis LGBT History Project and Missouri History Museum's second annual LGBT History Month event held on October 6, 2016. At the event, the film A Very Natural Thing (1974) was screened. In May 1977, the St. Louis Task Force for Human Rights held a fundraiser screening of the movie, that was among the first mainstream movies centered around a postive gay relationship. Held at the Maplewood Theatre, the fundraiser raised an impressive $1,000 to help fight Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade. At the Missouri History Museum, Rick Garcia who helped organized the 1977 event, and Dan White who attended, spoke about St. Louis' LGBT activism in the 1970s.
Photo: Rick Garcia (left), Dan White (right)