*Dear reader, this is an open letter to filmmaker Travis Mathews. Its intent it to initiate discussion as well as introduce you to the important work of this amazing filmmaker.
First of all, please let me congratulate you on your third installation of In Their Room London. I have not seen the two prior, but I will most certainly be looking to find them soon. I wanted to say thank you for showing an honest, very intimate, and sincere portrayal of the vulnerability of gay men. Your film invited us into a space all too familiar, yet so strange, risky, and confusing. We are all searching for love, for honesty, for touch, for support, for a big spoon, for a little spoon, for someone to breathe ever so slightly on the back of your neck, for a fuck, for a rush, for a moment. We are searching for the things we lack, the things we desire, the things we missed out on, the things we want to be, and the things that will never be again. You, and the boys in the cast, are remarkable men and I thank you for sharing your stories with us.
First: Nudity, Censorship, and Imagining the Gay Man
In the Q&A session after the films, an audience member asked about your use of graphic images, nudity and sex. In my opinion, he seemed to have missed the mark on the point of the film. He himself was advocating for further censorship to permit for a wider reading of your work, arguing that while the messages were poignant and important for a larger audience, the film self-limiting because of the nudity and sexual scenes.
I think you really illustrated in your response the importance of not limiting your work to the idea of catering to the masses. We live in an age where images and portrayals of gay men have become so twisted, fake, and mainstreamed. From gay men washed as “normal” or gay men painted in florescent pink, we are constantly inundated with these falsities that help construct our own views, feelings, and insecurities about being a gay man. Your movie exposed the reality of our deep rooted and constantly reinforced vulnerabilities and insecurities when it comes to sex, image, relationships, and intimacy.
I have never seen, on screen, gay men in such a vulnerable state as in your film. It filled me with such a pain and a rage. I think gay men would be stronger as individuals if they took the time to see films like yours. It gave us an intimate look into about how we currently look for love, touch, a fuck, that moment, that feeling, that desire. It takes a look at how we struggle to find meaning in ourselves, often through our transient sexual relationships with strangers. There is no possible way to censor honesty, and I thank you for making me feel a part of something through your film.
Second: Interior and saying no to NOrmal
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s new anthology, Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? For me, the central message was more of a poignant question: Why are we trying so hard to be like straight people? Why are we giving up on the “queer” identity and identities that were built so strongly by our LGBT ancestors?
(This is mainly to give my readers context) Franco directly addresses this point during Interior via a discussion with the protagonist Val, a character wrought with insecurities, judgment and fear. A confused soul, Val tries to understand Franco’s mission in this project. Franco uses sex as the protagonist in his own thesis to explain to Val that the way we have been conditioned and socialized has rendered us utterly mind-fucked in terms what is and what isn’t right, what is OK and what is perverse. Franco is visibly pissed off that society, and all its foot soldiers, have taken control of his mind and trained him and others to think a certain way about gay men, and especially, gay sex. He argues that what is “normal” is a construct, and a dangerous one that makes us scared of the different and the queer.
In other words, I applaud the film’s reaction to, in my opinion, the normalizing of gay men, gay sex, and gay relationships. I think that the message of “if we are more like them, they will accept us more” is lazy and problematic.
Lastly: Technology, Cruising, and a Loss of Gay Culture?
I thought the pairing of your film and Interior was interesting from a historical and cultural perspective. My friend who joined me lamented on the way home how technology has basically superseded the necessity of more subtle indicators of the cruising culture, such as the bandana codes. A leather culture enthusiast, he worried that gay men have completely forgot their cultural history. While I agree with him that an appreciation and knowledge of cultural history is very important, this is not a “gay man” issue, as cultural history is often lost on many. However, I think the pairing provided an opportunity to look at how important the historical cruising culture was, particularly, its various intricacies and what it meant to be gay at a time where the nuances of “In Their Room” were completely unavailable.
Thank you again for your films and your work. I’ve become an instant fan.
I encourage everyone to go and see both films whenever they become available in your city. Also, please visit Travis’ website .