Torch Song Trilogy (1988)

Everyone has those movies, music or books that empower them. For whatever reason, the art speaks to them. Torch Song Trilogy – among others – is one of those films for me. I’m not homosexual, and while I often wore dresses in my punk rock days to piss people off, I’m certainly not a drag queen. But I was, am now, and will forever root for the underdog. The outsider.

Arnold Beckoff is one of my heroes. Harvey Fierstein a constant inspiration.

If memory serves, I saw the play first. Off-off Broadway on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. I was sixteen or seventeen years old at the time and how I wound up seeing that particular play at that particular time is beyond me. I went alone, I remember that much. As I said before, I wasn’t gay. I wasn’t even questioning my sexuality as so many folks do at that age. But there I was, sitting in a theater full of middle-aged men and I was completely enthralled. We were all there for different reasons, but we all left the theater a little more complete than when we walked in.

And here’s the thing. The queer struggle was my struggle. The African-American struggle was my struggle. We were all outsiders. Nobody gave a shit about any of us. I was a teenage anarchist (See also: Against Me) with a southern Baptist acolyte for a mother. Let’s just say tolerance wasn’t her forte. We had a rocky relationship. A rocky relationship that stayed that way until the day she died.

There’s one more thing you better understand. I have taught myself to sew, cook, fix plumbing, build furniture – I can even pat myself on the back when necessary – all so I don’t have to ask anyone for anything. There’s nothing I need from anyone except for love and respect and anyone who can’t give me those two things has no place in my life.

You want to talk about empowering? I’ve had this conversation with my own mother. Maybe not the exact wording. But the context? That’s familiar ground. I’ve been there. I get it. Some things are universal, regardless of who you choose to love.

It doesn’t hurt that Harvey Fierstein is funny. Naturally funny. It would be all too easy to portray Arnold Beckoff as bitter. And while he certainly has his ups and downs, his humor continues to lift him back again. That’s my kind of hero.

Matthew Broderick and Brian Kerwin play the two great loves of Beckoff’s life. Love that ends in despair, tragedy and begins again with a kind of resigned happiness. Anne Bancroft is a tour de force as Beckoff’s mother, full of rage, disappointment and trace amounts of redeeming love.

Cliché as it is, Torch Song Trilogy is one of the movies that made me.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think my biggest problem is being young and beautiful. It’s my biggest problem because I’ve never been young and beautiful. Oh, I’ve been beautiful, and God knows I’ve been young, but never the twain have met.

About the author

M. Ruin

View all posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *