Straight Outta Compton

I was late in seeing the movie, and I’ve been holding my reaction to it to myself through a sleepless night and a moist-eyed morning.

Last night, I saw “Straight Outta Compton,” and about half-way through the film I began weeping. The truth of the violence it displayed was so real, and felt awfully present (in Baltimore in the era of Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of the police). The tears emerged from a deep place of disappointment and fear.

I wept for the people we humans have become under capitalism (which turns all things into commodities) and imperialism (which establishes that those with the power to do so can dominate the world). (Sorry, that’s just the way I see it!) “Who have we become?” I cried to myself.

And as I judged the “lifestyle excesses” shown in the film, I thought of my own self-righteousness regarding other peoples’ male supremacy, heteronormative attitudes, substance abuse, violence, etc., etc. (And I kept wondering about my own life, my own short-comings: “What did I think in 1988? Where was I in 1992?” and so on).

I continued to wonder at the way I so easily can categorize people and build hierarchies. (We had a conversation today in the Transgender Day of Remembrance planning committee about “good trans” and “bad trans,” as I had certainly known “good gays/bad gays” in other times . . . and always argued that it was the job of the “good” gays never to isolate and “other” the “bad” gays–who were usually bad because they were too working-class or too revolutionary!) So my weeping was for the system, and for humanity, for the film’s protagonists and for my own distorted perception of all that is.

And then we (in the movie) moved on to HIV. Suddenly I was sitting at my partner Leonel’s bedside. I was with his family as they struggled with their sense of shame and loss. I was with his religious community that rejected him (when they figured out who he and I were to each other) and his family’s religious community that held him, especially if he was silent about his deepest truths. I was with my own family, too, and the shock in their eyes as I revealed a loss that they might have been better prepared for if I had let them know about my joy in my relationship with him. And I was with my astonishing grieving group of HIV-negative men whose partners had died of AIDS–just as the cocktail was being developed, just as men with access to health care were learning to deal with HIV as a chronic and manageable disease. 

I saw the film and was brought to a deep and confusing truth. And I left wanting to be part of changing the world as it is to a world that is more beautiful, good and true. “Let justice roll down like waters,” the prophets said, “and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” And even, I think, the streams that are our tears.

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