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The 'Moonlight' Oscar Win Celebrates A Piece Of Art That Will Save Lives

28/02/2017 17:40
Kevork Djansezian via Getty Images

We need more frames of reference in mainstream cinema, theatre and media to accurately represent the diversity of the LGBT+ experience

If your understanding of LGBT+ people came from popular culture, you'd probably have a very narrow notion of what it means to be queer.

Moonlight's winning Best Picture at the Oscars on Sunday is so much more than an accolade; it will expand the mainstream frame of reference of the LGBT+ experience.

And, even as a queer man, I have a newfound appreciation for how critical this expansion really is.

My partner has been really sick over the past year - he has just had major surgery and is still in recovery. We've spent a lot of time in hospital together and whenever things were really bad I would be by his bedside, but I'd keep having these existential moments where it was easier to see my life as a work of fiction, rather than reality.

Sometimes it was a film, others it was a play or a novel. But in any of these iterations, the same image kept coming into my head; my partner in a hospital gown, me holding his hand and him dying of AIDS.

I hated myself for thinking this. I hated myself for thinking this because he wasn't dying of AIDS and that felt belittling both to people with AIDS and his own illness. It felt like I was playing into the latent homophobia we experienced every time we would turn up to an emergency room.

Whenever nurses saw that we were a gay couple, they would ask if he had been tested for HIV, even though his actual illness had already been diagnosed and his symptoms were always the same.

It just felt like this massive cliché. Being my only frame of reference of a same-sex couple in hospital together, my own experience had somehow been forced into this narrative that wasn't mine.

That frame of reference became really dangerous for me because in all of those instances, the partner dies. So my brain became stuck on a loop, a loop which didn't end well.

Gay love has been reinvented and re-imagined since the AIDS crisis and I feel so fortunate that I grew up in an era where even to conceive of loving someone didn't mean reconciling with potential loss.

But my experience of being a carer for my partner made me really appreciate how important representation of the full gamut of queer experience is. I so craved for something - a story, a film, a play that I had read where the partner lives, where there was hope.

Art and literature is the basis of my frame of reference, it's how I've learnt to conceive the world and I think that's probably true for a lot of people. If that's the case, we need more queer love stories that aren't full of hardship, that are more than the struggles of coming out, where those lovers are allowed to be happy because in times of hardship we cling to them like a lifebelt.

I'm currently in rehearsal for a one-person show called RUN about Yonni, a 17-year-old gay Jewish boy who's falling in love for the first time. What I admire most about Stephen Laughton's writing is that despite their religion, the play isn't about how Judaism keeps Yonni and Adam apart, but how it brings them together.

We need art that gives queer people hope. If I feel this, as a queer white man, I can only imagine how it might feel for others across LGBTQI spectrum. For many other queer people who haven't been afforded the same visibility as white gay men, I'm aware stories like Moonlight are more than lynchpins of hope; they are art that save lives.

The irony isn't lost on me; the stories of the AIDS crisis were surely born from the same desire - to preserve life, to allow those who died an eternity in art.

So, in spite of the initial fear that frame of reference gave me, I now feel profoundly grateful for the affiliation with older gay men that this experience has given me and how, without those stories and the people who enshrined them into queer history, I would have felt even more alone.

So I'm not suggesting we forget - in fact, quite the opposite. This is a call to pick up the mantle from those pioneering artists who have paved the way for us to tell new queer stories - stories that aren't laden with the aching history of struggle.

As my partner continues to recover, I'm starting to write my own queer love story, in the hope that maybe one day when a couple finds themselves in hospital and in despair, they know they can have a happier ending too.

RUN plays at The Bunker 20 March - 1 April at 7.30pm (with Thurs, Sat and Sun matinee at 3pm) Tickets available here

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