Please read my interview in Chapter 2 of the gay ebook Q&A New Voices. That project tries to educate the public about diversity within the lesbian/gay/bi/trans community, while also exposing misconceptions about us.
When I first saw Torch Song Trilogy, I had only seen a few movies that included gay characters, and most of those showed gays in both a limited and a negative role. Certainly, none of them came close to exploring how I felt as a gay man.
This movie changed that. I watched with amazement at how much Harvey Fierstein’s character matched my life and expressed how I felt. Actually, I wasn’t a gravel-voiced, Jewish drag queen who sang torch songs, but Harvey’s outlandish character experienced the same need for love and acceptance that other gays experience. In fact, he even manages to capture the universal desire for all people to know love of every kind.
Fierstein adapted the screenplay from his Tony-winning drama of the same title, bringing it to the big screen in 1988. Though parts of it might seem dated, the struggles of his character (Arnold) continue to epitomize the struggles of gays and lesbians everywhere.
Of course, Fierstein gets helps from great co-stars like Anne Bancroft (as Arnold’s mother), Brian Kerwin (as Arnold’s lover at the beginning of the movie), and Matthew Broderick (as the new man that Arnold slowly learns to trust). Despite seeing this movie countless times, I still feel empathy for Arnold in his struggles. I also still feel ambivalence toward the way he treats his mother; despite her flaws, I think she really wants to understand and love unconditionally.
Overall, I can’t think of many gay movies that I suggest as readily or as often as Torch Song Trilogy. Watch it. Then watch it again. I certainly will.