Gay in the Third World

by SCOTT HANDLEMAN

Dangerous Living is the moving new documentary about the joys and sorrows of life as a gay man or lesbian in the Third World. It has just been released on DVD. Dangerous Living was directed by John Scagliotti, the award-winning maker of Before Stonewall and After Stonewall (and, I should add, a friend).

The sweep of the Dangerous Living is vast, as it explores universal themes in the homosexual experience. In the span of an hour, it transports the viewer to the Middle East, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
The film’s counterpoint is the explosive growth of an open gay culture and identity in the West during the last century. Scagliotti contrast this with the relative invisibility of gay culture in the countries of the developing world, at least judged by western standards, up until the 1990s.

Foreign films and above all the internet brought gay culture to the developing world. In the 1990s, this catalyzed an explosion of public gay culture in cities like Cairo, manifested in cafes, discos, theatrical productions and indigenous films. Gays and lesbians had pride marches in such countries as Honduras and Namibia, all captured by the camera’s eye.

But the explosion of gay culture triggered a backlash from preachers and politicians. A major theme of the film is the persecution that gays and lesbians have suffered for their sexuality. The film is framed by the saga of the Cairo 52, thrown in prison for two years for the crime of attending a gay dance party. Dilcia Molina, a Honduran woman who dared to attend the Honduran pride march with face uncovered, told of having her home invaded by armed thugs. They cut her six-year-old son’s face and promised to come back and “take the lesbian out of her.” Both Molina and Ashraf Zanati, a Cairo 52 defendant interviewed for the film, emigrated to North America.

Another theme of the film is the thrill of clandestine sexuality, followed by the excitement of coming out. A Muslim man described the erotic spark when he grazed a neighbor’s finger during prostration at a mosque. Dilcia Molina intimated the pleasurable surprise of arriving at a lesbian dance party in her native Honduras. For Ging Cristobel, the principal pleasure of attending a lesbian film was being immersed in an audience of lesbians.

The film is fast-paced and visually appealing. It captures the colorful quality of gay culture—dancing drag queens, rainbow flags, a transsexual Thai kickboxer.

Because it covers so much ground geographically, the film leaves intriguing threads unwoven—especially, the welcoming of homosexuality in certain traditional cultures. I wish the film had spent more time with Vaasili, a tribal chief in Fiji who looked and sounded completely trans-gendered.

The film gives voice to voices seldom heard. For this reason alone, it is well worth watching.


 

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