24 January 2009

The Life of Harvey

Tonight Dominick and I went to see Milk. Of course, we are both intensely interested in the subject, and I've been a fan of Sean Penn ever since I saw Dead Man Walking. But I wondered just how good of a film it would be.

Well, it exceeded my expectations. It's the sort of movie that demands that the people in it are given their due complexity and emotional weight. The film delivers on that count. Having Sean Penn play the film's eponymous protagonist helps, but I think the script is good because the other players, particularly Dan White, are shown through their conflicts with themselves and others.

The film also made me realize something about Harvey Milk: that he lived most intensely, and accomplished everything for which he is remembered today, within the last eight years of his life. As Milk begins, he's tape-recording a message he intended to be heard if he were assasinated. You might say that he anticipated his demise, although he probably didn't guess that Dan White would kill him as well as mayor George Moscone.

After we see Milk recording himself, we see him the day before he turns forty, cruising another gay man in a New York City subway station. At the time, he's a closeted "suit" for an insurance company; soon, he and his new lover drive to San Francisco, where one of the world's most famous gay communities was forming in the Castro district. There, they live openly as themselves for the first time in their lives, and the ostracism and sometimes violence they experience propels him into activism.

If I had seen the film when I was younger, I probably would have cheered when they "dropped out" of the rat race and became, in essence, hippies during their first couple of years in the City Improper, as San Franciscans like to call their home town. You might say I did something like that when, a week after I graduated college, I flew to London with no itinerary and nothing but an open-end return ticket, my bicycle, a couple of changes of clothing, my camera, two blank journal books and a bunch of condoms. A couple of years ago, I confessed to my mother that the trip, which I claimed was for educational and cultural purposes, was really a way of running away. I think she already knew that; maybe she knew that one day I'd acknowledge that fact.

Since I saw the movie tonight, and not earlier in my life, Two Buddies on a Great Road Trip Adventure wasn't its appeal to me. Rather, it's the fact that Harvey Milk in essence began his life as he neared middle age and lived all of his life, really, in those last eight years. I'd say there's a parallel to my own life. I started dating Tammy just before I turned forty. She is the first person to whom I openly acknowledged my female self. The only problem was that I allowed her to think that I was merely cross-dressing; after three years I saw that woman in Saint Jean de Maurienne who, simply by crossing paths with me, made me realize that I could not continue to live as a man. The funny thing is that Tammy acknowledged that I was destined to live as a woman before I was willing to make such an admission about myself. And it was the reason why she ended our relationship.

Now I am only five months and two weeks from my surgery. I feel that the path to my current life opened as I was about to turn forty; I began to follow it shortly after I turned forty-three. At forty-five, I changed my name and began to live by it. During the past seven years, I have begun to learn about my body, as I mentioned yesterday, and more important, about how to live by the dictates of my spirit.

Somehow I see myself entering yet another phase of my life. Of course, it has to do with my impending surgery. But I don't think that surgery is the only factor in the changes that are coming. I have a feeling that I might be headed in a new direction, career-wise and creatively. The classes I'm about teach and take may lead me into, or out of, some vocational path. So might the collaborations I have been discussing with a choreographer and two professors. Any or all them might lead me in some direction I can't yet envision.

So...I existed until my forties, when I started to live. And at fifty I might be headed for another life. Harvey Milk didn't expect to live to be fifty; so perhaps I have a challenge and opportunity he didn't have.

It seems that lots of people don't begin to live as fully-realized human beings until they're forty or later. What happened back when people only lived to thirty? How many Harvey Milks were there?

I'm glad that at least there was one of him, and he was the one we had. Now I know a little bit more about how to live.