I want to talk about the first time I ever saw a gay person on television. For me, it was when I saw a scene from The Birdcage played during the SAG Awards. Robin Williams was giving a stellar performance opposite Nathan Lane, as Armand Goldman and Albert Goldman respectively. For a child at the age I was, it didn’t all click with me what was happening- that two men were talking about their relationship together and how it was next to impossible for them to imagine life without the other. It almost went over my head, but thankfully, it didn’t.
That scene continued to stick with me. The two of them on a bench with the ocean as a backdrop certainly brings to mind ideas of romance. It wasn’t about a young couple looking to grow old together, but rather about an older couple talking about having grown old together. It was grim with William’s character saying he needed to buy a cemetery plot next to Lane’s because he couldn’t bear missing out on that time together. This was something I wanted in my life even if I was too young to contextualize it. To have that person I was able to give half my life too and get the same back. To have a partner who no matter what troubles came our way, albeit hilarious ones, we could handle them.
Later on, I was able to see the film in its entirety, and it’s a real, honest classic. Genuinely heartfelt and funny from start to finish. That scene by the pier remained just as powerful as when I had first seen it. These two men cared for one another in a way I was envious of and respected. I didn’t see it as something unusual or strange- it just made sense to me and this being my first exposure to it was extremely impactful and relatable. I appreciated the brilliant juxtaposition of the huge romantic setting and our minds immediately going one way before being pulled in another. Yes, life was going to be kind of hard, and yes, GAY PEOPLE EXIST who have the same trials and tribulations that everyone has in relationships.
I understood this want, this desire, and liked how life in the film wasn’t sugar coated. It was hard and rocky all the way through their relationship, as most things worth having in life turn out to be. It immediately humanizes these people and their situation. Certainly it wasn’t the first film to examine these elements, but it handled more than I would have expected and with characters I had not been exposed to. This film and those performances offered me access to a different culture and gave me an immediate appreciation for it. It’s never lost that impact on me and I’m thankful The Birdcage got to be the first time I saw gay representation.
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