for queers, cinema acts as a road map to self-discovery. That's why we have the great gay pastime of post-movie drinks or coffee, where arguing over the queer politics of a film can escalate into nasty finger-pointing:
"I think the women killers in Baise-Moi are dyke heroes."
"You're joking, right?"
"Hannibal is a homophobic mess."
"Oh, you're so pious."
I love the fact that we react so strongly to movies.
Many queer men and women pay close attention to what happens onscreen because we've spent much of our lives looking at movies to get some clues as to who we are, or too often, who we shouldn't be.
I know from my own experience growing up that I positioned myself as an outsider, questioning gender politics without even realizing it.
Why did I want to be James Dean and not Natalie Wood in Rebel Without A Cause? Hell, I would have settled for Sal Mineo. The confusion over who I identified with in movies marked me even though I kept quiet about it.
Then I was thrown for another loop when I discovered who I was attracted to.
I remember the first time I saw Up The Down Staircase as a kid and was smitten by Sandy Dennis, who played a young teacher in a tough New York City high school.
Her flighty, nervous energy would not be a turn-on for most, but to me, a girl with deeply buried lesbian tendencies, it worked like a charm.
It took years and years to figure out why Sandy Dennis, the Bionic Woman, Bette Davis and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, of course) made me sit up and pay attention in our ratty basement easy chair.
Those were the pleasant movie lessons. What wasn't so nice was the realization that the women I identified with, the ones I was attracted to, were viewed as freaks and losers.
The talented and beautiful Sandy Dennis was increasingly cast as a neurotic loony (check out Alan Alda's Four Seasons) as her career progressed, and dear Bette Davis took out a celebrated "job wanted" ad in 1961 to find work.
And who knows exactly how many queer men were devastated by movies like Boys In The Band, Cruising or An Officer And A Gentleman, where language does the damage, the term "faggot" literally spat by macho soldiers at new recruits.
But as we mature, we don't need to study movies as closely as we once did. We know the routes, where we'll end up if we take a certain journey. I know almost from the moment a film like The Next Best Thing starts that it will be a crashing bore and won't inform me, or straight audiences, about what it really feels like to be gay.
But there are always surprises, gems like Straightman, Boys To Men or Go Fish that hold up a mirror to show us from new angles and don't make us flinch in shame.
Does this tell us something about the state of queer cinema? Well, that depends on which queer cinema we're talking about.
Are you thinking about slick, Hollywood-approved product like The Broken Hearts Club, or something along the lines of Barbara Hammer's latest experimental work that screened during the Inside Out Lesbian And Gay Film And Video Festival?
Does Chuck & Buck get your juices flowing? Does Before Night Falls inspire you? How do you compare Aimée & Jaguar to But I'm A Cheerleader?
Queer filmmaking is now so varied that it can define our community, but only if we describe that community as wildly diverse.