Charleston is just a few miles north of Bangor on Route 15. When you come over the hill, you know you’re in Charleston because you can see the old U.S. Air Force base that is now a correctional facility. Including the 145 or so prisoners the state website says live there now, published reports of the town population haven’t changed much since the 19th century.
According to the “History of Charleston, Maine,” written by George Varney back in 1886, the population of the town was about 1,100 people. The U.S. Census Bureau puts that number at roughly 1,300 today.
Seems that’s what happens in sleepy little rural towns — not much changes in even a hundred or more years. And when stuff does change, sometimes there’s a shock to the core that the locals could have trouble accepting.
That willingness to take on a century and a half of stillness may be the most impressive part of the minidocumentary produced by Charleston native and resident Michael Dean Gray. He might not call himself a filmmaker or a documentarian, but he’s both. And the eight-minute tale he has posted on You-tube is clever and poignant and evidence of a great deal of courage displayed by its 22-year-old creator. You can find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxfWl1vA1u4.
The video is titled “We’re (Not) Straight,” and it is Gray’s attempt to explain to his small town and his profoundly religious community that he’s gay and it is beyond his control. In the video, he explains, “The one fact that virtually all gay people want you to know is this: Being homosexual is not a choice. Why would we choose to be different, preached against, condemned, alienated, looked down upon, misunderstood, discriminated against, made fun of, prayed for … ?”
Additionally, he explains in the film’s narrative that overcoming fear and dislike of gays is the first thing a homosexual in a prejudiced society has to do for himself or herself. Gray confesses in his film, “Out of all of the people I have met who were against homosexuality, the one person who disapproved of my liking guys the most … was me.”
Gray explains that whom he likes is hard-wired. “Imagine this: You’re at your school, walking down the hallway. Suddenly, at the other end of the building, you see your crush walking toward you. You’ve liked this person for months but never built up the courage to act. Your crush passes by you with a glance, and your stomach flips as your heart speeds up.
“Gay males like myself don’t get this feeling for females.”
The only way to do Gray’s work justice would be to reproduce every line of it and not just print excerpts. But then you wouldn’t get to see this devoutly religious man’s face and hear his voice as he quotes Scripture, explaining that he has turned his life over to God and that God kept him gay.
Sadly, Gray isn’t the only filmmaker who got attention this week. Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi was the subject of a video secretly recorded of him engaging in consensual relations with another man. It is alleged that his roommate circulated this video of Clementi, who a few days later jumped from the George Washington Bridge.
Dr. Caitlin Ryan, working with San Francisco State University, published a study in 2009 citing that gay teens “who were rejected by their families for being LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual or Transgendered) were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide.”
If you believe the media stories written about Clementi, he was still closeted to his family at the time of his suicide. So being exposed in the video likely triggered a fear of rejection that landed him in that eight-times-as-likely category.
Right now, the roommate and his friend alleged to have videotaped Clementi aren’t facing murder charges. And they won’t; at least not in court. But who ever made that film terrorized a young man and lit the fuse that lead to his death.
That’s the thing that makes Michael Dean Gray so amazing. Gray’s film doesn’t condemn society for thinking less of him. Instead, it fearlessly attempts to educate people. And in a country where gays are often terrorized, that took some courage.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@ hotmail.com.