James Broughton made some interesting independent short films many decades ago, and he was a fine poet, as the brief extracts from his work in this well-made documentary clearly demonstrate. But was he a "gay hero," as so many viewers of this film seem to think?
First, Broughton was apparently bisexual, going back and forth between male and female partners over a long period of years, as the film clearly shows. After leaving his first wife (Pauline Kael) and their young daughter, he appears to have taken up with his male filmmaking partner. After that relationship cooled, he married another woman, and they had two children. Then, around age 60, he left his second wife and two small kids for a much, much younger student (35 years younger), who happened to be male. Broughton's later poems celebrate this erotic relationship of a much older man and a much younger man, and have become iconic to some gay readers, especially those in so-called Fairie circles.
So what we have here is a man who married a woman and had kids not once, but twice. Marry once, it might be accident; but twice? So, more than once he selfishly produced children, then selfishly abandoned them. As for his taking up with Joel, the student, it's the old, old story: aging male academic begins torrid affair with much younger student. Why? "My wife doesn't understand me...my conventional marriage and the burdens of child-rearing are stifling my artistic impulses..and my new, much younger, much hotter lover makes me feel alive again; the sex is hot, hot, hot, so to hell with my wife and kids!"
If Broughton had left his family for a young female student instead of a male one, would anyone be celebrating that act? We might sympathize with him, and those he hurt might forgive him, but we would hardly call him a hero for being ruled by his penis. Yet Broughton's gay admirers seem to think his abandonment of his family was a heroic act, because by doing so he came out (though not for the first time, apparently). This type of mindless adulation is all too typical of the often clueless Fairie types, who seem incapable of exercising moral judgment, maintaining the old hippie ethos of "if it feels good, do it." It felt good when Broughton made those three children; it felt good when he found a hot young lover and abandoned them. Never mind the three damaged children who grew up without the man who chose to create them.
This type of behavior is no more admirable when practiced by a heterosexual like Eugene O'Neill, whose self-serving actions were perhaps even more egregious than those of Broughton; see my review at this site of "Eugene O'Neill: A Documentary Film" in the PBS series "The American Experience."
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