Sexuality, Religion, and Science As Seen Through "Twilight of the Gods"
Within the first ten minutes of Twilight of the Golds, it is clear that both Judaism and homosexuality play a role in the Gold family. The family is at least culturally Jewish, if not more, and the son David (Brendan Fraser), is portrayed to be gay. Yet neither “gay” nor “Jewish” is actually mentioned until much later in the film. What are the methods that the film uses to construct gayness and Jewishness? And are these constructions depicted as being cultural, ethnic, biological or genetic? How does the film use these constructions to make a statement about the ethical implications of genetic testing? And finally what are the interactions between Jewishness and gayness in the movie? All of these questions focus on the deliberate decisions made by the writers and directors of this film to make a statement. The statement is that both homosexuality and Jewishness are cultural as well as biological phenomena, and genetic testing is not very helpful since both identities are so malleable and multifaceted, and since they interact in such complex ways.
Twilight of the Golds was originally a play written by Jonathan Tolins. It opened on Broadway in 1993. The play was then adapted for a television movie directed by Ross Kagan Marks that was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997. The movie centers on the Gold family and their struggle with the genetic test results of Suzanne (Jennifer Beals) and Rob’s (Jon Tenney) unborn child. The results predict that the baby will be homosexual, and Suzanne is contemplating aborting the child. The plot is complicated by the fact that Suzanne’s brother David, is gay as well. Moreover, he is not completely accepted by his somewhat conservative family.
There has been a good deal of literature written about both homosexuality and Jewishness, and some literature that has been written about both. Abba Borowich writes about the failed reparative therapy of Orthodox Jewish homosexuals as attempted by an Orthodox Jewish psychiatrist. Jeffrey Satinover worked with both men and women in hopes that their common religious background would increase the effectiveness of his treatment (Borowich). This article supports the theory that homosexuality is an inborn trait, providing a basis for the message that the movie sends.
The article “Gay, Jewish, or Both?” by Steven M. Cohen, Caryn Aviv, and Ari Y. Kelman focuses on the intersections of gayness and Jewishness. The article begins by stating that most of the time gay Jews choose to privilege one identity over the other, however “this sense of split identities is not unique to gay and lesbian Jews, but their strong identification with these two American minority groups fosters patterns of engagement that are distinct to this population” (Cohen, Aviv and Kelman 156). The concept of the double taboo applies in this circumstance. But how large is this population, and how does the “double taboo” affect their lives? In fact, seven percent of American Jews are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. They are more likely to find long-term partners and close friends who are not Jewish, which may pose serious consequences for their levels of engagement in Jewish life. It is therefore not surprising to learn that compared with heterosexual Jews, gay Jews score substantially lower on all measures of Jewish engagement (Cohen, Aviv and Kelman). Clearly this group of people has a difficult time managing their multiple identities.
Yaron Peleg discusses the history of the masculinization of Jews and how that has carried into modern Jewish culture. Peleg agrees with the claim that suggests that early Zionism involved a sort of gender revolution that called for “European Jews to shed their perceived effeminate characteristics and become more masculine as part of the creation of a renewed Jewish nation in Palestine” (Peleg 31). This masculinization can ironically be seen in contemporary gay literature in Israel, which has since adopted and altered this model to normalize Israeli gay men through masculine associations involving military service (Peleg). Perhaps these early thoughts on masculinity have shaped common thoughts about homosexuality, especially in the United States where military service is not nearly as common as it is in Israel. Could this be one of the reasons why gay Jews have a hard time with their various identities?
In her article, Judith Rosen-Berry writes about another reason why it is difficult for gay Jews to be accepted by the Jewish community. Her explanation dates all the way back to the Bible. In the Bible, there is a passage that can be interpreted to mean that sexual relationships are intended to be solely between male and female (Rosen-Berry). So for those who live their lives according to the Bible, homosexuality clearly becomes an issue. In “Introducing the Gay Gene Media and Scientific Representations,” David Miller talks about the media frenzy following the supposed discovery of a gene sequence that predicts homosexuality. Just the fact that this sequence was discovered is a huge step for the biological theory of homosexuality. And the media responded very positively about this news (Miller). It seemed as if the obvious implications for genetic testing were not a concern. The media took the stance that knowledge was power, and the fact that homosexuality is a historically discriminated characteristic was overlooked.
Finally, Randal Schnoor’s article is about negotiating the intersecting identities of being both gay and Jewish. Schnoor brings up many fascinating points about these identities after interviewing gay Jewish men in Toronto. He comes up with a continuum of how these people deal with their two conflicting identities. The three main types of people that he discusses are lifestylers, commuters, and integrators. While lifestylers fully commit themselves to one of their identities, commuters switch between the two, rarely uniting them. Integrators attempt to combine both their Jewishness and gayness (Schnoor). It would seem that David falls under the category of a commuter, as he tries to separate his family life from his personal life.
When David is with his family, he rarely brings up his sexuality. In the beginning of the movie he makes a comment about Steve (Sean O’Bryan) not being invited over, and about his favorite legally recognized couple. These are signals that the writers use to inform the audience that David is gay. He raves about opera, another hint to the audience. But the viewers don’t really get to see that side of David until he is in his own apartment with his partner. His place is not very traditional, and it is looks artsy, modern and eclectic. David is very comfortable with his sexuality in the presence of his partner, and seems to dismiss his family life. He mocks Suzanne at one point, and later denounces his family for not accepting him. The example that really brings to light David’s balancing of his identities is how his partner does not interact with David’s family. David speaks about how his father will never accept Steven as he did with Suzanne’s boyfriends. Towards the end of the movie, we see an integration of these two lives when Steven and David’s father play tennis together, and when the father invites Steven over for lunch. But for most of the movie, David is struggling with how he can find stability with his two identities.
David’s situation is made all the more complicated by the film’s stance that homosexuality is primarily an inborn trait. First, the accuracy of the genetic testing performed on Suzanne’s child is rarely questioned. It is accepted that if the gene predicts it, the child will be gay. There is only a small mention of how perhaps raising the child in a certain manner could prevent its fate. This option is quickly discarded. Additionally, Walter Gold (Gerry Marshall) is initially portrayed as a loving, caring and accepting father. His image is shattered when Walter declares that he thinks David is “sick and diseased.” Although insulting, this claim shows that Walter does believe that David’s homosexuality is not a choice. Perhaps that is why he seems to care for his son so much – because David cannot help his condition. Yet despite all of this, there is never any suggestion that David is a different type of person because of his sexuality. He may be viewed by his father as sick and diseased but he is never seen as abnormal. He is still part of the family, and he is still cared about. There is also no way to immediately tell that David is gay. There are no markers on his body that expose his homosexuality. So there is a part of that concept that still ties in to cultural aspects, even though it is mostly viewed as inborn.Continued on Next Page »