The State of Being Human, a documentary detailing the struggle of being gay in Alabama and other conservative regions will be showing at the Edge 12 Theater at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
In his unflinching look into the bigotry exhibited toward the gay community and how fundamental religious views can lead to institutionalized homophobia, writer and director David Merriman interviews individuals who grew up gay in Alabama.
Weld: In the film, you discuss watching a speech given by prominent Irish drag queen, Panty Bliss, and how your reaction made you realize your own homophobic preconceptions.
DM: As young kids in school, what’s the language we use when we are picking on people or to our friends when we are angry? People often use words like “faggot” and “queer.” These are how we label people regardless if they are a gay person or not. It’s used negatively. I think it comes from a place of discomfort with gay people; discomfort with our own masculinity. When I thought I saw a gay man in a dress, I found myself being uncomfortable with that in some way. I think it made me challenge my own masculinity. Kind of like a “what is that” moment.
I was really surprised with myself for having that kind of reaction. It was a reaction that in some ways—although it shouldn’t be– was innate because of how I was brought up. I was disturbed with that reaction because it was an incredibly moving speech. That was really the thing, the schoolyard words and the discomfort with seeing a gay person. The great thing about the speech is that Panty is talking about being gay and her own discomfort with being gay and looking in a mirror and trying not to look so gay or walking down the road trying to look more butch…Just hating herself for hating herself. That’s just terrible and an incredibly moving speech.
Weld: Religion plays a strong role in the cultural fabric of the two places you look at in the film—Alabama and your native Ireland. How does that shape the way people in those places interact with someone who is gay?
DM: In Ireland, if you were to go back about 15 years it would be very similar to the way it is in Alabama now. Because of the huge amount of scandals with pedophile priests that the Catholic Church did nothing about, it exploded in Ireland after it was revealed to the public. It really made a lot of people lose their faith in the Catholic Church and their religion. The more that people moved away from that, they started to question some of the things that the Catholic Church had presented as absolutes: relationships, birth control, gay people, parenting. All of these things came under fire.
The more that people started to move away from that and start thinking about these things for themselves the better it has become for members of the gay and lesbian community.
In May, two-thirds of the country—nearly 2 million people voted, basically everyone old enough to vote—voted yes [for legalizing same sex marriage]. I was a huge affirmation for gay people. Whereas here in Alabama we have places like Birmingham and Huntsville, which are kind of a bubble and there is a lot of acceptance for people being who they are. If you go out to the more rural communities, particularly where there is a great hold of fundamentalist religion, you see a more negative view of people in the gay and lesbian community. It’s very similar to where Ireland was 15 years ago.
Weld: The lynchpin of the whole documentary is the interview with Roy Moore. How did you approach that interview?
DM: It was a great debate but it was also very frustrating. I had to get him to sign a release for the film after the interview. So during the interview I kind of had one hand tied behind my back. He would take the conversation to places that would really make me angry and he was doing it on purpose. I had to keep pulling myself back.
To get ready I just studied his issues. Anyone that goes on YouTube can see when Roy Moore is asked a tough question he won’t answer it because truth and reason aren’t on his side. He will do one of two things: He will free associate. When I ask him about something he would say something like, ‘What about Charles Manson? Didn’t he marry members of his family?’ Or, “What about marrying your cousin or marrying a horse?’ He pivots away from the questions because he doesn’t have an answer.
The other thing he does is he monologues for 90 seconds to an obscure Thomas Jefferson quote that a lot of the time is taken out of context. After 90 seconds you forget what the question was in the first place.
I had studied him quite a bit and I was determined to catch him flat footed. So I structured my questioning in a way that we ramped up and after about 20 minutes of softballs we had a 55-minute discussion that got intense at times and I think it comes through in the film. A lot of people have told me they have discomfort when watching that part. He is the greatest example of anti-gay feelings. He represents the people in Alabama who think like he does, whether they admit that or not. It’s an important part of the film and I’m glad I got that in there.
The film, which premiered at this year’s Sidewalk Film Festival, is playing Thursday night only at 6 p.m. at the Edge 12 in the Crestwood Festival Center.