A Queer Romance: Gay Characters and Male Bonding in Early Film (video)

Let me begin my saying that I hope the readers and followers of the blog have managed to remain healthy during the current situation.

Looking at social media, many people have done their best to remain active and busy during the lockdowns that are going on around the world. I also needed a new project, and so I purchased some very basic video editing software and decided to revisit the research I did for my PhD and book on gay characters in silent film. My plan was to create a short video about it, lasting about ten minutes – but it ended up at 68 minutes instead.

“A Queer Romance” is a video essay, written and narrated by yours truly and covering gay characters and romantic friendships in European and American film up to 1934. Clips are included from three dozen movies, some of which are obscure or hard to find. Sadly, a couple of edits had to be made when uploading the finished product to YouTube due to copyright claims on a couple of clips – I could have argued the case given that my use falls under “fair use,” but given the current situation I just thought it best to make a couple of edits and upload it anyway or I could potentially be sitting on the video for weeks.

Hopefully the video will be of interest to some of you. Stay safe.

Breaking Point: An Introduction

I don’t write for my various blogs as much as I used to. I still write as much online, but it just seems to end up in forums or Facebook groups. But I did want to take a few minutes out from my really busy life (note the sarcasm) to say a few words about the playscript of Breaking Point that I have just published.

I published the novel of Breaking Point back in 2013, and then an expanded version in 2019, alongside a sequel called Breaking Down. You can see where this is going. Before long we’ll have Breaking Up, Breaking Out, Breaking Wind… OK, perhaps not. They are not going to happen. And I shouldn’t really joke because Breaking Point is very important to me, as it’s a hard-hitting story about homophobic bullying in schools, but it’s not just the victim’s story, it’s the bully’s and the teacher’s too. And Breaking Down (the sequel) looks into the after-effects of bullying – again, through the eyes of all victims, bullies, and teachers. The long term mental health effects are very much to the fore here.

But I wanted to talk about the play because it was written long before the novel. It started life as a script for a short film back in 2002, which never got made for various reasons. I then turned it into a full-length film – which also didn’t get made, and then wrote it for the stage around 2009. Because I wrote the novel afterwards, and could put much more into that longer format, I tended to forget about the play, but every so often I found the files on the computer and thought “I must take another look at that.” When I finally did look at it last autumn, I surprised myself at how well it worked as a play – and also how far it tapped into certain things that would become commonplace during the last decade (such as online bullying). But I knew I couldn’t publish it without changing a few things here and there, and so set to work.

The second act needed most work, as it was rather flimsy in its original form, and so I went back to the novel I had written based on the story and pulled across some episodes from that which I thought would work well, and which would flesh out some of the characters as well. But what struck me most of all was how relevant it all was – even more relevant, I think, than when I had last fooled around with it a decade ago.

I spend a lot of time online, and it doesn’t take much to see that homophobic abuse is increasing within our everyday lives. We can see it every day on Twitter, for example. And, living in the centre of a city as I do, I can hear it every day from my window – and an increase in racial and religious abuse, too. And, without getting too political, it says something of the state we are in as a society when I needed to insert current gay slurs into the text for the bullying scenes and the ones I chose were the same ones used by our Prime Minister.

Breaking Point has never been performed, although it has got as far as read-throughs and rehearsals, and I would very much like a production or two or three to happen. The play is one of the pieces of writing I am most proud of, despite how heartbreaking it is in places – and how much of it rings true with regards what I went through or saw when I was at school (although this is certainly not my story).

The play of Breaking Point is free for any amateur group, youth theatre, school, college or university to perform (and any variations of those I have missed out). All I ask is that you “keep me in the loop.” That means, contact me before you start your production, and then let me know how it’s going. If the production is in the UK and I can attend, I would love to do so – health permitting. If you are thinking of producing the play, I am happy to provide you with a PDF of the script, so that you can get your copies the cheapest way possible. The use of a bare stage with minimal props also helps keep the costs down for theatre groups.

So, finally, I set the script of Breaking Point off into the world. Take good care of it…and yourselves.

Shane Brown

Breaking Point can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle form at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breaking-Point-Play-Shane-Brown-ebook/dp/B084RWSP6D/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=shane+brown+breaking+point+play&qid=1581906379&sr=8-1

And it can be bought in paperback form at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breaking-Point-Play-Shane-Brown/dp/B084QK92QL/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=shane+brown+breaking+point+play&qid=1581906421&sr=8-2

It is also available at Amazon stores across the globe.


In 2013, I published a young adult novel about homophobic bullying in schools. Breaking Point told the story not just from the point of the victim, but also of the bullies and a teacher. On the initial free download period for the Kindle, it was downloaded more than 7,000 times and user reviews were largely positive.

A few years later, I started work on a sequel which, for various reasons, kept getting put to one side. I finally finished the first draft in the middle of last year, and Breaking Down has now been released in Kindle and paperback editions alongside a revised version of Breaking Point. The revised Breaking Point has a somewhat expanded text, but the narrative is largely the same, although it deviated slightly in the last couple of chapters.

In Breaking Point, James Marsh is sixteen years old and in his final year of high school. He has been suffering from bullying for months at the hands of Jason Mitchell and his friends but, as they return to school after the Easter break, Jason takes his tormenting to a whole new level. As James struggles to cope, a teacher at the school finds his hands tied when he attempts to help him, Jason spirals out of control, and a former friend of James tries to make amends.

In Breaking Down, the sequel, James is about to leave home to go to university, knowing that it might signal the end of his relationship with Paul. Jason has been trying to make amends for what he did at school, but his past is coming back to haunt him. And teacher Andrew Green is struggling with his mental health due to the stress of the events of two years earlier, with his boyfriend at a loss on how to help him. They all learn to realise that the effects of school bullying will be with them for life – whether victim, bully, or teacher.

The following are the links to the books:

Breaking Point
Breaking Down

Geography Club (2013)


Cameron Deane Stewart and Justin Deeley star as Russell and Kevin, two teenagers at the rather oddly named Goodkind High School who are gay and closeted – as are virtually all of the LGBT teens at the school.  But one night Russell and Kevin are spotted kissing by Min (Ally Maki), who is part of the “Geography Club,” a group where LGBT teens can get together without the worry of arousing suspicion thanks to the name of the group.  Russell joins, but getting Kevin, a star football player, to join is altogether more difficult.

It is easy to dismiss Geography Club, a relatively family-friendly film (only minor swearing and no nudity or sex) about LGBT teenagers (and others who view themselves as outcasts) at a high school in America.  It is bland, even twee in places, and yet it is remarkably charming  for the most part, even if there is something of a sting in the tale’s conclusion.

The film is refreshing in a number of ways.  Firstly, it’s a gay-themed film without sex and nudity at every opportunity.  Anyone who watches gay-themed indie movies regularly might be surprised to even know they exist at all.

Secondly, this isn’t really aimed at gay adults, but gay teens – arguably younger teens at that – and that separates this from the crowd.  The artwork for the UK edition of the DVD compares it to Glee, and the comparison isn’t totally unwarranted, but it also does the film something of a disservice.  Glee, even at its best, was never really believable in any way.  This, of course, was intended for the most part.  People don’t break out into song at every opportunity in real life, and the often-surreal nature of the show didn’t really place it in the real world, despite it’s attempts (both successful and unsuccessful) to cover virtually every topic important to teenagers – with the strange exception of drug abuse.  But my point is that the target audiences for Glee and Geography Club are the same, although they approach things is a very different way.

Thirdly (and this ties in with my first point), the film is well-acted, well-directed, and clearly has a higher budget than most indie gay-themed films from America.  This looks like a real movie rather than a student piece put together by eighteen-year-olds.

However, there are some issues.  Cameron Deane Stewart is superb as Russell – likeable and charismatic, and, ultimately, believable.  However, Justin Deeley was twenty-seven at the time the movie was made.  And he’s playing a sixteen year old.  No matter how fine an actor he might be (and he plays the part well), it’s obvious that the guy is not sixteen.  Quite why filmmakers insist on using men in their mid-to-late twenties to play teenagers is a mystery to me.  A few years older isn’t a problem, but ten year older is, and even more so when major films are now using kids/teens who are the actual ages of their characters (or thereabouts).  This is a relatively new phenomenon – Tobey Maguire was twenty-seven when he played high school student Peter Parker in Spiderman (2002).  Tom Holland was twenty when he played the role for the first time.  The difference is startling.   The same is true of the young cast of It (2017) who were, for the most part, roughly the same age as their characters.  It isn’t just a case of whether someone’s face looks sixteen or twenty-six – the believeability comes about by how they walk, how they talk, their build, etc.  This is not to criticise Deeley’s performance, which is fine, but it does rob the film of some realism.

That issue aside, Geography Club works rather well, and is worth revisiting, especially with the release this year of Love, Simon.  I haven’t seen that movie (it’s not out in the UK for another week), but it is a mainstream movie aimed a gay teen audience in the same way Geography Club is.  It will be interesting to see how the two movies compare, not just in plot and budget, but how they address their intended audiences.  Either way, Geography Club is well worth a watch, and is an important movie in its own right.  No, it’s not a gay teen movie made by a major studio, but it is still a gay-themed movie aimed at teens and, despite the plethora of gay-themed movies over the last fifteen years or so, that is still a rarity – which is rather surprising given the popularity, and almost classic status, of UK gay-themed movies such as Beautiful Thing and Get Real, made in 1996 and 1998 respectively.  In 2013, Geography Club managed to fill a void in the market – or, at least, provided a stop-gap until Love, Simon came along.



My new novel, a ghost story entitled The Lookout, is now available in both paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

1945. Michael Hamilton, a young soldier wounded during the Second World War, goes to The Lookout, a house on the Norfolk coast owned by his Grandfather, in order to recuperate. He shares the house with Anna and her son, Peter, distant cousins who are living there after their house was bombed a few years earlier. But all is not as it seems at The Lookout or in the nearby village. Recent tragedies involving the village’s children has everyone on edge, and Michael inadvertently finds himself at the centre of the mystery. He sets about looking for answers at the same time as unexpectedly finding himself attracted to Peter.

203 pages.

Glee: What Might Have Been


*Contains season six spoilers*

Quite how Glee managed to limp through its mostly-awful fourth and fifth seasons is anybody’s guess.  There were times when it seemed that the whole thing would just grind to a halt and no-one would be bothered to even turn up to write, direct and act in it, let alone watch it.  And yet, since the death knell has been sounded, and the sixth and final season has started, this most erratic and frustrating of series has finally found its feet once again.  At its very best, Glee does not just entertain but it can also move its audience and send out a message like virtually no other programme.

I actually came to Glee in the first place about four years ago because a couple of my students were writing an essay on it, and I needed to see a few episodes.  Even back then, in its first and second seasons, the writing was erratic – brilliant one week, bloody awful the following week.  And yet one thing shone through despite the bland writing, forgotten narrative threads, bizarre characterisations, and awful song choices:  Glee had heart.  There were times when it became a little preachy to say the least, but at least it was preaching acceptance.  But the erratic quality of the programme saw viewing figures fall (understandably), and the third season could easily have been the last.

But still it carried on, trying to dig itself out of the hole it had dug for itself, trying every trick in the book to win back viewers or, at the very least, keep the ones it still had.  The idea to have what were essentially two parallel narratives running through the fourth and fifth seasons was interesting, but doomed to fail.  Glee got more and more silly and irrelevant.  It had been forgotten that the show was at its best when it was also at its simplest, but still there were moments when Glee’s best qualities shone through despite everything.

Now the show is at the midway point of its sixth and final series of just thirteen episodes and, somehow, it has returned to very near its best.  Surreal humour that makes sense to no-one is mixed up with genuinely moving storylines and songs that are actually there for a reason.  There are no fireworks as Glee comes to an end – no big attempt to win back viewers, but just an eagerness to let this once-loved show close out with some dignity.  But this simple aim has resulted in some wonderful moments – and as a forty-one year old man, I really shouldn’t be saying that given that the target audience is probably about fifteen.

Dot-Marie Jones has been nominated three times for a Prime-time Emmy for her performances in the show and, given her performance in recent episodes that have centred around Coach Beiste’s decision to live life as a man, it’s highly likely that a further nomination will be forthcoming.  Excusing the fact that his decision was made and surgery taken place all in a matter of four weeks, this storyline has resulted in one of Glee’s best episodes in years, entitled Transitioning. It’s a simple episode, in which a number of storylines get moved forward, but Jones’s performance as her character returns to work for the first time as a man is remarkable.  It’s been mentioned in various places over the last few weeks that the transgender community gets forgotten or ignored when it comes to LGBT representation and politics, thus making this current narrative arc particularly welcome.

OK, I admit it, just like a Hallmark afternoon movie starring Lindsey Wagner, the climax in which transgender former student Unique sings a message of acceptance to the rather lost Coach Beiste, backed with a 300-strong transgender choir, is obviously intended to pull at the heartstrings and get the audience either crying like a baby or puking as a result of saccharine overload.  And yet it’s done so well (and is so out of the blue) that even the most-hardened watchers would struggle not to be moved by the whole thing.  Yes, it’s manipulating the viewer without apology, and, yes, it’s unadulterated feel-good TV – but that’s not always a bad thing.  And yes, I cried like a baby.

Glee has tackled numerous issues over its six-season run – some were done remarkably well and in depth, while others were handled so appallingly that the writers should be ashamed (most notably when Ryder admitted that he was molested as a child).  And, yes, there are “issues” that have, for some reason, been avoided.  In a series aimed at teenagers, why did the producers seemingly go out of their way to avoid storylines relating to drugs or mental health?  But the one thing it has consistently done, and done well, is ask for acceptance of the LGBT community, and this sixth season is no exception to that – quite the opposite in fact.  And, as a gay man myself, I understand the importance of that message going out to a core audience of the age that is just starting to understand who they are and  their purpose in life.

This final season of Glee has felt more like a beginning than an ending, and no doubt the show’s constant viewers will be watching it thinking of what could have been had the programme had been of this standard over the previous three seasons.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and the series has run its course.  In 2009, when it started, it was fresh, vibrant, funny and different.  Now it’s viewed by most as tired and cliched.  But I for one, even as a grumpy middle-aged man, am pleased that Glee has been allowed these thirteen episodes to get its arse in gear and finish with its head held high and to demonstrate just what it achieved over the last six years rather than where it failed.

Un jour d’été (One Day in Summer) (2006)


I first saw this made-for-TV film about five years ago, and I confess that I was rather mesmerised by it.  Having seen it again just yesterday, I have to say that I still find it a remarkably  fine effort – despite the various reviews of it elsewhere.

The plot is simple.  Almost non-existent.  There are two teenaged friends.  One of them dies after being hit on the head by a goalpost.  The other one struggles to cope.  That’s basically it.  There are various subplots about the family of the dead boy and whether or not the goal post was in some way defective, but these subplots are as inconsequential as the main narrative.

In many respects this is a film that came at the tail end of a cycle of similar french movies about confused teenagers:  Presque Rien, Les Roseaux Sauvages, A Toute Vitesse, Le Dernier Jour.  And perhaps this is why the film has caused some reviewers to scratch their heads a little.  These films all feature homosexual teens as their lead characters or, at least, teens who are sexually confused and that confusion is the driving force behind the narrative.   That isn’t the case here.  Sure, it appears that Sébastien may have feelings for boys, but that’s never made explicit.  It’s hinted at, but nothing more.  Apparently, though, the film was shown at LGBT film festivals in the UK (and was picked up by a DVD distributor specialising in LGBT-themed films) and that has caused more confusion within audiences than within the central character himself.  I can understand that to a certain degree, but this is where the term “queer” really comes into its own.  It may not be a gay-themed film, but it’s certain a queer film.

Anyone who wants to watch this because they think it has gay content will, indeed, be disappointed.  But that’s a shame, for Un jour d’été has so much to offer.  It is, essentially, an elegy – a cinematic study of mourning and loss, and the effect grief can have on family and friends beyond the obvious.  After the funeral, things slowly get back to normal – but, somehow, they are never quite the way they used to be.   This is something rarely portrayed in film, a medium where mourning and grief is so often portrayed as lasting a few days and then everything’s hunkydory.  Un jour d’été portrays quite the opposite of  this in a quiet, plaintive, unassuming way that is both mesmerising and moving without being overly morbid.

Strangely, Baptiste Bertin, who plays the lead in the film has done little movie work since.  This is a shame, for he puts in a stunning performance here as the confused, bemused, sometimes troubled teenager at the heart of the “story.”  His performance alone is worth looking around for a second-hand copy of the DVD (not as easy as it sounds).

In the end, the film has come into criticism in the past because it refuses to be pigeon-holed.  That the boy at the centre of the film is sexually confused and yet that isn’t what he obsesses over day and night seems very hard for some people to understand.  Had the “gay” angle been developed more, it would probably have been received better outside France but, at the same time, it would have lost much of its appeal and much of its power.  The film is as unassuming as its title, but well worth taking the time to watch.

Ebay’s “inappropriate” behaviour



Update:  After 90 minutes of live chat, three emails and five phone calls, eBay have changed their rules on the use of “gay” and “lesbian” in shop categories, which is a positive move.  That it took a month’s worth of effort to get the result is less positive.  Live chat was embarrassingly poor, emails received were often cut and pasted from standard paragraphs, and four times on the phone I was promised a response via email within 24 hours which didn’t happen.  This surely isn’t good enough customer service for a company that has just increased some of its fees by 250%.

The original blog post appears below:


It appears to me that Ebay has a problematic relationship with the gay community. At the end of last year, stories appeared in the media and social media of certain products being withdrawn from sale after being labelled as being of “gay interest” – this included a T-shirt of a reindeer wearing a rainbow flag, no less. While Ebay did apologise and admitted its mistake once the story went public, one has to wonder whether there is something more sinister at work here than an automated system going a little haywire. After all, why are the words “gay interest” in the system at all as possibly being related to possibly offensive or banned items?

I have come across a similar issue this week. With Ebay raising their insertion fees by 250% on some items, opening a “shop” seemed the cheapest way forward (although the amount of inclusive listings in hiring a shop has been halved too). When entering the categories I wanted for my shop, I worked through innocuous names with no problems.

DVD: World Cinema

DVD: Silent Cinema

However, when I tried to enter that highly offensive term “DVD: Gay Cinema,” I got a notice flash up on the screen telling me that the word “gay” was “inappropriate.” Needless to say, the system doesn’t like “lesbian cinema” either – but “straight cinema” is just fine. “Gay interest cinema” is also a no-go, although “gay-themed cinema” is fine, but presumably only because the hyphen means the word “gay” doesn’t get detected.

My issue here was not that I had to use a hyphen, but the labelling of the term “gay” as “inappropriate.” Inappropriate to who? And why? Was Ebay somehow linking the word “gay” with sex and pornography? That would be wrong, of course, but it would at least give an explanation. But that couldn’t be right either because, as I tried out different category titles, I found out that “adult DVDs” caused no problems for Ebay at all, and wasn’t deemed inappropriate.

And so it was that, on Sunday afternoon, I headed to Ebay live chat to find out what was going on. In my ninety minute chat, I spoke to four representatives. None of them could help me. Three of them suggested ways around the problem, but none seemed to understand that getting around the issue wasn’t the problem – my problem was that the word “gay” was tagged as “inappropriate.” One of the reps told me that the system had problems with “that kind of word,” although I’m not quite sure what kind of word that might be. The final lady I spoke to apologised for her “incontinence” (no joke), and I told her I was glad it wasn’t a face to face conversation. After I left the conversation, I received a long message from this lady telling me why pornographic items were not allowed on Ebay (which had nothing to do with our conversation).

I then decided that the way forward would be to send Ebay an email.   This also caused problems. They have no public email address. I went back to live chat, and they told me I would have to send my complaint by post to Dublin. I told them that an online business really shouldn’t be forcing its customers to send complaints by snail mail to another country. No, I was assured, there was no email address. Bearing this in mind, I then told them that I would, instead, write an open letter of complaint on my blog and tweet it to all my followers. I asked if Ebay had an email address now. Yes, they did, as it happens. Funny that.

So, I sent my email to Ebay and, in less than 24 hours, I got my response. However, it was rather problematic. Part of it reads as follows:

“I understand this matter is frustrating for you as you have being restricted for using the word ‘gay’ in your shop category title. Please understand this word is not inappropriate to use, however we have to factor in the whole eBay community. eBay’s community is a diverse, international group of users with varied backgrounds and beliefs, and it’s easy to image how home items listed on eBay might be offensive to at least some of our users somewhere in the world. …The word gay in not considered inappropriate as mentioned above this may not be offensive in your eyes or mine; however, we need to consider eBay as a whole.”

No matter how much Ebay tries to sweeten this, the facts remain the same – there is discrimination going on here, and the company are clearly worried that, for some reason, some people might have trouble with the word “gay.” That Ebay are seemingly intent on bowing to the whims of the homophobic only makes the matter ten times worse than it already is. When the gay/LGBT DVD genre was deleted from Ebay UK last year, I assumed it was simply part of their reorganisation. However, I’m now beginning to wonder if there wasn’t a darker reason behind that too.

When I started this little investigation 48 hours ago, I honestly thought that Ebay had deemed the word “gay” as inappropriate for shop categories fifteen years ago when attitudes were, by and large, less tolerant, and never put it right due to an oversight. However, my reply from the company via email states quite clearly that it is “inappropriate” because some people, somewhere in the world, might find it offensive.

Bearing that in mind, I say to Ebay that the LGBT community is likely to find that offensive in itself. If the system hadn’t been updated as times changed, then I would say “fine,” but put it right now you are aware. That clearly isn’t what happened here, and there is a clear statement from the company that they are keen to deem a word describing a lifestyle as “inappropriate” in order to not lose the custom of the homophobic few.