the Flame! Gay Games: Grace, Grit & Glory
85 Minutes/Color/No Closed-Captions
I have to admit to being skeptical
about seeing “Take the Flame,”
David Secter's documentary about the Gay
Games. For one, I'm not terribly sporty, and aside from a casual
interest in baseball (mostly because of my fondness for sausages
and beer), sports just don't do much for me.
Then there are the gimp factors.
Sports movies, and sports documentaries in particular, play fast
and loose with concepts of heroism, courage, and of course inspiration.
All of these are hot-button terms for most self-aware crips, myself
And then there's the "special"-ness.
After all, what are the Gay Games, if not Special Olympics for sissies
and the girls rugby team? At least, that's what I thought as I was
putting in the DVD. As it turns out, the Gay Games is a much, much
bigger deal than I knew. The Games were, and are far more political
than I had imagined, and while they still push a few of my buttons
(more on that later), by the time I finished watching the film I
couldn't help but wish I had known more about the Games early enough
to have planned a trip to Chicago this summer.
Secter's documentary, narrated
by Olympic gold medalist and Gay Games athlete Greg
Louganis, is a rich history of the Gay Games, starting with
the original event held in San Francisco in 1982. The film follows
each subsequent Gay Games, up to the 2006
Gay Games, which are being held in Chicago, July 15-22 2006.
While the movie includes footage
from each of the Gay Games, the focus of the film is on the social
and political struggles that have surrounded the games, and by extension,
gay people themselves. The film also makes is clear that the Gay
Games are about more than sports; concerts, art exhibits, theater,
and of course parties all figure in the mix of what the Gay Games
Specter concentrates on Dr.
Tom Waddell, a former Olympian and founder of the Gay Games.
“Take the Flame” follows Waddell's story from his appearance at
the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to his founding of the Gay Games and
subsequent legal skirmish with the U.S. Olympic Committee over the
use of the phrase "Gay Olympic Games."
For me, the most poignant parts
of the film dealt with the birth of Tom's daughter (the old-fashioned
way, with a lesbian friend) and his subsequent HIV diagnosis. Specter
intercuts Tom's story with footage from the Gay Games, as well as
interviews with participants and celebrities, including Louganis,
Hormel, author Armistad Maupin, sports writer Jim
Provenzano, and former NFL running back Dave
Kopay, among others.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't
spend at least some time thinking of the Gay Games in terms of its
conceptual similarity to the Special Olympics. At their basest levels,
the two events are the same: separate and unequal sporting competitions
designed for minority groups perceived as being unable to compete
in the Real Thing. Like the Special
Olympics, anyone who wants to can compete in the Gay Games.
Athletic ability is not necessarily a prerequisite.
Thankfully, the Gay Games dispenses
with the "huggers" and the everybody's-a-winner mentality that I
find disrespectful and patronizing at the Special Olympics. Despite
it's inclusive nature (or perhaps because of it), the Gay Games
is a serious athletic competition, and the documentary is careful
to point out that world records are routinely setand brokenat
the Gay Games, and that the Gay Games is actually a larger event
than the Olympics itself. How's that for validation?
The Gay Games is also inclusive
of disabled athletes and has several events for wheelchair users,
which is obviously much more than can be said for the Olympics.
In the end, the film, and the Games themselves, are a lot less about
competition, and more about community. That word gets thrown around
a lot, but watching this documentary it's hard not to feel a part
of something bigger than oneself.
As a disabled man, I still have
difficulty with anything "special," be it Special Olympics for disabled
people or Gay Games for gay ones. After watching this film, however,
I couldn't help but feel inspired by those that have come before
me, and hopeful that, yes, gay community really does exist. As powerful
as the Gay Games are, I'm still holding out for the day when they're
© 2006 Raymond J. Aguilera
"A Crip at the Flicks" logo/photo © 2003 Mark McBeth,
Idea | Monger
Raymond J. Aguilera is Managing
Editor of BENT.