Raymond J. Aguilera Reviews

"Take the Flame!"


Take the Flame! Gay Games: Grace, Grit & Glory
Director: David Secter
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 included.

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 are today.

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, philanthropist James 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 set—and broken—at 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 irrelevant, though.

© 2006 Raymond J. Aguilera
"A Crip at the Flicks" logo/photo © 2003 Mark McBeth, Idea | Monger


Raymond J. Aguilera is Managing Editor of BENT.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/July 2006