Howl I Killed Your Darlings: Ginsberg’s Frank Homosexuality

“The poems get misinterpreted as promotion of homosexuality. Actually, it’s more like promotion of frankness, about any subject. When a few people get frank about homosexuality, it breaks the ice. Then anybody can be frank about anything. It’s socially useful.”

– Allen Ginsberg

 Whilst watching Howl  for the first time recently, I was overwhelmed. I’m not embarrass to admit that the movie was a bit over my head. It was like I was back in college, and my Rhetoric of the Western World course required the reading the works of Machiavelli, Socrates and Cicero. I couldn’t dissect the words or read the passages slowly to interpret the meaning of Howl (links to actual work), like I had done with the works of the previously named philosophers. However, I was able to catch snippets and key concepts of Allen Ginsberg’s work (Ginsberg portrayed by James Franco) that would lead to a movement that would later be coined as the Beat Generation, despite how Ginsberg denies the concept in the movie.

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Allen Ginsberg is an interesting character, as Daniel Radcliffe is surely to agree to as he played Ginsberg in the film Kill Your Darlings. I wouldn’t say that I am a connoisseur of poetry or scholar of the 1950s, but I personally had no idea who Ginsberg was before watching these two films that center around him. My liberal arts education must be reevaluated.

There were many reasons why I had watched Kill Your Darlings, and none of them academic. First, I am a fan of Daniel Radcliffe, if not only because he is the Harry Potter. Second, I had been hypnotized by Dane DeHaan since I saw him in The Amazing Spider-Man (I didn’t remember him from anything else). Thirdly (and I say this as non-creepy as possible), I always have had a weird fascination with death, which I later saw I misinterpreted in the movie’s title. And lastly, I was home alone and the film was showing on Starz.

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For a full synopsis of Kill Your Darlings, you can click here. For a New York Times review, you can click here. But for the simplest, unjustly represented summary of the film, I’ll gladly produce.

Allen Ginsberg (portrayed by Radcliffe) arrives at Colombia University to meet Lucien Carr (DeHaan). Steadily, they meet up with ex-jock Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), heir-to-a-fortune William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Carr’s personal creeper David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall). It shows the formation of the Beat Generation, the rejection of 1950’s academic form, the experimentation of drugs, and sexual exploration. The most obvious theme of the film, which honestly was a surprise for me, was the homosexual attraction between Ginsberg and Carr, mostly formed as a shy obsession of Ginsberg for Carr’s affection.

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 The nostalgic tone of the film makes me wonder if I was born in the wrong generation. In a film like these, it makes the time period seem so much more appealing than it perhaps actually was, but I still would love to have been around these group of guys, in theory. It’s like wanting to live in time periods of School Ties, Dead Poet Society or The Emperor’s Club but in actuality, it could be living hell. It just seemed that the 1950s wouldn’t be so bad, as homosexuality was seemingly accepted if treated privately, even if it was discriminated against publicly. I mean, if James Dean got away with it…

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Howl, on the other hand, is a whole different ballgame. Ginsberg is portrayed by James Franco, who perfectly matches in voice, if not anything else. As most gay boys do, I instinctively overemphasize the importance of the sexual scenes in the film. Ginsberg is shown as having sexual encounters with Neal Cassady (portrayed by Jon Prescott) before his long-term open relationship with Peter Orlovsky (forever Gossip Girls‘ Trip van der Bilt, Aaron Tveit). However, the film is about the 1957 obscenity trial over Howl, which is read in segments throughout the film.

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Flashing between the court room, the onstage reading of Howl, the animation of the poem, the reenactment of scenes of Ginsberg’s life, and an interview with Ginsberg really made the movie interesting as well as a bit much. I was able to capture the bare meaning of all the concepts; however, the one that reached out to me most was the quote I had quoted at the beginning of the blog.

When a few people get frank about homosexuality, it breaks the ice.

Then anybody can be frank about anything. It’s socially useful.

The Franco-version Ginsberg is probably talking about society in general. He and his Beat buddies had introduced homosexuality and sexuality in general in a ‘frank’ and perhaps vulgar and explicit way that had changed society for the better. Sexuality is such an intimate and personal subject, but being so bold and outright about it opens up doors to talking about any number of other subjects that are perhaps less invasive in a public manner.

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However, the quotation is most applicable to me in a smaller scale — between a handful of people rather than all of society. Because I am part of a well-off Catholic family, I really do choose the people that I officially ‘come out‘ to; otherwise, it’s more of a question mark for people if I am. As I’ve said in my earlier posts, I’m not ashamed of being gay or intend to deceive anyone, but my sexual life is not my main trait, not by identity or my featured characteristic. Honestly, I would rather people think of me as the crazy Asian driver before only associating me as the gay guy.

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To me, coming out to anyone is very personal, very intimate and one of those things that I have to do in person. I enjoy watching Tom Daley coming out on YouTube as well as a number of other celebs because they feel like they have that duty, or that they have a personal goal to do so, but for me, my sexuality is for the private sector, therefore requires an intimate setting. The first time I remember holding this ‘coming out ritual’ was with my good friend Paris. I’ve known I was attracted to guys 2 years previous and have told a handful of people since, but it was more out of necessity than it was me feeling I should tell someone.

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Paris and I were close friends ever since we met in seventh grade, but we weren’t ‘hangout on weekends’ sort of friends. It wasn’t until junior year of high school that we really did get truly close, when she was dating a guy that went to school with Phoenix (my ex described in previous post). We had that common ground and we bonded over the people we knew together. It wasn’t until after prom that I pulled her aside whilst we were waiting for our turns to bowl that I told her I was gay.

Rumors had spread about Phoenix and I throughout all the local schools, and it might’ve been common knowledge that I was gay (read how I was outed here), but I took her aside and told her verbally that I was gay. She appreciated me actually telling her, rather than hearing the rumors and it even brought us closer together. The next year, we had first hour art class together and we always huddled and talked as we pretended to work on our projects. I miss high school slacking off.

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Since then, I’ve outed myself to a couple of people, notably including Boob and Tinker. Each time, it’s brought us that much closer and it doesn’t just open myself up to telling them about anything, but it opens them up to divulge their personal information to me as well. I tell them about my parents’ relationship, we tell each other about our body insecurities, they tell me about their ex’s awkward beliefs or sexual appetite — I think all this freedom of expression opened up after I’ve told them that I was gay.

It’s not only friends that I feel this idea is applied. I feel that during and after my relationship with Phoenix, I was able to open up to him about everything as well. I mean, given, everyone feels that they should tell their partners everything or even exes have a level of intimacy that they can feel shameless in asking or sharing awkward information, but to me, after being open to being gay (obviously, by being gay with him), then it opened the floodgate to telling him everything and anything. I’ve seen him cry over his exes and told me stories of how they broke up, and I’ve told him about my medical issues and we’ve shared information about our lovers since ‘breaking up.’

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I don’t quite know what’s the equivalent to a straight person, but as a gay boy, I think my homosexuality is the million dollar mark, where information of lesser intimacy is therefore fair game. I think that anybody’s peak could be different, whether it be a secret sexual fantasy, or a family secret of molestation, or even if it’s that you allow them roam freely on your computer or phone… (I think I found my ultimate peak).

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You should be able to be frank to at least one person in your life, whether it be your parents, your siblings, your lover or just a really good friend. Someone who would always be there for you, like Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda to Carrie.

I have Tinker and Boob.

But my babe Perseus is at my ultimate peak.

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