Ask Not

by Jano Cortijo

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 16, 2008

A scene from "Ask Not."
A scene from "Ask Not."  

Most homosexuals learn the concept of editing at an early age. We nip and tuck and trim and put away all the raw footage that can reveal we like people of our own sex. The cut we submit to the movie theater of the world is the PG-13 version of ourselves, until we feel confident enough to put out the R-rated one. Our very own director's cut is securely saved for later release, when we have accumulated enough courage or life experience to allow everyone else to see and know who we are and what we do.

We do this almost automatically, by sheer instinct, and most of us do not need to be reminded of the consequences entailed from letting the world know we are gay. But the less accepting heterosexuals, who unfortunately account for the vast majority of the world's population, have decided that we should clearly remember to keep ourselves to ourselves only. And they have come up with all sorts of laws and regulations to intimidate and ban and veto homosexuals around the globe.

One such example is the touchy and disputable "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which keeps gay men and women who don uniforms for professional purposes from joining the U.S. Army; something most of us would only consider as some sort of fetish scenario but a plausible career path for many homosexuals.

With Ask Not San Francisco documentary filmmaker Johnny Symons, whose acclaimed "Daddy and Papa" dealt with the "gayby boom" before it was a boom, has now looked at the travails of soldiers who have been discharged from the Army, like Jarrod Chaplowski and Alex Nicholson, or haven't been able to enlist because of their homosexuality, like Jacob Reitan and Haven Herrin. We also see veterans, like Alan Steinman, who had to keep their sexual identity concealed to pursue their desired career path.

Along with historical data and political and military voices, it is the focus on these gay men and women what ultimately makes the film so compelling, putting a face on the problem that officially began on July 19, 1993 and which is now seen as (what it was from the beginning) a violation of basic human rights.

Symons cleverly states the facts from both sides of the issue and doesn't let his own perspective as a gay man bias the documentary in favor of those who have personally been discriminated. He needs not to: hearing the official voices claim that gay soldiers undermine the cohesion of a unit and create unwanted sexual tension and discomfort amongst their peers will make many laugh because - honestly -- the last thing going through a gay soldier's mind while trying not to get shot in this absurd war is sex (or maybe it is, but just for the sheer purpose of distraction).

And laughter is one of the many honest emotions at display on "Ask Not": disappointment arises when we learn that Nicholson can't use his skills as a linguist, and inspiration ensues as we witness the efforts of Chaplowski, Reitan and Herrin to raise awareness at the injustice of the policy. All this is balanced with the earnest video diary from "Perry" an unidentified soldier dispatched to Baghdad, who Symons met coincidentally while filming his documentary.

Praise to Johnny Symons for sternly continuing the documentation of the various aspects of contemporary gay culture and offering more human and real portrayals than those usually offered by mainstream fictional movies.

Jano Cortijo is a professional homemaker. Between ironing long and short sleeved shirts, making salads and fried rice, he manages to find time to take pictures, make videos and write.