I recently acquired a copy of the movie Secretary and was surprised how much watching it moved me. It wasn’t the first time I’ve watched it either and this second viewing actually affected me more than the first. The difference is the radically different place I am now in comparison to when I first watched it. For those of you that don’t know the movie is a romantic-comedy about a young women named Lee Holloway who accepts a secretary job working in the law office of Mister E. Edward Grey. In the course of the movie, the two develop a sadomasochistic relationship and eventually fall in love and marry. The move is very well acted and directed (you can read a review of it here). It is a rare positive treatment of its subject matter, in the special features the director noted how many people he pitched it to didn’t get the whole point of the film and wanted Lee to end the movie “cured”. I highly recommend it.(1)
I first watched it during my freshman year of college. I had read a story by Mary Gaitskill, whose short story of the same name the film is based on, in my English class. One night I happened to see “based on the story Secretary by Mary Gaitskill” flash across the TV screen and decided to watch not really knowing what the movie was about. I was still trying to be a good Catholic boy at the time; so although I was deeply intrigued by the move and its subject matter I keep trying to tell myself it was weird, sinful, and wrong. I brought up the movie in conversation with several people, that it was based on a story by an author I had studied in English class gave me the perfect cover to bring it up under. “I saw the weirdest movie the other night; you know the story we read by Mary Gaitskill” I would start and in the majority of cases, they would join in finding it weird or wrong. I can remember only one person who didn’t response that way an Education major who non-judgmentally proceeded to explain the psychology of such relationships. Although at that point in my life any response would have been uncomfortable. If they found it weird like most did I could just continue my facade all the while internally disagreeing with them; vice-versa if they didn’t find it disgusting I would deny my true self and desperately try to be the good catholic. That was then, now that I have renounced organized religion and I’m becoming increasingly more comfortable with my sexuality I can look at the movie without any guilt or shame and boy what a difference that makes.
When I first watched it I only had dominant thoughts and fantasies, so I could relate more to Mister Grey in particular the guilt over such inclinations. Now that I’ve uncovered my submissive side I can relate to both Lee and Grey. Lee attempts to be happy with her normal love interest for example resonates with me, because god, did I try hard to be attracted to the meek God fearing women I was supposed to like and of course I failed mightily. Beyond the general ability to fully enjoy the film’s subject matter and relate to the characters, there are three scenes in particular that speak to me in a way they didn’t before:(2).
Then: When I first watched it I was filled with a painful sense of longing thinking of all the time I spent voyeuristically looking into lifestyles and practices that fascinated me, that I wanted to explore, but I thought I never could because they were evil, sinful and would send me to hell.
Now: Once again, the shame is gone. The scene still resonates with me however. As I slowly become more and more a part of a world, I never thought I would be; I often find myself reading blog posts by other people describing there relationships and sexuality and much like the woman in the bathroom stall I can only sit in silence marveling at the beauty of what they’ve found. Many are the times I’ve wanted to comment on someone’s blog post but can’t thinking of anything to say but “Wow” or “Beautiful”.
The second scene is at the climax of the film. Lee in a delicious perversion of the “run across the town in the wedding dress trope”; leaves her “normal” fiance at the altar and runs to Mister Gray and professes her love to him. He still questioning whether the relationship could work says “We can’t do this twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” to which Lee simply relies: “Why not?”…
Then: …Hell! Fire! Brimstone!
Now: …there is no reason. Not for these two fictional characters, not for me. There is no reason why relationships or sexuality must exist inside these little predefined boxes society has constructed. So what if my desires differ from the norm, from what a group of hypocrites tell me they should be. If I want to explore them in a safe, sane, consensual manner what is so wrong about that…Why not?
Then: I don’t remember having any particular response to this scene.
Now: In someways this is where I am now. Even behind the anonymity of the internet I’m exposing myself to anyone who reads this blog and as you can see by my tumblrs I have little problem challenging people’s perception (or even my own perceptions) of sexuality. This blog in many ways is my looking at the lens moment, my moment of confronting not just society but the old me that desperately tried to bend to it rules. This blog is my way of saying:
“This is me…”.
- The one down side to the movie, is that now I can’t see Maggie Gyllenhaal in another role without thinking kinky thoughts. During The Dark Knight I kept thinking “Pick Bruce damn it! Just imagine all the kinky high tech bat-sex-toys he could have Lucius build! [↩]
- Technically four, the scene where Lee is smoking in bed turned me off until she put the cigarette down. I get the bad girl connotation but dangerous, cancer causing carcinogens are not a turn on to me, Hollywood