Editor’s Note: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson recently retired as the vice president of religion at the Chautauqua Institution and is the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. He is the first openly gay priest in historic Christianity to be elected bishop. The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Who could have guessed that “My Policeman,” Amazon Prime Video’s recent release starring Harry Styles, would be so timely?
In 1957, the year in which “My Policeman” begins, I was 10 years old. Growing up gay in Kentucky wasn’t all that different from being gay in the English seaside resort of Brighton where the film is set, when it came to “the love that dare not speak its name.”
Styles’ Tom wants his marriage to work, but he is increasingly distracted by his growing love for Patrick, played in his younger years by David Dawson. Emma Corrin’s Marion, like so many of us in relationships, is frantically trying to figure out what’s wrong (without talking about it) – and fix it.
Like Styles’ Tom, I too fell in love with a wonderful young woman. I told her about my attraction to men within two weeks of meeting her. Still, we loved each other, and we both wanted to be married. A month or so before the wedding, I became fearful that this other desire that lived within me might one day, as I thought of it then, come back to poison our lives. She said that if that happened, because we loved each other so much, we would deal with it. Thirteen years, two daughters and a lot of happiness later, we did deal with it. (It took the film’s Tom, Marion and Patrick a bit longer.)
At 39, my life began – again. Only this time, I would be the me I knew myself to be. It saved my life.
That was 36 years ago. “My Policeman” is timely because the very same struggles for identity in ourselves and authenticity in our relationships are as important today as they were for me in 1986, or for Tom, Patrick and Marion in the 1950s.
We now have a Supreme Court, dominated by a conservative super-majority, bound and determined to undo much of what we have accomplished in the last 50 years. Younger women – whether they cheered or booed the Dobbs decision effectively ending Roe v. Wade – had never experienced a pre-Roe world. Younger gay and bisexual men, indeed no younger LGBTQ Americans, have ever experienced what it was like to be young and queer and in love, when acting on that love was punishable by jail time, as many of us did before the landmark 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas. Being LGBTQ is still that dangerous (and worse) in many parts of the world.
“My Policeman” will resonate with anyone whose relationship has been undermined by a secret. It will haunt those who have ever feared being found out and deemed unacceptable by society. You’ll empathize with Marion if you’ve ever loved someone, and then panicked when you felt them slipping away. And anyone who has ever let fear keep them from being true to themselves, will know what Tom is going through.
I love the story this film tells, because it reflects a true understanding that love is not simple at all, but very complex. It projects knowledge of how fragile our relationships sometimes are, despite our best efforts. This story reminds those of us in the LGBTQ community that the 1950s weren’t “the good old days for us” (nor were they good for people of color, women, or anyone not male, White, cisgender and heterosexual).
And it’s a cautionary tale that unless we wake up and vote and speak out, there are those who would take us back toward those emotionally painful and physically violent days. One Supreme Court justice has already suggested, in the context of writing about the Dobbs decision, that the court should reconsider other precedents it has set, including those in Lawrence and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
As a gay man “of a certain age,” I found this film especially gripping and powerful. Memories of the secrecy and fear of my early years came rushing back as I watched, and I couldn’t hold back the tears upon realizing, once again, how unfair and cruel it was, and how far we’ve come since. If you had told me back then that in my lifetime such a story would be told in a major motion picture, I’d have thought you crazy. Those of us who lived in the world in which this movie is set will be especially moved by it.
“My Policeman” ends with a beautiful and inspiring reminder of how enduring and brave love can be. Its main characters discover that beneath the ashes of what seems like a long-dead fire, there are slightly glowing embers of love, waiting to be fanned back to life. More miraculously, they discover that no matter how hard life gets, it’s never too late to make a new start. I’m grateful for any film that touches my heart so deeply and calls me to be my best self.
In the end of the film, there is a happy conclusion – which turns out to be a beginning – for each one of them. What the characters of this film learned is similar to what I have learned in my own life. Love endures. Love endures pain, setbacks and heartbreak. It endures even if we don’t understand it. Against all odds and despite all of its challenges, love endures.