March 15, 2016 | REBEL | Brookville, NY
It’s not every day that your film is advertised on a highway – I was pleased to see that Long Island University was advertising it’s screening of REBEL alongside Brahms, Mendelssonh & Shumann. I felt in excellent company.
I visited with several classes gathered together during the LIU Post “common hour” to talk about gender and sexuality and identity issues. A number of students were curious to understand how Loreta Velazquez, the cross dressing woman soldier of the American Civil War, identified herself sexually and in terms of gender.
Loreta talks about “making love to women” during the period she was passing as a soldier in the war. She dressed as a man and courted women during her time spent in town in between her service to the Confederacy. It is natural to wonder whether she was gay. There are a couple of reasons I don’t impose that interpretation on her identity, although her sexuality is open to question since she does not discuss any intimacies in the memoir.
First, we must be careful not to presentise Victorian language – “making love” in the Victorian period could mean that a couple sat on a bench talking, rather than their sleeping together.
Her stated reason for cross dressing was that she wanted to access the power and the freedoms offered men of her time, not that she wanted to be an actual man. And she states that she courted women because it would have been suspicious for her not to since that was expected of the men of her time when “off duty” and so it was a form of gender “cover.”
When she says she wishes she had been born a man instead of a woman, the context is that she is bemoaning the limited choices available to women as opposed to men. When she describes courting women, she states she is doing so as a ruse to hide her gender. When she discusses her liaisons with men, she admits to being romantically involved with them. Although she may have been misrepresenting her real feelings in the memoir, Loreta deliberately presents herself as a heterosexual woman who marries multiple times, likes men, and has children.
That evening I met with dozens of film students at a lovely reception organized by the head of the LIU film department, the marvelous Susan Zeig, who produced two classics of Puerto Rican historical documentaries, Plena is Song, and Manos A La Obra. So many were eager to enter the workforce after graduation and I talked to them about career choices. The most important thing I felt I could share was not just about being a good student or making good films, but about connecting with others in the film industry, attending industry events, and making sure that they maintained relationships with their filmmaking cohort and with industry colleagues as they developed in their career. In film, as in so many industries, it’s all about connecting to others in your industry!
Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Maria Agui Carter.