I’m pretty sure it’s impossible for us to love everyone who loves us. If that were the case, then relationships would be so fucking easy. But we’ve all had experiences that remind us that love is never really that simple. We can be best friends with a person, but that doesn’t mean we need them to be our boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. We can even love someone and want to marry them and the relationship doesn’t work out. We can be married to the person we love and the relationship can not work out. Love is not a simple thing.
The question is: What do you do when you love someone who doesn’t love you? And what do you do when you don’t love someone who loves you?
In the case of Stonewall, we see two fates.
You can be Danny/Joe.
You can be Danny/Ray.
And what a difference that is. The relationship between Danny and Joe is a bittersweet one. They care about one another, but Joe can’t have Danny in his life. Whatever love is there gets thrown away.
Where Danny and Ray may not work as a couple, but they put their romantic differences aside for the greater good of salvaging their relationship. In that way, they manage to not just stay friends but to, eventually, become as family.
It’s one thing for Stonewall to just have this theme of loving someone who can’t love you. It’s another thing to have that theme seen from two different perspectives: as the rejector and as the rejected. The thing I admire is that Stonewall goes even further to explore what possibly could come next for someone in this situation.
Which path would you take?
I really like that Stonewall doesn’t just cover the Stonewall event but includes this relationship subplot. That makes Stonewall not just a look back on a historical moment, but also a movie that can instruct someone in the present day. Are you going to treat someone how Joe treats Danny? Or will you treat them how Danny treats Ray? And on the flip side. If you’re the one rejected…will you have the strength and grace that Ray has to accept that and transition into something that may not be what you want but is still good?
It may not be the ultimate question that Stonewall asks, or even the intended question, but, to me, the most important question in Stonewall is: is it better to have someone in your life or not at all?
We can extrapolate that from Danny/Joe/Ray to Danny and his family.
The prodigal father
Danny’s father rejects him. For no reason other than Danny’s sexuality. This is, really, the entire reason why Danny’s in the situation he’s in. If his father had been okay with Danny’s sexuality then Danny probably would never have left when he did. He would have ended up in NYC eventually, but with an apartment, with money, completely oblivious to the folks on Christopher Street.
At the movie’s end, when Danny’s home visiting Indiana, he has the moment of being on the road when his dad drives by. After pulling over and seeming like he’ll interact with Danny, the father drives on. This is a third rejection of Danny (number two being the refusal to sign Danny’s scholarship). The heartbreaking thing is that Danny seems happy when his father pulls over. You can imagine him thinking this is the first step. This can’t or won’t heal all the damage that’s been done…but it would be a start. Danny was ready to have his father in his life, even if it would be a stressful, difficult thing for them.
But the father, reaching that same moment of choice, chose to not include Danny.
We see the fallout from this. Danny, back in NYC, marching in the first pride parade, his mother and sister in attendance. The father’s choice to reject Danny has led the mother and sister to a choice as well. Do they side with the father or Danny?
They pick Danny.
Danny doesn’t let the choices of others affect him. At least from what we can tell by the end. He looks happy, he looks healthy. He has his new family, and some of his original family. He’s not letting Joe get to him. He’s not letting his dad get to him. There’s an acceptance of the world. For who people are, for what they want. Danny can’t change how his father feels, how Joe feels. All he can do is live his life to the best of his ability.
I think that idea of acceptance is meaningful given the historical context of Stonewall being a fight for LGBTQ equality. At the time, the LGBTQ community was almost wholly unaccepted by the general public. The public, in response, had plenty of nasty labels for the community, they dehumanized, violated, attacked, shunned. It was awful. It’s awful that there are still people who attempt to do this.
But on the larger scale, Stonewall gets at the blossoming of LGBTQ pride. Instead of staying on their section of Christopher Street, demarcated from the rest of society, the community unites and marches across the city. This was a rejection of society’s failure to accept. This act of self-acceptance ended up being a defining moment in American society. It’s kind of cool then to view Danny’s struggle with acceptance from others and self-acceptance works in tandem with the LGBTQ’s struggle with acceptance from others and self-acceptance.