The U.S.-Mexico border isn’t open, but a migrant surge and a mishmash of messages and policies have created another crisis
Michael Glatze was once an influential, zealous leader of the LGBT community. He was the managing editor of XY Magazine, a groundbreaking magazine for gay men like himself, and then co-founder of YGA (Young Gay America), a magazine for LGBT youth. That is, until July of 2007, when Glatze publicly declared himself a Christian who no longer identifies as gay, eliciting hallelujahs from Christian circles and howls from LGBT groups. Later as a conservative pastor, he faded from public view until his former colleague wrote a 2011 New York Times Magazine article detailing Glatze’s progression from one extreme identity to another.
The newly released biopic I Am Michael is based on that article. It’s a movie that might seem unlikely—the earnest story of a gay activist on an earnest search for salvation while his gay lovers earnestly try to understand him. Despite a somewhat pro-LGBT bent, the film avoids snark or condemnation, taking a mostly impartial and consciously evenhanded approach that film critics have both lauded and criticized. Although it’s unclear how closely the film’s portrayal of his postconversion experience matches the real-life Glatze’s experience, Glatze spoke positively of the film when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.
We first meet Glatze (James Franco) as a soft-spoken pastor counseling a nervous teenager. “I just don’t understand why God made me like this,” the young man cries. “He didn’t,” Glatze replies. “Gay doesn’t exist. It’s a false identity.” The teenager becomes agitated: “This wasn’t my choice!” Glatze asks, “You want to go to heaven, right? If you’re a moral person, you’ll choose heterosexuality in order to be with God.”
The scene then flashes back to 1998 San Francisco, where Glatze canoodles with his lover Bennett (Zachary Quinto) in the morning, then pops ecstasy pills and locks lips with other men at a rave party in the evening. (That scene, plus some four-letter words and other steamy gay make-out sessions without nudity, will likely earn this currently unrated film an R.) When the shock of Matthew Shepard’s murder ripples across the nation, Glatze gnashes teeth at what he deems hatred from the religious right: “[Expletive] Christian fundamentalists! They should burn in hell.”
He then travels cross-country to make a documentary about LGBT youth with Bennett and a college student (Charlie Carver) whom they’ve picked up at the bar as a third lover. At Liberty University—“Falwell territory,” remarks Glatze—they meet a gay student who prays aloud for a grieving friend. That scene profoundly moves Glatze, who has long suppressed his own spiritual yearnings. Then during a major health scare, Glatze presses trembling palms together to pray for life—and continues praying afterward. He brings home a Bible, underlines it, and recites Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” From then on, he fights to kill his former life, stumbling from Mormonism to Buddhism to conservative Christianity in search of his “true self.”
For a film about a man seeking God, I Am Michael leaves God frustratingly distant. It’s hard not to cringe and ache for Glatze as he shifts from a radiant, life-loving man to a frowning, brooding one who looks more lost and enslaved than ever. Jesus promised, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Yet from the way the film portrays Glatze’s reversed coming-out process, it’s as if he exchanged one yoke for a heavier one: He seems more confused than assured, more self-righteous than humble, more anxious than peaceful. Sure, his desire for redemption seems sincere, but instead of leading him to worship, he turns further inward into self. The true tragedy of I Am Michael’s version of Michael isn’t his repression of who he really is, as his lover warned him—it’s his idolatrous self-gazing: He never takes his eyes off of himself to look at the free, glorious grace of Jesus Christ.