One week after the Orlando shootings, I still can’t get it out of my mind. Whatever the purpose of the shooter, the one thing that sticks in my mind is that this happened in the LGBTQ’s place of solace. For ages, the gay bar has been one of the few places of connection for the queer community, where we can finally drop all of our pretenses and just be ourselves. Though the new generations are seeing expanding borders into what we can call “home,” including high school and even all-inclusive chuches, the gay bar is still a historic place of community where we reach beyond our friends.
The 2014 Swiss docudrama The Circle – not to be confused with Dave Egger’s The Circle nor the sci-fi film Circle – is about one of the first attempts at queer communication in 20th Century Europe. The Circle is about the a gay publication titled The Circle that had a secretive mailing list for the illegality of homosexuality. The news magazine would have annual queer parties for their readership where they could convene with other queer people if only for one night. In 1940s Zurich, there was also a gay bar that would serve as home base, but would be frequently raided by the police. When there was a series of murders of gay prostitutes, The Circle became targeted for its promotion of homosexuality.
Stefan Haupt tells the story through the eyes of Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp, two gay men who were near the inner circles of the magazine. Ostertag and Rapp met at one of the parties, and their interviews are interspersed in between the scripted dramatic retellings, providing the documentary backbone to the fictionalization. The two are lively characters even now, and their romance provides a sweetness to the harsh realities that were face in years prior.
Why were gay bars considered the LGBTQ home? Why does Orlando hit as hard as it does? I told somebody that a gay bar is where a gay person can go to hit on somebody knowing that they at least share the same sexuality (yes, we like you straight allies, but most of us would rather know that we have a chance). But, it is more than that. There’s a shared culture that happens at a gay bar. There’s a common knowledge that gets communicated, passed down, and otherwise spread in places where these conversations are considered out of range. The Circle was one of these places where a culture was shared. In a way, that’s the safety of having a bar called The Eagle in almost every major city. It creates a collective home. When that home is invaded, the violation runs deep.
The Circle streams free on Netflix, or for rent on Amazon.