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Writer/director John Cameron Mitchell, who previously starred in and directed the film adaptation of his stage hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch, explores the lives of several present-day New Yorkers as they navigate the comic and tragic intersection of love and sex. Male and female, straight and gay, the characters find one and other—and eventually find themselves—when they all converge at a weekly underground salon called Shortbus, a mad nexus of art, music, politics and polysexual carnality. Mitchell developed the film's sexually explicit narrative along with his ensemble cast, most of whom are making their feature film debuts.

 Why My New Film Has Real Sex In It

Sex, sex, sex. Yes, my new film has a lot of sex, and real sex at that. It’s one of many recent cinematic exercises to see whether ultra-explicit sex can be used in a non-pornographic way (i.e., not focused on getting you off) to tell us more about the film’s characters and, we hope, ourselves. Sadly, most of these recent films seem to end in rape, dismemberment and despair. They seem to portray as negative a view of sex as Jerry Falwell’s. I’m guessing it’s because the filmmakers are scared of sex and they’re doing what any good artist does—confront it in their work. Sex is scary because it’s got power over us, which pisses people off. Studies show that the cultures most terrified of sex are the ones that have the highest rates of violence—sexual and other. I’m scared of sex too. The only thing that distinguishes my new film from the recent ones is that mine’s got more slapstick in it. And it’s got a cameo of me doing something I’ve never done before.

I got my “birds and bees,” not from my parents, or a health teacher or even friends, but from a Benedictine monk at the cut-rate Scottish boys boarding school I was sent off to when I was wee. Luckily, it wasn’t in the “bad touch” way. In fact, the monk who was kindest to me was a big closet case—I realized much later. When he recognized potential queeritude, sensitive lad that I was, he stood up to the bullies for me. Thank God I wasn’t his type. I remember one day; I was hurtling towards puberty when the gimlet-eyed headmaster, Father Bob, plucked me from the refectory (i.e., cafeteria), pushed me into his empty study, shoved a pamphlet in my hands, said he’d be back in an hour and locked the door. I opened the dog-eared booklet—four pages of skeletal physiology delivered in that grudging tone that popes adopt when acknowledging the necessity of copulation. I finished reading, my mind a whirl—Am I allowed to touch it? How many holes does a woman have down there? What did he mean “an hour”? Was this some kind of test giving a 12-year-old boy teetering on the brink of puberty a sex brochure and an hour? Were those real eyes in that Jesus painting?

Not too long before that, a minor scandal had shattered the monotony. A “racy” book, Baby Doll (which had like one tit in it), was being passed from boy to boy and one of the monks came upon it (ahem). I was a link in the unholy chain. We were all lined up in the library. Whomever had read it had to own up or everyone would be punished—no buns for a week (i.e., frosted dinner rolls served off the back of a truck after rugby). I was a good boy—and, in the eyes of Fr. Bob, on the fast track to monkhood—so I stepped forward. I didn’t get caned on the hands like the rest because it was my first offense, but I learned my lesson and, henceforth, I tried very hard to ignore the swelling in my woolens.

Twenty-six minutes till the door would be unlocked. Why did I feel like a dead man walking?

Then there was the time I was among a small group of boys invited up to Fr. Bob’s study in the dead of night—an unheard-of honor. He solemnly read to us from a book written by a priest who had been “possessed” for many years. Finally, he was exorcized, but soon was possessed again. “Repossessed?” I was too scared to ask. The priest wrote of unspecified, vaguely carnal horrors that he had perpetrated while in Lucifer’s thrall. Suddenly, a clock struck midnight. We jumped. Fr. Bob stared at us hard. “Remember boys, the easiest way for him to enter your heart…is for you to think about him.” He closed the book. “All right, then, off to bed!"

The key was finally turning in the lock! I looked at the clock. Exactly an hour had passed. Fr. Bob towered in the doorway. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. Not that I was looking for them. He reached out his hand. I started to shake. I reached out my hand. But he just wanted the brochure back.

“Any questions?”