I've always been
As warm up to the famous shower scene we get a montage detailing the friendship of Billy and Erich (Norbert Weisser) a fellow prisoner. They've been in this hellhole for years. They do yoga together. They bathe each other. They even duet on a private meditation mantra...
Monastery. Cloister. Cave. PrisonThey lock eyes while chanting this repetitive phase. Billy drops his head with sadness at the word "prison" and we dissolve to a shot of the intimate friends showering together. In the steam Erich tenderly grabs Billy's soapy hand, slides his hands up Billy's body and pulls him slowly into a passionate kiss. Billy hesitates and then fully reciprocates.
Here's the curious part.
Moments after he's begun passionately kissing Erich back, he pushes him away. Lifts his hand to kiss it, shakes his head in a strangely condescending manner (I love you but I'm not that way) and exits the shower. Despite his willingness to work out, chant, bathe and lock lips with his friend... he draws the line at sex.
Erich is understandably bummed.
Never mind sequential logic. Never mind that Billy has gone for years without sex. Never mind that he's already comfortable kissing, being bathed by and getting naked with Erich. Never mind that the real life Billy Hayes actually did have consensual sex with fellow prisoners according to his autobiography. In Oliver Stone's Oscar nominated screenplay, "Billy" isn't having it. This scene has always utterly confused me on a basic human level, sexual orientation being beside the point. I'm gay but if you threw me in a prison for years and my only option for human tenderness was sex with a girl I liked who was into me? I wouldn't shake my head and walk away. I'd be... 'how often, when, where and what position? Let's go!'
I recently saw the elusive picture Girlfriends (also from 1978) and there's an oddly parallel sequence: the lead character's new female roommate begins to caress her shoulder and tries to kiss and undress her. Our heroine gently pushes the misguided girl's hand away and quietly says "no." I can only come to the reductive conclusion that in 1978 this was exactly the way liberal Hollywood felt about the gays -- tolerated them, kinda dug them on an one-on-one basis, but were still totally weirded out by them. The sequence in Girlfriends is a throwaway and doesn't interrupt the movie's flow. In the case of Midnight Express, the filmmakers seem to be letting their own sexual prudishness get in the way of narrative logic. Answer me this: If Billy wasn't going to have sex with Erich, why was their foreplay still included in the movie?