Queer Films

Welcome to Reel Queer! We are two students exploring ideas and themes in queer films throughout history. We watch one movie and produce a detailed blog post every week from March to June 2012.

May 31

Well, that’s a wrap! 

Thanks to all of our followers for being with us through our viewings! We really enjoyed maintaining this blog, and look forward to watching more queer movies in the future, as we hope you do too!

It is the end of our postings though, as spring quarter draws to a close. This blog will remain up for future reference, however.

Be kind to one another;

Kelsey and Brontë

May 26

Boys Don’t Cry

The 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry changed the face of queer films. It was the first time when a mainstream film portrayed a transgender character that was not demonized. Hilary Swank’s character of Brandon (or her birth name Teena) was not shown as a killer, a sexual predator, or a deranged psychopath. Prior to this film, the most well-known representation of a trans* person was as a dangerous and deranged serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs. Due to this character’s sexual identity, they are “otherized” and deemed abnormal and therefore dangerous. In The Silence of the Lambs the killer is self-castrated and kills young women in order to stitch together a female body suit. The killer’s motive is to become a biological woman and his issues come from this inability to inhabit the appropriate body. And at the end, “normality” is asserted when the biologically and identifying female triumphs over the “unnatural” transgendered person. (The killer from Silence of the Lambs is pictured below)

Until Boys Don’t Cry, female-to-male trans* people were largely unrepresented in media. There have been a number of movies throughout history where women cross-dress in order to gain or attain something or go undercover and there has even been some representations of lesbians or even masculine women but there has been little widely-shown media on female-born but male-identified individuals. 

Throughout the film, people around Brandon are constantly telling him that he is just a very masculine lesbian woman. Brandon, however, knows that he is a man, even if no one around him will believe it. When their friend Candace finds out that Brandon has a vagina (by finding her tampons), Tom and John strip her down to see her vagina and later rape her, believing her to be a woman. The brutal rape is done in order to control and exert power over Brandon by objectifying and otherizing her and therefore “legitimizing” the abuse. 

The events in this film were based on the real life events of Brandon Teena (pictured below), an American trans man who was raped and murdered in Humboldt, Nebraska in 1993. More information can be found here. A Girl Like Me is another film about the true story of Gwen Araujo, a young transgendered woman who was brutally murdered by four men in 2002.

May 23

Westboro Baptist Church: Ironic Pranksters or Actually Just Dumb?

(Probably actually just dumb)

This week, we watched “For The Bible Tells Me So,” a documentary on the intersection of homosexuality and religion, and the ways in which they clash and coexist.

Since I already touched on religion in my last post, I’ve decided to do a more specific topic, being the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas. The group has been around since 1967, where it began as a not-for-profit association, but wasn’t really well known outside of its hometown until 1998, when the group protested at the highly publicized funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay man murdered in Laramie, Wyoming for his homosexuality. Since then, the WBC has been protesting many events including funerals, but also picketing around organizations, such as schools or synagogues.

Although the hate group have the word “Baptist” in their name, they are in no way affiliated with any mainstream Baptist organizations. Mark Potok, from the Southern Poverty Law Center claims that the WBC’s unbelievably extreme views have ostracized them from any other religion or belief system. He says that they are a relatively small group of people who have no friends on the far right, the far left, or anywhere in between. In fact, the majority of the group’s approximately 100 members consist of the founder Fred Phelps’ own family and descendents. Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church spokeswoman, says that the group protests things like the funerals of soldiers as a means of telling people that God took these lives to punish America for tolerating homosexuality. They protest to make people angry. One of the major differences I’ve noticed with this church from any other is that they don’t want to convert people. They want others to go to hell. Genuinely, they do. I think that fact alone makes this group into something else entirely; putting aside all the hate speech they spread, this makes them different.

At its core, religion is meant to help people live better lives. It often combines two strong motivators, hope and fear. I think that one of the main things that turns people off religions is the fear element; it seems a bit rude to use emotional blackmail to get people to agree to join you, doesn’t it? But hope. A powerful thing! Pretty easy to make and incredibly difficult to extinguish. Hope is like weeds of the mind; the flowery part may be chopped off and stomped on and mutilated, but it just keeps on coming back.

The WBC doesn’t particularly use either of these things. They don’t want people to join them! They want to be hated. Really, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was an elaborate, ironic inside joke within the group. They’re mostly intelligent people too, is the thing. Most are college educated, and a number of them are rather successful lawyers. They have a law firm in their hometown of Topeka that does quite well for itself. People of the town definitely don’t like them, but if they need to win a court case, they will come to them. So the group has money and they know their rights (which is how they win when they’re sued for picketing at funerals.)

Again though…it all seems like an elaborate prank to me. They’re just too over the top. Their website is titled “godhatesfags.com” for gods’ sakes. It basically just has their picket schedule on it, which they only publicize so that counter-attacks will arrive with them. Their signs are kind of comical really, with their cheesy tie-dye gradients and bold fonts stating things like “homo sin” and then a crude stick figure depiction of anal sex. It seems like something that people would do to make fun of the stereotypical redneck conservative Americans who hate gay people, doesn’t it? When the laws are finally fixed so that queer people have equal rights, I’m half expecting them to all drop their signs and say, “finally! You all took way too long to figure this out!” It is all rather hilarious, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, the other part of me understands that despite being intelligent, some people are really just dumb as stones; and I recognize that they are in fact probably being completely serious. And it wouldn’t really explain their anti-Semitic sentiments too well. Maybe their extremism and the level of mockery they receive will convince normal homophobic people that they really are being silly; so prank or not, perhaps it’ll have the needed effect on people.



Anti-Defamation League

May 18

But I’m A Cheerleader

This week we watched a really entertaining movie called But I’m A Cheerleader. It is a 1999 satirical comedy directed by Jamie Babbit and written by Brian Wayne Peterson. It stars Natasha Lyonne as Megan, a cheerleader who is sent to True Directions in order to “cure” her lesbianism. Once there, Megan slowly comes to embrace her sexuality.

In my opinion, one of my most interesting parts of this film are the scenes at True Directions where men and women are taught to act according to their supposed gender norms. Being a satirical film, this is shown through the bright pink clothing for girls and blue clothing for boys. The girls are taught to clean, change baby diapers, and sit nicely while the boys are taught to fix cars, play football, and chop wood (though most all of them aren’t very successful with these lessons). Of course real life is not this conspicuous and these scenes are meant to be comedic but only because they reflect real-life social and gender expectations. Although not all women dress in all pink and men in all blue, the ideas behind the gender binary is still prevalent in reality. In addition to the gender-strict activities, the kids are also taught to identify the “root” of their homosexuality, such as being sexually abused or their mother being married in pants. Again, this is satirical but is of course based on real life ideas, as the writer based the film on his experiences in a gay reparative therapy camp.

For this post I am going to be focusing on these social constructions of gender roles and heteronormativity. The basis of most of the theories explored here will be based on readings from Feminist Theory: A Reader, specifically writing by  Judith Halberstam and Anne Fausto-Sterling, both feminist theorists focused on gender binaries and queer studies.

In the introduction to her book Female Masculinity, Judith Halberstam discusses The Bathroom Problem. The Bathroom Problem comes up when people with non-binary gender identities don’t feel safe and respected going into gender-specific public bathrooms. For example, someone born with male genitalia may identify as a woman but not feel comfortable using a public women’s restroom as they run the risk of being ostracized for using it. Likewise, someone with female genitalia but male identifying may fear using the men’s restroom in public, fearing violence or shame. Or someone may not identify with either gender and not feel comfortable in either bathroom! Or someone may identify with their birth gender but simply choose to dress more androgynously and still feel unsafe in gender-specific restrooms. This is something that many cisgendered individuals often overlook because it is not an immediate problem they have to deal with. However, this is the cause of tremendous anxiety for many queer people. The root of this fear and anxiety is our society’s such strict gender norms. Although it may not be as blatant as in But I’m A Cheerleader, we still largely unconsciously expect people to conform to the gender that society pushes upon them. Although The Bathroom Problem is just one of the problems faced by people of ambiguous genders, it is one of the most tangible that they face on a day-to-day basis. But why is this even a problem? How can we make such a human right (to go pee!) accessible and safe for every gender identity? Halberstam believes that we need to start operating in a world where people simply do not assume each other’s gender. Indeed, most people do not conform completely to their gender expectations. Even someone who identifies with their assigned gender may not identify with the strict gender norms. It is an absurd notion to expect everyone to act like the cut-out image of their assigned gender. But it isn’t until someone completely deviates from their assigned gender that society punishes them. However, if we were more accepting of “gender deviants” (though I don’t like that phrase) then they wouldn’t have to feel self-conscious when using public restrooms. Of course this is a lot to ask right now but we are making progress! Unisex bathrooms are popping up more and more, which is a good first step. Perhaps someday we will have all gender neutral bathrooms and maybe even gender neutral societal expectations.

Not a single person in the film fully identifies with the expectations of their gender, namely because they are simply absurd. Even men feel emotions and I don’t believe a single woman wants to be objectified and abused by society. That is why gender binaries not only pose a problem for queer individuals but for every single person in society. In addition to tackling the problem of gay reparative therapy camp, But I’m A Cheerleader did not come out and say this but through satire and comedy it pointed out these problems in society at-large. 

May 16

But I’m a Cheerleader: Real Life “Pray the Gay Away” Clinics

In the movie But I’m a Cheerleader, the main character, Megan, is sent by her parents to a specialized clinic to “pray the gay away.” Her parents, friends from school, and her boyfriend sat her down for an intervention, and she was delivered an ultimatum: go to the clinic or you won’t be allowed to stay here anymore. At this point, Megan still identifies as heterosexual, and is confused and hurt by her friends’ and family’s accusations, but concedes to attend True Directions all the same.

What follows is a string of comical characters and circumstances in Megan’s time at True Directions; it’s a satire. Taken out of context, and when it is not happening to yourself, or just a person sure and comfortable with their sexuality, it is funny. In my research, I read mostly journals from reporters who went undercover to the real life versions of True Directions, and what happens in But I’m a Cheerleader isn’t even that exaggerated. After all, the movie was written by someone who attended one of these clinics. Nowadays, these clinics have become so laced with controversy that they’re difficult to find! Most will not come outright and say what it is they do to their homosexual patients. Not to mention, the American Psychological Association (APA) declared in 2009 that the therapy given at these clinics cannot actually change a person’s sexual preference, and can be potentially harmful to the patient’s psyche.

Former presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and her husband own a “Christian counseling clinic,” a widely accepted code term for a facility that administers gay reparative treatment. A former patient of the Bachmann’s clinic came forward about the treatment he received there as a teen. The Bachmann’s denied his accusations, but the man’s information correlated with an undercover video filmed by a gay rights advocacy group who visited the clinic last year.

A person’s sexual preference can not be changed. Almost no one has a sexuality that is black and white, but no form of therapy or brainwashing can actually change it to be something it is not. It should be mentioned that these clinics are pretty exclusively operated by Christian groups; they prey on young Christians, afraid that their God won’t love them unless they are straight. Telling these people that if they try hard enough, they can change and that then their God will love them is extremely damaging. It’s not doable; they will become more and more depressed as they continuously fail at their impossible task and many commit suicide. Of those who don’t, the vast majority are deeply unhappy.

One of the worst parts of these clinics in my opinion, is that they charge their patients! A fair sum too (one of the journals I read said $600 for a 6 day program.) Most will be claiming to just adhering to their Christian beliefs, and “helping out” the homosexuals by “fixing” them. Obviously a load of bologna though! These clinics simply spread denial and hate, and they make you pay them…for them to make you feel bad. Humans are so ridiculous sometimes, I’m sorry, it’s just all so ridiculous. I feel like sometimes, people need to be reminded of the true teachings of their religion; we’re talking specifically about Christianity here, but Christians are not the only ones who are cruel to people different than them. The leaders of these clinics have justified their behavior by claiming to help these people, and you know what? Most of them genuinely believe that’s what they’re doing. One man, an ex-ex-gay who owned one of these clinics in the UK closed the place after hearing of a former patient’s suicide, and instead formed a support group for queer Christians called “Courage.” This also meant accepting his own homosexuality, however! Which is something most of the leaders of these clinics are not willing to do (most of them seem to be “ex-gays”.)

It’s important for people of faith to find a balance and a compromise between themselves and their beliefs. Queer people are perfectly capable of being happy Christians! I myself am not a religious person, so perhaps I’m not the best to give advice on this matter, but I feel like it is something that has to be reconciled within oneself. From what I know about Jesus Christ, he was a kind, compassionate person. Even if he didn’t agree with something you were doing, he wouldn’t dislike you for doing it. I feel as if he were the kind of guy to maybe even ask you why, and if you could explain yourself well, I think he’d see your side of the story and understand. I have a hard time believing Jesus would hate anybody! I’m pretty sure he’d be pretty confused by all this mess of shaming people for being queer, and he may even be a bit miffed that the people wielding the hate claim to be doing so in his name.


ABC News

The Times

One last note! Here’s an example of one of these clinics, that I believe may be still running. Glee fans will recognize the name (something I’m sure was a bit of tongue in cheek on the writers’ part!)

May 7

Queer Legislation

This week we watched The Laramie Project, a 2002 film based on the play of the same name which tells the story of the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. This film premiered at the 2002 Sundance Festival and later aired on HBO. After watching it, we realized we knew close to nothing about actual legislation about queer human rights. We researched it and posted our findings here.

Queer rights legislation in the United States has been accomplished and continues to change mostly on a state-by-state basis. Until 2003, sodomy laws in 14 states stated gay sex was illegal (rather any forms of sodomy, although most heterosexual couples would have never been prosecuted or persecuted.) However, in 2003 Lawrence v. Texas passed in the United States Supreme court and invalidated all sodomy laws, thus making it (and therefore same-sex sexual activity) legal throughout the country. Of course this doesn’t mean that people’s attitudes towards queer people were welcoming but it was an important step in queer legislation.

Currently same-sex marriage is recognized in six states: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont plus Washington, DC. In addition, Washington and Maryland both passed laws in 2012 to begin granting same-sex marriage licenses though they may be revoked by the Novermber 2012 voter referenda. Same-sex marriage could be performed in California between June 16, 2008 and November 4, 2008 before voters passed Proposition 8 which then prohibited same-sex marriages. Recently, the ruling has been found to be unconstitutional, and therefore the laws could change in the near future. The same-sex marriages performed in California during this time retained their legal status after the passing of Prop 8. Some states also recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in other states though they do not allow them to be performed in their state. In addition, six states recognize some form of same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships. All legalizations of same-sex marriage have been achieved through court rulings and legislative action not through voter referendums. The constitutions of 42 states define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman” and 30 states explicitly ban same-sex marriage unions. For more details on same-sex marriage in the United States go here

Another topic of legislation in the United States regarding queer citizens is adoption laws. In the US, states may restrict adoption by sexual orientation or marital status. Adoptions are mainly handled by local courts and so judges or courts may accept or deny petitions to adopt on a variety of criteria.

One aspect of queer legislation that has recently been the subject of much news is the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy in the military. Previously, queer people were not permitted to serve openly in the military. However, on December 18, 2010 the US Senate voted to repeal this law. While this was a fantastic step towards equality, transsexual and intersex individuals are still banned from serving openly. 

21 States as well as over 140 cities and counties have enacted laws that ban sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. However, only 16 states have amended that law to include gender identity as well as sexual orientation. 

The main point of this film, however, was hate crimes. Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered because he was homosexual. In the film, there was some footage of people who were actually questioning whether or not this constituted a “hate crime.” Since 1969, laws permitted federal prosecution of hate crimes committed against a person’s race, color, religion, or national origin and it wasn’t until 2009 that the definition was broadened to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Now, Matthew Shepard died in 1998 so technically his murder wasn’t considered a hate crime. In fact, it was in partially in response to the death of Matthew Shepard that spurred congress to pass this bill. The FBI is required to release statistics of hate crimes in the United States, which can be found here

The torture and murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming brought national and international attention to the existence of hate crimes in America and spurred legislation both at the state and federal levels. The national hate crime law was expanded to include actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability in 2009 partially in response to Matthew Shepard’s death. More information can be found here.

EDIT: In case you weren’t aware, North Carolina just approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. (source)

EDIT: President Barack Obama endorses same-sex marriage in America. (source)

The Laramie Project and Rural Homosexuality

In the film, a group of people came to Laramie, Wyoming, to interview locals for the play they were writing based on the Matthew Shepard murder and subsequent court cases. Amongst the people they interviewed were a few self-identified homosexuals. They discussed some of the difficulties of being gay in a rural location, being out to their town or not, and most of all, meeting other queer people.

One man talked about how he would go down into the city in the neighboring state of Colorado, to visit a gay bar. He claimed he would meet other men there who had been to Laramie, many of them having even lived there previously but had left due to their homosexuality. They missed it, he said.

A woman, a teacher, was an out lesbian in the town of Laramie. She expressed her fears of falling to a similar fate as Shepard did, and also fearing for her partner and child. She talked about how some women in the town, still in the closet, would refuse to be seen with her for fear of association.

Clearly, sadness and fear were popular themes amongst the gay citizens of this small Wyoming town. In rural areas, there is a distinct lack of available resources for queer people. A lot of queer culture is and was bar-centric; a lack of gay bars to meet other queer people could be a problem. There have been efforts to help queer people find places other than bars in which to meet, but still, dance clubs etc. are not places found in rural settings. Some larger cities have centers for queer youth established, too. Perhaps the biggest and most widely available resource is the internet. But that requires knowledge of certain websites, and obviously access to a computer and web connection, which are things that many people in isolated areas wouldn’t have access to.

Another thing is a lack of visibility. Many kids who grow up in rural communities have never even met a gay person (especially that they know of) and may not even know of their existence, much less be able to tell if they themselves are gay. Luckily, television shows lately have been including more and more queer characters; even those that cater to a younger audience. Unfortunately, still not everyone has access to television, and of those that do, may be not allowed to view these shows by their parents.

A common stereotype for small towns is close-mindedness. While sometimes this is true, it would seem that perhaps it is only a very small amount of people in these towns who would actively discriminate against somebody for being gay. It seems to us as though the “bad apple ruining the whole bunch” idea is what’s happening. There are still many hardships that come with being a homosexual in a rural area as mentioned above, but it wasn’t all bad. The positives of living in a small community, such as quiet, clean air, knowing many of your neighbors, etc. are still benefits that queer people can enjoy. The gay residents of Laramie loved their town. They did have some fears, but in all honesty, a fear of hate crimes will be present in an urban environment as well. Statistically speaking, violent crimes are more prevalent in urban areas. The out lesbian teacher that was interviewed met other out people who she befriended (once she came out.)

As long as there is hate and discrimination anywhere, there will be lingering fear. The biggest challenge for rural communities right now is attaining more readily available resources with information and support for queer people. Visibility is extremely important, and is vital to acceptance; a large part of what is needed in the world today.


Rural Gays and Lesbians: Building on the Strengths of Communities

Apr 30

"Bi The Way": Male vs. Female Bisexuality

Today we watched a documentary from 2008 called Bi the Way. This film followed two women, Brittany Blockman and Josephine Decker as they took a road trip across America while gathering research and experiences about bisexuality in the modern age. The women focused on five different people: David, an aspiring actor in Chiacgo; Pam, a high schooler in Tennessee who got expelled from her Catholic school for making out with a girl; Josh, an 11 year old in Texas with a gay father and progressive mother; Taryn, a dancer in LA who is in a committed polyamorous relationship; and Tahj, a hip-hop dancer in New York City who develops feelings for another man. The trailer can be watched here.

For this blog post we are going to be discussing the differences in bisexuality between the genders as expressed in the movie Bi the Way. One of the most accepted descriptions of bisexuality is expressed with the Kinsey scale of sexual responses, with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. So bisexuals would score inbetween 0 and 6. (note: asexuality is expressed with an “X”) However, testing of this scale is very inaccurate. In the film, for example, the filmmakers visited a man who was running bisexuality tests based on this scale. He would show men different kinds of pornography and test their arousal. However, bisexuality for both men and women is much more complicated that that. This test did not take into account romantic love or attachment, which also factor into human sexuality. So although the Kinsey scale is a widely accepted scale to look at, it is difficult to test and pinpoint a person’s exact sexuality in this context.

This film presented female bisexuality and male sexuality as very different. There were a number of people interviewed who argued that female sexuality in general is more fluid and thus more open to bisexual experiences. While throughout history there has been examples of young boys experimenting in homosexuality, it hasn’t been until recently that women have begun experimenting and identifying as bisexual on a large scale. Most people in the film believed this was due to more progressive ideas and viewpoints being accepted as a society. Most families in the film, even if they did not understand their children’s bisexuality, still accepted their children (the only exception being Pam’s father, who was very conservative and kicked her out of the house when she was outed by her step-mother). 

There has been a number of studies (cited here and here and here to name a few) about female bisexuality, some of them outlining the prevalence of it and others lessening or denying its existence, but the film made a point to explain how many of these studies aren’t as foolproof as they’re advertised. Most of them are focused on men only and/or don’t take into account the difference in male and female sexuality and therefore the evidence is skewed. The filmmakers themselves did not outright make any large claims about female bisexuality and usually let the people speak for themselves but they definitely made a point about the problems with studies in bisexuality and how no one has been able to adequately study its prevalence.

Male bisexuality has recently been under heavy discussion amongst scientists. A widely publicized study in 2005 from researchers at Northwestern University claimed to have discovered no evidence supporting the existence of male bisexuality. Their exact quote, “…with respect to sexual arousal and attraction, it remains to be shown that male bisexuality exists.”The film, from 2008 itself, discussed this particular study at length. At the time, the only things they had to discredit the study were personal anecdotes from interviewees they met along the road. Now though, in 2011 a pair of studies were released with differing procedures and search parameters, and came up with drastically different results. Both studies measured sexual arousal to stimuli (porn) and recorded the level of arousal from different types of porn (two men, two women.) Bisexual men were shown the two types of pornographies, and were expected to have a somewhat equal arousal rate to both. However, the men tended to have much more response to one or the other, similar to their homosexual and heterosexual counterparts (they more closely resembled homosexual response patterns.) The 2011 studies decided to take a different approach. Also measuring genital arousal, they recorded subjective arousal as well. Additionally, they used porn of two males and two females separately, like the first study, but they also included one which depicted a threesome between two males and a female. The bisexual men responded most strongly to this porn than the others, and stronger than the heterosexual and homosexual men did to it too. These recent studies “proved” that male bisexuality is rare, not non-existent.

These two studies are relatively small, so it’s difficult to draw generalizations from them. Not to mention, they just measure sexual arousal, erasing the romantic and emotional attraction that may influence one’s identity. Overall, it’s pretty difficult to run a proper experiment on something such as attraction, as it’s so deeply personal and individualistic.

It can be damaging for studies who make claims to be scientific (and therefore “correct”) to insist that something such as bisexuality does not exist. If a person identifies themselves as bisexual, who are we to tell them they don’t exist? Who is anyone to tell anybody that? We shouldn’t need science to validate us, and I don’t think we do, but others can and do use it as a weapon to invalidate people. Although, some people were offended by these new studies, saying that they are only telling us things we already know; well of course they are. But that doesn’t make them useless. Some people don’t know these things to be true, and won’t believe until science tells them so. And sometimes not even then. Researching for this post was difficult; information on the topic was sparse, to say the least. I do hope more research is done in the future, even if it can be…damaging. Technologies should improve, and who knows? Common sense may make a comeback, and perhaps the studies will be structured more intelligently. Maybe there will even be bisexuals conducting them!

One point argued by many people and even scholars in the film is that bisexuality, for both men and women, is just a transition stage into their true homosexuality. Many people would come out as bisexual before gaining the courage to come out with their true sexuality as homosexual. However, many other people in the movie made a point to disagree with this point. A large theme in the film was the current generation being the “whatever generation,” able to have sexual experiences with whomever regardless of gender. All in all, there were many different views of bisexuality and the film ended not having answered a ton of questions but rather introducing more. However, it never denied the existence of bisexuality but merely brought to light many issues and unknowns surrounding it.


Apr 23

Imagine Me & You & “Gay Panic”

First, an explanation. “Gay panic” in the way I’m going to be referring to it in this post is not the bogus legal defence that has been used in an attempt to excuse hate crimes. In fact, this is something that I learned in my research for this post. It is seldom used now, and even when it was used, was often ineffective, but the fact remains that people actually tried to use this defence as a sort of temporary insanity plea; “they went into a violent rage temporarily due to a little known psychological condition called ‘homosexual panic’.” I want to laugh because I’m so horrified. Would it have been acceptable if the crime had been racially driven? Pleading temporary insanity because of an overwhelming hatred of people of color? Perhaps at some point in history. I suppose we’re only a few years on from that point for the queer community.

Despite the unfortunate history of the phrase, most young people use “gay panic” to refer to either the beginning stages of a person’s discovery of their queer sexuality, or just to someone who is very homophobic but in a non-violent, almost comical way. The man who hugs his male friend with a pat on the back and a genial “no homo.” Although it can be kind of funny, it is still homophobia (let us not downplay this.)

Through my research, I’ve noticed that the former (the type we will focus on here) can be nearly equated to a person going through The 5 Stages of Grief. Now, coming to terms with one’s sexuality isn’t necessarily a negative process! The 5 Stages of Grief are: 1. Denial, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, 5. Acceptance. This order isn’t necessarily chronological, and some stages may be repeated. Generally, this model (theKübler-Ross model) is applied to the grieving process, so has a…sad connotation. However, due to society’s projections and expectations, there is a bit of a loss for many people in realizing a queer identity. The future that was set out for one, and one’s imaginings of the future are often rendered moot, or at least it can seem that way at first.

In the film Imagine Me & You, Rachel shows signs of going through a few of these stages. Although it isn’t blatant, and the movie doesn’t dwell on these moments, they are clear to the attentive viewer (thanks in part to Piper Perabo’s acting, as many of these are better picked up by Rachel’s facial expressions!) The most obvious one that I noticed, and I think is the most real to life of her moments, is almost like her last ditch effort to prove to herself her heterosexuality; when she and Hec are driving in the car at night and Rachel is unable to lie to herself completely about her feelings for Luce, she tells Hec to stop the car so that the couple can go into the park nearby and have sex (as they did when they had just begun dating.) Hec says she’s being crazy, but obliges anyway. It ends in awkwardness and embarrassment, but this was an important moment for Rachel. It was her bargaining stage, which I think is the most clear of all the stages when it comes to dealing with gay panic. A self-forced reversion to heterosexuality, despite acknowledging romantic and/or sexual feelings for the same sex. It’s also a shame, because this action is erasing bisexuality as a valid identity, which many don’t credit it as. In the film, it isn’t ever discussed that Rachel could potentially identify as bisexual; after she falls for Luce, she identifies herself as a lesbian. Which is something that happens in reality and is alright, but bisexuality is perfectly valid, and Rachel truly did love Hec and was attracted to him both romantically and sexually. Just a little something that bugs us sometimes.

It’s safe to say that Rachel spends most of the film in the denial stage (perhaps because this lends itself most to comedy?) Throughout the entire beginning of the film, and she flops back into her denial at random intervals throughout. The poor dear. She really does go through a lot of stressing out over this, and rightly so; she has a lot to lose. When Rachel came out to her parents after Hec left her, her mother was not thrilled. This didn’t occur until the very end of the film, and wanting a happy ending, the filmmakers sped up her mother’s acceptance into one hectic car ride. It was a shame, but alas. It’s just a feel-good romcom. During the car ride, Rachel’s mother makes several rude comments to her, which Rachel generally ignores. Her father is accepting of her right away, which I was okay with, because that does often happen! I feel as if having one parent immediately supportive and the other not was a good choice on the filmmakers’ part. It’s realistic. Her parents discussed the situation briefly in the car together, and her mother did eventually warm up to the idea somewhat. By this time, Rachel had accepted her love for Luce and was willing to do anything to be with her, and so was unfazed by her mother’s comments. In real life, those comments would still sting. Again though, it’s a romcom! A movie one watches to get away from real life. It is a cute film with a sped up and glossed over, but all in all fairly accurate representation of one coming to terms with confusing feelings towards a person of the same sex for the first time.


The Beast in the Closet by Eve Sedgwick

Kübler-Ross Model

Imagine Me and You

This week we decided to focus on mainstream romantic comedy queer films. For this blog we set out to watch films from every genre and a mainstream genre like romantic comedies are important to look at through a queer lens because they are so widely watched by the population. The film that we chose to watch this week is Imagine Me and You, a 2005 British-American romantic comedy written and directed by Ol Parker and starring Lena Headey and Piper Perabo playing Luce and Rachel, respectively. The two women meet at Rachel’s wedding (where Luce is the florist) and fall in love at first sight. Adhering to typical romantic-comedy tropes, the film follows Luce and Rachel, who keep running into each other in wacky situations, and the film ends with them happily together. The trailer for this film can be watched here.

For this week’s blog posts we will be discussing two subjects: The representation/inclusion of queer people in mainstream movies and (in a separate post) the phenomenon commonly referred to as “gay panic.”

We discussed various historical examples of queer people in films in our blog post on The Celluloid Closet and although it is important to look back on historical examples, we also want to focus on modern representations of queer people and queer issues. Although there have been recent movies that tackle queer issues and include realistic representations of queer people, it is still important to understand the problems with mainstream queer movies. Imagine Me and You was released in 2005, right after Brokeback Mountain came out (in fact, trailers for Imagine Me and You were shown before Brokeback Mountain, the only relation to the two movies being gay main characters). At first it is a nice thought that mainstream movies could succeed if the story centered on a lesbian relationship because ideally it would portray them as real. And although it is miles better than many historical representations, the lesbian women being more than just a joke, but there are still a number of issues that need to be discussed regarding this film.

Imagine Me and You made over $2,635,305 at the box office. Although this isn’t awful, it is not nearly as much as other romantic comedies of the same ilk. It was only shown on eight screens in America. Although this was over seven years ago, the only newer romantic comedy films that include a lesbian relationship as the center of the plot are either foreign, independent films, or not romantic comedies. And think of the number of romantic comedies centering around a straight couple that come out every year. I can name five off the top of my head that have come out in the past year, and I’m positive there are many others. It is important to make mainstream films that include queer relationships in order to normalize the existence of queer people. Without realistic, positive, and accessible representations of normal lesbian relationships in mainstream films, we will continue to view them on the outskirts of film and therefore on the outskirts of society. 

I’m not saying that Imagine Me and You is the perfect representation of queer women. There were a number of issues I took with Luce and Rachel and the writing of their relationship in this film. Although neither of them ended up being complete stereotypes and we get to feel both of their struggles (as deeply as we can while still being a light romantic comedy), the writers completely ignored many issues that lesbian and questioning women tackle in their lives. Rachel, the woman who got married, struggled with her identity as a straight woman while being in love with another woman. However, never once is this problem discussed in the film. Throughout the film Rachel tries to ignore this identity struggle and in the end she has no discussion about her identity and simply accepts her attraction to Luce. There was no question of bisexuality or other sexual orientation. Rachel’s character was portrayed as straight (as she was in love with her husband) until she met the one woman she falls in love with: Luce. I’m not saying this is wrong - of course this happens in real life - but I think Rachel’s character should reflect on herself more so it doesn’t give the audience the wrong idea about or lessen lesbian and other queer identity struggles. 

In order to bring in and market to larger audiences, the filmmakers had to make the lesbian representations not only as attractive and whitewashed as possible (there are a few people of color in this movie, but they are very minor characters) but also make them seem as “straight” as possible. Both Luce and Rachel are "lipstick lesbians" - very feminine and able to blend into “the real world.” Although this is not unrealistic, it would be nice to see representation of other gender expressions by queer people in mainstream films.

That being said, there was at least one scene that I thought handled the experience and existence of lesbians very well. Luce makes friends with Rachel’s very young sister H and at one point H asks her if she has a boyfriend and Luce says no. H responds by saying that she’s sure Luce will find a boy to spend her life with some day. Luce says she’s actually going to spend her life with a woman and H says that she, too, wants to spend her life with her best female friend and “it doesn’t mean you’re a lesbian!” to which Luce just smiles. I thought it was important and good to have a character like Luce who was comfortable but realistic in her identity as a lesbian. Although they didn’t delve any deeper into her identity, and until meeting Rachel she was portrayed as very lonely, it was good to have a character who was comfortable with her sexual orientation seen through the eyes of a young girl.

Of course this film couldn’t go deeper into queer issues while staying a light, sweet romantic comedy. However, in order to influence society into accepting and understanding the deeper issues in queer people’s lives, we need more mainstream films that tackle such issues. In addition, this film was rated R despite a lack of explicit sexual scenes, or foul language. The kissing between Luce and Rachel is no more than literally rolling around on a bed of flowers (in Luce’s flower shop while they kiss tenderly.) This not only poses problems with the rating system and their relationship with queer sex, but also portrays lesbian sexuality as innocent and sweet and also not at all realistic. Again, this may just be a side-effect of this film being a romantic comedy but the lack of passionate kissing and sexuality made the love-at-first-sight and Rachel’s subsequent leaving of her husband to seem a little absurd. And what if it had been a straight couple? Wouldn’t we have gotten to see more action? 

All in all, I would have liked to see the filmmakers tackle more queer issues with sexual identity instead of transporting two women into a reflection of a simple heterosexual relationship. 


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