content warning for bullying, self-harm, suicide, and violence at link.
this video was recently brought to my attention. titled “love is all you need?,” the point of the short film is to bring awareness to the harmful effects of homophobia via the route of reversing homophobia—and the end result is heterophobia, the hatred of straight people. it showcases a young girl’s struggles of being heterosexual in a homosexual world. in the short film, ashley fights to overcome the effects of bullying, rejection born of fear, parental pressure, inability to come out…you know, all the things typically associated with being a marginalized white, cishet, middle class girl in america.
it’s been hailed as an eye-opener for people across america. it’s been praised as heartbreaking, touching, and universally powerful. it’s groundbreaking! it gives exposure to stories of bullying and hatred in our society! but do you know what it actually doesn’t do?
broadcast the voices of queer people.
when we make a short film about reverse oppression, we aren’t actually opening anybody’s eyes to anything (or, rather, we shouldn’t be). it’s not revolutionary or even particularly interesting. showcasing a young straight girl’s romance, regardless of the subsequent failure of said romance, is simply giving representation to more straight people. it makes it appear as though the problems of gay people could be the problems of straight people; however, in the process, it fails to recognize the very diverse voices of queer people all across the world.
not only is the film still focusing on straight people (because heaven forbid we portray queer people in a positive light!), it’s also appropriating the stories of queer people by directly lifting elements from their story and imposing them onto a straight character. and why? because we want this medicine to go down easy, don’t we? what this film basically does is take away the endlessly valuable queer voices that we need in the media, assigning their stories to a more acceptable vehicle in the form of a straight girl.
think about this for a second. there have been countless films about the horrors of homophobia and the harmful effects of heteronormativity—yet what’s the only one that gets any coverage? that’s right: one that paints straight people as the real victims. we are supposed to not only empathize but also sympathize with the main character. we are still supposed to view gay people as the ‘other,’ the anonymous entity that is opposing everything we hold dear to our hearts as a nation.
do you know where my representation in this short film is? it’s in the bullies. it’s in the cruel taunts, the teasing, and the violent hands. my representation is being painted as the bane of society—a view that is already pervasive enough in the media. we were assigned the role of school bully; we were assigned the role of stereotypical gay kid; we were assigned the role of the ones that drive others to suicide.
that isn’t the only thing i found wrong with this video, though. in fact, there’s so much wrong with it that i might not be able to fit it all in one post. but something that was constantly bugging me throughout the film was how the film dealt with gender roles.
we already know that the film worked pretty hard to reverse ‘gay’ and ‘straight,’ something they were pretty upfront about. but if you watch it, you can see that they did some bizarre clusterfuck of gender roles too—and by reversal, i mean they clearly had zero concept of gender roles. when ashley was talking to her mothers, one of them mentions the football team; when ashley admits she didn’t make the football team, she’s ashamed, but does say that she’s going to be in the school play.
now back up for just a second here. her lesbian parents want her to try out for the football team; instead, she tries out for the school play, which is shown to be almost exclusive to gay guys (romeo and julio; she has a minor part, etc.). if you think that doesn’t sound like stereotyping in itself, then you need to reevaluate whether you’re stereotyping or not. lesbians are all tough and manly and play football! gay guys are all girly and effeminate and like drama!
believe it or not, this is NOT turning anything on its head. this is so rooted in society that it’s tired to even see it being used in a short film about bullying LGBTQ+ youth. this just cements and one hundred percent reinforces the idea that liking girls is a masculine trait while liking boys is a feminine trait. now, where could that idea possibly come from? (hint: it’s homophobia!)
however, every lesbian couple you see is still beautiful and feminine, even though they did throw in a shitty bit about the football-drama dichotomy. both of ashley’s mothers wear traditionally feminine clothing, have long hair, etc., while any boy you see is still traditionally masculine. no exploration of how gender expression could potentially be more free in a homonormative world has been done at all. butch & femme have been erased ENTIRELY—and this is some very serious erasure to be done in a film that claims to turn inequality on its head.
it still has the very stereotypical mother-father dynamics firmly set in place. one of ashley’s mother acts more ‘motherly’ toward her, while the other has more of a ‘tough love’ act about her and is clearly supposed to represent the father. we’ve seen the tired cliche ‘gay son coming out to parents, father is disappointed’ scene over and over, and this echoes it. the implications of having a father-mother dynamic instead of a mother-mother (or father-father) include giving a pretty clear statement that same-sex marriages are STILL dependent on heterosexual roles.
it doesn’t help that homophobia is grossly simplified in the short film. all the adults are seen as rather clueless; they just ‘grew up that way.’ they’re either concerned for ashley and sometimes a bit abrasive, or they’re crazy religious zealots! all the bullies are just evil nameless homos, because there is no possible way that anybody could engage in homophobia in ways other than taunting or violence. it ignores how pervasive homophobia truly is by assigning it to arbitrary figures. now straight allies get to pat themselves on the back. “i’ve never beaten up a queer person before! i must not be homophobic!”
this film doesn’t even begin to encompass, however, the huge reality of what LGBTQ+ actually means. it’s supposed to be a film to showcase bullying and how wrong it is; however, the only thing that’s truly changed is that it’s a homonormative world rather than a heteronormative one. it is still clearly cisnormative, mononormative (i.e., pansexuality/omnisexuality, trisexuality, asexuality, bisexuality, etc. don’t exist) world. there are no trans* people to speak of, nor are there any people with anything but a monosexuality. cis gay, cis lesbian, cis straight. those are the three things you can be. is this starting to sound like some seriously shitty representation or what? (there are also no polygamous relationships, but come on—media should have at least caught up enough to showcase a slightly more complex relationship between TWO people.)
there’s some serious racial stuff going on as well. the main character, along with her family, are undeniably white. however, several of the girls who bully ashley at least appear asian, and one of the boys who plays ‘smear the queer’ with her is an older black male. your only characters of color are portrayed as Evil Gay Bullies. that is problematic whether you like it or not.
moreover: straight people are not ignorant. this film assumes that every homophobe, every straight person, must be ignorant in order to bully. this is a ridiculous point of view. straight people actively ignore queer struggles; straight people actively fight against them every fucking step of the way. this is not ignorance, this is privilege and hatred. stop treating them like babies who need to be coddled. they need to get a fucking education, stop being so hateful, and get a clue about what queer struggle really is—and not in the terms of ‘oh look at the poor straight girl.’
the final point i’d like to make, at least for this post, is to address the slurs. several slurs are used for straight people in the film. the main one appears to be ‘breeder,’ a derogatory word for men who sleep with women or vice versa. (a ridiculously cisnormative definition, but what can you expect?) however, d*ke and f*ggot are also used repeatedly—as is queer. that word, for any of you who don’t know, should be reserved for somebody who does not conform to the gender binary or is not heterosexual. a gay male can call himself queer. a trisexual person can call themselves queer. a trans* lesbian can call herself queer. somebody who identifies with no gender can call themselves queer. a cis lesbian can call herself queer. somebody with a non-european idea of gender can call themselves queer. but a straight cis woman has done no work to reclaim the term. the term never referred to straight cis women in the first place. why in the world is it acceptable for them to appropriate the term from us? it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous. same with d*ke—that is a word for lesbians to reclaim. and same for f*ggot—that is a word for gay men to reclaim.
what we NEED to do is give more queer people voices. we need to let them talk about their experiences. we need to be intersectional; we need to acknowledge the huge span of LGBTQ+ issues and not simplify them to a ‘powerful’ or ‘moving’ feature that does little but make people feel good about themselves while simultaneously setting harmful gender roles in stone.