As the coverage of NBA player Jason Collins has shown, reactions to coming out stories are no longer (necessarily) full of tears, bile, and/or venom. Sure, Collins has received occasional gay name-calling and stirred up predictable anxiety about locker room politics: that quirky, tummy-twitching little nervousness born of internalized homo-eroticism. (Inserted: Truth.) But for the most part he's been lauded for breaking down a barrier of silence and shame in the sports world, America's game preserve of masculinity.
Of course, the idea that male gayness should be immediately conflated with femininity is a uniquely modern notion anyway. I doubt Spartan warriors would have taken kindly to Drag Race-esque suggestions to "Sissy that walk, hunty!" (Although wouldn't 300 have been way better if the Spartans and Persians settled the war by lip syncing... for... their... liiiiiiives?) But that's a subject for another day.
Point is, telling people you're gay in 2013 doesn't always result in the type of angst and turmoil depicted in 1950s melodramas inspired by the work of Tennessee Williams. ("You're a - a queer sort?" GASPS, CLUTCHES PEARLS.) That's great. But can tolerance, when misguided, go so far that it inadvertently becomes insulting? Can overenthusiastic acceptance jump the proverbial shark and become patronizing? Those are the questions asked by G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend), a new comedy flick screening at the Museum of Fine Arts on Friday as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival.
Synopsis: Gay teen Tanner comes out to his totally-hip-with-it mom (Will & Grace alum Megan Mullally) and high school classmates. He immediately becomes the Most Popular Boy at Skewl, where all the girls compete for the cache of super-fabulous coolness that comes with having a real-life G.B.F. at your side! ("Our very own homosexual!" Squeal!) Tanner even finds himself subjected to a 'mo makeover at their hands, since he disappointingly, "doesn't even sound like the ones on Bravo."
Just to be clear, the open (if condescending) arms that await Tanner does not represent the experience of all, or even most, gay teenagers. There's a reason why certain statistics show that LGBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and are three times more likely to report feeling unsafe at school. (And yes, being harassed because you're gay is different than being harassed for other reasons - which, at the risk of shilling my own writing, I attempt to explain here.)
But lawd, there's no doubt that a subset of young women exists that views gay pals in strictly self-serving terms like "shopping partner!" and "my bestest girlfriend - but better." To these Debra Messing in the Makings, sweet though their intentions may be, it's not always about wanting a friend with his own rounded identity. It's about wanting an accessory that, like a designer belt, makes them look fashionable by association. It's about wanting a lapdog to fawn over. It's about wanting an on-call therapist and sycophant. ("My G.B.F. is just waiting to come out of the closet and tell me how fierce I am!" yelps JoJo in the film trailer.)
It's refreshing to see a flick take that condescension to task.
G.B.F. director Darren Stein is the guy behind Jawbreakers, an undeservedly overlooked '90s teen comedy about praying mantis mean girls. Stein had said that the dark comedy and high camp of Jawbreakers was partly inspired by the '80s high school classic Heathers, but it seems like G.B.F. might be a closer thematic cousin: in both films, a previously ignoble condition (in Heathers it's teen depression) suddenly becomes a badge of trendiness.
The rightful celebration of Collins' coming-out aside, it'll be nice when being gay is a matter of ordinariness, too.
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