Hey guys, and welcome to our new blog series, Queer Culture. Each week, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the films, tv shows, books and characters that have had a part in defining queer culture. Our film this week is Jamie Babbit’s 1999 romcom, But I’m a Cheerleader. Starring Natasha Lyonne (yes, that’s Nicky from Orange is the New Black) as a seventeen year old cheerleader who gets sent on a gay conversion therapy course, it might not sound all that comedic. But with RuPaul as a counsellor and with conservative homophobes to make fun of, But I’m a Cheerleader manages to be a funny, relatable watch that will make your little gay heart happy.
Lyonne’s character, Megan, is sent to the course by her parents and friends, who think she’s a lesbian because she has Melissa Etheridge posters and likes to look at pictures of half-naked women, which should give you some idea of the kind of tongue-in-cheek, stereotype-mocking humour in the film. There, she meets other queer kids, including Clea DuVall’s character Graham, who probably inspired more lesbian awakenings than Ruby Rose could ever hope to.
The queer characters are taught how to act and dress in a gender normative way, how to work out what made them queer (‘my mother got married in pants’) and even how to have sex like straight people. The set and costume design include A LOT of pink and blue. Like, a ridiculous amount.
But despite the genuine horror of conversion therapy, the characters manage to forge relationships, including a romantic plotline to rival Kat and Patrick from 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s mostly okay to watch with your parents, but there is a pretty intimate (if not explicit) lesbian sex scene that might be awkward to watch with the folks. The film panders to a lot of stereotypes, especially of gay men, and the main characters are predominantly cisgender. There are plenty of things about it that wouldn’t hold with today’s standards, but it remains one of only a handful of queer romcoms.
Even as a comedy, it also addresses a lot of difficult issues, including conversion therapy, homophobia, heavily defined gender roles and being kicked out by your family for being gay. Clea DuVall’s character, Graham, is repeatedly told by her parents that if she doesn’t ‘get this gay thing out of her system’ by the end of the course, they will disown her and prevent her from going to college. Though Megan’s father is shown to have accepted his daughter by the end of the film, he and Megan’s mother tell her that she won’t be welcome at home if she continues to be gay.
We queers have a lot of films that deal with the issues we face, upsetting, usually artsy films that usually end badly. Those films are a good watch and they’re important to raise awareness of these issues in the wider community. But you don’t always want to curl up with a sad story about starcrossed lovers. Sometimes, you want to watch something fun and silly and romantic, and often the only way we can get that is by watching straight romcoms. But I’m a Cheerleader offers the same escapism as a straight romcom AND we get to watch Clea DuVall in that black shirt.
Best Moment: The graduation ceremony (those pink dresses tho).
Queer Rolemodel: Larry and Lloyd (Richard Moll and Wesley Mann), who play ex-ex-gays.