I Need a New Refrain [THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT]

Posted: 07/13/2010 in Girl Stuff, Queer
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been trying to be good, and not say anything about THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT before I actually go see it but there’s like four different posts about it over at Autostraddle so how can I honestly be expected to be good? I can’t, that’s how.

I’m gonna go see it, I’ll probably love 90% of it and I’m willing to trust that I probably will be largely okay with the infamous plot twist (there will be spoilers from here on out) because of the assurance by some pretty reputable people that it’s “done well” but the issues that the inclusion of the sex scene between the bio-dad and one of the moms brings up are going to keep dogging me and that’s what’s breaking my resolve to not yammer on before I see it. I dunno, I guess we can pretend I’m not talking about THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT and I’m talking about the issue it brings up. I’m not talking about the crack cocaine that I found in your house without a warrant, I’m talking about crack cocaine in general. I think that’s how it works.

The statement that- for a few hours- had me going from being very excited about the film to being a bit outraged (and I’m still not very comfortable with it but pretty far past the KANYE WEST SO MAD HE’S TYPIN ALL CAPS SO HARD ON HIS MACBOOK AIR HE’S BREAKIN THA KEYS stage) was the director’s statement that she included the scene (from what I understand she was referring to that scene, I could be wrong) in order to attract a more mainstream audience and to a lesser degree the statement that it wasn’t really made for the queer demographic. It’s sort of one of those what is this, I don’t even moments. I’m all for creating narratives that normalize queer, that raise the consciousness of average heteronormative audiences. That’s pretty much my entire raison d’etre. It’s become pretty clear to me what’s going on here and why Lisa Cholodenko would be in a situation where you’d have to do something like put a heterosexual sex scene in a queer movie to get a mainstream audience since I started cooling down, so my rage and frustration isn’t really with her anymore although I’m not 100% with her choice of words. Whatever, moving on.

Isn’t it interesting that this bugbear- the lesbian sleeps with a dude- has never had a corollary in male homosexual cinema? This is pretty much two queer movies in a row for Julianne Moore, and appropriately enough I first saw the trailer for THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT on the DVD copy of A SINGLE MAN. I think we all- and by we all, I mean most of humanity- would have stood up in shock, awe, and a certain amount of outrage if Tom Ford had said in interview that Charlie and George had to have an on screen sexual encounter in order to sell the film to mainstream audiences. Yes, the characters had slept together but in a context that made it clear that it was part of a pattern of behaviour that George felt he had to follow in order to remain invisible. It added to the poignancy and pathos of his relationship with Charley rather than cynically put asses in seats. It was there because it was germane, not compulsory.

Now why is it that gay movies get a pass on a lack of heterosexual sex in the mainstream while lesbian movies do not? Well, the problem lies in how contemporary narratology in the western world (stretching back hundreds of years) views female sexuality. The problem is that even here in 2010, the mainstream cannot handle women (of any sexual label) as sexual subjects rather than the sexual objects they’ve been relegated to since time immemorial. That’s why the whole “well there’s sexualized dudes in film/tv/comics/insertyournarrativemediumhere too” argument is complete nonsense. Sure they’re sexualized, but sexualized towards extremely different ends.

As long as female lead productions are made to bow to being ultimately portrayed as the object rather than the subject, we’ll never get out of the ghetto we’ve been fenced into. You have to make compromises for radical views to make it into mainstream venues. That’s reality and it’s something I expect in general, but it’s a very very heavy price that this mainstream acceptance is coming at and in some ways it’s almost too costly. Is the cultural exchange here that the heteronormative community will take lesbian moms seriously as good parents as long as they’re still easily interpreted as sexually available to the “right” straight man? No matter what you want to hope, it really and truly is a widely held belief among straight men that homosexuality in women is a phase they go through.

I believe in the fluidity of sexuality, and I believe in exploring sexuality until you know what it is you want and how you want to get it but I also believe in respecting sexual self identification. Lesbian means no boys. It’s really that simple. I’m not saying that women who are primarily interested in women never fool around with men, but if a woman puts up a sign saying “No Boys Allowed,” it’s really that simple. Taking that sign down isn’t an eventuality, it’s a choice. My perspective is that in the cultural exchange between queer artists and the financial/cultural gatekeepers, this is one thing that shouldn’t be bargained away as easily if at all. I’m guessing that the hints I’m receiving that the scene that started this whole train of thought is redeemed later means that there’s something intelligent and progressive said to dissuade the straight male mindset I’ve been excoriating, at which point I’ll have to re-evaluate the whole thing.

I will say that I’m glad that THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT is opening an important dialogue about how lesbians are being portrayed to mainstream audiences and I can only hope that it’s going to contribute towards meaningful progress towards destroying a myth that dogs and victimizes queer women wherever they go. I’m glad I got that off my chest. Now I can go see it with the original glee of seeing some of my favourite acting people (Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska) in an adorable comedy I felt when I first saw the trailer.

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