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Boy Erased (2016) by Garrard Conley

Ariana L. Guzman 

Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith and Family by Garrard Conley is a memoir that was released in 2016. It tells the story of him forced out of the closet by his rapist to his Arkansas Christian fundamentalist family. His father is also a preacher who fears what the congregation will think of him having a gay son. To combat his “affliction”, Garrard is pressured to undergo a conversion therapy at a place called Love in Action. Love in Action was founded in 1973 by Frank Worthen, John Evans, and Kent Philpot and was no stranger to controversy. The program now operates under the name Restoration Path but has had little to no online presence since 2018.  

A controversy with former participant Zach Stark led to an investigation by Tennessee authorities. The case inspired the film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, another film about conversion therapy but from the perspective a teenage girl starring Chloë Grace Moretz.  The religious program was meant to cure him of his homosexuality. It is a harrowing experience and Garrard greatly suffers before he decides to leave the program, with the support of his parents. Boy Erased was also turned into a feature length film in 2018 starring Lucas Hedges as Garrard. Joel Edgerton directed the film and stars as his preacher father along with Nicole Kidman who plays his mother. 

Garrard Conley was born in 1984 or 1985 in Cherokee Village, Arkansas. His family eventually moved to Mountain Home, Arkansas. His father is a Southern Baptist preacher and a former car salesman. Garrard struggled for years with homosexuality. He attended Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas for one semester before he withdrew after being outed by his rapist and forced to undergo conversion therapy. While at Love in Action, he worked closely with John Smid, the former director who later left the organization in 2008 and apologized for his involvement. John Smid is now happily married to a man. Conley previously taught at the American College of Sofia in Bulgaria. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Conley was named by Queerty one of the Pride50 “trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all people.” Conley now lives in New York City with his husband.  

Boy Erased is 352 pages and was published was Riverhead Books. The first edition cover features an outline with a boy with his hands in prayer in church. His eyes are not visible, but his long sleeves and lips are. The cover art also features a leaf of some sort. An alternative cover features an outline of a man with gold sparks coming out in all directions. Both covers are in deep contrast of each other but somehow still representative of the overall theme of identity. It’s interesting that our face is considered our identity, and both are obscured. It represents the journey of self-discovery and acceptance on behalf of Garrard Conley. 

There are many instances that are key to Garrard’s journey throughout the memoir. One key moment is his sexual assault. A traumatic experience is compounded even further when his rapist outs him to his conservative parents. Garrard falls into a deep depression which directly ties into our class theme of queer melancholia. He also contemplates how he can be happy while gay while not having the support of his family. Happiness and melancholia are recurring themes throughout the novel. During his conversion therapy, participants are strongly encouraged to relive their most painful moments in front of a whole room of virtual strangers who are all struggling with their sexualities.  

Another key instance in the memoir is when Conley first starts his conversion therapy with his mother by his side. She stayed in a neighbor hotel while he started the several month program. While there, he meets another participant named Jon who is a fervent believer in the program and deeply devoted to changing his sexuality. Other participants like Gary are faking it until they make it until they can graduate the program and return to a normal life. In one scene, a participant is forced to hold a fake funeral service for himself while being abused by Love in Action staff. It is this traumatic instance that gives Garrard the strength to confront what is going on. His mother is horrified by what has taken place and along with her support, he leaves the program and returns to his normal life. 

This memoir while hauntingly beautiful and ultimately inspiring was very triggering for me. I am a three-time survivor of sexual assault by both male and female assailants. I also struggled with my sexuality as a teenager before eventually coming out as queer at 22. The first time I was raped, I was a fifteen-year-old virgin, not much older than Garrard in the books. By this time in my life, I had already begun to question my attraction towards women. My rape made everything more complicated and delayed my coming out for years. By the time of my second rape (a gang assault by four men at a party), I was already comfortable with my sexuality. When I was raped a third time at 28 by a woman, it didn’t make me question my sexuality at all but complicated my mental health by regurgitating my past trauma and bringing it to the surface. Unlike Garrard, I have always had the support of my family who is Catholic. Garrard being sexually assaulted was triggering for me and brought me back to a place I seldom enjoy visiting.  

As a queer woman of color, I am very aware of the many intersections of my life and how they can complicate my life. I wanted to be the best version of myself in order to have my parents’ approval and for some reason, I really believed that I was unable to do this a queer woman. When I first came out, I dreaded telling people, terrified of what they would think and say. I worried how much I would be judged and if people who had loved me my entire life would turn their back on me. I am also a melancholic person who is prone to depression and anxiety. Elements of this are explored implicitly throughout the memoir. Garrard’s sexuality is treated like a mental illness that needed to be treated and eventually cured. I cannot relate to the personally, but I can relate to the inner struggle. It wasn’t easy but I came to accept all the parts of myself and like Garrard am in a wonderful relationship with a beautiful woman. If there is one thing that Boy Erased taught me is that there is always hope, even in the darkest of times and situations. 

Battle Royale (1999) by Koushun Takami

  Battle Royale is a dystopian thriller novel that was first published in japan in 1999 and authored by Koushun Takami. A bestseller in its day and a cult classic today, Battle Royale had always been a controversial read, and was consideration of being banned in Japan. I personally came across this novel through sneaking into my uncle’s bedroom, curious to see what I could find. I came across this book, which captivated me with its blood red hue, and the cover, though minimalistic, served to explain that I would expect to find a thriller, as the cover depicted two silhouettes standing side by side, with the outline of a rifle making up the space between them. Koushun Takami’s story centers around protagonist Shuya Nanahara as he tries to rationalize through an increasingly hopeless situation in which he and his classmates are forced to a battle to the death in the annual battle royale, a program established in an alternate reality where Japan came out from World War II as the strongest nation and therefore remained militaristic. Relatively unique at the time of its publication, battle royale’s plot elements are now standard fare in many adaptations that include their own battle royales such as hunger games and fortnite. Rather than the stakes at play within the situation the novel presents its characters, it is actually the characters themselves who make up the strength of the novel, as each character is unique enough to distinguish apart from one another in various aspects. This variation of characters helps readers understand how various people experience loss, learn to deal with loss, and how this loss serves to develop them as characters moving forward. I feel that, while Battle Royale does not seem relevant to our class in regards to queerness, it definitely is relevant when it comes to the theme of melancholy, as I feel that loss plays a great part in many of the characters lives as they cope with their losses. The novel’s greatest strength as a commentary on melancholia can be found in how it gives life to its characters by having them experience loss, getting them to learn to live with it, as well as see how it affects them as individuals moving forward. Among all forty plus characters, I will talk about two who I found were among the most insightful and thought provoking on the topic of melancholia: Mitsuko Souma and Shuya Nanahara. 

     Mitsuko Souma is a character who is defined by her interactions with others. She is promiscuous, manipulative, sadistic, but most importantly, repressed. She is someone who I think best represents living with melancholy, and it shows in all of her interactions and how she approaches the battle royale program. Mitsuko almost always displays her sex appeal to others or her notorious acting skills which she used to lull others into a sense of safety by which she can put them in a position where she can have her way with them. However, she never opens up to anyone in the novel, except to one person: Yuichiro Takiguchi. Though she ends up killing this individual and she never really opens up to him in the conventional sense, he makes it clear that he can see more about Mitsuko than she initially tries to play off with her usual antagonistic behavior, where it reads in chapter 56 “‘You always had a scary look in your eyes’ Mitsuko forced a smile…‘But sometimes your eyes looked really sad and kind.’ Mitsuko stared at the side of his face and listened without responding. ‘So,’… ‘I’ve always thought you weren’t as bad as everyone said you were. Even if you’d done bad things, I was pretty sure you did them because you couldn’t help it, because there was some reason behind it that wasn’t your fault.’ He was stuttering, his voice incredibly shy and tense as if he were confessing his love to a girl… Mitsuko sighed inside. Of course, she was thinking, boy, you are naive, Yuichiro. But then… she smiled and said warmly, ‘Thank you.’ Even she was surprised by the kindness in her voice. Of course, it was deliberate, but maybe the reason it sounded too real to be an act was there was a little bit of true feeling in her words.”(Takami,529) .  Mitsuko, when meeting Yuichiro, simply planned to just kill him and Tadakatsu at the right time, so of course she played the part of a damsel to get them to lower their guard through her own sexual advances. While Tadakatsu didn’t initially warm up to her when they met, Yuichiro always thought differently of Mitsuko compared to how others looked at her. When Mitsuko was taken aback by his words, she was surprised by her own feelings, and how she responded to his words, as he made her feel happy, which is a feeling Mitsuko never would have expected to feel given the circumstances. However, she did not fully open up to Yuichiro until after he was dead, remarking “‘You were pretty cool. You even made me a little happy. I won’t forget you.” (Takami, 543)It took Yuichiro to die for Mitsuko to feel comfortable enough to reveal her feelings to someone in the novel. An instance of Mitsuko using her sex appeal to manipulate someone comes in chapter 57 where it reads “Then she removed her scarf and undressed. Unlike the other girls she’d never be so square as to wear an undershirt, so she only had her underwear on now. Oh right, she had to take off her shoes. After she took them off, she stared at Tadakatsu with her fallen angel’s smile. The way her method of allure was described was as if she were following a script or a routine, and this is especially apparent when she recalls she needs the shoes off too. She isn’t acting alluring because she’s sexually aroused but rather because she is taking advantage of Tadakatsu to get the chance to kill him. Being referred to as a “fallen angel” in this sense really helps to characterize Mitsuko as well, as a fallen angel is looked at as an angelic being who fell from grace. Mitsuko, while carrying the beauty of an angel, has fallen from God’s good graces as well, and continues to go down the path of sin with the attempted murder of Tadakatsu. Among all characters, Mitsuko has the second highest kill count in the entire novel with 7, emphasizing that, even though Yuichiro did manage to reach her feelings, she feels that she is so far down the path to degeneracy that she can’t stop. I believe that her behavior mirrors that of a victim of sexual violence at a young age. It is made apparent (but not explicitly made light of in the novel that) Mitsuko has been subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence from a very young age. In my understanding of the sexual violence of a minor (as well as my own experience with the subject) I have come to realize that victims often learn to sexualize themselves at a young age (evident in Mitsuko’s unabashed use of perverse tactics), think themselves as dirty and beyond saving (evident by how easily Mitsuko can commit atrocities against her classmates), and are stunted in their development as individuals (evidenced by how Mitsuko represses her own personality in favor of being this maliciously deceptive and seductive delinquent). Mitsuko’s past abuse destroys her development as a character, and it is hinted that readers never really get to see Mitsuko during the Battle Royale during her death scene in chapter 69, wear it reads “Little by little, no, more like in big chunks, everyone took from Mitsuko. No one gave Mitsuko anything. And so Mitsuko ended up an empty shell…By then she was dead. In fact, she may have been dead a while ago. Physically, several seconds ago, mentally, ages ago.” (Takami, 645) Mitsuko is a damaged individual and all the pain she received from the people in her life that played roles in her sex abuse forced her into a life of melancholy where even before the Battle Royale, the cheerful and innocent Mitsuko had long since died. 

    Shuya Nanahara is one of the two characters in the plot who ended up living through the ordeal. Similar to Mitsuko, Shuya has already experienced loss even before the program started, since he grew up an orphan. However, he did have his best friend Yoshitoki Kuninobu and their caretaker Riko Anno. Shuya otherwise lived a normal life, being very popular in school. Ever since he was forced to take part in the program however, his innocence is taken away from him right before the program even starts, as Takami writes in chapter 3 “Shuya’s face tensed up. ‘What the hell did you do to Ms. Anno?’ ‘Well like Mr. Hayashida, she was very uncooperative. They both didn’t accept your assignment, so in order to silence her, well I had to….’ Sakamochi continued calmly, ‘…rape her. Oh, don’t worry. It’s not like she’s dead’ Shuya flushed red with anger and leaped up, but before he could say anything, Yoshitoki said, ‘I’ll kill you!’… Yoshitoki was extremely kind, and even when he was insulted or picked on he usually laughed it off. But when someone he truly loved was hurt, his response was extreme. This was something Shuya admired about Yoshitoki…’” (Takami, 40)Before the program starts Sakamochi reveals he assaulted their caretaker, and sexual assault simply is not a trivial matter that someone could get away from unscathed. Even if in some reality where Shuya and his classmate could return back from the program safe, things would never be how they used to. Melancholia can often come from not just any loss, but a deep loss that one can’t seem to recover from, or a loss of something they wish they could take back or a time they could get back to but know they never could. Even if everyone returned, things would never feel as normal as they did before. Not only does this tragedy come to shatter Shuya’s world view, but there’s also the death of Yoshitoki that really shocks Shuya in the same chapter, where it reads “Shuya was also stunned. His eyes were glued to Yoshitoki’s face, lying between the legs of the desk. His thoughts were completely paralyzed, as if his own brains had been blown to bits. Memories of Yoshitoki flashed through his dazed mind. The little adventures they took, camping or walking down the river, a rainy day spent playing an old board game, mimicking ‘Jake and Elwood’… ‘Are you two deaf?’ Sakamochi repeated. Yes, Shuya was deaf to his words. He just stared at Yoshitoki.” (Takami, 44) Yoshitoki meant everything to Shuya, so Shuya could not help but look back to his life with Yoshitoki that he can not help but steer away from now that his best friend was taken away from him. What separates him from say, Mitsuko is the sense of purpose he gained from the losses he was given thanks to Sakamochi: Noriko Nakagawa. Mitsuko knew it herself, that the reason that she is merely the husk of an individual rather than a fully realized person because all the people in her life only served to take away from her being rather than give her something, and that left Mitsuko without anything or anyone to hold onto besides her own anguish. Shuya at least has a reason now in the form of Noriko, as Yoshitoki explained to him that he had a crush on Noriko, so upon seeing that Yoshitoki is dead, Shuya takes it upon himself to look out for her in his stead. His thought process is highlighted in chapter 3 where he thinks “That’s right…of course if he blew up now he would end up like Yoshitoki. And more importantly… now the girl whom Yoshitoki adored so much was severely injured. If he were to die now… what would happen to Noriko Nakagawa? Shuya tried his best to tear his eyes away from Sakamochi. He looked down at his desktop. He felt wretched, as if his heart were being crushed from anger and sadness that had no outlet.” Here we see that Shuya is in a situation where he can’t find an outlet to release his anguish into, similar to Mitsuko, but he was given the responsibility of protecting Noriko by Yoshitoki, and not only does Shuya do this to honor Yoshitoki, but it’s also in order to cope with the loss of his best friend. Shuya can think less about his friend’s death when he can think of looking to protect the girl he loved instead. Even at the end of the novel, when it is Shuya and Noriko who are left alive in the end, it is Shuya who declares “‘Noriko. We’ll always be together. I promised Shogo.’” This declaration comes after they managed to sneak out of the program but at the cost of the lives of their classmates and their biggest ally Shogo Kawada, who, with this promise he made to Shuya, also placed the responsibility of protecting Noriko upon Shuya, further reinforcing his will to live on.

    On a personal level, I always struggled to address my issues whenever they would come up, and I never knew how to cope with them or what I should do with myself. I would not say that this book gave me answers, but within its crazy situations it did show glimpses of relatability that I thought were reflective of aspects of my life, and I am not too sure what to make of it, but I did feel more hopeful after having read it. 

    Battle Royale, in its nonsensical situations and greatly dramatic characters, serves to tell a story centered around the melancholy of individuals who try to make the most of a dire situation, in hopes that they grow from their losses. No character in this novel comes out with a happy ending, as this ordeal will forever haunt those who lived to remember it. This story, through characters as hopeless as Mitsuko and as hopeful as Shuya serves to enlighten readers on the duality of life that comes with the melancholy of dealing with a great loss you can’t ever recover from. 

Moonlight (2016) directed by Barry Jenkins

By Shenisis Kirkland


Moonlight is an arthouse film that takes place in the ghettos of Miami, Florida. It opens with the very apt song Every Nigger is a Star by Boris Gardiner as this is very much a story dealing with the identity and individuality of black people. The storyline is compiled into 3 parts: “Little”, “Chiron”, and “Black”. In “Little”, a black boy nicknamed Little is seen being chased and tormented by bullies for being a “faggot”. Little is then rescued by soon-to-be-mentor and drug dealer, Juan. Juan introduces Little to his girlfriend, Teresa. He and Teresa teach him that not only are black people everywhere but that “at some point you have to decide for yourself who you’re gonna be”. In “Little”, Little is seen fending for himself at home: drawing his own baths and cooking his own food. His mother is absent and at some point is seen buying “rocks” from one of Juan’s guys. Teresa soon becomes a maternal figure to Little and soon supersedes his own mother. In “Chiron” Little has grown but his status as a faggot has not changed. Juan is dead. And now Little goes by Chiron and is experiencing sexual attraction towards other boys. He is still friends with Kevin, a boy from his childhood who though he cares deeply for Chiron, still Kevin feels the need to protect his own identity from being revealed by bullies. In the final segment, “Black”, Chiron is a man and a drug dealer in his own right. His mother is depicted in a rehabilitation center, desperate to reconnect with Chiron whom she neglected. He reconnects with Kevin and the film ends with them in each other’s arms.

Moonlight is the story of a little boy growing up searching for who he is in a caustic environment. Chiron himself deals with loss and grapples with ideas of happiness. The loss of Juan disrupted the growth of Chiron’s identity. In the segment “Chiron”, Chiron is in desperate need of a father figure as he is exposed to his mother’s drugs. Chiron helps fund his mother’s drugs but his exposure leads him into the drug world himself. He later tells Kevin that is smokes marijuana because “my moms leaves all types of shit around”. His mother’s actions and Juan’s absence leave Chiron lost and at the mercy of bullies until he decides enough is enough. However, before Chiron makes that decision he uses drugs as a distraction from the pain of his closeted life and the pain of losing Juan. Juan’s death in the film is very much in the background, only alluded to through sorrowful looks and glances at first. It is only the people who cause Chiron the most pain that ever mention Juan’s death directly: his bullies and his mother. The two both use this fact as an exploit to obtain something from the grieving Chiron. His mother uses it to gain his favor in order to get more drug-money, and the bullies use it likewise to disarm and weaken Chiron so he is more malleable to threats. Chiron still is in search of his identity in the second segment but by the third, “Black”, we see him emulating Juan and embracing the life of drugs he was raised in. Chiron has become a drug dealer in his own right
wearing grills and driving a car like Juan’s. It’s clear that as Chiron had no future example of how a man should be, he looked toward Juan as a symbol for happiness and embraced all facets of his exterior. But like any armor this was done to protect himself, to protect the real Chiron who though grown is still very much in pain and tormented by “bad” dreams: homosexual
dreams. Chiron still hasn’t come to terms with his identity or chosen his own way of going through life and this causes a disruption to his conscious and subconscious self. This confusion of identity is much like David’s in the book Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In the book, David, like Chiron struggles with his identity. David has nightmares concerning that which he
finds grotesque and unsightly and Chiron has the same. Chiron struggles with finding himself and is ultimately left alone for much of his life and at the conclusion of the book, because of his choices and struggle with his identity so is David. The two both push away those they love because they lack a certainty of the self.

Kevin as a love interest also causes Chiron much pain. His nickname for Chiron, “Black” is also the same name as the final segment because Kevin has had that much influence over Chiron’s identity. The notion of the nickname “Black” highlights the already intersectional aspects of the film, the fact that Chiron is Black and queer. Not only does Chiron have to deal with being queer he has to navigate being queer in a very black environment where boys are taught to be tough and masculine. In the beginning of the film he own mother asks, “you ever see the way he walk Juan”? And, in the second segment of the film Chiron’s bullies ask him why his jeans are so
tight? In order to live in a black masculine world Chiron had to hide the truest parts of himself, and he has done so throughout his formative years. The reason he didn’t like the nickname is because that was a reminder of that loss of self in the ghettos of Miami. Kevin and Chiron later discuss the act of crying. Everyone knows boys don’t cry but hearing that Kevin might feel the way Chiron does awakens something in him and allows Chiron to confide in someone. Chiron confesses to Kevin, “ I cry so much sometimes I feel like imma just turn into drops”. Despite being a reminder of his black and queer identity, Chiron feels comfortable enough with Kevin to confess an act very contrary to the idea of black masculinity. This level of intimacy prompts the two to engage in a sexual act that Chiron has never done before- with anyone. This relationship excites Chiron because Kevin is the only person he’s confided in since Juan. The relationship barely lifts off when they are forced to fight each other by Chiron’s bullies. The loss of Chiron’s first intimate relationship pushed Chiron to close his heart to other people. As a grown-up, Chiron confesses to adult Kevin that “you’re the only man that’s ever said touched me. I haven’t ever touched anyone since”. They then just sit there, embracing. The fact that Chiron never touched anyone else is a testament to how lost and lonely growing up in Miami made him. With the bullying and being surrounded by drugs, Chiron says when he got to Atlanta he started over. Again he confesses to Kevin, “I built myself from the ground up. I built myself hard.” The bullying changed him, and in that state of melancholy, he was forced to do something to change what his life was becoming. But in doing so, Chiron was left alienated from everyone for much of his life.

Moonlight gives an example of queer intimacy that isn’t necessarily sexual. The relationship between Kevin and Chiron is an example of this as well as the relationship between Chiron and Juan. Yes, Kevin and Chiron participate in a sexual act. However, their relationship is built more on intimacy. The two confess their truths to each other as youths and are found merely holding each other at the end of the movie. And as for Chiron and Juan, their relationship is built on trust and intimacy as well. They share their truths as well as their past. The movie touches me personally as a queer asexual because I believe intimacy between queer people isn’t required to be sexual. I also know intimacy is hard to achieve in its own right let alone between black men; that’s why I believe this movie to be so powerful. I believe Moonlight is a story of the intimacy of black men in spite of, or, in the face of queerness.

Andi Mack (2017-2019) created by Terri Minsky

For young members of the queer community, even the smallest notion of representation or acceptance can play a crucial role in their development. Whether it is through the media or subtleties in everyday life, the portrayal of homosexual lifestyles can significantly impact an individual’s growth. In Terri Minsky’s Andi Mack, the family television series revolves around a thirteen year old girl who has just discovered a life-changing secret: her older sister is really her mother. As she journeys through her early teenage years with this newfound information, she is accompanied by her two friends, Buffy and Cyrus, who are, too, experiencing adolescent identity crises. While watching this show with my family when it first aired in 2017, I immediately thought it would turn out to be a typical Disney comedy-drama series with little impact on its fans. However, as the show progressed I realized that it has truly earned all its accolades for tackling modern-day problems. As the characters navigate through middle school, viewers explore a myriad of issues that affect younger teenagers. In particular, they address queerness, most significantly as the first series on Disney to feature a gay main character and later, its first queer romance. The development of this queerness was the result of a tumultuous journey, representing the underlying themes of our discussions of queer melancholia thus far. In conforming to the heteronormative values of society, the desire for happiness blinds the queer individuals, Cyrus and TJ, from achieving true bliss. The evasion of queer identity and counteractively the pursuit of heterosexuality drive the gay characters away from love and joy, and instead, steer them toward a false, fruitless premise of happiness. Their discomfort is finally dissipated when they embrace their true selves and release their tight grip on straightness. 

Set in present-day America, Andi Mack primarily focuses on the new chapter unfolding in Andi’s life as she reacts to the shocking revelation that her older sister is in fact her mother. Andi, a creative and artistically talented girl, adjusts to her new life with Bex, her real mother, and her real father Bowie, who she meets for the first time at thirteen. Closest by her side are her two best friends, Buffy and Cyrus, who also face their own struggles while attending middle school. Buffy, a strong confident girl, is hammered by sexism when she tries to pursue basketball. Cyrus, a kind selfless boy, ventures through the realization that he does not like girls. As the trio encounters other characters throughout the series, they become more and more entangled in romantic affairs. Andi begins to have a crush on the popular kid, Jonah, but it is later revealed that Cyrus also has affections for him. In the first episode of the second season, Cyrus comes out to Buffy. When he says that he feels weird, Buffy responds, “You’ve always been weird, but you are no different.” Although he is attracted to boys, he still participates in a heterosexual relationship with Iris to fill that void. Later, they meet TJ, the intimidating and competitive basketball captain. At first, he bullies all the students and discriminates against Buffy, the only girl on the boy’s basketball team, but he soon becomes a better person as his connection with Cyrus deepens. As their relationship escalates, Kira, Buffy’s enemy, manipulates TJ into doubting his straightness and internalizing homophobia. TJ begins to avoid Cyrus and spends more time with Kira in hopes to mirror the heteronormative lifestyles of society. However, this costs his happiness with Cyrus. By the end of the series, TJ finally drops Kira and Cyrus and TJ do end up together, sharing a sweet and monumental hand hold on screen. 

Despite the series’ heavy involvement with Andi in the show, Cyrus and TJ are at the core of queer melancholia and the deluding ideals of happiness. In The Promise of Happiness, Sara Ahmed claims, “Happiness is looked for where it is expected to be found, even when happiness is reported as missing… The demand for happiness is increasingly articulated as a demand to return to social ideals, as if what explains the crisis of happiness is not the failure of these ideals but our failure to follow them.” (Ahmed, 7). At the beginning of the series, Cyrus halfheartedly pursues a relationship with Iris. While the two share a lot in common, Cyrus does not genuinely feel comfortable with their affair because he likes boys, more specifically, Jonah. Despite this, he acts romantically in front of his friends, tags along on double dates and creates a cute couple name for them. He searches in the “typical” areas happiness is expected to be found: straightness. Eventually, their relationship intensifies and they kiss, to which Cyrus becomes awkward. Even then, he persists in his demand for happiness and attempts to return to social ideals. He believes that the failure to follow heteronormative values is parallel to the crisis of happiness. Later, Iris reassures him that it will get better, but finally Cyrus reveals to her that he does like her, but not in the way that she likes him. In this sense, Cyrus actually finds discomfort in attempts to impress his friends by having a straight relationship. Conversely, this burden is alleviated when he frees himself of heteronormative conformity.

Cyrus and TJ change each others’ lives as their relationship blossoms. TJ develops Cyrus’ confidence and lessens his timidity, while Cyrus helps TJ become a warmer and more approachable person. They spend a lot of time together, despite being so different, and engage in deep conversations on the swings or other fun activities, such as learning how to do a somersault. When costume day approaches, the two decide to do a matching costume: one goes as summer and the other as salt. However, Kira challenges TJ’s heterosexuality when she says, “So you’d rather do a costume with Cyrus than with me? Ok, have fun with that.” Consequently, TJ feels extremely insecure and chooses to do the costume with Kira last-minute. The look of anguish on both characters’ faces show that the coerced perception of happiness in heteronormativity is misleading. TJ continues in chasing a straight fantasy as he increasingly interacts with Kira, even playing on the swings together, an activity that Cyrus had once thought was exclusive to them. In the final episode, TJ realizes that Kira is manipulative and unkind when she makes fun of Cyrus’ dancing and then gives him an ultimatum. In an intimate scene on a bench outside, TJ and Cyrus confess their feelings for each other in an implicit manner. They embrace hands warmly and exhibit the idea that in a queer lense, the heteronormative approach to happiness is fruitless; instead, following your heart’s desires, even if it means straying from the norm, produces more authentic happiness.

I remember distinctly watching one of the first commercials for Andi Mack. My family and I often watch television together and our first impression was that we definitely needed to follow this drama about a girl finding out her sister is her mother, especially as the main character’s family was Asian. Although I initially began watching out of sheer enjoyment, I came to realize that the show is a real cultural gem. The list of topics the show has touched upon is endless, including anxiety and panic attacks, learning disabilities, and broken families. I found it amazing for a show catering to younger audiences to be so inclusive, powerful, and accepting. Although it was a Disney family show, it served as a catalyst for representation of all less-spoken of groups, breaking boundaries and ensuring that everyone feels welcomed. My family and I have devoted our Fridays to watching this revolutionary show together and I feel that it has served as a monumental platform to educate young viewers on diversity and reassure them that they are not alone. 

Andi Mack has taught young queer viewers that being gay does come with a lengthy journey of doubt, insecurity and self-realization. The path to queerness is a unique experience to everyone and can be full of struggle. The queer individual must realize that it is never the heteronormative values of society that evoke pleasure, but instead, their natural feelings of homosexuality that truly ignite that feeling of happiness. I would definitely recommend this show to younger audiences who are readily discovering or battling with their identity, whether it is in a queer stance, cultural stance, or other.

Euphoria – Sam Levinson (2019)

Euphoria is a teen miniseries that confronts topics of internalized homophobia, drugaddiction, mental illness, body positivity, and abortion, among others. The U.S adaptation of the show was created by Sam Levinson and premiered on HBO early Summer of 2019. Since its premiere, the show has become notorious for the colorful aesthetic that dominates the cinematography and the main characters’ unique styles, and the rawness with which it portrays gruesome teenage experiences. With an age rating of 18+, the target audience seems to be mature teenagers and young adults. Queerness and melancholia are deeply woven into the plot and visuals of the show and it (fortunately) feels like we are witnessing melancholic characters who happen to be queer, since their queerness isn’t the source of melancholia as is often the case on television. A stellar cast of Gen Z actors that includes Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, and Alexa Demie, takes us through uncomfortable yet relatable moments of ambivalence as their characters come of age. 

The series follows Rue, the biracial seventeen-year-old protagonist, and other teenagers in a small suburban town as they face difficult coming of age challenges. Shortly after being discharged from a rehabilitation facility, Rue returns home to her mom and sister with no intention of abstaining from drugs. However, she soon she meets Jules, the new girl in town (who happens to be trans), and falls in love, replacing her addiction to drugs with an equally unhealthy addiction to Jules. In the end, it is revealed that Rue’s drug addiction serves as a method of coping with the loss of her father. Paradoxically, it is precisely this detachment from real life that keeps her rooted in this melancholic state and leads to a loss of self. The scenes depicting melancholia are heightened with key stylistic choices: soft blue, pink, and purple lights often engulf the characters and flashbacks to their childhoods evoke a deep gloominess that serves to highlight their internal conflicts. It is simultaneously sad and beautiful. 

Rue narrates all eight episodes of the series, often admitting her own unreliability as she fills us in on a different character’s backstory in each episode. Her ongoing dialogue with the audience and the widescreen structure of the picture cultivates intimacy, drawing the audience in. In the moments that she speaks directly to the audience, it is difficult not to empathize with her. Rue’s character is perhaps the most well-written character in the series. In fact, the show has been deemed most successful in its portrayal of depression and drug addiction, a feat that many attribute to the showrunner’s own past experience with those issues and Zendaya’s groundbreaking performance. The complexity of a well-acted and well-written queer biracial character who struggles with mental illness and drug addiction would be just enough to carry the entire season, if it had to. Luckily, the other character’s storylines are powerful and interesting in their own right.

One of my favorite moments of the series happens in the second to last episode titled, ‘The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed.’ Jules leaves town for the weekend to hang out with an old friend and meets Anna, whom she feels immediately attracted to. The setup of this first encounter is splendid: Anna and Jules are in bed, Jules laying down and Anna sitting on her while doing her makeup, the ceiling of the room is covered with soft pink clouds and Jules tells Anna about her gender progression. She describes the trajectory from being raised as a boy to taking hormones as a teenager as “leveling up,” though she admits that she “hasn’t yet reached her full power.” When Anna asks about her relationship with men, Jules says, “in my head it’s like, if I can conquer men, then I can conquer femininity,” which prompts Anna to ask why she needs a man to feel more feminine. Then, when Jules is unable to respond, Anna asks whether she feels like she has already conquered femininity. Jules says, “I don’t know but it’s not like I even want to conquer it. It’s like I want to fucking obliterate it and then move on to the next level. I don’t really know what that means or looks like but I want it.” And we hear her friend in the background chime in with “Queerness is infinite!” I found this scene to be refreshing in its depiction of the trans experience. Here we are told that there is no one universal trans experience and, like the rest of the characters, Jules is still figuring it all out. Hearing a trans character played by a trans actress speak about the complexity of gender and sexuality while flirting with a queer woman of color felt like a monumental moment for representation in television. It is a big departure from how queerness was presented in some of the texts that we encountered in class this semester, such as Giovanni’s Room and Fun Home. 

Growing up, I desperately looked for a show like this one. I grew up in a small conservative Anglo town in Central Florida and, as an immigrant lesbian woman of color, I struggled to find authentic representations of people like me in the media. It seemed like the only accessible lesbian films were tragic stories of forbidden love between white queer women. I truly believed that people like me didn’t exist: I was too foreign and too feminine to be queer. Needless to say, it took me a long time to come out to myself and to others in my community. Euphoria seems to exist in an entirely different world. Its queer characters never come out or struggle to identify themselves with a label; their peers are not fazed by their sexualities; the conflict does not stem from the characters’ difficulty with accepting their sexual or gender identities. It was a difficult trajectory but today I have an amazing partner, tons of queer friends, and a family that loves me. I hope shows like these make it a softer, kinder path for the new generation of queer girls. 

It is very easy for shows like this one to prioritize shock value at the expense of rich storytelling. One look at its most successful predecessors-Skins, Degrassi, etc.-says it all. Though euphoria has an aspirational element, it is mainly stylistic. The combinations of soft pink, blue, and purple lights that engulf the characters at times and their unique, cartoon-like styles definitely create an aspirational mood. However, the characters lived experiences are intentional, with important themes succeeding them. It doesn’t feel like the show is trying to glorify drug consumption or teenage sex. Instead, it shows us difficult experiences that we may or may not relate to and demands that we acknowledge them. At 34 years old, Sam Levinson is a millennial creator. Thus, Euphoria gives us a glimpse at the kinds of narratives that are possible when our generation is in charge of television and film. 

Life is Strange (2015) by DontNod Ent.

       Life is Strange is a 3D, single player, choice-based game video game where you play as an 18 year old girl named Max Caufield who discovers she has time traveling powers and uses them to save her childhood friend/love interest, Chloe Price from dying. The game follows the butterfly effect concept, in which it consists of the player making decisions that will affect the turnout of the story. There are parts of the game where certain decisions are life or death decisions, affecting the characters and tone of the game. The game is played out in an episodic way where you play five episodes (as opposed to ‘levels’). There are many themes displayed throughout the game such as melancholia, queerness, bullying, family and loss. The game was developed by a French studio called DontNod Entertainment and was produced by Square Enix. DontNod Ent. was founded in 2008 and published their first title in 2013 with Remember Me, however, this project brought upon bankruptcy and had to resolve their financial conflict by crowdfunding what would eventually be Life is Strange which created an incline of success for the studio. As someone who plays video games, I tend to hear about different games within the community. I discovered Life is Strange through a Youtube playthrough from a gaming channel I used to watch. I’ve been captivated since the start of the game, however, I had some personal criticism against some of the dialogue as some of it seemed a bit outdated. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the story and the characters I was presented with. Life is Strange uses fictional properties such as time travel in order to convey to the audience that despite what we want in life and who we want to save, we must move on and accept the consequences that are bound to come our way, and that we must go through the pain of loss and melancholia instead of grasping for something to fill our ego. 

        To give further background info on the game itself, the game is set in a fictional town called Arcadia Bay, Oregon, where our protagonist, Max, is a senior at a prestigious high school, Blackwell Academy. Max is a timid, introverted character with a love for photography. She often takes photos of objects in her environment, which is significant because these photos are used later in the game to time travel to that one place in time. Max discovers she has powers when she accidentally reverses time when an old friend, Chloe, gets shot in the chest by the troublesome and violent, Nathan Prescott in the girls bathroom and sends her back to the first scene in the classroom. Chloe Price is a rebellious and assertive teen and was Max’s childhood best friend. Within the game, there’s additional information revealing that Max actually moved away from her town for 5 years and came back after getting accepted to Blackwell. While Max was away, she started to drift apart from Chloe, which caused some conflict in their relationship when they began spending time with each other again. As they spend more time with one another, Chloe tends to be the one who is caught in fatal situations where she is put in danger and Max has to use her powers to help keep her alive. This raises a significant issue as Max has continuous dreams about a massive tornado headed towards her town and learns that the more she uses her powers, the stronger the threat of the tornado is. This creates the conflict where Max wants to save Chloe’s life, yet, also doesn’t want her family and friends in her town to die from the storm. 

        Chloe suffers significantly from loss and melancholia of her late father and her missing best friend/girlfriend, Rachel Amber and ultimately becomes a symbol of loss. Chloe lost her father in a car accident at a young age and she still suffers from the loss and struggles to get over it. What exacerbates this is the fact that her mother remarries to another man, who Chloe doesn’t get along with at all. Chloe feels hurt that her mother can move find a way to move on from the death in the family, yet, Chloe still suffers and can’t find a way to move on. She finds ways to cope in more destructive ways such as smoking and getting herself into harmful situations, yet she doesn’t benefit from these “mechanisms” as she’s still unhappy with her situation throughout the game through her behavior and her dialogue with Max. 

        Chloe suffers from the loss of two important people in her life which ultimately makes her a symbol of loss and death. She is fated to die which is represented by the amount of times she is able to die throughout the game. In episode one, she gets shot in the chest by Nathan, in episode 2, she accidentally shoots herself while shooting bottles in the junkyard and nearly dies when she gets her foot stuck in train tracks. In episode 4, Max travels back in time through one of her photographs in an attempts to stop Chloe’s father from dying which ends up backfiring when Chloe is terribly injured from a car accident and suffers while her parents drown in debt from medical bills. Chloe asks Max to euthanize her and no matter what you choose, you must give her the overdose. In the final episode, Chloe dies again from a gunshot and for the final decision of the game, you must choose whether to sacrifice Chloe for the sake of Arcadia Bay, or sacrifice the Bay for the sake of Chloe. For every death, Max has to avoid suffering from her loss by bending time continuously, knowing it’ll destroy her environment. She can’t help but think of living a life where she doesn’t have Chloe by her side. 

        Max believes that she uses her powers for the greater good by constantly saving Chloe’s life when really, she’s destroying her environment, and her ability to ‘let go.’ As mentioned before, Max must make the decision of whether to sacrifice Arcadia Bay or Chloe to the looming threat of the storm. Throughout the game they both developed a significant and romantic relationship with one another, it would be painful for Max to have to let go of Chloe, especially after being away for a long period of time. The player also develops a liking to them and feels emotionally impacted by their relationship as they have been through so much together. However, due to these events, it’s clear to us that Chloe is fated to die and if Max tries to cheat death again it will ultimately have treacherous consequences and Chloe may never stop getting herself into these fatal situations. In my playthrough of the game, I chose to sacrifice Chloe because I knew that she was always meant to die since the very beginning and trying to hang on to something that isn’t meant to be is meaningless and harmful in the long run. Max must face her fears and give into the inevitable and bare the loss of someone she loves dearly, no matter how painful it may be. 

        Personally, this game impacted me emotionally as I was so invested in these two characters and their journey through this otherworldly, somewhat spiritual path which would ultimately lead them to certain doom. I have never really experienced loss but I do experience the fear of having to lose someone important to me. I too wish I had some kind of power to change things to the way I want them to be but I know that this isn’t as perfect as it seems. As a queer individual, I felt impacted through Max and Chloe’s connection and how they would both go through lengths to save each other. They’re not perfect characters and have flaws just like regular people, but they are still able to love and cherish one another without a care for what people may think of them. 

        Life is Strange teaches the audience that it’s okay to let go and deal with loss because it is a part of life whether we like it or not. What matters the most is the time shared with people we love and care for before their time is up. This is why this game is so relevant to those suffering from loss and/or melancholia. As for queerness, it shows a meaningful connection between two female characters who aren’t sexualized or bastardized in any way which is refreshing. The medium as a video game makes this piece engaging and compelling and an experience all should take part in.  

Blade Runner 2049 dir by Denis Villeneuve (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to the cult-classic sci-fi Blade Runner. Set in the far flung future of 2049, the story revolves around ‘replicants,’ artificial humans created for various labor purposes. Older model replicants would periodically go rogue, escaping from the purposes they were designed to live among humans. Those who hunt replicants are known as ‘Blade Runners.’ The story follows K, a replicant referred to only by his serial number, who works as a blade runner hunting down these older models. 2049 deals with themes of memory, failure, and alienation. Fundamentally, though, it is about loss. It is a story about losing your past, your future, and even your identity.

The story begins when K discovers the corpse of a replicant who gave birth- something supposedly impossible. Alongside the corpse, he discovers a carved wooden horse with a date carved into the bottom. The horse features in K’s memories, memories that were supposedly manufactured and entirely false. He is charged with hunting down and destroying the replicant child, even as he, discovering more and more evidence of the truth of his memories, begins to suspect that he himself may be the child. 

It comes to a head when K tracks the child’s father: Deckard, the protagonist of the first Blade Runner movie and a former blade runner who had first been involved with the case of the child’s mother. K believes that Deckard knows the location and identity of the child, and goes to Deckard . Before he can confirm one way or another, Deckard is kidnapped, taken by forces who seek to give all replicants the ability to reproduce to create a cheaper workforce. K is knocked unconscious, and dragged to a secret conclave of rebel replicants, devoted to the care and protection of the child. He learns that the memories he’s been chasing are not his- they are implanted, replicas of the true child’s memories seeded throughout different replicants. He is not special. Accepting this, accepting his normality, K goes to save Deckard, taking a killing blow in the process. He brings Deckard to his now grown up child, a maker of memories, and then goes to lie down in the snow outside to die. 

The movie is about loss. This can be seen just from a summary of the story. K starts out lost, a person without a past. He slowly builds an identity around his memories, finding himself as ‘the child’, only to lose that in turn when he realizes his identities are false. Lost and purposeless, K seeks to reclaim his meaning and identity through rescuing Deckard. In the process, he sacrifices his life, losing his very existence. K’s entire story is about him trying and failing to find himself in his past, only finding fulfillment and purpose when he embraces making decisions to make an identity of his present self. 

Deckard and the child also both suffer from loss. Deckard is wracked with guilt and melancholia over abandoning the child, and, though he knows it was the best way to make certain the child was never found by forces who wished her ill, he still mourns his loss of her. He also mourns the death of his lover and the child’s mother- Rachelle. This loss is compounded when, in exchange for information regarding the child, Deckard is presented with a clone of Rachelle, perfect in every way. Refusing the offer, he is forced to watch the clone’s murder, reliving the loss of his love one more time. The child herself, Ana, also suffers from a loss. Her loss is more abstract than the concrete losses that Deckard and K suffers, but no less poignant for it. Ana’s cover story, designed to keep her identity safe, claims that her immune system is compromised, requiring her to live her life in a glass tube isolated from society. Her primary entertainment is the use of holographic machines to construct memories, memories of places she can not visit and friends she can not have. She mentions that she rarely gets visitors, and is seen constructing a false memory of a child’s birthday party that she pretends to interact with, her ‘real’ self fading through the holographic bodies and balloons of the party- a neat visual metaphor of her inability to interact with those outside. The trio of K, Deckard, and Ana form a triangle of losses: K’s loss of his personal identity, Deckard’s loss of his familial identity, and Ana’s loss of her societal identity.

The theme of loss is reinforced by the worlds ambient storytelling, by little moments technically irrelevant to the larger plot. For example, the very world the story is set on has suffered a cataclysmic climate disaster. This is a world where genuine wood is a fortune-making luxury, where most animals are extinct, where slugs are farmed for food because no real crops can grow anymore. This physical loss is compounded by an informational loss: After ‘the blackout’ in 2022 (an event actually covered in a short animated movie set in the world of Blade Runner), almost all non-paper records and information was destroyed. Many of the people of this world, then, live without records of what life was like before, without connections to their past. One mildly mutated archivist remarks that his mother was devastated to lose his baby photos- a moment played for comedy, but one that belies a world of gaps, one where your past is ephemeral and easily lost.

Emotionally, the movie is an attritional slog of pain and melancholia. Even aside from its depressing story, the film creates an atmosphere of sadness and loss. From bleak color contrasts to harsh lighting, the visual language of the movie is one of overwhelming pressure. Though it is incredibly beautiful, it often uses its colors and backgrounds to create a sense of dread, monotony, or pressure. A building the size of three city blocks, dwarfing the viewer with its scale, rows upon rows of maggot-farms stretching to the horizon, an empty radiation blasted ruin of a once-great metropolis- all create a sense of a system too big, of something cold and empty and devastated. The music conveys this sense of emptiness- primarily through not being present at all. Most of the movie has only diegetic sounds, the sounds of machinery or rain or crowds. What music there is is harsh, droning, mechanical, used to underscore moments of mental tension. 

Upon first seeing this movie in theaters, I genuinely cried at the end. Not because of the sadness of K’s death – though it was deeply moving – but with relief. The movie had built a world of loss, one where meaning can be erased or bestowed without warning. It had shown us, in no uncertain terms, that everything, from one’s past to their present to their future, can be taken away or lost. It created an atmosphere of pressure, stress, and anxiety. And then, in the end, it gave us a moment of breath. It gives the watcher hope. Even as K bleeds out, it begins to snow, and the movie begins to play uplifting music for the first time. Even as K bleeds out, Deckard meets his child for the first time face to face. Even as K bleeds out, he looks, for perhaps the first time in the movie, content. He has lost his life, but, for the first time in the movie, he has gained something in exchange for the loss: Purpose. This was what caused my relief, my tears. The pressure, so expertly crafted and maintained so it just skirts the edge of unbearable, is for the first time entirely lifted. For the first time, we are offered unconditional hope.

Blade Runner 2049 is about what we lose, yes, but it’s also about what we choose to give away. K gives his life for two people he barely knows, and, through that, finds himself. Though the movie may be grim, dark, and scary, it goes to those dark places not to revel in suffering, but to teach us about how loss can change us, and how we can recover from it.

“Pariah”(2011) Directed by Dee Rees

Queer cinema is rapidly expanding, with more diverse and inclusive narratives being told. While we have seen an increase in diversity and representation, the majority of films about queer identity and queer coming of age, are centered around white, cis gender men or women, that embody a very conventional and socially acceptable queerness. Lesbian narratives that are more well known and integrated in mainstream media have been predominately portrayed by white cis gender women, who still maintain a traditional beauty and ideal femininity. Pariah was the first queer film I saw where not only was the protagonist a person of color, but they strayed from the mainstream, palatable queer expression. It is because of films like Pariah, that exposed the world to these kind of narratives, that filmmakers are able to depict queer people of color in their films and expand on the very limited type of queerness that was deemed acceptable. The themes of this course, such as loss and feeling alone are evident in this film.

The film Pariah, directed by Dee Rees, is first and foremost a coming of age film, which is about a 17 year old black girl. Pariah explores the life of a closeted lesbian named Alike, growing up in Brooklyn and her journey as a queer person in a religious, homophobic environment. Alike, also referred to as Lee, is the protagonist of the film and the character we follow on her journey of self discovery. Alike goes through the universal challenges of trying to figure out where she belongs, and through the relationships she has with her friends and parents, she is able to accept herself and embrace her identity. The film was released in 2011, and received much praise from the queer community, primarily for its diversity and being one of the few movies at the time that portrayed queer people of color. 

When we first meet Alike, it is at a strip club with her best friend Laura. Alike is visibly uncomfortable, and is unable to interact with any of the women there. Laura is a stud, meaning she is a lesbian that identifies with her more masculine traits. At the beginning of the film we see Alike, mimicking this style, and following in Laura’s footsteps. Laura is Alike’s only insight into the lesbian community, so she is only exposed to a very specific facet of lesbian culture.

 However on the other extreme, Alike’s mother wants her to dress more feminine and get rid of her “tomboy” look. Alike is torn by this because she doesn’t resonate with either of these identities, but lacks the knowledge or confidence to cultivate her own identity. It is not until Alike meets Bina, the daughter of her mother’s friend, that she discovers a middle ground. After spending time with Bina, and getting introduced to new art and music, Alike begins dressing exactly like her. She quickly becomes a love interest in the film, and through their short, yet impactful relationship, Alike come out of it with the necessary tools to stand up to her parents and form her own identity. 

Alike’s transformation is most noticeable in the way she dresses. One of the first scenes in the film, depict Alike on the bus ride home, changing out of her baggy, stereotypically butch appearing clothing, into a more fitted t-shirt with rhinestone letters spelling “Angel”. Her mother praises her when she gets home saying the shirt compliments her figure, which makes Alike uncomfortable. This reinforcement of traditional femininity through gender specific clothing adds to Alike’s confusion and lonesomeness. Since Alike is extremely unsure of herself and lacks confidence, she imitates an identity she thinks she should have, and morphs herself in order to please others, and this occurs with Bina as well. While they bond over a shared interest in music and writing, over time we see Alike begin to copy Bina’s style, dressing in similarly bright colors and scarfs. Alike does this to fit in and impress Bina, once again losing herself in an identity she thinks she should have. Alike quickly develops a crush on Bina and the outcome of their relationship was instrumental in her coming out. Alike and Bina attend a party together, and when the return back to Bina’s home, they have sex. However, similarity to many other queer narratives, after they have sex, Bina feels uncomfortable and tells Alike to forget it. She stresses that she is not gay and what happened the previous night was a mistake. Alike is heartbroken by this and shortly after comes out to her parents.

After Alike came out to her parents, and was badly beaten by her mother, she left home and stayed with her friend Laura. Eventually Alike’s father came to see her in an effort to bring her home. Instead Alike reveals that she has been accepted into an early college program and that she would be graduating early. She says to her father “ I’m not running, I’m choosing”. I found this quote to be extremely powerful and almost indicative of the experience of a queer person in a non-accepting environment. Not only does she mean this in a literal way, but she is no longer running from herself and her sexuality. She is finally ready to be herself and no longer live in fear of rejection. 

Alike experiences the loss of her mother, after she comes out. Not in a physical sense but her mother’s reaction to her lesbianism resulted in physical assault. Throughout the movie we see the decline and failure of the marriage between Alike’s parents. Her mother is viewed as the villain and is the one we continually see enforce gender roles and heteronormative standards. She is seen forcing Alike to change into a skirt for church and discourages her from spending time with her best friend, Laura, who is openly gay. Despite the trauma and pain her mother induced, Alike still loves her. Before leaving for college, Alike confronts her mother for the first time since her coming out. She tells her mother she loves her, and her mother does not reciprocate the earnest plea, but instead says, “I’ll be praying for you”. It is a devastating moment in the film because we are unsure if this relationship will ever be repaired, and the love her mother once had for Alike is now gone.  

One of the many reasons why I chose this film as my artifact, and why I believe it is so important for queer cinema is because the film has an all black cast and the way race is utilized is very interesting and unique. Due to all the characters being black, there is almost a lack of racial hierarchy, and we are able to empathize with Alike. The purpose of this film was to showcase a queer narrative within a group that is often times excluded from representation. Pariah expertly depicts a young girl that the audience, regardless of gender or race can relate to. Additionally, I can not speak for the experience of people of color who have watched this film, but I would assume being able to see a queerness within a black community, in a way that is separated from whiteness, can be very impactful and empowering. 

Pariah is a film that skillfully explores the often times tumultuous coming out process while providing a media for people going through the same struggles and additionally set a precedent for the kind of representation we should expect in queer cinema. Pariah is so important and relatable because of the nuances in the dialogue and utilization of actors that do not necessarily encapsulate the mainstream depiction of queer figures. This sort of representation is unfortunately extremely rare, yet a vital component to the ever-growing genre. Queerness does not only manifest in white bodies, therefore, the films and other media used to express this identity should be representative of that. 

Work cited 

Dee Rees, Pariah the Movie, Kickstarter, 22 Dec. 2010, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/619452369/pariah-the-movie

Pariah. Directed by Dee Rees, performance by Adepero Oduye, Focus Feature, 28 Dec. 2011, Starz, https://www.starz.com/us/en/movies/41561

Alex Strangelove (2018)

The artifact I’m choosing to write about for the final project is the movie “Alex Strangelove”, released on April 14, 2018, and produced by Ben Stiller, Jared Goldman, and Nicholas Weinstock. This movie is about a teenage boy in high school dating his best friend. His main goal throughout most of the movie is to have sex with his girlfriend for the first time. Alex thinks he loves his girlfriend until he meets a boy he may like at a party. We see him start to question his sexuality and face some hardships while trying to figure it out. The movie displays themes of suppression/question of sexuality and suppression of one’s self which we can see as a recurring theme in many of the books we have read in class during the course. 

In the movie, we first see Alex question his sexuality when he attends a party with his girlfriend and meets a boy he thinks he might be interested in. While attending the party with his girlfriend, Alex wanders off looking for the bathroom and stumbles upon a girl and boy sitting in a room smoking. He joins them and gets high with them. After getting high, Elliot, the guy Alex meets, lays down across from Alex and asks him about his craziest hopes and dreams. Alex replies with a heteronormative goal that we also see occur in the book Giovanni’s Room. Alex says he hopes to become a marine biologist, get married and have kids which David also says getting married and having kids is his goal for the future. A bit later at the party, Alex and Elliot lay down next to each other and Alex exclaims “National Geographic photographer.” Elliot questions why Alex says that, and he tells Elliot that this is his craziest hopes and dreams. This is the first sign of Alex hiding his true self from others because he says telling people he wants to be a marine biologist sound more “lucrative”. It also allows Alex to hide his true dreams and goals to fit a more heteronormative view of life. Although Alex and Elliot just met, he finds comfort in Elliot and trusts him enough to tell him something personal about himself.  

The next scene we see Alex question and suppress his sexuality is when he comes out to his friend as bisexual. After hanging out with Elliot for a day, Alex starts to question whether he’s completely straight. He starts to think he’s bisexual and “comes out” to one of his friends. His friend denies Alex’s sudden sexuality change and says he’s just worried about having sex with his girlfriend for the first time and is using sexuality as an excuse to cancel his plans with his girlfriend. His friend even goes as far as pulling down his pants in front of Alex to prove he isn’t bisexual. He even tells Alex that he has a “man-crush on a gay guy” and Alex starts to believe this and again suppresses any idea of him being into guys. This denial from a friend affects Alex because he trusts his friend and wants him to help and support his question of sexuality. When his friend makes Alex’s choice for him, Alex doesn’t question it at all and believes everything his friend told him. We don’t even see Alex consider his question of sexuality after talking to his friend, he goes straight to denial and believes he’s straight. Compared to some of the books we’ve read in class, the main characters were not “coming out” to others for support on their sexuality. Alex also takes a chance of questioning his sexuality compared to some of the main characters we’ve read about. What they do have in common is suppressing their own sexuality because Alex could’ve chosen to listen to himself and not his friend, but not receiving support causes him to repress exploring his options. 

While hanging out with Elliot for a second time, Alex makes a decision he instantly regrets, and it causes him to repress himself again. Elliot finds Alex in a store and asks him to go somewhere with him. When he does, they go to Elliot’s house and hang out for a while until Elliot asks Alex to sit next to him on his bed. This leads Alex to kiss Elliot and as soon as he realized what he was doing he thought about his girlfriend. Then he blames Elliot for leading him on by asking him to go on a drive and dancing for him in his room. Alex even says to Elliot “I gave you what you wanted.” Therefore, excusing his behavior by shifting the blame on someone else and repressing himself once again. He doesn’t want to believe he likes Elliot as anything more than a friend and also doesn’t want to think of himself as being gay. This repression is a constant theme throughout the movie and the books we’ve read in class.  

When Alex finally realizes who he wants to be with, he comes out to his girlfriend and no longer needs to suppress his feelings towards Elliot. After attending a party to get over failing to have sex with his girlfriend, Alex gets drunk and tries to have sex with another girl at the party. When he realizes he can’t do it, he leaves and stumbles into a pool. When he falls, he has a flashback of himself as a kid. In his flashback, he sees himself in a public shower with other boys his age. When the other boys realize Alex was watching them, they called him offensive words, blocked him from leaving the bathroom and pulled down his pants. This suppressed memory is when Alex realizes that he’s gay and has been since he was young. This memory is also the reason why Alex formed the habit of constantly repressing himself throughout the movie which we can see in multiple scenes. Compared to the main characters in the books we’ve read in class, Alex eventually came out to his friends and family. The characters we’ve read about never got this chance. They continued to withhold themselves and never got a chance to express themselves as their true selves. They expressed themselves privately and at times Alex did this too when he spent time with Elliot. Although, most of the characters from the books and Alex did face hardships about their sexuality and expressing themselves. Devon from “My Brother” displayed himself as heterosexual by continuously dating women and having sex after he contracted AID’s to upkeep his heterosexual act. Alex kept up a heterosexual act by dating his best friend and having heteronormative American goals. All the characters relate in some way due to the reoccurring theme of suppression of oneself. 

The first time I saw this movie was with my best friend in June when it came out on Netflix. We used to watch cheesy romantic movies together and laugh about them every time we hung out. When we saw the trailer for Alex Strangelove, we thought it would be like those but with an LGBTQ representation. What I didn’t know while watching the movie was that my friend had already seen the movie before and what she was going to tell me afterwards. When the movie was over, she came out to me and told me she had been struggling with her sexuality for a while. She never told anyone because she felt ashamed due to the struggle of acceptance in Caribbean families. She also told me I was the first person to know and it made me so happy to know she was no longer struggling with how she felt about her sexuality.  

The reason why I chose this movie is because it displayed the theme of repression which related to the themes of the books read in class. The question of sexuality was recurring throughout the movie and all the books we’ve read. I think this movie was a good way of representing the LGBTQ community to families and teens who are also struggling with their sexuality.   

But I’m a Cheerleader (2000) directed by Jamie Babbit

But I’m a Cheerleader is a 2000 satirical comedy directed by Jamie Babbit. This film follows the story of the typical suburban it-girl, Megan who has it all. She’s a blonde cheerleader with a smoking hot boyfriend and comes from a two-parent household. She’s got good grades and is religious. On paper, she is perfect. However, her life is turned upside down when her friends, parents, and boyfriend hold an intervention and send her off to a conversion therapy rehabilitation center called True Directions – she’s a lesbian, and although she doesn’t know it, everyone else does. They know she’s a lesbian because she doesn’t follow societal norms. There is a photo of a girl in a swimsuit in Megan’s locker – this becomes “evidence” of her lesbianism, in addition to her newfound vegetarianism and the fact that she looks bored as she kisses her boyfriend. Ironically, Megan finds her sexuality and herself in the very place trying to repress it.  But I’m a Cheerleader satirizes that societal norms don’t define a person. The stereotypical gender roles True Directions teaches are simply social constructs. People cannot change the way that they are born, and no number of steps can turn someone into a heterosexual, although True Directions proposes five steps to heterosexuality. 

The film begins with a cheerleading montage and we meet our main character, Megan, played by Natasha Lyonne. The audience is the first who knows that Megan is a lesbian as her queerness is evident when her boyfriend, Jared, begins kissing her and she looks painfully disinterested, and instead thinks about her fellow cheerleaders breasts during this stereotypical car make-out scene. The next day, the same happens except her boyfriend is very clearly stalling Megan by driving at a ridiculously low speed for the intervention to be prepared. Once Megan and Jared get to her home, she walks into a room full of her friends, family, and Mike from True Directions; Mike is an ex-gay True Directions employee played by RuPaul. This character choice fuels the repression that comes with conversion therapy. No one can truly be converted, but they can subdue their sexuality, their identity. The True Directions slogan is “Straight is Great.” However, when Megan gets here, she isn’t sure what is happening and why everyone is in her home. One by one, people from her life give examples of why she is a lesbian and she is taken to True Directions to be converted into a heterosexual woman. It is important to note the use of color in this scene – Megan is the only one in bright colors while everyone else is wearing a variation of brown or maroon. This makes her stand out from the rest and makes it clear to the audience that she is “different.” The only other person who isn’t wearing muted colors is Mike, who is wearing the same gear the audience will see him in for the rest of the film – blue short-shorts and his “Straight is Great” slogan tee. This pairs Megan and Mike together as outcasts.

Once Megan arrives, she’s stripped of her clothes and isn’t allowed to change from the hospital gown that Mary Brown, the owner of True Directions, gives her until she achieves the first step of becoming a heterosexual. The first step is admitting that you are homosexual. Megan is unable to do so and even uses bartering skills by saying, “I’m not perverted! I get good grades. I go to church. I’m a cheerleader!” This bartering technique further fuels the enforcement of gender roles imposed on us by society and religion. When her fellow rehabbers talk about the way she objectifies women’s bodies and doesn’t actually like kissing her boyfriend, nor does she get turned on by him, it is then that Megan first admits her homosexuality. She is a lesbian and she cries as she admits it. She is then given her pink shirt and skirt just like the other girls in the conversion center, and the boys wear blue outfits comprising of a shirt, shorts, and a tie. This plays into the further use of color that promotes stereotypical gender roles. Everything that the boys touch is blue and everything the girls touch is pink. The color scheme used throughout the film is very heteronormative and is constantly promoting the binary heterosexual agenda.

 The following step to achieving your heterosexual dreams is rediscovering your gender identity. During this portion of their conversion experience, the rehabbers must learn how to follow their stereotypical gender roles. Megan and the rest of the girls are learning womanly things such as how to vacuum a carpet, how to sew and look good in a wedding dress, how to look like a straight woman, while the boys are learning how to fix a car, how to shoot a gun, and how to chop wood. The girls also learn how to change a baby’s diaper, since lesbians can’t possibly have children. Instead of focusing on these gender stereotypical acts, instead they focus on the blatant erotic nature of all these acts. Every time the boys are doing something, there is a phallic sculpture in the back of the screen – a wrench and a tree resemble the very thing they’re being trained to be against. Another sculpture shows a soldier on his knees in front of another soldier holding a gun near his crotch. The boys find themselves staring at Mike’s crotch and touching each other homoerotically, while the girls fantasize about Mary and graze each other’s breasts. During the second step, the rehabbers discus the roots of their homosexuality. Graham, who appears to be becoming Megan’s love interest, shares that the reason she is a lesbian is because her mother wore pants to her wedding and Hilary can blame an all-girls boarding school. Clayton is gay because his mother let him play in her pumps, Dolph touched one too many boys during wrestling and Joel was traumatized by a pair of breasts. Instead of the “born this way” mentality, this conversion therapy rehabilitation chooses to focus on the external factors that could’ve caused each rehabber to “become” a homosexual. This also fuels the ideology that there are gender-specific clothing items that if worn by the “wrong” gender would cause them feelings of misfit and homosexuality. Such an ideology is harmful for queer youth because it paints them to be immoral and This comes back during step four, during which the rehabbers must write an essay entitled “My Root and How It Prevented Me from Heterosexual Loving.”

The third step is family therapy. During family therapy, Megan finally discovers the root of her homosexuality. She is a homosexual due to the 9-month period where her father was out of a job and her mother had to provide for the family. Seeing her father emasculated this way, she lost her respect for men and gained a homoerotic respect for women. The fourth step is called “demystifying the opposite sex.” In order to “demystify” the opposite sex, Mary shows a plethora of images of 50’s housewives and explains that women are meant to be their husband’s better half entirely. Women cook, clean, and men touch women to make them feel good. While this lecture is happening, we see Megan and Graham start falling in love. Cue another montage of Megan and Graham interacting as partners would. When the rehabbers demystify the opposite sex, they instead demystify their own sex and learn how to do things properly. The women cook, clean, change diapers. This is a further fueling of rediscovering your gender identity, but with a kick – this time we realize that the things we do as women are done for men, and the things men do are done only for women. During this step, Jan discusses how she’s actually already heterosexual. There was a huge assumption that based on Jan’s shaved mohawk and her outward appearance, she was gay. However, this was not the case whatsoever. This is a prime example of how homosexuality, specifically lesbianism, is typecast into being softball players, or having to look a certain way. However, we are allowed to represent ourselves any way that we want to, we are allowed to show the world whatever image of ourselves we personally like and want to display. They face a final test during this stage, where they show off the skills they learned over the course of their rehabilitation. The girls set tables and clean, the boys play sports and fix cars. Long story short, girls do the girly things and boys do things that guys do. Megan finds herself being forced to leave during this step because Mary finds out about the secret relationship between her and Graham.

The fifth and final step is simulated sexual lifestyle in which the rehabbers must simulate a sexual desire for the opposite sex in order to graduate. Mary teaches them how to engage in heterosexual sex. Everyone looks quite bored, laying there expressionless, trying to convince themselves and Mary that they are no longer themselves. They are no longer their sexuality. This stripping of someone’s core identity can be detrimental to the queer youth perceived in this film, and essentially gives us an antithetical response to True Directions’ slogan – gay IS okay.

But I’m a Cheerleader ends with a graduation where the use of color is used again, this time to both provide a heterosexual agenda and a religious connotation. The rehabbers stay in their normal colors of pink and blue, while everyone else is in white. This seems like a scene of the rehabbers walking through the doors of heaven rather than in a graduation. Though Megan was kicked out of the program, she finds herself at graduation and the film comes full circle as she cheers Graham on into leaving behind this conversion center behind and running away with her. Queerness prevails.

This film is related to Queer Melancholia because of the loss of self that Megan must face when the label of her sexuality has been placed on her. For most people, coming to terms with their queer identity takes time and is an entirely internal struggle. However, in Megan’s case, she is not allowed that struggle because she is told what she is – she had never up until that point even realized that not all girls are like that. Megan adamantly refuses to disclose her status as she’s never thought of her homosexuality since, as a Christian, she doesn’t get hot and bothered by her boyfriend since she’s saving herself for marriage. Through the others in the rehabilitation center, she is able to see that not everyone has the same thoughts about women as she does. She is only able to admit her homosexuality after the others in group therapy sort of bully her into realizing that she’s a lesbian.

Personally, I discovered this film during a time in my life where I was struggling with my own sexual identity. This film was exactly what thirteen/fourteen-year-old Michelle needed to see in order to break the stereotypical gender roles and be able to assess my queerness. Because of the satirical nature of this comedy, it was easier to digest the message that people are going to try to stop you from being yourself. Certain people only care about morals. However, when you know who you are, nothing can stop anyone from determining your worth. Because Megan didn’t know who she was in the beginning, it was easier for people to get in her head and teach her what is right and wrong.

All in all, But I’m a Cheerleader played an important role in the representation of queerness in the media and definitely earned its cult status. The messages of queer identity and the struggles of coming to terms with your identity are prevalent in this film, just as in this course. Through Megan’s eyes, we see a loss of self but also an emergence of self as she discovers exactly who she is in a place that is attempting to suppress it.

Works Cited

But I’m a Cheerleader. Directed by Jamie Babbit. Lions Gate Films. 7 July. 2000.

“But I’m A Cheerleader in 2019: But Im a Cheerleader, Movie Quotes, Cheerleading Quotes.” Pinterest, 6 Dec. 2019, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/440719513515647184/.