I just re-watched Whip It and it sent a tiny waterfall of tears cascading down my face. I think it’s the perfect movie depiction of my experience of coming out to my family and their having to deal with it. Only it’s not technically about gay people.
If you haven’t seen Whip It, here’s my summary: It’s your classic coming of age story about an outsider named Bliss (played by Ellen Page) whose life blows because she lives in a small town where the kids at school are mean, her mom forces her to do beauty pageants and she has a lame job in a pig-themed restaurant. Being the quirky, outside-the-box kind of rebel that she is, she develops a straight girl crush on these hot roller derby chicks, tries out for the team and (surprise, surprise) is super naturally speedy, in a way that kind of reminds me of when Harry Potter picked up Quidditch. She joins the team on the DL and becomes a HUGE star, with her face on a poster and everything. She looses her v-card, goes to parties and life is good. That is, until her family finds out about the roller derby, and at first they’re like, “Aww HELL TO THE NO,” but then the see how cool and confident and adored she is as a roller derby GOD and they are proud. The End.
This reminds me a lot of my coming out experience. And not just because every time I see Ellen Page on screen I’m like, “what a cute little lesbian, why is she kissing that boy?” When I told my family about my first serious girlfriend they were NOT having it. I may not have been forced into pageants, but I did my share of parading around in pastel colored gowns and unflattering updos at countless Persian parties and weddings. Their discomfort with the gay thing resulted in my leading a double life, where around family I felt a bit lame and small and dead, but on my own time I was riding the high of being in love and collaborating on film projects with my girlfriend.
When I first started posting episodes of The Slope (a webseries we created together), my extended family and Persian friends didn’t even know I was with a woman. Over the course of about six months they all found out through watching videos of me satirizing my relationship — sometimes going into graphic detail about our sex life! I like to say that my family are bigger fame-whores than they are homophobes because once they saw how positively people we reacting to the show and how confident and happy I was becoming they began to tolerate and eventually embrace my super gay webseries.
So back to Whip It: Bliss is in love with roller derby. It’s her calling, the one thing in her life that makes sense. I don’t think my sexuality defines me, but right now my work does. The fact that the project that launched my career is all about my experience of being bisexual isn’t something I see as a coincidence.
Making gay content is what forced me out of the closet. Whip It may not be a gay movie, but it satisfied that gay part of me the way Kiss Me did. Perhaps not all coming out movies need to be about gay people coming out of the closet?