The other night, I re-watched the pilot episode of The Facts of Life and lamented how wrong they got the central issue. When the über-girly Blair lesbian-baited tomboy Cindy, Mrs. Garrett appropriately affirmed that it was OK for Cindy to like sports and be affectionate with girls. But then she reassured her that she was normal: She could look pretty in a dress would soon start to like boys — and she did within minutes! Then Blair apologized and encouraged Cindy to run against her for Harvest Queen.
Now, I can cut The Facts of Life a little slack because it was filmed in 1979 and nobody was saying it’s OK to be a dyke — or really even to be androgynous — back then. I find it a little depressing to realize that, 30 years later, kids are still getting the same message. However, there are folks trying to do something about this. Groundspark, the educational film company helmed by Debra Chasnoff, is opening a dialogue about homophobia, gender identity and gender role expectations with their new documentary, Straightlaced.
Here’s what the folks at Groundspark have to say about the movie:
[The film] features unscripted high school youth from around the country speaking candidly about harmful pressures caused by rigid gender roles and homophobia is surprisingly uplifting and entertaining. From girls who dumb down so they don’t intimidate boys, to boys who are sexually active just to prove they aren’t gay, to non-conforming teens who face relentless bullying, the students in Straightlaced show how gender expectations are having unhealthy and often dangerous impact on the lives of today’s teens.
You can watch the trailer on the Groundspark website.
These are all real high school kids — some gay, some not — talking honestly and earnestly about LGBT, genderqueer and all-around peer pressure issues.
I so cannot imagine hearing these issues discussed when I was in high school. I’m giving a big thumbs up to Debra Chasnoff and the folks at Groundspark for promoting this discussion.
Now, let me be clear that Chasnoff rocks. I first became aware of her as one of the founders of the short-lived, but excellent, magazine Out/Look in the early ’90s. She came to national attention, however, when she accepted the Oscar for Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment in 1992 and thanked her partner. This was huge.
If you weren’t an adult back then, it may be difficult to appreciate exactly how huge it was. In 1991, the movie with the most overt lesbian content was Basic Instinct. GLAAD had so few options to choose from that they were declaring movies with only implicit lesbian content and gay male best friends the Outstanding Feature Films of the year. Thanking same-sex partners at awards ceremonies just wasn’t happening yet. Again, this was huge.
After her moment in the national spotlight, Chasnoff continued to make documentaries, a number of which were explicitly designed to educate kids about diversity and LGBT issues — which brings us back to Straightlaced.
Straightlaced is not gay or trans-specific, and I find that particularly interesting. Without getting too sociological, the line between homophobia and gender-role expectations is inherently blurred: Is it bad to deviate from prescribed gender roles because that suggests you’re gay, or is bad to be gay because that suggests you’re not a real woman/man?
Personally, I got more flak as a kid for not being girly than I’ve ever gotten as an adult for being lesbian. And to this day, I’m still acutely aware of how much attention and approval I get on the rare occasions when I girl it up.
So, while I find it a little depressing that gender-conformity is still such a source of pressure for kids today, I think it’s fantastic that the folks at Groundspark are trying to do something about it. If you’d like to catch a screening, you can check out the calendar of events here.
How have you been affected by homophobia and gender role expectations? Will you see Straightlaced if you get the chance?