From media coverage of recent major coming-out stories to the success of pro-gay Top 40 music (see: Macklemore’s “Same Love”), it has become clear that, at least in certain circles, reactions to “I’m gay!” are no longer (always) full of tears, bile, and/or venom. In one of the biggest coming-out stories of the year, NBA player Jason Collins received some gay name-calling and stirred up predictable anxiety about locker room politics: that quirky, tummy-twitching little nervousness born of internalized homo-eroticism. But for the most part, his 2013 will go down as one where he was largely lauded for breaking down a barrier of silence and shame in the sports world, America’s game preserve of masculinity.
Of course, the idea that male gayness should be immediately conflated with femininity is a uniquely modern notion anyway. I doubt Spartan warriors would have taken kindly to Drag Race-esque suggestions to “Sissy that walk, hunty!” (Although wouldn’t 300 have been way better if the Spartans and Persians settled the war by lip syncing... for... their... liiiiiiives?) But that’s a subject for another day.
Point is, telling people you’re gay in 2013, especially when you’re a young person among other increasingly-accepting young people, doesn’t always result in the type of angst and turmoil depicted in 1950s melodramas inspired by the work of Tennessee Williams. (“You’re a - a queer sort?” GASPS, CLUTCHES PEARLS.) That’s great. But can tolerance, when misguided, go so far that it inadvertently becomes insulting? Can overenthusiastic acceptance jump the proverbial shark and become patronizing? Those are the questions asked by G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend), a new comedy flick that screened earlier this year at the Museum of Fine Arts as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival, has been making the festival rounds ever since, and will (finally!) be seen by a wide audience when it hits DirecTV on November 21. It will move to select theaters and OnDemand on January 17.
Here’s the synopsis: Gay teen Tanner comes out to his totally-hip-with-it mom (Will & Grace alum Megan Mullally) and high school classmates. He immediately becomes the Most Popular Boy at Skewl, where all the girls compete for the cache of super-fabulous coolness that comes with having a real-life G.B.F. at your side! (“Our very own homosexual!” Squeal!) Tanner even finds himself subjected to a ‘mo makeover at their hands, since he disappointingly, “doesn’t even sound like the ones on Bravo.”
Just to be clear, the open (if condescending) arms that await Tanner do not represent the experience of all, or even most, gay teenagers. There’s a reason why certain statistics show that LGBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and are three times more likely to report feeling unsafe at school. (And yes, being harassed because you’re gay is different than being harassed for other reasons.)
But lawd, there’s no doubt that a subset of young women exists that views gay pals in strictly self-serving terms like “shopping partner!” and “my bestest girlfriend - but better.” To these Debra Messing in the Makings, sweet though their intentions may be, it’s not always about wanting a friend with his own rounded identity. It’s about wanting an accessory that, like a designer belt, makes them look fashionable by association. It’s about wanting a lapdog to fawn over. It’s about wanting an on-call therapist and sycophant. (“My G.B.F. is just waiting to come out of the closet and tell me how fierce I am!” yelps singer and actress JoJo, a Foxborough native, in the film trailer for G.B.F.)
It’s refreshing to see a flick take that condescension to task.
G.B.F. director Darren Stein is the guy behind Jawbreakers, an undeservedly overlooked ‘90s teen comedy about praying mantis mean girls. It has become a cult hit among many gay guys my age, for whom it was a Heathers-style evocation of the Clinton era high school experience. Stein had said that the dark comedy and high camp of Jawbreakers was partly inspired by that ‘80s high school classic, which starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, but it seems like G.B.F. might be a closer thematic cousin: in both films, a previously ignoble condition (in Heathers it’s teen depression) suddenly becomes a badge of trendiness.
The rightful celebration of Collins’ coming-out aside, it’ll be nice when being gay is a matter of ordinariness, too. In the meanwhile, check out G.B.F. It’s a hilarious and trenchant observation of what it means to be young, gay, and treated like a designer handbag in 2013.
Pay as you go: Our web site is free, and we want to keep it that way. Bay Windows turns 31 this year. Will you pledge your support for the upcoming year by contributing funds? Your contribution will help us keep the website and paper free and improve our coverage. Please, if you are able, we welcome your support. Please note - your contribution is not tax deductible.