Blog Archives

I Know It’s Pride Month But I Hate Strangelove | GaysiFamily

(I originally wrote this post on 13 June. But a certain prominent feminist website showed interest in publishing it, held it in queue and then decided that it was ‘too harsh’ and unsuitable for Pride Month. I don’t think I should talk down to the LGBTQIA community and letting this problematic film pass because it waved the rainbow flag, feels like just that.)

I reviewed the Netflix Original film ‘Alex Strangelove’ and Gaysi agreed to run the post. I haven’t written for this lovely site in a long time so it’s great to have my piece up there again. It’s also testimony to their inclusivity that they neither chose to question my sexuality nor edit my piece down for ‘harshness’.

This post has been read by two gay people, one bisexual person and one feminist all ratifying that there was nothing problematic with this opinion. If you are an ally, please be very mindful of what thoughts you entertain or support, in the name of the rainbow cause. Movies like ‘Alex Strangelove’ amplify some very problematic ideas, all while gaining the social credibility of doing something for Pride Month. As always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts – here or on the Gaysi site.

=============================================================================

Updated on 29 June 2018: This story was first published on Gaysifamily on 25 June 2018.

Alex Truelove (yes, that’s his real name, haha, look how post-hipster we are) is a sweet, nerdy boy reclaiming those hitherto derogatory labels. June being Pride Month, millennial-catering businesses are awash with ‘look-how-inclusive-we-are’ rainbowness. Let’s call gayvertising, shall we? Highly promoted on Netflix Originals, is a teen flick called Alex Strangelove. You get the gist of the story from its promos and the description text but for the purists who manage to button-mash quicker than Netflix forces promos on them, here’s your spoiler alert.

Alex Truelove (yes, that’s his real name, haha, look how post-hipster we are) is a sweet, nerdy boy reclaiming those hitherto derogatory labels. He’s good-looking enough to be at the top of the American high school hierarchy (or so other teen movies would have us believe) but he isn’t up there. He’s also class president and has a beautiful girlfriend who shares his penchant for obscure animal factoids. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to have sex with said girlfriend, regardless of peer pressure. Yay for sensitive men and down with toxic masculinity.

Then the couple decides in true teen style to ‘just do it’ (even if that is a 20-year-old reference) and set a date and venue. Only in the week before, Alex meets a charming gay boy and suddenly we have the plot of the movie.

What didn’t work about this movie?

Literally everything from here onwards. Just what about Alex makes him this attractive to members of all sexes? Let’s assume that teenage minds of every sex are wired to make bad choices. So we have a ‘regular’ teenage boy who is suddenly the object of everyone’s affections. What does he do? First he goes along with gay boy’s obvious flirtation and is a real dick to his needing-support-during-mom’s-cancer girlfriend. Then he weasels his way back into girlfriend’s good graces but also returns to the gay boy to jump his bones, then gay shames/blames him. He then runs back to the girlfriend to cheat on her (yes, it’s called that even if it happened inside your own mind especially when you’re still inside her, jerk-face). He is an utter asshole, literally while they’re both still naked. If this isn’t enough, he also later cheats on both people with a random stranger (female by the way, not that it matters when you’re cheating) at a party and the best friend (remember sage dude?) gets beaten up for it.

And what’s the end result? Shitfaced Alex is rescued in his drunken glory by the long-suffering girlfriend while best friend gets his ego and black eye massaged from the girl he’s been stalking for years. Boy, the makers of this film really hate women, don’t they?

Oh but wait, it ain’t over. Humiliated girlfriend and shamed gay boy get together to try again to give Alex the life he wants. Who does this and why should they? Alex takes every single inch he’s given and more with the kind of entitlement that makes him completely unlikeable. After the girlfriend graciously sets him up with the gay boy, he chickens out ‘because people are watching’. When the gay boy walks away in disgust, he chases him, suddenly sure that he is gay.

Inadequate Sexuality Labels

For a film that supposedly challenges heteronormativity, this one reinforces some highly toxic stereotypes about sexuality. Alex’s reticence towards sex is set up in a don’t-virgin-shame message but ends up reinforcing the notion that if a man isn’t a ravenous for sex, he is gay.

Who are these sage best friends who shame him for not rushing into sex (a la The Big Bang Theory) but are also wonderfully conversant with the gender-fluid, pansexual, polyamorous attitudes of their generation? Speaking of polyamory and pansexuality, the writers of the movie don’t know that these are two different things, as has been pointed out by several irate people. And in this sexually self-aware world, how come no one so much as hints at bisexuality, bicuriosity or good old sexual ambivalence?

Alex is a teenager, a time in his life for sexual experimentation. ‘Man crush’ is given lip service with no depth or dimension added. The fact that Alex has been in a straight relationship for over a year suggests that he has been attracted to women too. The flimsy plot suggests that the gay liaison may just have been a one-off reaction to a fear of sex. Alex’s actions also seem to suggest that bisexual people are just entitled enough to want everything, even at the cost of other people’s feelings.

There’s nothing to indicate that Alex lives in a homophobic world. Even his toxic male best friend (who stalks women, virgin-shames and sends unsolicited nudes) knows about sexual liberatedness. Homophobia is assigned one terrible scene towards the end of the film. Even this latter is more about school bullying and at best, a flimsy excuse for Alex’s need to please. It does grave disservice to the harassment and harm meted out to queer people all over the world. And it definitely does not address the fact that Alex hasn’t been attracted to men before this or that he clearly has felt attraction for women too.

Alex Problematic

Not once is Alex’s terrible treatment of everyone else called out. Instead the film turns queerness and sexual ambiguity into an excuse for bad behaviour, no responsibility and zero consequences for hurting other people. I’d say this is typical old, white Hollywood at its worst, turning out a weak, self-absorbed white male protagonist with everyone else around serving as props in his entitled journey.

Instead of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they have (also) a Manic Pixie Dream Gay. It doesn’t seem like the makers of Alex Strangelove actually like gay people very much or they’d be more sensitive to how the gay boy as well as a prime ally of queer people (straight women) are treated within the story. If you take pride in sexual freedom and in allying with the rainbow cause, give this one a skip.

=============================================================================

If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Advertisements

Crown Of Thorns

Crown of Thorns

Over a year and half ago, I bought this accessory on a whim. It comprises a red flower made of net and fabric, attached to a thin red headband. Like all things bright and red, it caught my fancy. I wore it several times in the next few days. It made me feel like a queen. After all, a headband is a sort of a crown and this one is in my favourite colour.

The reactions that wearing this provoked, continue to this day. At first there was astonishment. I didn’t pay it heed. There was outright gaping. I ignored it. Then came the laughter, right to my face. It didn’t bother me. When I refused to get angry, the jokes got mean.

People stopped me to ask what manure I applied on my head, so a garden would grow there.

Someone sent me an anonymous note asking what was wrong with me, wearing that red flower on my head.

Two strange men on the road stopped right in front of me and refused to budge. I walked around them. They turned around and returned to walk next to me, pointing at the flower and laughing.

I wore it to coffee with a close friend who kept insisting I take it off and put it away. Two others refused to walk on the same side of the road with me, until I took it off.

A female friend would not stop telling me how inappropriate I was being, by wearing this. We were at a play and most of the time before the play and the interval after was spent in her trying to get me to remove it.

Recently, a friend who hasn’t seen me in over a year, forwarded a fashion pundit’s claim that ‘flower crowns are a major fashion faux pas’.

I want to know what about this innocuous red headband provokes such violent sentiments from people. Why do friends and colleagues think it is okay to badger me about a minor aspect of my appearance? These are intelligent people who consider themselves forward thinking. Do they realise the meaning of their actions?

I am not breaking a law by dressing indecently. I am not wearing anything that could offend anybody’s religious sentiments. Beyond that, why should what I wear be anybody’s concern? I realise that most people do not like the way it looks. They have a right to their opinions just as much as I have the right to wear it. Why are they allowed to get away with statements like ‘it offends my eyes’? I find men peeing in public far more offensive. And I find the attitude that other people dictate what I wear, most offensive of all.

And finally about the fashion faux pas bit. I refuse to conform to what a fashion pundit or a style magazine says. Why does that give everyone the right to deride me?

It also reminds me of another occurrence over ten years ago. When I started working in 2000, I began wearing scarves draped/knotted around my neck, with formal shirts and trousers. I had seen the style in a few international magazines and movies. Nobody I had seen in real life wore them and I had to go to some trouble to find those scarves. Later, I went back to college to get an MBA degree. I continued the same style of dressing. The teachers and students uniformly believed that sarees were the only appropriate wear for presentations. I was the first female student to wear trousers to a class presentation. The scarf around my neck had become my signature style. One of my male classmates said I looked like a ‘rowdy’. Another said it looked ‘raapchik’. The adjective got appended to my name. Then two of them asked me what my rate for a night was.

This incident may sound extreme now. You’ll probably think my friends and classmates were country bumpkins from back of beyond. But this was at a time when Indian women did not wear scarves to work. The only reason I stopped wearing them was because all the hospitality services (retail, restaurants, airlines) adopted the style for their uniforms. Today, the scarf-around-neck style is synonymous with a service person in one of these industries. Hence it is ‘normal’. But because I wore it when it was not, harassment came my way. It feels like history repeating itself.

I realise this seems like a trivial thing. Most people would ask me why I don’t just stop wearing it. But that is precisely the point. Would any man be hassled this much over a minor article of clothing? I posted a Facebook update about this. And while I was typing up this post, a friend responded to the update asking why people had lost their joy and whimsy. She nailed it. That is why I wear it. It makes me feel good. It cheers me up.

Her comment made me realise a broader issue. The only men I know who may have faced something similar are a few brave gay men. Earlier in the month, a man was hauled over by the cops in Chennai and beaten up, because they didn’t like what he was wearing (Read his account on Gaysi). I want it to say, it is the same thing. We are all supposed to follow rigid rules on how we appear and any deviation is considered punishment-worthy (even if the law does not explicitly say so). There is so much difference-shaming that is considered normal and anybody who refuses to be perturbed by it, is the troublemaker.

Here is a picture of the now famous headband. It’s unwittingly become a crown of thorns for me but I refuse to hide it away.

01

 

%d bloggers like this: