“Are traditional ‘boy meets girl and they fall in love’ Rom-Coms unappealing to lesbians/gays on a base level? My daughter’s not at a point where she feels comfortable answering probing questions, so I’m having to look elsewhere for answers. Maybe she just hates romantic comedies, but I want to make sure I’m not offending her by offering them up for movie night. She’s young, so a lot of what I’ve seen commercially available in the same-gendered couple films is a bit too racy. Suggestions?”
Question submitted Anonymously
Answered by Whiskey Blue
What a wonderful question! I want to congratulate you on the ritual of movie night, on the attention being paid to tone and content in the films you’re watching with your daughter, and on your respect for the fact that your daughter may not be ready yet for straight-up (no pun intended) inquiries into her sexuality. Your question strikes me as thoroughly evolved and exciting. How heartening!
The easy answer is that comic love stories are universal and anyone can connect to them. And yes, as a lesbian, I’ve been known to watch an in-flight screening of Love Actually on a flight home for the holidays. I’ve enjoyed the almost-nauseating, definitely repetitive comfort of a Jennifer Aniston movie. The thing is, it isn’t a question of whether Rom-Coms can be enjoyed by anyone. It’s a question of the effect of their repetitive formula, and of the images repeatedly ignored, even negated, by their absence from this formula. Gay and lesbian narratives are particularly absent from the Rom-Com tradition.
Going deeper, let’s unpack what we mean when we say “boy meets girl and they fall in love Rom-Coms.” First, I know many men and women, heterosexual or not, who for various reasons don’t enjoy Rom-Coms. I take it the people who don’t enjoy them probably have a different sense of humor. They might relate to more complex depictions of love and romance, or prefer films whose plotlines don’t focus centrally on romance. And when I say humor or romance in the context of Rom-Coms, what I’m referring to is a very particular kind of humor, and a very particular kind of romance. It’s the stuff of sitcoms. Some of us don’t even wish love looked the way it does in these alleged “happily-ever-after” movies.
Now we need to consider the particular tastes, and sexual identity, of a lesbian. There’s a great piece by Beth Lalonde, recently reposted on Autostraddle, about the clichés encountered over and over again in romantic films where lesbian storylines don’t exist. In the rare instance that a quiet lesbian subplot might appear, this particular kind of love is typically depicted as a fleeting, adolescent crush to be eventually discarded in pursuit of “real” (heterosexual) romance. Lalonde does such a gracious job of pointing out the psychological effects of invisibility, and the message passed on by stories in which same-sex attraction, desire, and love are never fleshed out.
This may be a bit of a generalization, but unfulfilled or tragic lesbian love is a recurrent motif in film. Lalonde describes this motif as one that insists queer love never works out. She also compares these unfulfilled lesbian love stories to the heterosexual Rom-Com story, where desire is clear and legitimate and love leads to marriage, home ownership, children, grandchildren, and a legacy.
This kind of story has the potential to bore a young lesbian because it’s more fun to watch movies we care about. More importantly, when Rom-Coms are nearly all heterosexual, they have the ability to erase the sense of possibility we all cling to when it comes to love, especially when we are so used to being shown that our particular experience of love either doesn’t exist or is a fleeting “phase.”
So that’s something that might make it hard for some gays and lesbians to enjoy most heterosexual Rom-Coms. The silly humor and almost idiotic ease with which traditional Rom-Coms stories are told serve as reminders, especially to a vulnerable young person, of a legacy of invisibility, dismissal, and downright tragedy for same-sex love. I might enjoy a good old heterosexual Rom-Com, but it begins to wear on me when I never get to see any story I can remotely relate to.
As for the second part of the question: I’ll start out by asking, have you asked your daughter what kinds of films she is interested in watching? Whether it’s a matter of genre, or particular themes, storylines, or settings, she surely has some ideas of what she wants to see. Even if your daughter isn’t at a place where her sexuality needs to be identified, she remains the best authority on her own tastes. She might surprise you with her answer if you ask what she is interested in seeing rather than whether or not she likes straight Rom-Coms. Perhaps you’ve watched a film on one particular movie night that your daughter loved. Even if there is only one, that’s a lot to go on: try checking out other films by the same director, look for other movies starring actors from the film, or find other films with similar storylines. If these suggestions sound obvious, please forgive me. I thought it important to start at the beginning.
I’ve taken a poll among friends, asking for lists of favorite lesbian films so that I can compile a tentative filmography. The difficult part was making sure the films are age-appropriate. I don’t know how old your daughter is, but I’m assuming she’s a preteen. That’s the guideline I’m using in putting together a lesbian film canon: one that just might lead you to discover a long history of lesbian film. Who knows – over weeks and months and years of movie nights, your daughter just might turn into a veritable scholar of queer film!
I’ve also taken into consideration age, genre, and lesbian content. Some of these films err more on the side of light drama rather than romantic comedy, but I’ve included them anyway. Coming of age is a big theme in lesbian cinema, so that might be a nice avenue to head down. In terms of explicitness, it might be useful to gauge what’s appropriate according to what you’re comfortable with your daughter seeing in heterosexual films. I know from experience that sometimes, a little bit of intimacy in a lesbian film can seem much racier than a comparable display of intimacy in a heterosexual film simply because it’s gay. Try to be aware of this when screening for age-appropriate content. For instance, will you censor any intimacy in a lesbian film when you might allow it in a heterosexual film where a man and a woman kiss? Try and match the amount of explicit content you allow whether the film includes heterosexual or homosexual content.
The other consideration I’m taking into account for this filmography is the tendency in lesbian films to focus on sexual identity as a primary narrative. This might not be what you’re looking for because it seems you want to tread lightly rather than directly addressing sexual identity. I think this is an enlightened approach. And I think it narrows the selection of lesbian films because unfortunately, the bulk of these films fail to depict lesbian characters experiencing the usual trials of life; queer cinema, while it is evolving, often relies on coming out stories as the driving force—as the plotline itself. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this – this kind of visibility and representation are vital – but the concern here is that it might be a bit more heavy-handed than you would like at this point.
With all of this in mind, I’ve put together a filmography. I do want to ask you to watch the films or read about them before you watch them with your daughter. It’s impossible for me to know exactly where you draw the line in terms of explicit content, and my notion of what is appropriate might differ from yours, so by doing a pre-screening before sharing a film with your daughter, you can assure the content isn’t too racy for your taste. I don’t want to be responsible for corrupting a young lesbian’s mind, especially not when her parent is so diligent and vigilant about what that young mind is exposed to.
My Summer of Love (2004). A sweet film about an unfulfilled teenage crush; no explicit content.
Girl, Interrupted (1999). A coming of age story in which the main character shares an impromptu kiss with a friend; a really great introduction with very minimal lesbian content; not heavy-handed at all.
The Jane Austen Book Club (2007). Another film with a brief lesbian plotline; a gentle introduction to lesbian imagery; not focused on sexuality in any overt way.
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). Hard topics (racism, spousal abuse) do come up in this film, but the bad guys get what they deserve in a way that makes it palatable to a younger viewer. Also an implied but unacknowledged (which I think is perfect) lesbian relationship between Idgy and Ruth.
Personal Best (1982). A lesbian classic about an athlete negotiating her sexual identity.
Imagine You and Me (2005). A light, romantic film; prominent lesbian storyline.
Lost and Delirious (2001). A throwback to tragic lesbian tropes; some teenage sex.
Show Me Love (1998). A story of first love among two Swedish teenagers; subtitled.
Gayby (2012). A straight woman and a gay man decide to have a baby together; some sexual content.
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999). Rom-com-ish; a little bit of sex; possibly too overt in its focus on homosexuality as the central plotline; funny.
Also, here are other films for you to take a look at and perhaps introduce into movie night somewhere down the line when your daughter is older, when explicit content is increasingly appropriate, and when sexual identity isn’t as tentative.
Saving Face, Unveiled, DEBS, The Kids Are Alright, The Itty Bitty Committee, I Can’t Think Straight, Better Than Chocolate, The Incredibly True Story of Two Girls in Love, If These Walls Could Talk 2, Blue is the Warmest Color. And of course, there’s The L Word.
I hope you’ll let me know what you try, and what you find. I can only begin to imagine what a seasoned film-watcher your daughter will become thanks to thoughtful guidance you clearly invest into movie night. This guidance will translate beyond your daughter’s film tastes; it will greatly influence her sense of self as she continues to become who she is.
Whiskey Blue is the author of Brooklyn Love, a collection of literary erotica available everywhere ebooks are sold. In her other life, she is a contributor to Psychology Today. She has also written for The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, AfterEllen, Curve Magazine, Bitch, and more. Whiskey holds erotica in the highest regard. Follow her @topshelferotica.
Click through to read about our contributors!