Post #4 - Looking Through Another Lens: Growing in Empathy

Each month in this series I’m supposed to write about four films off this list. This month, however, I was only able to obtain two of them—GBF and Transamerica—from any of my usual sources. As with Swan Lake, queer cinema is often difficult to find. Yet another example of the ways LGBQT persons are marginalized. For this post, I’ve decided to focus only on GBF as it gave me plenty to respond to on its own. Transamerica is a pretty good film though, and I recommend it. Its portrayal of a transgender woman is nuanced and compelling. Now, on to the post proper.

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I love a good satire. Most people don’t. Most people love a mediocre satire that, in the end, pulls its punches and allows its audience to go about their lives believing that all is right with the world. Good satires don’t do this. Good satires are committed to their convictions to the end even if that means leaving audiences feeling uneasy about the world.

I love a good satire because all is not right in the world. The Earth and all in it are broken. That’s not easy to hear and when such a claim isn’t tempered by “but there is good in the world and more good all the time,” such a statement about Earth’s brokenness becomes unbearable. So as a complete philosophy, satire is unhelpful. But as part of a philosophy, satire is necessary because some things are unbearable and they need to stay unbearable so that we’ll try to change them. Good satire shows us what we need to change and demands that we change it.

GBF, the first film that I watched this month for this series, is mediocre satire. Its ending is a little too tidy and its method of critiquing its antagonists is contradictory to its overall message. GBF is a movie that makes you think the fight is already over; the villains have been unmasked, and the world is a much better place than it really is. It is light without being enlightening, which is a shame, because what it’s about—the limitations of stereotypes—is sorely needed particularly in this conversation about sexuality and also in the world in general.

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GBF is about a high school boy accidentally outed and then fought over by his school’s three clique leaders who each want to make him their gay best friend, or “GBF.” Of course, a GBF is an offensive stereotype and the girls expect the young man to be stereotypically gay. He’s not. He’s just himself and he has to learn to be okay with that when everyone is telling him he’s supposed to be something else. GBF tries to show that everyone is more than they appear to be. Well, almost everyone. The film also relies on stereotypes—of Christians and jocks as hateful, repressed homosexuals themselves—to poke fun at its villains.

As a Christian and as someone with immediate family members who are football coaches, I found this stereotyping offensive in much the same way that LGBQT persons find stereotypes of people like them offensive. GBF offers redemption to the non-Christian, non-jock characters, but not to the Christians and jocks. I find this so unfortunate, because the film could have been a bridge-builder between “warring” tribes. As it is, it is simply self-congratulatory and distancing.

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However, this series is about building empathy, so I must admit that this stereotyping of people like me is understandable. After all, stereotyping is a weapon people of my tribe (straight, while males) have been using against people of other tribes for a long time. As Jesus said, if you live by the sword, you’ll die by it. GBF is a case of my people’s sword being turned back against me. So go ahead – skewer me. I’ll take it. I’m not trying to “play the martyr” here. I’m genuinely sorry for the ways people like me have treated LGBT persons unlovingly.

I’m not like the villains in GBF. No one is. It’s satire, an exaggeration in every respect to reveal masked truths about our society. So I’m probably partly like those villains and I understand how someone partly like the protagonists might look at me and see a symbol of the injustice they’ve experienced. This symbol is saying he’s sorry, deeply, deeply sorry for all the hatred you’ve experienced, the vitriolic, bombastic hatred of people carrying “God hates fags” signs and the subtle, well-meaning hatred of unintentional stereotyping.

I know me saying I’m sorry doesn't erase the hurt LGBQT persons have experienced at the hands of people like me, but maybe it can give LGBT persons a little hope that though the world is screwed up, it can change. People like me from a conservative, Christian, football-fanatic family in Texas, can begin to recognize the ways they have participated in the marginalization and humiliation of LGBT persons both wittingly and unwittingly. People like me can say they’re sorry and do everything they can to better understand and empathize with the LGBT community so that any individual in that community whom I happen to meet can stop being “other” to me and simply become another friend.

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Next month, I’ll be watching PhiladelphiaThe Wedding Banquet, The Kids Are Alright, and Edge of Seventeen.