I watched a really good teen movie the other night: it’s about three high school teen queens who complete to become best friends with the school’s only out gay boy. And it had some really wonderful and subtle characterization in it. Particularly loved the Mormon couple, since they were well-observed and true to life people who weren’t typical teen movie stereotypes.
However, the movie did do one thing that I didn’t like: it had two gay teenagers in it and two separate comings-out, and in both cases, the parents were like, “No worries, we already knew you were gay.”
This always happens in movies and tv shows. The teen gets their gumption together and unwraps the biggest secret of their life, and it fizzles. And, you know, I get the impulse here, but it has implications that are slightly insulting and it’s also just not true to life.
The impulse is to avoid any sense of heteronormativity, because if the parent evinced any kind of surprise, then maybe the movie would need to confront the idea that, while the parent might be okay with homosexuality, in an ideal world they might still prefer for their kid to be straight. And if the parent acted at all surprised, then the movie would need to consider what it means to be queer, and to accept, in some sense, that being queer is out of the ordinary. And since the movie is deeply uncomfortable with that, it just elides the whole thing altogether.
What makes this insulting is that, as a result, the kids come off as if they’re being silly and stupid. Like, why did they bother to stay closeted for so long when there were no consequences to coming out? And how could they think that they were keeping a secret, when it was really sooo obvious? The implication here is sexual identity is something that’s imposed on you: the teen isn’t gay because of their own subjective feelings of sexual attraction to members of the same sex (feelings that really are not accessible or perceivable to anyone else), but rather because those around them have decided that they’re gay.
Secondly, and more importantly, this is a false narrative. I mean, I know everyone is bored of the coming-out story where you get thrown out of the house or shipped off to re-education camp. Nowadays we do live in a world where many parents think of the possibility that their kids are queer. And there are many more parents who are, after a brief moment of surprise, willing to accept their kids whole-heartedly. But we do not live in a world where every single parent knows, without fail, that their kid is gay and is just waiting for their kid to bring it up to them. And it does a disservice to parents to make them feel like: a) they ought to be able to intuit their kid’s gayness; and b) if they can’t intuit it, then it’s not coming.
So yeah, I mean, we can have our happy/fluffy “I’ve known since you were seven years old” comings-out, but we should also continue to have some, “Uhh…wow…well…how long have you known?” comings-out, too.