The players in But I’m A Cheerleader (1999) make an impressive display of the framework surrounding sexuality and gender performance as a result of powerful shaping and maintenance by the heterosexist norm. The film is “campy” as Dr. J noted because the blatant humor allows the film the discuss some very heavy social issues, the dialogue dripping with witty, pointed cynicism.
In one of my favorite scenes, Mary, who I believe represents a female shaping of the heterosexist, male collective, notes that any sexuality outside of heterosexuality is considered a deviation, or “Other.” Mary and the students of her heterosexualizing academy sit in a therapeutic circle and she asks, “Ok then, who's left to report out their root? Andre?” Andre replies, “Shit Ms. Mary, I ain't the only one who don't got no root.” The film, I believe, is commenting on the system currently in place that makes heterosexuality normative. Anything that is not heterosexual is “Othered,” considered a deviation, wrong. On basic levels, this seems instinctively wrong. I have heard very few arguments against homosexuality that deviate from “it is not natural” and “the bible says it is wrong.” With a background in science, an interest in medicine, and a bible scholar, I can refute most of these with ease. What I could not do, until a year ago, however, was refute it with good logic. In reply to the film’s statement, I agree with their humorous interpretation of the alleged psychological root of deviation from heterosexuality. In realizing that sexuality is a construct, developed and maintained by the heterosexist, male norm, we further realize that sexuality is a performance. Those that perform the part of heterosexual are accepted in society and those that play any other role are not, or are accepted differently in many situations. There is not “root” to any sexuality, however. Homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, etc... are all sexualities, performances of sexuality. My criticism is that individuals should be able to perform sexuality in whatever way they choose and not be “Othered” as a result because there ought be no norm.
God is not a white, straight old man, though an image of creation dictates how society relates to sexuality. Megan is chanting her cheer near Graham in one scene, “2, 4, 6, 8, God is good...” when Graham finishes with a sarcastic “God is straight!” Megan agreed to Graham’s suggestion, however. I agree that in many cultures religion helps maintain normative heterosexist oppression. Genesis 2 is used in many churches and I have heard sermons on it many times in my life. Genesis 2 is the creation account in which God creates man first and then woman is created. The two live happily in the garden until woman screws up paradise by eating the forbidden fruit (embracing knowledge) and coaxing man to do the same. That man was first created in God’s image assumes that those closest to the divine are male. That one man and one woman were created clearly means Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. This whole scene almost seems laughable--until you grow up in mid-Missouri your entire life and see this mentality play out. The bible belt is ruled by this mindset and children in these religious traditions learn, from an early age, how to perform gender and sexuality from this common children’s story and congregants hear it in the pews. Many religious traditions teach their flocks to “Other” gay people from an early age, a point the film may not have been making though I related to, having grown up in a context in which I was taught to “Other” any sexuality that was not heterosexuality.
Essentially, I really enjoy this film because it makes several common points that many of us take for example every day. Where does the concept of heterosexuality being the normative come from? What elements maintain this idea and force? By asking questions and identifying beginnings, we begin to understand how to deconstruct the system and resist it.