Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mary, the Heterosexist

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.


  1. It's somewhat humorous to me that someone finally mentions the God bogey when it comes to homosexuality. I admit that I attended church every Wednesday night and some Sunday mornings, until the homosexual bashing began. It was enough to turn my idea of popular religion sour. As far as critiques, everything else followed.

    It is also telling of the Creation story that woman is construed to be the villain, but the white, heterosexual, old Man, who supposedly created the serpent, the direct means by which humans were cast out of Paradise, is absolved of any accusations of a conflict of interest, regardless of His preceding omniscience. Somewhere in the shuffle of a solidifying tradition of binary gender and reified differences between two sexes, woman was made out to be emotional, easily swayed into immorality, whereas Adam somehow got the raw deal.

  2. I think it is interesting that you mention the Missouri Bible Belt reference in your blog Jonathan. Yes the south perpetuates stereotypes, to what extent over other regions I do not know. One of my favorite lines in the film was when Graham and Megan are captured by Larry and Lloyd for a night out at the cocksucker club. As they are driving along Megan comments on the experience as being "the underground homo railroad." Oppression whether for African Americans or whites is empathetic between the parties.
    As for the cheerleading comment Jonathon made in class today I couldn't agree more. I appreciate how Megan is able to discover her sexuality yet maintain an important part of what was categorized as her heterosexual past life and incorporate it into her new identity.
    Cheerleading takes on several roles in the film. When Mary retaliates on Larry and Lloyd she has the campers bring posters of protests and "chant" aggressively. "Silly faggot dicks are for chicks!" "Adam and Eve' Not Adam and Steve!" and "We are here and we are queer!"
    In the opening cheerleading scene the girls are being presented as boobs, butts, and midriff. Yet, they chant just as Mary had her campers. Aggressively. “Be Aggressive! Be Be Aggressive!” “Drive Drive Drive!” These cheers undermine the cheerleader. They do not have the power to be aggressive. They are merely holding pom pom’s and drive drive drive refers more so to what Steve had in mind when he and Megan were making out so romantically in the car.
    I hope we can all agree that the award for best cheer goes to Megan’s heartwarming and vulnerable proposal of love to Graham.

  3. Jonathan, I am glad you mentioned religion because it is the argument I tend to hear most against homosexuality. You ask where the heterosexual norm comes from and what elements maintain this idea. It is exactly this question that I beleive refutes the religious argument against homosexuality. People whose religion guides them to the idea that homosexuality is wrong should consider the social forces that shaped the beginning and birth of their religion. Religion is obviously separate from faith, which is not what people need to question. Rather it needs to be understood that a guidline created by people are inherintly tainted by the heteronormative mindset of our culture. I too come from a bible belt state, arguable the one with the MOST bible. The state of Oklahoma passed its law against gay marriage by 98 %. It makes me sad that people so dedicated to the goodness that religion can bring to societies insist on blatantly discriminating against "the other".


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