This Butch Reviews “Yes Or No”

Well hey there, Queerland! Happy Day After Obama Said He Supports Gay Marriage And The Internet Exploded Into Rainbows And Tumblrs! Yes siree Bob, I’m feeling pretty good ‘n proud of my Prez. Sure, he needs to do more to keep supporting us and sure, we still have a lot of work ahead of us, and sure, words don’t mean as much as actions, but HOLY UNICORN CRAP, you guys – a sitting president just endorsed gay marriage. IN AN ELECTION YEAR. That’s fanfreakintastic enough to keep me positive right now (and to make me want to pull out my old “Obama Said Knock You Out” T-shirt from the ’08 race).

Yup, yesterday was a Gay Old Time, and I celebrated by seeing a Gay Not-So-Old Film. It’s LGBT Film Fest season here in Boston or, as I like to call it, the delicious multicultural appetizer before the ginormous main course of Pride. Mmm. The fest is a perfect opportunity to learn more about queer experiences around the world, and last night’s film was a gem. Yes Or No is the first lesbian movie out of Thailand and has a butch-femme theme to boot!

White tank tops: the universal lesbian language.

WARNING: SPOILERS, STRAIGHT AHEAD!

The film tells the story of Pie, a rather tightly-wound college student, who is distressed to find that her new roommate, Kim, is a tomboy – the Thai word for butch lesbian. Now, Pie is no stranger to Sapphic sisters, as her previous roommate was “lipstick lesbian” (according to the subtitles) Jane, whose tendencies for melodrama and hurling inanimate objects in fits of passion were a wee bit too much for Pie to handle. But Kim is a whole other kettle of gay fish (this movie is heavy on the fish imagery, BTW, because [“lesbians and fish” joke goes here]). With her Bieber hair and hipster jeans and love of video games, ukulele, botany, soup, and other random things that seem to annoy Pie, Kim is the sort of girl Pie’s mom warned her about, quite literally. As in, her mom is all like, “Yo, Pie, you know those girls who look like boys? They mad freak me out, girl. Better stay away from ’em.” (Note: Not a direct quote.) So Pie and Kim’s initial relationship is strained by the homophobe germs she caught from her mama and she does all kinds of crazy shit like make a red masking tape line down the middle of their room, because everybody knows that masking tape is impervious to gayness.

But not to suave butches wielding ukuleles next to IKEA furniture.

As time goes on, however, the two develop a working relationship, then a friendship, and then – well, here is where things get complicated. See, Pie doesn’t want to be crushing on a girl and also has a kinda-boyfriend named Van who has the exact personality of a slightly damp sack of flour. Kim is afraid to admit that she is a lesbian or a tomboy, even though she’s falling in love with Pie and everyone is like, “Come on, now – you’re wearing flannel and giving your handkerchiefs to pretty femmes in need.” Oh, right – the handkerchief. Kim has apparently been reading up on her Butch Is a Noun, because she offers her plaid hankie to Jane, who’s sobbing in class after a bad breakup. +10 butch points for Kim, but -10000 good idea points, because Jane immediately decides that Kim is the love of her life, despite not actually knowing her name. Thai lesbians: pretty much like lesbians everywhere else.

“Let’s adopt a family of orphaned cats and name them after the cast of Rent, and we can all move into a queer co-op in Jamaica Plain and raise organic arugula. I’m Jane, by the way.”

Oh, what tangled webs of Feelings we weave! Kim loves Pie, Van loves Pie, the fast forward button loves Van, Jane loves Kim, and Pie is shocked/terrified to find herself loving Kim. There’s all kind of grand romantic-if-extremely-cliché scenes involving running in the rain, kissing in the rain, meeting on park benches, candlelight serenades, adorably awkward picnics, and shopping for jellyfish (if I had a dime for every time a movie equated love and jellyfish, I would have a dime). There are also many lovable supporting characters, including Kim’s probably-a-dyke hippie aunt and the gruff butch dorm manager who observes Kim and Pie’s budding romance with an approving look. This movie is just really freaking cute, you guys. You may find yourself squealing with delight at some point, and that’s perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of.

“Wait, you got Melissa Ferrick lyrics tattooed here?

Yes Or No isn’t just a giant squeefest, though – there are some parts that are downright painful. When Kim overhears Pie’s mom telling Pie how disgusting she thinks tomboys are – “It’s a good thing you don’t look like that, or I would be dead” – I was reminded of my own mother and that wasn’t fun. And the heartbreak on screen when Pie couldn’t bring herself to admit her feelings out loud wasn’t fun either. But the movie is roughly 75% Adorable Babydyke Fun Times, so I promise I smiled far more than I cringed.

“I think I’ve finally perfected my fisting technique.”

All in all, I give Yes Or No two Buzz Cuts and Bustiers thumbs up. If this awesome movie comes to a film fest near you, see it – and if you can tell me where the heck I can buy this on DVD, please, help a brother out! Happy squeeing, dear readers.

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An Ode to Clark Griswold, My Butch Holiday Icon

I need to discuss something very disturbing with you, dear readers. Did you know that today is December 6th? Did you also know that I reside in Boston, Massachusetts? Did you also know that it was 60 degrees here yesterday? 60. Six zero. In December. In Boston. In this realm of existence. Might I remind you that this is after we had a friggin’ snowstorm Halloween weekend? I think that, perhaps, the wildly-misinterpretated Mayan calendar may be right after all and 2012 is it. The end. Fin. So I suppose if next year we’re all gonna die in a firey tornado-tsunami (tornami?) filled with ice and wolves and meteors, I really should make the most out of Christmas 2011.

In this spirit of celebration/impending doom (which I guess could be the spirit of any holiday that involves family), I’d like to dedicate this post to the greatest character from the greatest Christmas movie of all time: Clark Griswold of the classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

As you know, I’m usually all for respectful debate over the internet, but this is an exception. Please don’t try to argue that Christmas Vacation is not the greatest Christmas movie of all time. This is simply a fact. Yes, Home Alone and Elf and Muppet Christmas Carol are awesome movies too, don’t get me wrong. But, much like the Highlander, there can be only one superior holiday film and this one’s the champ. Cry me a sea of swirly, twirly gumdrops, Buddy.

While I’ve loved Christmas Vacation since my parents decided I was old enough to watch it (sometime in high school, I believe), my deep appreciation for the patriarch of the Griswold clan manifested much later, after I began to identify as butch. While watching it during one of my trips home during college (I can’t remember which year it was exactly – maybe Junior?), I suddenly found myself thinking: “This is the kind of parent I want to be. These are the kinds of things that I want to do for my family someday.” A rather bizarre thought for a 22-year-old who was terrible with kids (and at 27, small children still make me nervous), but there it was. I wanted to be the Clark Griswold of my make-believe fun old-fashioned family Christmas.

Someday, I too will raise Juliette Lewis.

Anybody who has the pleasure of being around me this time of year will notice that I’m a tad bit, um, into Christmas. By “into,” I mean I start trolling eBay for Ugly Christmas Sweaters around October, go an hour out of my way to find a Trader Joe’s and purchase Peppermint Joe-Joe cookies (SO GOOD), obsessively organize my Christmas Cheer iTunes playlist, plan entire evenings around looking at neighborhood holiday lights, and have a small nervous breakdown if the tree doesn’t get decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving. Just a small one. OK, maybe a medium-sized one. Maybe, just maybe, I can be a bit of a Christmas Nazi. It’s just, there’s so much to do and the season is so short and I want time to enjoy it; is that so wrong of me?

"ALL OF THE DECORATIONS SHALL BE MIIIIIINE!"

The great irony here is that I’m an atheist. A very firm one at that. Devout, even. Sometimes, people don’t understand how an atheist can love Christmas so much. Some might say, “You can’t have Christmas without Christ,” to which I reply with the popular-on-Facebook retort, “And you can’t have Thursday without Thor!” Just as I don’t have to believe in the God of Thunder to have a great fifth day of the week (though, as a Marvel fan, I am rather fond of him), I don’t have to believe in 8 lb. 6 0z. newborn infant Jesus to have myself a merry little Christmas. I love decorations and cards and carols and gingerbread and snowmen and Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoons and giving/getting presents. Basically, I celebrate Capitalist Christmas. Got it, comrades?

"Get to the point, asshole."

Back to Christmas Vacation. Throughout his 97-minute adventure, Clark is hellbent on creating an epic Christmas for his family. The lengths he goes to in pursuit of yuletide perfection are Herculean, from magically hauling a 50′ pine tree from the middle of the woods (sans a saw) and stuffing it into the living room to actually inviting his in-laws to stay at his home for the entire holiday. Clark gets Christmas. In one scene, he risks life and limb to personally staple 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights to his roof and plunge the Chicago suburbs into a blackout. Did I mention that he does all this while wearing flannel and a down vest and looking like a complete maniac? This guy is basically my Ghost of Christmas Future.

You know you own that exact same outfit. And that exact same ball o' lights.

You might think that Clark’s actions are a bit extreme. And, of course, you’re supposed to, because that’s comedy and stuff. But while maybe it wasn’t a great idea to yank a back-up tree from the front yard without checking for squirrels first, everything he does is for his family – to give them what he didn’t have. In one scene, he explains that he wants to make things perfect for his kids because his childhood Christmases were always such a mess. As the product of a very dysfunctional Roman Catholic-Jewish family, I feel that. I’ve always wanted a big, happy, Rockwellian holiday and never really got it. So I daydream about how I’ll decorate the outside of my future house, which exists in some alternate-reality timeline where I will ever be able to afford a house. I imagine going sledding with my hypothetical children, who will be roughly 8-years-old at birth and fully potty-trained, able to dress/feed themselves, and capable of intelligent conversations about comic books. And I drag my girlfriend to places like Yankee Candle to look at blown glass German pickle ornaments and giant nutcrackers and $50 holiday table runners that we neither need nor can afford.

My GF makes this face whenever I talk about Christmas.

Now don’t get me wrong – Clark Griswold is not perfect. Yes, he upholds many ideals that I consider admirable – and, if I may, very butch – such as loyalty, hard work, dedication to loved ones, and maintaining a great collection of seasonably-appropriate ties. But he’s also hard-headed and has a tendency to launch into long, obscenity-filled rants in front of small children.

"PEACE ON EARTH AND GOOD WILL TOWARD ALL YOU FUCKERS."

And let’s not forget the whole “lusting after lingerie counter clerks while you should be shopping for your wife who you are very much still married to” thing. Don’t do that thing, folks.

This is NOT an approved butch-son bonding activity.

Despite these flaws, Clark Griswold remains my butch holiday icon, as well as the fictional person I fully intend to blame someday when I inevitably break several limbs while attempting to strap a 8-foot-tall plastic Santa Claus to my roof. Hypothetically.

"Shitter was full!"

This Butch Reviews “Pariah”

Last night, I had the good fortune to attend a free screening of Pariah. Big thanks to the Boston LGBT Film Festival for hosting this and for helping me justify my addiction to social media through Facebook giveaways! I’ve been itching to watch this movie since it became the darling of Sundance, so getting to see it before its official US release date (December 28) was pretty sweet. I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed, because Pariah is fantastic and the plight of the lead character Alike struck some deep chords in my butch heart.

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Adepero Oduye as Alike

Pariah is the coming out story of a masculine-of-center lesbian teenager living in modern-day Brooklyn. Alike deals with many of the same issues that most teens face – parents who don’t understand her, an annoying sibling, and peer pressure to lose the Big V. But all of Alike’s problems are compounded by the fact that she is a masculine-presenting dyke in a world that won’t accept that. Sometimes this leads to humorous situations – a scene where Alike’s sister walks in on the budding stud trying on her first strap-on (over her boxers, bless her babydyke heart) is hilarious – but more often than not, Alike’s predicaments are heartbreaking. In one of the final scenes, Alike is basking in the glow of her first sexual experience, only to find out that the girl she thought wanted to be with her – the daughter of her mother’s coworker – doesn’t want anyone to know about their tumble in the sheets, because she’s “not gay – she’s just doing her thing.” Alike rushes home and proceeds to destroy her own bedroom, consumed by the pain that only a lover’s betrayal can cause.

As hard as that was to watch, Alike’s scenes with her mother were even worse. Some of them were all too familiar to me, from Audrey forcing her daughter into skirts and blouses to her screaming at her husband: “Your daughter is turning into a damn man right before your eyes!” I held my breath during the scene when Alike finally tells her parents “I’m a dyke” and Audrey physically assaults her, because I knew it was coming. In my experience, mothers react the strongest and most negatively to butch/stud daughters, while fathers just sort of shake their heads, say “Listen to your mother,” and try to ignore the whole thing. It’s clear that Alike’s father loves her despite his inability to address her gayness or her butchness, and I’m sure her mother does, too – though she stops saying so once her daughter comes out.

Maybe it’s a matter of no longer being able to relate to a child that you can’t do “girl stuff” with (and by that, I mean “the things our society has decided women should care about”), like shopping for cute blouses or doing each other’s nails or whatever else in the Lifetime movie mother-daughter bonding montage one might imagine. My own mother is extremely feminine and interested in feminine things, and is also acutely aware that we have very little in common. My dad, on the other hand, seems to secretly like the fact that he has a daughter with whom he can have verbal sparring matches over politics and buy pocket knives for (not that one can’t also do both those things with a femme daughter, mind you). Much like my dad, Alike’s father only gets on her back about her butchness to soothe her mother’s ire over baggy clothes and lack of makeup.

The scene that made my stomach drop the most, however, didn’t even have Alike in it. Arthur, her father, is hanging out with other neighborhood men at a convenience store when a young stud walks in. The store owner comments that there’s been “more of that” since a new lesbian club opened down the street. One of his customers immediately starts harassing the stud, demanding to know if she goes by “Sir” or “Miss” and, disgustingly, asking her if she likes the way pussy tastes. The stud snaps back with a great “ask your wife about it” line and the guy is enraged, calling her a “bulldagger” (old school insult). I was sure that he was going to attack her, but the other men stop the situation before it escalated further – but not before he insinuates to an incensed Arthur that his own daughter is one of those “bulldaggers.” In a later scene, Arthur stops by the store with Alike to get some post-driving lessons snacks, but makes her leave after seeing Mr. Douchebag whispering to a friend. I think that for Arthur – and no doubt for many parents – his disapproval of his daughter’s queerness is rooted at least partly in fear for her safety.

I realize that this review has been almost entirely about how difficult this movie was to watch, but that doesn’t mean I’m not glad that I watched it – and it absolutely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it. Because you really really should, as soon as possible. It’s an incredible portrayal of growing up gay and gender variant, and I bet you’ll see some shades of yourself in it.