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Edge of Seventeen: Juvenile Agony and Youth Fantasies in New Queer Adolescence Films
Unformatted Document Text:  had experienced assault, 41% of the girls and 34% of the boys had even tried to kill themselves (Hunter, 1990). According to Gibson’s research for the Department of Health and Human Services of the United States (1989), gay and lesbian teenagers are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual teenagers, and homosexual teenagers account for 30% of all adolescent suicides. Homosexual identity formation may be less traumatic, however, if some explanation or rationalization of the adolescent’s feelings and behavior is provided (Edwards 1996). Films and television programs about coming of age and coming out of gays and lesbians may often be a youth’s first contact with issues and sexual desires of a non- heteronormative nature. Rob Cover (2000) notes that for many, such media may be the only source of evidence of sexualities that deviate from what is still posited as the heterosexual norm. For decades, mainstream cinematic articulations of queer adolescence have reflected a paternalistic approach that condemns any transgression of the dominant heterosexual order. Whether these films represent gay and lesbian teens as freaks or unfortunates, perverts or victims, they serve to maintain and reaffirm the oppressing gender and sexual dichotomies reproduced by the straight dominance. 1 In the mid 1980s there was still a harsh disparity between real-life gays and the popular conception of such people onscreen. Because most gays in real life chose to remain hidden, their sexual diversity remained hidden as well. Purely mythological gays proliferated on the screen, perpetuating menacing stereotypes that appeared to threaten heterosexual society much more than any reality (Russo 1987 [1981], p. 252). Similarly, the rare treatment of adolescent homosexuality on television until the mid 1990s fell into a few narrow categories. Character types were restricted to the “confused teen,” the “situational homosexual,” and the “assimilated gay.” Each of these types was generally developed around a burning desire of the character to be a part of the mainstream, reflecting a more desperate than affirmational attitude (Kielswasser and Wolf 1992, p. 362). Until the early 1990s in particular, adolescent homosexuality was depicted in film and television only as a sexual activity, rather than a cultural position. 1 ˜ One of the most known examples is Vincente Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy (USA 1956) which uses the classic outsider image of the man who marches to the sound of a different drummer and must face the scorn of his contemporaries. Never, in the film or the play, is it indicated that sensitive student Tom Lee (John Kerr) might actually prefer boys to girls. According to Vito Russo (1987), the subject here is the accusation of homosexuality, not the presence of it (at least not in Tom Lee). Lee’s classmates call him “Sister Boy” because he refuses to run with the pack; and he is labeled a sissy because he is discovered sitting on the beach with a group of faculty wives, sewing a button on his shirt. At the end, Tom is “straightened” out.

Authors: Padva, Gilad.
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had experienced assault, 41% of the girls and 34% of the boys had even tried to kill
themselves (Hunter, 1990). According to Gibson’s research for the Department of
Health and Human Services of the United States (1989), gay and lesbian teenagers are
two to three times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual teenagers, and
homosexual teenagers account for 30% of all adolescent suicides. Homosexual
identity formation may be less traumatic, however, if some explanation or
rationalization of the adolescent’s feelings and behavior is provided (Edwards 1996).
Films and television programs about coming of age and coming out of gays and
lesbians may often be a youth’s first contact with issues and sexual desires of a non-
heteronormative nature. Rob Cover (2000) notes that for many, such media may be
the only source of evidence of sexualities that deviate from what is still posited as the
heterosexual norm.
For decades, mainstream cinematic articulations of queer adolescence have reflected a
paternalistic approach that condemns any transgression of the dominant heterosexual
order. Whether these films represent gay and lesbian teens as freaks or unfortunates,
perverts or victims, they serve to maintain and reaffirm the oppressing gender and
sexual dichotomies reproduced by the straight dominance.
1
In the mid 1980s there
was still a harsh disparity between real-life gays and the popular conception of such
people onscreen. Because most gays in real life chose to remain hidden, their sexual
diversity remained hidden as well. Purely mythological gays proliferated on the
screen, perpetuating menacing stereotypes that appeared to threaten heterosexual
society much more than any reality (Russo 1987 [1981], p. 252). Similarly, the rare
treatment of adolescent homosexuality on television until the mid 1990s fell into a
few narrow categories. Character types were restricted to the “confused teen,” the
“situational homosexual,” and the “assimilated gay.” Each of these types was
generally developed around a burning desire of the character to be a part of the
mainstream, reflecting a more desperate than affirmational attitude (Kielswasser and
Wolf 1992, p. 362). Until the early 1990s in particular, adolescent homosexuality was
depicted in film and television only as a sexual activity, rather than a cultural position.
1
˜ One of the most known examples is Vincente Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy (USA 1956) which uses
the classic outsider image of the man who marches to the sound of a different drummer and must face
the scorn of his contemporaries. Never, in the film or the play, is it indicated that sensitive student Tom
Lee (John Kerr) might actually prefer boys to girls. According to Vito Russo (1987), the subject here is
the accusation of homosexuality, not the presence of it (at least not in Tom Lee). Lee’s classmates call
him “Sister Boy” because he refuses to run with the pack; and he is labeled a sissy because he is
discovered sitting on the beach with a group of faculty wives, sewing a button on his shirt. At the end,
Tom is “straightened” out.


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