Friday, March 24, 2017

LeFou and Trini and the Ghastly Gay Moment

©Disney 2017 Unless you've been on some kind of delicious social media free retreat for the last few weeks, you'll have no doubt heard about Disney's recent gay orgy sex fest that they had the gall to release under the sacred moniker "Beauty and the Beast". According to listicles and opinion pieces and one drive in movie theater entrepreneur in Arkabama, the film shows a grotesque display of forbidden love that dare not speak its name in the form of the character LeFou and his unnerving habit of existing. 

By now, if you've heard of this story, you've heard that a producer/director/movie person said that basically Josh Gad's internal monologue when playing the character would be deciding between wanting to be like Gaston (the muscle bound villain) or want to be with Gaston. You know..."be with" *wiggles eyebrows* in...*church lady southern voice* "that way". 

Immediately upon hearing this, I was of two minds:

  1. This was going to be nothing. The "exclusively gay moment" we were promised was going to be as benign as a lingering glance or an oddly enthusiastic grin. We all were going to make too much out of this, and everyone would be pissed that either we were robbed of our "first" gay Disney character (totally not the first) or that Disney was playing activist and baiting the gay community. 
  2. It was going to piss everyone off by having the first "exclusively gay moment" in a canonical Disney Princess film be represent one of the most problematic tropes in the gay community: hetero worship. 
Seriously, it's bad. From porn to films to the culture itself, the gay community prizes the muscle bound heterosexual guy that...somehow...turns gay for an hour to bang you into oblivion...but only after football practice and only because his girlfriend is out of town. This trope has led to everything from femme-erasure/hatred in the community to transphobia to an acknowledged-only-in-whispers hierarchy inside the community that puts "straight acting" muscular white men at the top of the heap and leaves everyone else sort of struggling with body dysmorphia and internalized homophobia. 

And, I was all set to hate LeFou. I had a blog post drafted about how LeFou was all the worst things about our community. That he was the lens through which the straight community views us, as latching on to straight men and thinking only of sex with the husbands of good Christian women. But, I had gone through that spectrum of emotions and done all that outrageous irrationalization before having ever seen the film. (Something I've chastised others for in the past.)

When I saw the film, I rolled my eyes at LaFou from the beginning. It appeared he was falling into the second category mentioned above: he fawned over Gaston in much the same way that I secretly lusted after the very same muscle bound jocks who tormented me in high school. He worshipped the town hero in a way that, for quite a while, meant he was blind to the reality that Gaston was a pretty shitty human being. And then...something happened.

*Warning: Mild Spoilery Stuff Ahead About Side Plots That Don't Actually Have Much To Do With The Main Story But Seem To Have Been Included In Order To Puff Up LeFou's Story*

Gaston ties up Belle's father and leaves him in the forest (which introduces the one puzzling new addition to the plot - Agatha - who is in the running as one of the most unnecessary characters to exist in a Disney film) and that right there appears to shock LeFou into a pretty clear bit of character development. He eventually turns on Gaston and comes into his own, realizing that a nice jaw and sculpted biceps don't mean a hill of beans if you're the kind of guy who would leave an old man to get eaten by wolves because he mildly inconvenienced your evil schemes. By the end of the film, LeFou is fighting alongside the furniture (which is a sentence that only makes sense in a blog post about Beauty and the Beast) and being admonished by Mrs. Potts as being too good for Gaston anyway. 

And, this is important. This is an important lesson that gay men everywhere had to (or have to, if they haven't yet) learn: straight worship is bad. Worshipping the hot straight guy because you long for the day when he'll suddenly turn for you is gross and it belittles your presence on this planet as someone who is worthy of the love of someone who can fully love you in the way you deserve to be loved. Appreciated by someone who can fully and outwardly appreciate you. 

And, in that regard, I saw much of myself in LeFou. I also am from a small country town. I also had some straight guys - one in particular - that I not so secretly pined for, and that confusion only added to my internalized homophobia. I'm quite glad that LeFou is out there and existing in all his overtly homosexual ways. I'm glad he ended up with a guy at the end. I'm glad his arc from straight worshipping sidekick slave ends with his awakening that he doesn't have to denigrate himself by doggedly following a villain.
©Saban Entertainment 2017 
What I'm most glad about is that within a week of Beauty and the Beast's release, yet another iconic property (though, admittedly, to a lesser degree) is including another member of the LGBTQ community. Power Rangers, according to reports, represents Trini - the Latina Yellow Ranger - as having a girlfriend. I don't know whether the character presents on the spectrum of sexuality - lesbian, bi, pan, some as yet unnamed level of fluidity - but this kind of representation is important. Disney, Power Rangers...these properties are beloved by many generations of folks. Kids will see these films. Teenagers will see these films. Adults will see them with each other. Parents and Grandparents will be taking their kids. This is a level of elevated visibility that's desperately needed by the LGBTQ community in a time when that community is being specifically targeted by members of the political Right. 

To showcase a flawed gay man and empowered Queer Woman of Color in two of the year's most anticipated releases, in fact, the first superhero that outwardly identifies as LGBTQ on the big screen, is a big deal. A BIG deal. It's a pretty powerful way to show a sign of solidarity that representation means everyone and that we are all made better when all of our stories and identities can be told. Moreso, it's a big deal that these characters are more than eye rolling stereotypes; that they can be perfectly flawed and perfectly human simultaneously. It means perhaps we are coming to a point when LGBTQ folks can be more than best friends and sidekicks and clowns and Home Depot shopping stereotypes. It means that little girls and boys around the world will have two more characters with which to identify. If successful (which, according to box office numbers, they are) it means that more might be on the way. 

I am glad I get to see the day when we can give no fucks about showing a gay Power Ranger fighting Rita Repulsa. I am here for this. 

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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