Alex Strangelove

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Next month, Netflix is premiering Alex Strangelove, a new teen sex comedy with a gay lead character directed by Craig Johnson, the writer/director behind True Adolescents starring Mark Duplass and Skeleton Twins starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader.

Alex Strangelove is about Alex Truelove, a straight-laced and driven high school senior with a wonderful girlfriend and a bright future ahead of him. After his buddies discover that he and his girlfriend, Claire, haven’t had sex yet,

Alex becomes obsessed with losing his virginity. But things get complicated when he meets Elliot, a handsome and charming gay kid from the other side town, who unwittingly sends Alex into a sexual identity panic. What results is a hilarious and moving exploration of love, sex and friendship in modern high school.

Since the first Day we met

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Saul Singleton’s Since the first Day we met is a coming of age short based on his own experiences as a gay teen.

This is the 18-year-old’s first film. It tells the story of deaf teen Max attending a new high school. He teaches a supportive classmate, who wants to learn how to use sign language, and the two get close.

Jackpot

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It’s 1994 and there’s no internet, so when closeted 14-year-old Jack Hoffman hears about a stash of gay porn hidden across town, he decides to brave the bully infested streets of his small New Jersey town, in hopes of getting what he wants. What happens over the course of the day will change everything.

Get 2 Kno Me

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Pop/hip hop artist Yaysh has returned with the romantic, emotional and sexually free ‘Get 2 Kno Me’. The track is one of a string of singles the artist has been releasing over recent months. Focusing on themes of falling in love, joy and sadness, the reggae-pop song is calming yet provocative, highlighting this culture of being afraid to fall in love.

The accompanying video uses nudity to further spread her message of vulnerability and self-esteem through mock fearless love scenes, embroidered with lighter comedy. Furthermore, she emphasises diversity and the fact you have to bare it all to truly find love, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation as Yaysh explains, “We deserve to celebrate our bodies and our beauty and sexuality and feel at home with who we are. We don’t need to be ashamed.”

Yaysh on the song and video: “Nudity is being used as a metaphor and message for baring it all because being naked is a form of completely showing yourself, at least on a physical level. It is a sign of inherent confidence in being human, that there is nothing wrong with who we are, nothing wrong with love, love making, being completely naked and showing your entirety and letting people judge. We deserve to feel comfortable in our own skin and to make love and enjoy ourselves and being human fully!

“The challenge to the listener and viewer is to take a leap, take a chance and be yourself unabashedly and from there, love, joy, acceptance and warmth follow towards oneself and the world. Everyone in this video is offering a gift to the viewer of their own vulnerability. It’s a Big Message.”

Ada Vox

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When Adam Sanders first performed as his drag persona Ada Vox over three years ago, her audience was limited to the local gay scene in San Antonio, Texas. But in recent weeks, Vox has become one of the most-watched drag queens in the world. Read more…

Pihalla

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Miku is 17, making his first tentative forays into sex and sexuality. His older brother, black sheep of the family Sebu, talks him into throwing a big party while their parents are away. Of course, the house gets trashed, so Miku is exiled to spend the summer with his parents (and without his phone!) at their summer cottage in the country.

He meets the (literal) boy next door, Elias, and, only partly for lack of other options, they quickly bond, exploring the lake and each other, comparing notes on whose parents and siblings are more fucked up.

Pihalla (Screwed) is another entry in the welcome trend of coming-of-age films in which being queer is only one of the adolescent issues, rather than the defining characteristic around which the bulk of the characters and of the plot are drawn.

It is refreshing to have sexuality be only one aspect of the story. That said, Pihalla has earned a place in the pantheon of all-time greatest coming out moments in cinema history. It’s fairly late in the film, so I won’t give away the details, but there is a surprising twist, giving a fresh take on, “Mom, I’m gay,” and casting light on some mysteries from earlier in the story.

The filmmakers, writer/director Nils-Erik Ekblom and writer/producer Tom Norrgrann, said that the script evolved during production, as they found the lead actors capable of much more than the light comedy originally written.

To be sure, this is a comedy with its share of laugh-out-loud moments, but we also get real insight into the two young men individually and together, and into their family dynamics. The touching moments of genuine connection are interwoven into the comedy, giving a more solid foundation for us to laugh along with characters we care about. The wit and humour of the dialogue shine through clearly, even through the filter of subtitles.

Let Queer Kids be different

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This year we’ve seen a number of mainstream stories focusing on straight people’s relationship to queerness — which insist that queer people are “normal” and “just like you!” — rather than queer people’s relationship to their own identities.

The queerest part of Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon — the first major studio release to feature a gay teenage protagonist, which has been warmly received since its premiere last month — isn’t that titular gay teen. Instead, it’s Ethan (Clark Moore), femme and black with a Michelle Obama blowout and a sanguine rejoinder for every bully he encounters, who embodies the familiar high school figure of the kid everyone knew was gay.

The contrast between the two is sharpest following a bullying incident in the school cafeteria, when two jocks dressed like Simon and Ethan jump on a table and pantomime anal sex. Simon runs over, ready to fight them, while Ethan more or less rolls his eyes: To him, this is merely a change in flavor from the usual menu of ridicule. Before Simon can get to them, the drama teacher, Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell), marches in and, after a flurry of well-deserved shaming, sends the jocks to the vice principal’s office, along with Simon and Ethan, who wait to receive a forced apology nearly as humiliating as the incident itself.

Waiting with Ethan outside the office, Simon apologizes to Ethan, saying, “Nothing like this ever happened when just you were out.” But by this point in the film, Simon has personally witnessed Ethan getting bullied on at least one other occasion, so we have to suppose what Simon means is, This only used to happen to you. Ethan delivers a brief, moving monologue about his mother’s reaction to his gayness, and her obvious disappointment in who he is — an experience common to queer teens, but seemingly inconceivable to Simon.

In his few minutes of screentime, Ethan is exactly as sidelined in a film about a teen who is gay (but not that gay) as he would be in the hundreds of thousands of high school cafeterias that Ethans must move through. Ethan can’t hide or code-switch the way Simon (Nick Robinson) — white, masculine, conventionally handsome — is able to. Simon spends so much energy on preserving the secrecy of his own homosexuality that he fails to see the pain and danger for queer people who don’t have the luxury of keeping such a secret.

In an op-ed for the New York Times last week, one of a number of pieces to criticize the movie’s love affair with normalcy, activist and writer Jacob Tobia wrote a stirring critique of Ethan’s treatment in Love, Simon. “He is a sideshow, a subtle foil to show how palatable and masculine Simon is.”

Normalcy pervades Love, Simon, from the landscaped, Stepford-y suburb through which its protagonists drive to school to Simon’s parents’ cookie-cutter high school love story. In the film’s opening voiceover, Simon calls himself “normal” more than once, as if in a prima facie defense of his secret homosexuality. I’m gay, but I’m still normal! Even though, obviously, if he truly were like everyone else — that is, straight — there would be no movie to be made.

In a review for Time, critic Daniel D’Addario asks, “Can a love story centered around a gay teen who is very carefully built to seem as straight as possible appeal to a generation that’s boldly reinventing gender and sexuality on its own terms?”

Apparently, it can. Simon’s normalcy is one of the reasons why everyone from grown-up critics to teenagers themselves has loved the movie — it’s following in the footsteps of so many teen rom-coms before it about the lives of conventionally attractive straight kids; shouldn’t queer kids get a “normal” aspirational rom-com too?

Normalcy, after all, doesn’t only feel good — it also has political power. “Gays are just like everyone else” has been the rallying cry of a certain strain of gay liberation, a tactic that succeeded in ending policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, toppling the Defense of Marriage Act, and achieving federal marriage equality. And yet these efforts have been criticized from more radical corners of the LGBT community for their focus on issues concerning only the most privileged of Americans. The double-edged sword of normalcy-as-value is that it is always including and excluding with the same stroke.

Ultimately, Simon offers no more queer representation than hyper-mainstream antecedents like Will Truman (Eric McCormack) in Will & Grace, upstanding gay lawyer, or Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) in Philadelphia (1993), upstanding gay lawyer: a poster boy for well-behaved deviance, never forcing straight people to look directly at the boundaries of their world. Simon Spier is basically Wally Cleaver with an iPhone.

“I’m just like you” as an argument for equal treatment suggests that Simon Spier, or any other gay person, deserves respect and understanding by virtue of our similarities with straight people, rather than despite our differences — a construction we’re still being fed in queer media that sets the limits of acceptable queerness at the border of heterosexual comfort. Simon’s opening voice-over leans on his “totally normal” surroundings to excuse his deviation from them, rather than to question the boundaries “normal” builds.

Of course, all teenagers deserve to hear that they aren’t deviants and that they’re worthy of love — but what queer teens may need to hear more than anything is that popular notions of what’s “normal” are what make you feel wrong, or weird, in the first place.

Read on…

He’s Funny That Way

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Bob Dylan has recorded a song for a compilation EP with a same-sex love theme called Universal Love. Dylan’s contribution to the six-song EP, which also features Kesha, St. Vincent, Ben Gibbard, Valerie June and Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, comes with a characteristic twist: Reflecting his recent covers-heavy albums, he’s covered the 1929 song “She’s Funny That Way” with the lyrical variation “He’s Funny That Way.” The EP is released today.

Dylan is not the first to alter the pronoun in the song — which has been covered by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Etta James, Liza Minelli, Nat King Cole and many others since it was featured in the 1931 film “Gems of MGM” — but the point is made.

“If you look at the history of pop music, love songs have predominantly come from one heterosexual perspective,” said Tom Murphy, a co-producer of “Universal Love,” said. “If we view music as something that brings people together, shouldn’t these popular songs be open to everyone?”

Other tracks include Gibbard covering the Beatles’ “And I Love Her” (changed to “Him”) and June covering “Mad About the Boy” as “Girl.” Kesha chose Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Man to Love.” “For years I said that I’m not getting married until any two people can legally marry in this country,” she said — and is now an ordained minister who has wed to two gay couples.

You can listen to the full EP on Spotify.