“Cheers make girls do stupid cartwheels, orgasms make people feel good.”
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) is a film about love, lust, gender roles, sexuality and forbidden romance. It follows the story of 17 year old Megan as she works her way through a two month program to ‘fix’ her sexual orientation and ‘make her straight’.
Megan is an all American Christian girl with a steady boyfriend and good grades but her family are convinced she’s gay. After finding some rather flimsy evidence of this, Megan’s friends and family intervene in her life and she is immersed into a world of strict institutionalised femininity. The program consists of five steps to normality which include admitting your sexuality and finding its ‘root’ cause as well as a final ‘simulated sexual lifestyle’ which involves the girls and boys rubbing up against each other in skin coloured morph suits featuring Adam & Eve style leaf trimmings.
As well as being comical and satirical, the film is somewhat progressive for its time. It makes a clear statement that homosexuality is not a lifestyle or a choice but simply how humans are- a state of being. It is outright ridiculing the camps like these that really do exist in America, showing how truly ridiculous their theories are. It shows women in a realistic light; as multifaceted human beings rather than housewives, mothers and objects of sexual desire, and it does the same for gay people. Each character has a different level of typically masculine and typically feminine traits and a range of interests. Although like most films of our era, it entirely emits bisexuality, we can take this at face value because there are no trans or asexual characters.
I loved how multifaceted each character is and how deep each of their stories goes, giving a pretty realistic overview of young people as a whole. I will also add that I really enjoyed the principal that spits too much from That’s So Raven playing one half of a very paternal gay couple who help the young recruits realise that they are not defined by their sexuality. Towards the end of the film, one character reveals herself as straight, admitting that she has never been attracted to women. As a very ‘butch’ character, the audience make the assumption that she is definitely one of the gay ones (so to speak) therefore proving that as a society we perceive people who do not fit neatly into gender roles as homosexual- this happens time and time again in reality and it made me question whether I’d made that assumption based on the fact it was a movie or if I fell for it.
Especially for its time But I’m a Cheerleader is a progressive movie not only with how it handles sexuality but also how it looks at gender roles as something that are ultimately institutionalised and unnatural.