In “The View from the Shortbus, or All Those Fucking Movies,” Nick Davis brings up a very interesting question: is unsimulated, frank heterosexual sex in a film a queer act? Funnily enough, a slew of think pieces (Huff Po, Vice, NYT, etc.) have come out recently asking whether or not radical straight people should be included under the umbrella of queerness and in queer spaces.
Davis’ article really connects with another article we read for a later section of the class, José Esteban Muñoz’s “Dead White: Notes on the Whiteness of the New Queer Cinema.” In the article, Muñoz lauds a film (Safe) for exposing the dangerous implications of white normativity, saying:
“While the film is not queer on the level of plot, Carol, who possesses one of the most normative bodies, a white suburban female one, is made a queer outsider through her environmental illness and can no longer survive within heteronormative culture. The film expands our understanding of queerness, exposing potentials in a seemingly unqueer body.” (136)
Here, we get to the heart of the matter: to be heteronormative, to be normal, to be not-queer is an act of survival. Normativity is so tenuously constructed and so volatile (consider gender construction in Judith Butler’s “Critically Queer”) that being normal is like participating a tightrope act in which one toe out of line spells disaster and earns ridicule and exile. Public sex (including filmed simulated sex for the public to see), the ownership and liberation of one’s body, is indelibly counter to normativity. Just look at the Hays Code in Hollywood and the historical social mores of world cinema (e.g. The Celluloid Closet, All About Eve, The Servant, Johnny Guitar), and see that open depictions of heterosexual sex acts (even if simulated) were once just as forbidden as gay and lesbian ones. So the answer to Davis’ question is yes, films like Shortbus deserves a spot under the queer umbrella beside films like Stranger by the Lake for radically moving outside of the comfortable constraints of normalcy. Queer visibility is tied to the open, honest, and guilt-free rendering of all human sexualities on film.
- Davis, Nick. “The View from the Shortbus, or All Those Fucking Movies.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Volume 14, Number 4 (2008): p. 623 – p. 637.
- Munoz, Jose Esteban. “Dead White: Notes on the Whiteness of the New Queer Cinema.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Volume 4, Number 1 (1998): p. 127 – p. 138.