A few weeks back, as my friends and I were flipping through the LGBT section of Netflix, the basement dark except for the glow of the TV and surrounded by more junk food than was humanly possible for four people to consume in one night, we stumbled upon the movie G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend) It looked like just the kind of trashy teen high school comedy everyone secretly loves, with it’s two and a half star rating and lack of any notable actors, so naturally we instantly put it on.
We were all surprised when G.B.F turned out to be a surprisingly good movie. It’s far from a perfect film, and I could go on about it’s flaws and shortcomings, but what matters in the end is that it was a funny, light, teen comedy with a perfectly gay sensibility and surprising emotional core. Think a gayer Mean Girls updated for 2010’s. It’s the definition of the movie you put on once and then almost completely forget about, but G.B.F. didn’t fade in the coming days like I expected it to. The film managed to stick in my head for one reason in particular, one small, almost forgettable detail sticking in the back of my mind and making me think.
None of the closeted gay characters in G.B.F. ever demonstrate clear self-loathing or hatred because of their sexuality. Yes, they keep their sexuality secret, but it’s not because they are ashamed. Tanner, the main character, fears harassment and bullying from the school’s upper crest of populars and jocks. Brent, the most flamboyantly gay of the characters and a close friend of Tanner, is waiting to come out so that he can do in the most lavish and attention grabbing way possible. Topher, the Mormon boyfriend of one of the girls running for prom queen who is at least bisexual if not outright gay, is waiting till he can escape the pressures and expectations of the Mormon community, friends, and family.
G.B.F.’s depiction of being in the closet isn’t one of self-loathing, personal struggle, shame, and confusion. It’s one of waiting for the right time, the right place, and the right people to be open with your sexuality. The gay characters don’t remain closeted because they are ashamed of themselves, they just simply aren’t ready to be completely open yet. In this world of rapidly advancing LGBT+ rights and gay acceptance in mainstream culture, it’s not a completely unrealistic scenario.
Still, it wouldn’t be outlandish to call this depiction of being in the closet overly optimistic. There are still hateful bigots. In 2013, just a year before G.B.F.’s release, 45% of Americans still said homosexuality was a sin. Most queer people I know and am friends with faced struggles with themselves with accepting their sexuality or gender identity. Hateful slurs like fag and queer still litter internet comments and message boards. Some people might even attack G.B.F’s depiction of being closeted as misleading and harmful, demonstrating a dangerous disconnect with reality that threatens to convince queer teens to come out in environments that are unsafe for them to do so.
That’s not an ungrounded accusation, but it’s ultimately one that I wouldn’t agree with. I would agree that G.B.F.’s depiction of the closet is not 100% realistic. Quite simply, it does apply to a lot of queer people’s experiences being closeted. The film ignores a lot of the uglier parts of coming to terms with one’s sexuality, and the effects of being closeted on one’s mental health.
Despite all of this, I can’t get outraged or upset at G.B.F. Like I said, it’s a light teen comedy. Looking at something like Mean Girls or Easy A, it’s clear to see that realism isn’t crucial to success in this genre. I personally find G.B.F.’s depiction of the closet is refreshingly optimistic. With so many gay films, particularly those aimed at teens, having tragic endings, somber storylines, and a seemingly studio mandated body count of at least one, it’s refreshing to have one that bucks the trend and lets its characters be happy, confident, and open, both to themselves and to others.
This depiction may not be realistic as of right now, but it’s a vision of an inevitable future as gay acceptance only becomes more and more widespread, especially in younger generations. G.B.F.’s version of the closet, where coming out isn’t a personal struggle, but not much more than a formality, is something I have to admit I prefer over the depressing stories of intolerance and bigotry that gay films tend to be. Maybe that’s not realism in today’s age, but give it a few years. G.B.F. might not be so unrealistic then.