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Did Heather Matarazzo’s Below Her Mouth Twitter Thread Discount the Experiences of Bisexual Women?

Below Her Mouth is a Canadian film making its U.S. debut this weekend. It’s a story about queer women told by a queer, female director that boasts an all-female crew and creative team. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, having all these elements in place doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality representation, or even representation that’s creative. For actress Heather Matarazzo, the film’s entire premise is severely lacking, as are the imaginations of many queer filmmakers.

Matarazzo took to Twitter yesterday in a long thread where she discussed seeing the above trailer for the film:

She goes on:

“And lets not forget the “straight/questioning” girl is engaged to a hot dude…… I mean, seriously…..WTF? It’s such a cheap plot device and it really makes me angry. I just don’t understand how in 2017, we’re still relying on narratives that do nothing but continually stereotype lesbian relationships. It’s fucking ridiculous. I appreciate Lisa Cholodenko so much because she tells stories that happen to be about queer women. The Kids Are Alright and High Art don’t rely on the straight male fantasy of lesbian sex. And don’t @ me with Blue Is the Warmest Color because that film is an entirely different beast, which is full of authenticity and truth. Maybe one day, queer female directors will get past their own internal misogyny and start producing films whose focus isn’t the characters’ sexual orientation. Queer women are more than that. My sexuality doesn’t define me, it’s just a part of who I am.”

You can read the full thread, containing more from Matarazzo, as well as other people’s takes, at the link above.

Heather Matarazzo

On the one hand, I totally get what she’s saying. Especially the “pursued by the androgynous/ tomboyish girl, who won’t take no for an answer” part. I get what a tired trope that is. And yeah, when I watch the trailer for Below Her Mouth, I don’t see anything “groundbreaking” there. Not in the premise, nor in the sex scenes (well, in what can be shown in a trailer, anyway). It seems like a film that skates on the surface level, which would be more tolerable if it weren’t the product of queer women. One would expect queer women to be more nuanced about such things.

However, something about Matarazzo’s rant started rubbing me the wrong way, and I couldn’t figure out what until I re-read this: “And lets not forget the “straight/questioning” girl is engaged to a hot dude…… I mean, seriously…..WTF? It’s such a cheap plot device and it really makes me angry. I just don’t understand how in 2017, we’re still relying on narratives that do nothing but continually stereotype lesbian relationships.”

She seems to use the words “queer” and “lesbian” throughout the thread interchangeably, forgetting that “queer” woman can mean something else entirely. It can also mean bisexual. Now, I haven’t seen this film yet, but neither has Matarazzo, as she’s talking about having seen the trailer, so we’re both working with the same amount of information. We’ve gotten her take. Now, here’s mine, as a woman who identifies as bisexual, and also queer, but not as a lesbian:

  1. Just because one of the women in the film is engaged to a hot dude doesn’t mean that she thought herself “straight” to begin with. That’s an assumption Matarazzo is making. I look at that character, and I think “She’s engaged to a dude.” Full stop. I don’t then proceed to extrapolate what she thinks her sexuality is, because I don’t know.
  2. “We’re still relying on narratives that do nothing but continually stereotype lesbian relationships.” Again, this is based on the assumption that the film is about a lesbian relationship, but we don’t know that from this trailer. All we know is that it’s about a same-sex relationship. There’s a difference.
  3. “Maybe one day, queer female directors will get past their own internal misogyny and start producing films whose focus isn’t the characters’ sexual orientation. Queer women are more than that.” I think this was the part that really bugged me. As if depicting a queer woman who exclusively dates women pursuing a woman who was in a relationship with a man is inherently misogynistic. Because we all know that queer women who sleep with men are, what, traitors? Or something?

I know what she means when she says that she wants more films from queer directors that aren’t about queerness. I completely agree with that! Sign me up! What I don’t agree with is the argument she’s using. That on-sight, a woman dating a woman who’s engaged to a man and so is hesitant about having an affair is a “tired trope.”

What if this film is exactly the kind of thing that Matarazzo is looking for? What if the film isn’t about queerness at all? What if it’s a film about an affair, and it just so happens that each of the protagonists likes women?

This really hit a nerve for me, because I came out as bisexual after a lifetime of neither straight nor queer people encouraging the fact that being bisexual was even an option. If you’re a woman, you’re either straight, or you’re a lesbian. End of story. Well, no, that’s not the end of the story.

To me, it’s still very true to the queer female experience to depict a woman who is hesitant to be with another woman after being with men, not because she’s “questioning” or because she’s “discovering that she’s actually a lesbian,” but because in a world where bisexuals are continually erased, it can be legitimately confusing the first time you fall in love with someone of the same gender, because your attraction to the opposite gender hasn’t gone away…and seemingly no one in the world allows for the fact that you could like both without being “on the road to Gaytown.”  So, what are you?

This might seem like a “tired trope” to a lesbian, but I promise you that there are plenty of bisexual women who are still waiting for this particular story to be done right.

Now, I’m not sure Below Her Mouth is the answer. I’m neither defending or tearing down this particular film except to say that the trailer didn’t particularly grab me. What I do hope is that the LGBTQIA community, whether they’re filmmakers, or actors, or writers, or regular folks out in the world, continually reminds itself that the “B” in that acronym exists. That it’s an actual, real thing that deserves respect and representation.

It’s already difficult to deal with erasure in mainstream, straight society. It’s doubly disappointing when those unconscious, yet all-too-real biases creep up within the community that is supposed to be our safe haven.

(via Twitter, image: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock)

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