Journal article Open Access

Disidentifying with Gender Stereotypes: The Queer in Pop Culture Films

Lizbette Ocasio-Russe

Pioneer of queer theory Judith Butler believes nothing is natural, not even sexual identity. She looks to uncover the assumptions that “restrict the meaning of gender to received notions of masculinity and femininity” (Cain et al. 2536). What Butler calls “exclusionary gender norms” have constantly worked toward the detriment of both men and women, individuals behaving outside of what majority culture deems appropriate masculine and feminine behavior becoming targets of harassment. Films have been portraying the breaking of gender stereotypes, namely queer behavior, since as early as 1895. Queer, by definition, is anything strange or eccentric, in appearance or character and thus accommodates all, not just those engaging in same-sex practices. The portrayal of the queer in popular film has evolved just as the term itself has evolved to accommodate the diverse individuals of an ever-changing society. Unfortunately, the queer has always encountered resistance from majority culture. However, as a result of this resistance, it has become a growing trend in film to portray not just the queer, but the damaging effects gender binaries promulgated by patriarchal societies have on individuals who contradict them. Queer protagonists that challenge gender stereotypes and are, consequently, victimized include the transgender Brandon from Boys Don’t Cry, the teenagers sent to conversion therapy camp in But I’m a Cheerleader, and the young Billy Elliot struggling to overcome the stereotype of the male ballet dancer. Presenting these kinds of characters is a form of what queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz calls disidentification, a mode of dealing with dominant ideology that works to reform the social norm. Thus, in presenting the psychological abuse queers endure, pop culture films disidentify with gender stereotypes and, consequently, work to transform dominant ideology to accept the individuals it excludes.

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