Next Wednesday night, GroundSpark — a nonprofit that creates film-based education campaigns to raise awareness about social issues in schools and communities — is holding a benefit to launch the latest phase of their ongoing Respect for All Project with a screening of the new film and reception afterwards at the YBCA’s Novella Theater.
The new film and educational program is called Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, and it’s about the extraordinary pressure to conform to gender stereotypes — and the pressure to accept anti-gay attitudes — that teens face from their peers and guardians. Sounds like a downer? Actually, it isn’t even remotely depressing. I went into this film with the fear it would consist solely of tragedies — yet another closeted teen driven to suicide, yet another horrible beating of another — but while Straightlaced takes the time to directly discuss one such tragedy, the film stays positive throughout.
In fact, I’m certain that the program will be a huge success largely because the documentary is so inclusive and upbeat. It features about fifty extremely intelligent and well-spoken teens, who speak out about their relationship to gender roles and homophobia in our society: that is, how they feel pressured to conform to certain notions of masculinity or femininity, to conform to certain notions of what sexual behaviors are appropriate for them, and how they accept or resist these pressures. Some hide, and others — often, wonderfully — flaunt their true selves.
Unlike other films about gender issues among youth, which tend to focus on teens who identify as LGBT, this film includes interviews with teens who identify all across the gender spectrum. There is at least one individual in the film for any viewer to identify with. The most remarkable thing to me is how self-possessed and seemingly unconflicted these teens are. Perhaps the greatest thing about this documentary is the way it provides dozens of models of self-acceptance and healthy attitudes towards the ways others express themselves in behavior and dress. It makes some pretty basic points — everybody deserves respect (including you), “gay” is not an insult, and your sexuality and sex life are your own — but for kids still enduring the soul-crushing absurdity of high school social life, where wearing the wrong garment too often can get you permanently ostracized, it can only be good to have a film making these points so forcefully.
As with GroundSpark’s other programs, the film is intended as a starting point to foment discussion in classrooms and community meeting places, and it will be provided to educators and activists with a packet of print materials. The proceeds from the benefit will go to launch this campaign and get these materials out into the hands of educators and activists.
The benefit will be held on Wednesday, Jan 14th at 6:00. Tickets are $40 for General Admission and $175 for VIP Sponsor, which includes a reception. Tickets and more information are available at this page.