Our media’s cultural mirror has rapidly evolved during the last half-decade to reflect a more realistic myriad of non-heterosexual experiences. From asexual to pansexual, it’s refreshing to see those often kept in the dark given the spotlight. What’s more, we’re seeing LGBT characters developed beyond the caging tropes and harmful stereotypes that have plagued them for decades. Queer-focused stories aren’t required to center on suppressed identity, taboo love affairs or tragic deaths. Profound coming-of-age stories, hilarious tales of revenge and quirky romances can also belong to those not straight of heart.
Telling an honest, nuanced and engaging story is difficult enough without the responsibility of depicting a frequently misrepresented community. From shorts and documentaries to non-English language features and film festival darlings, these movies boast not only a compelling narrative, but expertly (and respectfully) highlight the diverse experiences of the LGBT population. Here are five films released since 2010 that don’t just challenge perceptions of queer sexuality, but remind us that a life lived less straight isn’t a life lived less humorously, adventurously, or underwhelmingly ordinary.
1. Appropriate Behavior (2014)
By default, being a twenty-something is messy—whether it’s dealing with crumbling relationships, jobs you’re too inexperienced for or the lies you tell to appease your parents. Desiree Akhavan explores that universal experience of untangling our identities in 2014’s Appropriate Behavior. Shirin is a secretly bisexual woman fresh out of a break-up and dedicated to getting ͢over her ex-girlfriend. But Shirin’s dispirited attempts to push every aspect of her life back on track fall awkwardly and disappointingly flat at every turn. Shirin can talk her way into a job and a date, but can she keep either? Appropriate Behavior follow one woman’s journey through life telling everyone she’s an adult … until she accidentally becomes one.
Rather deftly, Akhavan’s film serves as a commentary on translation—the differences between the language we use, the things we actually mean, and how it all gets twisted. The narrative plays with Shirin’s identities—as an Iranian, a woman, a millennial, and a bisexual—sometimes hilariously, other times rather poignantly. All 86 minutes of the film are spent watching Akhavan’s character desperately and unsuccessfully try to say what she wants. But as the responsibilities, one night stands and brush-ins with her ex mount, Shirin begins to realize that the real trick to communication is taking the time to understand yourself before trying to communicate that to someone else. Appropriate Behavior is undoubtedly a comedy, but also a heartfelt look at how we learn to say what we mean and be who we are.
2. (A)sexual (2011)
For the general public, sexuality exists on a concrete spectrum: straight and gay. But there are those who live in the in-between, the place where gender attraction becomes a blurred mess of sometimes, only if, and not at all. Angela Tucker’s documentary, (A)sexual, centers on the latter category, a diverse community of people who aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, ever. Through first person accounts, interview clips, and research data, (A)sexual explores the larger social and scientific discourse surrounding the queer community’s most confounding orientation. As the film asks viewers to investigate the mechanics of their own desire, arousal, intimacy and attraction, a larger discussion unfolds about what place physical romance has in a relationship and where a sex-less identity fits into our sex-driven culture.
In addition to challenging the idea that asexuals are “broken,” Tucker thoroughly examines what it means to identify with that label. The film shines most, however, in its ability to re-shape general conversation around the boundaries and expectations of love. Are physical and emotional intimacy necessary to sustain a lasting bond? How do you attain (and maintain) a partnership when typical feelings of desire, arousal and attraction don’t guide your relationship? If love’s definition can’t be concretely defined, why are we so insistent that sex is a part of it? (A)sexual picks apart how we define normal relationship behavior by questioning our unflinching acceptance of sex without love, and our hesitancy to conceptualize love without sex.
The full feature first appeared at Paste Magazine on Jan. 27, 2016.