by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday May 23, 2009

He’s a she: "Straightlaced" looks at, and beyond, issues of gender conformity
He’s a she: "Straightlaced" looks at, and beyond, issues of gender conformity  (Source:Groundspark)

Debra Chasnoff is a filmmaker with a compassionate ear, and eye, for GLBT youth. The Executive Director of Groundspark, Chasnoff has challenged audiences with films about the need for safety in schools for GLBT kids ("It's Elementary") and films discussing the full range of family structures that exits, not in a utopia of "ideal" nuclear families, but in reality ("That's A Family").

In her newest documentary, "Straightlaced: How Gender's Got US All Tied Up," Chasnoff takes a long, piercing look at what American teens have to say about male and female societal roles, and how teen culture re-enforces conformity to gender expectations, sometimes violently.

The kids Chasnoff interviews are witty, smart, articulate, and forthright; they include straight kids who are taken for gay, straight girls who are mistaken for boys, closeted gay kids who pass for straight (including one young man who worries that appearing in the film will cost him his Eagle Scout status), transgender kids, and young people who shrug off gender concerns with playful abandon.

But the pain and confusion of the gender and sexuality question are pandemic in the teen world. As the kids tell Chasnoff, girls will act dumb just to please boys, and boys will have sex with girls just to prove their manhood. It's a sad and damaging state of affairs, and the fear expressed by these teens--fear of rejection, of being teased or bullied--is all too grounded in reality: one lesbian experiences what amounts to gay panic from the ranks of the cheerleading squad, while a young man, too afraid to take his boyfriend to prom, gives voice to his sadness and alienation and friends of a gay teen who committed suicide talk about him with appreciation and mournfulness.

Still, these are vital and vibrant young people, and they tell their stories with as much charm as anguish.

The film's approach reflects a sense of anxiety: none of the kids are specifically identified (a list of names appears int he credits but we never know who is who); nor are we ever informed as to just where Chasnoff was taking her camera, though the sense is that kids from several locales are brought into the film.

Not that it matters: many of the interviews take place before a green screen so that the camera seems to flit from one to the next regardless of place and time. In that sense, it doesn't matter who these kids are: they are speaking for all of us.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.