But I’m a Cheerleader

A CHEERLEADER BECOMES A LESBIAN WITH THE UNWITTING HELP OF HER PARENTS
In But I’m a Cheerleader, Jamie Babbit (both director and storywriter) takes us on a journey to “True Directions,” a rehabilitation camp for “homosexual” children whose parents want them changed into “heterosexuals.” Entitled Make Me Over at some cinemas, we see the odyssey through the eyes of high school cheerleader Megan (played by Natasha Lyonne), a sweet sixteenish girl who wants to remain a virgin until marriage. Nevertheless, Megan is accused of being a Lesbian. Why? Because she is a vegetarian, she has a picture of Melissa Etheridge in her school locker, she wipes off the saliva from an overly deep tonguekiss from her boyfriend, and she refuses to have sex with him. Despite protesting that she is normal, her parents (played by Bud Cort and Mink Stole) maroon her at the eight-week camp, where for the first time she encounters young gays and Lesbians. Indeed, True Directions turns out to provide camp experience in more ways than one. Camp director Mary Brown (played by Cathy Moriarty) inducts her into a five-step program. In Step 1 (“Admit That You Are A Homosexual”) Megan lies by making the required admission “I am a homosexual.” In Step 2 (“Rediscover Your Gender Identity”) she pays more attention than ever before to the delights of being a girl, including a new appreciation for Graham (played by Clea DuVall), a strong-willed Lesbian who has the hots for her. In Step 3 (“Family Therapy”), Megan learns in a conversation with her parents and the camp director that she will only be welcome at home if she graduates as a “heterosexual.” In Step 4 (“Demystify The Opposite Sex”), she obviously encounters only effeminate boys, so Graham is clearly a preferable companion because she has the masculine traits that she seeks. But Step 5 (“Simulated Sexual Experience”) is too much for Megan, so she refuses to participate and is booted out of the camp. Megan then moves into a home with a gay couple, formerly treated at the camp, who not only provide midnight transportation for the gays and Lesbians to a gay bar but also provide sanctuary to camp dropouts. But Megan misses her Lesbian girlfriend, so she sneaks behind True Directions’ graduation ceremony (for the non-dropouts, who are pretending to live up to the camp slogan “Straight Is Great” so that they can continue to live with their parents). Reminiscent of the last scene of The Graduate (1967), Graham then hears her and leaves the ceremony to join Megan. In the final scene of the film, Megan’s father and mother are finally getting the therapy that they need at a local meeting of the national organization Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). The tagline of the film, “A Comedy Of Sexual Disorientation,” is quite an understatement. But I’m a Cheerleader riotously satirizes the faith that many fundamentalist Christians have that appropriate therapy will end the “homosexual problem,” showing that their crusade may have the unintended consequence of nudging sissies and gym buffs into becoming gay while informing tomboys earlier than they might otherwise about the Lesbian lifestyle. The comedy ends when we walk out of the cinema with the realization that nowadays teenagers continue to have sexual identity problems, authoritarian religions add to the confusion, many gay and Lesbian teenagers commit suicide because they are not accepted by their parents, and “homosexual rehabilitation” camps do in fact exist. But I’m a Cheerleader extends the gay liberation agenda to children’s rights–the right to choose one’s sexual identity and the right to be respected for that difficult choice. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated But I’m a Cheerleader for an award as best film exposé and best film on human rights for the year 2000. MH