2006 Gay Youth: An Educational Video. Mountainview, CA: Pam Walton Productions and New Day Films.
Notes: DVD, 30 minutes
Reviewed 3 Dec 2010 by:
Jack David Eller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Community College of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA
Medium: Film/Video Subject
Gays - Identity
Gays - Family relationships
ABSTRACT: This short film deftly leads the viewer through the lives (and in one case, the death) of gay youth in contemporary America, portraying them as normal kids facing abnormal social pressures.
Anthropologists and anthropology students are more than familiar with the concept of cultural diversity and of the diversity of the various areas of culture: there are diverse languages, diverse religions, diverse kinship systems, and so on. For some reason, no doubt because it seems so very ‘natural,’ one of the last cultural domains to be recognized for its diversity has been gender. In fact, in a way it was a recent and difficult discovery to find that gender is a cultural system at all. Today, all anthropologists and other social scientists appreciate that there are different gender systems in the world with different numbers and kinds of gender categories—not just the heteronormal binary division of heterosexual men and women.
What has been even later to come is an understanding that, within such categories as ‘gay’ or ‘transsexual’ or ‘transgender’ there is tremendous diversity. There is no single ‘male’ or ‘female’ experience, and there is no single ‘gay’ or ‘bi,’ etc., experience. Therefore, no film, let alone a short half-hour film, could ever attempt to portray all of the variations of gender identity and gender experience. That said, Pam Walton’s “Gay Youth” clearly represents a steady and gentle hand guiding viewers through a small patch of the terrain that is gender diversity.
The focus here, as the title makes clear, is homosexuality and young people. The film proceeds through very personal glimpses of a few individuals whose experiences are instances from the gamut of feelings and social situations. It first introduces three youths who speak about their early realization of their sexuality. Simeon recounts when he began to feel attracted to a male friend. Nicole tells of her crush on a girl. Chris, a male in make-up, took Boy George as a role model. Each faced pressure and rejection from friends and family.
For Bobby Griffith, it was more than pressure. He committed suicide in 1983 at age 20 after what can only be described as a tormented adolescence. A voice narrates words from his diary, where he worried about God’s approval and beat himself up over his emerging homosexuality. His parents (represented in the movie by his mother) took a typical Christian approach, thinking that he would grow out of it or that prayer and the Bible would cure him. Bobby internalized these beliefs, regarding himself as evil, wicked, and dirty. He dropped out of high school in his senior year, after being a quiet and shy misfit. He did not want to be gay. He eventually moved to Portland, Oregon and lived near a family member, who noticed his depressed demeanor on the night that he leapt to his death. Toni has a happier story. Her mother accepted her when she came out. Nicole from earlier in the film is shown sitting with her girlfriend. Jason, a gay black youth, fortunately found a gay youth group. All three comment on the existence and importance of a gay/lesbian network and of the discovery of a world of and for people like them.
The final portrait is Gina Gutierrez, a gay high school student. She does a dramatic presentation in her class of a story about an orthodox Jewish family that declared their own gay child dead. This presentation opens a class discussion about Gina’s experience at the school; it is apparently the first time that the school has directly confronted homosexuality, and numerous classmates (mostly supportive) describe the misunderstandings, judgment, and harassment. Next, we meet her family—her mother who seems well-intentioned but a bit flustered and self-contradictory and her (white) very tolerant step-father. One issue is dating: her mother seems inconsistent in wanting her daughter to date but not wanting her to date if dating means a girl. For the prom, Gina has a female (and apparently older) female friend who will accompany her, and she and her friends are shown preparing for the evening. As she does, Gina expresses that it takes so much energy to hide who you are. At her graduation, Gina wins the Bobby Griffith award—obviously, from a progressive school that not only acknowledged gays but remembers those gay youth who have already succumb to the social pressure.
“Gay Youth” is a lovely short film, ideal for showing to classrooms, even or especially of high school students, and to the public. It humanizes young gay people and clearly and forcefully depicts the challenges they face, as well as their desire to be accepted and to be allowed to live like everyone else. As a teaching device, the DVD also comes with a short study guide with recommended questions and an essay called “Homosexuality: The New Frontier in Sexuality Education” by Andrew Humm of the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City. The study guide is also available at http://www.pamwaltonproductions.com/gayyouth/Gay_Youth_study_guide.pdfm, and the filmmaker’s website (http://www.pamwaltonproductions.com/gayyouth.shtml) includes other information and a video clip, as well as links to other sites of interest and other films in her collection on various social issues.
Level/Use: Suitable for high school classes and for college courses in cultural anthropology, anthropology of gender/sexuality, and gender studies, as well as general audiences.