Samhita mentioned that a crew of us went to see Pariah last weekend. If Meryl Streep’s shout out to the lead actress Adepero Oduye during her Golden Globes acceptance speech wasn’t enough of an encouragement to rush out and see the film, I thought I would add my two cents to the symphony of praise for this film.
Pariah was absolutely breathtaking. So genuine, so raw and very touching. But also, and this is where the film was set apart from other recent portrayals–uplifting. I kept telling people who asked that it was sad, but it was like a really good cry–you just feel so much better at the end. I won’t spoil the film, but just say that the way it ended really touched and resonated with me. Nothing was wrapped up with a pretty little bow, but you left feeling some faith in the resilience of our community to persevere in the face of adversity.
There was so much I related to in the film. The layers of gender identity struggle, the desire to please parents and how that conflicts with our desire to be authentic. The relationship between the main character and her best friend–a bromance of sorts, but also a clear mentorship. Alike looks up to Laura and she’s her role model for coming out and her gender identity as a budding AG. I could pull stories from my own coming out that mirror that in many many ways.
The film also brought back this question about the vulnerability of coming out in high school, as young people still relying on parents for support. I personally didn’t come out until I was almost done with college, and even after I came out, I waited some time to tell both my parents. I wasn’t self-aware enough then to say that I waited out of some desire for self-protection–really I waited because I had my own internalized homophobia to deal with, and I truly did not know I was queer until I had a few years away from my hometown and around other openly queer people.
I often say that I needed to know who I wanted to be before I could know who I wanted to be with–that interplay of gender and sexuality where the two are often inextricably linked. I had to meet people who modeled the gender presentation I didn’t even know I wanted, before I could even consider that I might be queer. I had to shed the layers of extremely feminine gender that had been encouraged by my parents (my ears were pierced at three months), and then reinforced by my high school friends. That’s pretty clearly reflected in Pariah as well–the centrality of the theme of gender presentation, as central as the girls that Alike is trying to get close to. The awkwardness is there, the tenderness, the search for authenticity.
Despite the fact that I didn’t intentionally wait to come out, I often feel lucky that it’s how my own process went down. Even though I experienced quite a few unsatisfying relationships while still in the closet, I feel lucky that when I finally did accept my own desires, I was in a supportive environment. I feel lucky that rather than be a traumatic experience, it was so so exciting. I felt so alive with desire, so curious about the potential unexplored. I think the denial I held for so many years was driven by self-protection. I feel lucky that I wasn’t experimenting with gender identity under the watchful eye (and reproachful comments) of my family. I still have had to experience that, but in weekend long visits, when I know the home I had built for myself was only a plane ride away.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to wait. As Ivan Coyote says, ”my closet was always made of glass.” Alike’s own coming out moment is more chosen for her, and I know this is the case for many. We don’t all have a choice. And many of us choose to be honest, despite the consequences. But that vulnerability of youth and dependence, one that can easily send a queer youth toward homelessness, is what puts so many of our young people at risk.
Just go see Pariah.