Poster via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
**This article contains spoilers for “Bottoms” (2023).**
Lesbians have never looked as hot as when they are covered in the blood of football jocks like the characters of “Bottoms,” the instant classic lesbian rom-com movie of the year. “Bottoms” — directed by Emma Seligman — follows Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ’s (Rachel Sennott) attempt to woo their respective love interests, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber), with a faux all-women’s self-defense fight club. The film screams of a dark humor and irreverence rarely seen in LGBTQ+ media — a refreshing new take that presents audiences with queer, gray morality, or what I lovingly call ‘Gay Wrongs’.
“Bottoms” is a quintessential movie about Gay Wrongs, where the main characters are not beholden to proper conventions and actions expected of the LGBTQ+ community by a cisheteronormative society. While the struggles of most LGBTQ+ media are centered around the acceptance of one’s identity, the central problem with Josie and PJ are that they are “gay and untalented,” as is often quoted throughout the movie. In short, they are losers. Although their identity as lesbians is one reason for their ostracization, it is the film’s constant callback to them being unspectacular queers that truly alienates them from their peers. They are not queers whose struggles with identity are celebrated. They are not queers whose activism is lauded.
Josie and PJ are deliberately deceptive throughout the film. Their crimes include creating a club under the guise of feminine empowerment to have sex with desirable women, making fun of the undesirable women who do end up joining their club, lying about being in juvenile hall, being cruel to their other friend Hazel (Ruby Cruz), and murdering several men from a different high school. The most remarkable aspect of their crimes is that they perform all of these elaborate schemes just to be able to get close to the girls they have crushes on.
The extent that Josie and PJ are willing to go just to be able to talk to girls is as impressive as it is ridiculous. Their irreverence about their queer identities is light-hearted, alleviating the burdens that come with being a queer person in an oppressive society. Instead of focusing on how hard it is to be a queer person in the face of rampant queerphobia, transphobia, community in-fighting, and rejection from one’s family, “Bottoms” wants to talk about how hard it is to talk to girls as a lesbian through the elaborate blueprints laid out to even be able to say “hi” to another girl. The way that Josie and PJ go about their courtship scheming may not be the correct way to go about it, but I root for them anyway. They are lying gays. They are mean gays. They are disrespectful gays. I wouldn’t change a thing about them. They embody an idea of queerness that revels in committing Gay Wrongs.
Media that can capture the beauty of Gay Wrongs and execute this concept well may be uncommon, but they are far from new. From the purposefully revolting films of John Waters to shows of humanitarian horrors like NBC’s “Hannibal,” queer people committing outrageous acts in fiction can become well-celebrated and effective in building a well-rounded queer culture. LGBTQ+ media that is not centered around the LGBTQ+ identities of the characters is lauded within the queer community because it shows their multifaceted natures beyond their identities. LGBTQ+ media allowing its subjects to act outside of societal norms goes a step further by not pressuring queer subjects to perform palatability for cishet audiences. Having diverse narratives that aren’t attempting to prove the goodness or properness of LGBTQ+ subjects challenges cishet-oriented narratives about queer people.
A cishet-oriented narrative is one that reinforces what a cishet-dominated society believes or wants a queer society to be like. One kind of narrative is the type that perpetuates harmful stereotypes about queer people — the kinds of narratives written by cishet people attempting to create and control a mainstream narrative about queer people. These kinds of stories can perpetuate myths such as those that say all queer men are flamboyant and campy, or that all gay people hit on their objects of desire without awareness of boundaries or consent. Another kind of narrative that is prominent in current media are those that attempt to dictate what a proper gay is like — typically characterized with cis white gay men in a coming of age story that is about the protagonist coming to terms with their identity. This kind of narrative, while still important to the queer community, can become a dangerous stand-in for what cishet society expects all queers to be like: properly categorized with homogenized narratives of queerness, where focusing on the identity and individuality of LGBTQ+ people becomes a gateway into being a proper subject in neoliberal society. Their aim is for LGBTQ+ people to be egocentric creatures of identity rather than members of a collective struggle in solidarity.
There should exist more narratives from queer people about queer experiences that refuse to conform with a societally normative caricature of LGBTQ+ identities. When the mainstream LGBTQ+ narratives are those that tell the same story of coming out, coming of age, or overcoming queerphobia, there is the looming danger that these are the only types of stories that will be focused on because they are more palatable to cishet audiences rather than because they are representative of and resonant with the queer community.
“Bottoms” is an unserious movie with no real moral message, choosing instead to run with the absurdity of being a queer person in a decidedly anti-queer world and poking fun at the idea that queers have to be morally upstanding citizens who always make the right decisions. Even this article, overthought and overrun with a commentary about queer narratives, is far grander than what the movie really does for me. It is stupid. It makes me laugh. It has pretty women. It ends with boys murdered by girls — with girls covered in said boys’ blood. What more could a lesbian ask for?
Author: Bellze (They/Xey)
Copy Editors: Ava Rosenberg (She/They), Bella (She/They)