Gender, Movies, Musing, Reviews

Easy A: A Study in Slut-Shaming, Part III: Brandon

This is Part III of my series on the film Easy A. Click for Part I and Part II.

Yesterday, we talked about Marianne as a representation of the role religious dogma and excessive concern about the opinions of others plays in slut-shaming, and how that way of thinking creates a communication barrier between accusers and their targets. This week, we’re taking a slight left turn from the general trajectory of these posts to talk about how sex-negative thinking affects another group: homosexuals, as represented by the character of Brandon, played by Dan Byrd.

Now, obviously, homosexuality and promiscuity are not in any way related. However, I do think homophobia and slut-shaming come from largely the same place: excessive interest in what should be private business, and a misguided concern that someone else’s sexual preferences are somehow damaging the fabric of society by deviating from “the norm.” For “sluts,” it’s about women taking control of their sexuality and asserting their own agency when they are expected to relinquish it to others. For homosexuals, it’s about people subverting the gender binary, and being attracted to the “wrong” people. Because Brandon is a homosexual male, I’m going to talk about gay men in this particular post, but many of the same problems (and variations on them) exist for lesbians, transgender, pansexual, bisexual, queer, etc. people, too.

The biggest point to note with Brandon is that he does not want to hide who he is, but neither does he want to flaunt it. It’s common knowledge that he’s homosexual, but not because he spreads the information. It’s just because he refuses to pretend to be something he isn’t. All he wants is to live his own life and be left alone. When Olive suggests to him that the solution to all of his problems is to pretend to be straight, he straight-up scoffs at the idea: “Are you saying that I should act straight so people will like me? That’s groundbreaking. Y0u should teach a course at the learning annex. It could be called, ‘the Painfully Obvious with Olive Penderghast, the Big School Slut.'” In order to blend in, which is all he really wants, Brandon would have to give up a piece of who he really is–something he is reluctant to do, until he is pushed into it by sheer desperation.

It’s important to remember that everything Olive goes through in this film–the public ridicule, the questioning of her character, even the eventual kinda-sorta-assault–are all things that Brandon has been dealing with on a daily basis just for being who he is. In fact, the first time we see Brandon is when he’s coming out of the principal’s office with a nose bleed after getting bullied by another student–and receiving detention from the principal for it. Olive is new to this kind of treatment, and she stumbled across it by accident; she even encouraged it a little bit. But Brandon? He’s done everything in his power to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, and it hasn’t worked. Every sarcastic or painfully true observation Olive has to make about their high school peers, Brandon answers with a resigned, “Tell me about it.” This is his entire life, just by virtue of who he is.

Eventually, Brandon is driven to the point of despair. He begs Olive to help him convince the school that he is straight, just to end the torment, even if it costs him his honest self-identity. When she expresses reluctance, he tells her, “You don’t understand how hard it is, alright? I’m tormented, every day at–at school, it’s like…I’m being suffocated, and sure we can sit and fantasize all we want about how things are gunna be different one day, but this is today and it sucks.” He literally has nothing left to give. This is his last stand. If this doesn’t work, he has no other recourse. This shit happens in real life, and it is unadulterated bullshit.

As long as sex-negative culture prevails, anyone daring to step outside of the rigid gender binary is going to be in trouble, regardless of how they do it, and it is not their fault. Homosexuality is not a threat to anyone in any real sense. The only thing that it threatens is oppressive ideas about what it means to be ‘male’ and ‘female’, which are all absolute codswallop anyway (especially when we take into consideration the fact that modern concepts of masculinity and femininity have only been around for a couple hundred years; for example, to the ancient Greeks, dramatic displays of unbridled emotion were considered the epitome of manliness–not a weakness of feminine distemper. If you don’t believe me, read the Illiad again, and pay close attention to Achilles). Even “straight” men and women don’t exist in a dichotomy, and to try to keep everyone in line is both stupid and damaging to everybody involved. The fact that homosexuals have to face such adversity just for expressing who they really are is not their problem–it’s everybody’s problem.

It’s important that Brandon eventually gets a happy ending (albeit a very tongue-in-cheek one, what with the Mark Twain reference). Brandon escaping and finally getting to be himself, even though it means leaving everything behind, demonstrates that he is just as deserving of it as Olive is–and just as undeserving of the treatment they received. Once again, this is the film saying that this sort of treatment is not okay, regardless of the reasoning. Olive is bullied for who she pretends to be, Brandon is bullied for who he is, and both situations are bullshit. Just let people be people, okay?

Tomorrow we talk about Rhiannon!

Dichotomically yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“Principal Gibbons is a homophobe, which is why I called him a fascist.” -Brandon

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