Starring – Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge, Neal Huff
Directed by Eliza Hittman
“Two girls can make out and it’s hot, but when two guys make out, it’s gay.”
-Frankie’s date after he asks her if two guys making out is hot.
Beach Rats is the story about Frankie, a young man trying to hide his sexuality from a modern day world that is suddenly oh so cool with the gay thing. But what happens to those of us coming of age in this modern day, gay is cool age when we are struggling with our sexuality that we are supposed to be embracing with open arms because gay is now cool?
When I was growing up during the 1980s and 1990s, being gay just wasn’t really an option, even when you were gay. Everybody hated gays and then AIDS hit, so everybody REALLY hated gays, so us gay kids coming of age during that time just acted like the straight kids when we hit puberty, we just assumed we were straight too, or at least I did. I walked around for 26 years saying to myself, “No gayness here. Those thoughts I have about women sometimes, sure they’re confusing and uncomfortable, but I think George Michael is cute, so no way am I gay.” Whenever the thought would so rudely pop into my head that I just might be a lesbian, I would usually deflect that thought by telling myself that I thought George Michael was cute, so I couldn’t be gay, and then down, down, down would my true sexuality go, back into the abyss of my closet of denial. Then there are gay people like Frankie, who have a pretty good idea that they are attracted to the same sex, even have actual real life sexual encounters with the same sex, but they still date the opposite sex anyway and present themselves to the world as nothing but straight, so they live in that awful fucking closet as well. But when I was growing up, it was expected of me and people like me to just live in the closet, either denying we were gay at all by not even figuring it out, or we knew it, but we also knew that kind of life would be one of misery and heartbreak, so we just married someone of the opposite sex, had kids, built a life as a straight person, but all the while knowing that we were living a lie. Fucking closet.
But what about now?
What about the queer youth of today?
They are growing up in a world where people of the same sex can actually marry each other, legally and everything. Couples of the same sex can have children thanks to modern science and adoption laws finally allowing gay people to adopt. People of the same sex build lives together now because we can. Are the queer youth of today doing any better at accepting their sexuality than my generation or my parent’s generation thanks to all of these advances?
In my parent’s generation, you didn’t even say you were gay, even when everybody and their brother knew it. My uncle was gay and everybody in the family knew it, yet no one ever said he was gay, not even the gay uncle. It was just a fact that was known and that was all we wanted to know about it. He certainly never, ever talked about being gay or even once brought home a boyfriend to the family. Then in my generation there were two gay people in my family, me and a cousin. The cousin went the way of the uncle and kept her gayness mostly only as fact, never as action around the family members who weren’t gay. The family knew she was gay and that was all they wanted to know about it. But not me. When I finally, finally, finally figured out I was gay, I leapt right out of that closet because I was so happy that I had finally, finally, finally figured out what was “wrong” with me, as in, there was nothing wrong with me, I was just a lesbian. I naively assumed everyone would be as happy as I was when I finally figured it out. Oh boy was I wrong! My wife (then girlfriend) was not accepted as a family member when I dared to introduce her to the family. They didn’t even bother to get to know her before she was rejected. Every awful name and accusation was thrown at her to get me to leave her because you can be gay in the family, just don’t go talking about it, and for God’s sake, don’t show anyone by bringing home a partner.
But what about now?
What about today in this modern age?
It is so strange now for me to see people go out of their way to show me how cool they are with me being gay. You are considered now to be a bad person if you are not LGBTQ friendly, even though just a few short years ago most people were openly hostile towards anything gay. So, what happens when you’re a teenager today who is gay, and even though it’s okay now to be gay, you aren’t okay with it? Frankie is just such a young man. He is growing up in this modern, gay-accepting world, living on the outer edges of Brooklyn, hanging out with his very straight guy friends, smoking cigarettes, smoking pot, stealing his dad’s pain pills, trying to date a cute girl, using drugs as an excuse for why he can’t get it up to have sex with her. He is doing everything he can just to fit in with his peers, even though no one would suspect from his outer appearances that he is gay. But Frankie is living a lie. Frankie is living deep, deep, deep in the closet. So deep, he won’t even admit he’s gay, even though he goes on gay hook-up websites and hooks-up with some of those guys. He is a gay man in a modern world that is accepting of gays, but he can’t accept the fact that he is a gay man too. And to me, this story was even more painful to watch than the hundreds of gay movies out there about being gay in a past world that hated us. We had a reason to hate ourselves and deny who we were; everyone hated us and wanted us to deny who we really were too. But Frankie has the world on his side, but still, being gay is no easy task in this modern day world of gay-acceptance. Peers still tease you at even the slightest hint you are gay. It seems impossible to bring a guy date along with your guy friends, so you bring a girl date instead. It seems easier to struggle with having a girlfriend than to be true to yourself and have a boyfriend instead.
Is it still this hard for the gay youth of today?
I had been wondering lately what it is like for today’s queer youth. I had been hoping, wishfully, that it was much, much easier for them, that they get to just take their time to figure out what their sexuality is without assuming immediately upon puberty that they were straight and then working from there. I even had a friend tell me recently that her two teenage kids were still trying to figure out if they liked guys or girls or both, and I thought, “Oh how nice for them. The world is so much better now than when I was a teenager.” But I had a feeling it wasn’t all roses and sunshine for today’s queer youth and I was right, because a few days later, I turned on Beach Rats and was given a gay story that looked a lot like the gay stories of the past – hiding, deflecting, denying, closet living. Frankie is living the life of a gay man from my generation and my parent’s generation even though he is from a newer generation that is more accepting of homosexuality than ever before. And I imagine there are a lot of queer youth today who are Frankie, who see the changes, who see the acceptance, yet they still can’t accept themselves, and maybe like Frankie, probably never will.
Beach Rats is a movie that reminds us that even with all the legal and social progresses we of the LGBT family have made, we still have such a long, long way to go, because we still have Frankie’s in the world, a world that even though it acts like it is all accepting of us, it still has a lot of problems with us existing and so in turn, many of us still live in the closet, hoping no one else will see that we are hiding in there. Let’s hope that one day the world truly is a safe place for ALL of us in the queer family to be open and honest with who we really are, so we can live full and rich lives, including the Frankie’s of the world.
Beach Rats is out on DVD and VOD on February 5, 2018.
Fun Fact: Harris Dickinson won the Best Young British/Irish Performer Award at the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards for Beach Rats and it was an award well-deserved. Harris is quite a talent. He gave one of the most beautiful portrayals of a gay man struggling with his sexuality that I have ever seen in a film. This movie is still haunting me days after watching it and a lot of that has to do with Harris’s flawless performance.