Guest Blogger

The Plot Twist That Twists Me

Filed By Guest Blogger | August 12, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, lesbian movie, Mark Ruffalo

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Leslie Robinson hails from New England, lives in Seattle and is shacked up with a Southerner. Check out more of Leslie's humor columns at

Leslie-congruent.pngMy partner Anne and I finally got around to seeing "The Kids Are All Right" the other night. We ran into several friends, proving we weren't the only ones slow in getting to the theater.

Slow, yes, but what lavender-blooded gal would miss the chance to see beauties Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play gay in a film written and directed by an actual lesbian? Puh-leeze.

I had steadfastly avoided reading any reviews of "The Kids," so they wouldn't influence my take on it. In fact, I'd done such a good job of avoiding reviews, blog posts, even ads that all I knew about the movie was this: long-term lesbian couple, two teenagers, sperm donor newly on the scene, attractive stemware.

In this age of souped-up media, how do I manage to insulate myself from information? How do I keep myself thoroughly ignorant? Downright stupid? It's a gift.

I realized just how little I knew when Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo hit the sheets. I had managed not to hear about THAT little plot twist.

After the film Anne and I stopped to talk with another lesbian couple outside the theater. "Why does the femme always sleep with a guy?" one of the women promptly complained.

I hadn't seen the affair in terms of butch/femme. In truth, I was lucky just to see the screen, because the moment the lesbian and the straight guy bedded down, I found myself in a bubble of my own, little prickles going up and down my body. It was like someone had electrified the popcorn.

I was having a flashback. No, not the kind you're thinking. I was with men until I was 30; getting sexual with a man now seems redundant.

I was propelled back to a weekend eighteen months ago, when I sat, terrified, in a screenplay seminar. The instructors, two straight men, cut to pieces the screenplay synopses before them.

My synopsis also got the Ginsu-knife treatment, which it deserved. The instructors managed to find a few bits they liked, and they didn't agree with each other on everything. But one thing they did agree on: My lesbian character should have sex with the guy who wanted her.

That would be a "true reverse," it would bulk up her character and the plot, it would... make me sick to my stomach.

My innards churned as they talked. In my head I heard "No, no, no!" Whether the casually dispensed advice came from their brains or somewhere well south of there I'll never know, but I sure felt alone in that room.

When I saw Moore and Ruffalo trysting on screen, the emotion of that experience came back, along with the conviction that for me, a dyke doing a het is last resort. We've seen too many movies where lesbianism gets the shaft because a lesbian couldn't say no to a shaft.

That said, the affair in "The Kids Are All Right" made organic sense in several ways. And that said, had I known ahead of time the movie hinged on an affair between a coupled lesbian and a straight man, I probably wouldn't have gone. No matter what stunning lesbians Bening and Moore make.

Since seeing the flick, I've checked out the blogosphere and found that some lesbians are angry about the affair, others find it completely believable, and others, like yours truly, feel some of both. We're the pretzels.

My partner takes the long view about lesbians on film: "It's a progression. We moved from suicide to having heterosexual sex in the movies."

Next stop, homosexual sex. Then I'd like a lesbian Indiana Jones...

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As a woman of history who is in a forty year relationship with a woman and has two children, I wish I could relate how irritated I was when I left the theatre, last Saturday, without anyone going sheesh but, yes, Mark Ruffalo is pretty hot by my standards. Annette Bening's character left me with a feeling of despair. She seemed to have all the responsibility and required to be inordinately understanding about not having any of the fun. It was a very well acted, slick production. I just hate those wedding cakes with the little bride and groom statuettes on top. Do humans have an evolutionary need to relate to each other in butch/femme terms? It is obvious how maddeningly difficult it would be for someone like me to relate to this film in many different ways but I am anxious to hear more opinions about this film.

Paige Listerud | August 13, 2010 2:33 AM

Excuse me for being the bisexual intruder on a post that focusses mainly on lesbian responses to "The Kids Are Alright."

In 27 years of being out as bisexual, I've looked with curiosity on how lesbian women identify themselves. Paula Rust's work on lesbian identity made me understand that lesbian women were still uncertain among themselves on what a lesbian was. Is a lesbian a woman who has emotional/sexual relationships with women? If so, put me on the lesbian bus, because I belong. Is a lesbian a woman who does not have emotional/sexual relationships with men? If so, does that include celibate or asexual women?

Lesbian women have never come to any clear conclusion to these conundrums and that impacts how women's sexuality is interpreted on the silver screen as much as any male fantasy or heteropatriarchal representations of women's sexuality.

From your response and those of the lesbian women you conferred with after the movie, it seems as though in the lesbian community all representations of lesbian-identified women still must be penis-pure in order to be considered lesbian at all. This confuses me after two decades of discussion of women's sexual diversity. We've know since the 80s that some women in the LGBTQ have het sex. There's the bisexuals, of course, the lesbians-who-have-sex-with-men, and queer identified women who have fluid sexuality. So what's with the shock and awe about Moore's character having a brief dalliance with Ruffalo's?

There's a sad premise in the lesbian community that "Cock always wins." What Cholodenko's movie depicts is that COCK DOES NOT ALWAYS WIN. Solid, meaningful love and partnership between women wins out over the male fantasy of "saving" a woman from a lesbian life. Moore's character rejects Ruffalo once the affair has been exposed. She rejects his attempts to have her break up with Bening's character and bringing the kids with her to him. Bening's character rightly confronts him with being an interloper--he hasn't bothered to build a family of his own and now he wants hers. Moore's character is repentant and doesn't blame her transgression on a sudden surge of lust for cock but on the ups and downs of long-term partnerships. Voila! Cock is check and check-mated in this movie.

Sorry there's no hot sex between Bening's character and Moore's--I think that's more to show their relationship on the rocks than anything else and the movie ends far too early for hot make-up sex. I don't know if Cholodenko had sensitivity concerns about having a sex scene between them, whether that would appeal too much to male fantasy again and make the film more porn-like.

As for me, I thought of Moore's character as a lesbian at the beginning of the film. I thought of her as a lesbian at the end of the film. One cock does not a bisexual woman--or a straignt woman--make. Besides, the movie is about a relationship between women enduring and mattering more than heteroprivilege or heteronormativity. I think that's worth celebrating.

George Byrd | August 16, 2010 11:01 AM

Nice comment, Paige :) Very insightful, although I haven't seen the movie LOL.

Paige Listerud | August 13, 2010 2:45 AM

PS--sorry your lesbian-centered screenplay got that kind of treatment. Filmmaking is still male ego-centered. For all their artistic posturing, they were a couple of straight guys still stranded in pornland and it looks like they didn't want to leave. You nailed it the first time--they were thinking below the belt.

The dilemma I see is that the plot "twist" here could be a reflection of actual sexual diversity of women, or it could be a reflection of heteropatriarchal views/fantasies/restrictions of women's sexuality. Yay for the former and eeew for the latter. This is part of the reason I don't enjoy most movies. They are always infected with appeal to the lower common denominator

I have yet to meet (or read) any lesbians who weren't irritated at that aspect of the movie.

I was about to say the same thing - this doesn't really seem like the lesbian brokeback.