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Candy colored queer

Gender roles do battle in But I'm a Cheerleader!

?Opens July 28?
?Jamie Babbit's first feature-length film, But I'm A Cheerleader!, is a queer coming of age film that satirizes the rigid pigeonholing of men and women into distinct, diametrically opposed and incontrovertible sexual roles. Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is a cross-wearing, pompom toting cheerleader, going steady with the captain of the football team. An otherwise American-as-apple-pie girl, her fellow cheerleaders think she is overly affectionate, her boyfriend suspects she doesn't like kissing him, and her parents worry about the posters of Melissa Etheridge on her wall. Convinced she is a latent lesbian, her family and friends conspire to stage an intervention with the help of Mike, a counselor from True Directions, a homosexual rehabilitation camp for "disoriented" youth.

"Megan, I, too, was once a gay," Mike (played by RuPaul, sans drag) confesses with maudlin shame as he attempts to get Megan to admit her homosexual yearnings. More coerced than convinced, she finally gives in: "I'm a homosexual!" she cries out, with disbelief.

From there it's off to True Directions, run by Mary (Cathy Moriarty), a kind of homophobic Mommy Dearest who presides over the five-step "recovery" program designed to lead youngsters back to well-adjusted lives of heterosexuality.

With tongue in cheek, Babbit parodies the parallel drawn by the religious right that homosexuality is a sickness from which one can recover, only after accepting and admitting the depravity of their lifestyles. Mary and Mike inculcate feminine and masculine values in the girls and boys by instructing them in activities considered appropriate to their sex. (It is with irony that Babbit colors her film in cotton candy pinks and baby blues.)

Mary instills such feminine values as cleanliness and sexual submissiveness by teaching the girls housecleaning, diaper changing and cooking, while Mike schools the sissies in machismo, forcing them to chop wood, shoot arrows and change the oil in a car. But their theory proves to have the opposite effect. Through the very activities designed to produce promising breeders, the boys at True Directions begin to unleash their repressed longings for other boys, while the girls start to show affection for other girls. So it is on her hands and knees, scrubbing floors, that Megan falls in love with rebel tomboy Graham, played by Clea Duvall.

Babbit's colorful cast of queer kids includes shy, gay young men who are into wrestling and retail and loner lesbians, both awkward and into pain. Despite their diverse backgrounds, they are all outsiders and underdogs. Lucky for the unhappy campers, a group of ex-ex-gays runs a kind of underground railroad that takes them to a gay bar where they can be free, both literally and figuratively, with their sexuality.

In her own campy, hyper-real, absurdist way, Babbit portrays the gay movement as trying to save young people of ambiguous sexual orientation from heterosexual assimilation — a choice made by the masses on behalf of the individual — with unmistakable seriousness. But I'm A Cheerleader! asserts the gay community's marginalized, minority status while celebrating the more enigmatic femme, rather than the typically butch, stereotype. Recent lesbian films have chronicled a more masculine perspective of lesbianism (Go Fish, The Incredibly True Adven-tures of Two Girls in Love, Boys Don't Cry); Babbit champions the less visible among the underdogs.

Still, however much Babbit pokes fun at the masculine/feminine dichotomy of heterosexual "normalcy," she herself polarizes camps into queer and homophobic, which she portrays as "closeted queer." Despite her advancing the femme perspective among the canon of lesbian films, delightfully satirizing both the stereotypically sissy queen and tomboy dyke, her film admits no shades of gray and sees sexuality as a fixed, instead of fluid, feature of a person's character.