Chasing Amy Is an Earnest Exploration of Sexual Fluidity

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Chasing Amy is a movie is that, for better or worse, wears its heart on its sleeve. Directed by Kevin Smith, the film is a pretty early example of a mainstream movie being about queer culture. Smith has stated the movie as being what “resurrected my fledgling career after the world largely ignored my second film.” But on the other hand, he has also said that the film “was chiefly a vehicle for change and growth, both professionally and personally.” The need for growth is even established in the plot. The story follows a lesbian character named Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) starting a relationship with a man, Holden (Ben Affleck). It’s a plot that on face value is almost insulting, insinuating that a lesbian is waiting for the right man to “turn” her straight. This common criticism is not altogether an unwarranted one, and his comment about it being about growth is evident, because it’s about evolving beyond the point of even considering that someone can be “turned” into a different sexuality. But many people still view that since Holden starts the story with that binary mindset, it means that the film is also reinforcing the binary.


But personally that is never the way I saw this film. Seeing this the first time as a teenager was almost eye-opening to me. At the time I didn’t even realize that I was bisexual. The very idea of coming out of the closet wasn’t even a blip on my radar, I just assumed I was straight. Watching the film through this lens makes it a story about the complex nature of the sexuality spectrum. Alyssa is more complicated than being just a lesbian. She’s highly confident, open-minded, secure in her identity, with a distaste for any labels being put upon her by others. Which is why she isn’t very bothered personally about her evolving sexuality, but instead of the labels and expectations society puts upon her.

There’s a subtlety to the fact that she rarely calls herself a lesbian in the film, she just says gay. While it may not seem like much to the average viewer, to a bisexual person that stands out like a sore thumb. Pretty much every member of the gay community experiences prejudice in different forms. For a lot of bi people, that prejudice is the rejection of both people on the gay side and straight side of the spectrum. This causes a feeling of isolation, especially when a group of people that are supposed to be in the same community as yourself qualify you as not being queer enough; as if there is a hierarchy of gayness. This ultimately leads bisexual people, and other people along the spectrum that don’t fall directly in the binary of gay or straight, to use “gay” as a sort of catch-all term. We say gay because it’s easier for people to wrap their heads around. If you say something like “bisexual” you tend to be judged pretty harshly or get bombarded with questions. And not everyone is always in the mood to explain their identity to someone; most people just want to simply exist and get through the day with as little noise as possible.

But worse than being bombarded with questions is the rejection from your fellow community members. That is why so many individuals use “gay” or “queer” as their description. In this context all those two words mean is simply: “I am not straight.” This is even brought up in the film during the scene where Alyssa is hanging out with her other lesbian friends. In the scene, her friends discover that she is dating a man and one of her friends passive-aggressively says “another one bites the dust.” They treat Alyssa like she just stabbed them in the back, and Adams’ performance as Alyssa really sells how hurt she is by this.

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On the flip side of this, her boyfriend is also being a huge jerk about her fluid sexuality. At first, he’s supportive, but it becomes clear by the end of the movie that the only reason he was supportive is because of his own ego. He wasn’t viewing Alyssa at someone he loved; first and foremost she was the girl that he got to “turn straight” because of how cool he is. He denies that throughout the film, but it is so clear to the viewer that he is just lying to himself, and that in this point of his life he isn’t as much of a nice guy as he thinks he is. But, to be fair, Holden does grow and develop through his character arc in this movie and his small cameos in some of Smith’s other movies, but let’s put a pin in that for right now. Holden’s beliefs and actions in this film show that he is super insecure. When he eventually finds out that Alyssa had many relationships with men before him, he gets guarded, angry, and feels like his masculinity is threatened. Holden is pretty much the textbook example of toxic masculinity. Most of that attitude stems from his arrogance and lack of understanding.

This kind of toxicity is also something that a lot of bisexual people deal with. If you don’t say that you are bisexual early on in a relationship, by the time your partner finds out, it can become an issue, and it never feels fair. Luckily this isn’t the average rom-com that would excuse the protagonist’s toxic traits. The point of the story is that Holden is in the wrong. Especially on his perception of Alyssa and the gay community. After driving Alyssa away, since he started to only view her as a sex object, it finally hits Holden that he let his insecurities control him. His arc of reaching that point, and the fact that nearly every argument Holden and Alyssa got into was about her sexuality, gets to the heart of the biggest obstacle Holden has to overcome, which is that his perception of queer people, particularly women, are just sluts. This is a perception that a lot of non-conforming queer people have to deal with. It’s so prevalent that it’s even a trope in media this point. Seriously, think of any bi or pansexual characters that you’ve seen in movies or television, and you’ll start to notice the pattern of them being characters that get shamed by the rest of the cast.

In the film, nearly every character is judging Alyssa in the same way that Holden is, projecting their own prejudice on to her, but the actual film isn’t. In fact, these harmful tropes are actively used in the film to show just how stupid and wrong these assumptions are. Smith went out to tell a story about the ignorance and assumptions people make about gay culture, and how it can hurt people. For being a straight, white dude who openly admits to not having been exposed to too much of queer culture at the time, he stuck the landing as well as he possibly could have. I would even argue that this is his best film: the story is overflowing with heart and tackles the subject of fluid sexuality in good faith.

Holden’s more accepting nature by the end of the film is even reflected in the movies Smith made after. Holden’s friend Banky (Jason Lee), who was staunchly homophobic in the film, using slurs in nearly every sentence he spoke, began to come out of the closet in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. This retconned his homophobia into being overcompensation for rejecting and burying that side of himself. Holden and Alyssa even get a happy ending because eventually they both realize they do love each other, it just wasn’t romantic. In Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, it’s revealed that the two of them became co-parents. It’s so satisfying to see them in such a positive and productive relationship with each other after having such a strong connection in their first film, only being ruined by Holden’s immaturity. Affleck spends his cameo in the film telling Jay and Bob just how much he has changed, grown, and learned for the sake of the people he cares most about. It’s a beautiful ending to their story, and it’s also one of the best-written monologues Kevin Smith has ever created.

All of this together is what makes this such an important movie to me. It’s not just a funny comedy, or something dated to laugh at for it’s not so well-informed view on the gay community. It became something deeper, one of the first and few mainstream films that even addressed there’s more to sexuality than being gay or straight. Whether intentional or not, it created a story which embodies the experience of many bisexual individuals. Watching the film as an adult, I was more clearly able to understand just how this film affected me. It helps me put into words things about myself that I previously wasn’t able to describe. It helped me understand more of who I am, and it’s even become a movie over the years that I can point to in order to explain certain issues. In a way it probably helped prepare me for dealing with a lot of stuff I had to deal with after I came out of the closet.

Smith’s comment about wanting to tell this story from the perspective of a queer woman is a noble intention. But it would be a completely different movie, maybe a better movie, if told from a queer view, but of course that’s just hypothetical. As it stands, it’s just refreshing to see a movie that actually aims to tackle these subjects with good faith, an open mind, and earnestness, even if it wasn’t always the most informed film on the subject. Not many stories are willing to admit it that such basic things that everyone deals with, like sexuality and identity, aren’t just binary in the way that Chasing Amy does.


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