I recently came home to my partner watching an oldie but a goodie: 1996’s The Birdcage. This American film was itself based on a 1978 French film (La Cage aux Folles), itself based on a same-named French stage play. We both fondly recalled seeing it on its mid-nineties release, and I took some time to have a good laugh with my partner. It had been at least 20 years since I had seen this film.
The CliffsNotes version of the plot is as follows: A very young couple are trying to introduce their respective sets of parents to secure permission to marry. The problem: Hers are a rabidly conservative senator and his traditional, doting wife. His are an openly gay drag club owner, and the star of said drag club. Subterfuge and hilarity ensue when the drag queen realizes that he has no chance of passing as a straight uncle, and performs for the conservatives as a fellow conservative wife, pearls and all. The comic timing and star performances still hold up. But as so many Tar Heel readers by now know, when rewatching many a film from my youth, I have to find something to make me grouchy.
Here it was the young couple of concern. Even watching it the first time, these young people were empty vessels simply there to drive the plot along. However, watching it now, the thing I noticed, and became angry with and ashamed of, was the presumption that the children had any right in the first place to either lie to their parents (in the case of the young woman) or ask their parents to pass as something they are not (in the case of the young man).
The conduct of the young man in particular is simply vile. At no point I can remember does he thank his parents for raising him, or even politely beg them to hide in the metaphorical closet for his sake. The entire air of his attitude is that the fathers owe him the service of normalizing themselves for the sake of his heterosexual union.
In any event, while angry at the young man, this anger turned to quiet contemplation as to how far LGBTQ+ people have come in being accepted by mainstream culture. This is by no means to say that they are no longer marginalized. There is still no rest to be had until LGBTQ+ people are seen as equal citizens and families in every respect, by all.