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The Visual Pleasures and Social Empowerment of Queer Teen Romance Flicks susan driver elin: Is it true you're a lesbian? If it's true, I understand 'cause guys are so gross. I'm also going to be one, I think . . . Show Me Love

Queer girls have come to represent some of the most transformative subjects within contemporary independent film, giving rise to new forms of youth cinema. The emergence of queer girl characters driving romantic narratives challenges normative ideals of heterosexual adolescent femininity while also opening up new ways of perceiving a desiring girl self-active within an intelligent process of becoming sexual. The emergence of diverse forms of visual storytelling that center on girls fantasizing about and pursuing other girls compels new interpretative practices. Unlike more oblique strategies of reading queerly against the grain of heteronormative cultural texts, intimate portrayals of girls' amorous relations with each other draw viewers into vividly sensual worlds, compelling a process of reception that engages directly with the cultural significations of queer girl experiences. What I am calling ''queer girl romance films'' do not merely add sexual minority subjects within an existing field of youth films; they offer chances to rethink the very assumptions of gender and sexuality that underpin how we come to make sense of girls. I argue that the emergence of girl-on-girl images of romance exceed and realign our expectations and understandings of coming-of-age film narratives. Not only do these films explore specific experiential differences of youth in psychosexually subtle and historically nu-anced contexts, but they creatively challenge hegemonic ideologies of what it means be a girl who falls in love, becomes sexually active, and grows up.

Shaking the cultural foundations of being young, female, and sexual at the turn of the new millennium, queer girls in film test the limits of analysis and reception of youth films today.

In this essay I trace the languages through which girls become visibly queer within romance film narratives. No single story line or visual representation structures the experiences of queer girls on the screen. I argue that it is precisely an attention to the everyday details of girls' struggles to know and act on their romantic and sexual longings that defines this subgenre as well as interpretive practices capable of following them. Like many teen genres, queer girl films involve movement along a boundary separating childhood from adulthood that pivots around first sexual experiences. Going beyond conventional mappings of a male heterosexual desiring gaze to consider the specificity of girls as active subjects of the gaze, my readings involve tricky negotiations between named and silent, the visible and the invisible, represented and unrepresentable relations. What these films teach us is that there are no transparent approaches to meaning when it comes to understanding young female subjects whose sexual identities are precisely what is in question. Existing in between the categories of adult identification, in a state of flux and transition to sexually aware and contested selfhood, queer youth present unique predicaments to the imaging and conceptualization of desiring subjects on the screen. The very enactment of girls within films who disrupt heteronormative relations needs to be explored in terms of the difficult ways desires appear and disappear, moving in and out of cultural recognition. The crux of queer girl subjectivities is precisely their refusals to fit neatly into ideological frameworks that produce fixed identifications and desires. At the level of textual framing, categorization, and interpretation, queer girls mark a crisis in representation. Yet this crisis does not result in an absence of meaning but rather in a rewriting of the scripts of young love to include intelligent, sexually passionate girls.


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