Anything Bill Can Do, Jill Can Do Better: Bustin’ Ghosts and Breaking Hearts

I’m not going to tell you that Ghostbusters (2016) changed my life. I mean, it’s just a movie. No one was reinventing the wheel. It’s a reboot/remake/third installment of something that has been around as long as I have, something that has been ever present in my childhood sci-fi loving household. In fact, one of my first outfits as a child was a t-shirt with my name on the front and the Ghostbusters logo on the back, paired with a diaper. I had another shirt from a Star Trek movie marathon that read Sit Long and Prosper that I wore with overalls, my gerbil Flash Gordon in the pocket. I’ve always wanted to name a cat Egon. A reboot is a reboot is more of the same. But there was a low and quiet rumble the minute the new cast was announced, barely audible over the screaming of angry men.

There’s been plenty said about the uproar against the newest installment of Ghostbusters starring Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy, with IMDB listing “Male Objectification” as the number one Plot Keyword to search the film. But I couldn’t wrap my brain around that at first, anyone saying anything negative about the movie. I thrust myself into a conversation with some strangers about summer movies at a bar recently saying, “GHOSTBUSTERS, AMIRITE?” I was quickly dismissed by a gentleman who explained he didn’t want to see it. Without missing a beat or lowering my voice I asked “IS IT BECAUSE WOMEN?” to which he defended himself saying it just wouldn’t be the same without Bill Murray. Days later a radio DJ called the film the “female reboot,” explained that it got bad reviews, but that it ‘might’ still be worth seeing.

I saw the movie the second I was free to do so, I literally ran from my car into the theater, bypassed snacks and stared at the screen with the intent of a child pressing their face against the glass watching ice cream being scooped. It was a compulsion that I can’t even explain. SNL fangirling? Maybe. Nostalgia? Probably. A way to glue together pieces of my broken childhood? Without a doubt. But it was that rumble, the feeling of something I needed so desperately.

I came out as gay when I was 24. Up until that point, I had no idea I was gay. I spent my formative years researching asexuality, never terribly curious why I didn’t like men, and never for a moment realizing that there were other options. It wasn’t until a girl was standing in front of me, asking me to explain my “Not Sure” sexual orientation on Myspace, when I felt that same rumble. This one slightly lower. It was recognition; someone was holding a mirror up for me to see myself for the first time. I didn’t know I was gay until it was presented to me as an option. I spent my early twenties in a drunken haze because of a disassociation with myself. But even during the self-inflicted chaos of neon hair, smeared eye-liner, bruises and lost time, being gay was the first thing that felt right. It was an affirmation I would repeat to myself. It was the first step in finding someone who might love me for me.

My stomach fell the minute the familiar theme song dropped, and, I mean, it’s normal to openly weep during Kate McKinnon’s fight scene, right? And then again, the second time I went to the theater, sitting alone in the last row of the theater tearing up as I watched Jillian Holtzmann be queer as fuck for 116 sweet minutes. And, lez be real, the only real talk of anyone’s sexuality is that of Erin Gilbert’s (Wiig) crush on Kevin (Hemsworth), and even she doesn’t seem put-off by Holtzmann’s flirtation. So while Writer/Director Paul Feig has confirmed that McKinnon’s character was gay, calling McKinnon a “pansexual beast,” maybe we were watching a whole cast of queer characters. That is the beauty of the film. There is no talk of sexuality—no bickering over men or romantic kiss at the end. It passed the Bechtel Test with flying colors—a simple test that asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

I now realize that the feeling I was chasing was one of representation.

Kate-McKinnon-licking-blasterAfter explaining to Facebook that my sexual identity would henceforth be referred to as “Kate McKinnon licking a plasma blaster,” I had one friend observe what an exciting time it is for gaybies growing up with this cast as their root. And I totally agree. But also, what an exciting time for all of us in our early 30s, those slightly younger and those much older, for any little girl in overalls who sexed it up as Selina Kyle/Catwoman every Halloween who never got to see kickass characters on the big-screen in non-sexualized contexts, and queers getting to see portrayals of women meant for the female (gays) gaze.

I now realize that this movie isn’t for the naysayers, the critics, the (mostly) men who need Bill Murray to hold their hand through deviations from their nostalgia. Those same men who probably would’ve liked Magic Mike much better if it was a reboot of Showgirls. My nostalgic tendencies understand that need to hold on to whatever you can, but women, especially queer women, who grew up bombarded with heteronormative images, were never given other options. That as children, we too could’ve wanted for more, to be Ghostbusters, and Superwomen, and Presidents.

Seeing yourself represented on the big screen isn’t going to solve deep-seated issues, but it blazes the path towards being enough. I didn’t have anyone to look up to, I didn’t know who I was for a long time, and to be honest, most days I still don’t—but Ghostbusters offered strong, assertive, persevering, and QUEER characters that both made me want to regress to collecting McDonald’s toys and gave me the permission to be myself, the allowance to believe in myself, and the knowledge that weirdos can and are completely lovable.

I may have lied about the movie not changing my life. Seems it’s time for me to get a cat named Jillian. And maybe revisit those overalls.

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