Why Are So Many Gay Teen Stories About a Geek in Love with a Closeted Jock?

So it’s worth asking: why are so many gay teen stories about a geek-ish guy (usually the main character) in love with a popular jock (who happens to be very closeted)? From Beautiful Thing to Get Real to Dreamboy to The Perks of Being a Wallflower to many other books, movies, and TV shows, this has definitely become a gay teen storytelling trope.

And yes, this also describes Geography Club. (But for the record, since that book was written (around 1998), I’ve also written stories about far less conventional gay teen couples. A love affair with a burn survivor anyone? A freegan?)

Anyway, what’s going on with the geek/jock thing? Three things, I think:

First, it’s a classic romantic trope. From Romeo and Juliet to Titanic, having lovers be from “the opposite side of the tracks” is standard fare. Opposites supposedly attract, after all (I do think it’s true that we’re often drawn to aspects in others that we ourselves lack).

And let’s face it: romance is partly about fantasy, and having your love interest be a “popular jock” lets him be just about the most conventionally attractive kind of teenage boy there is. There’s a reason why jocks tend to be the most popular kids in school, right?

Second, a geek/love love affair allows for maximum drama. Plot requires obstacles; if everyone thinks and feels the same way, if there’s nothing to get in the way of the two lovers being together, there’s no story.

In other words, “conflict” and “drama” are why this is a romantic trope. Sometimes the “best” story is the simplest, most obvious one.

So why is it always the jock who’s closeted and the geek who’s “out” or considering coming out? Because the popular jock pays a higher price to come out than the geek (who already has less social status just by being a geek). This all just makes sense, narrative-ly speaking.

This is also why we usually get the same second act conflict: the geek, discovering himself, decides to come all the way out, but the jock wants to stay closeted. Again, given the situation and the stakes, this just makes logical sense.

So why is the geek always the narrator of the story? I think this is simply the fact that most writers are geeks; the POV of the geek comes, uh, more naturally to us. Plus, it’s the geek who tends to be the one who changes the most, so it makes sense he’d be the narrator or POV character.

Finally, jock/geek love is a popular storyline because, apparently, it happens a lot. I can’t tell you the number of times people have said to me, “Yeah, I was out in high school, and the star quarterback got drunk and hit on me, but didn’t want anyone to know.” (I’ve also heard, a lot, “Yeah, I was a closeted jock in high school. But coming out just wasn’t an option.”)

In other words, the story reflects a pretty key truth of the gay teen experience: gay guys exist in absolutely every social strata, but the more “popular” and “conventional” you are, the less likely you are to be out. This is the start of some of the ongoing (and healthy) tension in the LGBT community between flamboyant “out-and-proud” folks and the more conventional, tend-to-be-more-closeted types.

Anyway, I love a lot of these geek/jock stories — and hey, the upcoming Geography Club movie tells this story in a way that I think is pretty fresh.

But it’s all still worth thinking about, don’t you think?

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10 Responses to “Why Are So Many Gay Teen Stories About a Geek in Love with a Closeted Jock?”

  1. Laura 1 May 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    You're right. While I enjoy the classic geek/closeted jock stories I would like to see the opposite in a book to shake things up. Maybe a jock and geek in a more progressive type school(set in the future if it has to be). So that the students are a little more accepting and even encouraging for the jock to be out and open so he is. Then meets a geek at school that's closeted because his family is very religious(Like the family in the movie Prayers For Bobby) and knows they wouldn't accept him. Then as the Jock and geek become closer friends the jock helps the geek accept himself and come out. I was going to say the geek is closeted because of his less social status(using one of your points turning it around and using it in a different way) and doesn't want to come out for in fear of becoming more of a outcast. but that would have contradicted the whole progressive school idea.

    Sorry I love to write, so when thinking about a new concept I sometimes think of how I can turn that into a story. That was just the first thing that popped into my head after reading your blog post. A rough story ideas with holes in the logic. lol. I like your blog post, it really made me think.

  2. Nick Almand 2 May 2013 at 4:21 am #

    While I understand your points, I would love to see more stories that have romances of different social standings than just those. Like an emo kid/goth falling in love with a geek, or even using some made-up cliques for the setting to introduce a little more variety. I think that's why in Sons of Nowhere, I have a physically deformed working-class kid falling for a chubby nerd. ^^

    • bhartinger 2 May 2013 at 6:22 pm #

      Oh, I'm not necessarily defending this pairing, just explaining it. I'm all for more and different stories!

      • Ulysses 2 May 2013 at 7:23 pm #

        Someone we both know is about to release a new book that does indeed take a different trope … and you've read the book, too.

        But from personal experience, as a geek (however, a pretty happy and integrated not-out geek in the 1970s), I know my first real crushes were on jocks – because they were the incarnation of physical everything for those of us who were skinny, nearsighted, uncoordinated, non-athletic… As you said, it's just a true thing. But story about a jock from his POV would sort of be cool. Or two jocks.

        • bandanajack 7 May 2013 at 7:38 pm #

          you sound a bit like me in high school, only my years were the last of the 50's having graduated in 61. jocks as a class didn't warm my cockles, but the all rounders, the guys who sang in chorus, acted in plays, played chess, and maybe ran track or shot hoops, those guys, or being accepted as a peer to those guys, meant a lot to me. the ones i had a crush on were the guys who could really dance, on tv on bandstand, and at our friday night sock hop. yes there really were sock hops, hosted by local dj's, at a local nursery school. the newest moves and the freshest clothes hit there first., and i could dance, rarely with the cheerleaders, but i had my regular partners, and i was asked to dance as often as i asked other. i can still tell you the names of the guys whose attention i courted, without perhaps knowing what lay at the bottom of that pursuit.

          • bhartinger 7 May 2013 at 8:19 pm #

            I bet things were quite different then, Jack!

          • bandanajack 7 May 2013 at 8:35 pm #

            well, for one thing, there was very little pressure on a boy/man to have sex. one could date, close with a peck on the cheek, and be considered a gentleman. that changed in college as i discovered in a few awkward encounters. i knew so very little about sex, and line drawings and a/v slide projections did very little to clarify. that ludicrous warning to boys about taking rides from strangers. they showed that, too. we were also introduced to veronica dankeschoen, which see.

      • Nick Almand 8 May 2013 at 6:57 pm #

        No worries, I understand that. XD Makes total sense to me.

  3. Ulysses 2 May 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    Or…to pick up on some of the other comments – a paranormal high school where the cliques were divided by creature type – something handled with great interest by R. Cooper on an adult level (Some Kind of Magic, for example). You may dislike this genre, but given the popularity of YA vampire themes for teen girls (straight teen girls, like my daughter) …

  4. Rob 8 May 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    Interesting, I love Beautiful Thing but I'd never really thought if it as 'Geek falling for Jock' before.

    I think it would be great to see the type turned around having an out jock falling for a closeted geek.


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