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?