Monday Roundtable: These Are the LGBTQ Movies That Destroyed Us Emotionally

The LGBTQ cinematic canon is chock-full of depressing stories about death and loneliness! Some movies, however, wreck us more than others. Below our staff writers and editors are talking about the queer films that left us the most significantly devastated and concerned about our ability to continue living in this cold dark world. We’d love to hear about your deepest movie depression in the comments!


Riese, Editor-in-Chief: Boys Don’t Cry

I feel like I know this movie in the dark, like I could spot it in a crowded room with no trouble at all. I don’t know why I’ve seen it more than once — the first time was at an indie theater in Michigan when it was released and I remember that I was still crying when the credits rolled and that everything felt empty and nothing felt possible. The story was devastating on so many levels — brutal, merciless transphobia and homophobia, how many lives were lost so senselessly on one tragic day, how Brandon struggled to maintain his dignity against so much hatred and pushback. I remember Hillary Swank’s gritted resolution, how she gave Brandon this complicated and honest sweetness, just a kid, not a perfect kid but a kid indeed, trying to make things work under unfortunate circumstances. The film was also just intensely graphic in its depiction of rape and murder, and I wish those scenes weren’t in my brain forever but whaddya know, they are! The second time, I think it was just on one night. Maybe on HBO. I don’t know why I watched it, I guess maybe I wanted to get destroyed again and Netflix didn’t exist yet. I feel like my entire generation will never recover from this film.


Heather, Senior Editor: Cloudburst

If you’ve never seen Cloudburst I will tell you that it is Thelma and Louise meets the first 15 minutes of Up and then you will know why I spent SEVERAL DAYS crying about that movie. Runner up for the deleted lesbian scenes on the Love, Actually DVD — which, yes, are even sadder than Emma Thompson crying her eyeballs out to Joni Mitchell.


Molly Priddy, Staff Writer: Lost and Delirious

This movie was basically the only queer movie I knew about, and while it’s pretty titillating to a 16-year-old gal trying to figure out her sexuality, it’s also really, really fucking rude with the death and heartbreak and whatnot. I didn’t know at the time that those endings weren’t automatic, and I was heartbroken over Piper Perabo and Jessica Paré. And thinking about it now, that movie didn’t really help with the idea that someone can be queer and still have sex with dudes. Heartbreak all around.


Carrie, Staff Writer: Brokeback Mountain

My emotional devastation over Brokeback Mountain was about 40% plot-based, 60% based on the fact that I saw it with my high school girlfriend no one knew was my girlfriend. Even better, this “date” was actually a group outing with a bunch of our friends and we sat on opposite ends of the row to avoid suspicion. And then, y’know, we had to watch Brokeback Mountain. It was a rough time.


Stef, Vapid Fluff Editor: Nothing

I was emotionally destroyed when I got here.


Carolyn, NSFW Editor and Literary Editor: Nothing

Same tbh.


Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Staff Writer: The Hours

Here’s a true thing about me: I never cried during movies/television/etc. until after I came out of the closet. It took me a while to make that specific connection, but here we are! When I was pretending to be a heterosexual, my feelings were so deeply repressed that I was pretty much incapable of crying! Fun stuff! So no, I didn’t technically cry the first time I watched The Hours, because I didn’t cry during any movies at the time. We watched it in my 12th grade English class, and even though I didn’t shed a tear, I was fully wrecked. But here’s another true thing about me: I definitely like to watch sad movies when I’m already sad. So I have watched The Hours in varying stages of depression, which, bold move. Also, one time in college, I had a full heart-to-heart with one of my best friends who was also closeted at the time and we were supposed to be watching The Hours but were just talking instead so we let the DVD menu+music play on repeat for… hours. Anyway, this movie destroys me every time, but I keep coming back to it! Unhealthy tbh!


Natalie, Staff Writer: Brokeback Mountain

The thing that broke me about Brokeback Mountain wasn’t the movie itself, necessarily, it was watching the audience watch the movie that ultimately did me in.

I saw Brokeback Mountain on a quiet Saturday afternoon at the since-closed AMC Loews Dupont 5, a small theatre located smack dab in the middle of DC’s most celebrated gayborhood. I slid into my seat about 30 minutes early and watched as the theatre filled to capacity with mostly white gay men and the occasional black boyfriend. Two genial bears took the seats to my right. The one closest to me flashed a smile, I smiled back and we chatted a bit before he pulled out a big box of Kleenex and balanced it on his thighs.

“Take as many you need, honey,” he said, as if he knew for sure what was coming.

I thought I’d be fine — years of watching sad lesbian movies had prepared me for this — but every time I saw his hand, or his boyfriend’s hand, pull tissue from that box, I got a little sadder until I finally broke and reached to grab some tissue for myself. Eventually, it was me and this theatre full of gay men, crying… them crying about the movie, me crying a little bit about the movie, but mostly about them crying about the movie.


Alexis, Staff Writer: The Children’s Hour

Someone suggested I watch The Children’s Hour and I’d like to rename it as “Real Deep Depression in Under Two Hours, Especially If You’re Closeted” which I mostly was by then. Boys Don’t Cry also made me cry lots of big angry hopeless tears, honestly anything before Pariah and Moonlight with the exception of Imagine Me & You, made me cry. I mean Moonlight and Pariah still destroy me but like build me up better you know? Anyways, if it was gay and I was closeted and watching it? I was crying.


Valerie Anne, Staff Writer: Lost and Delirious

I’M SORRY OKAY?! I was young and barely out when I saw this movie for the first time and it broke me! Piper Perabo also holds a lot of nostalgic significance for me; she was someone I had loved for a long time, so I think that didn’t help things. And the unrequited love thing/a girl swearing she was straight despite also having said she loved you thing was a real thing that had happened to me! And when you’re first coming out it can feel like you’re a teenager again so “I think I’ll die without her” felt like the exact correct level of dramatic for the situation. I realize now that it’s a ridiculous movie but at the time I felt the pain of it so deeply. For years, whenever I needed a good cry, I would bust this movie out. I also went through a period of time where I felt kind of numb inside and every time my fear I was broken would reach its peak I would put this movie on. My thought process was, if I watched it through and didn’t cry, I was definitely broken. I cried every time! So I understand that it’s not that great, but in my defense, my options were limited


Reneice Charles, Staff Writer: Set It Off

This movie isn’t inherently an LGBTQ film but I don’t care. The first time I watched this was also the first time I saw an out black lesbian in a film so for me and most representation starved black queer women it counts. This first time experience and the joy it brought me made Cleo’s storyline unbearable and still does. She was special to me before I had the self awareness to know why (I was 10 at the time) I just knew that I felt tied to her. I rewatched it after I came out to myself and sobbed for hours because I knew much more by then about myself and what it would mean to be a black queer woman in America. I think it was my way of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.


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54 Comments

  1. Holy shit, I thought I was the only one who didn’t cry at movies (or pretty much anything else) until I came out! My therapist still jokes with me about the first time I came into his office and announced that I was afraid I might be a sociopath. But now I can’t get through a Subaru commercial without tearing up, so, character development, I guess?

    • My family used me as the metric for whether something was sad when I was growing up. “Well, if SHE cried…” Turns out I was just REAAAALLY emotionally repressed and rarely showed much emotion, like Kayla said. “When I was pretending to be a heterosexual, my feelings were so deeply repressed that I was pretty much incapable of crying!” I’ve heard psychologists say that when you try to not feel one feeling—like anger—you dull all of them. Since I came out, I’ve felt like a complete person with the ability to feel the full range of human emotion and connect to people, so maybe the same thing applies here. In any case, I appreciate Trader Joe’s for keeping my house stocked with tissues.

  2. We Were Here. A documentary about the arrival of the AIDS crisis in San Fransisco. It is absolutely crushing. It’s on my therapist’s do not watch list if I’m already in one of my deeper depressions. It’s a good movie but hearing these gay men talk about all their friends dying around them every day is rough. And the politics around it will piss you off, but Ronald Reagan, so that’s a given. Coming into my own queer self in the late 80’s, as well as being in a 12 step program, I was impacted by HIV and AIDS crisis, but I still can’t imagine.

  3. V for Vendetta. Valerie’s letter. I was maybe 16 or 17 and drove to the theater in the nearest big city with one of my best friends who is, shocker, also now queer, even though neither of us were out at the time and I was still super Christian. I walked out of the theater shaking. Just, shaking.

    On the night of the election, I decided to watch the Valerie’s letter scene on youtube THAT WAS NOT A GOOD IDEA DO NOT RECOMMEND

  4. Beaches. Technically not an LGBTQ movie – though CC/Hillary were so clearly meant to be together forever, you can fight me on this.

    But when I was young and thought I was straight (while secretly in love with my best friend), I used to watch this movie EVERY WEEK and cry so. many. tears. ALL the tears. And I’d think about my best friend and how we were meant to be together forever (just as gal pals, of course), and I’d be completely destroyed.

    This movie let me feel things that weren’t safe to feel in my real life. I haven’t watched in a really long time, and I wonder how I’d feel about it now…

  5. Reneice!! I also saw Set It Off as a kid. It was one of those movies that I put on over and over and over, crying and crying every time. It was the first movie I watched where I saw myself, my experiences, and what I was seeing in the world around me on the screen. It showed me that there are so many types of woman to become and that regardless of who I love, whether or not I have children, what kind of job I work, etc., I will have friends and family and the power and resolve, if I so choose, to do everything I can to take care of them. It vilified exactly who I needed to see vilified on the big screen. And it gave me hope, strange as it may sound, that regardless of how helpless I feel, I still have some agency.

  6. Brokeback Mountain, still. I love the short story it’s based on, and the movie is a fairly faithful rendition. Also it has some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve ever seen.

    I fell in love with the story & movie before I was out (even to myself, really), and I didn’t understand until *after* I came out why it affected me so much. The tragedy of Ennis never fully living his life, never allowing himself happiness because he was afraid, was too too much like how I felt before I came out. I rewatched the movie recently with a queer friend and I still cried, but I didn’t feel that same deep sadness and despair as I had while watching Ennis’s story while closeted.

    Also from the story when Proulx writes about Ennis & Jack falling in love & how Ennis felt like he could “paw the white out of the moon”! That is one of my favorite lines ever.

  7. Hooo I feel that Boys Don’t Cry hard. I realised when I saw it at 13/14 that I didn’t really fully grasp what I was seeing. My tiny town meant I didn’t know what trans people were. I don’t think it even clicked that Brandon was a trans boy.

    So I decided two weeks ago it would be A GOOD IDEA to watch this movie as an adult, out, trans boy just to you know, see it through a new lens. WHOOPS. That new lens is way harder to stomach. I had also not remembered as a kid that this movie was based on a true story. So that made it all the more gut wrenching and heart breaking to stomach as a trans adult.

  8. V for Vendetta and later The Hours. Cryfests galore. But before that definetly Bend it like Beckham. I was so furious that there was no lesbian lovestory (way to much for a supposed straight teen 😂) that I still refuse to watch it again.

  9. Wow, this is really interesting to read. I’m not sure I have any queer movies that I feel this way about.

    Moonlight comes close. And honestly it’s more because of the parent-child stuff more than the queer stuff. I saw it with my partner and he was gutted by the scene with Juan at the end of the first act and I was gutted by the scene with his mom in the 3rd act – when she says she knows didn’t love him when he needed it and tells him she loves him now even if he doesn’t love her back. Oof.

    And baby queer me had a LOT of feelings about Beaches – I saw it at movie night in college with my friend, the only openly bi woman I knew, and she wept through the whole thing because it reminded her of her (horrible) ex-boyfriend, and I hugged her and comforted her afterwards and felt awkward for reasons that are very clear to me now, but were NOT AT ALL obvious to 20 year old me.

    Baby queer me also had weird feelings about Fried Green Tomatoes.

    • ugh, we watched tomboy in my queer cinema class two days after The Election and i cried so hard at parts that weren’t even sad that i almost just packed up my stuff and left more than once

  10. Oh man, having so many feelings about this roundtable, and also kind of having my mind blown at the whole not-crying-until-coming-out correlation? I wasn’t a total non-crier, but I definitely cry WAY more now. And I have a very specific memory of seeing Brokeback Mountain in theaters with my best friend and both of our moms (lol ahh) and having some feelings but shoving them down for some reason that I didn’t fully understand?? My best friend was crying so hard that she literally couldn’t stop crying even once the lights were back on, and we just sort of slowly walked out of the theater with her still crying. And yet I was “fine” (having a very slow, very quiet existential crisis somewhere super deep down) about it. I would be honestly terrified to watch this movie again now that I cry at any old Subaru commercial.

  11. I had to watch Boys Don’t Cry for a class my freshman year of college. Directly after the screening I had a rehearsal, and I told my friends at check-in, “I just saw the most devastating movie I’ve ever seen.” Friend asks: “Was it Boys Don’t Cry?”

  12. Uh, all of the above?
    I don’t think I realized lesbian movies came without a pang of pain until “Imagine Me&You” came out.
    Speaking of, “Boys on the Side”. That somehow ended up on a family movie night and wow. That one hurt.
    And I made every roommate of mine and all of my friends in college watch “Mädchen in Uniform”(The 1958 version). I wrung my hands for years that the teacher didn’t just run away with her, but honestly, it wasn’t until last year and the #metoo thing, that I realized that she was giving her agency and love at the cost of her own desire and I think I need to rewatch that movie asap.

    • I loved Boys on the Side as a [definitely not] “straight” teenager. I think I originally watched it because Drew Barrymore (who in retrospect I had a huge crush on) is in it. I didn’t even realize that Whoopi’s character was a lesbian until I’d watched it a few times, that’s how clueless I was. I watched it over and over though. No wonder my mom figured out that I was gay way before I did, LOL.

  13. I just don’t watch “heavy” sapphic films…

    The first lesbian film I saw was Fucking Åmål (Show Me Love), with my entire year at school, including my female crush, when it came out in Swedish cinemas in 1998. It didn’t wreck me emotionally, it verified my fear that life would be hell with no discernible end if I was ever found out. So, I completely repressed the most prominent side of my sexuality for 15+ years (there were obviously other factors too), and I’m not ready to start hearing those kinds of messages again yet.

  14. OK, so…not a movie, but I remember how I felt when I was watching Season 6 of BTVS and, y’know, I got WHEDONED for the first time. (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Whedoned)

    I was just minding my own business, going along, being infuriated that Buffy had gotten shot senselessly by that d-bag Warren and then-

    “Willow…your shirt…” THUD.

    And 16!me was all what the actual fuck why Tara she and Willow had just gotten back together they were so happy Willow was happy was Tara just too good for this sinful Earth why why why

    You know, you would think that my obsession with Willow and Tara’s relationship working out would have been a little hint to me, a little note-to-self that maybe I was not straight, but sadly I was not that self-aware for a litany of reasons. To this day I still kinda have a crush on Alyson Hannigan. I hope she wouldn’t hold it against me. She’s just so goddamn adorable.

  15. Thirteen (with Evan Rachel Wood Bisexual), which I watched at the age of fourteen at a creative writing summer camp for high school girls at a women’s college in Virginia (I know). Her bisexuality is in no way the focus of the film, but HOO BOY was it the focus of my viewing experience.

  16. I was a freshman in college, newly out to myself and starting to come out to my friends, in 1998. Name a depressing lesbian/queer movie that came out in the 1990s and I watched it, on repeat. Favorites included: Gia, High Art, Heavenly Creatures, Boys on the Side, and of course Boys Don’t Cry. (That last one I only watched a few times because I’m not a total masochist.)

    I also watched Bound, All Over Me, and When Night is Falling a lot. While not as depressing as the first list, they aren’t exactly super happy uplifting films either.

    Now I kind of want to watch all of these again and see how I feel about them as an adult.

  17. I honestly haven’t watched very many things, queer or otherwise, but V for Vendetta is up there.

    Also Torchwood. I watched them all on my own but lately I was home when my little sisters were catching up. There’s this episode in the first series with a lesbian alien, and a mind-reading device. I had to leave the room. Rewatching it with family members present and commenting was just too much.

  18. Without a doubt it’s Imagine Me and You with Lena Headey and Piper Perabo.

    Holy shit the realization hit like a brick to the forehead. I cried not for the movie (ok I did a little) but I cried more for me and the realization of what was missing in my life.

  19. I also arrived already emotionally destroyed and hold up my reaction to Lost and Delirious as the prime example of how destroyed.
    It did’t make me cry like a normal person nooo, instead it made me feel like a coward because Paulie was brave and free I too could be free if only I were brave enough.
    Didn’t hate Tori but I certainly pitied her because she allowed herself to become trapped.
    What the fuck teen me, what the fuck.

    Never watching it again, seen it enough times.

    I saw Set It Off at roughly the same age as Reneice possibly younger and um I can’t decide if I was already destroyed like there was already a fissure and it just got bigger after watching that movie.

    Because:

    1) I was a special ed student and the characters in that movie were the first characters I can remember being frustrated the way I was. Trying to do good, trying to do the right thing but hitting a wall then turning and hitting another wall and another and another til you’re stuck in a fucking box. Well fuck the box!

    2) I had a crush on Cleo, and also possibly she was the first openly LBGTQ character in a live action movie I can remember ever seeing that was not vaguely so via mean tropes or a theatre character or just played by Nathan Lane. Probably the first lesbian character I ever saw.

    3) All the action movies I saw till then the protagonists won or the monster was defeated at least but this monster wasn’t an alien hunting people for sport it was a system. Something bigger, meaner and in my meager experience untouchable, invincible.

    I didn’t cry when it came to the last stand. I got up probably to run away but instead I did the very best impression of a statue that a child could possibly do, not moving or blinking. Then stared into space for a bit which probably scared my mother.

    If I watched it now I’d probably cry, cry a lot and need someone to hold me.

    This is probably why I have a host of queer characters in my brain who I’ve decided are going either never die, or die of old age surrounded by their loved ones.

  20. Brokeback mountain: spent a week trying to not cry whenever I remembered that image of Ennis throwing up after taking separate ways from Jack

    Monster: I remember I was the last person to leave the movie theater cuz I was crying so much I didn’t want anyone to see me like that

    Milk: I was called to mediate a debate about the film after its first screening in my city and it was really hard for me not to get emotional during the conversation

  21. I cry at commercials with mediocre sound design. But Moonlight. I didn’t know what the movie was – I was taken to see it and it was showing 45 mins away. For ten minutes after the credits I was stuck curled up and beyond sobbing in one of these ridiculous new kind of lazyboy theater chairs and I was walked out to the car. I didn’t talk until we were back home. I’m so grateful for that film.

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