It’s Your Anniversary: My Rage at “Chasing Amy” Helped Me Find My Bisexuality

I saw Chasing Amy when it came out in 1997. Sitting through the nearly two-hour movie with my then-boyfriend questions like “Why would she sleep with a guy who can’t fathom the mechanics of lesbian sex” and “How can you make a movie about bisexuals and not even use the word once?” ran through my mind. When the credits rolled, we walked out of the theater quietly, only for me to explode as soon as we reached the car door. I lobbed more rhetorical questions from the passenger seat as my boyfriend stayed silent on our drive home.

Like the movie’s lead, I was a lesbian who’d inconveniently fallen in love with my best guy friend. I was hoping for a movie that would complicate queer identity, and I trusted director Kevin Smith—who had made loving satires of the Mid-Atlantic culture I was so familiar with—to give it to me. I should have been Chasing Amy’s core audience, but instead I left the film unsettled and angry.

Before Chasing Amy, I wavered between queer identities depending on the gender of my date or crush. I was a lesbian when my boyfriend and I unexpectedly fell for one another, and I fiercely held onto that identity despite others presuming I was now straight. Unlike the movie’s male lead, Holden played by Ben Affleck, my boyfriend was happy to accept me as a lesbian who’d dated across the gender spectrum. I wanted that—and so much more—for Alyssa, the leading lady played by 90s sweetheart star, Joey Lauren Adams, but midway through the movie, it was clear that a happy ending wasn’t ever in the cards for this queer character.

Alyssa and Holden look at each other and laugh in the bar. Chasing Amy queer

Few films have so effectively gotten under my skin as much as this one had. I was curious to see if I’d still hate it now that I’ve long stopped judging my queerness by my distance to gold star lesbian status. So I decided to mark the 25th anniversary of the film by rewatching it. Would it pack the same emotional punch now that I am nestled in the safety of my very gay marriage? I’d met my wife when I was a full-throated bisexual, and one of the things I love about her is her willingness to correct people when they assume that our marriage means I’m a lesbian. My annoyance at Chasing Amy helped me slough off my internalized biphobia, and I wondered if I would feel grateful now that I was older. My attempts to convince my wife, friends, or truly anyone, to watch this cismale fantasy about dating a lesbian were entirely unsuccessful so—I dug in alone.

Watching the movie again, I was surprised by how little of the plot I’d remembered. Holden and Alyssa are comic book creators who meet and bond over their suburban Jersey background and his fascination with her lesbianism. They become friends and eventually lovers, both to the disdain of his best dude pal and her lesbian girl squad, who look like half of the girls I dated in the 90s with their boy-band hair and earnest political statements. I’d also forgotten the scene-stealer that is Hooper X, played by Dwight Ewell, a mutual friend of Alyssa and Holden. He’s a gay creator who deploys a Black Panther-esque persona to sell books while torturing his straight friends with queer reinterpretations of classic comic books.

Hooper X looks at Alyssa while she smiles. chasing amy queer

All this queerness is marred by casual cissexism. The characters regularly conflate gender and genitalia and penetrative sex with heterosexuality. In my memory, Alyssa was the star of the film, but in reality, the story is driven almost entirely by Holden—and she’s just a bad girl in a leather jacket who makes him feel powerless and unsure. Holden eventually learns that he’s not the first man she slept with, and destroys their relationship in a fit of male fragility. In 1997, I was a sex-positive feminist who rolled my eyes at Holden’s misogynistic attitude. I saw him as a stand-in for my fellow college students who claimed to be enlightened, but secretly didn’t see queer relationships as equally meaningful. By the end of the movie, Alyssa has just been a vehicle for the personal growth of another cishet white man. He’s learned to apologize, be less self-centered, and hopefully stop mansplaining sexual identity to his next partner, but her life is left virtually unchanged. Her new lover is dismissive of comics, and doesn’t understand her in the ways that Holden did. The ending was bittersweet in 1997, because it made me consider the longevity of my own relationship. Watching it now, I felt angry that Alyssa wasn’t given a better new girlfriend, and a chance to process her own feelings.

Like Alyssa, my 1997 romance ended in tears, but her story inspired me to fiercely claim my bisexuality, irrespective of who I was dating. It was watching Alyssa twist herself in knots trying to hold onto her lesbian identity that made me realize how ridiculous I was for doing the same thing. I was relieved when she ended up with a girl, but that hypocrisy felt disquieting. I was madly in love at the time, and I judged myself for reveling in a happy ending I didn’t want for myself. I worried that rewatching Chasing Amy would make me regret the end of that relationship, but instead, it made me sad for Alyssa. She wastes time worrying about being a “bad lesbian” but is still rejected by her queer community. In the 90s, some of my queer friends barely tolerated femmes, let alone bisexuals. Learning to embrace myself as a badass bi femme taught me courage and the power of authenticity. Alyssa is up against a barrage of sex-negative stereotypes but never enjoys the benefits of identifying as bi, or pan.

Alyssa kisses a blonde babe in a booth. Chasing Amy queer

My rage at Chasing Amy might have helped me find my bisexuality, but by insisting that Alyssa was just a man-loving lesbian who needed cisboy dick, the movie erases hers. I remember wanting to scream at the screen, “Stop tripping you’re just bisexual!” but perhaps that rush of anger was really directed at myself. I worried that letting go of the word “lesbian” meant erasing my queerness. But I’m the only arbitrator of my queerness that matters. Chasing Amy may have been the accidental catalyst for my journey to firmly coming out as a bi babe, but this rewatch just confirmed that it’s still the bisexual movie that none of us actually needed or asked for—happy anniversary ‘tho.


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Shana

Shana is a bi femme with a soft spot for romance novels and unapologetically fat women. She lives in California with her vintage Harlequin collection, favorite rolling pin, and a garden that needs weeding. You can find her book reviews at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and The Lesbrary. Follow Shana on Twitter.

Shana has written 4 articles for us.

26 Comments

      • Ok I looked it up and apparently it’s like part of Kevin Smith Lore. Either Jay or Silent Bob (I didn’t read that closely bc of how hard I was rolling my eyes!!) dated a woman named Amy and then the breakup was devastating so he refers to potential partners as “Amy” and looking for a partner “chasing Amy.” Seems a tad bit misogynistic Jay and/or Silent Bob! Not all women are named Amy!

        • This movie has a lot of problems, but that’s not exactly the explanation for “Amy.”

          The title is from a cautionary tale Silent Bob tells Ben Affleck’s character about a similar situation where he loved a girl named Amy but acted like a jerk about her sexual history (like Affleck is doing with Alyssa). He later realized that it was about his own insecurity, but it was too late because he’d screwed things up with her. So he regrets what he did and hopes to find that kind of love again – “chasing Amy.”

          • Also, this shows that the film is a cautionary tale, or at least pretends to be one. Affleck’s character is the idiot, he is constantly making mistakes and that’s what the movie is about. I also felt that when he freaks out about him not being her first male partner, it is meant to reveal what his fantasy is, that it’s an ego trip, and wrong. I’m not sure that it’s about his betterment. But then, I haven’t watched the film for a very long time and might have distorted it in hindsight.
            The lesbian community is also shown as being wrong about their exclusion of bisexuals. On paper, the film is progressive and ahead of its time, but somehow still manages to be very cring-y.

      • Song came our way later than the movie. But more importantly, I think the words in the song are meaningless. They’re just designed to sound like the letters F. U. C. K. me when sung aloud

    • It references an experience that Silent Bob (in one of his rare speaking excursions) does to enlighten the Holden character, talking about how he was panicky and insecure that his then-girlfriend Amy had more sexual experiences than he had then and how Bob took that as an insult to his own masculinity and later (to his credit) Bob realized how that circumstance was more related to his own insecurity and had nothing to do with the ex-girlfriend Amy and hence the title.

  1. So many problems with this movie…but for a whole generation of us Joey Lauren Adams in this movie was the first bisexual we could ever even imagine. I don’t know how I secretly watched this movie, but I know it was pretty formative for me at even being able to think about a space where being bisexual was possible. Really hate that it reinforced a lot of the bisexuals are promiscuous stereotypes and the character never really just accepted that it was fine to date both genders. I feel like it both pushed me into the closet and out?

    • When I watched the film, I wondered if her not accepting her bisexuality was actually a reflection of Affleck’s/ Kevin Smith’s refusal to accept her bisexuality. Because he wants to be in a relationship with lesbian, not with a bisexual (he *must* have heard about bisexuality).
      My hypothesis: And the reason is not really because he wants to be her first, but because he is attracted to queerness, but doesn’t know how to explain it, and feels just guilty. In his eyes, bisexual doesn’t fully qualify as queer (Affleck is similar to the lesbian community) because it’s almost straight. That’s why the film needs to end with her being with a lesbian.

      • You know, in retrospect, I agree. I do think Kevin Smith and Holden are attracted to queerness specifically. She seems like of like a queer manic pixie dream girl. I admit my feeling about the movie also make a lot more sense now that as an adult I know that Alyssa is painfully, painfully exactly my type. I think I had a hard time thinking about whether or not I was like her because I was confused my how much I wanted to kiss her.

  2. I remember after Chasing Amy came out, it seemed popular with guys because of the fantasy of dating a girl who was a “lesbian”. That guy fantasy that you are so good in bed that you could “convert” a lesbian. A concept I found repellent even then.

    Also, I tend to look who wrote and directed movies about bisexuals and lesbians If its male, it often plays heavily into these fantasies. If their female, it usually is a much more realistic presentation.

    Chasing Amy is written and directed by Kevin Smith (don’t know much about him except I am sure he’s a guy), so I figured I wouldn’t like it. Based on Shana’s article here, I am glad I never saw it.

    • 100% agree. Something I always found interesting was that Bound, which I consider one of the best pieces of lesbian cinema was (I thought) made by two men. It all made sense years later when it turned out they were actually women!

  3. “I worried that letting go of the word ‘lesbian’ meant erasing my queerness. But I’m the only arbitrator of my queerness that matters.”

    This so much! Thanks for another great essay, Shana!

  4. i really enjoyed this, thank you for sharing!!

    i saw ‘chasing amy’ when in roughly 2003 at 14 and it left its mark. it ain’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was probably the first time i saw a queer person on screen actually say they were queer and also not die. it made a difference in my life, flaws and all. happy anniversary.

  5. Has it REALLY been 25 years?!

    I didn’t see Chasing Amy when it came out, and I actually saw it much later than other Kevin Smith films (I was OBSESSED with Dogma for a few months in high school).

    When I did see Chasing Amy, I was also identifying as a lesbian but in my first relationship with a cis guy. I watched it, alone, on DVD, because I was so desperate to find representation (even if that representation was mediocre). In the end, I felt like the movie wasn’t even about bisexual identity, or queerness, it was really about sex-negativity and the number of lies people tell their partners about their past. I still cried when Alyssa said she wasn’t given a map at birth as Holden was breaking up with her. I just rewatched that scene, and it’s not at all how I remember it – I agree with Shana, it’s all about Holden. Alyssa just sort of crumples and fades without him.

    But frankly. . . there is so little representation of the experience of being someone who identifies as queer, thoroughly and completely, but ALSO has assumed-straight relationships. The only other time I’ve seen that experience on screen was in The Bisexual (which sometimes feels like a direct critique of Chasing Amy in the absolute best way).

    Thank you, Shana, for writing this – it’s good to know I’m not the only one yelling at the screen.

  6. This is one of the last movies I saw with my horrifically awful ex-bf… and everything you said reminds me so much of that time. I was on the brink of identifying as bi, and watching him just drool over this movie- ugh. And then revising my identity to lesbian not long after, and having dudes come on to me thinking they’d be “the one”, dealing with the whole lesbian-chic thing- it’s ok as long as it’s a joke… I could go on. Basically, yes, the 90s had some great moments, but it was not perfect.

  7. Thank you for this! I had such a love/hate relationship with this movie but I honestly never found a queer character that I related to more. Seeing Alyssa sadly/frustratingly exclaim that she “was an experimental girl” shifted something in me. I was so constrained by the feeling that I needed to be one or the other, (lesbian or straight, slutty or pure).

    After this movie I stopped forcing myself into labels and identities that didn’t fit anymore and I started describing myself with all the labels (pan, queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, slutty- all of these things apply for me). It was a massively important change in my life but I’ve always been afraid to tell people because this movie is so hated in the queer community.

  8. Hard relate! I first saw this movie 10 yrs ago with my then boyfriend. We’d recently gone from friends to lovers despite my assertion that I imagined myself in a long term relationship with a queer person, not a straight cis man like him. He thought of me as a “punk” lesbian (masc queer- people see what they want to see). I was open with him about my bisexuality but he still acted surprised when I reninded him I’d been in love with other men. He showed me the movie because it was one if his favorites and he related to the story. It just made me really uncomfortable. But we kept seeing each other. Eventually we tried to have a serious relationship. When he ended it he said I was “probably a lesbian anyway.”

  9. Wow, 25 years! That’s a lifetime ago! I remember the “buzz” around this movie and it always from dudes who were just like Ben Affleck’s character. Afterwards, they were extremely upset that he didn’t get the girl that it was almost offensive to them. Yes, they expected – nay DEMANDED – that he got the girl! This movie brings back bad memories but mostly from the bros who thought they were the main protagonist and this movie was the movie of their romantic lives! Kevin Smith really did capture that generation but the lack of criticism or parody of that type of guy gave them main character syndrome

  10. I haven’t watched or thought about this movie for ages, but my favorite part was always the comics panel at the beginning and the debrief afterwards. Thinking about it now, I’m so glad that there are now more queer & intersectional comic fandom spaces, bc growing up Kevin Smith movies felt like the most I could hope to get. (I still have love for Dogma.)

  11. I saw this movie for the first time a few months ago when my partner suggested it as one of her teenage favorites. Watching the cis male characters harass, pressure, and belittle Amy for her queer identity was exhausting and painful. I’ve had similar experiences as a bisexual, some of which included sexual harassment and attempts at assault. Few cis men respected me, and I spent huge amounts of my work and private time fending off jerks who thought they could “fix” my queerness. I found nothing redeeming in watching cis male characters smirk at each other while they treat her like a fetish object, or try to prove that she isn’t “secretly” straight. 0/10, no thanks.

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