"High School Musical 3": The Gayest of Them All

Posted by Prince Gomolvilas
ON Saturday, October 25, 2008

[My blog posts, "How Gay is 'High School Musical?'" and "'High School Musical 2': Chock Full of Gay," garnered an unexpected and unprecedented amount of worldwide attention and "controversy" via online viral buzz. The 1,800+ comments on the latter article is a testament to that—it's the most discussed post ever on AOL's (now defunct) QueerSighted blog. So it was inevitable that I would write about the inherent gayness of "High School Musical 3: Gradu-Dancin'." (Please Note: I refuse to refer to the movie by its actual subtitle, "Senior Year," because its "Gradu-Dancin'" working title is far more fabulous—and, my dear friends, as you know, "I want fabulous! That's my simple request!")]

Disney's High School Musical franchise has always been embraced by tween girls and by gay men—gay men because they delight in the movies' queer subtext, which happens to be conveniently told in the gay language of musical numbers; and tween girls because they subconsciously know that they will be the trusted "f*g hags" of the future and the HSM phenomenon is the perfect primer of the gay mind. Oh, and also because Zac Efron is so freaking hot—even my straight male friends tell me that they'd temporarily drop to their knees and switch teams for Zefron. ("Hey, batter, batter, hey, batter, batter, swing.")

Well, I'm happy to report that High School Musical 3: Gradu-Dancin' is so gay that audience members could actually end up bleeding appletinis from their eyes. If HSM is gay and HSM2 is gayer, then HSM3 is certainly the gayest of them all.

Gay Allegory. The gay allegory of the first two movies—the masculine jock "comes out" and embraces his love of theater—continues in this third installment, but on a grander scale. Troy Bolton (Efron), the high school basketball star, must choose between two colleges: his father's alma mater, University of Albuquerque, where he will play hoops and be the manly man his dad expects him to be; or New York's prestigious performing arts school, Julliard, where he will be able to revel in the fabulousness of singing and dancing to his heart's content.

University of Albuquerque (a stand-in for heterosexual identity) represents a life that's being thrust upon Troy against his will. "It's hard to admit," he pleads with his father. "U of A sort of chose me." Later, he continues to struggle with what his dad (society) wants for him because it's not necessarily what he wants for himself. He muses, "Maybe I don't see my life as a ballgame anymore." That's because, frankly, he's starting to see his life as a "balls" game.

At one point, Troy confides in his drama teacher, "I'm confused." Indeed. Every young man who has ever struggled with his sexuality has needed someone as understanding as Ms. Darbus to nudge him in the right direction. Sensing Troy's longing for outside approval, she says encouragingly, "The stage can be a wonderful partner in the process of self-discovery"—the theater once again being a stand-in for gay identity. (A character earlier even makes reference to a "theater fairy" that submitted Troy's application to Julliard.)

Throughout the movie, Troy tests out the gay waters. Early on, he pranks a couple of freshman by stealing their clothes from their lockers while they are showering. The towel-clad lads have to chase Troy all around school to get their underwear back. Troy's partner-in-crime, Chad (Corbin Bleu), might see it as harmless practical joke, but Troy, at least subconsciously, sees it as a cheap homoerotic thrill. And during a musical number later in the movie, Troy dances with both Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) and her twin brother, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel). Troy admits to Ryan, "You're easier to dance with than she is."

So everything has been set up for Troy to wholeheartedly seize a life in the theater (his gay identity). But guess what? Because it's senior year and the stakes—his entire future—are so high, Disney decides to pull its gay punches, as not to totally upset middle America. 

[BEGIN POSSIBLE SPOILER.] 


In the end, Troy surprises everybody and decides to go to UC Berkeley, where he can play basketball and do theater.


[END POSSIBLE SPOILER.] 

Disney betrays the promise of its gay subtext by morphing HSM3 into a half-assed bisexual allegory.

But don't worry. There's plenty of gay to go....

The Gay Nature of Musicals. Look, gay men love musicals. I'm sorry, but, if you're queer and have no interest in showtunes, then you need to give back your toaster. Cheesy ballads aside, HSM3 has some of the best musical numbers in the entire series, even if the songs aren't as catchy on a first listen. The film's bigger budget paved the way to more elaborate set pieces (a junkyard, rotating backdrops, etc.); multiple, eye-popping costume changes; a cast of (seemingly) thousands; and amazing, aggressive choreography that must've taken weeks and weeks to rehearse. Not only that, HSM3 pays homage to the musicals and icons of yesteryear, allowing gay men to play a guessing game that will test their queer cred. We get shades of West Side Story, Grease, Footloose, Stanley Donen, Esther Williams, Busby Berkeley, and even a vaguely Dirty Dancing climax (the latter film was choreographed by Kenny Ortega, who directed all three HSMs).

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Zac Efron also gets a hot and sexy solo number comparable to "Bet on It" in HSM2 (remember how gay that is?). It's called "Scream"; features a revolving hallway that has him dancing on the walls and ceiling; and requires him to writhe around on the ground in existential agony and kind of do a pole dance (with ropes instead of a pole) that had my packed theater audience of girls literally screaming in prepubescent ecstasy. Seriously. I'm not exaggerating. They. Were. Screaming. (And so was I.) You won't believe your eyes (or ears) when you watch this video clip:


Gay Characters. First of all, HSM3 introduces a new freshman character, nicknamed "Rocket Man," who is probably being set up to star in the inevitable HSM4 (the primary cast will be absent). Rocket Man (whose underwear was stolen earlier) is obsessed with Troy, is an amateur stalker, and manages to keep interrupting Troy's intimate moments with Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens). "Can I have your gym locker?" Rocket Man asks Troy. "I think it'll help me out with the guys."

Later, Rocket Man is designated as Troy's understudy in the spring musical and even gets to perform, throwing together a makeshift costume, the centerpiece of which is a pink wife-beater.

His one attempt to flirt with Sharpay fizzles, as it should, because a gay guy hooking up with a straight woman is like Jews and pork rinds. (However, Sharpay really is the closest thing to a drag queen that the HSM series will ever have.)

Now let's talk about Ryan Evans, who's been the franchise's overtly gay character starting from movie one. The body of evidence:

* His wardrobe should raise pink flags: flamboyant pants with crazy patterns, long black boots, fancy hats, polyester jogging suit, tickle-me-pink scarf (or was that an ascot, which is even gayer?), and a collection of various sweaters (V-neck, crew neck, sweater vest) that would put any self-proclaimed queen to shame.

* He unleashes a series of fey gestures, glances, and swishes, but manages not to be offensive or particularly stereotypical in all that gayness (a welcome paradox). His most telling move is his very curious double take at a handsome black guy whose unbuttoned shirt reveals lots of luscious skin.

* At the beginning of the movie, we see that he does not play basketball. He, instead, is the school mascot, a wildcat. (No need to guess who would be the bitch in a relationship with him.) Troy says to Ryan, "Hey, watch that tail, man. It's dangerous." Ryan exclaims proudly, "You know it!"

* He rides a moped.

...Lastly, Ryan is someone who can embrace his love of theater (his gay identity), gladly taking the role of choreographer and prancing proudly to make sure everybody follows his steps perfectly. And in the spring musical, when the other guys do a dance in which they try on tuxedos for the prom, Ryan joins a Rockette-like kick line of girls in black and pink.

 photo 002wp99h.gif

[BEGIN POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT.] 


Disney's betrayal of its gay allegory earlier can be forgiven here because in the end Ryan, who is comfortable with being who he is (gay), goes to Julliard, along with the nerdy but talented Kelsi (Olesya Rulin).


[END POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT.] 

Ryan, like Rocket Man, also flirted with heterosexuality, by courting Kelsi. That subplot quickly disappeared (written in the first place, I presume, to trick conservative parents into thinking that Ryan wasn't really "that way"), allowing for the notion that being totally gay is acceptable after all. The homosexual and his f*g hag are going to the big city together, and they will surely live happily (gayly) ever after.

As for Troy and Gabriella, they too could eventually have the same kind of relationship and the same kind of freedom as Ryan and Kelsi if Troy ever figures out that, for him, bisexuality is just a gateway orientation.

...But, overall, yes, High School Musical 3: Gradu-Dancin' is really really really really really gay. And I have always—alwaysmeant that in a good way.

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21 Comments

  1. Amy Said,

    This truly made my morning. You know I'm going to have to go see the movie now and join in on the screaming!

     

  2. jterry Said,

    "So gay that audience members could actually end up bleeding appletinis from their eyes."

    Yes! I've always wanted that to happen to me! It'd be so much cheaper than ordering so damn many.... And I wear lots of pink!

    I think I might need to finally see these films.

     

  3. Ok, I am confused. Having never seen any of the HSM movies, in my high school the gay guys "dated" the lesbian girls while listening to the Smiths. The jocks would bully and the some of the teachers were just plain mean. And the only singing that was done was in drama club.
    I suppose closets are larger in the south, I believe they call them wardrobes.
    So, my "confusion" comes in the way of wondering where this high school is. Is this in hoosier heartland? Are these kids from "real america" or that other fake america that the non-republicans live in?
    I suppose I will just have to wait to see the next installment of HSM, the one where all the minorities are treated with love and respect and there is no bigotry or hate.

     

  4. Solia Jacobs Said,

    this is amazing!
    It makes my 8am-6pm day of rehearsal for West Side Story, so much more enjoyable.
    i may just have to see this one. there's tons of girls here at UCi that would take me. haha.
    ANd how the heck does he get into cal for theatre? i couldn't even get into cal for theatre and i was var tennis for 3 years! stupid disney movies...
    this is how we know that it's in "fake america".

    oh, and watch out for facebook. i tried to facebook IM the link for your first HSM post to a friend and it wouldn't let me send it because it was marked as "offensive content."
    which it SO is not. :)

    great job!

     

  5. Aurelio Said,

    You mean there's actually a choice between University of Albuquerque and Julliard? What would look better on a business resume? Have you been to Albuquerque? If the writers wanted it to be a real choice, they would've used UCLA or Notre Dame as the basketball college rather than no-name U of A.

     

  6. lucy Said,

    thanks for the much anticipated blog, Prince. Haven't been able to see it. this makes me even more eager to see the film. Sounds like HSM3 doesn't disappoint on the gayness. Thank goodness. Hope to see you soon.

     

  7. Sterling Said,

    I must say, straight away, that Zac has gotten exponentially hotter. You've seen the trailer for 17 Again, with that ab shot that got flashed? I mean, damn.

    Anyway, I saw the movie last night at 11, so thankfully the theater was clear of any tweens. That was good, 'cause this movie left me feeling less like it was Disney and more like I was in the teaser for a porno. Seriously, Zac in his solo? When was he going to start stripping? Because that's what that was. Also, Zac's wardrobe was WAYYY to fashionable and well-fitting for either a real high schooler or for Disney to have provided. The only conclusion left to me is that it was his own.

    Disney left it WIDE open for another HSM with that last number. Why do we have to let it go? Because high school is over, folks. The series needs to end here.

    Overall, the movie made me nostalgic for a high school that doesn't exist and is completely and totally unrealistic. I loved it!

     

  8. dianna Said,

    The High School Musical 3 gang left us with some fun movie moments and HSM 3 wraps up the trilogy quite nicely

     

  9. Ja'mon Said,

    I agree with you 100% however, you definitely forgot to mention Chad.

    Chad's obsession with Troy from all 3 movies is a bit on the gay side as well and it really climaxed in this movie.

    During one of the scenes where he is saying "Forget about her, it will be just me and you. Together. A whole new ball game"

    And his running off the stage dramatically during Troy's big decision making scene...

    Not to mention that between him and Taylor there is NO attraction. It's like Kelsi and Ryan's relationship.

     

  10. Anonymous Said,

    As always, oh wise one, you are completely correct.

    Incisive and hilariously stated. Love,
    David
    www.davidortmann.com

     

  11. waleed anbar Said,

    Wow, Prince, I really didn't think there was going to be that much depth to this film franchise but you certainly have titillated me with this series of scathing exposées. I feel like I'm ready to watch these movies now.

    I want to echo one of the earlier commenters who queried "where is this high school?" i'm blown away, in a strange but good way, that these films are accepted as a representation of america. There's really nothing macho about this high school or the boys in it, and it's certainly not your average american corporate attempt to solidify gender roles before the young one's have a choice. What is decidedly american, or perhaps human, is that as long as you have hot stars you can make the audience accept just about whatever you want. It's nice to see that weapon used in a new and, dare i say, progressive way.

    But I don't want to give disney too much credit - I'm still quite skeptical of their motives. Thank you for seeding the discourse :-)

     

  12. golfwidow Said,

    I am here to tell you that, even before I gave up Judaism in favor of disorganized religion, I loved me some pork rinds. All right, then. Carry on.

     

  13. I haven't seen a single HSM movie, so I'll have to take your word that HSM3 is the gayest. I do, however, know for a fact that this is the gayest, I mean greatest HSM post you have ever written. Kudos to you, sir.

     

  14. Ahh, finally, the HSM3 post... the long national wait is over, and it was worth it. Next up: the election.

     

  15. Blau Said,

    Okay. I wasn't planning on going, but you've convinced me.

    If it isn't the gayes- I mean, best movie I've ever seen, I'm unsubscribing from Bamboo Nation.




    Just kidding. I could never do that. <3

     

  16. Hey, thanks for your feedback, everyone. You know that post took me five fucking hours to write and rewrite and polish?! Finding the gay is exhausting!

    I hope to include some of your comments and respond to them in a future post. Thanks!

     

  17. LAP Said,

    Besides Paulina we took her friend Evan- and I have to say both HSM2 and 3 did a great job with the tween boy demographic because the dance scenes were inevitably filled with enough action to satisfy a sports-lovin' boy.

    We took in a Sunday matinee and besides the other moms I would say 10 was the top of the age range for attendees but it was packed, and very very fun to see with so many other excited kids.

    I especially liked the bows shots at the end where I can only assume they wanted the theater to be filled with applause for each individual actor, and in our theater no one realized that except for me, and I was so hurt that there would be no opportunity to clap for sweet Kelsi that I didn't even clap for Zac, although I feel bad about it now.

    On an interesting note to me, when I was watching Zac dancing with Vanessa, it seemed very obvious to me that he was conscious of her body in a new sexy (but innocent) way, and I thought it was sort of sweet that we'd probably been watching him dance since before he was someone that was confident in his sex appeal, and then I felt like a perv and I knew I would have to leave you a comment about it.

     

  18. Peter Varvel Said,

    I agree: this IS the gayest and greatest HSM post you've written to date!
    Well done!
    (and . . . riding a moped makes you/reveals you as gay? WTF?)

     

  19. Sterling Said,

    Just saw it for the second time...love it still.

     

  20. triflemenot Said,

    Ooooh my gay this just made my day (and yes, that little rhyme is intentional ^_^). Brilliant and fabulous and bookmarked for future rereads.

    I agree with you whole-heartedly about the gay text woven in throughout HSM 1 and HSM 2, and then finally reaching a bedazzled, unholy climax in HSM 3. Ryan's sexuality had always been clear to me no matter how coded Disney might believe they're making him. God bless you Ryan. The character is a bit of hero, don't you think? Especially in regard to what you mentioned (and what I absolutely adore about him) about Ryan beating the stereotype - he's not the typical fop that Hollywood loves to make of their gay or coded-gay characters.

    I have so much to say - and I promise I'll come back to leave more coherent, intelligent comments - but for now I'll leave it at this:

    As much as I agree with all the rest, I have to disagree with the statement about bisexuality being a gateway. In some cases I can see how that may be (Troy Bolton), but sexuality is truly very fluid and much more complex than society make it out to be; it goes deeper than labels. Not everyone who is bisexual is copping out on their "true sexuality" (whatever that may mean). Whose to say that a person cannot be attracted to both men,women, and even transgenders or tranvestites (in the case of pansexuality). That being said, I do agree with you wholeheartedly that, in Troy Bolton's case, hopefully he would have dropped that act one day and embrace the fact that he's gayer than gradu-dancing and appletini tears of joy.

    Amazing post!

     

  21. Anonymous Said,

    That said, I've often been wondering: when does the "localization" of content stop being "localization" and turn into full-on "censorship"? Aren't these changes killing some of the game's fun?

     



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