Dec 7, 2014

The Secretary: The Bottom Always Calls the Shots

It's not often that I agree to watch a movie about heterosexual romance, but Jeremy wanted to see The Secretary (2002), so I watched.

I wasn't happy:  first, it's set in a weird faux-retro world with cell phones and the internet, but everyone looks and acts and thinks like the 1950s No one has ever heard of the women's rights movement, or sexual harassment (turns out that it was actually based on a short story published in 1988).

Second: this is an utterly gay-free world, with not even a subtext to alleviate the heteronormativity.  I don't think two male characters are ever in the same room with each other.

Third: there's no beefcake.  There are full-body shots of naked women (I mean breasts, vagina, the works) in bed with fully-clothed men (I mean even the shoes stay on).

Still, I found something that accidentally resonated with my coming out experience.

The plot: repressed, emotionally unstable Lane (Maggie Gylenhall), who cuts herself, goes to work for repressed, emotionally unstable lawyer Mr. Grey (James Spader).  He is a very bad boss criticizing her hair and clothing, asking personal questions, and berating her for making typing errors.  After a particularly egregious error, he bends Lane over his desk and spanks her.

She loves it.

She begins making errors on purpose, so Mr. Grey will spank her again.



Soon he is dictating how she should get to work, what she should have for dinner, what she can do with her boyfriend (Jeremy Davies of Lost, playing yet another emotionally unstable person).

She loves that, too.  In fact, by allowing herself to be controlled, she blossoms, becoming more assertive, standing up to her weird parents, walking through the park alone for the first time in her life. She stops cutting herself.

Neither Lane nor Mr. Grey have any idea what is happening.  Why do they have the desire to control and be controlled? Is Mr. Grey evil?  Is Lane sick?  They have no vocabulary, no models, no explanations.  As far as they know, they are the only people in the history of the world who have felt this way.

They stumble about, searching for meaning.

I kept wanting to yell, "You nitwits, there's no big mystery -- you're into S&M!  There are clubs, newsletters, guidebooks, retail outlets!  Go online, and look it up!"

But then I thought about growing up in a world where same-sex desire absolutely did not and could not exist, where gay people were never mentioned or written about in books.  I was stumbling about in the dark, without even a name.

And, as far as I knew, no other person in the history of the world had ever felt this way.

In case you're wondering, Lane does do some research, figures out what S&M is, and then demands that they start a full-time dominant/submissive romance.  Mr. Grey reluctantly gives in.

The bottom always calls the shots.

See also: Finding Larry's Fetish.; and Fetish 101.