Straightlaced - How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up

How gender pressures impact all youth - straight and LGBT
Year Released
Film Length(s)
67 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


With a fearless look at a highly charged subject, Straightlaced unearths how pressures around gender and sexuality are confining American teens. These stories reflect a diversity of experiences, demonstrating how gender role expectations and homophobia are interwoven, and illustrating the different ways these expectations connect with culture, race and class.

From girls confronting media messages about body image to boys who are sexually active just to prove they aren’t gay, a fascinating array of students opens up with brave, intimate honesty about the toll that deeply held stereotypes and rigid gender policing have on all our lives.

Featured review

If I was King of the World I'd have every parent, teacher and teenager in America see this documentary so that as many hearts and minds as possible would find more compassion and understanding, and take more initiative in protecting our young people, our future.
Donald Schwartz


Straightlaced includes the perspectives of teens who self-identify as straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning and represents all points of the gender spectrum. With courage and unexpected humor, these students open up their lives to the camera: choosing between “male” and “female” deodorant; deciding whether to go along with anti-gay taunts in the locker room; having the courage to take ballet; avoiding the restroom so they won’t get beaten up; or mourning the suicide of a classmate. It quickly becomes clear that just about everything teens do requires thinking about gender and sexuality.

Coming of age today has become increasingly complex and challenging; Straightlaced offers both teens and adults a way out of anxiety, fear and violence and points the way toward a more inclusive, empowering culture.


Brilliantly illuminates the distorted messages about gender that constrict and sometimes destroy the lives and dreams of high school students across the nation. This documentary is also the most impressive example of ethnography I have seen in 20 years in academia.
Margaret Waller
Ph.D., Associate Professor, Humboldt State University
a documentary that models courageous conversations that we must be having in our teaching, learning, and living. It has served as a pivotal work that has framed my 'Gender Equity in the Classroom' and 'Anti-Discriminatory Education' courses with pre- and in-service teachers within online and face-to-face instruction as well as prompted critical discourse with high school students.
Patrick Finnessey PhD
Toronto University
Heartfelt, fast-moving and fully multicultural . . . An honest, smart, respectful, and nearly comprehensive treatment of gender in teens' lives with the potential to inspire nuanced, spirited conversations.
Megan Honig
School Library Journal
Watching Straightlaced rekindled both the outrage and the hope that came with bringing Harvey Milk's story to the screen. This new documentary is a rare gem that provides a forum for young people to speak eloquently about the courage it takes to break out of the box, live authentic lives, and stand up for justice. I think Harvey would be proud of the kids in Straightlaced, and I urge young and old alike to support Groundspark's campaign to get this film screened in schools and communities across the country.
Bruce Cohen
Producer, "Milk"
Support[s] sociological, feminist, and queer theories that have moved beyond a simply social construction of gender and sexuality to a more complex reading of how gender and sexuality only come into being during the very act of doing.
Susan M. Alexander
Teaching Sociology
GSA Network's research report, Implementing Lessons that Matter, documents how LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum can substantially improve safety, engagement, academic achievement, and success for students. The school in our study with the greatest improvements in student safety used Straightlaced and its curriculum guide as one of their tools for implementing LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. We recommend this outstanding resource for schools across the country that want to improve LGBTQ student safety.
Hilary Burdge
M.A., Research Project Manager, Gay-Straight Alliance Network
The young people in this wonderful documentary have given us the gift of their honesty, insight, and hope even within a context of persistent gender conservatism. Their provocative comments stimulate lively classroom discussions and even debates on topics students otherwise find too 'hot to handle.'
Arlene Avakian
Director of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst
As in Chasnoff's previous recent works, the film is remarkable for the candor with which its subjects speak - in this case, teens discussing their frustrations with gender roles and stereotypes.
Justin Berton
San Francisco Chronicle
Our adults are learning as much as our kids from your films! This terrific film works for all age groups!
Amy Cheney
Librarian & Advocate, Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center
Essential viewing. Beaks down stereotypes and visualizes something we can't afford not to talk about. A vital tool for classrooms around the country.
Jennifer Raab
President, Hunter College
Fabulous! I confess I broke down crying in the middle of the screening. Straightlaced presents a new kind of analysis of gender that drops the insistence that it is women who only matter when we talk about gender.
Trevor Hoppe
Trevor's Blog: Academia and LGBTQ Politics
It's devastating how binary labels can privilege some and limit others, and yet these young people have found big and small ways to thumb their noses at convention to express who they are. Straightlaced will provoke and generate thoughtful and serious conversations about gender among anyone—including adults—who watches it.
Esther Hurh M.Ed
Director, Training & Curriculum, Anti-Defamation League
Witty, smart, articulate, and forthright...a piercing look at what American teens have to say about male and female societal roles, and how teen culture re-enforces conformity to gender expectations, sometimes violently.
Kiillian Melloy
The Edge
My priest friend came up after the movie and gave me a big hug. 'Sarah, that movie was phenomenal! I've never seen anything quite like it.'
Sarah Young
ACLU Blog of Rights
GroundSpark has come out with a new powerful educational documentary in which 'gender intensification' is on high display. High school is like a pressure cooker when it comes to fulfilling gender roles. Straightlaced may be the first film to document what life is really like for teens who try to live up to masculine and feminine ideals, want to live up to them, or sometimes simply refuse them altogether.
Riki Wilchins
National Director, True Child Research Institute
The teens here are smart, thoughtful, and articulate, and they effectively express a wide range of experiences related to gender issues. Highly recommended.
M. Puffer-Rothenberg
Video Librarian
Powerful...Fascinating...An in-depth, fun-but-serious documentary that will be an important learning tool for students, certainly, but also for anyone who has ever been felt constrained by gender—which includes all of us whether we consciously acknowledge it or not.
Andy Birkey
Minneapolis Star Tribune
A wonderful film to explore gender roles, identity and acceptance with today's students. Every high school student in America should see it.
Maureen Costello
Director, Teaching Tolerance
This movie is an amazing testimony, told completely in the voice of young people, of how gender is not binary. Why the full spectrum of gender identity is nothing to fear. A call to action that if we embrace people being exactly who they are that we become stronger rather than weak; we create more love and peace rather than hate and violence.A must see for anyone who has a young person in their lives. This dialogue should be part of every curriculum in school.
Whitney Smith
Founder and CEO of Girls For A Change
Straightlaced makes an invaluable contribution to our community by helping audiences throughout the country understand how their notions and attitudes about gender can do real damage to young people and to society as a whole. Misogyny, sexism, and gender discrimination are the root cause for so much hostility and prejudice against LGBT people. Straightlaced helps us all come to terms with our fear and discomfort around gender and gender nonconformity and in doing so makes the world safer for all of us.
Kate Kendell
Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights
I have been training groups for over 20 years. The more I do this work on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, the more I realize that is all about GENDER. Straightlaced helps me make that point with both youth and professional adult audiences—it is engaging, provocative, and very telling. It is a great discussion tool! Youth audiences see themselves and their experiences reflected. Adult audiences are stunned to see that the stories haven't really changed that much over the years… it STILL about gender and how it's got us all tied up!
Robin P. McHaelen
MSW, Executive Director, True Colors, Inc.
All of our employees watched Straightlaced for a professional learning session. The film greatly assisted their understanding of the many facets of human sexual diversity. The ability to connect human faces to issues that far too frequently become the focus of cerebral and political discussions made a significant impact.
Linda Chernenkoff
Assistant Superintendent, Louis Riel School Division, Winnipeg, Canada
a compelling film that offers a unique lens into the lives of adolescents across America. It is a call for incorporating youth voices into a consistent and committed dialogue about gender, sexuality, and safety in schools.
The Harvard Educational Review
Fifty students talk with bracing candor and insight about how they navigate gender, sexuality, peer pressure, and homophobia. The results are sometimes encouraging, sometimes disheartening, but consistently fascinating. An excellent documentary.
Gary Morris
Bright Lights Film Journal
The heterosexist and homophobic system that Straightlaced exposes goes beyond values and preferences and is shown to threaten the very uniqueness that makes our children beautiful.
Christine Holcomb
Interesting, informative, and very well put together visually. I would recommend it to anyone- but especially to teens.
Deirdre McGarrity
TC Daily Planet
Powerful... Fascinating.... An in-depth, fun-but-serious documentary that will be an important learning tool for students, certainly, but also for anyone who has ever been felt constrained by gender- which includes all of us whether we consciously acknowledge it or not.
Andy Birkey Minnesota News and Culture
What I really like about the film is that... it's about everyone, and how everyone gets put into these little cookie-cutter molds and how weird that is.
Keith Garcia
Programming Director, Starz Film Center in Denver
This film should be required viewing for both students of journalism and political science. I show it to my students to dispel their romantic misconceptions about political reporting.
Sue Horton
Professor of Journalism, University of Southern California
Having viewed several other documentaries that are targeted toward the women's studies classroom...Straightlaced [is] well constructed and refreshingly inclusive. The film is as political as it is informative and enjoyable....The filmmakers show an array of identities across the gender spectrum from various standpoints. Standpoint theory is often taught in women's studies classrooms, and the film provides several examples of this theory.
Clitha A. Mason and Angela M. Nelson
Films for the Feminist Classroom
I used Straightlaced to teach Identity and Ethnic Studies to English Language Learners. It was a class I entered halfway through the year, inheriting a lot of misogyny and homophobia from the lack of community building in the fall. The film worked great; the students loved it, and it led to conversations that totally changed the dynamic. Thank you!
Jody Sokolower
Berkeley, CA High School, Editor, Rethinking Schools

Awards and Screenings

Best Documentary, Baltimore Women's Film Festival
CINE Golden Eagle Award
Audience Choice Award, Western Psychological Association
Frameline: San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
OUTFEST: Los Angeles International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
London International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
NEWFEST: New York International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
PBS Television Network
Focus Awards

Director Commentary

I am fascinated by the internal struggles most teens go through to navigate the cultural
pressures caused by gender pressures and homophobia, and wanted to make a film that
would help bring those private conundrums out into the open.

We started working on Straightlaced when my oldest son was 16. I was deeply affected
by the subtle, hard‐to‐discuss ways that I saw him and his friends trying to make sense
of all the messages they were getting about how men are supposed to be. From the way
they dress, to the way they are supposed to interact with girls, the pressures to prove
their masculinity by having sex or developing big muscles, and the constant threat of
being labeled as gay, it seemed as if the space young men are given to move around in
got smaller and smaller the minute they hit middle school, and then even more
constricted in high school.

Being a man means demonstrating that you aren’t weak—which means showing that
you are not female, which means that you can’t be seen as homosexual. It’s all
connected, yet there are very few opportunities today for youth to deconstruct these
equations, to develop critical thinking and analysis of these deeply held cultural norms.

For girls it isn’t much better. From the constant bombardment of media images about
what women are supposed to look like, to the pressures to dumb down in order to get a
guy, or the unspoken clothing rules you must follow to not be called a dyke, it’s obvious
that becoming a woman clearly comes with a mandatory script as well.

Much of the film and education work that has been done to date on any related topics
has focused on the struggles of LGBT youth themselves. But there has been very little
attention paid to how all youth—and all adults—are deeply affected by homophobia
and gender pressures, whether or not they are gay or straight.

To make Straightlaced, producer Sue Chen and I visited many high schools. In classroom
after classroom we would introduce ourselves saying, “We are making a documentary
about what it’s like to be in high school and the pressures that students face just
because they are male or female. Would anyone like to speak with us?”

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Director's Commentary
  • DVD Extras
  • Resources for Educators

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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