Greg Araki’s Totally F**ked Up (1993), A Love Letter to a Messy Gay Adolescence

by Taro Williams

A group of Queer tears hang out on a street corner at night, bored, they talk about Joy Division, complain about their Republican parents, and mock gay culture. This is Los Angeles in the earlier 90s, but it feels like something you would see today in Montreal or Berlin. The kids are smoking Cigarettes, riding skateboards, wear thrift clothing, and sport awful haircuts. In short, they’re teenagers, in all their glorious naive flaws and angsty punk attitudes.  

I was twenty when I first came across Greg Araki New Queer Wave coming of age film Totally F**ked Up (1993). At the time, I spoke to a sense of rebellion and loneliness I was carrying. Seeing characters in film that looked and talked liked my friends shocked me. At the time, we thought what we were doing was special, that we were the only gays who were different. We did not fit in with the mainstream “yas queen” types of crowd. To us, we thought we were revolutionary. I mean, could you imagine, to be gay and prefer shoe gaze over Rupaul, or a mosh pit over voguing, the scandal of it all. 

Of course, I realize how small minded such a worldview was. But at the time, it really did feel that was. We were still kids living out of parents houses who knew very little about the real world. We were children of the 2010s, in the peak of millennial liberal gentrification. All we knew was the explicit homophobia from the post-AIDS era, and a strong sanitization effort pushed down upon us by the gay elites in the name of “gay marriage” that came afterwards. For us, being gay and alternative was out of the question, gayness was strictly reserved for instagram influencers and wholesome same-sex families looking to adopt children. There was no room for the deviant in this climate.

Yes, Tik-Tok Eboys, Marxist twitter catgirls, and they/them hyper pop DJ would eventually come to restore the punkness to the LGBTQ community, but at the time we felt alone. For us, Totally F**ked Up (as well as all the other gay things we could find online from the 80s and 90s) became an important lifeline for us. We needed to know our history, our place in this world. We needed to know that it was okay to be gay and not listen to Lady Gaga. We needed to see Andy smoke a joint with a stranger outside a goth club while saying, “I smoke therefore, I am”, in the most pretension way. We needed to see a Michelle, the radical lesbian, accuse the Regan administration of literal “genocide” in a thick Valley girl accent. We needed to see Tommy ranting about his hatred of Drag Queens after getting kicked out of his house by his Conservative parents. We needed to know that Queerness wasn’t another label just as restrictive as Straightness.

The reality is, not all gay people found liberation through the academy of gender studies or in a campy reality TV shows. Some of us had to find liberation through trial and error, through grimy gay bars and grungy city streets. Consumed in our own sweat and grit that we did not have time for sparkle or glamour. Digging up old zines through online databases and then blasting our anger out through slam poetry or skateboarding just to build our community. I’m not saying that one way is more valid then the other. I’ve seen so many of my friends sparkle with inner joy waving a rainbow during pride, or sharing a picture of their new fabulous Zara outfit on social media. But why was that the only way to achieve queer liberation? Why was the Queerness in Queer earned and replaced with mainstream pop music? Why is taking a selfie with your favourite politician at Pride more social acceptable than two trench coat wearing fags kissing to shoe gaze music. Why as kids did we feel like we had to become social justice activists and proper role models for the LGBT community?

Of course, I’m not here to bash gay marriage and liberals, I’m thankful for the progress made, but why did that progress have to come at the expense of our counter culture? What have we lost in the name of “progress”?

Pride began a riot. It was messy and chaotic from the beginning. It was made by trouble makers, not good boys and girls following the rules. That’s why films like Totally F**ked Up are so important. We need to remember and preserve the edginess in the Queer in order to protect its soul, everything for which the rainbow stands for. 

We need films like Totally F**ked Up to celebrate the messy chaotic lonely youth that many of us had to (and continue to) endure. We need films that celebrate a pre-gentrified urban scape. We need films that celebrate a sense of rawness.

I’m not saying that Totally F**ked Up is perfect, far from it. The femphobia is rampant throughout the film. However it was (and still is) a groundbreaking piece of work. It had all the messy teenage drama before Skins and Euphoria, with an all Queer multi-racial cast of characters. And how come only straight people can be problematic? Queer kids need space to to be problematic and messy. To make mistakes and grow from it. Why do we expect Queer kids to grow up so much faster than they’re straight peers. Let the kids be kids!

Anyway, that’s my Queer Joy. A hot messy of a problematic, low-budget film. A film that does not have any real plot, other than a group of edgy racial diverse gay teens complain about society to Jesus and the Mary chain. 

Araki, Gregg, director. Totally F***Ed Up. Strand Releasing, 1993.