'Bend it Like Beckham' Is the Gayest Love Story Never Told
While "Bend it Like Beckham" is often mistaken for a coming-of-age story about soccer player best friends, many of us saw our own baby queer desires in Jess and Jules' relationship.
Photo by Fox Searchlight Pictures
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This year, I don’t want a Valentine—I want the Jules to my Jess. It’s no secret that the classic 2000s sports movie Bend it Like Beckham is Sapphic as fuck—the movie is pretty much about being gay and wearing Adidas tracksuits. But it’s also about teamwork, friendship, and how those bonds can escalate to said Adidas tracksuits rubbing against each other. The movie follows Jess, played by Parminder Nagra, and Jules, played by Keira Knightley, on their journey to being accepted by their families—not as queers, but as female soccer players.
This duo was my OTP [one true pairing] growing up. I identified so hard with both of these soccer lesbos, from their bullheaded rebellion against the oppression of push-up bras, to expressing outright disgust at the notion of dating boys, to their unrelenting LGBTQ allyship (that probably turned into, well, gayness). So, naturally, I really wanted them to end up together. It’s a damn shame that they didn’t, but this Valentine’s Day, I’m officially welcoming Bend it Like Beckham into the canon of lesbian rom-coms, because that’s what it is. I mean, have you seen their chemistry?!
First of all, I would say half of the dialogue in Bend It Like Beckham is between Jess’s relatives, who tease her about dating boys, and Jess responding with blanching, gagging, or growing visibly upset. But she’s supposed to be rejecting men because she’s “not like other girls,” not because she’s gay.
There’s a lot of metaphors in the movie—which, holy shit, is extremely homophobic—for accepting yourself (and your children) as they are. Unsurprisingly, the only two characters who aren’t viciously anti-gay are Jess, who accepts her friend Tony when he comes out to her (congrats on doing the bare minimum!), and Jules, who tells her homophobic mother Paula, “Being a lesbian isn’t that big of a deal,” after she’s accused of being gay.
Metaphors aside, the girls’ aesthetic is ludicrously lesbian. “Just because I wear trackies and play sports does not make me a lesbian,” Jules spits at her mom. Ok true, but you’re ignoring some major signifiers, Jules, like being in love with your best friend who also exclusively wears “trackies” and decorated her room with a serial killer-esque altar to David Beckham. After all, obsession is the gayest quality.
Jules’s room is covered in posters of Mia Hamm and other “big butch women,” in the words of her bigoted mother. At one point, Jess’s parents accuse her of kissing a man at a bus stop (even though it was Jules, and they weren’t kissing), and Jess says, “Kissing. Me? A boy? You’re mad, you’re all bloody mad.” At another, Jules’s bigoted mother takes her bra shopping and Jules refuses to buy anything except sports bras. She also dons numerous bandanas, which we all know is the definitive mark of lesbianism in the 2000s.
There’s even Sapphic symbolism that follows this should-be couple around. At a club in Germany, when Jess and Jules’ competition over their coach/beard Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) starts brewing, Jess and Jules dance with him in a weird dancefloor threesome—and they’re literally dancing to “I Turn To You” by Melanie C, AKA Sporty Spice, a gay icon.
Speaking of our Lordt and Sporty Savior, Jules’s mom once sneers, “All I’m sayin’ is there’s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella.” No shit. People are gay, Paula. (For the record, there are two Mel C songs in this movie, but who’s counting?)
Then there’s the gay gazing. Oh god, the gazing. Before Jules even introduces herself to Jess to recruit her for the women’s football league, she watches Jess from across the park twice. Like, she hides behind trees and ogles her from park benches. Gazing is like literally 90 percent of WLW relationships—it’s our mating call. If I had a nickel for every time I gay gazed at a woman from across a field…
In the end, after a brutal bout of jealousy between the two girls, Jess gets her ooey-gooey, romantic airport kiss with Joe—which is such an eye-roll. One, because their chemistry is so forced. Two, because she walks away from the kiss and straight on to a plane to America with Jules, who’s wearing a leather jacket. I mean, I love Jonathan Rhys Meyers as much as the next, but at the end of the day, Joe is just some broken sad-boi with daddy issues who fell for one of his players. Grow up, Joe.
On her super-queer Collette press tour, Keira Knightley told PrideSource that she wants a lesbian Bend it Like Beckham sequel and agreed that her and Parminder’s characters should’ve ended up together. So there you have it. It’s normal to have a crush on your best friend—most queer women have done it. But if you sneak around in broad daylight buying soccer cleats and laughing together in a pub over drinks and sneakers, then fly away wearing leather to play professional soccer together…Then it’s not just a crush. It’s an OTP.