This week as a result of a few encounters I’ve asked myself a question I think most gay men ask constantly: Are there degrees of gay? Does it even matter? Do descriptors used to classically categorize what a gay man is bother you as much as they bother me? I vacillate on whether to even discuss the topic as sometimes it seems when you describe the things you are unfortuantely degrading or insulting the the things you aren’t. So I made sure to check my ego at the door and make sure I illustrated my point without demeaning or disrespecting while putting the topic in perspective.
This all started earlier in the week as I had a debate with an old college buddy of mine. Keep in mind that even as compassionate, loyal, and great guy he is sometimes he’s one of the most stubborn people I’ve ever meet with a severe case of the ‘dudebro’ syndrome.. He’s straight and we were talking about a date he had recently that didn’t go well. I asked at what point did the date go wrong and he explained that as he was about to pay the bill, she asked how much her half was and he responded saying don’t worry I’ve got it. She insisted that she’d feel more comfortable paying for half and appreciated the gesture but wanted to chip in. The bill was 137. 82 without tip so I see one of the reasons she wanted to help pay. He smirked and said, “just let me be the man and chillax” (I cringed when I heard him say “chillax” seriously who the hell says that). Clearly this did not bode well for the rest of the date.
As I fought back the laughter, he didn’t understand what went wrong that night, and I asked him had he ever went dutch or let his date/girlfriend pay for half the bill and he emphatically replied no. I responded saying well with any of my past boyfriends we either split the bill or took turns paying for the meal. This was also true for movies, concert tickets, etc., with the exception being presents for anniversaries, birthdays, or random gifts. Wasn’t ever an issue and I then asked why instead of him just going along with his date and having a few extra bucks in his pocket and very bluntly he said “thats what a man does.” Really? What the hell is this? I need to re-evlauate the people I call friends. This whole discussion was spiraling.
The conversation then proceeded into danger territory which means most likely he’s about to make an asinine comment what would irk the hell out of me (he already did that with a “that’s what a man does” comment but still). He assumed that this was always the case as well in gay couples, that we assign the effeminate/masculine roles to our relationships and act accordingly to those stereotypical roles. He wrongly assumed that it must be this way with all gay men including me. I informed him that of course this was not the case in which he replied it should be to make things easier. What? Profanities from me to him ensued for a couple of minutes and I pulled myself together to hear what gems he’d pull out to explain as our friendship in that moment seemed strained at best. He continued on with this irritating verbiage and also ascertained that gay men that are represented in tv/movies in the same way. If we were in the same vicinity and had a pie it would’ve been plastered to his face. But despite my anger I understood why he thought that. Where that opinion came from and his justifications, no matter how infuriating, made sense.
Almost always in media a gay man has only two degrees in which he’ s depicted as either very effeminate in nature that wears makeup and is into fashion, sparkly things, and unicorns (why can’t unicorns be unisex anyway, uni means both so get with it people) or very jock like that loves sports, spits on any outdoor service, or routinely scratching their crotch (we all do that, it’s our junk and we have to adjust) that has this 11th hour realization of his sexuality. But both are expected to provide some sort of relief and often depicted as caricatures with no depth or real insight into why they are they are or provide some sage advice to the protagonist while they themselves remained unexamined.
I love variety in everything and naturally I want to see from time to time attributes in the gay male character that mirror my own as it helps me empathize with the character/story. Needless to say that I don’t fit in either category. Yes I love beauty in just about everything but I don’t wear makeup or paint my nails, sashsay down a runway (how awesome would I be if I could do that!) or resort to calling shopping “retail therapy”. I’m also not the guy that’ll catch every football game and tell you what the last play could impact the game (actually I do know that but pretend I don’t). There’s degrees to who I am as a gay man and I believe this applies to all of us.
I recently read an article in Madame Noire titled Are Gay Men the New ‘Mammies’ In Reality Television? which described the normative medium for gay men on tv/movies. A very effeminate non threatening homosexual man that loves fashion (honestly who wants to look like crap other than hipsters) that served as the ‘mammie’ or the person that is there for the protagonist to give little saged gems of wisdom, great fashion tips with an immaculate timing for comedic puns. Now this article focused mainly on gay African American males but this stereotype is used no matter the race/ethnicity. It had some really good points but made me think more about gay characters in media and there’s only two degrees of gay shown.
Think about it, in the last ten movies/tv shows you’ve watched that featured a gay man how many of them weren’t written as an effeminate gay written to ease the tension while endearingly (and patronizingly derogatorily) referred to as “the gays” or “my gay BFF”? Or the extremely masculine guy that somehow is also written as some sort of comic relief as he bursts forward proclaiming his love for a male antagonist? Or even when the aforementioned characteristics aren’t done any justice and written to be more than one dimensional? I’m witty and have a knack for breaking tension because I hate awkward tension but other than that I recognize nothing of myself in these typical appearances. I like action, drama, suspense, horror, with some classics thrown in and some good book adaptions. I don’t play fantasy football, and I don’t know every line in Sex and the City (I’ve only watched 4 episodes and the concept bugged me). All I keep thinking the entire time I see these representations are “why is this caricature there and what is he doing?” But in the media and by and large the public, this is the only accepted options that I can be as a gay man. Again don’t get me wrong, none of these descriptors in which I express I am not a part of are bad or negative in any way. Be who you are and if all of those two scenarios are you love and embrace that in all you do. It’s just not who I am and I want to see variety. We have the same infinite amount of different yet all the same beautiful characteristics and I want to see honest representations of us.
So yes, I am saying I want to see every variation of the gay man on tv and in movies. Do they have to do it in every movie? Absolutely not. Writing a specific character that fits those situations is great and if that character is what best fills the plot with rich subtext then I’m all for that. But does that have to be the only representation of the gay man? Of course not, nor should it be. I’m saying don’t write every gay character to fit only these strict attributes that we see every time there script calls for a gay man. As I explained to my friend, who I think is now a litte more aware in the variation in the human condition, I have a lot of descriptors that define who i am and i want to see that more on my screen.