Two weekends ago I was invited by a friend and his partner to accompany them to the screening of “Kiss Me Kill Me,” which was—and I mean this from the very bottom of my heart—the worst LGBT movie I have ever seen in my entire life. I urge you to watch it only so that you can experience the very bottom of a pit of poorly done gay films. It was so poorly written I think I’d rather eat live worms than see it again; a parade of old stereotypes and mediocre acting that the director buffoonishly claimed was “like Hitchcock.” I wanted to die.
Of course, the problem with stereotypes is not that they are necessarily incorrect but that they are incomplete. It’s interesting to hear gay people talk disparagingly these days about shows like Will & Grace and how they’re oh-so-happy we have shows and films that depict “real” gay men now. As if they have never met a man just like the effeminate Jack. As if those stereotypes did not exist for a reason and as if that reason weren’t the very real gay men who do act like that, stereotype and all.
Attacks on the gay community are so easy to make from the inside in part because the idea of what this community is—and in what direction it is moving—shifts so dramatically from person to person. While I thought our gay marriage victory in the Supreme Court was a triumphant arc in “our” history, many of my more…radical (if that is the word) …queer friends saw it as another symptom of our consumptive decline into hetero-normalization. These are queers who have t-shirts with slogans like “fags bash back.” I’m not that much of a sartorial activist. So how might our definitions of “the community,” and in which direction it is moving, differ?
To say “the gay community’’ is to paint such a broad stroke in three words that one may as well be saying “the human race.” Of course, there are generalities, but they hardly hold up under scrutiny. I’m in the camp that thinks our increased visibility and acceptance has brought more freedom and less pain, but there are certain things particular to me that have allowed me to take advantage of, and experience, these changes. Namely, geography; living in a liberal state, etc.
It must also be admitted that in becoming mainstream we have let in—or perhaps revealed is more apt—our latent mainstream diseases. Misogyny, a masculine bias, and racism to name a few.
Which reminds me of Michael Cunningham (okay yes, perhaps the patron-saint-writer of privileged gay white men) in his biting critique of the type in The Hours:
“You see men like Walter all over Chelsea and The Village, men who insist, at thirty or forty or older, that they have always been chipper and confident, powerful of body; that they’ve never been strange children, never taunted or despised.”
Of course one could argue that these men are only trying to enjoy their lives in a way that negates the pain and sorrow of growing up in a world that was indeed hateful of their authentic selves; to move on in a world that is more welcoming, as people who are genuinely more at ease with their respective identities. In David M. Halperin’s book How To Be Gay he speaks of the impossibility of undoing the fact that gay childhood and adolescence is spent with an unconsummated longing for gay socialization…one that is never (in his analysis) ‘made up for’ in later life. “Which is why the myriad opportunities for sexual satisfaction and love that gay liberation offers us have led not to the withering away of the gay porn industry, but to its hypertrophic expansion.” Well, that certainly made me think.
One can also say that an adherence to certain superficial ideals results in the bleaching of history and the complacency that many have noted in the gay community dealing with issues that are still so very real; the fact that gay men are the only group for which HIV infection rates are rising in this country, for instance.
Unfortunately, one has to smile at Cunningham’s line “about how gay men have taken to imitating the boys who tortured them in high school.” It’s too withering, too fitting a critique not to cling to, especially in the era of Masc4Masc.
And the question of representation as we enter the mainstream is also a biggie. Is it any wonder nearly all representation of queer men remains alabastrine? That is, white, white, white. Is it surprising then that the representation of queer men has been virtually hijacked by straight white males in nearly all major moments of television and cinema? Think Gyllenhaal and Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Penn in Milk, Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Damon and Douglas in Behind the Candelabra, James Franco in, like… everything! The list most certainly goes on, I assure you.
So while, yes, I do think our becoming more mainstream is in general leading to a safer world for gays, it also brings with it a lot of issues for which I can’t blame those “radical queer” friends of mine lamenting. It’s impossible to be comprehensive in a little blog post (and I’m sure I’ll revisit and revise on this topic), so these have been just a few critiques from a gay Bostonian as he sees it day to day…I have not even scratched the surface of the long, rich, expanding history of lgbt life.
Undoubtedly one’s definitions are based on one’s experiences. Did you notice how everything I’ve written is from the focal point of gay men? To make a point about language, I’d have to say that the problem of “the gay community” as a label is mostly that people think their definition of it is the definition, while I’m inclined to think of it as a nebulous, altogether untamable idea that exists in large part where all ideas do…in one’s head.