Saturday, April 11, 2009

Giving Sodomites a Bad Name Is So Gay

The other day I happened on an essay titled "What Teenage Boys Can Learn from the Movie 'Twilight'" at OpenSalon. The author, who calls himself Knightwriter, tells us that
One of the things that I have not been able to grasp in my ten years of gay-dom is the startling, and certainly disturbing, number of things that adult gay men have in common with teenage girls. Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, 90210, High School Musical, American Idol, raising voices and waving arms when excited, use of the phrase “Oh My God” and melodramatic movies starring unrealistically stylized leading men/boys who behave like perfect third-sexed robots – meaning they do things that no human heterosexual or homosexual males actually do. Case in point: Twilight.

I watched “Twilight” with 3 of my gay male friends in their 40s last night. Our hosts were jump up and down, scream OMG giddy about this movie. They had pre-ordered it on Netflix. They had made a homemade but portable dinner that could be eaten in front of the television – lest a delayed start time inflict needless anxiety. When we missed the first line of the movie because the volume was too low, we rewound and started again. Just in case.
I'm not sure how many years of gay-dom I have (fifty-eight, since I was born? forty-six, since I entered puberty? thirty-eight, since I came out?), but one thing I have trouble grasping is the disturbing tendency of all kinds of people to stereotype themselves -- which is their own business, but other people as well? Forbear, girlene!

Of course I'm out of touch with most other gay men, so the fact that I haven't read the Twilight books nor seen the movie means nothing. Maybe every other gay man on earth is OMG giddy over the movie and its antihero. Still, I doubt that Knightwriter has polled the entire gay male population on this. I mean, aren't we also supposed to go ga-ga over female diva types -- Bette Davis, Judy, Eartha Kitt, Madonna? I know that many other gay men are OMG giddy over other male types and look-down-their-nose contemptuous of the twink type Knightwriter and his friends favor. I can't remember offhand who it was who said that when writers speak globally of "all Americans", they actually mean "me and my friends", but I suspect it applies here too.

Nor do all straight girls and women go for the type, though the popularity of shonen ai and yaoi manga -- Japanese comics which depict impossibly willowy adolescent males who fall in love and have hot, tormented affairs with each other -- should not be ignored. Still, when I see romance fiction for adult women on display, it seems to me that the Yanni / Chippendales musclebound type has not lost its appeal among American females.

The conclusion Knightwriter draws from his vast experience of the gay male and female psyches, and the advice he offers to teenaged boys, is no doubt just as sound:
All straight teenage boys listen to me. Don’t be fun, thoughtful, quirky or smart if you want to get the girl. Be a dick. But be a dick who can stop cars with your bare hands. And stare a lot. And look depressed. But be good looking while you’re depressed. ...
And so on. Reminds me of Polonius' advice to Hamlet (Be generous and open-handed, but stingy too). The first thing I'd want to point out to Knightwriter is that fantasies are not reality. The kind of guy who makes you swoon in a movie or a novel is not necessarily the kind of guy you'd want to meet, let alone bone, in real life. Lawrence Block let his aging detective Matt Scudder express this in one of his crime novels: the tears you shed while watching a movie aren't real tears, any more than the fear you feel while watching a horror movie is real fear. The same mood swings that fascinate you in a character on the screen would drive you crazy in a real person. Many teenage girls, and even some 40-something gay men, know this; others learn it in due course.

Okay, so what? Knightwriter has written a foolish bit of fluff that would fit nicely in the pages of a mainstream glossy magazine. The corporate media like conventional gender stereotypes, so of course they'll give space to a gay writer who declares that gay men are basically teenaged girls wearing the body of a man. (Or are teenaged girls really gay men wearing the body of a teenaged girl, like matryoshska dolls nested inside each other ad infinitum?) What really got my attention were some of the comments, especially this one:
This is an utter embarrassment; a perpetuation of a stereotype circa 1970 and "Boys in the Band". Please stop this. It's not fair to the normal gay guys just trying undo the damage of the limp-wristed-I-really-want-to -be-a-woman scourge.
Or this comment. Or this one. (It's not limited to this story: look at this comment at the sports blog.) If there's one thing that bugs me more than "the limp-wristed-I-really-want-to-be-a-woman scourge [!]", it's the I-really-want-to-be-a-man gay men who call themselves "normal." As I've pointed out before, the third-sex stereotype is enshrined in "sexual orientation science", on which many respectable Homo-Americans are willing to stake their claim for equal rights and full all-American normality.

It also bugs me that so many gay people think that gay men who act like screaming teenaged girls somehow justify antigay bigotry. I mean, it's not like straight men ever jump up and down screaming in front of a television screen -- while watching a pro football game, say. It's not like commercial entertainment doesn't depict straight men stereotypically, as sex-obsessed potheads who watch movies solely in the hope that this or that starlet will bare her nipples in it; or good-hearted clods who can be tamed and domesticated by the right woman but never really, deep in their hearts, get the point of housekeeping or personal hygiene. (Dave Barry has made a cottage industry out of this latter model.) And it's not like commercial entertainment doesn't exploit the fascination of young straight males with the bodies of defined, oiled male bodybuilders in loincloths. (The official excuse for this is identification -- the little lads want to be those bodybuilders, not possess them -- but I think that's oversimple; one of the beauties of fantasy is that it can let us have things both ways.) I mean, wouldn't "equality" mean our right to be depicted in The Media as one-dimensionally as straight people are? A right which we seem already to have won, come to think of it. My real complaint about Knightwriter's piece is not that he deploys stereotypes, but that he does it so unimaginatively.