I've recently been watching a lot of ABC's sitcom, Happy Endings. It's a single camera comedy set in Chicago revolving around a break up within a tight group of friends. It's simple and cute. One of the friends, the adorable ne'er-do-well Max, is gay.
I had a crush on Max, so I googled him and discovered that lots of TV writers crush on him too. They praise his schlubbiness, his pudge, his bad behavior and his general "un gayness." People, it turns out, like a gay character who doesn't seem "gay." Presumably because he's pudgy and likes sports and wears cargo pants. What's more, tv writers appreciate that Max's homosexuality is a non-issue amongst the other characters, straights all.
I've heard all this before, of course. Even from gay people. "I just wish there could be a gay character where nobody makes an issue of it." On the gay person's part I think it's a desire for homosexuality to be de stigmatized. A sort of, "Imagine if we didn't have to deal with this shit." But on the part of television networks I feel wary. I'm afraid a "straight acting" gay guy translates to "this will make us look progressive even though this character will never have sex or fall in love or deal with discrimination." Advance press says Max is getting a boyfriend in Season 2, so I'm happy to report that gay tokenism doesn't seem to be the case here.
Still, a couple of things:
1. I notice more and more that gays and straights alike have a distaste for sissy for effeminate gay men. I see it in the comments sections for gay blogs. I understand the desire more varied depictions of gay men, but it's obvious when you read how much bile these dudes pour on femmes that they have mucho internalized homophobia. They're the same queens that hate drag and want to drop the T from LGBT so we seem more "normal."
And mainstream media, too, is quick to praise gay characters on TV that aren't effeminate. Characters like Max or the ROTC son from United States of Tara. "This is no Curt from Glee," they say, or, "This is no Jack MacFarland." I love my Max and all, but I have to ask: What the fuck is wrong with Curt? Or Jack?*
In both cases there's an implied annoyance with effeminate men. I keep thinking of the Backstage critic who wrote of my performance in Lonesome Winter by saying something like, "Joshua Conkel is just not funny, especially when he acts like a bitchy fashion designer." Fashion designer is a euphameism if you're too slow to keep up.
2. And what the fuck is wrong with me? Oh god, the traits critics praise in max are the same traits I found attractive. I hate the term "straight acting" but... am I attracted to straight acting guys? Or are the definitions for "straight acting" or "gay acting" totally arbitrary and made up? I myself don't fall into either category. I'm pretty effeminate acting, but I'm covered in tattoos and I prefer The Misfits to Lady Gaga. That ain't very Chelsea. But I'm totally attracted to rockabilly dudes or guys who seem like they might be criminals, and I suppose that makes me "into straight acting guys." Blech! That was so gross to type. Because, why one or the other? Seriously, this question is gnawing at me. Television, please help me.**
3. I'm not in the camp who thinks it's good to have gay characters where their sexuality is "a non-issue" because- nine times out of ten- it's a non-issue because it's never discussed or dealt with in any way whatsoever. I love LGBT characters on television, effeminate or not, but not if they're just there to help some lady get dressed. Likewise if they're only character trait is to be the opposite of whatever "gay acting" is. They have to be fully formed, in and out of love, sexual, struggling, etc. Just like all the other characters. All of my closest friends are straight and you know what? i would never allow them to turn my homosexuality into a non-issue. Same goes with my family and coworkers and the man who runs the bodega on my corner. It's always there and on the table (not physically), whether people like it or not.
*I had problems with Will & Grace, but not because Jack was effeminate.
**Ugh. Straight men are so lucky they don't have to think about this shit all the time.