Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Truth About Being Gay

Several hours ago, my brother Alexi sent me a link to a Gawker article titled "The Secrets Gay Men Don't Want Straight People to Know." Even if the guy in the photo that accompanied the link hadn't been so adorable, how could I resist a hook like that?

It was an interesting read. Not because it was particularly insightful, or even completely accurate, but because as I read it, I couldn't figure out whether the title was supposed to be ironic. Take this "secret": "Not All Gay Couples Are Monogamous." Um, duh! Don't the holy rollers always trot that one out when they're sharing their laundry list of why gay men don't deserve the right to legally marry?

Not only is it old news, but it also ignores the important point that if women weren't generally inclined to demand marital monogamy, denying their men the right to pursue their manifest sexual destiny (though I should also point out that women cheat, too), straight couples would be equally non-monogamous.

What I'm trying to say is this: The inclination to not be monogamous isn't a gay condition. It's a human one. Whether we choose monogamy or not (and I do believe it's up to individual couples to decide if it's right for them), human beings are not meant to be monogamous. Gay men are just more honest about it.

I won't delve too deeply (pun intended) into what the article claims about "bottoming" and amyl nitrate, or the link between the two (one I only recently found out existed), except to say that you really can't believe everything you read on Gawker. Overall, though, the list was a bit too focused on sex, as if that's all there is to the lives of gay men. It also assumes that straight people are totally clueless about what goes on inside the minds of gay men -- or at least what's rumored to be going on. We want to f**k all the hot straight boys? Who doesn't know that?

But the Gawker piece did save the best for last. The one revelation that made me sit up and cheer on the inside was the final one: "We Don't Love Drag Queens As Much As You Do." Yes! I've actually expressed my distaste for drag on this very blog, and it wasn't until last year when I saw several first-rate drag shows in Thailand that I started to warm up to it.

Alas, it was a short-lived thaw. A couple of weeks into Bangkok, I was back to avoiding the drag shows like the plague, showing up at DJ Station no earlier than midnight, just to be sure that the drag queens were safely tucked away offstage.

In general, I find drag queens to be totally tiresome, and I don't have a single gay friend who doesn't agree, in general. But I think many straight people feel more comfortable with that over-the-top sexless gay persona. It's the same reason why they laughed the hardest at Jack on Will & Grace, while all the gays were gaga for Karen.

If I can draw that uncomfortable gay/straight-black/white parallel, it's kind of like the way white people seem to prefer their black male superstars to be somewhat asexual. (Usher is a rare exception, and Prince always got by on a sort of androgynous sex appeal.) That's why the biggest ones usually make us laugh, or they play the avuncular/grandfatherly figure, dispensing sage advice.

One could make a similar case for actresses not named Halle Berry or, for a very brief window in the '90s, Angela Bassett. Aside from Berry's performance in Monster's Ball, when was the last time a black actress was Oscar-nominated for playing a sexy character, the bombshell? We've had a decade of black female Academy Award nominees playing maternal figures, damaged goods and the help. Now I want to see Viola Davis as the sexy femme fatale. I mean, have you seen her legs? She could totally pull it off!

Then there's Will Smith, who, incidentally, played gay but didn't kiss the guy onscreen in his first major film, Six Degrees of Separation. He hasn't been gay for pay since, but in a way, that performance set the stage for a career that would be largely sex-free. Smith is a handsome guy, but could you imagine him ever being named People's Sexiest Man Alive? He's black, he's beautiful, and he's covered pretty much every Hollywood base except romantic lead. One wonders where his career would be today if he'd gone all the way in his first big-screen gig and followed a more challenging path.

Even Denzel Washington, who has been named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive and who was said to have dissuaded Smith from kissing a guy onscreen in Six Degrees, has spent most of his A-list years in action flicks. Mo Better Blues was one of the few times that he was allowed to -- or he allowed himself to -- let his sex appeal drive a film, or where he played a character who was defined by his sensuality, or his sexuality. What if he and Tom Hanks had switched roles in Philadelphia? Recent Golden Globe winner Idris Elba is every bit as good-looking as Smith, Washington and Ryan Gosling, and he's talented, too. It will be interesting to see if he can break through the glass ceiling that has trapped sexy black actors like Terrence Howard and Djimon Hounsou on the wrong side.

Getting back to the drag queens, like the asexual black superstars, they represent a dominant factor in a minority world that people from the majority world feel comfortable embracing. The campier they are, the better -- if you're straight. For this gay man (and if the Gawker article is correct, many others), the great irony of drag queens is that one of the quintessential elements of gay life is largely for the entertainment of straight people, sort of like Adam Lambert.

It's a twisted kind of acceptance, but we'll take what we can get.
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