Being gay and half-Chinese, I don’t have the energy to get angry at each bigoted slur or belief aired in public. The Edge FM’s sponsorship of a same sex marriage between two straight best friends is my exception. Travis McIntosh and Matt McCormick, won the ‘Love You Man’ competition comprised of contestants willing to marry to prove how far they would go to win a trip to next year’s Rugby World Cup in England. I’ve had no problem when the Edge devalues marriage in general, for example the ‘Marry a Stranger’ competition in 1999 and 2002. ‘Love You Man’ is different because it treats gay marriage as a “how low will you go” challenge to straight men to retain their masculinity in the face of public humiliation. Despite that gay marriage is legal in New Zealand, this Edge competition has channeled a hidden bias – even among many well meaning people – that gay marriage is inferior; something cute and unserious, like if you dressed two dogs in tuxedos and married them in front of an audience of cats for lols.
This isn’t the first time the Edge has treated gay experiences as a joke. After losing the Edge competition ‘Would You Rather’, morning crew co-host Dom Harvey marched in last year’s Auckland Pride Parade dressed in a wig, g-string, and holding the sign ‘Queen for a Day.’ Same logic: gay experiences are something to be endured by straight people as a dare or punishment.
That openly gay co-host Mike Puru took part in both stunts doesn’t matter; he’s not the emperor of the gays. Nor are the Auckland Pride Parade people who approved Queen For a Day excused; vomit breathing publicity-seeking monsters that they are.
The limitation of our self-professed tolerance of gays and legal equality is that we’re still thought differently, most revealing in those candid moments of well meaning but condescending benevolence. Like when upon learning we’re gay someone offers to set us up with their gay friend. Because sexual preferences and matching genitalia does a marriage make. Often we’re seen as an extension of the needs of others. Like when it’s assumed we’d be a good shopping pal, personal stylist or willing sperm donor.
Nowhere is this darker impulse more notable than film and television where the rise of acclaimed mainstream gay, lesbian, and transgender-themed films is bittersweet. Milk, Transamerica, The Dallas Buyers Club, The Kids Are Alright had leading roles played by straight biological men and women. The broader trend of using straight actors for gay roles reinforces a dangerous notion that only people who look and act like the majority can legitimise the experiences of others. If people need that, it’s a sad indictment. The straight actor playing a gay role as a ‘challenge’ is demeaning. Symbolic of this is James Franco. His approach in seeking or being cast in numerous gay roles is applauded by many – gay and straight – but I view it as indirectly perpetuating the cycle of discrimination against deserving gay actors. Even his own teasing insinuations that he might be gay aren’t charming to many of us who are gay. He is more like some self-identifying bohemian straight guy who makes out with men at gay bars to “pick up chicks” or perhaps likes the romantic ideal of “being gay” to appropriate all the cultural and visual style that go with it – without all that gross gay sex stuff.
Hetereosexual men like Franco dabbling in our culture for vanity or shock jocks dishing out gay experiences as punishment denies us of our identity being seen as equally legitimate, and so we often end up being the plaything or extension of others.