GOING GAY FOR PLAY

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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.

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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.

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14 comments

  1. lizm3

    Great post, and mostly agreed with. I wouldnt read too much into people trying to set you up with their gay friend – I get that with couples trying to set me up with their single guy friend, just because we’re both single! Really interesting otherwise.. Hadnt really thought about how many gay roles are portrayed by straight actors, although it is reversed sometimes (NPH in HIMYM?)

  2. Jenny Raleigh

    Brilliant! Couldn’t agree more. As a straight lawyer who marched for Gay Rights back in the early ’80’s it sickens me to see this mockery. It cannot really be compared to the Wed-a-Stranger Comps because I believe those couples made a genuine “go” of the marriage, and family members “vetted” candidates etc. This is just a joke. But like Dwarf Throwing and bikini clad women draped over cars at the V8’s it seems these degradations have made an insidious comeback.

    • finetoothcolumn

      Thank you for your comment, Jenny. The 80’s protests would have been an interesting time, and after the tough battles during and since then, now there’s legal equality, there needs to be a better sense of acknowledgement of our experiences as equal. This counts for so many areas, not just gay rights.

  3. noPCgayguy

    You come across as one of those Social Justice Warrior types. You even manage to play the race card in a SSM article – very creative. I think you represent what is worse in the gay community these days. Are you going to denounce drag queens and their performances as offensive, misogynistic, compare them to “black face” and demand their censorship next?

    Where were the gay ‘activists’ when the poster lesbians of SSM threw in the towel with some weird facebook post “drinking it down”, before the first year of SSM had been celebrated? None of you expressed outrage that they demeaned or trivialised gay marriage?

    And I don’t care if straight guys play gay guys in Hollywood. “Deserving gay actors” – you never heard of the Velvet Mafia or the latest under age gay sex scandal with top Hollywood players and wannabe actors?

    What is our “culture”, our “identity”? You are throwing around all the standard jargon of the failed “Identity Politics” movement. Give it a rest.

    • unPCbifag

      I agree. Also, the idea of “cultural appropriation” of the “gay culture” is absurd. There is no monolithic homosexual culture, just as there is no monolithic heterosexual culture. Hetero and homosexual norms vary the world over. What does the “cultural appropriation” of homosexual culture even mean? There is nothing outside of homosexual sexual relations that isn’t or hasn’t been a part of “straight culture” in some form or another, at least within the west that I can think of off the top of my head.

      Now, as an aside, I would strongly urge FTC to consider their choice of body font – don’t take it personally, but it’s really not the easiest font on the eyes. Do with that suggestion what you will.

      • noPCgayguy

        The whole “appropriation” thing is hypocritical. Notice how it is only the “white cis male heteronormative” class that stands accused of “appropriation” and being “problematic” because it is the “dominant culture”. The “oppressed” classes can appropriate to their hearts content and their actions will be applauded as “empowering”, “starting a conversation”, subversive and edgy.

        Of course all this Social Justice Warrior rhetoric is a derivation of Marxism and its defining concept of “class warfare” and explains why the gay “activists” behave a bit like they are replaying Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I only half jokingly refer to them as the Gay Red Guard.

  4. Gerard

    FANTASTIC analytical bright to the point , 100% !!! true…you have seen clearly beyond the surface and put it in words.greeting from Netherlands

  5. Gerard Elwell

    I enjoyed reading this well-written and argued thesis on this important topic. I agree that gay culture is marginalised, trivialised and debased to simplistic stereotypes such as a predilection for shopping and styling. Unfortunately, this is nothing new as the dominant culture in society (still white European male) often dallies in and adopts aspects of minority cultures (e.g. Jazz and blues, rap music, the Haka) whilst carefully avoiding developing a greater tolerance and acceptance of these groups. As a member of the dominant culture, I am all to aware of how easy it is for me to ‘cherry pick’ aspects that appeal and benefit me whilst remaining largely ignorant of the daily challenges that minority groups face. Having said this, I am not sure how representative of wider society the banal goings on in commercial radio and reality TV are. They seem to collectively decide on how to be as outrageous and/or humiliating to their contestants as possible.

    • finetoothcolumn

      Thanks, Gerard, good context! The context of radio and reality TV is an interesting one. I’ve no problem with the Edge’s ‘Marry a Stranger’ thing because people have the right to make decisions whatever their motivations and it mocks institutions as a whole – an important part of a healthy society. The Edge went beyond the usual stunt formulas through singling out someone else’s experiences as a joke. They probably pulled this particular stunt because they judged it acceptable and the public would take it as a joke. I’m guessing they mostly have, which would say something about the wider public.

      • noPCgayguy

        “mocking institutions as a whole” gets the green light while mocking “someone else’s experiences” is red carded? That is a rationalisation to explain away your hypocrisy. If a gay guy and a lesbian married to win tickets there would be no “outrage”. And then there was the whole circus performance by various media to host a heavily promoted first gay marriage even dragging in idiot American sitcom actors to cheerlead the performance. No squeals of offense from the gay groups then, in fact the complete opposite.

  6. Blair

    Hi, great to see the herald running your article! I concur with your views on trivialising gay sexual identity within media. Although I think we mustn’t forget progress is a road to travel. It wasn’t many years ago, no “straight” man would dear associate or play with anything deemed “gay” or “feminine”. Still today, all men are severely limited by expectations of gender. Personally, I find these demonstrations more a curious exploration and acknowledgement of how far things have come, that now men can feel safe, even if momentary to play gay. I don’t ever think the purpose of constructing sexual based identity was to limit. Sexuality is not one or another. It’s major limitations arise because of issues of safety/risk. The fact that men who don’t identify as gay can and do, appropriate is an amazing step forward. I think we are all being a little top serious about the wrong things. If we need a topic to publicise, the one most pressing, is the brutal homophobic culture of almost every high school. Little has changed there. A right of passage for every man. A most painful time for all men aware of their attractions towards men. That’s an issue without a much needed champion. But thanks so much for speaking your mind & problematising all of our responses to media and their effects on us all. Kia Kaha.

    • finetoothcolumn

      Cheers for the comment, Blair. I agree that we have come a long way. I’m glad that men less afraid of having their sexuality questioned, but I don’t think it’s a huge step forward; less discrimination is still discrimination and needs to be acknowledged as such. Tolerance is limited if experiences are treated as a dare or challenge to be overcome. Benevolent acknowledgement of our equality isn’t really equality but permission.Investigating events such as this in context of the big picture shows the limits of legal equality and ‘tolerance’ and helps explain why other more violent forms of discrimination happen.

    • noPCgayguy

      Do you know enough men to be able to claim that “all men are severely limited by expectations of gender”? As a gay guy I LOVE men and masculinity. Men are not perfect, but then no one is. Men are not the “enemy class”, “oppressors”, “homo rapiens” or whatever some angry Marxist feminist lesbian in the Comparative Literature uni faculty accuses them of being.

      In fact the straight men I know have all sorts of challenges in their life – employment, bills, debt, ex wives taking them for everything, raising children. And all the time they are being demonised by feminists/’progressives’ types as wicked rapists and child abusers.

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