Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The A-List New York..Stereotypes And Self Hate
This week, Jay uploaded a video to YouTube in which he gives his view on the LOGO channels "The A-List". In it he also takes LOGO to task for reinforcing a host of negative gay stereotypes...full stop...let the flame war commence....
It's difficult to address the nature of a stereotype without stepping on the realities of someones Else's life and thus inciting a host of angry reactions. What may be gay cliche for one person...loving dance music for instance, may be part and parcel of another persons life. Like me! I love a good house track and yet the second I admit that the person I'm talking too will usually roll their eyes and mentally add a few points to my "gayometer" score....see my point? Heaven forbid I cry at a movie...If I even get red around the eyeballs I feel like I have to sneak out the back door or be instantly outed. Now, did I stereotype myself in these situations by just being me...or is it in the judgement of others that a stereotype resides? And where exactly does self acceptance fit in to all of this?
The topic strikes a nerve in us all and usually ends up with someone feeling as if they have been judges and excluded for something integral to themselves. There are insults thrown and blame handed down by homophobes to gays...by "straight acting" gays to feminine gays...by "non-assimilationist" gays to marriage minded gays. The list of the slighted goes on and on...I got my fire/cat claw proof vest on, so that means...oh yes..lets go there.
Video below the fold:
The limp wristed, hair dresser/interior designer....the bitchy queen with female cohort...flannel wearing lesbians with uhauls...gays as bathroom lurking pedophiles...all gays dress in/do drag....the upwardly mobile well dressed white male gay...the activist lesbian....Manwhores....size queens...Hypermasculinized men(cops, construction workers, leather men)...the shaved, tanned and muscled club boy...the man hating lesbian...all gays have/will have HIV...gays as movie/tv villains. Some of this short list of stereotypes I've come to absorb over the years. Some of these spoken of from outside the the gay community...some from within. Can you tell the difference? I thought I could to...now I'm not so sure.
As Outside, So Within
Absorbing Homophobia As Self Hate Based On The "Gays Are Victims/Predators" Stereotypes:
When a negative stereotype is perpetrated by those outside the gay community we call it what it is...homophobia. When groups like The National Organization for marriage or the Family Research Council equate gay men with bathroom lurking pedophiles, that we all have HIV just by virtue of our homosexuality, that we knowingly spread HIV to others, That we endeavor to recruit children into homosexuality, That we all cross dress, that we all sexually promiscuous is engaging in an age old...and I mean biblically old..habit of casting the gay men and women in the roll of the villain. This is one of the single handedly worst stereotypes I can think of because it practically assaults us from birth. These notions are drummed into us by an early age by our families, religious institutions, as well as through film and TV until it gets absorbed into our Psyche as internalized homophobia.
Part of the work that we have to do in order to be able to even come out to ourselves is deprogramming these negative ideas about what it means to be gay. Coupled with a healthy dose of religious condemnation this self deprogramming can take a lifetime. Before I came out, I remember being scared of contracting HIV just for setting foot in a gay bar. I was scared I would never find someone to love who would love me back with honesty and sincerity because I expected infidelity. I thought I would end up lonely, angry, and alcoholic because those were the only images of homosexuality I had ever received. They were repeated by my parents. They were backed up in TV and movies by images of gay people as villains, swishy comedic relief, or AIDS victims. What else is one supposed to think when that's the only concept of "gay" that they ever receive? It took a long time to throw alot of that garbage out and I still find it in the back closets of my mind at unexpected moments. Like when I catch myself being proud when someone says "I would never have guessed you were gay." Well,... what if you would? What would that change?... Even though it came from sources outside myself, I took those images into myself and made them a part of me. I vowed that there were things I would never become.
The shaming of homosexuality by society uses negative predator/victim stereotypes to make us an "other"..a "them"...less than human. It's the root cause of our parents condemnations of us...and the reason why so many gay kids are kicked out into the streets. Its the reason why we have to struggle so hard to accept ourselves even though it may mean losing those closest to us. Its also the reason why so many feel licence to pass laws against us, or worse...to do violence against us. What gay kid after being called faggot or pervert a million times at school doesn't start to think something might be wrong with him after hearing it so often and from so many sources? Its the misrepresented, distorted, and down right lied about images of gay people that under girds so much cultural prejudice that it is the reason why I consider these the worst of a bad lot.
But what about when we do it to ourselves...
Straight Acting To Fem...How We Label Ourselves:
Queenie..flaming...swishy...call it what you want. Discussion about feminine men hits a nerve because it always addresses our insecurities about ourselves. Here the presumption is that its a good thing if no one can tell your gay..to be a "straight acting" gay guy or a "lipstick lesbian". The cultural conditioning we have received to date now comes from within us to be reflected back out at the world. And here I can't speak for others...not everyone who considers themselves "straight acting" does so with a sense of derision for others. Its just a part of who they consider themselves to be and in now way is a reflection on others. A good portion of people take offense at the term though. I can only lean on my own experiences and hope that they have not steered me far wrong.
When I was first out of the closet and saw who gay people really were it obliterated my concept that all gay men lisped and called each other girlfriend. In fact, I would have been quite pissed had someone call me that because it offended my sense of my own masculinity. The doors had just been blown off what I thought being gay was and my new view backed up my rather narrow opinions of what "masculine" was....the result?...a negative view of "Queenie guys". It always made me wonder why some men once they step out of the closet suddenly camped it up and became over the top, flamingly gay. The transformation was so sudden it made me wonder if this was who they were inside all along and now felt free to let it show...or... if they were living up to an image of who they thought they had to be to fit in with other gays. At the time, it offended me. I thought they made us all look like walking stereotypes(which I didn't include myself in)....never mind the fact that we both faced the same fears, challenges, and discrimination for just being gay..the expression of that being irrelevant to anyone else.
Indeed one of my first gay friends, I'm convinced, sashayed out of the womb in a sequined onesy. He had always been this way to anyone who knew him. That fact was never enough to make me question my prejudicial view of other gays...but it did bring into my awareness that their are those of us who can't hide who they. Those who have to learn to be stronger because who they were showed to everyone, there was no hiding. In fact, I think attempting to hide it would have done violence to their souls. It would have been a neglect of their mission in life to blow the doors off yet another misconception about ourselves, that none of the concepts that we use to define us here as man or woman means a dam thing to our souls....though NOM may disagree.
So Why is it that a mans feminine qualities or a woman's masculine ones should exclude them from our respect and common journey as gay people? Surely their journey through life is like mine? Yet, even today when I good female friend suggests that we get facials together and have "girl talk"..I cringe inside. Perhaps because deep down I was still trying to convince that version of my dad that I carry deep down inside, that I was a man...someone to be respected, not looked down on or considered weak. That weakness would have equaled a death sentence. I could not stand the look of shame in his eyes...made all the worse when you can see it in the mirror in your own eyes.
How we treat others usually comes back to what we think about ourselves doesn't it?
This is why it's patently absurd for groups like the National Organization For Marriage or the Family Research Council to protest being classified as hate groups. Their work never began or ended at a voting booth...it extended to every word that falls off a grown ups lips to enter the heart of a gay child thus becoming a part of themselves. It's like poison. It's also no wonder that exgay groups continue to function in spite of so much damning evidence against them. Stereotypes build hatred...first without but eventually turned inward upon ourselves.
Am I self hating? I don't think so..this is just my life. Time has taught me to see people differently and continues to kick me in the ass when I need it.
However...bringing it back home...
When we talk about shows like the A-List New York and condemn it as showing only the negative stereotypes of being gay there is a certain truth to it. Most reality T.V. series are designed to show people at their worst or we wouldn't be tempted to watch. The cast on the show have just as many positive and loving moments as anyone else as Jay mentions in the video, but most of that gets edited out in favor of the shallow/bitchy stuff. That said...should a gay network be perpetuating those ideas in a public that already has so many negative ideas about us to overcome? In essence...is it worse because its a gay network?...I don't know...was it worse that I as a gay man have had my prejudices about feminine men? It's still internal is it not?...all in the family so to speak. Us tearing down us. Does a gay network have an onus to show better representations of gay people than it did in the A-List? Sure it does...theres a place for the A-List just as their is MTV's the real world or "The Real Houswives of Wherever". I can not tell them what to show on their station...but I do vote with my viewing habits and I don't watch the show precisely because its all about showing us at our worst. Are they doing the gay community harm by perpetuation of stereotypes is another question.
Is any conversation about stereotypes in essence a conversation about our ability to accept ourselves?...In my opinion, yes.
I'm not asking anyone to hold the hand of the man next to him and start singing Kum By Ya. But I am suggesting that we all face the same struggles to be accepted as human beings. As we fight for equal legal treatment we also battle against these same stereotypes held in the minds of people who have no reason to question them. To them we are bad and therefore beneath acceptance.
In my opinion that's a battle we fight from the inside out. When we can look in the mirror and no longer see the remnants of shame and instead see someone made exactly as they were meant to be...then perhaps we will no longer accept tomorrow as the day we become equal because we will know that we are already equal. Then perhaps we will stand as one regardless of how we express our differences. Then we will not be silent..or accept "later". It will not matter at all what others think of us who don't have the slightest inkling of what it's like to be gay. We will have the courage to show the world who we are...as we are, and from that, the fear of us will melt like receding glaciers. What law can stand in the face of that?
Until next time dear readers...