There’s been way too much whining about how there’s no real cause for gay pride lately, and it makes me want to get off my broomstick and ram it up people’s asses. You want to know about no gay pride? Board that very same broomstick, people, and travel with me to my childhood in Brooklyn—back to the ’60s, when Dr. Laura Schlessinger would have not only been crowned borough president, she would have been granted an amusement-park franchise whereby she could decapitate queers and single mothers for taffy-eating throngs. Back then, gay equaled sick, and there were no dissenting arguments allowed and no positive role models—or any role models—to provide them, anyway. Homosexuality was a medical condition, an aberration, a Hollywood Square, and if you had it, you lived in clammy-palmed terror, praying you’d wake up and suddenly find yourself straight and on Love, American Style.
Once you’d faced up to your sexual leprosy, you had two choices: Live a lie and get married, making a sham out of some poor woman’s (and your own) life while covering your tracks in the name of normalcy. Or wait to go over the bridge and realize there’s a full, wacky life to be had, as long as you constantly tucked all lingering fears and foibles under your weekend evening gown.
But that was then, honey, when the only hint that there were gays in the military was Gomer Pyle. Today, we still have serious problems, but we have visibility, we have Bingo, we have an openly gay Square (Bruce Vilanch). We even have a sister on Survivor, and he’s so far from a stereotype that he hasn’t exhibited the slightest urge to decorate that island. Gay representation in showbiz has always reflected the zeitgeist for me, and the fact that it’s stronger than ever, in its own halfhearted way, is providing the festive parasol in my Diet Fanta these days. Yes, there will always be stars who vehemently pretend to love the opposite sex organ and lots of it, but at least their claims are up for discussion now, as yellow journalism gets pinker than ever. At least now we have differing degrees of celebrity hiding, with enough visibility out there to give hope to the lonely little gays in the heartland.
The days when the vast majority of the entertainment media considered homosexuality a disgusting taboo are as over as the era when waxed eyebrows and that Jayne Mansfield poetry record were the only available gay signifiers. (The ’97 Esquire cover story on Kevin Spacey seems to have changed reportorial boundaries forever.) This past year alone, Barbara Walters asked Ricky Martin about it, Jane and Out queer-ied Whitney Houston on it, and I was going to mention it to Richard Simmons until they showed me the trailer door with a smile. Whether these stars evade, argue, or cop, the fact is it’s suddenly sometimes sort of OK to bring “it” up (the sexless People cover on Rosie O’Donnell and the cancellation of that book investigating Kenneth Starr‘s closety gang of sex inspectors are rare exceptions), and that’s the kind of thing that would have made all the difference in the world to my morbid little childhood.
Of course—you knew there’d be a but—at certain local cineplexes, Stonewall hasn’t really happened yet. Though some screamers said we couldn’t really be irked by The Talented Mr. Ripley‘s psychotic homo because we now have all kinds of gay screen portrayals, sometimes it seems as if the palette has simply been expanded to include gay victims. Movies about bashings, like Boys Don’t Cry, make a powerful statement about various phobias, but the flip side of that is: no killing, no movie. (The similarly gender-bending jazz musician Billy Tipton—who died from a bleeding ulcer—has yet to be filmized.) American Beauty made its own dark comment—the closet psycho killer represented self-loathing at its scariest—but it made you wish the now-you-see-them happy queer couple nabbed even half as much screen time as his crazy ass got. Gay-positive indie flicks like But I’m a Cheerleader continue to rate a rah-rah, messagewise, but most filmmakers would still rather go the “Oops! Everything’s going wrong for Harry—and now people think he’s gay!” route. Even a fairly enlightened movie like American Psycho had a gay guy idiotically mistaking a strangulation attempt for a come-on, while Groove has two stereotypically silly queens unable to even find the big rave!
On TV, you wish there’d be more gay characters actually having physical contact and fewer of those drunken straights who share same-sex kisses before sobering up and going—once again—”Oops!” Most of the audience is way ahead of the networks, and once the execs catch up with them, the gay-as-neuter will become as obsolete as the shuffling black or inscrutable Asian. The masses might even be able to handle the truth about Bruce Vilanch, who everyone thinks is such a hit because he doesn’t seem the least bit sexual. The reality is that certain elements of the gay population are so hot for “bears” that Vilanch probably has more guys chasing after him than ‘N Sync!
Yes, I’m going to be happy this year. Palpable and inspiring changes are tying a big rainbow ribbon around my perennial half-smirk. The most heartening one of all is that while just a few years ago, advertisers wouldn’t align themselves with any show that was the least bit gay, now they’re backing out of a program (yeah, her again) because it happens to offend gays. It’s not my childhood anymore—it’s not even ’97 anymore—and it’s so exhilarating that some advertisers are on our side for a change that I’m tempted to buy a whole bunch of Procter & Gamble products and turn them into the new Prada!
For me, a juicy bit of progress like that momentarily silences all the stupidity out there: the Pope apologizing to practically every oppressed minority on earth except gays (he should check the local confessional—the number of priests with AIDS is skyrocketing); the rappers who gay-bash their way to platinum records and the gay media that embrace them; the absurd city rules that now have condoms unavailable at the East Side Club, a sex spot, because otherwise they’d be encouraging people to have sex (that’s like outlawing oxygen masks on Alaska Airlines because that would be encouraging them to have a crash); the cop leader who, incensed by Bruce Springsteen‘s song about police brutality, showed his immense sensitivity by saying the Boss is now “a floating fag.”
But hush, puppies. I really am determined to be upbeat and proud. I’m intent on rejoicing that we now have the right to come out with as many banal books, plays, and performance pieces as straights do. I’m even going to welcome the parade of stars coming out (Sinead O’Connor?) who I don’t think are gay. Last year, I only saw the negative, but this time I’m looking at the glass and finding it half full—with a particularly femmy lemonade. Deviant? No, it’s love, American-style. Let’s board that broomstick to the local bar-hangout and toast to finally having those positive role models we craved: each other.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 20, 2000