TV: Still far from free

Submitted by Anon on 12 August, 2004 - 2:55

Clive Bradley discusses the representation of gay men on TV

Twenty years ago, gay men were figures of fun on television. There was John Inman on 'Are You Being Served?', simpering that he was 'free'. There was Larry Grayson puckering his lips as he complained about his friend Everard (the subversive, or anyway vulgar, implications of which were lost on me at the time).

Gay men were camp, sexless, ridiculous. Now all that has changed! Rather than the promotion of homosexuality being outlawed as it was for a while by the Tory government's Clause 28, homosexuality's positive virtues are trumpeted forth in an onslaught of TV shows! It's fabulous!

Er...?

The most prominent of these shows, 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy', is an American import. (There's a British version on Living TV, but don't even bother.)

Others follow the same basic premise: 'Gay Dates for Straight Mates', 'How Gay Are You?', no doubt others in the pipeline.

This premise is that if you are a heterosexual male, you are sure to know nothing about clothes, hairstyles, cooking and interior decorating, and, despite what your mates may tell you, girls prefer it if you do.

'How Gay Are You?' refines this premise: heterosexual males need to be 'just gay enough' to keep a woman.

Being 'not gay enough' means you talk about football and cars too much and don't know how to moisturise.

But being 'too gay' is no good either because - well, actually because it means you prefer sleeping with men, but according to the premise it means you spend too long filing your fingernails.

Is this what Gay Liberation was fighting for?

I am a gay man. That is to say, I am a man, and I have a boyfriend, and we - you know. Yet I rarely moisturise, I have little interest in interior decorating (and, trust me, nor does he), and for that matter don't like house music, or even Kylie, especially - well, all right, sometimes - and I only scream and say 'dahhling' when I'm pissed. I think.

Certainly, my talents, I feel, lie in other, less stereotypical directions. Actually they lie in directions which aren't much to do with who I choose to sleep with.

There are those who believe that the rash of stereotypes on our screens is positive, and proof of the acceptance of gay men. It shows How Far We Have Come. But this is beyond me. Stereotypes are stereotypes. And the stereotype thus 'promoted' is that gay men are, collectively, vain, shallow, condescending, insufferable snobs.

Yeah, this describes some gay men. But the result must be that the population at large thinks - if only semi-consciously - not just that all gay men are like this, but that this is all that gay men are. Rather than show how far we have come, it shows how far we haven't. The joke's shifted slightly: Inman was an object of ridicule and unstated loathing, whereas the Expert in Skin Care is regarded as oddly heroic. But it's still not equality. And that's the bottom line.

Lesbians, of course, as for Queen Victoria, don't exist.

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