Over the past half-century civil rights in this country have taken leaps and bounds in order to make equality an obtainable goal. This by no way means that we have accomplished total equality in any way, whether it is race, sex, gender or orientation, but it is progress. Now within LGBT rights, these years alone we have jumped some major hurtles and have acquired our right to marry who we choose. But based on my own personal experience and observations, the LGBT community causes a lot of its own discrimination with the help of the media and the public’s perception of us. The gay community is plagued, sometimes from within, by stereotypes, self-segregation and over sexualization in the media. This all combines to make what I call the Sinister “S”s of the LGBTQ community.
The first Sinister “S” is for stereotypes. Stereotypes can be found within any society and culture and certainly the LGBTQ community is not without in this regard. From the tomboy lesbian to the deep voiced trans-woman, our community is bombarded with images of what the general public thinks we are. Now in my years of struggling with self-identity and acceptance what I’ve come to learn from the public is that the stereotypical gay man is always in his late teens to early twenties, tall, thin, muscular but not a meat bag, hairless except for that flawless mop on his head, not too pale but not too dark and extremely stylish, flamboyant and shallow.
This is a stereotype that is not new or shocking it was everywhere in 1980’s-90s sitcoms. Remember Phoebe’s husband from FRIENDS? Its discovered in an episode that she married a gay Canadian so that he could become an American but then later revealed that he’s actually straight. They wrote his character to be stereotypically gay: white, blonde, thin, flamboyant. He was an ice skater for Christ’s sake! But the affect that this stereotype can have on gay youth, although not intentionally harmful, can damage someone’s self esteem and self worth especially when that is the only image they see when they are trying to discover themselves.
When I was watching how gay people were imagined through TV it allowed me to grow to resent myself later in life. I was in the closet until 18 partly because of religious stigma i.e. the fear of going to hell if I lived a gay life and also because deep inside I thought that I couldn’t be gay unless I was exactly like Will Truman or Jack McFarland. Hell, even today I’m plagued with body image and self worth issues just like everyone else because I’m not the stereotypical gay. I’m balding, southern, chubby, and hairy and hate the bar/club scene. There’s no one like that reflected in media and I think its time that we do. If we keep putting these stereotypical images of what we think a certain group of people should be like then how can we expect people’s perception of that group to change? That’s why I love Laverne Cox’s character in Orange is the New Black and that show in general. They show the raw truth of what it is to be a human that deals with sexuality and gender identity in a realistic way.
The next Sinister “S” is for self-segregation. Segregation is the action of setting someone or a group of people apart from another person or group and based on my experience, that’s what the gay community does to itself on a regular basis. Now with every point I bring up here I know that it does not pertain to everyone so before you get ready to write a comment about how I don’t know what I’m talking about please understand that this is a generality that may or may not pertain to you or your personal community. When I began exploring the LGBTQ community, I quickly realized that there were certain groupings of different people that most people didn’t shy away from making public. This is just an observation I made by primarily doing online dating, but the gay community separates itself into different “Tribes”: Twink, Muscle, Bears and Dads being the main ones I find. I am considered a bear where as the stereotype I mentioned would be a twink. You may be thinking that there is no problem with identifying yourself into these categories but I disagree because for some reason it has become widely accepted that you should only mingle with others in your category.
For me, a bear, to assume I can have a relationship with a twink is unheard of. And why is that? Well that’s because all my life I’ve been drilled images of the perfect gay couple being two twinks or one muscle and one twink so now me as an adult, I see myself as less than and therefore can’t mingle with the more superior category. There are multitudes of guys online supporting this self-segregation right now by being extremely arrogant muscle headed shallow jerks. I was told this “rule” multiple times while pursuing dates online.
You may be saying that maybe I should try finding people offline. Good idea! Where do I go? The bar? I don’t drink alcohol and don’t like being around drunken people, next. The club? I’m terrified of large crowds and loud music, next? A gay bookstore? Those don’t exist (that I know of) in North Carolina and I am not interested in porn or glory holes, which is usually highly associated with gay bookstores. And yes I realize I am making a stereotypical, generalist assumption of gay book stores but again, this is completely based on my personal experience. My point in that is that self-segregation goes further than just online categorization, it’s also in where we as a community gather. In all romantic comedies the man and woman meet doing something cute and simple that’s apart of their everyday; like walking a dog or buying a snickers at the convenience store. But gays can’t do that because we have accepted these stereotypes of shallowness and femininity that society has given us so that if I hit on the cute guy at the gas station I might be beat up because he considers that an insult and a blow to his masculinity, because he thinks all gays are feminine!
I want to live in a world where men’s masculinity isn’t compromised if I flirt with them at a bookstore. Instead of beating me up because I mistook them as gay they will kindly say, “Thanks for the compliment but I’m actually straight.” Which is exactly what I say when women flirt with me; I don’t punch them in the face because they didn’t know I like penis more. The LGBTQ community needs to come out of the shadows, yes even more than we have since the ’60s. I love seeing and hearing about people meeting at a gay pride parade or street scene, but I don’t go to those because I will have a panic attack. Straight people don’t have to go to a parade to meet the love of their life. Lets make quiet café’s ran by an awesome lesbian couple where I can sit and read and write then make flirty eye contact with that cute guy across the room. Or better yet, lets raise our children to love and accept themselves for who they truly are so that they can grow up confident in themselves so they can ask that cute guy out or not be offended when a guy asks him out. This has become a tangent, sorry. The self-segregation of our community needs to stop and we all should be seen as whom we are, human. That’s the only category that should exist.
The final Sinister “S” is Sexualization. The sexualization of the LGBTQ community in the media is something I take more seriously than I believe other people do. It is no secret that there are not as many homo-romantic roles in popular media. But when one is presented why is it that it tends to be over sexualized, breaking the barrier from romantic to erotic? We see this not only in the gay community but also in just average media where women are sexualized to sell even hamburgers for Carl’s Jr. And it’s no secret that the sexualization of gay couples and of women alike is affecting the young adults right now.
When young men and women’s only reference to same sex relationships is hyper sexualized, they end up in relationships where they try to make it hyper sexual. News flash: relationships, gay or straight, are never reliant on only sex. These types of relationships are damaging to both parties because one person may begin to feel that there is no substance and another may become forceful when it comes to becoming intimate. I was once in a “relationship” where my boyfriend told me that he couldn’t know for sure if we could stay in a long-term relationship unless we had sex. That is so fucking wrong its not even funny and I wish I knew how wrong that was at the time. Relationships should be based on two or more people’s chemistry and I understand that chemistry may sometimes include intimate moments but relationships should not be completely dependent on that.
Thankfully in the past few years there have been shows and movies that bypass the over sexualized story lines for more traditional, romantic ones. There are now even shows that have married gay couples i.e. Modern Family, The New Normal (RIP) etc. and this year the incredibly funny Titus from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt burst onto the scene as a hilarious single black gay male in New York City. These types of roles break down the over sexualized, shallow images that media has placed on the LGBTQ community. And also with Titus coming into our lives has proven that black actors have just as much talent (if not more in some cases) as their white counter parts and should be given a chance to show that. I think it was Amy Poelher who said in her book that we make up the roles, in her context she was talking about the equality of sexes in the Second City Main stage but that works here as well. We make the roles in the media and in society, so why not make them diverse just like our world actually are? My only concern still with these new breakout roles found in the media is that even though they break down some barriers, they still unintentionally enforce others.
I’ve never seen Modern Family but I know that the married gay couple is in fact one smaller man and one larger man, so props to desegregating the tribes, but my beef with it is that they are both white. Why is this an issue? Because white people rule media and popular culture already and there are plenty of black actor’s that could have done the role of a gay married man. This is verging on a rant about race equality in media which is another essay I plan on writing but if we don’t make roles showing diversity in media then people’s perception of the people group media is showing will be skewed. I doubt this is happening but I can picture a young black gay kid watching Modern Family wondering if he could be happily married to a man like them but finding it hard to connect since they’re both white.
Now on the other hand there is a black gay media personality in Kimmy Schmidt with Titus Andromidon. He is proudly gay, raised in the south and presumably was in the closet for a while as well. He’s showing young black kids that it is ok to be gay, follow your dreams and to be black! But while doing all of these great things he is also falling into those stereotypes that the media has already tacked onto the gay community. Now I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing that Titus is written that way because I know that personality type needs to be shown just as much as any other, but I think its important to show that there are other personalities within the gay community. Who knows maybe next season Titus will fall in love with an Indian doctor living in the city that showcases a more down to earth gay personality besides the over the top flamboyant type we see often.
My main point in showing these examples is to show you that barriers are being broken down but there are still things we can strive to improve. I would love for there to be a show where there is a married interracial or even a minority gay and/or lesbian couples that act like normal people instead of these caricatures of gay culture that we tend to see. Then hopefully our children will grow to understand that everyone’s personality and appearance is beautiful and accepted.
In conclusion, the Sinister “S”s of the LGBTQ community are definitely things we should strive to improve on as a community and a society overall. We can break down stereotypes by learning how to love ourselves for who we are and teaching our children to do the same. When we do that the segregated tribes of our community won’t make any sense because we will begin to see each other as human instead of as a category, and once we form that self assured mentality as a community then as a society it will be reflected in the media. Just because I’m chubby, hairy and balding doesn’t mean I’m any less deserving of my “Notebook” romance and neither is anyone else.
What we can do in order to kick-start this acceptance is to go ahead and plug it into the media. If people see this normalcy in television, movies, books, etc. then the public will recognize it as normal. We need to create these romantic story lines with diverse characters and take the public’s focus away from over sexualized stereotypes. If we take control and responsibility for the things we put out in the world then we will begin to put out more humanized content. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.
For anyone that follows me on Instagram or Facebook you already know that I am writing a novel set to release in 2017. Until now I have not revealed anything about this story but this seems to be the best opportunity. The story follows the life of a young closeted bi-sexual male who is drafted into WW2 where he begins an affair with another male in his basic training even though he has a fiancé back home. It follows his life from the 1940’s-90s covering everything from discrimination, love, infidelity, death and marriage troubles. My hope is that this novel will shine light on untold stories of members of the LGBTQ community in the 20th Century and to help break down the stereotypes of over sexualized gay relationships in the media today.
If you’ve made it this far then I thank you kindly for your attention and thoughts. I repeat that I recognize that the above opinions are not relatable to each and every person’s personal experiences but is just a mere reflection of my own experiences. I hope this piece opens your eyes to the realities of misrepresentation and mismanagement of us in the media and in society. I do plan to write other essay-like pieces regarding my views on sex/gender equality as well as race equality, which are, also causes close to my heart, which I believe is reflected here as well. If you have any questions regarding this essay or my views please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message, I take no offense and welcome any and all respectable feedback. Thank you.