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The Gays on TV

I have this completely irrational fear that I will be turned over to the Fab Five. Some well-meaning friend will call the producers of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and report me. They will descend upon my apartment and I will cower in the hallway with a queasy smile on my face as they rummage through my bathroom and bedroom closet. Shrieks will arise as they discover that I am lacking in moisturizer, pre-shaving balm, and a basic black suit. All of my flannel shirts will be thrown into a pile on top of my blue plaid comforter as the food guy searches hopelessly for lemon-fused olive oil in my kitchen. The culture guy, lacking anything better to do with his time, will cluck his tongue over my Bruce Springsteen CD’s. The interior decorator will stand in one place, mulling over possible “themes” for the bedroom. I will be the first gay guy on the show, and it will be merciless.

One would think that with two gay parents, I would have turned out a little more queer. But they weren’t so queer themselves. My father bought his clothes from Sears. My mother couldn’t fix a car and she was a better decorator than my father. Neither of them could cook anything that didn’t come in a box.

When a friend of mine and I emerged from Tower Records last year we compared purchases. I bought Springsteen, he bought Cher. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that the expiration date on my gay membership card was long past. Over the last few years, friends have referred to me as being “masculine”, and they’ve informed me that my infrequent attempts at campy humor disturbed this image. I’ve never thought of myself as all that masculine. I always wished as a child that I would turn out that way. Although I’ve never been accused of having effeminate qualities, my own self-image was of a very scrawny, oversensitive, artistic boy. The scrawniness I dealt with at the gym. The sensitivity may not be immediately apparent in person, nor is my tortured inner poet. My masculinity (I can’t even write the word without wanting to put quotation marks around it) is more of an external skin.

My queer sensibility is all on the inside. I may not know how to dress up very well, but I sure can cry during Oprah. My feelings get hurt easily and I could be accused of “processing” my emotions frequently. My writing is very “personal”. I don’t watch sports. I lean towards women writers, singers (Bruce excluded), and politicians. I understand Eleanor more than Franklin Roosevelt. I prefer making love versus fucking, and one partner versus many.

The most effeminate man I know collects vintage Cadillacs, drives a motorcycle, and spends his weekends jumping out of airplanes. Gays and lesbians have that masculine/feminine balance more developed than heterosexuals. I get irritated by all those commercials riffing on the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” concept. Where the men are hapless creatures who can’t cook or clean but who just love love love their sports. Women, on the other hand, all love shoes. All of them. They get weak-kneed even thinking about shopping. They’re forever twirling about with enormous shopping bags clutched in their hot little hands, beaming in near-orgiastic delight. I know that I shouldn’t expect much social insight from commercials, but I can’t help but feel a little transcendent in comparison. I at least do my own laundry.

I’ve been thinking about this balance ever since coming across a quote from the Dalai Lama: …homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact. I guess in my ignorance of world religions I expected a little more from Buddhism. To be fair the Dalai Lama opposes violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, but I don’t think that any major religion is going to come rushing to our defense any time soon.

The Vatican recently issued a strongly-worded 12 page document outlining its stance on homosexuality and marriage: There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family, the document said, asserting repeatedly that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law.

Eager to join the party, President Bush recently declared at a White House news conference: I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we’ve got lawyers looking at the best way to do that. Never mind that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed while Clinton was in office, Bush would like to amend the actual Constitution in order to protect the future from the moral bankruptcy of the queer “agenda”.

Meanwhile there are gay people all over television and entire shelves devoted to gay magazines and major corporations all too happy to market to a community with abundant disposable income. It takes a healthy amount of denial, or maybe just displacement, to be walking around gay in this country.

People who view same-sex unions as unnatural aren’t inherently evil. They honestly believe that their views are informed and correct, just as we do. They believe that they are protecting an American tradition from desecration.

This word, “unnatural”, is nearly ubiquitous in these debates. I can’t speak for all gay people, but for me sleeping with a hot guy is the most natural thing in the world. There isn’t much thought involved; the chemical attraction, the physiological reactions; all of it seems perfectly natural. As the saying goes, “A hard-on never lies.”

It’s hard to be patient while so many people are still hung up on this idea of homosexuality being a choice. I personally don’t know anyone who’s ever chosen to be gay, at least nobody that’s stuck with it longer than two years out of college. If anybody out there has actually chosen to be gay, by all means I’d love to hear your story.

Of course, there are the people who understand that it’s not a choice, but who still believe that homosexual sex is wrong. “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. They use words like “tolerance”, but they don’t want you to have sex. They get to have all the sex they want, but you can’t. It’s all very convenient for them.

Whether it was God or Nature, I turned out gay. I do believe, considering my family background, that there is a biological element at work. But it will take a lot of research to understand why I turned out gay, for example, and my brother turned out straight. If it was God, I don’t believe that He would make me a homosexual just so I could go my entire life with blue balls, while everyone else fucks like bunnies.

This insistence on natural vs. unnatural behavior is a spectacular failure of imagination on the part of religious and political leaders. Homosexuality is anything but unnatural. If they would just take that extra little step and ask why, why are there so many queers? My own personal belief is that gays and lesbians are either God’s or Nature’s attempt at a little population control. The problem isn’t that we use our sex organs for non-reproductive sex, the problem is that more people don’t. The world could use a little more birth control.

All of these polls asking Americans their opinions on same-sex marriage annoy me as much as the polls asking what everyone thinks of Britney’s new look. People are asked their opinion way more often then necessary. It’s another opiate for the masses: corporations like AOL and CNN conducting useless polls to make people feel involved. It’s a type of armchair activism that is about as influential as your opinion on Terminator 3. Until someone asks me if I think straight people should have the right to marry, I don’t care much what anyone else says. I wasn’t celebrating in the streets when the Supreme Court ruled that I could fuck another guy. I’ve been doing that for years. I understand the broader historical and political significances of the ruling, but frankly I don’t care if people tolerate or approve or condone my “lifestyle”. I’m a white gay man living in San Francisco, and I take full advantage of those privileges.

I’m beginning to understand those first colonists that made “Don’t Tread on Me” their flag and motto. Americans are getting pretty damn good at telling other people how to live their lives. Witness our recent foreign policy. Witness daytime talk shows. Witness the explosion of moronic polls, the influx of make-over shows. People actually volunteer to be on television shows where other people vote on their potential suitors.

Maybe the only hope for people who still believe that homosexuality is unnatural is to become best friends with a queer or two. But as long as guys like me leave small town America to live in more cosmopolitan cities, this will be a slim hope. So perhaps it really is up to television. I’m not holding my breath, but perhaps a few more Will and Graces, a few more Fab Fives will break down those walls, one chip at a time. I understand the arguments comparing such programs to the black minstrel shows; it’s our version of the shuck and jive, make ‘em laugh, look at the funny homosexual, mom! Personally I feel that camp’s humor isn’t performed for heterosexuals. It’s a short hand among queers and enlightened heterosexuals, open for other people’s amusement, but not acted out for their benefit.

What I find most revealing about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is that the exterior transformation of each straight guy is often part of a more important goal: to get the guy to pay a little more attention to his girl. To step a little outside of himself in order to make her feel special. Maybe it’s that masculine/feminine balance. Maybe it’s a little easier for us to understand what a woman wants. Maybe we have something to teach the rest of the world. And it’s for that reason that I believe I will never appear on the show. I may not have a decent black suit, but I’m a hopeless romantic, and I already know how to give love away.

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