Campy Queens: An Out of Date Stereotype

Learning my gay history has been a process of gathering together bits and pieces from all sorts of sources over the years.  From drag queens, art galleries, hookups, and friends I’ve learned about our struggles and victories in a casual oral traditions sort of way.  Recently through a buddy I was introduced to the amazing and campy 1970 film, The Boys in the Band.

Watch the clip.  If you’ve seen it, then you’ll remember and enjoy the smart, daring treatment of homosexual men from a film that’s over 40 years old.  If you’ve never seen it, then be surprised at how explicit they treat the topic of homosexuality in a time when you* thought all gay men were hidden and persecuted.

When I saw the film I was thrilled that this type of groundbreaking media existed.  Then I started reflecting on the campy behavior of the characters and comparing their terms and tone to the stereotypes of gay today.  Seems like 1970’s portrayal of gay men is alarmingly similar to what we get in 2012.

Before I go any further, obviously I’m making a judgement call here on what gay men should be acting like.  I don’t believe being gay necessarily dictates that you act like a queen with all the limp wrists and lisps and incredibly intuitive knowledge of fashion.  I reckon most of this is learned behavior from media and peers in combination with an assortment of social pressures.  I’m sure campy behavior has roots reaching back eons, but the reality is that being a man attracted to other men doesn’t mean you know how to pick out shoes and be cunningly vicious.  The mainstream is entertained by fabulous fags running around like sassy bitches, but in reality many gay dudes are low-key masculine studs who can be quite dull (see Disappointing Gay Best Friend).

So, back to film!  Consider how much the portrayal of women and people of color has changed since the 70s and how shocking it can be to watch the discriminatory and condescending attitudes towards these minority groups in older TV/film.  A lot of progress has been made in the past 40 years so women and people of color are treated more fairly in both media and reality (though we still have a long way to go).  But the gay men in The Boys remind me a lot of men I know in NYC and some of the homos I see on TV.  This seems odd to me and makes me think the progress towards equality for us fags is taking a really long time.

The last decade has been a productive one with marriage equality being realized in some states and a bigger focus on acknowledging homos as real and equal people reverberating throughout society (where before it wasn’t even an acceptable option).  Despite these advancements, there’s still a long way to go.  If I were making a film today portraying gay men, I think I’d lose the catty sass and instead show the incredible bonds that form between men who love each other as partners and friends.  There’s an awesome and powerful connection between men who can mix their friendship with the fun and intimate touches of sexuality.  I don’t want catty nonsense getting in the way of licking my friend 😉

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3 Responses to Campy Queens: An Out of Date Stereotype

  1. leesean says:

    I just chortled out loud when I saw the Disappointing Gay Best Friend video.

  2. Nam Prik Pao says:

    The Transport Group did a great revival of this play a couple of years back, and I was shocked at how funny it was, and, for all the faux-fur and love beads, it did not seem all that dated. I had a blast. But at the heart of the main character is an intense self-loathing, and the atmosphere in the play gets vicious and claustrophobic. I think internalized homophobia is a problem for a lot of gay men of a certain generation, even some of the kids today, because, while times are changing, the dominant paradigm is heteronormative, for all of our progress in civil rights.

    The world is filled with people of both genders who don’t necessarily fit into a stereotypical vision of what that gender should be. There are butch dykes and masculine straight women and lipstick lesbians and prissy straight men and macho gays and big, fabulous queens, and I gotta say, I don’t have a problem with any of them.

    Cattiness is another matter altogether, though. Dorothy Parker honed it to an art. Leave it to her. Sarcasm is mockery or irony used to wound or express contempt, and I always feel the contemptuous are really displaying contempt for themselves.

  3. Nam Prik Pao says:

    Oh, Cliff Gorman, Kenneth Nelson, and Leonard Frey are all incredible in this movie, and none of them are with us anymore. Laurence Luckinbill is also great, too. He, happily, is still around.

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