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 😉