Gay Politics

On Will & Grace…

In the second post on gay issues in a row, Tom decides to take a certain amount of issue with Mark Lawson’s article in the Guardian today on Will & Grace. Tom decides particularly to take issue with this excerpt:

Presented as dramatic courage, Jack really represents cowardice, because he’s there as a contrast with Will’s discreet homosexuality. Jack goes to a gay gym, Will to a mixed one. In Will, the writers have created a gay character who neatly avoids the two aspects of gay men which most provoke homophobia: genital activity and effeminacy. It’s a bit like a sit-com about a football supporter in which the central character never bothers to go to matches and prefers to watch The South Bank Show instead of Match Of The Day.

There are such people, but the characterisation seems dictated by caution rather than authenticity. Another insurance against switch-off is built into the plot. At least in the early episodes – as in the first two reels of The Next Best Thing – there’s nothing to discourage Joe and Joanna Six-Pack from the belief that Will isn’t really gay and that he and Grace will eventually realise that they are Harry and Sally rather than Arthur and Martha.

How many gay people do you know? No really. Think about it. How many gay people do you know? Ok then – now take the number of people you know – not know well, just know – and divide it by twenty. Studies be damned, this is a guess – some people say it’s one in ten, some that it’s one in ninety. That’s irrelevant. The fact is that across work, friends, friends of friends, family, friends of family, people you knew at University, people you knew at school, that out of all those people, many many more were gay than you had the slightest idea.

So somehow these people ‘pass’ for straight – or to put it another way, somehow these people do not come across according to your preconceptions of what it means to be gay. They probably don’t work in the media. They probably don’t wear purple lurex or get dressed up in drag, or have a really big thing about Liza Minelli. Some people will. Good. Excellent. But we’re talking about a huge and diverse community here – of queens who like Travis, queens who like Bach, queens who like the Sex Pistols, queens who like Napalm Death, queens who like Britney Spears, queens who – for god’s sake – like Queen.

Now I’ve no doubt that Will & Grace is a fairly reactionary show which represents a fairly anaemic idea of what it means to be gay. But is Friends any less anaemic a view of what it is to be straight? Or are straight people really all super-annuated three years olds whose obsession with caffeine has driven them close to paranoid dementia? But we’re getting away from the point, now. So answer me this, Mr Lawson – would it be any less mentally closeted to fill a TV show with the kind of queer that you can identify readily? We are, after all, everywhere.