On pets…

11/12/2003

So Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was apparently – woo – a tremendous success in the States and everyone was so happy about it and stuff because – ha ha – funny gay men patronising the dumbass straight men – how funny is that!? But now – if the reports are to be believed – then there’s going to be a “Straight Eye for the Queer Guy” show coming out, designed to turn the tables back again with – ha ha – hilarious consequences. But some of my gay colleagues are protesting that turning the tables back again isn’t really acceptable behaviour… Their argument is that gay people already know enough about straight life – given that they’ve had to spend many years trying to fit into straight culture (while being taught that their lives will be immoral, diseased and short-lived) before erupting free from this stigma in a blaze of brightly-coloured taffeta and nicely-tapered trouser-bottoms. Their point is – I suppose – that one’s a tasteless misrepresentation, and the other isn’t.

I’m just having trouble figuring out which is which! Because as far as I can see, both of them share one thing in common – a flagrant and blatantly patronising image of gay people as cheery little inoffensive sexless chappies. Well bollocks to that. Bollocks to happy gay people on TV, bollocks to the straight audiences, bollocks to the producers, bollocks to the bloody cameramen, bollocks to any passing trannies. Bollocks, if you will, to absolutely bloody everyone. I’m going to say this once and once only – and I hope it doesn’t come as too much of a shock to anyone: It’s not just Straight Eye for the Queer guy that will be patronising shit that sells an image of gayness that is damaging and frustratingly bland. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was patronising shit as well.

I can’t really believe that was a shock to anyone, but just in case – I’m sorry for those of you who fell over and hit your head…

I suppose back in the late eighties, when the prevailing mood was that gay people were diseased perverts that would lead short, shameful and disgusting lives, the idea that we might get portrayed as happy little child-puppets might have been quite appealing. But that time has passed and I think we’ve all had enough now of that newest of grotesque gay stereotypes archetypes – that of the girl’s-best-friend, sexless, happy, home-keeping, stylish queer. I might actually bloody vomit if I see it one more time on television and if I get my greasy hands on Kevin Kline let me reassure you that I’ll be giving him a piece of my oh-so-wise, well-tailored and witty gay mind.

It’s not because it’s an unpleasant image of homosexual individuals, and it’s not because there aren’t any gay men that are all smiley and pastel in the world (because there are, and they’re lovely). It’s just because I’m sick to death with being “understood” by people I meet as being a “good-natured, slightly-dim, fashion-obssessed hysterical best-friend-in-times-of-need” kind of guy on the basis of the representation of ‘my kind’ in a few shit films and TV shows. There are differences between gay people and straight people – don’t get me wrong. But there aren’t any scientists world-wide who truly understand what the hell they are, and this leads me to suspect that maybe it would be foolish to think that a twenty minute comedy show would have a better idea.

Now I’ve read my Foucault like the best of them, and I believe him to be right when he says that categorising something is a way of asserting power over it. Hence the creation (and medicalisation) of homosexuality a little over a hundred years ago. And I’m with him on the next step too – that the creation of the category also creates an identity around which the group can rebel, to try and recast itself. But it works the other way around too. We started off as godless, sex-obsessed, dirty monsters and we fought and we’ve rebelled. And now instead we’re god-loving, relationship-focused, kitchen-cleaning princes among men who like little dogs, Versace and television where ‘we’ get to patronise people. Our ‘positive’ image has already been reincorporated and recontextualised and reconsidered and represented. The tremendous variety of gay male experience – from the most delicate to the most brutal, from the most elegant to the most fierce, from the most diplomatic to the most battle-ready, even from the most tacky to the most trivially crass – all of it is reduced down to the image of gay men as fussy little children – who play at ‘houses’, play at ‘cooking’, play at ‘being men’, play at life.

Well I want out. And this is where I turn around to face my comrades who loved “Queer Eye” but are cross about its sequel. I say to you that it’s not enough that a programme on television should just be ostensibly ‘nice’ about gay people. It’s shouldn’t float our boats that some show finds it entertaining to see the happy poofs take the piss out of groups that used to kick our heads in either. If you want some honour in your programming, demand that it shows you a larger variety of truths. Most particularly, demand that it shows you the truth of identity as something negotiated, fought for, forged, lost and potentially rebuilt. Don’t let them tell you it’s something that you’re born with, something inevitable that you’ll grow into whatever aspirations you might have. Because identity is a negotiation between the world around you and what nature gave you, mediated by your mind, morals, attitudes and beliefs. It can’t be given to you like you’d give a pet a name…