The Mormons hate us. Maine won’t have us. California would like us to be more like their Mexican immigrants — just fix my hair, keep my home looking sharp, and shut the hell up about this “rights” business. It’s not easy being “fabulous” in a world of sinking economies, spiteful splinter groups, religious dogmatism, and some guy in a dress in Rome. Did Will & Grace actually liberate us or in fact set the movement back a quarter-century? Now that absolutely, positively, totally everyone in America knows, lives next door to, is related to/married to/divorced from, or gave birth to an actual gay person, isn’t it time for a long, collective sigh of relief that we didn’t turn into pillars of salt for dancing with wild abandon to the Village People? Can we, at long, long last, finally get used to it and let ALL Americans live equally — one nation, under Dolce & Gabbana, as it were?
While some say the country does not appear more gay-friendly today than it did a decade ago, the vox populi has definitely gone queer for queers. According to the November 12, 2009, Newsweek, “A survey by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found that of the people who say their feelings toward gays and lesbians had become more favorable in the past five years, about one-third credited that in part to characters they saw on TV.” From Ugly Betty to Glee to Project Runway, the boob tube is awash with flamers. There are those of a certain age in the gay community who secretly long for the return of the “when gay was butch” heyday of Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, and Agnes Moorehead. Until then we seem to be saddled with a lot of “sensitive lads” and screaming-mimi stereotypes. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” (inserted on the advice of the Human Rights Campaign Fund). It just seems odd that after Stonewall, Harvey Milk, and The Laramie Project, gay stereotypes have reverted to the equivalent of Amos and Andy. (Does this translate as we’re all so at ease with everything gay, we now feel free to mock sissy boys and diesel dykes with vigorous, liberating abandon? I guess I missed the memo that said go ahead and use the N word, too.) Am I the only one who finds Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno schtick about as funny as a biopsy? Maybe I’ve been around the block too many times, but in my view no one’s ever done hetero “mincing gay” better than “Uncle Miltie” Berle — which was a very long time ago. Truthfully, after about five minutes, the whole college-humor, “straight-dude-doing-gay” thing starts looking as tired as Liberace’s wig collection.
Yes, we’ve come a long way, daddy — but where are we exactly? In the mid ’90s I wrote a screenplay that won a festival award and was optioned by English director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy). The story revolved around a straight couple whose best friend was gay — which 15 years ago seemed positively edgy and topical. Now it’s almost quaint. A gay best friend? It’s become a hackneyed plotline, as in “Boy meets Girl and wise-cracking, asexual gay pal teaches them the value of true hetero love through bitchy, kitschy dialogue.” Hollywood finds a trend and beats it to death until you’d rather embalm rats than sit through another rip-off, I.Q.-shrinking mall sequel.
Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi gush on Oprah about their Santa Barbara wedding — “It was like an arrow was shot through my heart,” purred Ellen about their first meeting. Meanwhile, tax-paying citizens in Maine, who were once legally allowed to get married, woke up to find out not so fast pumpkin — 6 percent more of us who bothered to vote today don’t think you actually need to be calling yourself “married.” Obama signs a Federal Hate Crimes Bill but can’t quite wrap his brain around the continuing folly of forcing highly qualified gay soldiers out of the military because of somebody’s alleged comfort zone surrounding group showers. (Huh? Been to a Bally lately?) Houston elects a gay mayor right after the New York Assembly exterminates an incipient gay-marriage vote. Uganda instigates legislation calling for the death penalty for all homosexuals (truly stunning how little media attention this has gotten over here) and the District of Columbia overwhelmingly votes for gay marriage. Adam Lambert becomes the first “out” gay contestant on American Idol (sorry, Clay Aiken — you snooze, you lose) then shoots his wad on the American Music Awards by simulating fellatio (seriously dude, the prayer tower at Oral Roberts University nearly burst into flames when that one aired). Rachel Maddow, Suze Orman, Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes all light up the airwaves. Yet short of Doogie Howser/Neil Patrick Harris, you still can’t find an out gay leading man that Hollywood will allow to play straight romantic roles. (I always thought it was called “acting”?)
For many gay people, 2009 felt like two steps forward followed by two giant backflips. The Mormon/Catholic/California/Maine/U.S. Government/military, etc., etc. giveth — and then quickly taketh away. (Or in the Mormon case, gut California marriage rights then scatter a few civil-liberty crumbs in Utah.) It’s confusing, disheartening, and galling … and yet. As Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and all ultra-right-wing autocrats know excruciatingly well, you can’t put Gay Ken and Lesbian Barbie back on the shelf once you’ve unwrapped their, um, package. Like every other civil-liberty dialogue this nation has undertaken in its long, maddening, bracing narrative — “all in due time, my pretty, all in due time.” •