Acceptance and equality are two things for which the gay community has fought a long and difficult battle. Although we have made great strides forward in recent years, the struggle is still far from over. It has always amazed me that there are still so many negative attitudes toward homosexuality today. After all, this is 2010, and we are supposed to be living in an enlightened society, aren’t we?
As I have mentioned in a couple of my previous articles, I have been a participating member of several gay message boards. I guess I don’t have to tell you that acceptance of gay people in society is always a huge topic of discussion on these boards; I mean, duh…that’s a no-brainer! What may surprise most people, however, is that even most gay people still have disagreements about this issue. Meaning that even though we all agree that we should be accepted, opinions about how this will be achieved vary widely.
Personally, I have always preferred a much less aggressive approach than most. In my opinion, getting up in people’s faces and being extremely vocal has never been my style; I truly don’t believe that’s the right answer. Here’s why: people have a natural tendency to vehemently resist anything which they feel is being forced upon them against their will. This kind of vocal behavior is the same attitude that makes people resist religious folks whom they feel are trying to “shove God down their throats.” This will only reinforce the negative image that most of society has of gays as “radicals.” Let’s face it, if we ever want to be truly accepted in this basically conservative society, this is just the kind of image that we need to avoid! Therefore, it is my estimation that this is not a tactic which is likely to change anyone’s mind about the issue.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should ever allow ourselves to be discriminated against or mistreated, but I do think that a less aggressive approach would ultimately be far more effective in attaining acceptance. While I definitely believe that those who use this aggressive approach have good intentions, it has been historically proven that those kind of tactics almost always have the exact opposite effect from what was intended. By doing this, we may be “shooting ourselves in the foot,” so to speak. In the end, I believe that the use of these heavy-handed methods are actually hurting our chances for acceptance far more than they will ever help them.
I think that instead of trying to fix the way others react to us, we should take a real good, hard look at what we are giving them to react to. We may not be able to control other people’s perceptions and opinions about our lifestyle, but we can and do have control over the way that we present ourselves to the rest of the world. We always want to blame others for the way that gay people are seen by the rest of society. We blame the media; we blame politicians who use us as scapegoats to get votes; we blame ignorance and homophobia. We use every excuse to keep from looking at our own behavior. But how much of the gay community’s image problem is really our own fault?
I believe it is our responsibility to cultivate the most positive image of gay life possible. We need to show the rest of society that our lives are just as normal and ordinary as everyone else’s. We work to pay our bills and our taxes just as they do; in some cases we have children to support, and we have the same worries, fears and concerns about the world around us and the society in which we live as they do. We need to emphasize the similarities in our lives instead of drawing more attention to our differences, which is precisely what those in-your-face tactics does.
Remember that there are a lot of people in the world who do not know any gay people personally; or if they do, they are completely unaware of the fact. For those people, the only thing they have to judge us by are the images that we present to them. Representations of gay life are becoming more accepted in all forms of media, which offers our community a wonderful chance to set the record straight. More than ever before, we have the means to dispel the myths and the stereotypical caricatures that have haunted us for years. Sadly, I believe that we have squandered this golden opportunity.
Here’s a good example to illustrate my point: for a long time, the image of gay people that has been presented in TV shows, movies, and books has been beyond our control, because more often than not most of these characters were written by straight people, and were rife with all of the usual cliches. However, when the gay community was finally given the opportunity to take control of our own image in these areas, what did we do? We went and presented the world with garbage like Queer As Folk. Now, before my fellow members of the gay community go screaming for my blood, please hear me out.
Here was a show about gay life that was actually written and produced by gay people. When it first premiered, I was very excited at the prospect of finally getting an accurate portrayal of gay life on television. Unfortunately, I only made it through a season or so before giving up in disgust! I can’t really say that the portrayals were completely inaccurate, but I do think that they were a bit unbalanced. The characters that were presented may have been accurately portrayed, but they only provided a very narrow view of one particular segment of the gay community. There are many other types of gay folks that the show never represented. Unfortunately, this is the only view of our community that usually winds up being presented to the world, so it is no wonder to me why the rest of society has the impression of us that they do.
In addition, these characters embodied all of the most negative traits that straight society already believes about us. They were pathetic, whiny, self-involved, emotionally stunted men, who insisted on permanently suspending themselves in adolescence, despite the fact that they were grown men in their mid thirties. None of them would have had the capability to have a normal, healthy relationship if their lives depended on it!
Look at the character of Brian Kinney, for example. Brian is a shallow, completely self-absorbed and self-serving person who treats others like garbage and has absolutely no regard for anyone else’s needs or feelings but his own. He is a youth-obsessed, drug-taking, club-hopping party boy who lives his life carelessly and never stops to think about the consequences of his actions, neither for himself nor the effect that they will have on those around him. Also, he makes absolutely no apologies for the fact that he will sleep with anything that has a penis and a pulse! Then there’s Justin; he’s the newly outed teenage twink, who has all the older guys chasing him and drooling like a bunch of dogs. This only reinforces the idea that all gay men are lecherous, cradle-robbing old perverts. And let’s face it, the character of Emmett was the very epitome of the stereotypical limp-wristed, lisping queen! The only two characters who did come anywhere close to being sane and normal (if you use the terms loosely, that is) were Michael and Ted. They where the average, good-hearted guys, who got pushed into the background, and were generally considered invisible by most of their community, because they weren’t perfectly muscled little hotties!
Now there is certainly no denying that people like these characters do exist in real life; quite a few of them, in fact. However, I do not believe that they accurately represent the majority of the gay community. Most of us are just ordinary, everyday folks who lead simple, quiet lives. For the most part, we are not nearly as self-absorbed, shallow, or promiscuous as these flamboyant characters lead viewers to believe.
The point that I am trying to make here is this: as I said before, most of society already thinks that all gay men are like these characters…that we go around behaving decadently, sleeping with everyone in sight, and not giving a damn about the consequences of our actions; that simply is not true! These kind of portrayals of gay life only serve to reinforce that idea in the collective consciousness of straight society, and as long as we keep showing them these kind of images, that is what they will continue to believe. Keep in mind that these images are being promoted by gay people. So we alone must be held responsible for what ensues when we misrepresent ourselves by presenting such a narrow view of our community to the world; in my eyes, there is no one else to be blamed for such errors in judgment! I mean, come on guys…we can get that kind of treatment from the mainstream media!
I know I will probably be raked over the coals by most who read this, but I stand by my opinions. After all, even in those instances when the truth is ugly and hard to take, it is still the truth!