Monday, 29 February 2016
I want you to look at that sentence and think about what it means to you, because, the way you're feeling now is the way that I probably once felt about it myself. Yes, I am an ally; no, I am not suddenly adjusting my moral compass & no, that is not meant as any kind of insult.
But, the fact that I feel like I need to add such disclaimers is kind of the crux of my point, which is that homosexuality is actually not very interesting.
The Word of the Day is: 'DEUTERAGONIST'
Deuteragonist /dyūtə'ragənəst/ n. Ancient Greece the actor next in importance to the protagonist.
So, what the hell am I talking about? Well, see, this all started because I recently have been really getting into stand-up by Patton Oswalt, and I agree with all of his points, if not in practice then at least in principle. But, there was one comedy piece he did which, when he first said it, it kind of offended me as an ally of LGBT rights [Author's Note: This is the very reason why offense is meaningless; I was offended by my inference, not by the implication, and so if I had chosen to call Patton Oswalt an offensive homophobe or close-minded, not only would I be wrong, but I would have closed off my own mind to the epiphany I had on this very topic. I have said more about offense in prior posts, feel free to read them, but only after finishing reading this one.]
But, after thinking about it, I once again found myself agreeing with Mr Oswalt. Now, I'll stop holding you in suspense, the bit I'm talking about is within his Finest Hour stand-up comedy DVD, wherein he says he wants to be the first ever dumb gay best friend in movie history. Because whenever a gay person is in media, they are all characterized as the perfect sidekick, like an out-of-the-closet gandalf that clicks his fingers and can calm your worries.
Oh, and did I mention that they're men? I've never seen the gay best friend as a woman, because all lesbians are either manly or sex maniacs, right?
But anyway, in Oswalt's own words:
"I have a lot of gay friends, and a lot of my gay friends are idiots, just like my straight friends. But in every movie, all gay characters are these magical, intelligent quip machines. Which, if you're gay, has got to feel really dehumanizing after a while."
Now, I agree that gay people don't get enough fair representation in media, but when I first heard this bit, I thought "Well, yeah, it's bad that they're being reduced to this stock character rather than fleshed out, but wouldn't it just be better to have more gay protagonists? Or, just more interesting characters? Why do they have to be dumb?"
And that's not a position that's diminished per se, that's why I chose the word of the day, deuteragonist, it's like we're okay with gay people being around because they are interesting, but we don't want them in the limelight. So long as they don't take centre stage, we're happy with them being in the play.
But, to answer that question of "why do they have to be dumb?", let's move forward a month. Because, for Christmas my family got a new TV and a few fancy devices to attach to it, and so my brother set us up with Netflix. I have a couple of things to say in favour of some of the shows on there, especially Marvel superhero series, but today I am talking about gay characters so I want to mention Felix, from Orphan Black.
Now, should you watch that show? Yes, absolutely, go watch it now! Seriously, it's online, you can just open a new tab; but, after you're done binge-watching your fair share of episodes, come back here to finish reading.
. . . are you done? Well, whether or not you've watched the show, don't worry, this is spoiler-free, this is about the conception of his character. See, Felix is one of the main characters, and he is clearly and openly gay and he does follow a lot of the "gay best friend" tropes. However, he is actually the main character's brother and he has a lot of flaws; he's a party boy, does a lot of drugs and he's a bit of a slut, and I don't dislike Felix, he is an adorable and awesome character. While I think that Felix is a good evolution of the trope adding in flaws and characterization and sex-positivity and an emotional centre, I have to say that it made me re-analyze my view of what Patton Oswalt said.
See, there are no stupid gay friends in media. At least, not in the limelight, not in the mainstream. Felix is awesome, but he's kind of too awesome, and he still that have that pixie-ish I-will-lead-you-to-happiness gay-friend aspect to him which, despite all of his greater achievements, makes me question the state of homosexuality in film and television. And, before posting this, my Beloved pointed out a series of gay characters with flaws . . . but most of them were still idealized, and otherwise they weren't all that iconic or mainstream, I had not heard of most of them.
Also, I recently looked this up, and I'm not the only person to have noticed this issue. Not that long ago an old, famous gay artist came out to say that "Marriage and Kids is boring, it's sad that we're losing that Bohemian lifestyle", and in response a lot of gay people responded, including Brian Moylan, the writer of this article, "In Defense of Being Gay and Boring" which covers this from a much more personal perspective, as the writer is himself proudly "gay and boring"; to me, this is the goal, after all . . . to reach an equality so prevalent that it's not unusual, interesting or even noteworthy that you are gay, you are judged for your personhood, not your sexuality.
This became abundantly clear to me when I thought about my brother. See, I don't talk about it, but my brother is gay. The reason I don't talk about it isn't because I am embarrassed or worried about what people with think or any of that . . . it's because it's really boring. My brother is my brother, and he's always been my brother. When he came out as gay, we weren't surprised, we were just like "Oh yeah, I thought so," and that was that.
And he was never some bastion of fantastic advice, in fact I was always antagonistic towards my brother. Not because I'm bothered by his sexuality, but because he's an idiot. He is incredibly headstrong and arrogant, he's capitalist to a fault and he is judgemental, and he voted for Tony Abbott. The fact that he loves men just doesn't really matter at all, if anything that's the least annoying thing about him (he's my sibling after all) it doesn't change the fact that he's just my dumb, older brother; no different from how my dumb, oldest brother is straight, it really doesn't matter.
On a nicer note, I have another friend whose name I won't mention because I didn't ask his permission to mention him in this post. But, I met him at my Hospo class, and he is hilarious, he has some interesting philosophical views, he's a bit of a nerd, he's a devout atheist, very liberally-minded . . . the fact that he's gay is actually the least interesting thing about him. I didn't even notice until he told me, although that's because I tend to forget to switch on my gaydar, and in retrospect there were a lot of clues. But, when I think of my friends, I don't separate "gay friends" and "straight friends", I probably have a few gay friends, but they don't come to mind because I just have all of my friends, I don't separate them out; it's like asking me about their eye-colour, I could maybe remember a few, but I'd have to think about it, just like I don't separate gay/straight family. They are all just my family and friends.
Now, as much as I love my stupid brother, and as much as I think my friend is hilarious and fun, . . . neither of them live up to Felix. They're not adorably gay, they're not catty, they're not like a "sister", they're not a shoulder to cry on . . . they're just two more people that I am associated with.
That's not to say that I prefer Felix over them, I'm just saying he's a character with more agency and beneficial characteristics within the scenario of the show, with all the capabilities fiction provides. But Felix is not realistic, and his greatest flaw is the absence of flaws.
Am I here to shun all manic, pixie helper "gay best friend" characters in fiction?
Well, no. There are some worrisome aspects, in particular the "helper" role that it implies. I mean, gay people aren't all "sidekicks".
But I can't dismiss all gay friends in fiction, see I entirely understand it. It's a mixture of two things, firstly when writers were finally told that there was a gay demographic, they wanted to promote them as good people, they wanted to portray them in a positive light. And secondly, it is without a doubt gay wish-fulfilment fantasy, and I would never deprive any gay little boys of a role model like Felix.
But, this is 2016 now, we have our role models; and while we shouldn't abandon that trope . . . maybe it is time for the stupid, gay friend. Because as I said, gay people are boring. I don't look at gay people and thing "Oh, how whimsical".
Just as important as it is that we stop demonizing homosexuality, now that we're making the slow march towards equality, we need to also stop holding them up on a pedestal, and instead stand with them side-by-side, as fellow protagonists.
Of course, we may not be there yet . . . if you hear me say "gay people are boring" and you feel offended, that is a remnant of the aggression that comes from militantly defending your position from bigotry. And if you are still fighting that fight, that means that maybe we do need a few more idealistic gay characters. But, if you, like me, have come to realize that gay people are actually just another spice in the grand recipe of society pie that, while satisfying, is neither more or less tasty than any other element, maybe we really do need a gay character who isn't just there to play the helpful second fiddle to the main character . . . and who doesn't know the name of "the three guys with the muskets".
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm going to watch some more of Patton Oswalt to see what other revelations I may find within.