Dissents Of The Day

A reader writes:

Can I nominate your review of “Looking” for a Poseur Alert? That show is a serious case of the emperor’s new clothes. As a 31-year-old gay man (who has only seen the first episode), I was hoping to see a gay version of “Girls” or at least a show that had something smart/interesting/funny to say. You act as if the fact it is boring is an achievement in itself. Just because gay people are “normal” does not mean they have to be boring. Straight girls may be normal but “Girls” is still innovative.

I feel like every time a new show comes out featuring gay people, they always say, “This isn’t a show about being gay, it’s just a show about people that happen to be gay.” Puhhlease. I have never seen a show more “about being gay” than “Looking,” which would be fine if it were at least fresh. “Six Feet Under” was doing gay relationships in a way more interesting way years ago, and that was really not a show “about being gay.”

“Will and Grace” was also not really a show about being gay, it was a sitcom featuring gay characters. I think your comments about it featuring “the eunuch” and “the sassy queen” say more about your own unresolved issues that seem really antiquated to someone like myself. (And how was Will a “eunuch” when the show regularly featured his dating and sex life? For god’s sake it was a network sitcom, not a bareback porno.)

The show took a long time to deal with Will as a sexual being, and, when it did, applied different standards than it did to Grace’s romantic life. Maybe I should have explained that more fully than resorted to a quip. But it may – again – be a generational as well as a personal response. In retrospect, the early nervousness about Will as a sexual being slowly dissipated. My reader was 15 when the show began. I was 35. Another:

Oh please, Andrew.  I’m betting your “confession” is not news to most of your regular readership. (I’m a proud Founding Member – at the ridiculously low $1.99/month rate. I’m retired and on a fixed income, so I’m grateful for the subsidy.)  Anyway, I think you’ve made your feelings abundantly clear over the years about your aversion to gay-themed entertainment.

While you obviously have the right to your opinions – that’s why I read you! – I think you’re being not quite honest about what seems like an almost Pavlovian reaction to “Angels In America” and “Will and Grace”.

(We can agree to leave Jeffrey’s critique to folks who care.) I’m betting you’re still nursing wounds suffered during the initial AIDS epidemic.  I know you were attacked – sometimes viciously – for daring to veer from ’80s/’90s gay orthodoxy, but I don’t need to remind you of how brutal those years were and how some of the gay community’s self-righteous anger actually transformed government policy.  Yes, you got caught in the cross-fire, but our loved ones were dying horrible deaths and any conservative approach was just not going to cut it. I was in ACT-UP/L.A. in the ’80s, and the movers and shakers in that group were by and large leftist.  (I remember being somewhat aghast during an demonstration/arrest when one of my “fellow travelers” confessed to actually being a “red.”  I quickly got over my own aversion to this self-proclaimed Bolshevik. Like I said, people were dying.)

With regards to Angels, I saw the play in L.A. before its starring turn in New York.  (Tony Kushner – still an unknown writer – was in the back row that night doing rewrites.)  To see that play on stage – while the AIDS epidemic was still raging – was electrifying, not to mention funny and shocking and, in the end, moving.  Yes, Kushner’s politics were unapologetically leftist, but what he wrote was a powerful indictment of the powers-that-be.  So what if Ethel Rosenberg wasn’t portrayed as treasonous??  She was sharp – and she was hilarious. As far as “Will and Grace” goes, the case has been made many times that, by bringing gay men (whether they were kissing or not) into America’s living rooms, the highly successful sitcom did more for gay rights than anything outside a Supreme Court ruling.  The fact that Will and Grace (and Jack and Karen) were part of the entertainment zeitgeist of the (gay) nineties was more kismet than you give it credit for.  Let it go.

I have. The post was full of the sense that all of the emotional turmoil was completely understandable, if very painful. One more:

While I generally found your take on Looking accurate, I found myself in complete disagreement with one sentence: “this is not yet what I’d like to be able to watch: a convincing drama about gay men in, say, Houston or Atlanta.” This statement is based on the assumption that no such life exists in Houston or Atlanta, or at least not in the “just living” context that Looking seeks to illuminate about gay life in 2014. This statement assumes that if gay life exists at all in either of those places, it is still in the closet and shame driven Boys in the Band style. It also wreaks of East Coast elitism.

As a gay resident of Atlanta who has also lived in enough other places to have perspective from which to compare it, I can say your statements could not be further off base. First, I’ve lived as an out gay man in DC, Chicago, and Boston and I can say that Atlanta’s gay community is just as visible and vibrant as all three of those cities. Second, while the state’s politics are not as progressive, I can assure you that gay people in Atlanta live just as normal, baggage-free lives as the characters portrayed in Looking. The city’s and state’s politics are not all that different from the DC you lived in less than 5 years ago. Before the recent passage of same-sex marriage, was DC’s gay community cloaked in shame and secret codes? Did the gay residents of DC not live the same normal lifestyles you see on Looking today?

My reader misunderstands me. My point was precisely his. You could have portrayed this dimension of gay life without centering it in San Francisco. In some ways, I think the cutting edge is precisely in those cities, and it would have been a little fresher in perspective. But the reader response to all this reminds me again of how fraught the portrayal of minorities in the mainstream media can still be.