Photo by Bruce LaBruce
Two (presumably) unrelated incidents occurred this week that made me stop skipping in my tracks, stiffen my wrists and think as hard as a lesbian erection at a Justin Bieber concert about the current state of homophobia in the world. (I intended that introductory sentence to be marginally homophobic, but more on that later.) Firstly, Kristy McNichol, star of the brilliant 70s dramatic TV series Family, finally came out of the closet at the age of 50. (The actress who played her older sister on the show, Meredith Baxter-Birney, also came out as a lesbian a few years ago, and the show itself was inspired by An American Family, an early 70s PBS documentary series on which the eldest son, the late Lance Loud, came out on national television. Which all goes to show that if you scratch a typical family, you’ll find a faggot or dyke.) For those of us who have closely followed Kristy’s career, first playing Buddy, the wise-beyond-her-years, super cool, skateboarding ultimate tomboy on Family, and going on to secretly date Ina Liberace, Liberace’s niece, in the 80s (apparently it also runs in families), the announcement didn’t come as much of a surprise. Kristy came out to discourage bullying against LGBT youth, although some cynics were quick to point out that since she has lived in obscurity for the past 20 years, the gesture doesn’t have much of an impact now. Clearly the closet still runs very silent and very deep – a quick perusal of the list of out actors on IMDB suggests that, based on percentages alone, only a fraction of public entertainment figures have publicly declared their homosexuality (right, Anderson?). So in a time when gay visibility and rights are supposed to be making such great strides, what’s the big deal?
The second incident occurred when my editor at VICE emailed me to ask me IMHO – In My Homo Opinion (my joke, not his) – if this article is homophobic. I’ll share my response, and then try to sort out some of the larger issues it brings up about homophobia, cultural stereotypes and sexual identity.
I replied to my editor that I found the article vaguely homophobic, but since its style seemed consistent with the general tone and “voice” of VICE, which one might identify as snarky, ironic, gonzo, occasionally juvenile, polemical, confrontational and even deliberately offensive, it didn’t bother me so much. You should probably know by now what you get when you read the magazine, which also reflects a certain aspect of the zeitgeist (it’s descriptive as well as prescriptive), and expect – even hope – to be regularly offended by it. In my homo opinion, the media landscape would be pretty dull if there weren’t any high profile publications out there pushing the limits of acceptable behaviour and political correctness.
Having said that, the article is pretty much a hot mess on the subject of homosexuality. The use of the term “ass-spelunking” is an arguably slightly clever variation on a series of timeworn synonyms for faggotry that equate it with anal sex (turd-burgler, rump-ranger, soap-chaser, bum-chum, pillow-biter, to name only a few), a rather strange and antiquated notion considering that everyone has an asshole and by all reports most people, regardless of their orientation, like to stick things in it for sexual pleasure. “Limp-wristed lifestyle” sounds like something I would say to describe myself, but it sounds a bit strange coming from a presumably heterosexual writer. I often use old school gay terms such as “limp-wristed” or “faggoty” as a way of reinforcing and supporting the idea of effeminacy in gay males (see my opening paragraph), or in men generally, which is really the crux of a lot of homophobia and homophobic violence (as is masculinity evinced by lesbians, or by women generally). In fact, there seems to be a whole new tendency in the gay world toward a certain “homonormativity” that implicitly expects gay men to be less “fruity” and lesbians to be less “butch” in order for homosexuals to be more accepted by “straight society”, an attitude that is strangely consistent with textbook homophobia. Things get even more complicated with the T’s of the LGBT equation – the transsexuals – who are generally expected to adopt heteronormative signifiers of gender. It’s an issue that’s a bit taboo to talk about, but it has more to do with the strict cultural delineations between masculine and feminine behaviour than with sexual orientation, per se. No one is mistrusted or maligned more by gays and straights alike than an effeminate male heterosexual or a masculine heterosexual female. A hideous, horribly misguided arch-conservative female columnist recently wrote a preposterous anti-sissy diatribe in a Canadian daily newspaper that exemplifies the hatred a lot of average people have for effeminate males – especially young ones who have yet to define any strict sexual identity.
Transexuals are generally more accepted if they conform to strict gender identification and heteronormative behaviour once they’ve reassigned. “Passing” as the opposite sex is still the order of the day, presumably because the human imagination cannot accommodate a multi-determined, fluid, and complex interpretation of gender. I guess public washrooms would just be too confusing.
The part of the VICE article that comes closest to being traditionally homophobic is the description of Afghani soldiers “dressing up as pretty little ladies” and having “curious effeminate tendencies” and “bizarre gay encounters”. The condescending tone of the description suggests that American he-men soldiers stride around shirtless and suffer gladly the effeminate, cross-dressing Afghani girlie-men who prance nearby, outrageously flirting with them. Bradley Manning, the cross-dressing homo US soldier in Iraq who blew the whistle to Wiki-leaks, might beg to differ with this manly characterisation of US soldiers, but more to the point, it’s clearly a mistrust and fear of the other in cultural terms that drives the representation. Effeminacy and intimacy between men in Afghani culture are apparently more acceptable than in America, owing partly – but not exclusively – I expect, to the segregation of the sexes practiced by certain theocratic societies (a clear argument for nurture over nature in terms of homosexual development, which is a very unfashionable view of homosexuality currently in the West). Of course it seems strange to the eyes of Westerners, like the writer, who arguably has some hang-ups about what makes a man a man. The cliché of the macho, straight American top soldier and the passive, effeminate Afghani one is highly questionable. I’ve heard lots of stories about Western soldiers spelunking, as well as getting spelunked by, Afghani soldiers. When in Kabul…
Ultimately the writer redeems himself somewhat by suggesting in the last paragraph that it may be their faggoty, mincing behavior that has turned the Afghani soldiers into an invincible force that has staved off the advances of macho imperialist Western forces for centuries. Join the homosexual intifada!
Previously: Wondering... Art AIDS