Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Too Stupid for Words

So this week New York magazine has done a cover story on Neil Patrick Harris, whom they dub the first (openly) gay break out TV star.

So what do they have him doing on the cover?

That's right -- putting on lipstick.

Do you think they would have asked a straight actor to do that?

Yeah, that's what so many gay men do (especially in the bear community) -- put on their shirt, their tie -- and then slap on some bright red lipstick.

I was gratified to see that on the magazine's web site plenty of people were put off, a bit appalled, and even angry about the dumb cover.

Of course, some people just don't get it.

One commenter said that actors wear make up and that it would be funny if a straight actor put on lipstick, so what's wrong with a gay actor doing it etc. etc. etc. Another posted that it was part of a "theatrical" scene not a "gay" scene. Surrrrre. C'mon, did they have to tout this openly gay actor with a shot of him putting on lipstick!? [Besides, Harris is not wearing drag but what appears to be a typical business outfit, so why would he fucking need lipstick?]

The point is that straight men and gay men are perceived differently in our society. Gay men have been struggling for decades to be accepted as men.

Why did Harris even agree to pose for this shot? In the reasonably well put together article by Emily Nussbaum he says, in reference to his boyfriend, "if I say something like 'He didn’t wave flags,’ it sounds like I’m disrespecting people that do, who I think are tremendously important, but there’s more than one way to get into people’s psyches."

That's always been one of the big problems for the gay community. Celebrities always get more attention than activists from the media and general public (and the gay community) but celebrities don't always have a strong gay identity or feel any need to "wave a flag" or think responsibly about the gay image.

Later in the article, which looks at other Out actors and their chances for becoming stars or leading men, Nussbaum writes: "When Grey’s Anatomy’s T. R. Knight came out, it underlined his lack of chemistry with his female co-stars."

I never watched Grey's Anatomy but I always bristle at the suggestion that a gay actor can't do convincing love scenes with women . I mean, Rock Hudson certainly did and he was by no means a particularly great actor. Suggesting that gay men can't be convincing leading men in hetero romantic dramas or comedies is forgetting that it's all about acting. [In any case, Harris has just been cast in a leading "straight" role in a romantic comedy.]

Back to Harris and his lipstick. I don't know if it was a straight person who came up with this idea (or Harris?) or a really dizzy queen who thought it would be cute -- oy vey! -- but combining "gay" with make up is so old hat and tiresome, so indicative of the narrow perception in which the very diverse gay male community is held, that it really makes you think that even forty years after Stonewall it's "three steps forward and two steps backward."

And I think of all the homosexual men who stay in the closet or won't identity as gay because they think (rightly, I'm afraid) that the dominant gay male image in most people's minds is that of a silly "queen" who wears make up and pliably swishes about on the command of some dumbnut photographer.

New York will probably justify the cover by saying that it's edgier and more attention-getting than a more standard shot of Harris would have been. But where is their imagination? Is Harris putting on lipstick really the best they can come up with?

Not inventive. Not imagination. Not clever.

Just stupid, disrespectful -- and debasing.


Andy Heath at Preston Book said...

It seems these days, perhaps more than ever, that gay men are stereotyped as being flaming, feminine creatures, incapable of masculine behavior. What people do not understand is that we are men, just like straight men are. When people think of us as women, I think they forget the point of being gay - for a man to be with a man - for a manly man to be with a manly man, yes.

Bill Samuels said...

I couldn't have put it better myself, Andy! Thanks for your comment.

You've got a very interesting blog, by the way!