Remember the olden days, when the stereotype of a gay man was a hairdresser or interior designer or figure skater? These days, literally within the last few weeks, these images linger but are also joined by the likes of football stars, Navy SEALs, and coal miners.
Times they are a-changin’. And we’re not just talking about shifting public attitudes or expanding civil rights. Old-school media depictions of the quintessential queer have less to do with reality than ever before. Let’s take a walk down memory lane with some old-timey stereotypes, and compare them to the new normal.
Let’s start where all conversations should, with the show Three’s Company. The series gets straight to the point, with Mr. Roper telling Jack, ”I thought all you fellas were … you know, tinkerbells.”
“Not all of us are interior decorators,” John Ritter responds. “Some of us are boxers.” The line gets a laugh. Ridiculous! A gay boxer! The very idea!
But now here we are, in 2014, and gay boxer Orlando Cruz just proposed to his boyfriend.
Staying within the world of sitcoms, let’s take a look at Jack McFarland of Will & Grace.
We’ve known and loved plenty of Jacks. But he sure is a certain type of gay, isn’t he? Kind of a million miles away from a guy like Brett Jones, the Navy SEAL who’s writing a book about his time as a closeted man in the armed forces. Although, for all we know, Brett and Orlando are as gay as Jack in their own lives. Which, in our book, would be a good thing.
And then there’s The IT Crowd. They devoted a whole episode about the gang going to see a gay musical called Gay. That’s very gay.
Almost as gay as a steel mill.
It’s like the whole world just went gay all of a sudden.
How exactly does Ruby Rhod fit into this analysis? He’s from the past (’90s), but he’s also a vision of what queers of the future will look like. Hyper-omni-sexual around Bruce Willis, but still saving his most aggressive harassment for women. There’s really no classification for whatever he is, and that’s the way it should be.
In researching this post, we came across this fascinating compilation of “implied gay characters in Disney and Pixar movies.” Note that we went from a flowery skunk in Bambi to the muscley jock in Paranorman (which isn’t Disney but we’ll give it a pass). Embedding is disabled but it’s definitely worth a watch.
Here’s a Bud Light commercial from the 90s that features some awful drag queens as a homophobic punch line.
And here’s what gays look like in commercials today.
The final word on this should probably go to the wonderful Alonso Duralde, film expert, cultural critic and all-around good guy. In a conversation about stereotypes for BFD, he points out that even today, we are still the last wave of acceptable stereotypes in media. For now.