A recent article in Details about A-List gays reminded me of how back in my NYU days, I took a film studies class called “Images of the Other”, taught by Professor Donald Bogle, who you’ve probably seen as a talking head on AMC or E!’s True Hollywood Story at one point or another. As soon as the text, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films was assigned, it became clear that the course was limiting its “otherness” to African Americans. Being young and easily indignant, we tried to ask why there were no Asians, Filipinos, Native Americans or gays featured in the survey; why there was no “other” in the other– but soon learned that
Prof. Bogle would only call on the black students in the class, making questioning his authority more difficult than usual. Fortunately, the class devised a system where we would pass paper slips with our questions to the black students, who would ask them on our behalf, but Bogle had clearly seen this strategy before and would launch into a discussion about his friendship with Eric LaSalle anytime a question about his teaching methods was brought up.
Here’s the thing: It was an amazing class, probably one of the best of my college career. Prof. Bogle turned me onto Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, the many pleasured of Carmen Jones, even the charms of Boomerang. He also taught me about the enduring strength of stereotypes as well as how they can be cleverly subverted. My favorite part of the class was Bogle’s ironic Ben Stein-ish delivery of his lectures, which crystallized the voice of many Black folks who have heard the stereotypes and assumptions so many times that rage has been replaced with the weariness of hearing a joke that’s been told over and over again.
I never really believed that Bogle’s voice was authentic, but reading Mike Albo’s asinine piece “The Rise of the A-Gays” in Details, I’m beginning to understand how my old college professor felt, because let’s face it, this shit gets old:
“Make way for the A-gays. Moneyed, successful, educated, and comfortable in their own skin, they’re fast becoming the new archetype of cosmopolitan masculinity. The urban man’s man. They don’t own yappy miniature dogs or time-shares in Fort Lauderdale; they own Labradors and four-bedroom summer homes in Sag Harbor. Instead of cruising in gay clubs, they jet to Gstaad or the TED conference, and party at Sundance with Zooey Deschanel. They don’t want to be part of any kind of closeted group or velvet mafia. Their Savile Row suits are impeccable (A-gays tend to go custom rather than buying off the rack), and they furnish their homes with collectible pieces by designers like Claude Lalanne. They drive to Krav Maga class in Lexus hybrids and read four newspapers a day, including the Wall Street Journal, because they’re bosses and entrepreneurs, not employees. Often athletic, they’re never steroid queens. And they can pull off having much-younger boyfriends without looking creepy. Artists and photographers approach them with new works. Charity committees beg them to cohost their benefits and sit on their boards–and they have portfolios of philanthropic interests that aren’t just gay- or AIDS-related. Some, like one couple in New York City, a lawyer and a chef, aren’t just avid operagoers, they’re benefactors. Others travel in Wasp circles.”
Vomit. How many times have you been told by some clueless hetero, “Wow, you’re not like most gay guys”? Well, here’s a whole article of that guy, just shocked, shocked that not all of us “are the guys running around in torn jeans and leopard-print tops telling women what not to wear.”
Are the only homosexuals Mike Albo met in his life’s the ones he’s encountered in frat-boy comedies? This pseudo-anthropological bullshit would be entertaining in its naivete were it not being used to peddle the idea that there’s an uber-class of manly gays to which gay men should aspire to be a part of. In Albo’s mind, the gays are in need of some butching up and these A-Gays look like just the sort of stereotype he’d like us to be:
“They are the antitheses of the Carson Kressleys and Steven “Kojo” Cojocarus–they don’t want to talk about how to hide your chunky sister’s hips or brighten up a bedroom with colorful pillows. They will never say “Just wear it with a belt!” They own the company that manufactures the belts.”
You see, an A-Gay is just like a straight dude, only richer and with better style; in short, it’s the target audience for Details. The gay community is even broken down into a caste system. We’re not exaggerating– Albo uses the word “caste.”
Those of a certain pedigree have a tendency to stick together, and A-gays are no different. While they don’t shun B-gays or C-gays, they tend to move in rarefied circles, and are apt to be found at upscale restaurants among their straight peers–not at bars with names like Rawhide. For the most part, they have opted out of the gay scene and its social networks and eschew the theme parties and bathhouses of the lower castes. They also steer clear of the typical pink vacation destinations; you will not catch an A-gay shirtless in South Beach or at a foam party in Mykonos.
Up until now, I was unaware that the impoverished gay masses were whiling the night away at theme parties before running off to the bathhouse, where presumably, they would tell each other “Just wear it with a belt!” While the idea of the “A-Gay” has been around forever, it’s strange how straight media is obsessed with characterizing and classifying us, as if a gay taxonomy will solve the illusive riddle of homosexuality once and for all. Details isn’t the first (the Sunday Times took a stab at figuring us out in 2006), but it’s probably the worst.
Of course, like all gays, A-Listers represent a threat to the virile heterosexuality of the American male. Albo writes:
“For straight men, the A-gay is even more confusing. The average guy might have a gay friend or two, but they rarely represent a challenge to his heterosexuality. The A-gay’s success–with personal style, in business, with friends–has a gravitational pull. Often straight guys hope that some of that A-gayness will rub off on them and, before you know it, they’ve developed a man crush. And that’s when their wives start giving them looks.”
Are there some very rich, stylish gay men who wouldn’t be caught dead in a gay bar? Sure. Do they run the gay world and serve as a model of homosexuality to the rest of the gay community? Hardly.
One of the moments from the Prop. 8 protests that I will remember most vividly is sitting in the intersection of Hollywood & Highland, right by the Kodak Theater at 10pm on a Saturday with about 200 other protesters. We had marched seven miles from downtown, blocking traffic and determined to make ourselves visible in places other than police-cleared empty city blocks.
Exhausted from the walk, the L.A.P.D. could have shuffled us aside, but instead, allowed the group to make its stand in L.A.’s equivalent of Times Square. We filled the time passing around a megaphone; one man explaining to the tourists our trip from downtown, a homeless man who joined us read a poem about being treated as an equal, the 10-year old son of a lesbian couple said that he wanted everyone to know he loved his parents even though they were different. It was moving and honest and when one protester misspoke and said “Today is a day in infamy!”, I yelled, “History! Infamy’s a bad thing”, but everyone knew what he meant.
I hopped on the megaphone as well and spoke to the tourists, saying “We want you to know that we’re just like you. We’re normal people –” and my voice faded for a second and looked around at our protest, filled with young, old, different races, a friendly straight guy on a bicycle who kept handing out water and goldfish as we walked and one man who walked in a wedding gown with a carnival mask on. I perked up and said, “Or not normal! It doesn’t matter. We’re the same as you.”
And we are. Some of us are exotic hothouse flowers and some of us are strudy pine trees, but most of us are both and more than that. Like all stereotypes, there’s truth in Albo’s reductio ad absurdum view of the gay community, but by mistaking crude simplifications for truth, Albo tells us more about his fears and insecurities than he does any useful truth about who we are.