From Fops To Jocks: How Gay Stereotypes Are Changing Faster Than You Can Say Jack McFarland

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.

bud light drag queens

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.

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  • viveutvivas

    I didn’t know Jack from Three’s Company was supposed to be gay. Didn’t he date girls on the show?

  • ncman

    When comparing the navy seal and the boxer to the Jack McFarland character on “Will & Grace”, just what is this statement of yours supposed to mean:

    ” Although, for all we know, Brett and Orlando are as gay as Jack in their own lives.”

    Are you suggesting that there are different levels of “gayness” and that the more masculine your mannerisms are, the less gay you are? I mean, doesn’t your statement fly against everything you were trying to accomplish with this article?

    You seem to be asserting that Brett and Orlando may actually be big ‘ol nelly queens in their private lives while cleaning up their act for the public to “pass” as hetero-normative jocks.

    Isn’t it much more likely that gay men exist throughout the entire spectrum from the most hetero-normative all the way to the most flamboyant? And, that each of them is equally gay and equally valuable.

  • ncman

    @viveutvivas: He was pretending to be gay so that the landlord, Mr. Roper, would allow him to be a renter in the apartment with the two girls.

  • balehead

    There are different levels of gays….sad queens prove this…

  • jwrappaport

    “There’s really no classification for whatever he is, and that’s the way it should be.”

    Why is that the way it should be? Why should we strive to live in a genderless and orientation-free world? This is no doubt a well-intentioned remedy for those who have been marginalized for not belonging to the right group – be it race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or what have you. But the solution cannot be to do away with our differences wholesale, for they are what make us human.

    The experiences of a gay man of color are likely very different from those of gay white men because they often face unique struggles. The same is likely true with respect to say trans women and cisgendered women – they face different challenges that make them distinct and special, and indeed human. It’s our uniqueness and the extent to which we differentiate ourselves that make our species unique and our cultures so rich. Would we have had Jane Austen in a genderless world? Would we have had Erroll Garner in a colorless world? Would we have had Tchaikovsky in an orientation-less world? I don’t think we would, and I don’t want to live in a world where we’re all the same.

    There’s no question that we shouldn’t impose classifications on others, but the answer is not to just do away with classifications altogether. I’m a cisgendered gay male, and I like being that way. I’m not an omnisexual genderqueer – if you want to be, that’s great, but I think it’s pretty presumptuous (and ironic) to insist that we should all simply not differentiate ourselves.

  • yaph

    hey matt don’t be a drag just be a queen

  • Tracy Pope

    @ncman: I agree, that was a “huh?” moment. The writer seemed to fall into the very trap he was trying to point out we need to break free from.

  • hyhybt

    New stereotypes, but the old ones don’t go away. At some point, it must be that there will be so many contradictory ones that it doesn’t qualify as stereotyping anymore.


    I adore “Flower” in Bambi, just a widdle kid dressed in black & white fur!

  • matt baume

    I’m as confused as anyone else by the “in their own lives” and “way it should be” lines, which I did not write.

  • Kieran

    I think we need to confront the fact that these habitual nelly stereotypes of gay men have been a highly pernicious tool used by homophobes for generations to shame and embarrass millions of gay and bisexual men with the goal of keeping them closeted.

  • ncman

    @matt baume: well, you ought to be in the position to get the questions answered, right?

Comments are closed.