We all love romance, And sex. And yet, these things can become so complicated and entangled that we end up hating ourselves for wanting them so much. Everybody has felt totally overwhelmed by romantic relationships at some points in their lives, starting with the first high school crush. But to my mind, the feeling of being lost in a world of mismatched traffic signs is even more difficult when you are gay. There is simply no reliable roadmap to follow.
First of all, what are our roles? Straight people know what the rules are, how the role playing is supposed to work out. Just watch all the dating games on TV and you will see how finely tuned males and females are to the code words and body language of their culture. The people on those shows have been chosen precisely because they have internalized all of the most banal and stereotypical behaviors and have raised them to a fine art. Now what about gay men and lesbians? Have we ever really figured out what our codes and body language mean? In the world that we have created, based on "otherness" in a straight culture, much of the allure of a relationship is the ambiguity. I think we avoid any clear explanations because we are afraid that all the magic will simply vanish in the light. We have gotten used to feeling our way in the dark. The gay dating shows I have seen on TV have been failures precisely because of everyone's reluctance or inability to communicate what the real attractions were.
It's not that we gay people do not also have our stereotypes raised to a fine art. No way, in fact, we invented that camp game! We create our types by twisting and reworking the raw material that straight people have left us. "She's a gigolo," a female friend says, for instance, describing an ex-girlfriend, "like one of those guys in a movie from the 1960s with a girl in every bar." She uses a male reference without the slightest hesitation. But is the woman in question really like one of those guys? I do not think it's so simple. Gay people may take on the characteristics of the opposite sex in their romantic relationships, but we pick and choose, mix and match according to some complicated plan even we can not fully explain.
She's not really a gigolo, because she is still a woman, and that means she has learned to use certain behaviors to get what she wants in life that are different from the behaviors that men use. She has seen life from a woman's perspective, she has learned how to handle the restrictions and exploit the privileges that are a woman's lot, no matter what her sexual orientation. She is not a gigolo, and yet it is somehow stimulating, and sexy for other women to see her that way. It's a deception that makes sense to these other women because subconsciously they are also aware of the feminine side of that person and how that side informs her "gigolo-ness".
The same can be said for gay men. There are no real "queens" among men, though there may be legions of people with penises who think that they are Paris Hilton or Ivana Trump. They can never understand what a woman's world looks like when you have been female since the day you were born, and they would never renounce the privileges of masculinity that they have enjoyed all their lives. It is precisely those male privileges that empower them to break the gender rules and play the lah de dah femme fatale game.
So what good are these stereotypes, then? Can they help us find ourselves, the way that Tiffany-and-Brad on the Dating Game can help straight teenagers learn the ropes? The great majority of gay people, I believe, strive for some kind of harmony in their personal lives that manages to see with both male and female vision in a rich and rewarding way. The problem is, we do not know how to interpret what we are seeing. It is hard enough for people with the monovision of one sex, but for us it is doubly confusing. Who can guide us? Ironically, we need these people at the extremes, we need them to search out the far frontiers of gender bending and to report back what they find. Otherwise, those of us in the middle will have to muddle along forever, blindly mixing our own instincts with the dubious words of wisdom of Tiffany and Brad. Not a pleasant thought.
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