Totally Gay and Stereotypically Single

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There has been a very recent television trend of showing gay men in relationships (Kurt and Blaine on Glee, Mitchell and Cam on Modern Family, Bryan and David on The New Normal, Tom and Sam on Smash), and while these representations may be working their way into the public mindset about what gay men are like, they have not created any new understanding of what gay relationship dynamics are like.

There are certainly many stereotypes about straight men and women as individuals, but there are almost as many stereotypes about how straight men and women interact with each other. Men can’t resist staring at breasts; women don’t like corny pick-up lines; men only want sex; women only want romance; etc. The stereotypes for gay men in relation to each other so far are that one is the man and one is the woman. And the extremely limited representations of gay women in relationships (depicted mostly outside of the mainstream media) are more of the same.

So if stereotypes about relations between men and women are negatively affecting straight relationships and marriages, as I pointed out in the first part of this post, what is the effect of the lack of stereotypical relationships between gay men and women? You can look at all the statistics you want, but I have my own theory.

The effect is freedom!

The stereotypical gay is, if male—flamboyant, colorful, sensitive, flirtatious,and  stylish; and if female—sporty, butch, confident, casual, and aggressive. Both are typically single, and each hypothetically fits together perfectly with their same sex heterosexual counterparts, just as men and women are supposed to. They also serve as the perfect best friend for the opposite sex, or as the YouTube video series has made famous, the perfect husband or wife. Here’s an example of one of the videos in the series that I did not show in my last post:

These videos are evidence that real gay and lesbian people are picking up on these expectations and are happy to perpetuate them further. Is it because they are threaded with truth? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s because the media depictions of gay people provide those who previously had no clear way of defining themselves with an outlet for expression and easy access to their own social group.

In our culture, coming out as gay or lesbian means you are making a choice to leave one community where there are certain roles and expectations and join another community where there are different roles and expectations. Not to say that being gay or lesbian is a choice, but that coming out is a choice, and presenting differently in order to fit the mold of the group is a choice.

Many gay youth who spent years acting one way under the guise of heterosexuality come out and suddenly begin acting differently. Is this a release of pent-up expression and emotion? Or is it the expression of a new understanding of oneself? It’s hard to say definitively, but I believe the latter is more than likely.

But this effect does not, I believe, penetrate the relationships between gay and lesbian people.

Simply put, there are no rules about how gay people are supposed to be in a relationship together. No rules about money, no rules about chivalry, no rules about gifts, no rules about sex, no rules about needs, no rules about dates… and the list goes on.

The gay couple as pitched by the recent media is a combination of stereotypical gay plus gender-normative (albeit quirky) gay. The assumption being that these relationships will be the same as heterosexual relationships. But this is not always true. It is not always the case that a “butch” lesbian dates a “femme” lesbian, and it is not always the case that a typically masculine gay man dates a more effeminate gay man. Therefore, these relationships are free of all the assumptions and expectations the media berates us with.

It will be interesting to see how this pattern progresses as LGBT issues move into the limelight in the coming years. Will there be more media representations of gay relationships? What will they be like?

Surely it will take years to build up a set of assumptions and understandings about gay relationships pervasive enough to create an onslaught of internet memes, videos, podcasts, blog posts, movies, articles, television shows, and conversations comparable with those we have today concerning heterosexual relationships. Hell, heterosexuality even has its own film genre! The romantic comedy. Culturally defined by the stereotypes it depicts.

Whew! LGBT folks, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do! (wink wink)

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11 responses to “Totally Gay and Stereotypically Single

  1. Great points on this! Really, I would love to see two middle of the road semi-butch/semi-femme lesbians get together, as it’s a bit less biased in my eyes (and hits home more for me). For gay men… Well, I do believe the guys on modern family, albeit a bit eccentric, shed a positive light on a good middle of the road (loosely used on this one) dynamic between two men, despite one being a bit more over the top than the other. I’m going to start following you, friend. Can’t wait to see what else you have to say!

    • I agree! The Modern Family couple is closer to reality than any of the others, I think. Also, more middle-of-the-road would be great for lesbians but also in general for all couples, of any gender! I’m excited for the future of LGBTQ people in the media. I’m excited to hopefully play a part in it! Thanks for commenting and following, friend! 🙂

  2. This is really interesting. I wonder though what you would say about body size and type and whether those do create roles? In a number of cases both personally and through friends I’ve heard how being bigger and taller puts a lot of pressure on that person to be a certain way in a same gender relationship. Bigger people are supposed to be protective and strong and generally take on more masculine traits. And this is actually a very well formulated stereotype in our society. In a same gender relationship the gender stereotypes are diminished and so others take there place. Thoughts? (Also I definitely need to start reading this more, very cool stuff.)

    • Hmm, point well taken! I suppose I’m lucky in that sense to be roughly the same size as my girlfriend. I would be interested to hear more personal accounts of this dynamic. As it stands, I’m wondering if height and size is an isolated factor or if does or is assumed to carry other implications. Also, does it only affect the expectations of the shorter person or might it sometimes change the independent inclinations of the taller person? How unfortunate that such pressures and beliefs exist. I’m sure that it would only take a little while of the media showing more relationships where the man is shorter for such things to fade into the past though. Height is such a silly standard to have in a relationship, I think! I will certainly pay more attention to this. Thank you!

  3. As a person that has largely unplugged from television (I only watch old shows on Netflix) my questions are:

    Why does the media have such a strong influence on our culture?
    What can we do to reduce that influence?
    Are stereotypes mainly created and supported by media, or by our interactions and conversations with real people?

    If there really are fewer stereotypes for gay relationships, that is an incentive for heterosexuals to reconsider their orientation! No really, I’d rather just continue to ignore what everyone else thinks of me and follow my heart regardless.

    Your website looks great Anna! Sorry I’ve been such a stranger to your blog. I’ll try to be a better father in that respect!

    • I think you make a great point in that we definitely give media power by talking about it all the time and taking it for granted as true and representative of life without question. I’m not sure how likely it is that the influence of media will be reduced any time soon, but encouraging people to think and question what they see and hear seems like the best first step. I’m glad you stopped by! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      • Such a refreshing, progressive and enlightened opinion. This post was a joy to read!

        I just wanted to weigh in here: the media is the primary way that modern movements take place, which is why gay representation is so important in this form.

        Gays and lesbians suffer from skewed representations and peculiar expectations in the media because it is more easy to market to the hetero public. At the same time, those that seek quality use the same vehicle to make a difference and change society’s values.

        Therefore lgbt culture and how it is portrayed is of infinite importance to those of that persuasion, as messages that are intended to inform and educate are muddied bystereotypical fem!gays and butch!lesbians (not that there is anything wrong with seeing these representations at all!)

        To reduce the influence of the media is difficult. Impossible at this stage, really. After all by asking for changed representation, there is also the risk of getting no representation instead.

        Stereotypes are generally never lost, though. However in most locations with more active lgbt scenes (big cities, mainly) the public themselves are generally less ignorant and more informed. Really the solution is just to have a more active lgbt presence in more places, literally having a demonstration of stereotypes being both followed and subverted by those that are a part of it.

        (Hope I didn’t step on anyone’s toes by butting in on this little conversation, albeit a year later!)

  4. This is fantastic! My girlfriend and I had a long talk discussion about this a while back because we think we’d be lumped in the same “Is she butch or femme(ish)?” category. And we see people do it all the time. I think your point about the depiction of gay couples on TV right now is exactly why. People in society try to lump every gay man or woman they come across into the butch or flamboyant category and a majority of the community doesn’t belong on either end of the spectrum. She and I are both athletes and yes, sometimes I enjoy wearing a tie and she enjoys wearing summer dresses, but 80% of the time, we’re in jeans and a button-up or sweatshirt. It’s crazy how easily the middle of the spectrum majority falls through the crack because we don’t make a lot of noise! I’d love to be writing the pilot for a show that did relationship dynamics justice. I love being in a real, loving partnership with someone and I don’t think that part (the good or the bad) is shown very often, sadly. Loved this post!! Thank you for sharing 🙂

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