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)