The Exciting Sex Life of Gay Toys
It has become a commonplace that gay people are everywhere. We are everywhere - is even on bumper stickers. We are Martina and Greg, Rupert and Ian, Ellen and Will on Will and Grace. Well, actually we aren't the actor who plays Will, but we are the character, which is a little different although not in the minds of Christian conservatives who think that television is less a vast wasteland than a gay recruitment booth in a day care center. But in the past five years a curious thing has happened on the way from dare not speaking our name to being damn near everywhere. Suddenly all these very odd people keep turning out to be gay. Well, not really people--more like slightly humanoid things.
First it was Bert and Ernie, which seemed almost reasonable - after all, like Robert Mapplethorpe and Holly Hughes they received public funding. Then some people began saying that Barney - that purple bundle of empathy and enthusiasm - was "that way." Talk about a positive gay role model. But then things began getting really odd. A lot of homosexuals in Great Britain began saying that the purse-carrying triangled-headed Tinky Winky was a gay old thing and wasn't that fun. When this news crossed the big pond the Reverend Jerry Falwell (replaying right-wing complaints of two years ago about Bert and Ernie) agreed with the first sentiment but not the second. Seeing the little bouncing bundle of purple pleasantness as nothing less than a sinister fifth columnist for insidious homosexualism the Rev. Falwell denounced the Tink as a threat to America's tykes. Then all of a sudden lots of people began saying that Jar Jar Binks, the goofy Gungan hero of The Phantom Menace was also a homo. In fact, so many people began saying it, the producers of the film held a press conference to deny it. Hello. What is going on here? Have we gone insane?
Keep in mind that it is not just gay people who are claiming these fuzzy creatures as friends of Dorothy. In some cases it is right wingers as well. When arch enemies can agree upon something you know we are all in trouble. Homosexuality, apparently, has flooded the market and no one quite knows what to make of it. In one sense this claiming of non-human compilations of cloth and rubber makes some sense. Lacking visibility in the media gay people have always taken a special joy in pointing out media personalities who they thought might be homosexuals. But the reality is that there are so many out and vocal queers why would gay people want to claim unfabulous nonesuchs as homosexuals? Conversely, conservatives have always, with a degree of accurate paranoia, been obsessed with the idea of gay people being everywhere. But - as above: there are real gay people all over the place; why pick on these foam and fabric folk?
In the past twenty years there has been a radical change in gay and lesbian visibility - a gradual infiltrating of openly gay people, images, styles, and influence throughout all of U.S. culture. While we may still have a way to go queers have essentially won the visibility wars. To the right this is a tremendous threat. For nearly seven decades the most powerful tool of homophobia has been enforced invisibility. This is now a thing of the past. Under siege and feeling pushed, social conservatives began - with the Anita Bryant "Save Our Children" campaign in 1978 - to see any visible manifestation of homosexuality as a threat to the innocence of children. Their nightmare vision has multiplied over the last two decades. First it was gay teachers who were a threat, and then gay children's books - Heather Has Two Mommies still rankles curriculum witch-hunters after all these years - and now gay cuddlies who, heaven forbid, may even be gay role models for kids. Is it any wonder conservatives end up looking a little crazy?]
But for gay people a funny thing happened on the way to being everywhere. This new visibility did not simply make gay people visible--it also made them a threat. Visibility brought gay people more freedom but also engendered a backlash placing them in a perverse dialectic with right-wing fears of a widespread gay menace. No one is saying: stay in the closet and remain invisible. But the proliferation of gay images in the mass media brought the image of gay people - and gay sexuality - to the forefront. This became increasingly true with AIDS where the image of gay sex - particularly butt fucking - lurks behind even the most sympathetic story and news report.
In the 1960s and 1970s homosexuality was defined by the mass media as being about "sex." As homosexuals matured as a community and a movement they insisted that the fourth estate represent the third sex in all of its magisterial complexity: from gay families and marriage to lesbian team sports and gay male AIDS support systems. But somewhere in the mix the problematic specter of sex got lost. Often this happened in direct proportion to how upset - and reactive - conservatives were becoming with gay media visibility.
This caused some in the gay community to tone down its sexual image. Not simply to be more "acceptable," but also to avoid the ever-present impending backlash. Is it then any wonder that harmless, silly, infantilized images of gay men are going to be promoted by the gay community? Remember that all these moppets and monsters are perceived as being gay men - lesbians in the media continue to be tennis players and rock stars.
These new gay "people" are so not sexual they don't even have genitals. They can't have sex, transmit or be infected by HIV, they can't even diddle with themselves - they don't have dicks. In a profound sense they are the perfect gay male icon for the late 1990s -- cute, silly, harmless and oh-so-innocent. So innocent that they are not even human.