Fear of phallic queers

BY Richard Goldstein

November 07 2005 12:00 AM ET

We may be
“a gentle, angry people,” as Holly Near once
sang, but we won’t be fully free until we also
wield weapons righteously. For better or worse,
virtuous aggression is the signifier of heroism in our
culture. This is a myth of valor we are denied.

I had high hopes
for Oliver Stone’s Alexander. How
groundbreaking it would be to portray a world
conqueror as the other-than-hetero man he was! But
Stone has never created a robust gay character, and his
Alexander was a neurotic mess. He wasn’t queer
because same-sex love was honorable in his time but
because he suffered from mother horror and father
fixation—a good candidate for reparative therapy.

Few things are
riskier in Hollywood than showing queers who are capable
of aggression that isn’t motivated by pathology. It
evokes the most primal nightmare straight men have
about us—that we’re out to rape them.
More than any religious dogma, this violation fantasy is
what keeps us down.

The rape phobia
rears up in Richard Greenberg’s play Take Me
Out,
when a queer baseball player accosts a naked
homophobic teammate in the shower. The difference
between that play and Alexander is the
difference between self-assertion and anxiety. In queer
characters, assertion is still forbidden; anxiety is
routine.

There are some
notable exceptions, such as Hilary Swank’s stunning
performance as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t
Cry.
But that was a complex adult drama.
I’ve yet to see a genre movie in which a gay man
plays a paladin protecting the innocent, like the Rock. Nor
is there a lesbian version of the vengeance-wreaking
Uma Thurman character in the Kill Bill movies.
Only on the LGBT festival circuit will you find such a
bride.

Why are there no
queer top-gunners? Why do we never get to mow down the
enemies of freedom? Why are we not even shown walking large
dogs? Because of heteros’ fear of the phallic
queer, the homo who can love and fight. (This capacity
isn’t reserved for males—you don’t need
a penis to be phallic.)

Mind you, there
are plenty of feisty, conniving gays on reality TV,
epitomized by Survivor’s Richard Hatch. But in
most reality shows the deadliest homo sins are arch
superficiality, an addiction to face creams, and a
deep need for hugs from straight guys.

Some complex
queer characters appear on pay cable, where sexuality and
its discontents can be fully explored.
Deadwood’s Calamity Jane had the makings
of a phallic queer—until she got domesticated.
Realistic? Perhaps. Mythic? No way.

In enlightened
movies we’re allowed to be complicated—but not
valiant. And old stereotypes persist. Take
Capote. There’s something awfully trad
about a treacherous, narcissistic fairy ending up lonely. I
know it’s a true story, but why this true story?

When it comes to
queer men, the latest movie trend is to have them
cheating on their wives: Think Far From Heaven,
De-Lovely, Kinsey,
and Brokeback
Mountain.
This fixation on infidelity reveals
another anxiety about us. Call it a feminine variation on
the male-rape fantasy: We’re seductive but
slippery, like a Venus flytrap. Why is it permissible
to show gay relationships in an adulterous context but not
in a heroic one?

We pay a price
for this omission. It reinforces the belief that we
can’t defend ourselves. When we internalize
that message, we become the fairies we are meant to
be. Straight men can rest easy; the phallic queer remains
repressed. n

Tags: Commentary

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