Why the Gay and Bi Men of Boys in the Band Still Matter

Boys in the Band

Boys Hutchison Watkins Rannells

Above: Brian Hutchison, Tuc Watkins, and Andrew Rannells

STEREOTYPES OR REALITY?

The first time Watkins saw the play The Boys in the Band, it didn’t impact him much. Rehearsals changed that, he says.

“I think when you put people like Jim [Parsons] in a role where he’s really funny but he also turns really dark — he’s a great ambassador to see how the play is wickedly funny, but it’s also really emotionally raw. The people that they’ve populated this play with really make the message pop.”

What caused Parsons initially to ask, “What is going on?” left Quinto asking, “‘Wow, how are these people friends?’ But you have to take into consideration — and what I think the play is really exploring — is this projection of self-loathing. That these characters exist in a society which belittles them, berates them, attacks them, arrests them, persecutes them to a degree that reinforces such depths of self-loathing that I think we have evolved beyond. There’s still a lot of backwards thinking and a lot of bigotry against LGBTQ people in this country — without question — especially under the auspices of the current administration. But I do feel like we’ve moved beyond the place where the LGBTQ community is at the mercy of how they are perceived by mainstream, heteronormative society.”

In many ways, Quinto adds, the lesson of Boys is that we must learn to not hate ourselves so much. “In his despair and drunken stupor at the end of the night, what Michael is left with is this desire to not hate ourselves so much and then maybe we wouldn’t be so brutal with one another. Though there are certainly undercurrents of catty shadiness, there is a kind of wit and repartee in which certain kinds of gay men still relish. That’s part of what makes the community so colorful and dynamic in certain ways … but it goes too far [in Boys] and it gets fueled by booze and drugs and all the extenuating circumstances.”

“I don’t think there’s much different about the way we treat each other,” says Rannells. “There’s a lot of value placed on wit and intelligence and sometimes that comes in the form of taking people down — and in the most clever way and the most creative way. My group of friends, we sort of go at each other pretty hard sometimes and it’s sort of half performance, half truth ... but as long as you package it as a joke, it becomes a little more palatable.”

In the play, “when Donald says something mean to Michael, or Michael says something to Harold, everybody else is laughing. And sometimes the people who are the focus of the lines are also laughing. This is the way that we communicate with each other,” Rannells says. “And when taken too far it doesn’t feel great, and it’s not helpful. That’s when it becomes I think a detriment to our community, when it’s just mean.”

Washington argues, “We’re in a Real Housewives world and people are so used to seeing ‘friends’ treat each other in very, very radical ways and then make up very quickly. So it’s not just the gay microcosm that that’s in. It’s an American pastime now of being very witty to the point of maliciousness. Sometimes I forget that [Boys] was written 50 years ago because the pronoun switching and the boys calling each other ‘she’ all the time is part of the culture now ... when you start adding in the liquor, that’s when people’s tongues start getting sharper.”

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