We talk a saucy talk and blithely mouth off on a variety of topics, but if someone in the spotlight offers criticism of us as a group, we’re as quick on the defensive as Shia Labeouf after being called an arrogant jerk. It makes sense. Many of us were bullied as kids — and continue to be harassed — simply because of our sexual orientation. What’s more, despite all the progress we’ve made in society, we’re one of the last groups that some people manage to get away with bashing in the media, and in life. No wonder we’re thin skinned—we’ve grown sensitive to being picked on and routinely bristle at a dis, especially one that’s internationally picked up by the media.
Naturally, when Bible-thumpers, bigots, and performers like Eminem rag on us, we want to scream and protest our lungs out. That’s perfectly honorable. But how about when celebrities who actually like gay people make fairly reasoned remarks about our behavior? Have things become so politically correct that we can’t even stop and listen before organizing a rally?
Last year, Rose McGowan enraged the community with comments she made in a podcast with queer author Bret Easton Ellis. The onetime Charmed and Chosen star engaged in some sweeping generalizations, but she also offered specifics as to what troubled her about gay men. She criticized those who boycotted the Dorchester Collection hotels owned by the sultan of Brunei (a country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable) and for not protesting the abuse of women in Arab states. “Gay men are as misogynistic [as straight men], if not more so,” McGowan said. “You want to talk about the fact that I have heard nobody in the gay community, no gay males, standing up for women on any level? I think it’s what happens to you as a group when you are starting to get most of what you fought for. What do you do now? What I would hope they would do is extend a hand to women.” Women, she said, have invaluably helped gays get where we are today, but we have egregiously failed to return the favor.
In a subsequent Advocate op-ed, McGowan clarified that she may have stated some things indelicately (such as one stereotypical remark she made about gays in Speedos on Molly), but she stands by her point. And she elaborated, “When equal pay for women was voted down by every male Republican, there was no LGBT outcry.”
Well, there was definitely LGBT outcry over McGowan’s remarks, but it might have been more useful to step back and seriously evaluate them. What McGowan didn’t seem to consider is that many subgroups of our culture don’t always go to bat for other ones, out of some sense of competition for the smaller pieces of the pie that we’re all offered, not to mention the battle fatigue that comes from endlessly striving to be validated. Furthermore, the “women have helped the gay movement” line of reasoning is as grandiose a generalization as the contention that gay men are misogynistic. Yes, many women have lent support, but in 1969 (the year of the landmark Stonewall riots), the radical feminist group the Redstockings was founded and claimed that male homosexuality was a blatant rejection of women and therefore completely objectionable. What’s more, a 1976 book, Dangerous Trends in Feminism, goes into detail about the rampant criticism of the gay movement by certain feminists, adding that gays were too polite to reciprocate the attack.
That said, you have to admit there’s some truth to McGowan’s remarks about gays and misogyny, especially when you leap from the ’70s to the present. Ever go to a bar and hear guys complaining that there are too many “fish” there? Ever see a drag queen whose idea of insightful humor consists of jokes about menstrual cycles, yeast infections, and other vaginal happenings? And a lot of gay men don’t seem any more sensitive to lesbians or bi women than to straight women. I’ve written about how gay men and lesbians rarely even seem to be in the same room these days — at least not by choice. In the early days of ACT UP, gay men and women came together to combat the ignorance surrounding the blazing AIDS epidemic. Gender lines dissolved as LGBTs united for a hell of a fight. Today, the only lesbian interaction for way too many gay guys is a daily tune-in to Ellen DeGeneres’s show before heading back to work or the gym.
Of course, McGowan isn’t the first celebrity to chide gays and make us whinny. In 2003, Bette Midler told Larry King that she supported gay marriage but was concerned about the fact that gays like to “move around” and therefore might not be the kings of settling down. Perhaps Midler — who became a star in a gay bathhouse in the 1970s — was relying on an old trope, but she wasn’t totally off base in describing one of the prevailing moods of our community. The reality is that one reason for the urgency in getting gay marriage approved has been to offer the chance to legitimize monogamy or commitment. But some were quick to label Midler as homophobic and damaging to the cause. I truly don’t believe that she is, though I admit I’m glad she never tried to articulate that point of view again.
In 2011, celebrity matchmaker Patti Stanger went a step further than Midler by saying on Watch What Happens Live that gays’ sex drives need to be reined in, that “In the gay world, there’s always going to be ‘open,’ ” and “There is no curbing the gay.” When host Andy Cohen protested, “I’m down for the monogamy,” Stanger literally spat in disbelief. And the gay community spat right back — this time rightfully so. We don’t have to sit down and take blanket assumptions like that, especially since Stanger doesn’t dabble in any of the specifics or logic that McGowan tried to trot out.
The next year, the gays-are-sluts movement found a new friend in socialite Paris Hilton, who said, “Gay guys are the horniest people in the world.… They’re disgusting,” adding that they will, “like, die of AIDS.” To be fair, she said all that in a cab, where she was talking to a gay friend about Grindr types who hook up a lot. Hilton’s publicist immediately did spin control, then Hilton herself went whole hog and apologized, saying she wished she could take back every word. If only — but haven’t we all criticized some of the behavior spawned by those sex-crazed apps and sites? And can you imagine what would happen if the backseat remarks of every gay person on Earth were leaked by crafty cab drivers? A lot of gay people railed against Hilton for her comments, but McGowan and I both hope they’ll be there to support her the next time she’s faced with a women’s rights issue.