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The Last Gay Word: Too Much Damn Sex!


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The Last Gay Word: Too Much Damn Sex!


by Brent Hartinger, Columnist

November 22, 2005

Remember when we gay folks used to complain that all the gay characters on television had to be completely asexual, sanitized for the country's protection? Talk about a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away!

With Queer as Folk proudly blazing the way, American television viewers have recently been led on an unending binge of gay one-night stands, dark alley hook-ups, sex clubs, prison rapes, hustlers, bathhouses, cyber-tricking, crystal sex, and orgies.

Just lately, we've learned that they'll be plenty of skinny-dipping in Dante's Cove, that men do the pairing off on Noah's Arc, and that, at least according to the producers of Nip/Tuck, bisexual people enjoy “fourgies.” Even Six Feet Under, which I used to cite as the best portrayal of gay men on television, had to spend its last two seasons having its “committed” gay couple basically screwing everything in sight. Boy, we're sure not in Kansas anymore, are we?

It seems like since Hollywood has decided that it's okay to show gay men, warts and all, they've decided to concentrate on the, uh, genital warts. I know this makes me sound like a total prude, but I wish they'd cut it out. It's just not that interesting. If people want to watch sex, there's always p***. Worse, these shows are no more accurate a portrayal of gay men than when we were only portrayed as asexual eunuchs. So what's really going on?

Well, sex sells, whether it's gay or straight. And controversy always gets attention. I have no doubt that Hollywood producers, especially those of sponsor-free cable shows, are happy to have their writers push the gay sex angle. And once the ball gets rolling, it becomes a vicious cycle, with each show trying to out-shock the other.

Even now, I can hear the objections from my Hollywood peers. “But we're just reflecting reality! This is the way gay people really act!” Sure. Some gay people.

When the New York Times Magazine asked screenwriter Paul Rudnick about Romentics, a new series of gay romance books where the main characters are monogamous, he said, “Then it's not called gay romance. It's called gay fantasy." I have no doubt that does describe Paul Rudnick's circle of gay friends. But it doesn't describe mine. At all. So why not show some balance?

Here's where things get complicated. I can't help but think that television's recent foray into the seamy gay underworld also has something to do with the crappy way we gay men have been treated by society over the years. Now that a few of us have landed in positions of power in Hollywood , it's almost like we take a certain malicious delight in rubbing straight America 's noses in the grittiest aspects of gay life. “You think gay men are offensive? Well, I'll give you offensive!”

So the reason we have so much gay sex on television is because Little Johnny Writer was picked last for basketball in the sixth grade? My degree in armchair psychoanalysis allows me to say, “Maybe so!”

Doesn't anyone else think it's weird that the biggest taboo on television is not a meth-fueled gay orgy, but rather showing two gay men in a long-term, committed relationship? After all, Will & Grace has had an endless stream of one-night stands for Jack McFarland. But Will, the one who yearns for a relationship, has remained mostly single for almost eight years now.

And why not? There's nothing subversive about gay orgies; that's what the Christian right thinks we're all doing anyway. Showing or joking about them on television just confirms their stereotype of us, and everyone is happy. What scares the bejeezus out of the right-wing is the idea that we might actually fall in love, and that our relationships might be just as valid as theirs.

Interestingly, this same cycle of sex has happened before, in gay literature. Back in the 1970s, when it first became acceptable to write about gay characters, the books quickly devolved into almost identical storylines: the character with the horrible childhood discovers he's gay, and then embarks on a stream of indiscriminate sex and self-destructive drug use. I remember reading the thousandth such novel, Pagan Babies, and thinking, “This character is an immature, self-absorbed twit!”

It was at that moment that I decided that I had far more in common with the straight characters in “straight” books than I did with the self-destructive idiots in “gay” one. So I simply stopped reading gay fiction. I wasn't the only one. The publishing industry's focus on the most pathetic aspects of gay life almost killed gay lit for good . It wasn't until the late 1990's, when publishers finally began offering non-pathetic gay characters, that readers came trickling back.

I hope television gets its act together, because if not, I predict the same thing will happen all over again. Who thought the day would come when I'd want less sex? But that day has finally come. And that, my friends, is the Last Gay Word.

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