That's the problem — gay people get very punchy when stories are presented as OURS. (Image via THE WALL)
There's an absolutely nails-on-the-chalkboard, ranty essay over at The Advocate from a person I've never heard of before, a fitness professional named Jason Wimberly. I guess he's worked with Selma Blair and Jane Lynch.
The piece is about how Logo's reality series Fire Island looks like it will contribute to “Gay America's Moral Decline.” This, he has decided based on a 90-second trailer:
I urge you to put aside any negative feelings you have about the actual place Fire Island, A-gays, people with great bodies who show them off and the reality craze in general. I am not drawn to this show and am not attempting to defend it. I would say it looks to me like it's seizing on a colorful segment and situation of the gay community as a way of luring eyes and, based on some of the clips, possibly to address issues of interpersonal relationships while still providing plenty of escapism.
One thing's for sure: Gay men are a lot less likely to attack, let alone not watch, reality series with no gay content than reality series with gay content. (Case in point, Finding Mr. Right, which actually deserved all the scorn because the guy at the center of it is a total ass. But I digress.)
Getting back to Wimberly's Advocate piece, what embarrasses me about the gay community is not that we've fallen so low as to have a show like Fire Island and men who spent their summer chasing fun and excitement — that has been happening forever! It's part of the human condition, and more specifically, gay men have been having a blast on Fire Island for better or for worse for the better part of a century.
What bothers me is that a truly historically important outlet like The Advocate is now reduced to (effective!) clickbait like this fussy piece, which is ostensibly bemoaning the existence of a gay TV show on a gay network, but which actually delivers some tone-deaf messaging that's straight-up anti-gay.
Wimberly starts with a story to which we can all relate, involving how people have become entitled and rude. Fine.
Next, Wimberly slides into fantasyland, where he actually argues that the use of curse words is a major issue:
I remember when the use of “bitch” on television was a national debate. Now curse words are commonplace in all forms of media ... Now, I have to be fair in saying I uphold myself to some pretty strict standards. I don’t use the f word ... As a public person, I take the way people perceive me seriously, and not just because of my own self-respect, but for my respect for the LGBT community as a whole.
Seriously? That's laughable. Swear words are a very expressive and creative part of any language, and are often very effective when making a point. Can you imagine a pioneering gay civil rights activist— you know, a gay person any of us has actually heard of, which should be the definition of a public person, and who has actually done something constructive for the cause — worrying about swearing? That's a major issue?
It goes from bad to worse, but I don't believe most Advocate commenters will really consider Wimberly's words, because they'll be so caught up in the bashing of Fire Island (damn pretty people!). Wimberly actually makes the self-loathing argument that LGBTQ people need to present a sanitized image (what else is not swearing and carousing?) to non-straight people in order to win equal rights:
As a minority group, the actions of a few can unfortunately shape the view of many. Giving this sort of behavior a national platform where it becomes normal and invited into our homes is the problem. By all means, live your life and have fun as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. My issue with all this, though, is that I do feel it can hurt others simply by allowing it to be so common.
So now a TV show by and for gay people that shows us doing things that most people like to do (drink, party, have fun summers, have sex) is detrimental to our image, and is giving us a bad image? Does this person really believe that that has anything to do with the status of our rights? How very homocon of him.
I'll repeat a bit of what I wrote as a comment on Wimberly's poorly written, illogical and dangerously shallow piece:
Wimberly's argument could be used against him. He's a fitness pro, so isn't his business's reliance on images of hairless, ripped, beautiful, young people sending a bad or certainly cookie-cutter message? Hasn't the same argument been used a zillion times to tell femme guys to tone it down in order to help our cause? Doesn't a guy who wears heels (as Mr. Wimberly does, and more power to him) get that?
Hasn't his argument also been used to tell those among us who are considered outrageous in our expression to suppress those impulses for the greater good?
More importantly, anti-gay forces hate us, Mr. Wimberly, because we suck the D-word.
You can try to be the very best boy with the very best body and the very cleanest look and the very cleanest mouth, but most of them will still always hate us. It is baked in by the Bible and by social pressures.
The way for gay people to win is to be 100% visible at all times — and in all shapes and forms. There are good and bad gay people, deep and shallow ones, pretty and not-so-pretty ones. We sometimes go to jail. We often go out looking for sex. And for fuck's sake, most of us swear.
And your concern for the pre-teens who see us in all our naked glory is misplaced. That's who needs to see that gay people exist in all forms. Telling them they have to fit a santizied mold to be accepted is a recipe for suicide.
Trying to be the perfect gay in order to please our oppressors is like having lots of plastic surgery in order to make someone else love your look when they simply don't. It won't work, and even if it helps, it won't be permanent and it won't matter because you won't be you even if you win some ground.
It's sad that The Advocate and hell, all of us with online voices, have one-and-a-half eyes on clicks. Clicks drive most of us with to post some stuff we might not otherwise. But I expect more from an institution, and I think if institutions went back to pushing what they honestly believe, what they find relevant and what they think will make a difference, those institutions would rise in our esteem and do better, be better, than they have become.
So I'll use Wimberly's closing thought and direct it at the The Advocate:
I implore you to look at what you choose as entertainment and make better choices.
Escapism is fine. Anti-gay morality pieces are not fine.
Watch or don't watch Fire Island. But don't fucking tell me that some escapist fantasy about boys in the sand (which may or may not work in some life lessons) is giving us a bad image.