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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 19, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 29
Beyond Boys - The evolution of LGBT imagery in pop culture reflects our success
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Beyond Boys - The evolution of LGBT imagery in pop culture reflects our success

by Mark Segal - Philadelphia Gay News

Over a recent breakfast with Jason, our conversation took an interesting turn. He and I were discussing a fiction article he was writing in which the major Gay character dies at the end. Ahh, a spoiler, you say - but I'm giving away the ending because it makes a great point that recently hasn't seen the light of discussion in our community.

To Jason it was just another story, but I took deep offense at the main romantic character dying, and I actually began to get angry. All of a sudden I heard myself asking, 'Why do all the Gay characters have to die, end up in jail, or be pitiful?' I went on to explain that almost up until the 1990s, Gay characters - when they saw the light of day - were always people to be pitied. Witness The Chalk Garden, where the 'Lesbian' kills herself; The Boys in the Band, where we're all self-loathing and/or perpetually stoned; and either of Al Pacino's two contributions: Dog Day Afternoon, where he plays a Gay bank-robber trying to get the funds for his lover's sex-change operation, or his other delight, Cruising, which makes it seem the entire LGBT community is into whips, chains, and leather. Ahh, but this was the beginning of enlightenment, you see, and Al was in reality saving the Gay community from a Gay S&M serial killer.

Vito Russo wrote extensively about this stereotyping of our community on the silver screen, most notably in his legendary book The Celluloid Closet.

So we decided to watch a documentary on the subject, Making the Boys. This 2011 film is about how the first-ever play about the 'real lives' of Gay men made it to the off-Broadway stage in 1968. It later was made into a movie, which is widely available to rent - and if you have not heard of or seen it, and you want to know more about your community and our history, it's a must.

The Boys in the Band opened a year before Stonewall, and it was a huge success, since it was a first. When it opened, Gay men were thrilled to finally not be invisible, so they welcomed it for that reason alone. It was well-written and directed, but a new LGBT America was about to take the stage, and a new Gay rights movement was about to be born. And almost overnight, Boys was recategorized as a showcase of tired Gay stereotypes and got lumped in with The Chalk Garden as an essentially oppressive work.

BABY STEPS
The documentary gave me a new appreciation for those who brought Boys to the stage, and as one of those who protested it in New York City, I now understand that it was a step in the right direction - at least we weren't invisible, and the next play about LGBT people could be produced and possibly be a better example.

In fact, I now wonder if The Boys in the Band actually led the way in bringing the community out of the closet. Watching the documentary shows the viewer how far we have come.

Things are changing, and the best examples are the various LGBT film festivals around the nation, where you see LGBT people crafting films about their community and culture. The point is, my generation has seen negative representations of itself and been devastated by disease, while younger generations are beginning to feel the freedoms of our long march from oppression. Their vision is different from those of us who fought to change media and society. And that means our work has been a success.

Not sure how Jason's character will end up, but we both learned a lesson.

Mark Segal, PGN's publisher, is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com.

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