The Binaries of Gay Men


A gay person is and is not so much more than their sexuality, but sadly the greater of pop culture feels that gay people are the latter. In about the last decade or so there has been an incredible surge in LGBTQ people in television, and just overall awareness of gay people in general. There has been a great amount of exposure and focus on gay people as of late;however, the focus is so narrow and dividing. The focus gay people get in pop culture is an unfortunate attempt of inclusiveness. Gay people are capitalized and content is produced merely because there is a market for it. In 1998 when Will and Grace first aired it was shortly followed in 2000 by Queer as Folk, simply because a market had previously been created. This market for gay centered programing has since expanded, however the expansion of programs has garnered little to no broad representation of gay people. A new HBO show Looking shows gay men on a heteronormative scale. The characters break away from stereotypes, but ultimately lack any depth or interesting qualities. Then the complete opposite spectrum of gay people is represented as the flamboyant queen. Queen being taken literally in RuPauls Drag Race. Also, Stefan from SNL is the exact representation how a modern American perceives a gay person. Furthermore, I find these two representations often pitted against each other. I see this between Jack and Will in  Will and Grace, and Robin Williams and Nathan Lane’s characters in The Birdcage. The only true representation I’ve ever felt is in a film called G.B.F. I will go further into what the film is latter in the essay; nonetheless, I’ve found that even with something that I feel accurately portrays what it is to be a gay, at large an overwhelming feeling of ideas from the film are being missed. Ultimately, the film just proves that Straight America capitalizes on the gay community and lacks actual support for the community. At last I feel that although today’s world is so diverse and full of characters, gay men in Pop culture are portrayed between the flamboyant queen or the reserved heteronormative ideal.

HBO’s Looking has nearly obliterated any trace of heterosexuality. There are a few supporting characters who are straight, but they are few and far between. That being said the  staring characters couldn’t fit more perfectly into a heteronormative identity. The main protagonist of the show is played by Jonathan Groff, and he’s character’s name is Patrick. Patrick doesn’t meet the general stereotypes of a gay man. He’s rather reserved, works as a video game designer, and is overall rather naive about anything in the gay scene. At first glance this seems awesome and like a very progressive show. However, the show just seems to lack depth with the characters. Have the staring cast all be gay characters opens up and array of ideas, but the show keeps resorting to a very standard drama guideline. Rich Juzwaik wrote a piece on Gwaker and had this to say about the characters, “Patrick has a flirtatious relationship with his ball-busting boss! Dom is intrigued by a man who’s older than his usual type! Agustín has eyes for a bad-boy escort, even though he should know better!”. All the characters just seem to follow very rudimentary plots but just with a twist of gay added to it. When saying that this show falls into a heteronormative ideal is saying that the gay characters have been assimilated into everything that would portray a heterosexual person. Everything except their sexuality of course. This can all be argued with that gay men are finally allowed to be portrayed as boring, and that the show has a sense of normalcy to it. However, this is still not a normality that I know. I don’t know what it’s like to be a gay person who shies away from his sexuality. I certainly don’t make it apparent, but I am not one who doesn’t enjoy flaunting it from time to time like the men of Looking seem to. However, this flaunting is done to the nth degree by the drag queens in Ru Paul’s Drag Race.


RuPaul’s Drag Race is a reality television competition in which men dress as their drag persona to compete to be the next drag superstar. Drag Queens are a subculture in the gay community of men who dress as women and lip sync to songs. This is the simplest of definitions. The show is highly entertaining, but it shows a very specific side of gay culture. These performers while incredibly talented in many aspects, they are also the men of the gay community who are the most boisterous and at times ostentatious about their sexuality. It’s no secret that any of these men are gay. They flaunt it, own it, and embrace it. This is something I have incredibly respect for and a aspect of the show I can slightly relate to. However, these men are so over the top that I feel it’s a very polarizing show. These men are the embodiments of a gay stereotype. They are all catty, they’re all witty and have great one liners, moreover they all seem to be image obsessed. Nonetheless, I can still sit and enjoy the show, but, no, I do not feel as if my identity is being represented through these men.

Not feeling represented through these shows is fine. It is understandable that it is impossible to show every possible person, and that a show is not going to try and portray every known identity. This is especially true of the show I previously discussed – Looking. However, it is still apparent that the only know homosexual identities that are portrayed throughout pop culture are the boisterous queer and the subdued half way in the closest gay guy. These identities are not only seen isolated in me previous examples, but can also be seen pitted against one another.

As far back as my knowledge and pop culture understanding goes the film The Birdcage is one of the earliest films to pit the queen and the reserved gay together. The film is a remake of the 1978 Franco-Italian film, La Cage aux Folles. The remake stars Robin Williams as the macho straight acting man, and Nathan Lane as the out spoken, clearly gay, lover to Robin Williams’ character. Through out the film Nathan Lane’s character is criticized for his apparent homosexuality. There is even a scene where Robin Williams teaches Nathan Lane how to appear more masculine. This is all done in order to calm the heterosexual guests that will be visiting Williams and Lanes’ home. After the debut of The Birdcage it was only two years until Will and Grace appeared on T.V. Will and Grace was a very popular show back in early 2000’s. The show revolved around a gay man, Will, and his best friend, Grace. Will is a seemingly put together lawyer who at first glance doesn’t appear to be gay. Will is countered with Jack. Jack is clearly a homosexual with an obsession with Cher, and he’s a man who doesn’t really seem to have anything in life figured out. This show once again provides the example of the binary portrayal of gay characters in T.V. and film, but it is also clearly a portrayal of the two being contrasted against each other. The representation of gay men for the last 15 years or so has remained constant. However, there has been at least one film to tackle this binary.

G.B.F. or Gay Best Friend is a film that tries to break the obvious gay versus the reserved gay cliche in movies and T.V. The film is about a gay teenager, Tanner, who wants nothing more than to fade into the background. Tanner just wants to read his comics and get through high school life. When Tanner is accidentally outed he becomes the newest cool kid to have at the prettiest and most popular girl’s side. Tanner essentially becomes the hottest commodity, much like an iPhone would.This filmed seemed to have the most realistic portrayal of gay people even if it is just slightly out of my generation. I felt Tanner’s high school experiences most relatable to my life, much more so than what I see on T.V. anyways. The sad truth to the film is that it recognizes the binaries I discuss that gay people are portrayed in. The moment Tanner is outed all he wants to do is to continue to be unnoticed and enjoy his nerd lifestyle, but that isn’t allowed when the popular girls want to make him their new gay best friend. When Tanner does;t conform to their ideals of a gay person these girls force him into it. They want him to gossip, dress like he has the great fashion sense, and to be that oh-no-you-didn’t-gay they’ve seen on Bravo. While I felt this film had the best representation of my chosen identity, it still shows that at large the majority of gay male representation is of a man whose outfits are so stylized it’s unquestionable of his sexuality, and that he has the wit to match the floral pants he’s chosen to don.

I feel I am represented in both of the binaries that are often portrayed. I feel I am unquestionable queer at times with my mannerisms and how I choose to present myself. Nonetheless, I feel subdued and subject to heteronormative lifestyle when I drink a beer or watch a football game on T.V. I feel very straight whenever I play a video game, and then I feel my queer side come out when I chose to play a different gender in said video game. My favorite part about my homosexual identity is that it does’t need to conform to gender roles. I can be feminine or masculine at the drop of a hat. However society, or pop culture, at large doesn’t sen o get this notion. A gay man isn’t portrayed as flexible as I fell. Hopefully, I will see a more honest portray of gay man, rather than restricted portrayals I see now.



3 thoughts on “The Binaries of Gay Men

  1. Hi Ryan,
    Wonderful essay! It is well known how inaccurate gay males and females can be portrayed in popular culture, so it was really interesting to hear your perspective about it. I liked how you brought in well-known TV shows and how you described the characters. Because you used shows that I am familiar with, I know exactly what you’re talking about with the stereotypes they carry. I am also taking a minorities class this term (you should definitely take it… everyone should; it ties in really nicely with this class), and we discussed sexual orientation for an entire week. An idea that was sparked in this class that I also thought of while reading your essay, specifically your introduction and conclusion, is how much people perceive one another based on their sexual orientation. Like you said, being gay is only one aspect of someone; it doesn’t describe the entire person.
    Very well written. I truly enjoyed reading your paper.

  2. Ryan,
    Your essay brings up a lot of issues with the portrayals of gay men that have been on my mind for years.The only archetype besides the gay man who acts really manly in spite of being gay, and the highly flambouyant gay guy, is the twink, which I do not know if it’s more of a gay community thing or if it actually has a decent presence in popular media.

    I wish I could have heard more about this “alternating between being feminine and masculine” you mentioned, and how it could possibly be part of how gays could be better represented beyond two extreme sides of a spectrum.

    One reason why I think homosexuals are subjected to so much stereotyping in media and TV shows is their lack of an important role most of the time. Most gay characters I see on TV are either nameless bystanders for a gag or minor characters. If there were more gay characters that had a central role on a show their personality would have the opportunity to be fleshed out, and stereotypes would need to be avoided for that to happen.

  3. Ryan your essay was really well done, I am still so mad that the media does a generally bad job of portraying gay men. I personally am tired of the stereotypes used and the fact that gay characters in TV or Moves have only one personality and that is that their only personality is that they are gay. Thankfully there are a few movies and TV shows that don’t do this and a good character on TV or film is a man that happens to be gay. In the film “Single White Female” the main character has a neighbor that is a friend of her’s, and he just happens to be gay. His life does not revolve around her and as far as we can tell he lives a normal life wit ha good job and a nice apartment. For me that is one of my favorite examples of a gay man in a film, but some other great examples come from films like “Brokeback Mountain”, “Philadelphia” and “A Single Man”. Great work though on this essay I was really interested in reading it and I was not disappointed!Awesome job and keep up the good work!

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