In the Reign of the Gay Magical Elves
By Bret Easton Ellis
Illustration by Marcos Chin
Was I the only gay man of a certain demo who experienced a flicker of annoyance in the way the media treated Jason Collins as some kind of baby panda who needed to be honored and praised and consoled and—yes—infantilized by his coming out on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Within the tyrannical homophobia of the sports world, that any man would come out as gay (let alone a black man) is not only an LGBT triumph but also a triumph for pranksters everywhere who thrilled to the idea that what should be considered just another neutral fact that is nobody’s business was instead a shock heard around the world, one that added another jolt of transparency to an increasingly transparent planet. It was an undeniable moment and also extremely cool. Jason Collins is the future. But the subsequent fawning over Collins simply stating he is gay still seemed to me, as another gay man, like a new kind of victimization. (George Stephanopoulos interviewed him so tenderly, it was as if he was talking to a six-year-old boy.) In another five years hopefully this won’t matter, but for now we’re trapped in the times we live in. The reign of The Gay Man as Magical Elf, who whenever he comes out appears before us as some kind of saintly E.T. whose sole purpose is to be put in the position of reminding us only about Tolerance and Our Own Prejudices and To Feel Good About Ourselves and to be a symbol instead of just being a gay dude, is—lamentably—still in media play.
The Gay Man as Magical Elf has been such a tricky part of gay self-patronization in the media that you would by now expect the chill members of the LGBT community to respond with cool indifference. The Sweet and Sexually Unthreatening and Super-Successful Gay is supposed to be destined to transform The Hets into noble gay-loving protectors—as long as the gay in question isn’t messy or sexual or difficult. The straight and gay sanctimoniousness that says everyone gay needs to be canonized when coming out still makes some of us who are already out feel like we’re on the sidelines. I’m all for coming out on one’s own terms, but heralding it as the most important news story of the week feels to me, as a gay man, well, kind of alienating. We are apart because of what we supposedly represent because of… our… boring… sexuality—oh man, do we have to go through this again? And it’s all about the upbeat press release, the kind of smiling mask assuring us everything is awesome. God help the gay man who comes out and doesn’t want to represent, who doesn’t want to teach, who doesn’t feel like part of the homogenized gay culture and rejects it. Where’s the gay dude who makes crude jokes about other gays in the media (as straight dudes do of each other constantly) or express their hopelessness in seeing Modern Family being rewarded for its depiction of gays, a show where a heterosexual plays the most simpering ka-ween on TV and Wins. Emmys. For. It? Why isn’t the gay dude I have always known and the gay dude I have always wanted to be not front and center in the media culture now? But being “real” and “human” (i.e. flawed) is not necessarily what The Gay Gatekeepers want straight culture to see.
I was invited to the GLAAD media awards last April by one of my agents. The agency had bought a table, and she asked me to be her date. The night was going to honor Bill Clinton—bizarre since Clinton had signed DOMA and 'don’t ask, don’t tell,' but GLAAD has also honored Brett Ratner this year after he had innocuously said “Rehearsals are for fags,” and was forced to repent. So, whatever. But I accepted and started to worry about what I was going to wear. At the time I received the invitation I really had no idea that GLAAD harbored any resentment against a gay man who sometimes expresses his distaste with the stereotypical way Hollywood represents gays in transgressive language on my Twitter account. (GLAAD had even nominated The Rules of Attraction as movie of the year in 2003—it lost to The Hours, where of course a tormented gay dude with AIDS commits suicide by throwing himself out of a window in front of Meryl Streep, whereas in Rules, cool-with-being-gay college student Ian Somerhalder only falls in love with James Van Der Beek and becomes bummed by his rejection.) It’s dumbly obvious to state, but ever since I realized I was gay I have always supported gay rights—as a gay person it just becomes part of your DNA. I have not, however, supported the way gay people have been portrayed in the media, and that’s where the Twitter rancor expresses itself. But since I know so many gay men who feel like I do—that they are represented in some kind of unending gay minstrel show in movies and on TV often created by gay writers and producers, or just conveniently ignored (not a single Best Picture nominee last year had a gay character in it)—I assumed that the community I was supposedly a part of was as inclusive as I was harmlessly critical—it’s a Twitter account, gays, move on. Certainly I hadn’t fucked-up as many gay lives as Bill Clinton had. So: I was going to the GLAAD awards. Cool, I guess.
The day before the event my agent texted me and told me that GLAAD was “furious” with my tweets and that I had been disinvited. I was sitting in the ArcLight with my boyfriend of four years about to watch a matinee of Oblivion (I don’t even want to get into the layers of gay irony surrounding that) when I got the news. The agent had sent me part of GLAAD’s email along with their “instructions,” saying that they hoped I wasn’t disappointed by the news (I was a little disappointed, but thinking it through, I guess not that surprised considering how literal-minded and irony-free GLAAD always seemed). They also said they hoped that I would not go public or tweet about this decision. They suggested, like they are prone to do (especially with dudes who have somehow “transgressed” the GLAAD Rules of Humorless Social Etiquette), that they have a “sit down” with me. As a gay man, I could only think: Where in the hell are we? Gay Elementary School? I apologized to the agent for any embarrassment this might have caused her and tweeted about the news.
A lot of gay people came out in support of me, but it was GLAAD’s party and they’re allowed to invite or disinvite anyone they want to. GLAAD has since its inception been divisive within the gay community. For all the good it has done, many gays have seen it as a group that could be almost fascistically politically correct and in confused ways: an organization that preached tolerance but would also bitch-slap anyone who didn’t necessarily agree with their agenda. GLAAD was at the red-hot center of creating The Gay Man as Magical Elf in the culture and often awarded the stereotypes parading around in embarrassing queer movies and degrading retro sitcoms as simply “gay positive” because they were, um, gay, and conveniently disregarded the fact that there is a silent majority of gay men who actively loathe and resist the caricatures on display. And, no, GLAAD, these men don’t hate themselves.
Gay activists dive-bombing other gays who express an opinion that doesn’t lean toward their agenda means that within the gay world we are living in a very simplistic place. A barbed observational opinion tweeted by a gay man about gay men in Hollywood—and not directed at anyone—becomes, in the world of GLAAD, hate-speech. When a community prides itself on its differences and uniqueness and bans the gay man because of the way the gay man expresses himself—then a corporate PC fascism has been put into play that needs to be seriously reconsidered by the LGBT community. This is a problem: If you are a gay man who is not The Gay Man as Magical Elf, then you run the risk of being ostracized by the elite gay community. An organization holding an awards ceremony that they think represents all gays and also feels that they can choose which gays can and cannot be a member of the party is, on the face of it, ridiculous. The fact remains that if you aren’t presenting yourself as a happy homosexual promoting healthy mainstream gay values and pimping for GLAAD, then you’re somehow defaming The Cause.
An openly gay director Facebooked me after the GLAAD debacle and said that he agreed with much of what I had tweeted (as did a lot of gay dudes in the industry), especially how aggravating it was to see gay people still portrayed in entertainment as basically bitchy clowns or the queeny best friend or now, on Scandal, the evil Republican. (Max Blum on Happy Endings felt like a move that balanced things out.) He thought a lot of what I said was correct, even though he may have worded it differently. A gay TV writer also agreed with the tweets but couldn’t understand why I would bother to care what The Gay Middlebrow thinks about anything. What exactly drew the ire of GLAAD and threw them into a massive hissy-fit? Well, because of something I tweeted they assumed that I believe that gay actors can’t play straight roles. Wrong.
I never said Gay Actors Can’t Play Straight Roles. I said that openly and famously gay Matt Bomer who is publicly married to his partner seemed a weird idea for the role of the very straight BDSM freako Christian Grey in the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. I thought this because of Matt’s easy openness with being gay (which I whole-heartedly encourage and applaud, especially for an actor with leading-man looks working in a homophobic casting biz) and with baggage that I believe would distract from the heavy sexual fantasy of that particular movie. A key exchange in the first section of the book is Anastasia’s open questioning of Christian’s sexuality and his insulted denials—with Bomer in the role, it becomes a very META scene. Right now, in this moment, this particular casting would be a distraction—the public/private life of the actor mixed-up with playing a voracious het predator. Now, I could be totally wrong about this as well. Maybe women seeing the movie wouldn’t have to reprocess the actor playing the role in order to fall into the fantasy. As a friend of gay actors who feel they can’t reveal their sexuality if they want to land certain parts, I know that Bomer coming out couldn’t have been easy, and it should be encouraged, and my tweet could probably be construed as borderline insensitive. But on the other hand: so fucking what? Big deal. It was simply an opinion. I wasn’t in any position to hire or not hire Matt Bomer. I simply said that in this role there’s, um, a problem—I think. (And I disagree with Bomer fans who argue that Matt Bomer successfully played a straight male stripper in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike because I don’t remember Matt in that movie at all except for the scene where he’s ogling Alex Pettyfer while telling him it’s OK to screw his wife while he watches.)
What else outraged them? Tweeting that watching Glee is like “stepping into a puddle of HIV” and that Chris Colfer singing “Le Jazz Hot” gave me “the hivs.” The fact is that my HIV-positive gay friends make gallows jokes about HIV and AIDS all the time, which helps them remove any moralistic stigma surrounding the disease and the black humor as a coping mechanism. If you get pissed at the HIV tweet, then what you are doing is making HIV a moral and political thing (which is what the right-wing did) instead of just another one of nature’s fuck-ups that happened to hit the gay community first. What I thought was funny about the tweet was connecting the seriousness of HIV among gay men (which again should have no morality attached to it) with what is essentially a dumb kids show that embarrasses some members of the gay community just because it’s so, well, lamely gay. I probably should have known that this would have enraged the gay PC police, but I didn’t tweet it at anyone. And really? If a gay man—or, let’s face it, a straight man—can’t make an HIV joke and somehow connect it with Glee, then I guess we’re all lost in The French Royal Court of West Hollywood.
Because of these and similar comments, I’ve been accused by a few vocal sections of the gay community of being a “self-loathing” gay man. I might be a little self-loathing at times (I don’t think it’s an unattractive quality, BTW) but it’s not because I’m gay. I might come off that way because I think life is essentially hard and that scalding humor and rallying against its absurdities is the path on which to move through the world—and sometimes that means making fun of myself or lashing out at media targets in a way that might make it look to a dumbass that I Hate Bret. That a gay man can’t make a joke equating AIDS with Grindr (something my boyfriend and I had used a number of times) without getting punished and being called “self-loathing” is indicative of the new gay fascism. The real shame isn’t the jokey observation. The real shame is the PC gay reaction to the jokey observation. The real shame is that most gay men—who are every bit as hilariously filthy and raunchy and un-PC as their straight male counterparts—have to somehow tow the GLAAD party line in public or else be criticized. A lot of gay men probably feel they can’t be provocatively raunchy or politically incorrect in the mainstream media because it doesn’t represent The Cause. This is where we’re at now, I guess. Within the clenched world of the gay PC police there has been a tightening of the reins. It’s as if in this historic moment for gay men we somehow still need to be babied and coddled and used as shining examples of humanity and objects of fascination—the gay baby panda—and this is a new kind of gay victimization. The fact that it is often being extolled by other gays in the Name of the Good Cause is doubly stifling.
When I tweet something admiring about Zachary Quinto’s below-radar no-frills coming out or how “Ezra Miller Is The Future” or nominating The Perks of Being A Wallflower as best adapted screenplay on my WGA ballot or how hot I think het porn star James Deen is or glimpsing Alexander Skarsgård naked in the locker room at my gym or that Adam Driver in Girls is the sexiest man on television, I always get slammed by some young straight dude who follows me—occasionally tweeting back “I didn’t follow you to sign up for this gay shit,” and “Why are you such a fag?” I shrug it off. I don’t make a federal case about it and call the local chapter of GLAAD and have this boy’s Twitter account revoked. As a writer, I believe in free speech no matter what. Conversely, I also ignore flak from high-minded members of the gay community who took me to task for tweeting, before its official release, about how much I loved Andrew Haigh’s beautiful 2011 movie Weekend, probably the most extraordinarily honest and touching cinematic depiction of gay men I’ve seen. The two gay men, who hook up and spend a weekend together, are about as far from The Gay Men as Magical Elves as you can get. They’re lonely, they’re angry, they’re attractive but not within the stereotypical gay way the media espouses, they bond, they do a little drugs, they talk, they have fairly explicit sex, they have moments of happiness even though a muted dissatisfaction hovers over everything, they might never see each other again. Certainly no one “triumphs” in a gay cliché way and its ending is extremely moving because it’s so completely open-ended and real. To me: They represent.
But some people in the gay community demanded a more “positive” outlook on gay life and disagreed with me. They argued that, if I was going to recommend this movie to 300,000 followers, I should address the fact that the two men hook-up in a bar, are alienated in their respective ways, do drugs, and express disappointment about gay life—and this is negative. (Added note: They’re also poor.) I guess the guys in Weekend should have looked into adopting an Asian baby, planned their wedding over Mojitos at The Abbey, registered at Neiman-Marcus, and booked The Parker in Palm Springs for the nuptials. I found this response pretty tiresome, as I did when IFC, which distributed the movie, told me that they had problems when testing Weekend with certain members of the gay community who rejected the film and wanted something more gay positive than the wistfulness and confusion that permeates Weekend. The fact that PC gays often demand a candied fantasy that doesn’t really exist but, hey, represents our cause, rather than a sensitive and emotionally complicated movie written and directed by a gay man who is an artist, is a huge part of the disconnect within certain factions of the gay community. Even though Weekend was tossed a GLAAD award, that early criticism of my initial endorsement was indicative of this weird new bullshit: the Gay Suits demanding “gay positive” in the media versus the Gay Dudes who just want “gay reality” in the media no matter how painful and flawed that reality is.
Jason Collins, like Frank Ocean last year, is, in this moment a legitimate hero if not just an OK basketball player at the end of his career (which is something I like about him even more). But the over-protectiveness and the avalanche of acceptance is also for some gay men a kind of condescension. It says that if you are gay in this moment you automatically represent something. And you are expected to play this role just because of your sexuality. You have been anointed The Good Gay. What this notion leaves out is that: We are not all well-adjusted Good Gays. We’re not all happily queer—meaning the queer part doesn’t make us happy or unhappy—just that some of us are cranky, depressed wrecks. We’re complicated. We’re angry. We can be as rude about our sexuality as our straight counterparts. Some of us feel the need to express our “gay” selves any way we want to, even if that doesn’t conform to “gay positive” stereotypes. (A lot of us think these so-called “gay positive” stereotypes are, in fact, “gay nightmares.”) Some of us reject the notion of how Gay Life is defined and don’t want to be a part of it, and so we create our own.
Where’s the not-famous, slobby, somewhat lazy gay dude who is fine with being gay but just doesn’t care about being PC or being an example of “moral uplift,” who just wants to get on with his life, the guy who wants to be himself without becoming a label? A gay man who doesn’t equate gay with dignity? The gay man who feels he doesn’t have to march in the parade while smiling? The inclusion and promotion of this common gay man by the Gatekeepers of Politically Correct Gayness would be something shattering. It would be a massive move toward eliminating The Gay Man as Magical Elf. We’ll finally be past the place when a record producer, or a hip-hop artist, or an actress winning her lifetime achievement award becomes an Important Cultural Event teaching us all what it means after their carefully orchestrated outfests. Someone like Jason Collins has moved us much closer to that acceptance—it opens that door wider, and the domino effect keeps rolling. But the fact still remains that if you aren’t a happy homosexual totally at ease with yourself, promoting healthy mainstream values mirroring The Culturally Correct Gay Elite, then you’re considered a self-hating homo. This is still the normal heart of the gay lie.
GLAAD's Vice President of Communications, Rich Ferraro, issued this response:
"Bret has no idea who the hard-working activists of GLAAD are and appears unaware of our actual advocacy work and mission. He might be too busy hobnobbing at galas and the Vanity Fair Oscar Party to sit down and meet us. Given the crude remarks he's made about the gay community and people living with HIV/AIDS, this publicity stunt is not surprising. GLAAD spoke with the guest who was planning to bring Bret about his recent remarks, which the gay community responded negatively to. We also asked for a time to sit down with Bret and planned to invite other leaders in the gay community as well as the HIV/AIDS community. The guest replaced Bret at the fundraiser. It is a shame that Bret appears to be trying to overshadow the high-profile allies including Betty White, Chris Evans, Beth Ditto, Kelly Rowland, and so many others who used our event to show their support for LGBT people and joined us in advocating for equality in the Boy Scouts of America, marriage, and across the country."