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Michael Musto

My Proud Life as a Gay Stereotype

Christopher Campbell/Unsplash

Also: Lady Bunny lets it spray all over her face

I've written before about how I happen to unwittingly fulfill various cliches of the single, witty (I hope) gay man in the corner, and how I've gradually come to terms with my plight. But on reflection, it goes far beyond all that. In fact, I'm clearly a living, breathing monument to all kinds of gay stereotypes--just about every one you can think of, though I certainly didn't plan any of this; in fact, I'm basically a self-made personality who grew up with no out gay role models and had to form my persona from instinct. I'm proud of myself for being out and vocal, and if I fit too neatly into certain gay slots, at least I do it my way. But there's no denying that I'm as stereotypical as an interior decorator with a lisp and a handbag. Let me lay it all out for you, in stereotypical fashion:

*I love show tunes! I can't help it, but I'm a cliched theater queen who lives for a good musical. I grew up watching excerpts from Broadway musicals on TV variety shows, longing to see them in person because I knew their glitzy spunk would lift me out of my shell and drive me way over the top. Alas, the first show I was taken to see was Man of La Mancha, a muddy, moody, very brown enterprise that wasn't exactly what the gay doctor ordered. But in the following decade, when I caught the original productions of A Chorus Line and Chicago in the same year, my head spun from the joy, invention, and musicianship on display. That cemented my theater queen status for all time, and now there's never a musical I miss--including the one about Tourette's syndrome a few years back. And I stayed for Act Two!

*I live for divas! I love a good, strong, glittery female performer--any time, any place. Even back in the Broadway shows I mentioned, it was the women--Donna McKechnie, Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera--who made my blood boil with excitement. There's nothing more fun for me than a peppy, funny, powerful lady with pipes and personality, whether it be Judy, Barbra, Liza, Diana, Madonna, Rihanna, or Gaga. And what could be more stereotypical than that?

*I'm terrible at sports! At school, I used to dread having to go on the parallel bars or be thrown into the pool. I eventually managed to get into the school orchestra, partly so that would give me an out from having to go to gym class. But that didn't mean my torture had ended--hardly. In the schoolyard, I was not even the last one chosen when the kids divvied up teams. After they picked everyone they wanted, they would simply leave me there, as unselected as non-organic kale! There was a brief period when I became interested in the New York Mets, mainly because it was a way to bond with my father, but watching them play was as far as I was going to go when it came to participatory sports. And as the world's perception of gays in sports kept evolving and gay didn't equal klutzy anymore, I stubbornly clung to my pathetic-ness, more of an old stereotype than ever. Even a game of Chess is too strenuous for me. But at least when all the gays started obsessively working out, I only went to the gym a total of four times. Dodged a stereotype that time!

*J'adore campy movies. My favorite kinds of movies aren't necessarily the Oscar winners--they're glossy, overproduced, hyper-acted "trash" like Valley of the Dolls, Mahogany, and Mommie Dearest. Watching these godforsaken gems over and over again, I can't even see anything wrong with them. They are pure joy and work for me on every level, from fashion show to cautionary tale and beyond. I'd go so far as to say they're good. Stereotype, anyone?

*I live for the nightlife. Like a good (cliched) gay, I can't get enough of bars, even after all these years. I break the mold in that I don't drink or dance, so I'm definitely a stranger in a strange land, but still, I ritualistically feed off the ambience of nightspots where slightly cracked but fascinating people get together to let out their ya-yas and express themselves. And if that makes me a stereotype, so be it.

So there you have it. I'm an old school gay cliche from my asymmetrically coiffed head to my ultra light loafers. And rather than crawl under a gay rock about it, I've decided to embrace my status because it's not a choice, and besides, "stereotypical" behavior is often stuff that emerges as a direct result of being gay. When I was growing up, "sissies" weren't generally chosen to play on teams (as I mentioned), which certainly dampened our interest in sports. And "sissies" like me escaped into divas and show biz and playing parts in school plays (and instruments in the orchestra), where we could pretend to be someone else, while gleefully making our own kind of music. Also, we learned to cultivate our witty, cutely catty sides in order to get positive attention and be popular at gatherings--it was always the wit of the outsider, gaining access to the mainstream through zingy intellect. And speaking of gatherings, we eventually immersed ourselves in nightlife because there, we found other like-minded, damaged but lovable weirdos who suddenly belonged because we'd created a family of fabulous freaks. If that all makes me a stereotype, so be it.

After all, some stereotypes happen to be endearing--we're real people, not just formulas with bank accounts--as long as you bring some originality to them. And I know I do! Yes, I'm stereotypically smug too.



If the following review makes me even more stereotypical, then I'll wear it as a badge of honor: Long running drag star Lady Bunny is currently doing the most screamingly, gratifyingly, crap-your-pants funny show in town. Upstairs at the Stonewall--which was always a riot--Bunny is appearing in Trans-Jester, poking merciless fun at pc normatives while celebrating her off-color life as a "cyst gender person" who had a cyst removed from one of her nuts and is worrying that her fuck buddy might not approve of the reduced swelling. The show is all like that--raunchy and eye opening, fetidly appealing yet thought provoking.

With a rumored writing assist from Boca Raton widow and Facebook sensation Beryl Mendelbaum, Bunny rewrites pop songs, coming up with "Here's my asshole/Condoms maybe" and Adele's "Hello" as sung by a gerbil packed up her butt! (You certainly can't say "That's been done"--even by Adele.) She sings snippets of completely original creations like "Granny, why'd you get AIDS? You were dying anyway." She spins and shimmers and, in amazing voice, renders the manic country tune "I've Been Everywhere (ending with "Where haven't I been? Oh, high school!") And she offers her thoughts on the absurdity of having come from a generation that fought for urgent things like AIDS drugs and now has to deal with a freakin' landmine every time you open your mouth and say innocent stuff like "tranny". " 'Slut shaming'?" squeals Bunny. "I thought the best thing about being a slut was getting called dirty things. 'Suck it, whore!' " As for the T word, Bunny recalls landing on her knees with a her finger up a guy's butt "as his nuts sprayed all over me and I said, 'Who's your tranny?' " Diving into the topic of the insane bathroom laws down south, Bunny observed, "They think someone like me is going to go into a women's room and peek over the stalls, looking for hookups? I do that in the men's room!" That led to another parody song ("If loving black dick is wrong, I don't wanna be white") and two Sondheim homages (including one that reached a peak with "I got through Stonewall the movie--and I'm here"). Trans-Jester is transformative, even if you don't agree with every word that comes out of the Lady's seasoned mouth. (I was glad Bunny followed a spoof song about Caitlyn Jenner's favorite things with "That was trans-phobic". And that's her point anyway--we've got to lighten up, folks.) I wanted even more stuff--like how does she really feel about "cis", a word designed to describe the vast majority of the population, who aren't trans? Does Bunny feel the word is even needed? I don't know, but Bunny's show is as essential as oxygen from a Dominican delivery guy's balls.



Photo Courtesy of Philly Mag

A Chicago school under threat of extinction is the setting for Ike Holter's crackling off-Broadway play Exit Strategy, in which a seemingly milquetoasty assistant principal, some fed up teachers, and a crafty student gather to vent, evolve, and kick serious ass, while facing what seems like the inevitable. RyanSpahn (a cohort of mine from Logo) is just great as the unwittingly spunky assistant principal, Deirdre Madigan is perfect as a seething teacher, and everyone else gets to effectively strut, snap and make waves, with never a dull moment. See Exit Strategy--it's a real schooling, with hot things on its mind.

Speaking of educational needs, I hear that MoMA is currently planning a retrospective (including a film series) honoring Club 57, a 1980s East Village hangout where performers like Holly Woodlawn, Ann Magnuson, and Joey Arias etched out groundbreaking character work as they scaled the consciousness. Some night, you should slip an extra lemon wedge into my Diet Coke and I'll tell you about the production of The Sound of Music that I was in there. Maybe!



Photo by Joan Marcus

Three-time Tony winner Frank Langella is angling for a fourth with The Father, in which he's Andre, an 80-year-old man who thinks he's being gaslighted, though he's more likely losing his grip as he grapples with constantly shifting realities and mistaken identities. Entire conversations turn out not to have happened--at least not the way he thinks they did--and he's always convinced his watch was stolen (until he finds it) while wondering what happened to the grocery-store chicken he was sure someone just arrived with. As Andre becomes unsure whether he's a former tap dancer who lives with his daughter Anne (Kathryn Erbe) and her husband or he's an ex engineer whose daughter Anne lives with her new lover, he erupts into states of frustration, anger, and confusion as the mounting dementia becomes apparent to everyone but him. As written by winner Florian Zeller (translated by ChristopherHampton) and directed by DougHughes, the play has a lot of short scenes punctuated by blinding flashes of light--neurological short circuits that seem to signal the vanishing from the memory of what just happened. But I found that approach a tad irksome, and though the play is initially innovative and is touching throughout--I heard sniffles around me--it becomes a slow march, igniting again when Andre finds himself confined to a home, where he falls into a puddle and moans "I want my mommy!" As with so many plays through the years, the best asset is Langella, who's commanding and moving (except for a couple of semi- whimsical moments that I felt could have been better directed). He's such a gem, you can definitely set your watch to him. "Love him" says me, the gay stereotype.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Michael Musto