June has been dubbed Gay Pride Month and you know what that means.
Well, okay, it means many things.
But among them is the launch of and spotlight on anything having to do with the LGBTQ community, a 30-day period where we are discussed, referenced, represented and respected.
Okay, mostly respected, because there will always be haters of any marginalized group. This is true even in the case of women, who happen to be in the majority of the U.S. population (Note: 50.52% to 49.48%).
Nevertheless, power is not always a numbers game. That is why any number of us groups of people who consistently get picked on, nee marginalized, many of which I find myself a member of (Note: Gays, Jews, nerds, height challenged and old(er) among them) have had to get loud, annoying, crafty and smart in order to survive.
But let’s stay with the gay of it all.
Or shall I say queer? Or LGBTQ plus, plus, plus.
Who can keep up?
A new film from Fox Searchlight opened/dropped on Hulu this Friday called Fire Island, a romcom with a handful of very, very, VERY light dramatic undertones. It stars two gay Asian men and has a multi-ethnic mostly LGBTQ+++ cast playing friends and frenemies experiencing a week of fun, frolic and life lessons at one of the most renowned gay vacation spots on the planet.
It’s niche but it’s not, not really. There are now dozens of movies, TV shows and limited/streaming series with LGBTQ characters of every sort and, in the last few decades, we’ve gone from being the comic relief and/or supportive friend to full blown leads.
It’s far from perfect but what is progress anyway if not a two steps forward, one step back proposition? I mean, there was a time not so long ago where many in the U.S. figured that once a Black man was elected U.S. president and served in the White House for eight years that the country would…
Oh, never mind.
It will surprise no one my age and likely everyone under 30 years old to know that when I was a boy growing up in the late sixties there were ZERO gay characters on TV series.
Here’s whom we had:
– Actor Paul Lynde, the center square on the game show The Hollywood Squares (1966). A saber-tongued wit that was so quick, cunning and cutting that no one in their right (or wrong) mind would f-ck with him.
– Nancy Kulp, an actress who played the smart and long-suffering character of MISS Jane Hathaway, the real brains of her banker boss on the half-hour comedy The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971)and…
Charles Nelson Reilly, the famed actor-director who was a series regular on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968). He played Claymore Gregg, the wacky yet caring great nephew of the ghost that haunts the seaside cottage he rents to the lovely yet classy widow Mrs. Muir and her two extremely adorable kids.
Mr. Lynde, Ms. Kulp and Mr. Reilly were all gay in real life and it is a testament to their honesty, talents and personalities that they created people and personas that let us know they were fun and, ahem, different at a time when you could never openly say you were, ahem, different, to the masses.
Certainly, you couldn’t do it openly or even directly. Yet somehow I knew and, as I would find out over the years, so did every other gay friend and acquaintance, as well as some very savvy straight ones.
What they were telling us was that even if you weren’t like everyone else at least you could be…entertaining! And intelligent, gainfully employed AND enjoy your life.
If that doesn’t seem like enough, and it certainly wasn’t, it was still A LOT back then.
Even as a pre-adolescent who didn’t yet have a name for what I suspected I was, I figured if being the smartest person in the room, the center square or the landlord was the best that could happen, well, that’d at least be something – and worth surviving for.
Even now I feel humbled for having learned that lesson and pride to have lived, persevered and thrived to heights I never could have imagined at that time.
Decades and decades of TV and movies and streaming shows (Note: The latter being the true hybrid of the aforementioned two) have since followed to the point where now being LGBTQ is no longer coded, often embraced and almost always integrated into the whole of whom those people are that we are watching. And in those moments that it isn’t, it is, these days, almost always done for dramatic effect, not because LGBTQ+++ creators can’t or won’t do it for fear of mass career and/or pop culture reprisal.
It is difficult at this moment to come up with a single network or studio that at some point has not released some content with an openly LGBTQ plus character. (Note: Ahem, even the conservative skewing Hallmark Channel?!) Also, a coming out journey is no longer the required centerpiece of how each of them are presented (Note: Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either).
A faux naughty romp fest like this week’s Fire Island might not be the gold standard for LGBTQ plus content, but it doesn’t have to be anymore. It can simply exist as a diversion, or a dislike, or a meh or even a niche only love and not ruin the chances for every proposed project with gay content that comes after it.
Progress? I’d say so, as well as in one other way.
Fire Island is not even so much about being gay but rather about class, as well as a touch about race. The drugs and the sex it features might still seem a bit far out for some but in a strange way the film also never goes far enough in what it seems to really be trying to say.
That for many city gays, and others, it is not so much being LGBTQ anymore but existing in a community that marginalizes you by class, or the color of your skin, or your looks or your view of sex, romance and commitment.
The issues and challenges in most every other subset of a community, or in the entire community itself.
We struggled for acceptance and representation and to some extent we gays are now in the process of having it onscreen. We get to be shown, both rightly and wrongly, as pretty much every other niche group rather than being the love (or the person) that dare not speak its name.
What we need to do now is figure out a way to bridge the gap in real life.
To continue to be our smart, entertaining and cutting edge selves. But to also open up our bank accounts a bit more and to once again take to the streets when it’s necessary. And it is.
A new movie or TV show alone isn’t going to help openly transgender high school athletes in Ohio and Florida who might be banned from playing for their teams or the gay teachers in red states across the country once again being branded as immoral threats to the children they teach who nevertheless adore them.
To merely be seen these days is not enough. Not nearly.