Gay Men – Seeing ourselves on screen

I think there’s a revolution in the way we, as gay men, allow ourselves to be seen. And it’s a media fuelled revolution that has gradually ‘snuck up on us’ since the last century. The self discipline ‘straight acting’ model is fading in Western society, and the pressure to be an ‘acceptable gay’ has disappeared a generation ago.

The 1930’s Gay Man

Mr Entwhistle and Dad Rudd

Mr Entwistle and Dad Rudd from ‘Dad and Dave Come To Town’

Around eighty years ago, Mr Entwistle was introduced for one of two ‘Dad and Dave’ films. He was the ‘sissy’ floor walker, but what’s charming about his character is that his overt camp is not an issue within this series of films.

Yes, he’s over the top in a way which in the latter half of that century would have caused gay men to cry ‘stereotyping!’ But when I was introduced to him in the late 80’s during special TV screenings (sadly old Australian films are rarely seen on our screens), I was impressed at his acceptance by the other characters without judgement. Something you’d rarely see in the US films I had seen at that stage.

(Click here if you’d like to see how he is introduced to this series of films.)

In fact, in the follow up ‘Dad Rudd MP’, Mr Entwistle is vital in helping Dad’s political aspirations by bringing a group of ‘gay man’s best friend’ (i.e. women) to the opposition member’s speech, courting potential male voters away as they follow the ‘gals’ back to hear Mr Rudd

The 70’s Gay Man

Staying in Australia, by the 60’s and 70’s we didn’t want to be stereotyped at all. To be ‘sissy’ was a sign of personal weakness as we so wanted to ‘belong’ in mainstream society. A trend replicated with Billy Crystal in his depiction of Jodie in the US series Soap the same decade. A trend also later seen in Dynasty with the character, Steven.

But shown below is Don in the breakthrough hit show ‘Number 96’ back in the years of sideburns and long hair.

The 90’s

Late last century our screens exploded with attitude. Sometimes camp, while sometimes just all-out ballsy, with Queer As Folk! Whether it was seen as stereotyping or an true depiction, we delighted in seeing our lives honestly and re-evaluated how the mainstream saw us. Strangely, the mainstream weren’t as shocked as we thought they’d be.

For me, the fact that this series and its US remake hit pop culture beyond our disco-laden streets, somehow made us feel okay about who we were. Later, the first episode of Will And Grace had a much butcher Will paying out on how camp Jack was. But it was Jack who won hearts with mainstream audiences in the end.

In the clip below, Vince is trying to match-make his friend, Phil, with flamboyant Alexander (the Emmett character in the US version).

What’s interesting about Phil is that he’s not a bad looking man, but he’s the nice guy who doesn’t really ‘play the gay scene’. When taking a guy home one night he is offered drugs by the one-night stand. Sadly, he dies and his pick-up flees.

In the US version, Ted (who is portrayed as more of a loser), ends up living. Later in the original version, Phil’s grieving mum confronts Vince, arguing that if Phil had over-dosed with a female, she would never have left him there to die.  Again, although this series celebrated our lives, it also held a mirror ‘warts-and-all’ to who we were. But this self-realisations broke down barriers within ourselves.

A while back I was asked to present on online discussion about how we were represented in the media, at a time when the US Queer As Folk and Queer Eye for a Straight Guy were on our screens. The producer wanted me to say that these depictions were stereotypes, but I didn’t agree. I cut the words from the introduction, as to me, these people existed.

Those Soap Characters

I discovered Will and Sonny from Days Of Our Lives (exactly how is that a metaphor for sands in an hourglass?) through a Twitter friend and became obsessed with watching how they began their romance. What is refreshing is these guys are neither too straight or too gay. They just are. And if they were portrayed like this forty years ago, I think they’d be concerned queens who’d still feel they were stereotypes, while secretly enjoying the eye-candy.


Please let me know your favourite gay characters in the comments below.

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