Stereotypical behavior

In the NYT on December 3rd, an obit (by Daniel E. Slotnik) for actor Alan Sues:

Alan Sues, a ‘Laugh-In’ Cast Mainstay, Dies at 85

Alan Sues, an actor whose loud, clownish comedic style made him an invaluable cast member on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” one of the top-rated shows on television in the late 1960s, died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles.

Sues was known for his flamboyantly campy performances, making him both a model for some gay men and an embarrassment to others. There’s a lot of misunderstanding across the gay-acting/straight-acting divide.

On Sues specifically, from Slotnik’s story:

Mr. Sues tended to perform with over-the-top flamboyance on the show, displaying stereotypically gay mannerisms. What he did not disclose was that he was gay, [his friend and administrator Michael] Michaud said, fearing that to tell the truth about his sexual orientation would have ended his career.

“It wasn’t because he was ashamed of being gay; it was because he was surviving as a performer,” Mr. Michaud said in a telephone interview, adding that Mr. Sues was actually an inspiration to many gay viewers. “Many gay men came up to him and said how important he was when they were young because he was the only gay man they could see on television,” Mr. Michaud said.

So on the one hand, you have gay men who admired Sues and the persona of many of his characters (which was, apparently, only a bit of an exaggeration of Sues off-stage). On the other hand, you have gay men who viewed Sues (and Paul Lynde and other flamboyant performers) as unacceptably campy — effeminate, mincing, prissy, nelly, faggy — as they do “gay-acting” men in everyday life.

[For an overview of “fifty years of comedy queers”, see the website “Streetlaughter: A gay cavalcade of comic stereotypes”, here. The intro:

Collecting decades of bad fag jokes, mincing stereotypes and borderline offensive cartoons may be an almost bafflingly perverse pursuit. Yet, en masse, they constitute a surprisingly sensitive record of changing attitudes to homosexuals over fifty years. ]

Meanwhile, back in everyday life, “gay-acting” men consider their behavior to be entirely natural for them and are inclined to view “straight-acting” men as “putting on” a macho style of masculinity; that is, they tend to view straight-acting men as inauthentically gay.

In the other direction, many straight-acting gay men view themselves as “regular guys”, just behaving naturally, like men; they reject the stereotypes and are inclined to see gay-acting men as putting on an act, being inauthentically masculine. Here’s former boy-band star Lance Bass, interviewed by Christopher Rice in “The Myth of ‘Straight-acting’ “) in the Advocate of 10/10/06, p. 88:

I want people to take [from my coming-out] that being gay is a norm. That the stereotypes are out the window. . . . I’ve met so many people like me that it’s encouraged me. I call them the SAGs — the straight-acting gays. We’re just normal, typical guys. I love to watch football and drink beer.

A letter from reader Joel A. Brown expands on Bass’s theme:

All Lance Bass was trying to say was that 80% to 90% of American gay males are just regular guys, and we don’t have to go out of our way to pretend to be flamboyant for others.

The “go out of our way to pretend to be flamboyant” is telling.

One Response to “Stereotypical behavior”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Aric Olnes on Facebook:

    Both arguments claim the outward expressing behavior is a put on act, whether it is butch or fem. Right! It’s just insecurity expressing itself as criticism.

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