Sunday 20 January 2019

Gay men can be just as misogynistic as straight guys

Within the gay scene, you still hear degrading remarks about girls under the guise of camp hilarity, writes Sophie Donaldson

Penelope Cruz played Donatella in ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’
Penelope Cruz played Donatella in ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

In a somewhat historic moment, two of the biggest television sensations of the moment are based on real-life experiences of gay men.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is part of a highly addictive dramatised mini-series that, as the title suggests, re-enacts gripping crime stories from recent history. Netflix hit Queer Eye is a spin-off of the 2003 series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a reality show that sent five fabulous gay men to revamp the life of a hopeless straight man, with plenty of 'lol' moments in between.

Despite being vastly different programmes, the one commonality between the two is the accurate, and often touching, portrayal of gay men.

It was with relief that I watched American Crime Story and didn't come across the tropes that usually accompany any type of 'queer' male character on mainstream television (I'm looking at you, Will).

Sure, the titular character is a male fashion designer but the campest character was actually Donatella Versace. Played by Penelope Cruz, she flounced around their decadent villa, chain-smoking and giving Ricky Martin side eye while not bothering to replace her native Spanish accent with an Italian one.

Queer Eye has backed away from the 'outrageous' gags that made it famous and instead captures poignant encounters between humans from very different walks of life. It is refreshing to watch mainstream productions featuring gay characters that stay well away from tired cliches. Not only are these stereotypes potentially damaging, they also give nasty gay men a hall pass. When gay men make an abhorrent remark about women, they are not being misogynistic but simply playing into the accepted narrative that to be camp is to be cruel.

In reality, gay men are perfectly capable of being just as misogynistic as their hetero counterparts and those that are, often get away with it because quite simply, they are gay.

Take, for instance, Karl Lagerfeld. Karl Lagerfeld's storied career in fashion is matched by his long history of making derogatory remarks about women. In 2012, he commented that singer Adele was "a little too fat", despite her "beautiful face". Back in 2009, he took on the persona of Coco Chanel for an interview with Harper's Bazaar in which he insisted: "I was never a feminist because I was never ugly enough for that". In the spirit of fairness, Lagerfeld also insults men with vigour.

Despite his noxious remarks, women continue to fawn over him, and he was lauded by many for his 2014 fashion show in which he sent models down the runway holding placards with feminist slogans. Somewhere along the line, it must have dawned on him that feminism needn't be ugly so long as you have Cara Delevingne on your catwalk.

While there are plenty of men - I believe the majority of them - who have respect and admiration for women, there are plenty who bury their disregard for women behind a facade.

Heterosexual rugby players who demean women with sexually explicit text messages put this down to laddish locker room talk, while gay men who make vulgar remarks about women are simply being outrageously camp. By endorsing these tired stereotypes, we allow sexism to flourish unchecked.

In 2014, Rose McGowan prompted op-eds everywhere from the Gay Times to The Guardian for talking about 'gay misogyny' during a podcast with author Bret Easton Ellis, in which she claimed it is a "huge problem" among gay men.

A lot of her comments were deeply misconstrued, like her claim that "I have heard nobody in the gay community, no gay males, standing up for women on any level."

If that really is the case, she may want to get herself some new gay friends. I count myself lucky to have many gay men as dear friends. These men are kind, loyal and wickedly funny. However, within the gay community, there are men who make degrading remarks about a woman's appearance under the guise of camp hilarity, or because they have moulded themselves as a caustic queen. In the gay clubbing scene, it is hardly uncommon for women to face extreme hostility for entering what are perceived to be 'male only' spaces.

We castrate heterosexual men for glorifying just one type of beauty, but gay men are just as guilty when they celebrate only the fiercest, most feminine women. The truth is some gay men objectify females just as much as straight men do, forcing women to contend with the (other) male gaze.

Sunday Independent

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