The other night, I was watching the latest HBO series; Looking. It is about three gay friends in their late twenties to late thirties, living in San Francisco and trying to figure out their life professionally and personally. Reviewers on the internet are calling it both "brilliant and realistic" but also "clichéd," a stereotype of the gay lifestyle. So how are gay people stereotyped in 2014?
One of the characters is a 39 year old man named Dom. In gay culture, he would be referred to as a “Castro Clone”. This term is used to describe a gay man with a thick moustache, wearing very masculine clothes (blue jeans, plaid shirt, and boots). It's one of several clichéd 'types' that are common in the gay community. In a way, Looking is actually quite realistic. If you walk down The Castro, you would come across several “Castro Clones.” Dom is no more clichéd than the real life “Castro Clones” in San Francisco.
Ever since the late 60's, the gay community has been represented through movements like this. The gay community has a kind of "cultural structure" by categorizing itself into different movements: the “Bears”, the “Queens”, the “Twinks”, the “Castro Clone” and the “Gay-Nerds” are especially popular. These stereotypes became niches for gay men to regroup and share common interests, just like in any other community. For most gay men, it was a way to make a statement to the world, a way of coming out. As those movements became the visible representation of being gay, the rest of the gay community became invisible.
As a member of the gay community myself, I find that if you don't fit into any of these categories, you can easily feel disconnected. I figured out that there are two solutions for guys like me: you can blend in and become a stereotype, or you can pose as an outsider and live outside the community. Neither of these options is good, especially if you are just coming out, or a newcomer to the gay community, but the second option definitely has the biggest drawbacks.
Dating becomes tricky as an outsider. Not being a stereotype means not being represented anywhere in the media. Thanks to Queer as folk and Will and Grace, it became general knowledge that “Bears” would mostly date “Twinks”, “Castro clones” usually date inside their own group, and “Gay-Nerds” usually have more chances with the “Queens.” But what if you are none of these?
The outsider usually ends up dating closeted gay men. Those men date outside of the community as well and usually they don't fully-commit to a relationship because they haven't yet fully-committed to their sexuality.
My point is that, in the gay community, we define ourselves through stereotypes that go back to the 1960s, and now that the world has embraced those stereotypes as representations of who we really are. Its time that we stopped relying on stereotypes to make ourselves visible.
If you look closer, you'll see that beneath the "Bears" and the "Queens" and the "Twinks", you'll find a bunch of ordinary guys. They are young gay men coming from places where gay culture and its stereotypes are non-existent. They are simply adapting to a new culture, trying to fit in, and trying to feel the joy of belonging to a community. Isn't ok to belong to a community without having to stereotype yourself? I think that this should be the role of TV shows like Looking.