Yesterday I tweeted: “Yo, Bravo. Can we diversify your selection of Black gay men? It’s all mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the bitchiest queen of them all?” I wasn’t referring to Frick and Fabulous, though. I was commenting on the haughty Black queen on The Real Housewives of Miami who was shoved into the pool at a charity event by a drag queen out of character – and didn’t even bother to lay on a figure on her wigless head in retaliation. Even so, it’s related to Miss Lawrence and Derek J. all the same.
I don’t have a problem with either per se as both can be entertaining. I’ve seen Derek J out before. He’s quite nice in all his “Even if this outfit fits me tighter than the first time, I’m going to wear it anyway” glory. But as you can tell from the tweet, I sometimes struggle with the one note depiction of gay Black men.
This special, which I’ve yet to see in full, gives me “Men On Film” come to life. That sketch used to scare the hell out of me as a child. I knew even if in jest, there was contempt towards gay men underneath the humor. Yet, I can somewhat appreciate how each are able to own who they are regardless of how it appears to other and just…be.
Besides, as much as gay Black culture is seeping its way into pop culture at large now more than ever, at least we see faces behind it. For once.
More, more, more: “Closet Freak” review
I’ve come to realize that unless someone is completely outlandish – say, the one who needed a lifeguard and better reflexes – there’s no point in condemning folks for that. If they get more camera time without the sidekick connotation, complaints will come. Such reality made me recall a piece I wrote in response to some essay entitled “Are Gay Men the New ‘Mammies’ of Reality Television?” that was published earlier in the year.
It never went up, but I want to share it here.
I can’t say that I’m exactly pleased with the wide array of gay men of color featured on television…or lack thereof. It’s one reason why I publicly grimaced at the “gay revolution” purportedly taking place in TV land last year. There are definitely more gay faces to see on the small screen, but it would take an influx of varying gay voices to make it truly revolutionary.
This dearth is particularly noticeable within the realm of reality television. Most of the gay men you see there are relegated to sidekick status, and more often than not, they are as flamboyant as the sky is blue. As a result, some lend credence to certain stereotypes about gays – including gays themselves. Take for example, Andy Cohen, Bravo Executive Vice President of Development and Talent once quipping on his show Watch What Happens Live, “All the gay men in Atlanta wear heels.”
Both the truth and the trade disagree with such assessment.
Obviously, this same old song year after year, program after program creates a bit of irritation among select gay men and their straight allies. Understandable as that may be, as it relates to constructive criticism, sometimes many of us – yes, self included – forget that we can complain without completely condemning our targets.
That’s the problem I had with the Madame Noire essay, “Are Gay Men the New ‘Mammies’ of Reality Television?” Although I found Charing Ball’s piece to be somewhat well intentioned, to christen these brand of Black gay men as “mammies” is an insulting gross oversimplification. Moreover, there are certain nuances and inconvenient truths that have to be acknowledged when diving into this topic.
Balls writes that after watching an episode of Hollywood Exes she thought to herself, “Why does everyone have a gay black man BFF? And why are all of their gay black BFFs in service to them in some way?”
Context is key. This is a show about the lives of women once married to some of the biggest celebrities in the world. Not surprisingly, like many people of certain privilege, their friends often double as their employees.
However, many of these employees do own and operate their own businesses, which suggests they’re not at all simply lackeys as implied.
Regardless, the subgenre of reality shows she cites as a template for her argument is riddled with aspiring or flat out failed models, singers, actresses and fashion designers. Why should anyone be surprised that when gay men are featured on these series that they work in fashion, beauty, and dance? These personalities reflect of one portion of the population and navigate in similar worlds as the women on these shows.
It is in essence, their collective realities. Or well, dramatized versions of them, though that applies to the women and the men featured.
That’s why statements like these become problematic: “I have watched on several of occasions, characters from these shows not only proudly proclaim their affinity for ‘The Gays’ but then go on to declare the gay character as ‘one of my girls.’ Well they are not girls. They are men, albeit gay, but still very much intact with their men parts.”
Here’s a friendly reminder: genitalia is not a deterrent to the way a person chooses to behave. If these men feel like they’re “one of the girls,” we can remain confused but ought to make note that it is their prerogative.
Meanwhile, Ball asks: “I mean, what is to happen to the straight-laced gay guy that rocks tailor made suits, a briefcase, has a boring 9 to 5 like an accountant or lawyer and doesn’t speak with a lisp?”
I know one thing for certain: He won’t benefit from reinforcing gender norms on his effeminate gay brethren. It doesn’t matter if a gay man’s wrist does or does not dangle. By definition, most anti-gay bigots would argue any man that loves another is less than.
As much as I’d love to see something more with respect to gay Black men on television in general, I don’t expect to find it on Hollywood Exes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, or Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta. It’s not completely fair to belittle the men on these shows and the beauty of their friendships with their straight Black female counterparts.
At the core, I agree with Ball about there being different realities for gay men than what you see on those shows. Then again, on some of those shows I’ve spotted a different kind of gay only not as pronounced. That’s not surprising, hence why it may be a bit naive to look for sensibility in the sensational.
I respect her and other critics’ search for truth. I would only suggest that the search turns to more hospital mediums.