Last week my good friend tweeted this. It really resonated with me because though I totally agreed with her assertion, it underscored for me the uneasy suspicion I’ve had for a while that perhaps the widespread perceived support for gay rights (specifically gay marriage) that we take for granted may actually be a bit of a façade. That although the vast majority of people—at least in Generations X – Z—profess a belief in equality across sexualities, a disconcerting number may actually admit pro-gay allegiance simply because it would be socially unpopular not to. And that when in behind-closed-doors conversations with ideologically compatible (anti-)sympathizers, or when called to expressly act in favor of said viewpoint (e.g. voting), the supposed support instantly melts away.
It’s no secret that anti-gay sentiment is extremely unpopular, especially in the aforementioned generations, but also much more broadly—consider, for example, the backlash against corporations such as Target and Chic-Fil-A for making statements and engaging in behaviors that seemed threatening to the progression of gay rights. And consider my state of Minnesota; we are poised to vote in November on a proposed constitutional amendment that would formally declare that marriage is the legal union of one man and one woman. The only visible presence of a “Vote Yes” campaign seems to have been a booth at the recent State Fair, which several witness friends of mine remarked was obviously out of place and clearly ineffectual, and even caused a coworker to comment in regards to the mostly teen boy staff of said booth, “I guess I didn’t even realize any teenagers these days aren’t okay with gays?”
As I said, I can’t deny that (to say it in generationally relevant terms) homophobia is not a good look. But I still feel sincerely suspicious about whether this proves or even implies that the average person actually has a truly allied worldview. Recently at a hip local dance party, an acquaintance approached me to make the comment, in regards to two slight, effeminate, shirtless (presumably) homosexual men dancing up against the DJ booth, “It’s not like I’m against gay marriage or anything, but I think gay guys are probably just gay because no girls would ever sleep with them.” Forgive me if I’ve mentioned this anecdote before, but my repeating it only demonstrates how much it resonated with me—I was shocked by how this person blatantly attempted to mitigate such an ignorant, bigoted claim by diffusing it with a casual would-be-affirmation of an issue so important to the group she was in the process of marginalizing.
And it’s not just dumbass drunk Midwesterners speaking off the cuff that are guilty of this. MTV is a major culprit that disappoints me time and time again; the network seems to pride itself on having developed a brand known for an aggressive, gloves-off, borderline-beat-you-over-the-head-with-it approach to progressive/liberal/envelope-pushing/hard-hitting/“relevant” social issues. MTV aired the first ever bisexual dating reality show (A Shot at Love with Tequila Tequila), has long featured gay contestants on all of its dating reality shows (NEXT, Parental Control) and even included a transgender cast member on The Real World and later The Challenge. In fact, long-standing programs like The Real World, True Life, and most recently the 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom franchise have dealt frankly and explicitly with issues formerly kept carefully swept under the taboo rug—not just of non-traditional sexuality, but also drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, teen pregnancy and abortion, fetishism, promiscuity, AIDS and other STDs… the list goes on. My point being that the network seems to brazenly address issues that most people feel uncomfortable even casually discussing, for reasons of shame, guilt, social convention, etc.
Good, right? Not necessarily. The problem here is that MTV’s goal seems to be less about normalizing minority views and experiences and more about being provocative for the sake of buzz-generation. Or viewership. Or drama qua drama. Or whatever other reason a juggernaut media corporation wants to generate publicity.
Reflect for a second on the fact that nearly every homosexual male to be represented on The Real World is mincing, effeminate, petty, dainty, obsessed with fashion, adorned in tight-fitting neon, and bitchy. Those that deviate from this mold are muscular and conventionally masculine, mincing… petty… dainty……. you get the picture. Lesbians are less prominent—I’d argue because the public has little appetite for lesbian storylines aside from those played out between wasted, attention-seeking straight girls—but when they are feature featured they are pretty (because they have to be), but also muscular/big-boned, aggressive, unfeminine, and unapproachable. Reinforcing stereotypes is sort of the opposite of progression, isn’t it?
Even worse, the network went so far as to present an episode called True Life: I’m Bisexual which featured two individuals: a bi-professing guy that is clearly gay but trying to date women so as not to disappoint his conservative family, and a bisexual woman who for sixty minutes is shown struggling to balance her simultaneous relationships with a straight man and a lesbian woman.
To anyone with a brain the former is pretty obviously an oppressed gay man and the latter is clearly an example of polyamory more than it is of bisexuality. The latter felt most offensive to me as a bisexual woman who is dating a bisexual man, because it implicitly demonstrated the stereotype that bisexual people want to have sex with any person they see, and furthermore that these boundary-less, ravenous feelings mean it’s impossible for a bisexual person to be in a monogamous relationship. Given my personal circumstances as described previously in this paragraph, I’ve been asked a number of bewildering questions by well-meaning people—Do you have a no-strings-attached arrangement? Is he allowed to have sex with guys as long as he tells you beforehand? You got girls out of your system now that you’re with him, right? Do you guys have threesomes all the time? In most cases these questions are well-intentioned, but they still demonstrate an obvious point: that most people, even progressive, liberal people—even people with lots of gay friends or gay people themselves—don’t understand bisexuality. And in the larger societal pool, less people understand progressive issues in general, especially as they relate to non-traditional sexuality.
And, to circle back on my original point, neither do most of the people who are watching MTV, or most of the people who will vote in November. It’s one thing to say it’s unpopular to express a certain sentiment. But it’s an entirely different thing to actually take it personally, to internalize it as a part of your worldview and your daily experience as a person. If guilt rather than rationale drives people to the polls in support of gay marriage I will be okay with that from a pragmatic standpoint. But I can’t help but feel worried that a lot of people will say one thing in public and do another in the privacy of the voter’s box. I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t help but worry.