‘Being gay made me a better straight guy’

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OutTV settles on presenting the stereotypes instead of challenging them

Can't Think Straight
Jonathan Petrychyn
A&C Editor

“Being gay made me a better straight guy.”

This is the moral of OutTV’s Friday Night film Freshman Orientation. Made in 2004, the film follows hapless college student Clay as he pretends to be gay to get the girl of his dreams. He stumbles into a queer poetry reading (called “queer slam”, because “queer bash” apparently wasn’t a horrible enough term), meets a bunch of stereotypes – the strong black lesbian, the sexually deviant gay man – has his roommate fall in love with him, and, after a brief fuck-up, gets the girl.

I stumbled upon this film last Friday night. I really only watched it because an hour earlier I had discovered that I subscribed to OutTV, and wanted to check out their programming. OutTV is Canada’s only queer programming channel.

I had seen previews for it growing up, but living in a small town where even the notion of “gay” is considered taboo, where jokes about Brokeback Mountain still run rampant (Bareback Mountain, anyone?), and where a guy can’t even wear pink without getting funny looks, I never had the opportunity to explore it.

So I here I was, 11 p.m. on a Friday night, excited to see what kind of provocative and exciting programming OutTV offered. It’s Canada’s only queer channel, so I thought I’d get some interesting and challenging programming about queer culture.

Turns out, OutTV isn’t as challenging as I had hoped.

You know all of those gay stereotypes out there? You know, the ones where the men are effeminate, lesbians are butch, and transgender folk are referred to lovingly as “trannies”, and drag queens are bitches? They’re all there on OutTV.

Before I started watching Freshman Orientation, I caught the last half of the reality show Gay Army. The show, as the title suggests, is about a group of effeminate gay men who are put through a Fear Factor-style army boot camp where they have to eat bugs and scrub floors with toothbrushes! And we’re supposed to feel sorry for them that they don’t get to spend all their time shopping with their boyfriend and their dog.

The queer community likes to spend a lot of time criticizing the straight community for representing us as stereotypes. We look at shows like Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and decry the heterosexual establishment for reducing the community to a group of overly effeminate men.

But really, who can blame them when we’re so good at embracing and representing ourselves as stereotypes?

OutTV proclaims itself as “reinventing how gay and lesbian-focused programming is produced and presented to the community.” I don’t buy it, OutTV. Your gay and lesbian-focused programming is produced and presented in exactly the same way the major networks present their programming.

Actually, strike that. Your programming presents the queer community how the networks presented us 10 years ago. The major networks have moved towards progressive images of the queer community that move beyond the sex-crazed, effeminate males and butch females, and actually deal with issues that are effecting the community beyond what kind of makeup I should wear to the bar this weekend.

Shows like Glee and Modern Family, though far from perfect, place the queer community in a context, give their characters backgrounds, goals, and responsibilities, and understand that the queer community doesn’t exist in a bubble unto itself. When I look at shows like Gay Army and Freshman Orientation, all I see is stereotype after stereotype, with no context.

Thanks to OutTV, we’ve become caricatures of ourselves. Maybe 10 years ago it was alright to present the queer community like this. Hell, we were lucky to get any representation on television 10 years ago. But we’ve moved past this. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the legalization of gay marriage in Canada, and the controversy of Prop 8 in California are all proof of the community’s ability to deal with issues beyond the surface aesthetic.

OutTV should be leading the way in presenting hard-hitting programming on contemporary queer issues. Fluffy shows are fine, but they should take a backseat to shows that actually matter.

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