The last few days have caused a bit of quarrel between gays and both Jay Leno and David Letterman. First, Jay Leno took asked Ryan Phillippe to give his best “gay face” after mocking him (“weren’t your parents proud?”) for playing the first gay teen on a soap opera. Then, David Letterman (who I’ve always really enjoyed and thus this disappoints me more), called pregnant trans man Thomas Beatie an “androgynous freak show.”
In case you haven’t seen, here are clips of both offenses:
So quite a little hubbub has resulted. And rightfully so. Just months after sensitivity to gay jokes on late night was called into question by, among others, daytime talk show host Ellen deGeneres (mainly in response to the horrific murder of 15-year old gay teen Lawrence King), the one-two punch stylings of America’s talk show giants is certainly a problem.
My favourite of the many responses against Leno in particular was Avenue Q creator Jeff Whitty. The highlights are here. Whitty eventually came to accept Leno’s apology (and denounce GLAAD’s johnny-come-lately retaliation effort), but not before he wrote an insightful letter Jay’s way:
Not everyone can stomach you, I fear, so for those who can’t, I’ll do a little transcription. You were interviewing Ryan Phillippe, whose first acting job was as a gay teenager on One Life to Live. So naturally you homed in on how WEIRD and HILARIOUS it was that he played a GAY PERSON – while Phillippe reasonably tried to shift the conversation to the larger issue of how weird it was to be on a soap opera.
But you couldn’t be stopped! You went for the comedy gold!
Whitty goes on to include links to a dozen or so “gay faces” – the battered faces of various gay-bashed individuals to prove the most important point in all of this:
I bring those faces up because there’s a group (with whom you are supposedly sympathetic) undergoing a major civil rights struggle, and you seem to adore using the stereotype that we’re laughable and really, all the same in the end.
Anyway… More of the same (though in a much more ballsy – or is it just a suicide mission? – context), gay activist Wayne Besen took the topic to Bill O’Reilly to attempt to explain the basic fundamental problems with homophobia to the, I’m sorry, lost causes that watch FOX News. As expected ( Many could have predicted it word for word), Reilly’s response:
It looks to me in America that you can’t ever make fun of any minority group. Ever. In any way. Anymore. In this country. I think that’s where we are really. You can make fun of white Christian men. You can make fun of, famous people. But if you make fun of a minority, any minority…
And as you can tell yourself from the below video, Besen tries his best, but O’Reilly never listens anyway (and almost everything he says in the clip is wrong on many levels), so I wonder why people even bother:
Less attention has been paid to Letterman’s comments, perhaps out of fatigue from Leno, but I for one think his offense is worse (and not just because I expected more). Thomas Beattie’s situation – being the first trans man to become pregnant – is a sensitive issue in its newness. Trans-discrimination is a whole different ballgame than homophobia, and a rather revelatory story like Beattie’s needs to be carefully celebrated as a wonderful turn of events in a life that likely saw personal conflicts of an incomparable nature to that of gays and lesbians. An “androgynous freak show” is a plainly cruel claim to be made in Beattie’s regard, and exemplifies the difference between gay jokes and trans jokes: gay jokes seem to revolve around insecurities people – mainly straight men – have regarding gays, and usually play out with “light” though harmful jokes in the realm of, as Besen articulated: “Ha Ha Your Gay”. However, trans jokes go for the “freak” factor, placing trans people much further into the depths of subordination.
Sadly, though, even if this little outburst shuts up the Lenos and the Lettermans for a little while, thats likely not making any of the Bill O’Reillys of this world go away. You can’t force good humanity, and I guess it takes more than something like Lawrence King’s murder to show people that this kind of dialogue is not a good thing.
Finally.. Ill end off by referencing The San Francisco Chronicle’s Violet Blue‘s own
take on the situation. Blue decided to return the favour by heading to the 1996 Journal of Abnormal Psychology, for this fun ditty on the origins of homophobic remarks:
The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals… The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire… Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.
So maybe it was just Ryan Phillippe’s pecks (which are also one of the best things about Stop-Loss, which in a related note I saw last night and was quite disappointed by), that made Leno feel the need to go there? If that’s the case, I totally forgive you Jay.