Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Duncan on his welshcake blog is a good social observer with interesting things to report. This morning he talks about a photograph used as part of the window display in a mainstream woman's shop devoted to erotic lingerie as well as sex toys, etc. The photo (I am planning to write and ask if he might post a digital picture of it) shows a woman in sexy undies, with a man similarly attired draped over her while she paints his finger nails. Duncan reports that all involved seem to be having a wonderful time. This is in Cardiff, Wales, by the way--not Amsterdam or some other highly liberal and sexualized milieu. The locus of interest is of course the man who is delightedly having a patently "feminine" beauty procedure done on him.

So, I started thinking about such things here in the US. I have known for at least the least fifteen years that the generation that is now about 30 years old is vastly more gay friendly, or "gay ready" as I call it, than any in American history. My daughters are of this generation. As adopted Korean children raised by a single gay father they were certainly predisposed to be social liberals. But when my elder daughter went to Oberlin College we discovered a school in which straights are reputedly in the minority of the male student population. Here at math and science-oriented MIT, which has certainly had its problems with hompohobic fraternities from time to time, gay student culture flourishes. And of course, there is TV and the movies.

I think of "Will and Grace." This show has taken a lot of brickbats from some quarters for not being a realistic representation of gay life. Excuse me, folks, this is television, not sociology. Since when was a sitcom a realistic representation of ANYTHING? And the larger question is, how could any half hour program truly grasp the enormity of experience of any community, let alone the staggering range and richness of lifestyles within gay and lesbian culture? Sitcom's techniques are the send-up or, if they are blessed with truly literate writers, satire. And because they are painted in bright primary colors, they can have an enormous communicative power with the mass audience.

What straight America sees on W&G with some regularity is men living with men, dating men, kissing men, in bed with men, dumping a man for another man, marrying another man, cruising men, aching for a once and (hopefully) future partner, flaming joyously, raising a child as gay parents, playing sports, etc. etc. Seems like quite an ambitious range to me. Some very prominent actors have arrived in certain episodes to "play gay," some gay icons have appeared, stereotypes have been celebrated and/or debunked. And other manifestations of gay life are everywhere to be seen. A huge billboard in Central Square, Cambridge shows a guy who has been fishing in the surf. Carried in his arms, instead of a fish, is a bright, good looking guy who is clearly thrilled to be there. The caption is "Great catch!" It is an ad for personal ads. The very first same sex wedding announcement from the New York Times hangs in a prominent place on my office wall. Gay issues of one sort or another are nightly subjects on the national news.

It has been a full generation since Stonewall, so in one sense this hasn't happened overnight, but the bulk of it has come along in the last decade with steadily increasing speed. There is surely a backlash--it will be strong and determined--but I do not see it prevailing. We will prevail.

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