The Trouble With "Gay Icons"

Declaring yourself royalty in a culture you aren't a part of has been historically hubristic. Just ask Russia.

Jan 6, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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Gay culture has been spliced in so many ways these days that the easily pegged tastes of yesterday have been all but demolished. These days, we have more choices than Cher, "Will & Grace" and shitty house music (although nothing is wrong with any of those things, of course).

Despite people still hating us for essentially not being the same as them, we’ve hit great heights, not yet achieving equality across the board, but making supreme headway in the attempt to no longer be just tolerated, but accepted, wholeheartedly.

And yet, there’s still Kathy Griffin.

I used to think it was my own internally displaced homophobia that made me feel this way, but that’s not the case. In fact, I think she was a funny comedian when she did traditional stand-up. She was shrill and cloying, and that was her thing -- one that scored her a memorable spot on Seinfeld (in which her bon mots were all about what a dick Jerry was).

Then, she ascended beyond her own meta, self-promotional storytelling comic schtick and into a full-fledged gossip monger, on a roundabout route that garnered her an Emmy for her show, "My Life On The D-List." And that show was also funny in its zany, self-aware approach to weaseling one’s way through Hollywood.

But, like a lot of entertainers, Kathy Griffin at some point became beloved by gay dudes. Mostly because of who she’d become: a brutally honest tattletale whose fiery red hair matched her take-no-prisoners attitude toward the rest of the world.

But when she and other  "gay icons" begin treating a demographic of people as loyal consitutents, or worse, chattel, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

I'm speaking of entertainers who market to gay men heavily, Griffin going so far as to call them “her gays," as if they were her own shockingly-old nephews in Hollister shirts and designer jeans. And while I found the idea that she could swiftly co-opt a fan base like they were the sugared-up Spice Girl fanatics from 15 years ago utterly reprehensible, it works.

Not only did she accrue legions of gay fans to whom she clearly pandered by painting herself as the ultimate fag hag who (naturally) “fought for the cause” in between catfights, cursing, and paling around with The Andys (Cooper and Cohen, respectively), but she did so without protest from guys like me.

In my travels within the circle of comics and humorists, her name never came up alongside more hipster-friendly "alt" fare like Zach Galifianakis and Sarah Silverman, whose career trajectories shot them into superstardom after toiling around at Largo and Luna Lounge for years. Her comedy wasn't hip enough.

But she bled into the mainstream quite quickly, and she conquered the gay market so acutely that the most recent issue of OUT named her the Entertainer Of The Year! In 2011! Not Governor Andrew Cuomo. Not Lt. Dan Choi. Not even Jane Lynch! No: Kathy Griffin. This year. Yeesh.

Don't get me wrong: Kathy Griffin is a gay ally. She goes beyond just wearing the requisite Queen-of-the-gays tiara and does public service for gay guys. She's not a bad person.

But her marketing method is, frankly, a marketing method. This is the reason it's problematic, even if you like her comedy. In fact, in the age of "Glee," we get to see a lot of "real" gay guys on TV -- Kurt Hummel, the "Modern Family" couple, and even the most groundbreaking representation of a gay man I've ever seen, the shlubby, walking disaster that is Max on "Happy Endings."

But the differentiation between representation of and for gay people is a significant one. It's a problem when entertainers seem to think that allying themselves with the gay community means that they can be excused for nominating themselves as a figurehead for "their gays," who will be subsequently used as targeted consumers/safety audiences for one-liners about Lindsay Lohan.

This lumps us all together as shrieking gossips who apparently care what other people have to say about Lindsay Lohan. It doesn't matter how much money you give to GLAAD if you're targeting and marginalizing the same who pay for your DVDs (and those of them who don't).

While I appreciate the desire to include me, as a gay man, in her all-inclusive pro-gay fan army, I politely refuse. Not just because I find gossip about starlets uninteresting, but because my sexuality doesn't dictate my spending habits.