[Originally posted on March 7, 2010.]
Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about portrayals of gay men on TV and how we are represented. From unfunny stereotypes every weekend on SNL to touching and funny portrayals on Modern Family and Glee. This started me thinking about a column I co-wrote back in a previous life when I had a column in a gay newspaper – printed on real paper and everything. The column was about how we can find archetypes of gay men in female sitcom characters from the sixties and seventies.
Gay men come in many types: dramatic, flamboyant, demure, accepting, hard working, creative, and/or runaways (even as adults). Whether gay men want to admit or not, all different types of us share a common gay male culture and history. But it’s not taught to us in school, but rather on TV – either first-run, for gay men of a certain age, or watching reruns on Hulu.com and TV Land. Each of us, whether we want to admit it or not, has imprinted certain manners and attitudes from five characters to make us what we are today.
Morticia Addams was very queer and very loving. She and her extended family ooze (sometimes literally) with connection to both each other and to everyone that comes in contact with them. Even people who don’t like or appreciate the Addams’ in their world are always welcome. Morticia and her family are so tight that they would love you regardless of your differences. She also has great sensuality, is clear about what she wants and has no shame around sex or her body. For a bunch of “freaks,” her family is incredibly adjusted. Too bad more gay men don’t resemble her.
Like many gay men, the Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Mary Richards left the warmth and comfort of her family and moved to the hard cold big city. In the city she uses her charm and naivete to create a new family that will accept her and let her explore her independent self. She’s a career girl. However, once Mary creates her new family she never wants to leave it. She is everyone’s best friend, but never seems to have an intimate relationship where her needs are met. She is forever giving and goes through her life appeasing others and trying to avoid scenes. We never hear about her family back home, she has completely put it behind her. Is she afraid to wrestle with those demons? Is she is afraid to come out to her family? Mary has issues.
Like Mary Richards, That Girl’s Ann Marie has also left the safety and economic security of her family to pursue her dream. And it’s a big one – to be an actress. This is indicative of many a gay man who has bucked society to be who he is and to do what he wants, against all odds. Getting the reward that comes with fully accepting who he is and exploring his orientation. However, in almost every episode her parents come to town and try to get her to give up her dream and move back and take a “normal” job. While it’s gotten better over the years, gay men are continually pushed and pulled by a straight society that is set up to promote and support heterosexuals and leave the gay men and lesbians fighting for the same rights and responsibilities. Everything we have we have clawed our way to having and, like Ann Marie, we don’t let life’s obstacles stop us from pursuing that dream. Plus, Ann Marie has gotten herself a man (if not a career) – and he’s a hottie.
What did we learn from Bewitched‘s Endora? That even the most mundane of life’s everyday tasks mandates drama and flamboyancy. She is the consummate drag queen. Rude, sophisticated, fabulous. She’s also strikingly harsh to people who try to tell other people how to act and think (even though she is guilty of this herself when it comes to her daughter). She’s the one you want in your corner in a fight.
Endora’s daughter, Samantha Stevens, represents the ultimate gay man in the closet. She represents the sort of gay man who denies who he is, gets married, has a family. But her true nature always wins out and she uses her magic, much like the closeted married gay guy ends up online looking for a couple of tricks, literally, while he’s out running an “errand.”
Of course, gay men do transcend these archetypes, but at heart we are all either a Morticia, Mary, Ann Marie, Endora, or Samantha – or know one.
A version of this column originally appeared in “Community News” and was co-written with Ian Granick.