Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
August 15, 2000
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch
My friend the radical queer was very upset. "It's happened. We've been totally mainstreamed." "What?" I asked, shocked by the tone in his voice. "Did Dr. Laura and Rabbi Boteach cater and officiate a kosher gay wedding in Vermont?" "Worse!" he shrieked and then thought for a moment and said, "Well, on a par. The American Film Institute named the two funniest movies of all time, and they're both about drag queens! How can I ever hold my head up in a wig, tiara, glitter, and marabou again? It's so ... so ... suburban!" There was a choked glissando of anguish, and the line went dead. The poor thing.
Of course, he's only partially right. I don't think we'll be seeing pride boutiques opening as anchor stores at any of the major malls quite yet. First of all, the two movies--Some Like It Hot (number 1) and Tootsie (number 2)--are not about drag queens but about straight guys forced to go undercover in drag. While they're not gay, almost everything they do once they put on the hair and the heels is exactly what a drag queen does.
The women they become are an imitation of--as well as an extension of, as well as a comment on--real women. They even go so far as to become romantically involved with other straight men--and not ones in drag either. Tell me you don't know a few drag queens who've pulled that one off. Of course, other than co-opting a gay idea--that the only way you can truly understand women is to walk a mile in their pumps--the two funniest movies of all time have nothing overtly homosexual about them.
But the idea that drag as the central force in a story line could be thought that funny by the American Film Institute--not the British, where drag has long been one of the fundamental entertainment forms--well, that is pretty mainstream. Especially for drag. Two other movies on the AFI list also involve drag as the major plot device: Mrs. Doubtfire and Victor/Victoria, movies about straight people more or less forced to cross-dress. Only the latter displays anything approaching a gay sensibility. The heroine's best-friend is a self-described "old queen with a head cold" and celebrated dragster. It's not his story we follow, but hers does bring a gender-identity crisis into play: The macho gangster finds himself falling in love with the attractive "gay man" who dresses up as a woman.
Only one other picture on the AFI list of 100 struck me as having anything gay going on, and that was the always provocatively titled The Odd Couple, which is about two straight guys, one of whom you know and I know probably never existed in the straight world for too long. That's Felix of the fluffed pillows. Neil Simon says he based the show on his brother, Danny, and Danny's unnamed friend, whom I'll bet Neil's still not too eager to name, for reasons that are probably all too clear.
But my friend the radical queer isn't totally off base. With Will & Grace having tasted top-ten success and big corporate sponsors not only endorsing gay charities but pulling away from declared enemies of our consistently more visible community, the cultural trendsetters within our ranks may have good reason to fly into their own version of homosexual panic.
On the other hand, the day after the AFI list was announced, a guy in Florida was convicted of beating his dog because he said he was afraid the dog was gay. Yeah, you read it right. The judge, who struck me as a pretty mainstream kind of guy, didn't think much of that "gay panic" defense. Maybe he had seen that episode of South Park where the kids thought their dog was gay. Maybe he was just a sensible human being with a healthy disregard for violent behavior. Maybe being in the mainstream isn't so bad for us after all.