‘Looking’ at Gay Men

Recently, there’s been a whole lot about Girls and how it’s supposedly reshaping the way we look at womanhood and popular feminist issues. A lot of scholarly attention has been put on the Emmy award winning show starring Lena Dunham. Thus enters Looking. This is another attempt at redefining and renegotiating new queer identity. With the immense success of Queer as Folk in the early 2000’s, followed by The L Word, we were left high and dry for something that ‘portrays’ the LGBT community in neither a positive or negative light, rather through the idea of normalcy.

I watched the first episode a few minutes ago and I had to comment on some of the concerns I have about the show. Namely, have we moved beyond traditional stereotypes and accepted new ones? Is being ‘gay’ and identifying as such a new ‘normalcy’ as is suggested in The New Normal or Modern Family? Do we just blithely accept whatever LGBT media that is produced by mega TV corporations such as Showtime, HBO and ABC? And though this will certainly be an unanswerable question for the near and not-so-distant future, but how will this show have an affect on the perception of gay identity, masculinity within the queer community and gay rights in America? Does this show add anything new?

The most important place to begin is to negotiate identity representations as portrayed in the first episode. They’ve established a leading cast, but the clear protagonist is Patrick (a rather ominous name for myself). He’s a white, middle-class, well educated, attractive 29 year old guy who is trying to make something for himself in the overwhelmingly stereotypical gay city San Francisco. It begins with him ‘cruising’ in a park. Already there’s a red flag for me. This is a show that highlights the path to sex and sexual release. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it constantly reiterates the gay community’s obsession with all things sex. Granted, it was a failed attempt, but the threesome (sorry for the spoiler) doesn’t make it any less so. Even though I’ve never been, is everyone in San Fran gay? I mean, I know it’s a prominent destination and residential paradise for gay and lesbian folk, but it just seems like every character with a shred of dialogue is either a fag hag/fruit fly (for the women) or a gay man. Sure, they are making attempts at ensuring diversity is well represented in all facets of the narrative, but how common is it for gay men to hit on one another on the metro? I thought Grindr had taken hold and all forms of public communication were off unless they agreed to a sexual encounter. Am I wrong? because if I am, I will gladly admit it.

These are my initial reactions to the show, and whilst I’m not opposed to it by any means, and think it’s great entertainment, I fear we have simply recreated Queer as Folk with more diversity and less ostentatious players. Did that need to be done? There was something so charming about the overt campness of QAF. This is not to say that QAF was without its faults, but Looking seems to be a hipster version of what gay life is today. It glamorizes life in ‘the big city’, which Patrick makes clear on his date with ‘the doctor’ (he says, “I thought it would be so easy to meet cool people in San Fran”). He doesn’t seem particularly distraught with his situation, and he makes light of the vast array of men available. The date was a veritable disaster. And Patrick admits to his failings as a potential boyfriend (his longest relationship, which is later questioned, was six months!). Whoa… where are all the right wing haters who lambaste us for our inability to maintain a loving relationship. It sure wasn’t reiterated when Agustin and Richie have that threesome with that random gay guy who just happened to show up at the right time to seduce a couple. Just to clarify, I’m not judging them for having the threesome, and I’m not campaigning for the return of 1950s heteronormative narratives (one man, one woman and two kids with a resolvable conflict and the balance restored), but this show literally took everything the right has been saying about us and threw it back in their faces.

This brings up the larger question of what types of media we should be creating to show what it’s really like to be gay. Sure being gay is about finding someone of the same sex. Being gay is also about learning to be one’s self and negotiated the homophobic world we live in. It’s also about being able to acclimatise to the turbulence of quotidian mundanity (that seems oppositional, but it’s purposeful). But I don’t think us constantly throwing our sex lives in the face of others is the way forward. To be honest, I’d rather have a show with gay men just sat on a couch talking about nothing (which is more a reality) than what we do behind closed doors. Show us in a gay bar standing around awkwardly while the stereotypes flaunt themselves embarrassingly on the dance floor (which I’m sure many comment on, because I know I do when I’m there). Show us trying to make sense of going to the grocery store with our partners, negotiating what we will have for dinner, how people constantly ask us if we are brothers, or best-friends, and then zoom-in on the awkward situation created by that old woman who can’t grasp that we could possibly be romantically involved. Those are the real daily interactions. And it doesn’t need to be masked through comedy (I’m talking about you Modern Family).