Gay Stereotype Ethics

I admit it: I no longer understand gay stereotypes, or even if they are gay stereotypes anymore. What are the rules, and the ethics, now?

Take Jamie, the newish character in the Progressive insurance commercials, as longtime spokes-character Flo (Stephanie Courtney) approaches late middle age  and viewer fatigue. Everything about Jamie is stereotypically gay, and on top of that, he’s a silly character. (The actor is excellent and funny. Boy, will I be impressed to learn that he is straight. …let’s see…HOLY COW! His name is Jim Cashman, and apparently he IS straight! Wait…then he is deliberately playing a transparently gay man? And making him both funny and goofy? Silly gay characters were standards fair in Hollywood for decades, but the message was that gay men were ridiculous and laughable.

I don’t see how Jamie is any different from the outrageous gay stereotypes that were ridiculing gay men right up until  recently. Like Martin Short, in “Father of the Bride”:

He was widely criticized for that character (Short was doing an extended Danny Kaye imitation). Why was that act offensive to gays, and “Jamie” not so?

From an earlier era, here’s the great Eric Blore…

Then there was, of course, Paul Lynde…


I always felt these characters sent the message that ostentatiously gay men were inherently funny in their speech patterns and mannerisms. If that isn’t the message now, what is it? I assume the idea is to “normalize” gay speech patterns and mannerisms, but if that’s the idea, and not that there’s anything wrong with that, why is Jamie funny?

I am really confused by Jim Parsons on “Big Bang Theory,” who sounds gay, moves gay, and—surprise!— is gay, but who plays a straight character, though much of his humor arises from Parsons’ classic gay delivery and mannerisms.

Can someone explain the rules? I need to know if it’s all right to laugh or not.

38 thoughts on “Gay Stereotype Ethics

  1. I never thought of him as gay so much as a loser. In fact, it is implied that he has a bit of a thing for Flo. In fact, I have never seen anything in those commercials that imply he is gay, he is just a total shill for progressive.

      • To be fair, you have a great and diverse breadth of experience that most of us don’t: the theatrical world. Hetrosexual males are the anomoly, haven’t you have said before?

        My son could tell you that a straight guy with a modicum of hygiene can practically have his pick of the cast (all genders included) of any college or community level theater production, and this in small town straight laced Texas!

        Bet that is magnified in larger urban areas. No wonder your ‘gaydar’ (what a funny term!) is better tuned than most.

  2. Oh, the Hell with it, Jack. LAIUGH! You can’t base your reaction on other people’s belief systems. You’re only responsible for yourself and your behavior, and only TO yourself. It’s your call and only your call.

  3. I never assumed Jamie was gay I saw him as a meek man who struggles to demonstrate his own masculinity.

    An easy rule of thumb is only gays can laugh at gay sterotypes, only blacks can laugh at black stereotypes, only women can laugh at female sterotypes and everyone can laugh and make fun of the old white man.

  4. Personally I read Jamie as straight, but I admit my gaydar is more finely tuned towards butch ladies.

    On Modern Family married gay male couple Mitch and Cam are pretty stereotypical in Hollywood representation (one actor is gay, the other straight). They’re my favorite part of the show. Apparently some liberals find them “offensive.” Yet I’ve watched this show w/ gay guys and we laugh because we relate.

    It’s all right to laugh in my humble opinion.

    • ”They’re my favorite part of the show.”

      My favorite part of my favorite show? It Starts-n-Ends with Nathan Lane’s Pepper Saltzman; highFREAKINlarious!

      Nothing to do with his stereotypical gayness, but his desert-dry-drolly-delivered passive-aggressive lines like:

      “Oh my God”
      “What’s wrong, Pepper?”
      ”I’m always shocked by how small this place is.”

      And the names of his “Theme Brunches?” Fuggeddaboudit!

      We just watched one of my favorite flicks (Birdcage) again last night.

      I’ll never hear Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” without conjuring up Gene Hackman singing along in that Marilyn Monroe dress-n-wig.

  5. Oooh ooow. Ooow gay man, aspie, and comedy teacher here! Ok I have in my comedy class an entire unit on stereo types. I also point out that comedy is not always politically correct, which is why Twitter is not the place to try out your material.

    Ok first the character of Jamie is a leftover from the implied gay side kick days, the Hayes code forbade, positive portrayals of homosexuality, but a vague mincing stereotype sent the right message, gays could be laughed at. But they were also handy os characters to worship our hero, ( the relationship with Flo harkens back to this, and is worshiped the way, Jack from Will, and Grace adores Cher ) leading to many stock jokes from this type of character. It is also similar to how Gomar was deplicted on the Andy Griffin show. Now here is the shock these deplictions that many modern gays get upset with started in gay clubs and bars, and there are references to them going back to the days of vaudeville.

    It was called Camp, an Exaggerated femininity that was used to make us seem funny and unthreatening. It allowed us to be left alone as a joke, at a time our very existence could get us jailed or worse. There are stories of waiters in Greenwich Village camping it up in the 1890s. The straight audience at these cabarets adored it. In gay culture. There was a term Camp Follower, These were straight people who hung out in Gay clubs because they like the atmosphere. These people became Some of our greatest defenders. Though some of the things Mae West said to defend us Sound homophobic today we’ve come along way baby! The entire concept of the camp character was to make us unthreatening a joke, it was a defense, and we gay people were in on the joke. Most of the early gay plays were camp comedies. Paul Linds character on Hollywood squares and Bewitched was pure camp. I myself in middle school used camp to deflect and protect myself from voilence, if you have the bully laughing they are not hitting you ! As a gay kid and a autistic kid I learned fast. Camp became my armour.
    Now the younger generation born after Stonewall and the aids crisis with the resurgence of violence against gays at the beginning of the aids crisis, Take offense at camp humor and often blame the straight people for it not knowing we gays developed it as a defense. I myself still love camp I don’t know where came from. I’d love to It stay but without knowing it’s history, Does it still be long. By the way Jack a lot of the things that come across as camp in the big bang theory our stock things duplicting Asperger’s syndrome symptoms. As someone who suffers from both of Afflictions, neither of which I consider consider an affliction. This has made me curious and I am currently trying to find historical links between gay camp and autistic humor which some people do not think exists. You’ve worked with me on comedies you know better! Weather it is ok to laugh, at it only if you do not mind me calling you a camp follower, and while your laughing your defending my rights. My younger fellow gays, that take offense, I say this humor helped us keep safer then otherwise,for over a hundred years, we can not give it up, with homophobia looking to make a return, we may need it! Let’s keep laughing and keep fighting. With laughter for our rights! Be warned if those rights get scuttled it will not be so funny, the stonewall uprising, and Compton cafeteria riots, will look like a second grade food fight! There is a time to laugh and a time to rise! But please we would prefer to laugh with you!

    • There is a time to laugh and a time to rise! But please we would prefer to laugh with you!

      The first sentence is a motto for the whole queer alphabet, from gay-to-Z. Thanks for it! It’s been appropriated (love that word) to go underneath my signature on all emails. The second is . . . well, I’d take the “please” off, but I have a feeling your request overrides my flat statement in terms of its acceptability to the general straight public.

      Great attitude, Rip. I have a good friend who has transformed his Asperger’s energy — and it does seem to generate its own off-beat energy — the same way you have. He teaches 2nd Grade in a rowdy, extremely “diverse” public school: they imitate him, they learn from him, and they’re crazy about him.

      Just wanted to add that the biggest purveyors of camp humor, the drag queens and Courts, were the mainstay, the spearheads, the protectors of queer culture – and of individuals! often as physical barriers from police – as far back as I can remember, which would be the early 50s. Not only in the US, but in all the countries I’ve lived in or visited.

      The Stonewall rebels were the norm of insurgency, not an anomaly. They were not only the nucleus of a gay community (particularly in small towns, “operating” from the nearest gay bar), where they also happened to be the greatest fundraisers. on and off stage. Those fundraisers paid for first aid-plus (attacks were common, severe and often poorly treated “with sneer on top” by medical personnel); they paid transportation for AIDS patients to and from clinics, hospitals and (one-way only) for funerals; they paid rent for those in danger of being evicted (for being “deviants”); they paid for birthday and Christmas parties for all, often subbing for the families who had tossed their children in the garbage; and they paid bail, all too often for those in danger of injury or death.

      They were non-judgemental, open-handed, and open-hearted. They could out-bitch Bette or anyone else on the planet.

      There are organizations, effective to varying degrees, which have taken over many of their duties … usurped their functions and flattened their reputations in the process, just as the supermarket did to the corner mom ‘n pop. But where they are still active, they are a pretty well respected member of the community at large, straight, gay or politically antagonistic, if only because they fulfill functions the City or the taxpayer would have to pay for. [And barring uptight feminists who hate seeing their own femininity expressed in any way in men even more than they despise men themselves.] Even as watered down, distanced TV characters, the drag queens are no longer necessarily entertainers, and that is our loss.

      … This said with a few tears for those who gave us hilarity and hi jinks as well as much needed umbrellas when the shit came down, through the decades of The Hide-‘n-Seek in Colorado Springs, and for all the other homes-away-from-home bars outside the golden gay meccas.

        • When I first came to DC in the early 80’s I Volunteered at the gay community center sadly gone now due to lack of funding, DC needs one ! But my foavorite night Was Wednesday cause the senior group met on that night, many of these ladies and gentlemen were in their 70’s through 90’s and had stories of the days when the gay clubs were mafia run, probation, and all the rest. Stories of house parties attended by Clyde and J,Edgar, dialiances with sailors and marines in eastern market. Lesbians having poetry readings and musical evenings in their homes, These older folks gave me a sense of our forgotten history, I still have all the notes I took to write a play. The saddest thing I found is the community center and Many dc institutions were still not as mixed as they are now! But while it is better it was when I made friends in the few mixed places I got a sense of the other DC. Many of those older friends are gone but their storied past needs to be shared.

    • Rip,

      I enjoyed your post, and learned a great deal from it. Thank you.

      One minor point: Gomer from The Andy Griffin Show may have acted ‘camp,’ but they had episodes where he was shown pursuing female company. Maybe it was cover for the character?

  6. Oh, and of course, a gay actor in the role is less offensive to those that do not understand that acting is just that. As long as the casting is believable it is valid, when it is not it is advisable to keep looking till it is!

  7. Damned typo Department` Sentence in middle should read.

    I myself still love camp And I know where came from. I’d love to It say it always work, but without knowing it’s history, Does not but it still belongs. To our culture and should be shared. Let the young uns learn.

  8. Never thought of Jamie as gay,but I have no Gaydar at all.

    Fun story about Paul Lynde (loved him on “Bewitched” and “Hollywood Squares” even thought I didn’t get most of what he said). My late aunt was a huge fan of his in the late ’60s/early ’70s when she was a teenager.

    Her family’s church was doing an event and encouraged members to invite others. My aunt decided to write to Paul Lynde and invite him. One day, after school, the phone rang. It was Mr. Lynde himself, calling to thank my aunt for the invitation but that he was unable to attend (We are way out in Indiana).

    Really nice guy, from what I heard.

    • Most people were surprised to learn Liberace was gay. I never understood that. It showed how invisible gay people were to the general public. All these people who claimed they knew no gay people, and almost certainly knew many. One of the more awkward experiences I had repeatedly back in the 70’s and 80’s was long-time friends and associates who made a big event out of “coming out” at a private lunch or other venue. They were so nervous and serious–I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint them by saying, “Yes, I know” and in some cases, “Pretty much everyone knows. Has for years.”

      • Oh, I knew gay people in college, but most of them went to GREAT lengths to hide it, one of them even making a huge display of disgust when I graphically explained anal intercourse to explain the then-popular term fudge packer. When all of your hallmates are competing to see who hates gay people more and who can come up with the most shocking expression for them, you are going to hide. I almost joined a gay-bashing incident in which three of us, pissed of at a classmate who denied he was gay (he was, and he wasn’t fooling anyone), but was extremely annoying, decided we were going to waylay him and beat him up, but we didn’t go through with it. When you know that you are still an acceptable target, both for crude insults and mocking AND for a brick upside the skull, you keep it quiet.

  9. Jack, You raise a great question. My own experience with this was a conversation 2 years ago in a group ranging from gen x to first wave boomers, in a crowded restaurant. The conversation wandered into how in the old days ‘confirmed bachelor’ was often an adult wink wink for in-the-closet gay. My older brother (1st wave boomer) popped out a hilarious comment in a stereotypical effeminate gay voice ” and I’m Alfred his loyal assistant’. But no one laughed. He obviously used to get laughs with that as he repeated it again. and everyone ignored it. So I pondered what happened. Why were people OK with smirking about celebrity or political ‘confirmed bachelors’, but a stereotypical aside directly pertinent to the conversation is not OK? I’m thinking I was confused because I was comparing apples to oranges. Perhaps think it is now considered unethical for gay people to be in the closet, so if someone is suspected of the ‘confirmed bachelor’ route, they get the smirks. But to blatantly make a joke at the expense of effeminate gays, that is either 1) out of bounds because they were always the ones unable to hide in the closet and thus the brunt of all jokes, while the ‘confirmed bachelors’ got away with it and/or 2) people are afraid to laugh because that would make them some sort of heathen pariah. Interesting question though.

  10. Younger pressures to suppress camp. Politely correctness is stealing humor, I never saw the point of the closet as I was bullied for how I was, as a person and that just made me more determined to be who I am.

    • Autistically inclined kids are different, and socially awkward, in most cases (depending on where they fall on the spectrum.)

      It took me my early 30s to adjust my filters such that I can make casual conversation without faux pas. (I still fail, at times)

      On the other hand, my ‘handicaps’ became strengths when applied to Engineering and Project Management. Attention to detail matters to those professions, and Aspies who can focus are common.

Leave a Reply to Rip Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.