Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gender Presentation in The Boys in the Band

I finally got around to watching The Boys in The Band, which might best be described as a fictional portrayal of gay men pre-Stonewall. Some find it demeaning - overall I liked it. That is to say, most of it I simply adored, a few scenes grated on me, and some of it was genuinely moving. The characters are wonderful. I see it as a story of survival, and a record of an earlier time. I also watched the film commentary and the documentary, Making The Boys.

What I found most thought-provoking is the story of the man who played Emory, the most effeminate character. Everyone who knew him agrees that this actor, Cliff Gorman, was straight, and not effeminate in real life at all. But most people who saw the movie decided that he must be gay, and when they saw him on the street, with his wife perhaps, acting "normal," they would accost him with such comments as "What are you trying to prove?" Apparently his career also suffered, despite his great gifts as an actor.

It amuses me to think that when you see someone acting effeminate onscreen, and then if you meet them in person they don't act that way, you decide that in real life they must be pretending. After all, real life is where most of us spend most of our time pretending. But I also think that Gorman was in fact transgressing gender norms, because a "real man" cannot act effeminate, under any circumstances. If you have it in you at all to act that way, then you are suspect. None of the commentators on the film expressed it like that - they all seem to formulate the problem in terms of Gorman's sexual orientation. But I think it was about gender.

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