Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Rules

Alas and Feminist SF (I got a minor Heroes spoiler on that thread, oh noez) are doing an excellent job of saying 'Nice, but not good enough' in JK Rowling's general direction. This comment had me running to the Indy archives, because I recalled that I've heard this conversation before.

I first read this wonderful Hari piece in a newspaper I picked up on the Tube nearly two years ago, and it's sharp enough to have stuck in my head. It's about the laws of depicting gay men in Hollywood, and boils down to this:

"There are two types of Acceptable Gay Man: you can be a sexless sissy who is fairly happy with his female friends and waspish one-liners, or you can be masculine and actually have a sex drive - in which case you will die."

[an aside: Hari missed one of the rare exceptions, The Wedding Banquet, which was Ang Lee's first gay film. It's a comedy, but a serious one with a lot of cultural smarts to share and a lot of real troubles to talk about, and the sexuality is masculine and the ending is cosy. Back when I was at university, I once had half a gender seminar dissolve into an argument about whether we liked Simon or not.]

That's Hollywood, and Hari explores the particulars in splendid detail. The underlying rule - that men having sex with men and enjoying it and enjoying life cannot be shown to the world - also seems to drive Rowling, who has gone with celibate, tragic and dead, and added silence atop of that. Gay relationships in SF/F have a distinct leaning towards tragedy; Iron Council we spoke of yesterday, China Mountain Zhang can be shelved beside it, and the LHM goes without saying (um, that's when it is shelved, rather than in the guilty sop pile next to my bed). Meanwhile in ILLUMINATUS! (and I feel in The Year Of Our War too), teh gay is a sort of comedic, pornic horror. Interview With The Vampire skirts both, looking for shock, tears and erotic frisson. (One sometimes-glorious counterexample is the Authority, though most of what I know about that I learned from reading Alis Dee).

Lesbians, from Sandman to Discworld, are better at getting away with it, but I can't help but wonder if that's because everyone knows that if there's no cock, it's not real sex. Then there's distractions like Inara - and most of the queer in the Vagina Monologues, come to that - who are just doing it for the men, because the men are so mean, and the men never let us 'be ourselves', oh wah wah, because gay has to be a 'choice', a justification, a negative rather than a positive. Sex has to have a cock. One cock. Even if you're just hiding from it. And more than one cock just can't be good.

Addendum, which I can't believe I forgot earlier: Daurizre (see #8 specifically) once wrote on the same topic, but took it in the opposite direction. She calls it 300 Syndrome, and says it thusly:

"There is, among conservatives and Republicans, what I might dub 300 Syndrome. It's been pointed out before that many Nazi leaders were homosexual, and people have pondered why it is that gays would run to a group of people that would try to kill them--the obvious answer being summed up in the phrase 'self-defense'. But there's a flip side to it, when people who otherwise loathe gays embrace certain gay men, or bisexuals, as the epitome of Manliness, all without acknowledging that they were, in fact, gay or bi. For example, the movie "300" stars three hundred Spartans, and the Spartans, like most in Greek society at the time, subtly encouraged gay relations so long as they strengthened the bonds between fellow soldiers. However, the righties who want to hold the movie up as an example of all that is white manliness ignore this--not because they're stupid, but because being gay is forgivable if you kill a whole lot of people. Alexander the Great loved Hephaestion, and slept with Bagoas, but this is okay--he killed a whole mess of folks, too, which balances the gayness out. That sort of thing. This is Don't Ask Don't Tell in action, where men and women are allowed to fight and die so long as they don't admit their sexuality."

300 was, of course, based on a book by Frank Miller. Ho hum.

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