Fag Hag: A Stereotype of the Past?


<em>Will and Grace</em>


Was the Will and Grace duo (gay guy and his “BFF” straight woman) that epitomizes, for many heterosexual audiences, a slice of gay life really that much of a groundbreaking novelty? Yes it was, because the show was aired on national TV, so it created a lot of discussion about that type of relationship. But believe it or not, in a late-sixties publication called Sex Play: A Marital Guide for the Gay Male (from our extensive collection of gay sexual history materials) there is an hilarious article on the gay guy and his “BFF” straight woman.Time Magazine: April 4, 1983

In the late sixties, once the Post Office lifted censorship restrictions about showing full frontal nudity, homoerotic publications started showing not only cocks, but couples in a variety of sexual positions (still rather risky for that time period). In order to continue to cover their asses, these publications advertised themselves as “how to” or “guide to” material, and often included articles on various aspects of gay life that may or may not have had anything actually to do with the sucking and fucking going on in the pictures. Thus, this supposed marital guide, though offering relevant articles about gay couples getting married (yes, they did at this time period) and why it is beneficial to be a homosexual, is billed as “educational material not to be sold to minors.”

But why is there material on, as the term on the street labels them, “fag hags,” in this publication? In accordance with its educational mission, the article “Living It Up Together” purports to offer a heterosexual reader a glimpse of the “homosexual life,” which includes feelings of love which can result relationships not dissimilar to “straights,” the author claims (including marriages in “homosexual churches”). But the author also claims to offer insights into some a special relationship prevalent when gays and straights mix in social settings (apparently a more common occurrence during that time period, though either group would be in the minority depending on the party). That relationship is the gay man-straight woman. The article proclaims:

Many “straights” get a tremendous charge out of the company of inverts and actually prefer associating with them rather than their own crowd. Older women are constantly added to the list as patronesses or benefactresses because they adore the flattery and attention lavished up them after the “normal” society has given up complimenting their fading egos. They are caught up in the gaiety and effervescence (more sham and pretense, but usually convincingly so) of the seemingly light-hearted, brilliant conversationalists and exhibitionists of which this (gay) crowd is comprised.

Pretty heady, campy stuff! I won't get into the use of the term invert (now an old-fashioned word for gay, meaning that somehow the usual sexual attribute and desires of one's gender are inverted, turned around, even reserved in gays and lesbians), but what I find really interesting is the now-offensive stereotype here in full force, one that was assumed, hinted at, but not necessarily shouted from the rooftops for many years. For example, gay icon Joan Crawford surrounded herself with gay men (her best friends were a gay, by all practical purposes married, couple, William Haines and his lover Billy), but the darker side of this relationship also applied to her. According to some of her biographers, a few gay men, then called “starfuckers,” supposedly took advantage of her good will as she aged.

Joan Crawford and William HainesThe bottom line in the above: A woman who is not or no longer attractive to straight men supposedly hangs out with gay guys and even hopes that she can somehow “reform” him. Think more like what the comic Roseanne said: thank God for gay guys because fat girls would have no one to dance with. Not exactly the Will and Grace dynamic, as Grace was young and attractive to straight men, more the ditzy young sidekick than the aging lonely dowager. Another fictional embodiment of this relationship, Robert Rodi's novel Fag Hag, humanizes the stereotype, he still maintains some of its brutally campy elements in the character of Natalie, the young overweight girl hopelessly in love with her gay friend and out for revenge when he finds the love of his life. Let's just say she makes Glenn Close's methods in Fatal Attraction look surprisingly amateur.<em>Fag Hag</em>

I think there's more going on here than “times have changed” since the late sixties. Straight women apparently (so I've heard from private sources) can hang out in gay bars with their gay friends and not be derided as “fag hags” as the core parts of what used to be the “homosexual lifestyle” become assimilated into the mainstream. But is the stereotype totally dead? After all, there is a show on the LGBT Logo channel called "1 Girl 5 Gays," in which five “outlandish, fabulous” gay men tackle topics ranging from love and sex to celebrity pop culture, with a female host acting as “ringleader.” Is this show more like entertainment or reality, I wonder...

Whatever the reality, I wonder if we finally are starting to realize that whatever relationships end up coming our way, we need to see ourselves as whole persons, not get so bound up in dualisms that lend themselves to potentially harmful stereotypes like gay guy/straight woman.

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