On Hollywood’s (Not-Always) Subtle Homophobia

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The excellent Hollywood biopic, Milk, has unwittingly exposed a subtle form of homophobia–“a post-ironic, post-homophobic homophobia,” as the Washington Post puts it–that remains a fixture of the Hollywood media circuit. Today the Post has compiled a disturbing account of interviews given by male actors who play gay men in the movies, and who are invariably asked by journalists and talk show hosts what it was like to kiss another man (with the obvious subtext: wasn’t it kind of nasty?).

Exhibit A is a conversation between David Letterman and Milk’s James Franco, in which Letterman asks him what he was thinking going into a minute-long kissing scene with Penn:

“I didn’t want to screw it up,” Franco told Letterman.
“See, if it’s me, I kind of hope I do screw it up,” Letterman shot back. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“To screw it up?” Franco asked.
“I mean, do you really want to be good at kissing a guy?” Letterman said as his audience howled with delight.

Even worse was an interview Chris Potter, an actor in Showtime’s Queer as Folk gave to MSNBC: “Soon as they say ‘cut,’ you spit,” he sneered. “You want to go to a strip bar or touch the makeup girls. You feel dirty. It’s a tough job.”

The Post makes the obvious point that female actors who kiss each other always shrug, if they’re even asked about the experience. Personally, I’ve been thinking about the days of Shakespeare, when there were no female actors, and England was ruled by a queen. How did those men approach the job? In some ways, it must have been more normal.

At any rate, this latest Milk froth underscores how there’s still work to be done, even in supposedly gay-friendly quarters. If it has got you angry, consider skipping work today. This morning was the official start of the awesomely-named “Day Without a Gay,” in which gay folk are encouraged to call in sick and spend the day volunteering and organizing “to show our continued commitment to fighting for our rights.”

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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