Why Are Gay People More Acceptable When They’re Passing for Straight?
Normally, I don’t get into anything that goes viral. I refuse to devote hours of my day watching YouTube clips of cute babies, cuddling kitties, or Rebecca Black singing about Fridays. But GetUp!’s “It’s time” video promoting marriage equality (4,308,036 YouTube views and rising), which I never actually watched on YouTube until I posted it at the bottom of this article, really got me the first time I saw it, in November.
It may have had something to do with the fact that the lead actor, Julian Shaw, reminds me so much of someone I used to love. (Who am I kidding? There’s no getting over him — yet.) Oddly enough, the 26-year-old author, actor and filmmaker even shares my ex’s December 16th birthday. But most of all, it’s the story itself. Boy meets, uh, someone. Boy shops, holidays and quarrels with someone. Boy introduces someone to his parents. Boy loses mom. Boy grieves. Boy rides a rollercoaster. Boy proposes to someone who happens to also be a boy. The moral of the story: Love is love, regardless of sexual orientation.
That’s a lesson that’s more valuable than all of the stupid pet tricks on YouTube combined. But despite my admiration of the video on an aesthetic and socio-political level, something about it never quite sat right with me. The other day it was revealed to me that Shaw, the one who reminds me so much of my ex, is actually straight.
Eureka! Now I’ve got it!
The fact that the video focuses on the half of the couple who could pass for straight and not his more gaydar-arousing significant other speaks volumes. The fact that the lead actor is a straight guy from New Zealand practically shouts it from the roof top: Gay people are most acceptable when they’re conforming to straight standards, or are, in fact, straight. Although the video has several thousand “dislikes” on YouTube, I don’t know a single straight person who has anything but love for it.
I wonder how the ad would have been received had the couple been totally camp. Or two extremely butch dykes. What if the main character had been more Jack McFarland than Will Truman? On TV, the Jacks of the world are more palatable to the masses when they’re making us laugh, but in reality, they don’t exist solely for comic relief. They fall in love, too. Don’t those who fit into the more stereotypical portion of the gay and lesbian spectrum deserve the right to marry just as much as gays and lesbians who could be mistaken for straight?
Of course, they do. And I am 100 percent certain that most of the straight people I know would agree. But what about the more than 67,000 people who “liked” the GetUp! ad? Would all of them have clicked on the thumbs up tab if the first image they’d seen had been a perfectly groomed guy with an unmistakable swish? Or if the boyfriend, whom we don’t see until the end, had been the lead.
I suppose part of what made the video such a sensation was the “The Crying Game” effect. You didn’t necessarily know that the main character was gay until those final frames. Straight people can watch it and walk away with some brand new knowledge: Gay people are just like us.
Only for the most part, they’re not. Now I’m not one of those hardliners who believes that gay characters can be played only be gay actors, and I applaud Julian Shaw for his support of gays and lesbians and his sexy facial hair. Everyone should be so open-minded. But casting a straight actor to represent gay men in an ad that’s supposed to be about acceptance and equal rights for gay people sort of defeats the purpose.
GetUp!’s heart was in the right place, but next time I hope they’ll choose an actor who more accurately represent the state of being gay — onscreen and off. It’s not necessarily campy, or “straight acting,” but somewhere right down the middle.
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