June 1997
s m u g
three dollar bill
by Willie Love


"Good Times" for Gay Men

Being gay in the late 90s is starting to feel like what I can only imagine it felt like to be black in the late 70s. Kind of being black in the "Good Times" way, with the role of JJ being played by the fags.


It makes more sense than you think. JJ was a funny guy, full of cliché mannerisms, unable to hold a job, him always blaming it on being black and the audience and his mother always knowing it was because he was irresponsible. When something of magnitude happened and it was time for JJ to put up or get out he always came through. He would ultimately make the morally favored decision, or be a sensitive family member, proving that his internal humanity superseded his blackness.


Being gay isn't much different these days, and I am specifically talking about being a gay man. Being a lesbian has not only become downright fashionable, it's become a fucking phenomenon, and more stylish than any couture Todd Oldham line 20 minutes before it's ever trotted down a runway. Lesbians are seen as being complex, if only that it's now recognized that there are at least four kinds of lesbians, the weekend variety (as seen in porn films), hardcore dykes, in comfortable shoes with bad haircuts and lipstick lesbians - the ones you'd never know were gay unless they started espousing the value of the solace they find in all girl love. The fourth variety of course, is the celebrity lesbian, and while we know entirely too much about them, we know nothing about them at the same time, like kd lang and Ellen.


Gay men haven't gotten the same media darling treatment. I thought it might slip into the mainstream when American hero Greg Louganis came out on Oprah with his gayness and his HIV at the same time. America - or rather, American women, fags, and pony tailed het boys wept. But it lacked the proper all audiences titillation it would have taken for the elevation to darling status.

So we're stuck again. Stuck in the 70s. We're JJ on Good Times with no catch phrase like he had. I remember when I was a kid, and had too much self respect to wear the denim hat in the same neo-Kangol style that was JJ's trademark with the words "DYN-NO-MITE" embroidered in orange on the brim that my grandmother gave me for Christmas. I was a fan of the show, and when she gave it to me she grudgingly admitted that he was "a talented fellow" which of itself, was a fine statement, were it not followed with the phrase "and he's colored, you know." Like I didn't notice. I suppose an argument could be made that this was a compliment from grandma, her assuming I was so thoroughly clean in my childlike mindset that I didn't even perceive racial differences, but coming from the woman who referred to her neighbor's maid as "the spook lady who works next door" I assure you we're dealing with a different animal.


It's almost impossible to hear about the achievements of a gay man without then hearing that he's gay. As in that so and so is a great fashion designer, and he's gay you know. Okay, fashion designer was too easy a target, but the point is - it's still gay. When a lesbian does something of note - they're just cooler for doing it through sisterhood. People like their gay men to have affectations, so they can spot them easier, like the speech thing I've never been able to successful emulate despite the fact that I've been having sex with men for 11 years, or the limpwristed thing I just can't justify or feel comfortable with.

I'm pretty well convinced that this is because gay is not as visible to the naked eye as black was. I concede that things are getting marginally incrementally, if only infinitesimally better for us, with gay male human rights making small leaps forward. That I now can look a suburban housewife who just sat down at my bar in the eye and say I'm gay without fear that she'll shriek and run away is a step in the right direction.


The day I can kiss my boyfriend on the cheek in the mall without fearing some redneck will kick my ass is a lot farther into the future though. Meanwhile, I have to keep calling people sister to let them know I'm gay for hetero people's comfort. Because you can't see gay like you can see black. I've decided that although it makes people box you in a lot faster, it saves me from the trouble of having to babysit them through their shock and having to hear the sentence I dread most "you don't seem gay" when they ultimately find out. I imagine that it's a lot like a black person hearing the old "you're not like a black person, you're more like a white person" with the combined sense of flattery, self loathing and extreme anger and frustration. I'm exactly like a gay man. Being gay, in it's very essence makes me that way.

No matter how much I want to slap anyone who utters those foolish words about the head and neck for several minutes though, it in no way speeds the plow to the real goals like partner health care and not getting beat up on the street that gay men are looking for. Just like I'm sure Jimmie Walker, the actor who played JJ felt the three thousand two hundred and sixty third time someone asked him to say "Dyno-Mite!" and mug for them in true Al Jolsen style, because that was how they liked their black people. Same way 90s people like their gay men, useful entertaining and preferably on a 21" stereo television.

Willie Love, c/o staff@smug.com


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