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Thursday, May 30, 2013

A politically-incorrect non-political post

There's a lot going on in the news that I should talk about, and will...later. But right now, I need to ask a pop-cultural question. This blog usually publishes non-political posts on the weekends, but this matter can't wait.

Can someone explain to me why gays choose certain women as gay icons? Particularly women who, back in the 60s, used to appeal to straight men (or boys, as I was then)?

It has come to my attention that Julie Newmar has a considerable gay following. See, for example, here and especially here. The latter presumes that the very name of Newmar may be considered a test for gayness: If you smile fondly when she is mentioned, then you must, perforce, be the sort of man who wants to have sex with other men.
However, there is one almost fool-proof way you can determine if someone is on the gay side of the scale and it comes down to two all-important words: Julie Newmar. How someone reacts to the name Julie Newmar is incredibly revealing. Anyone with a decent percentage of gay in them loves her. For older and younger gay men alike (thanks to retro television networks) Julie Newmar has been the first gay icon for most gays since the sixties.
Say what?

Look, unlike the fellow who wrote those words, I'm old enough to remember the 60s. And I can assure you, Julie Newmar had legions of heterosexual fans back then. In fact, it would have boggled our brains to learn that homosexuals might find any reason to admire her.

For most pre-pubescent boys of my generation, our first sight of Julie Newmar in her Catwoman costume was the moment we instantly left the "girls, yuck" stage of sexual development. Suddenly, we got it. Even if the facts of life had not yet been explained to us, we got the message. Biological programming kicked in.

I'm asking about Julie Newmar because I recently caught a chunk of the 1959 film version of Lil' Abner, in which Julie plays Stupefyin' Jones. (The film also features Stella Stevens and Leslie Parrish, who were similarly astonishing.) She was indeed stupefying. I'm trying to figure out what more a woman could do (at least in 1959 terms) to appeal to a heterosexual male audience.

C'mon. Look at her. Gay visitors to this site, let me ask you: If you really are gay, then just what is it you propose to do with a woman who has that kind of body?

On a related note: A correspondent has also directed my attention to the IMDB's section on Bye Bye Birdie, a film I've never seen beyond the first few minutes. This reaction floored me:
in the 7th grade, our music teacher made us watch this. i am a guy, so i had to hate it like all the other boys. but i was pretending. oh, how i loved it...especially ann-margret! i am gay so that might explain it a little. but i bet even the straight boys dug ann-margret.
EVEN the straight boys? What the hell...?

I'd like someone to tell me when -- and how, and why -- Ann-Margret became a gay icon. We're talking about the same Ann-Margaret who played JFK's birthday a year after Marilyn Monroe did the honors. We're talking about the same Ann-Margret who was Jack Nicholson's ultimate lust object in Carnal Knowledge.

Let me explain something: When the late Ken Russell put Ann-Margret in a tight dress and had her undulate her way through a ton of chocolate sauce and baked beans, he didn't make all of that happen in order to please a bunch of gay guys. That was not his intended audience.

The "Ann-Margret as gay icon" thing seems recent. No-one thought of her that way back in the 1960s or 70s. The MST3K crew didn't make any jokes along those lines when they riffed Kitten With a Whip.

I'm not here to pick fights with the gay community. I simply want to return to the old system, when gay men fixated on the kind of women that most straight men didn't particularly want to sleep with. Rosalind Russell, for example: She was a fine actress and a very nice lady (I met her once), but even in the movies she made in her prime, she never did much for me sexually. Same goes for Barbara Streisand. Bette Davis was attractive for maybe three or four years very early on, and then she built the rest of her career on pure brio and bitchiness.

As far as I am concerned, the gay community can have those actresses.

But the ultra-curvy sex goddesses of my boyhood -- sorry, but those women were (and are) for us straight guys. They were and are the stuff of our wretched and politically incorrect fantasies.

If the gays have commandeered Julie Newmar and Ann-Margret, what's next? Do they get Marilyn Monroe? Sophia Loren? Will they go after the Bond girls? What about all of those pneumatic Hammer beauties -- Valerie Leon, Veronica Carlson, Ingrid Pitt?

Are people going to say "Oh, he must be gay" if they catch me leafing though vintage issues of Playboy?

And what will the future bring? Will Megan Fox and Sophia Vergara one day be placed in the "gays only" category? I've watched Jennifer Connelly's roller skating scene in Career Opportunities about a hundred times -- is there something gay about that?

Who makes these decisions?

Added note: It seems that Judy Garland -- once considered the ultimate female fetish object for gay men everywhere -- has lost that status in recent years. Fine by me. Frankly, I always thought that she was quite charming and lovely in those movies she made with Mickey Rooney, and I'll always love her in Meet Me in St. Louis. (There. I said it and I'm standing by it.)
Comments:
Ann Margaret, for whom I rode in an open flat-bed semi from Nha Trang to Cam Ranh Bay, is a gay icon?

Well, that's OK, but they cannot have her all to themselves. Let there be great Venn diagram overlap concerning Ann Margaret.
 
Whatever they might be like as people, these women's personas are caricatures of female sexuality with exaggerated characteristics that are easy to identify and emulate for men who like to dress in drag or gender-bend. There is no androgeny or ambiguity about them sexually. There is a great deal of artificiality about them, as accessible to men and to women to emulate. Judy Garland's image was explicitly created by her studio, as much as Madonna's or Cher's or Dolly Parton's was for their purposes. More subtle traits of femininity (such as vulnerability or kindness) are much harder to recognize visually and portray explicitly and thus do not have the same appeal to gay men as they do to heterosexual men. Most men seek a woman who will be nice to them and however that is conveyed, that is the main feature that draws a man to a woman. Artificial sexiness conveys availability, not much else. For gay men, those signals identify that person as a woman -- that's it. I think the more a woman emphasizes artificial sexiness, the less confidence she has in her ability to attract someone. That's why aging women and 12 year old girls wear the most makeup. If you think of both genders as socially constructed, it makes sense that the most unambiguous signals would be most appreciated by those who find gender confusing.
 
You should take a look at Isaac Asimov's piece for TV Guide on robots (reprinted in one of his numerous anthologies). He chose Julie Newmar in My Living Doll to illustrate his points about robot construction.

The only reason I can think of to explain why beautiful curvaceous women would be considered attractive to gay men is that they are the real thing drag queens are trying for.

I completely agree with you about Judy Garland, although I wasn't a fan of the hairstyle in Meet Me in St. Louis. The red hair, however, made her and my mother look enough alike that, when my mother wore a button I made her out of a publicity still from that era Judy Garland, people thought it was a picture of her, not Judy.
 
Ah yes. I do remember the first time I saw Julie Newmar in Lil Abner. I damn near...well....ya know what I mean.

Here's another gorgeous lady from my childhood fantasies....Barbara Rhoades.
 
Slate published a series called "Postcards from Camp" that explains this beautifully. The short version is that many gay men relate to slightly over-the-top tragic female characters. It's a way to process the difficulty of being a gay man in a homophobic society without taking it all completely seriously.
 
I've often wondered about this topic in general. I wasn't familiar with Ms Newmar though, so asked the husband. He knew immediately about Catwoman and also recalled her in Rear Window ("doing exercises in the apartment next to THE one").

I came to the conclusion that gay guys are attracted to "campness" or a slight excess of exhibitionism of one kind or another, in an actress or entertainer, it's possible to see this in most of their choices, if you squint eyes a bit. ;-)Subtlety ain't their bag.

Not all gays are into this strange fetishism though - a gay in-law of mine is as puzzled as we are about it.
 
As I am not heterosexual myself (who eschews labelling myself), I was under the impression that male homosexuals fixating on ANY female persona or actress was attributable to the fact that such an actress was pro-LGBTQI (if you don't know, that is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Intersex) and thus deserved praise for supporting LGBTQI 'rights'. At the very least, if not vocal supporters of LGBTQI folks, they are at least kinder to LGBTQI persons than most. Lady Gaga, who I mention because she is a soon to be actress making her d├ębut in the Machete Kills move, seems very well liked among young gay males in particular and I think this is because not only do they appreciate her music but she is a very vocal supporter of same-sex marriage and gay rights in general. She herself may or may not be heterosexual. Anyway, I'll try to say this in a civil way, I take your post here as an insult to me personally, not that you care.
 
Dear Jay,

Far too many people get far too easily insulted when people who are ignorant attempt to rectify the situation with a bluntly worded question.

I, myself, am trying to figure out when we added "QI" to "LGBT" and WTF "Q"ueer actually needs to be defined, isn't "I"ntersex really no different than Transgender and honestly, why must people make simple shit so fucking goddamned difficult.
 
Jay, you're right: I don't care. Sorry, but if YOU may speak freely, then others deserve the same privilege. My questions were honest ones.

The comments here point us toward a possible answer: For unknown reasons, attitudes within the gay community have changed over the years.

Decades ago, gays fixated on those female celebrities who blurred sexual boundaries. One classic example would be Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday," in which she plays a career woman accepted as "one of the guys." Another example would be Joan Crawford in "Johnny Guitar," in which Joan proves weirdly attractive to Sterling Hayden even though she's tougher and more masculine than HE is.

I've never been able to sit through "Johnny Guitar" all the way; it's just not a very good movie. Nowadays, most gay guys would probably find that film as dull as I do. They probably would enjoy "His Girl Friday," because that remains a truly great movie. But I don't think that Rosalind Russell would mean as much to them as she meant to (say) gay men back in the early 1970s.

Females loved by gays no longer straddle the sexual boundary line. Instead, gays seem to favor females who are just INSANELY female.

I liked the old system better. Sorry, but I want to return to a world in which it was presumed that only a straight guy could find Julie Newmar interesting.

Is Christina Hendricks doomed to be a gay icon?

(I don't know the first thing about this Lady Gaga person. Is she some sort of musician?)

Red Dragon: Barbara Rhoades was indeed amazing. There's a lady who deserved a bigger career. She's still working, I'm happy to say.
 
Transgender, Intersex and Queer are NOT the same thing. If you want further explication on that and on why, please see the world's most popular encyclopedia for that. I would provide direct quotes but that risks my post becoming a larger wall of text than it already is. As for you not caring, well you sure didn't surprise me with that one. And really I didn't speak freely, if I were to speak freely I'd be talking to you face to face and I'd probably yell at you. But anyway, don't you have bigger fish to fry? I mean, don't you have larger enemies to worry about than LGBTQI folks? I mean seriously.....we live in a world with folks like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Karl Rove, and other juggernaut creeps and you choose to target LGBTQI? Just because some gay men in the past liked actresses that you also like? You can't like something that some unknown percentage of gay men also like? So the issue then is that you can't live with liking anything that potentially some gay person somewhere in the world may also like or appreciate. Joseph, I come here to your blog because your criticisms of the GOP are so damn excellent, but your other posts......not so much. Though I will agree that Windows 8 is terrible.
 
Jay, I write about whatever I please. Have done for nearly a decade in this very spot. If you tell me "Don't write about THAT; you should write about THIS" -- you're just another censor.

And it is NOT NOT NOT the case that wrote about women that "some unknown percentage of gay men also like." May I repeat...?

"How someone reacts to the name Julie Newmar is incredibly revealing. Anyone with a decent percentage of gay in them loves her."

I didn't write that. A gay man did, expressing an opinion apparently shared by many others.

What I'm arguing against -- and yes, this IS a pretty damned serious matter -- is the presumption that "If you like X, you must be gay, because X is a gay thing. X belongs to gays."

Speaking as someone who is both straight and a lifelong aficionado of classical music, I can tell you that this kind of presumption can be really fucking annoying.

It's bad enough that we live in a world where people call you gay if you like Mahler. I sure as hell don't want to live in a world where people call me gay if I like women with big breasts!

I mean...that'd be just too damned weird.
 
I was always more of a Diana Rigg fan, myself.
 
Dear Jay,
In an attempt to be correct to your standards, I utilized Wikipedia to explain to me what Queer and Intersex was.

For the latter, its a legitimate but such an obscenely tiny minority of anything that really matters that I find it utterly ridiculous to even include. It strikes me as useless a term as most of the things in DSM, and mostly there so people can have more words to describe their special snowflake-ship.

Queer, OTOH, is really trying too hard. Sorry, but it makes you sound like a dbag. Good luck with that.

Honestly, the militantly LBGTQIOU (sometimes Y) are every bit as annoying as fundie Xians, feminists, and vegans.

But, we're off topic, so good luck storming the castle.
 
Prop, I presume you recall my own words about Diana Rigg? I once wrote a long, weird essay about James Bond movies, focusing on my favorite, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
 
Ginger or Mary Ann? I suppose if you like Ginger you're gay?

I always thought Ginger was underrated in that game. She clearly has a soul beneath all that makeup and cleavage, while Mary Ann's perkiness would get might tiresome after a while.
 
snug: Believe it or not, I had a friend who did yardwork for Dawn Wells back in the 1970s. He always said she was a lovely person, not too different from the lady you saw on the show.

The Ginger/Mary Ann thing comes down to a choice between the woman you want to date vs. the woman you want to marry. I understand the desire to settle down with a simple, dark-haired country girl with common sense and good values. (Some of you may know of my obnoxious and unfathomable fixation on a certain young lady from the Pyrenees.)

On the other hand, Tina Louise sure was kinda...like...wow.
 
@Anon (11.39) - yes. I think what some gay men like about such women isn't anything they imagine doing with them; it's that the (stylised representations of) women signify dressing up and pretending, which they like to get off on.

Having dressing up and pretending as a big feature of a person's life suggests great confusion, however much (or is it to the extent that?) they 'embrace' it or 'playfully' express it.

(Which does not contradict the contention that some straight men might learn more wearing a dress for a day than a suit for life! :-) )
 
Well, your final parenthetical paragraph leads to a good point, b. It may be that we are ALL playing dress up. The businessman in his 3-piece gabardine suit, the cosplayer at the San Diego Comic Con -- what's the difference? It's all theater.
 
Didn't see this movie, but it was brought to mind:

To Wong_Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

Apparently this movie, concerning 3 transvestites, was an early clue that I missed.

XI
 
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