Thursday, January 30, 2014

Looking for Reality

If you needed any more evidence that sexual racism is alive and well in the gay community, look no further than Looking - HBO’s gay version of Girls.

To make a short story even shorter, Looking is a show about gay white boy problems.

That's not a read. That's just a fact.

Despite promises of a diverse cast, the creators of Looking have produced another gay show about white men made by white men for white men and those who aspire to one day marry a white man.

I hear the gasps. 

“But Gary, there’s only been two episodes AND there are Latinos, a black guy, and an Asian guy in the show. And one of the white guys looks…working class. It may as well be an ad for United Colors of Benetton. What more do you want?”  

Here’s what I have to say to that.

When we think about stories, we should ask ourselves a couple of things.

                                                   1. Whose story is being told?
2. Does the story ring true to your lived experiences?
3. Whose stories are being highlighted and whose stories are being hidden?

When answering these questions, I can’t help but think about this famous line in Their Eyes Were Watching God:
     Where is me? I don’t see me.

I’m not saying it’s a bad show. It’s entertaining. It raises some important issues. But as a gay man of color, all I see are dollar signs, reruns, and window dressing. No matter how much blush we put on the characters, you can’t hide the fact that the show doesn’t focus on issues salient to men of color.

Of the three main characters, one is Latino. Progress? Yes. A sea change? Hardly. As a guy with a dark complexion myself, I can’t help but notice Agustin’s fair-skinned features and the fact that he’s from Coral Gables, Florida - an upper-middle class neighborhood where the median income is nearly $80,000.

Once again, I ask: Where is me? I don’t see me.

The characters with the most potential to raise important issues for men of color are Richie (the doorman at Esta Noche) and Frank (Agustin’s boyfriend who lives in Oakland). So of course, they are second-tier characters. We know next to nothing about them, but at least they will show up in almost every episode. But so far, they’ve been only ancillary - Kelly and Michelle to the Beyonces of the world, blinded by her light.

Richie is Patrick’s rebound guy. He treats him like a foreign species. He essentially researches “how to have sex with a Latin guy?” before going out on a “date” with Richie - a date which consists of Patrick trying to lube him up with liquor, petting his hair like a pet, and asking him questions about his origin as though he were a Martian.

Frank, a light-skinned black guy, is Augustin’s partner. Yet, we have no idea what he does. We only know he is devoted to his partner. It’s early in the season, though.

The thing that bugs me the most is how a show based in San Francisco  - where more than a third of the population is Asian - has only introduced one Asian character  - a video game programmer who spends his 15 seconds of fame talking about the OkCupid algorithms. A fairly lengthy google and imdb search couldn’t even find his name. And he didn’t even make a cameo in episode two.

So when you ask yourself whose story is being told here, it’s obvious that this is the tale of the guys who aren’t responding to you on grindr, who have to do research about “people like you” before having sex, and who see you as their human sex toy experiment.

But even this story is only partially true because once Richie rejects Patrick for treating him like an exotic animal he found in the safari, Patrick begins to mope and eat cheesy carbs. He may actually be sad. And this may actually be his coping mechanism of choice. But romantic advantage suggests that Patrick has more options. He could open Grindr and order one of the many gentlemen callers eager to take Richie’s place. If the shoe were on the other foot, would Richie have it so easy?

No matter what the writers and producers say, Looking is a show about the problems of being a fit, educated, fair-skinned gay male in America. And it’s not even telling that story honestly.

I know there are some people of color who think this show is a big step forward. I’m no more the voice of my generation than Looking is for men of color. But I will say this: I agree that Looking does a better job than shows like Queer As Folk in getting #boyslikeus some screen time. However, in 2014, this is nothing to celebrate. Our stories deserve to be told as well.




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