Lesbians and Gays in Movies and TV still Suffer: Patriarchy’s Old Masculinity Fears

As this astute article points out, what drives all the questions to James Franco about kissing Sean Penn in Milk. The touching of a pair of male lips consistently results in every interviewer forgetting that they are talking about ACTING. David Letterman even wanted the actor to fail in his mission of being in character and being believable!

One thing matters. Interviewers have to flex their masculinity muscles and the actors have the unenviable task of proving those same muscles exist in them while trying to explain that it is part of their jobs as actors.

Is the US culture really in a post-ironic, post-homophobic, pseudo-Sapphic homophobic era? How much has the culture changed in its views toward same-sex sexuality? How does the titillation of audiences today from two women kissing on Gray’s Anatomy compare with the elegant Lesbian-tinge mannish suits of Marlene Dietrich and Dorothy Arzner I examine in my book Hollywood Bohemians?

How does these masculinity fears compare with the costuming and posturing of Rudolph Valentino during his reign in the mid-1920s, or to the Paramount publicity pictures of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott sharing their Malibu Beach house, especially the one below:


The images from old Hollywood usually involved gender inversion rather than sex behavior because the cultural understanding of why people are homosexual was generally believed to be the former rather than the latter. This enabled those older images to carry some humor and avoid the direct confrontation that comes from two men or women engaging in sexual/loving intimacy. Images like this one were owned by Paramount Pictures but I think this romanticism proved too much for the photograph to appear in the media, or at least I did not find it anywhere.

The reactions of firing the “lesbian” characters from Gray’s Anatomy and the rampant need for disavowal of the kiss from actors like Gyllenhall (Brokeback Mountain) and Franco demonstrate little acceptance. Images of sexual and loving intimacy still spur these reactions (take a look at the message board for the ABC program Brothers and Sisters).


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