How To Be A Gay
A guide for anyone who wants a life of outrageous glamour, freaky sex, good shoes, and better hair.
I am almost never asked, “Lance, how can I be more gay?” Which is weird, considering how often I am asked to stop staring at someone’s crotch.
Be that as it may, I think the world could use a lot more gay.
I should preface my instruction set by explaining that I, myself, am not very good at being gay. I detest gay bars, I don’t enjoy anal sex (from the receiving end, as it were), I haven’t appeared in a musical in decades, and the last time I visited Disneyland I was in high school on “Grad Nite” and the musical guests in the park were KC and the Sunshine Band, and Kool and the Gang.
But we’re not here to talk about me (for once), we’re here to talk about you. This is not a guide for gay men to be more gay. Heaven forbid that I should be a guide for any gay man to be more anything. No, this is for the straight man who looks at himself in the mirror and thinks, “damn it, I should be gayer.”
The easiest way to be gay is to be born to it, like royalty or in-bred greyhounds. But if you weren’t selected to be able to claim your gayness the old-fashioned way (after all, only one-in-ten human beings can claim this special trait, which means I guess that one-in-twenty humans would be a gay male), it’s fairly simple to become more gay using a few painless steps that don’t (necessarily) involve nudity or excessive lubrication, and most of which are available to stream on Netflix, or Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
Being gay isn’t merely about your bedroom activities, though admittedly that does play a huge part in it. Huge, that is, if you’re lucky. Lately, it seems, everyone is at least a little gay, and teenagers (or so I am told) have such a lax attitude about sexual labels and mores that there’s a chance that terms like “gay” and “straight” and “bi” and “boring old fart” will lose their meaning and any kind of delicious sense of naughtiness.
That, my friend, would be very sad, indeed.
So, in order to help preserve what it means to be gay, I have taken it upon myself to here illustrate just a few of the things you can do almost immediately to create a better “gay lifestyle” for yourself, and bring some snappy comebacks into your ordinary little life.
Any decent understanding of the gay male lifestyle starts with understanding the straight female lifestyle circa 1940, and all their repressed sexuality and love of pampering.
There is no better example for you to dive head-first into and swim towards the deep end than The Women (how’s that for awkward prose?), directed by George Cukor (a “woman’s director” which is code for being a gay so gay that Clark Gable had him replaced as the director “Gone With The Wind,” or so I am saying here and you are believing because being persecuted and feeling guilty are both important parts of the “gay lifestyle”) in 1939. There are absolutely no men in this film at all, other than maybe a horse, so it offers a sideways view at what goes on inside your average gay bar amongst “friends.”
The Women is ostensibly about how women treat each other. It is also about how gay men (often) treat each other, with bitchy asides, and digging deep in someone else’s goldmine of sorrow, and piling up the “I told you so’s” when their perfect love affair inevitably ends in tears, blame, self-loathing, and throwing out of things the boyfriend gave you.
That being said, there’s no rule that says that you have to treat your friends this way, but it’s delicious to watch other people do it, particularly when they say things like “Cheer up, Mary; living alone has its compensations. Heaven knows it’s marvelous being able to spread out in bed like a swastika.”
And that’s her mother.
You should study The Women to get a better understanding of a few principles of gay life.
- Always dress to the nines. There is no excuse for putting on average, ugly clothes even if no one is going to see you in them. You should always look fabulous, particularly when your only observer is the mirror. How are you going to feel good about yourself if you look so awful?
- Say things like “dress to the nines.”
- When it’s time to feel sorry for yourself, absolutely wallow in your situation like a happy sow and complain long and loud to everyone. Take advantage of sorrow, because heaven knows you’re going to be drowning in it.
- Revenge is sweet, particularly when it involves sex.
“Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
There are gay icons, and then there’s Bette Davis. There are some who say that Joan Crawford is the ultimate Hollywood gay icon (not to be confused with musical icons like Madonna and, no, do not ever laugh when you say “music” and “Madonna” in the same sentence) but I am firmly in the Bette corner. If you don’t believe me, have a look at her in a different (but still pretty gay) movie, Now, Voyager, and watch Bette bloom from a frumpy bespectacled mouse into a sharp-talking, heel-wearing viper — witness what almost every gay man goes through once he discovers the gym.
But All About Eve isn’t Now, Voyager, because in it we see Bette in her true form: Diva. And being a diva will count for at least 50% of your final grade at the end of term. You think you’re watching a performance, but Bette Davis is Margo Channing, make no mistake. Flip your hair and bite your chicken leg all you want, this kind of diva is born, not made.
A diva is someone who doesn’t feel the need to dominate a room; her mere presence accomplishes that when she walks into it. She doesn’t need your approval, and every word she utters is a sentence in your trial — a trial you didn’t even know was occurring before she sat down at the judge’s dais.
All About Eve is also about Eve Harrington herself, played with underhanded backstabbing gall by Anne Baxter. If you think you can be Bette Davis all on your own, you don’t need my help, honey.
But the rest of us are Eves; trying on Bette’s dress and modeling it on stage, a pale imitation of the true star and lying our way through life to pump up our grandiose dreams at the expense of everyone around us.
Harold and Maude
There’s a saying that goes “the heart wants what it wants,” (it will help to become familiar with that term when you’re doing a set on the pec deck while mooning after a guy who is so far out of your league he is in another league entirely and that league doesn’t know your league exists and if it did it would use your league to clean its sordid underthings which you will be only too happy to do anyway) and perhaps there is no truer filmic expression of this sentiment than Harold and Maude.
Hal Ashby’s black comedy about the love between a privileged suicidal teen and a free-spirited octogenarian could be nothing more than a freak fest, but it treats its subject and its characters with love and respect, much like you will be expected to do when you find yourself falling for someone who’s neither your “type” nor on the same level.
There’s a tendency among gay men to “clone” themselves when they fall in love. Twinks like twinks, gym queens like gym queens, bears like bears, and on and on it goes. This is all purely physical, of course, and we often make ourselves over into the men we think we want because we can.
But the lesson I want you to take from Harold and Maude is “fuck what anyone else thinks.” Fuck them. Fuck that. Believe in your feelings, trust in the person you love (and who loves you), do stupid shit, plant trees, throw jewelry into the ocean, pose naked for art, and drive your Jaguar hearse off a cliff.
Harold loves Maude.
And Maude loves Harold.
Mommie Dearest has at least two things going for it before you even see the first frame of the film: It is about Joan Crawford (worship her!) and it is about how much Joan Crawford hated her children.
This is a comedy. It’s important to realize that going in or you’re just not going to enjoy it. It wasn’t meant to be a comedy, but that’s what it ended up as.
Making comedy out of tragedy ends up being a pretty large and important aspect of being a successful gay. You’re going to have no end of people you don’t even know judging you negatively about things you’ve never even done (or been lucky enough to have been asked to do) and based solely on their own tiny little worlds that don’t have a modicum of frivolity or drag queens judging them for what they’re wearing.
Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford performance (and likeness) has to be given a lot of the credit for this being such an amazing film. I mean, like, a “you have to see this to believe it” kind of a film. Not that I want to take anything away from Diana Scarwid’s amazing ability to do things with a human face that are hard to describe, other than to say “imagine what a dried apple person would look like acting in a film.”
There’s also some awesome stunt work (yes, stunts — I told you she hated her children, were you not paying attention?) and so many good lines that you’ll wear out a pencil trying to write them all down.
What I want you to take from this film, though, apart from its pure entertainment value, is an appreciation of camp. Camp is sometimes hard to nail down. Pink Flamingos, for example, isn’t camp. It’s bad taste elevated to art. Nothing in the John Waters oeuvre is campy, it’s just trying too hard for that. Camp is a delicate sledgehammer that doesn’t know it’s camp. It’s your grandmother’s candy dish with those ribbon candies that are all stuck together and covered in dust. You (hopefully) like the idea of that, but you understand that it doesn’t want to be that.
An understanding and appreciation of camp is critical to your gay advancement. There is literally no other film that will illustrate this concept so successfully.
The most interesting thing about “Showgirls” for your purposes is how hard — intensely hard — it tries to be super duper straight, and how hard — intensely, painfully, wonderfully, awfully hard — it completely fails.
This film has everything a heterosexual male should want. Tons of titties, including a “stunt dress” that reveals a woman’s bare breasts, wild sex in a swimming pool, make-up as thick as pancake batter slathered all over everything (including those self-same nipples), 90% of it takes place either in a strip bar or in a topless Vegas “review” (AKA an expensive strip bar), lesbian almost-sex, it was written by one of Hollywood’s top misogynists and directed by the guy who made the ultra-violent Robocop and the ultra-Schwarznegger Total Recall.
Showgirls is camp, like Mommie Dearest, but Showgirls deserves its own slot (ahem) because it’s trying very, very hard to be provocative and offensive and sexy, but it’s none of those things. In this way, it aims to be what many straight people assume about the gay: We’re just in it to be provocative and offensive and, yes, sexy. But really, we can’t help ourselves, and we’re just out for a bit of racy fun.
In no small part, the real attraction of Showgirls — and its success — is due to the amazing performance of star Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi Malone. I’m not sure words alone can do justice to what this young woman brings to the screen. She is fearless and just a little scary in her intensity.
Known primarily for her turn as Jessie on Saved by the Bell (and in particular the episode “Jessie’s Song” in which she freaks out having become addicted to caffeine pills — a microscopic example of the talent she brings to the role of Nomi), here she manages to show us all just what we need to do if we want to succeed in this harsh life — namely fuck everybody before shoving them down the stairs and taking their role from them.
Believe me, I’m not spoiling anything. Showgirls is a must-see example of what it takes to be a loud and proud gay in a world where no one appreciates you until you rip your top off and lick your own nipple.
Patsy and Edina are the yin and yang of being a gay man.
Patsy is thin, glamorous, loves smoking and drinking, has sex with whomever she wants, always has every hair in place, is always on the lookout for more fun somewhere else, and spends most of her time looking down on others when she’s not commenting on their weight — including her best friend.
Her best friend Edina dresses absolutely wrong for her age, is self-conscious about her weight, drinks too much, can’t handle her drugs, thinks her opinion is the only one that matters, spends all her money on nonsense and frivolities, and has so many self-doubts that she bought a dolphin she could talk to in order to help herself over them.
These are essentially gay men. Or what gay men wish they were. Or what gay men pretend to be. Elton John has guest-starred. The Pet Shop Boys recorded a song called “Absolutely Fabulous.” One character edits a fashion magazine, and the other is in PR and owns a small boutique that sells “gorgeous things.”
It doesn’t get much gayer than that.
You are probably at least familiar with the show, but perhaps you’ve been afraid to watch it in case you’re labeled as being gay yourself, much like straight men are afraid of colored shoelaces and underwear with built-in pouches. I urge you to overcome this fear, open up a bottle of champagne, put on your Pradas and settle in to let the whole thing wash over you.
You’re going to learn so many things about being a successful gay that it is almost pointless to list them here, but allow yourself the pure, selfish pleasure of being really horrible. Only then can you begin to understand loving yourself, flaws and all.
Do Not Watch
Or do watch, but not for gay lessons.
Equally important is what not to watch if you’re looking to improve your gay vocabulary. Some of these are fine films with good performances and eye-roll whatever. By and large these are films about how horrible and sad it is to be gay, and that’s not what we’re going for, is it?
Avoid these at all costs.
Philadelphia (1993) Oh my god, this movie tries so hard to be earnest. So, so hard. It really wants to be that weird uncle who sits next to you at a funeral and keeps asking you sad questions about the deceased just to make you cry. This has nothing at all to do with being gay, and everything to do with feeling sad about yourself and then dying. Pass!
Brokeback Mountain (2005) The only reason — and I mean the only reason — that gay men see this movie now is for “the tent scene” where Heath spits on his hand to grease Jake’s butt up, because we all want to be Heath, and then we turn it off. Sure, we saw it when it came out because we basically had to, and then we cried like babies and we all avoid it now. Why keep reminding yourself how pathetic and sad your life used to be? Go get married and grease up your husband!
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) This will be an undoubtedly controversial selection among my gay brethren, but I’m afraid that it won’t teach you very much about being a better gay. It’s entertaining and poignant (and you should pronounce the ‘g’ so it sounds like “pregnant”) but it’s essentially not very helpful, in the long run. It runs a bit too quickly towards stereotypes (ABBA, much?) and I don’t want you to think that gayness equates solely with flamboyance. It does…just not to this extent.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) I know you were expecting this one up above, and admittedly this film has saved the lives of countless little gays, but this is a film for when you are already gay, rather than a film for people who only wish they were gay. It has the sexiest character introduction ever frozen to celluloid, songs that will be burned into your brain and never leave, and a giddy sense of no-fucks-left-to-give that makes anyone ever deemed a freak or an outsider immediately understand that that designation is a blessing, not a curse. But if your goal is to become gay, this isn’t the film that’ll help you out.
Any movie written and directed by a gay man about gay love (any year) These films are uniformly dreadful. There are exceptions but they’re too few to even mention. There tends to be a dire “woe is me” attitude that pervades every frame of the film, the actors are hired for their looks and not their talent (though admittedly sometimes their looks are their talent), and anyone watching them tends to feel worse about themselves rather than better.
Postscript: I’ve been advised that the title of the article should be “How To Be An American Gay” because being a gay in Europe or Asia or, I dunno, Canada? Maybe? Anyway, the directions and your media lunch would be different.
Also I realized after the fact that if I had called it “How To Be A Gay ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ” would’ve done wonders for my audience clicks and stats, but since there is no non-gay ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ, the point is moot.