Between the LInes

The year that was

Richard Burnett
This is without question Canada’s queerest year ever. The country is still convulsing over same-sex marriage while televisions nationwide are tuned into Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It’s the year Rosie O’Donnell sued the former publisher of her magazine, Rosie, for $125 million after they sued her for a $100 million.. It’s the incredible year of Mambo Italiano, Entertainment Tonight’s Montreal-born fashion guru Steven Cojocaru and the triumphant return of Boy George, whose autobiographical play Taboo Rosie O’Donnell has taken from London’s West End to Broadway. Not to mention 2003 was also the year of the metrosexual.
Whether the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy phenomenom lasts until our boys make big bucks off their upcoming book remains to be seen (they signed a million-dollar deal in August with Random House).

Then, no sooner than NBC – which owns the American Bravo network that Queer Eye airs on – more than doubled their salaries from $3,000 per episode to $8,000 than our boys began acting like spoiled superstars. New York magazine reported in October that hair-and-face man Kyan Douglas, at a Von Dutch fashion opening, screamed at reporters who crashed the VIP area, “Get the fucking press out of here!”
But isn’t Kyan press?

May the backlash begin: New York reports, “Douglas then demanded that two journalists from In Touch Weekly explain to him how they got into the exclusive area, publicly berating them in front of a room full of entertainers and media people, which we’re sure endeared him to any number of TV writers.”

The Queer Eye backlash had hardly begun when other journalists were also beginning to tire of Montreal’s very own Steve Cojocaru who, by the way, was too busy to speak with most Canadian reporters (like yours truly) after the smash U.S. success of his bestselling (and, I must admit, entertainingly dishy) bio Red Carpet Diaries: Confessions of a Glamour Boy.

“Cojo makes Paul Lynde look like Colin Farrell,” reporter Tony Hendra wrote in the September issue of the usually very gay-friendly Details magazine. “What could be more ‘homosexual’ (in the old, moldy sense) than a 40-year-old guy who worries about what Reese Witherspoon puts in her hair? I don’t want to hear gay men talking about what women put in their hair. Since the decline and fall of Rome a certain kind of gay man has bitched and dished about women. It’s a way for them to make their fear and envy of women socially palatable. But I don’t fear or envy women. I love them (especially Reese Withserspoon). I love what they wear and put in their hair. So zip it, Cooj. Let me hear you talk once in a blue moon about war, sports, handguns, alcohol – stuff I care about. Stuff I talk about with my gay friends. Or my friends who bother to tell people they’re gay.”
That last line, of course, refers to Cojo’s silence concerning his own sexuality. Though, to Cojo’s defense, he told The Washington Post in April, “I think to walk around and talk about gay-gay-gay would just trivilize what I am. Better to just be it and not talk about it.”

To each his own, I suppose.

But if you think journalists are beginning to tire of Queer Eye and Cojo, then you can understand why (now) openly-gay Montreal playwright Steve Galluccio’s play Mambo Italiano got such a rough ride from harsh Toronto critics and indignant, political gay activists. Still, no one was prepared for the drubbing the film adaptation got from the American national glossy Out magazine.

“Even in the well-made new film Mambo Italiano (about an Italian-Canadian named Angelo, his overprotective family, and his relationship with closeted cop Nino), the version released in the French-Canadian market omits any sexual contact between the two main characters,” Out senior Jeffrey Epstein editor rants in a looong (but valid) op-ed. “How do I know this? The distributor inadvertently screened the “cut’ version of the film for reviewers in Los Angeles before showing me the U.S. version, where the guys actually lock lips. While we in the United States are getting the better, complete version, why “sanitize” a movie for anyone’s protection? It’s insulting. (Not to mention sucky for the gays living in, say, Montreal.)”
But wait,there’s more.

“The other thing that pissed me off about Mambo Italiano is that (to give away the ending) Nino leaves Angelo when his sexuality is called into question, marries a woman, and has a baby. The film says it’s OK to ditch your boyfriend and lead a “straight” life – although the end implies that Nino likes to go off on “camping trips” with studly male friends. At no point does Nino look remorseful – like he might be betraying everything that he is. Nope, Nino just becomes happy and straight. That’s just what I want to see – a movie that fulfills the fantasy of every closed-minded parent, friend or relative who wants their loved one to be straight, no matter what the cost.
“At least at the end of 1987’s Maurice, Hugh Grant’s character (who abandons his boyfriend, played by James Wilby, to lead a hetero life) is obviously miserable with the empty choice he made. Closets become prisons, not walk-ins with all the amenities.”

The fact that mainstream gay and straight (and in-between publications like Details) are making all these harsh points about Queer Eye, Cojo and Mambo says a lot about how far we have come as a community – or, at the very least, a fractured (or diverse, depending on whether your glass is half-empty or half-full) community.
Which brings me to a groundbreaking Nov 4 story by the Associated Press headlined “Word ‘queer’ is evolving.’
The story leads off: “Originally a synonym for ‘odd’ or ‘unusual,’ the word evolved into an anti-gay insult in the last century, only to be reclaimed by defiant gay and lesbian activists who chanted: ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.’”

But, in the world of Queer Eye and Queer as Folk, the word queer is popping up all over the place.
“While some in the gay community began using the word in the last decade or two as an umbrella term for ‘gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered,’ today’s young people say that ‘queer’ encompasses even more,” AP reports before quoting 20-something Stacy Harbaugh of Indianapolis.

“I love it because, in one word, you can refer to the alphabet soup of gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, ‘heteroflexible,’ ‘omnisexual,’ ‘pansexual’ and all of the other shades of difference in that fluid, changing arena of human sexuality,” says Harbaugh. “I find myself attracted to boy-like girls and girl-like boys. If ‘lesbian’ or ‘bi’ doesn’t seem to fit, ‘queer’ certainly does.”

Now that’s a prodigious change.
Happy New Year.

Richard Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Montreal’s Hour magazine as well as on the web at