Between the lines

Déja vu all over again

Richard Burnett
Out with the old and in with the new. Except what’s new is also usually old. As 2002 wound down and gay publications came out with their year-end specials – Out magazine even chose former Quebec justice minister Paul Bégin as one of its Top 100 people of the year for introducing Quebec’s omnibus gay-rights Bill 84 – some names kept popping up left, right and centre, none more so than Rosie O’Donnell. Now, I’ve taken Rosie to task over the years for not publicly coming out before she conveniently did. Gay pundits like Michelangelo Signorile ragged on Her RosieNess relentlessly. But now Canada-based website – my top pick for daily hits of global gay news – has named Rosie their Person of the Year. It’s not surprising, of course, because even columnist Eleanor Brown was raving about O’Donnell in a November 2002 column in which she states the gay community has betrayed Rosie (how the tables have turned, but I digress).

“For years lesbians loved her,” Brown leads off. “We just knew about the comfortable shoes, even when her feet were hidden by her talk show desk. Gay men loved her too. She was a fat outsider, she was funny, she was emotional. She was Madonna’s best friend. Even the hets adored her! When she was straight, she was the Queen of Nice.

“Only the political fags harassed her, demanding she come out and be a proper role model, ordered to fit her life into someone else’s agenda. Even her love for Tom Cruise was cruelly tarnished.
“But the drag queens and party boys understood: Rosie was a starfucker. She was a gigantic appetite with a huge crush on a guy cursed with his small manhood (Tommy is, what, five-foot-five?).”

Of course, it’s okay to be a starfucker. Hollywood is cram-packed with Tinseltown faggots and lipstick lesbians. What gets me is watching these hypocrites close ranks and enclose themselves in a glass closet so they can enjoy the good life, riding the coat tails of our activist ancestors who literally gave up everything to fight for gay civil rights.

But the job’s not all done. Now people like me and you have to work twice as hard to make up for the likes of Rosie. So tell me who betrayed who?

Brown is spot on, though, when she describes the homophobic mainstream reaction to Rosie’s public coming out. “Then she got the haircut,” Brown points out. “The dyke ‘do, we call it, the favored short look for the happenin’ butch.”

O’Donnell morphed into what Brown calls an “uber bitch” who finally got a personality. But the publisher of her Rosie magazine freaked and are now sueing O’Donnell for a $100 million. “How do these bastards get to blame the dyke?” Brown asks. “The whole thing stinks; Rosie was set up to take the fall for a company that had decided long ago to dump the product.”

Now is the time, as Brown rightly says, for us to rally around Rosie. I’m prepared to do it because Rosie has paid her penance for being a starfucking closet case. Clearly it’s time to move on.
Even straight folks have moved on. In a wonderful op-ed piece entitled “Fag-stags” (the male equivalent of fag-hags) by gay American writer Tom Samalijan in the December 2002 issue of Details magazine, Samiljan points a rosy picture of friendship among gay and straight men that could only have happened after the cultural upheavals of the Gay Nineties.

“In today’s ask-and-tell world of Will & Grace and Queer as Folk, it’s become more acceptable for gay and straight men to hang out without anybody getting the wrong impression,” Samiljan writes. “Gay guys have gotten over the myth that any straight dude wants to be friends is a secret homosexual, while straight guys have gotten over the suspicion that every homo wants to get into his pants.”

Samiljan says straight men like hanging out in gay bars because they are fabulous pressure-free zones to meet women who think any straight guy who hangs out in a gay bar can’t be all bad.
But does that also mean Samiljan thinks his straight friends are really closet cases?

“I confess that in the back of my head, I sometimes think that my fag-stag friends are really gay – or could go that way with enough coaxing. But it’s usually a fleeting thought that’s best expressed with an affectionate backslap. (When I used to drink more, my friends dubbed me Campfire Guy, because after a few beers, I would put my arms around someone and say corny stuff like “I love you, man.”) To be honest, I don’t feel like doing the sexual math in my head anymore. I just have to make sure I don’t fall in love, which is usually accomplished the first time a fag-stag farts in front of me.

“And so,” Samiljan concludes, “after a decade of cultural gender-blending, gay and straight men have found that we have a lot more in common with each other than we’d thought. We’re all just testosterone-prone guys led around by our dicks. We like to talk about sex. We go camping (in the woods or over Cosmos). We slap backs and beltch. We like Charles Mingus and Cher – well, maybe that’s still a strict minority. But in the end, we’re just a bunch of guys.”

Which brings me to another really interesting op-ed I read in the December issue of Out magazine about why some lesbians prefer their men straight.

“I’ll just say it: I’m sick of urban straight women and their gay male pets,” writer Chelsey Johnson leads off. “Will and Grace, Madonna and Rupert, Carrie Bradshaw and Stanford – oh, need I go on? I’ve got nothing against either party, but the fag-and-hag pairing has been so idealized and dramatized that both they and their symbiotic relationship have been reduced to clichés. I think the final straw was when a straight girl I worked with, a student at a small, clean-cut Lutheran college, said longingly, ‘I want a gay male friend! It would be so much fun.’ Her eyes went dreamy. ‘We could go shopping together.’”

Johnson gave me new insight into the lives of tomboys: “When you’re with guys, suppressed aspects of your personality emerge. Hanging with my high school guy friends, I felt bolder and less inhibited; I talked dirtier. When we’d run into other girls, I was one of them, facing my gender from the other side, and it felt powerful.”

But Johnson points out she remains conflicted about her alliance with the “supposed enemy” and later concludes, “I’ve heard this cutesy neo-adage that gay men are God’s gift to straight women; if anyone were to tell me lesbians are God’s gift to straight men, I’d hit him where it counts. But there are good straight guys out there who have been friends, confidants, collaborators, and sometimes lifesavers to many of us skeptical sapphists. And we wouldn’t exchange them for anything.”

Fag-hags, fag-stags and lesbians who love straight men? How the world has changed, indeed.
Richard Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine as well as on the web at