It's the 90's: you can't just *say*, "They're Gay!"

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Title: It's the 90's: you can't just *say*, "They're Gay!"
Creator: Sandy Herrold
Date(s): probably 1998 or 1999
Medium: online
Fandom: has a Sentinel focus
Topic:
External Links: Thesis statement: It's the late 90's, and it's almost impossible for a TV hero that I can respect to be gay.; Wayback link
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It's the 90's: you can't just *say*, "They're Gay!" is a 1998 or 1999 essay by Sandy Herrold. The title comes from her index page, rather than the essay itself. The essay itself has not title, though begins with "Thesis statement: It's the late 90's, and it's almost impossible for a TV hero that I can respect to be gay."

On another page called Old Rants, the title is "It's the 90's--our heros are Not Gay anymore."

The Essay

This essay, posted to Confessions of a Fannish Butterfly, is used on Fanlore with Sandy's permission.

Thesis statement: It's the late 90's, and it's almost impossible for a TV hero that I can respect to be gay.

What do I mean by that? Let's break it down:

By "90's", I mean current shows. I'm not talking about the Professionals, or Starsky & Hutch (or Wild Wild West, fer christ's sake!)
By "a TV hero that I can respect" -- I'm talking about Jim and Blair, Peter and Kermit, and anyone on Voyager or DS 9 -- the guys we watch on TV. I'm not talking about some Gay John Doe, who may have every reason in the world to stay in the closet.
By "to be gay." I'm talking about the sort of story where, as soon as they realize they're both attracted, one of them says, "Yeah, I'm gay." Say what? Again, that might have worked in a Professionals story, but almost 20 years later? It just makes the character (and by extension, the author), look BadBadBad.

Bi? Hell yes, no problem with that at all... bi works, bi makes sense, 'thinks he's bi, but as the story continues, decides that maybe he's been gay after all' makes a little less sense but with a little work you could convince me..., 'tells his partner "I've known I was gay all my life"' makes no sense at all.

Why? Because Times Have Changed.

Because TPTB still write our guys as dating, and enjoying the sexualized company of women, and in the late nineties, gay men (who happen to be heroes -- who I'm supposed to respect) don't *do* that. They don't hide, they don't lie, and they don't "pretend date" unless the woman involved damn well knows it's a pretense.

Why, you ask?

Well, let's think about it. Once you call them gay, we reinterpret all of their on-screen behavior through that lens, and at that point, they no longer make sense as characters.

Sure, people have all sorts of reasons for not coming out. It's everyone's own decision, and far be it from me to yank open someone else's closet door. But there's a big difference between not coming out, (i.e., deciding to keep part of your life private, lying only by omission) and making a huge part of your life a lie -- telling and showing all of your friends and acquaintances that horndogging is one of the most important parts of your life -- lying by commission, over and over again. And, not incidentally, using women, not once, but over and over, every time you decide to 'act straight' in order to hide your homosexuality.

Let's use the guys on The Sentinel to illustrate: What if Jim Ellison or Blair Sandburg is gay? Well, first, you have to reinterpret everything you've seen their characters do on screen around women. Now, they look a lot less like lovers and friends of women, and a lot more like cold-hearted users of women. (Especially Blair with Christine in the Lash episode....) Characters such as Bodie and Doyle had plenty of justification for such behavior; they'd have been kicked out of their jobs at the very least if they were found out to be homosexual. It was also much more in character for them to consider women as playthings anyway.

It being the late nineties, neither Jim nor Blair has any such justification.

Let's take Jim, and the most barely plausible scenarios: he didn't realize he was gay until after Carolyn, or Carolyn was a last-ditch attempt to 'turn straight'. Ok...then:

Why did the female pheromones work on him in Attraction?
Why did he sleep with Lila?
Why did he sleep with Catherine?

None of these actions make any sense if Jim is actually gay (rather than bi, or just finding out about himself).

It's even worse if you decide that Blair is gay. He is working in academia--an environment where non-discrimination clauses for sexual orientation are more common than not--he has damn little to lose by coming out, and much self-respect to gain. So why is he still acting like a horndog? Remember, you want me to like and respect these guys in your story.

At the very least if you're going to write them as gay, try to answer that question!

References