Taking the “queer” out of queer representation

In her essay “Assimilating the Queers, Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai argues that “advertising tames the dangerous gender and sexual outlaws to make them look just like heterosexuals.”  For me, this identified the problem that has no name in gay-inclusive advertising, the reason I never felt quite so great about the “positive” gay ads that occasionally grace my television screen or magazine page.  The fashionable white male star of this Levi’s commercial is the perfect subject for a young, progressive audience that aspires to be hip and comfortably rebellious.  The urban loft he resides in and the corporate outfit he’s changing out of reflect middle class values and a traditional career path that make him palatable to any audience, but the stroke of rebellion he shows by smirking and lifting up his jeans to reveal a beautiful cityscape and an equally attractive blond male love interest make him aspirational and cool to a gay or gay-friendly audience.  The subject has a traditionally masculine gender presentation and could be perceived as any sexuality, which is why an identical version of the ad depicts him with a female love interest.  At the time of this advertisement’s circulation, I remember seeing both versions of the ad (the former on a gay-targeted channel, the latter on a more mainstream channel).  While it’s tempting to argue that it’s progressive to send the “gay people are normal, too!” message to the general public and LGBT audiences, I would agree with Tsai and counter that that creating gay characters devoid of any gender nonconformity and racial diversity is simply neutering queer identities in the public sphere.  In fact, using such whitewashed, traditionally masculine gay male subjects has arguably encouraged homophobia/racism/classism within the gay community towards those who don’t fit this more “acceptable” mold.

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