Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Stereotype Life: Gay Representation in Television

The recognition of gender, especially when understood as a socially constructed performance, as opposed to a biological inheritance, becomes an increasingly important factor for social awareness and acceptance in society. Through the likes of gay representation in television, the audience gains awareness for the socialization differences of heterosexuals and homosexuals, through the patriarchal lense of the heteronormative standard. We can discuss further into stereotypes for gay men versus straight men, especially in regards to the distinct portrayal of both within Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Within the context of television, Queer Eye presents to the audience a more tolerable portrayal of gays in the media, while still holding on to the common stereotypes attached to gay men into the 2000’s. However, it’s imperative to understand the effect that these ingrained representations and societal ideals, as depicted by the ‘Fab Five’ on the series, has on our own actions, beliefs, and ultimately our greater understanding of ourselves.

            The series gives the audience further reinforcement of the inherent differences between straight and gay men: gay men are experts in grooming, fine dining and wine, fashion, decorating, high culture (through the ‘Fab Five’), while straight men are severely lacking in all of those departments (through the ‘Straight Guy’). Throughout the entire first season, it seems apparent that these roles are very rigid, and falls under the larger spectrum of mainstream gender identity. For example, Carson Kressley (the fashion expert) is constantly making comments that reinforces these categories, further enforcing these stereotypes to the audience:

 “You know, I was always the last kid picked in dodge ball. They were like, "Um, okay we'll take Sharon. Now we'll take the girl in the iron lung and... you guys get Carson."   (Season 1, Episode 2)
This quote gives into the perception that gay men are not athletic, muscular, or moreover traditionally masculine, playing into heteronormative male standards.

The interesting aspect of these represented stereotypical categories would be to assume, from the audience’s perspective, that gay men and straight men fully represent these identities. This assumption greatly relates to the idea of a stereotype lift, defined as “a boost in performance caused by an awareness of a positive ‘ingroup’ stereotype” (Cotner, Chad, and Burkely 2). In essence, this means that if one holds on to such stereotypes, and is consciously thinking about them, this factor will impact one’s actions and perceptions. Further more, “Previous research has shown that gay men are typically stereotyped as being more fashionable, stylish, and knowledgeable regarding fashion trends (Levina, Waldo, & Fitzgerald, 2000; Madon, 1997; Morrison & Bearden, 2007). Not only is this a stereotype that heterosexual individuals endorse, it appears that many gay men hold this belief as well” (Cotner, Chad, and Burkley 3).
            The understanding of this stereotype, as concluded from Cotner, Chad, and Berkley’s study, influences our decisions and actions regarding our understanding of our sexuality, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, and the like of. For example, it could be said that the personalities of the “Fab Five” of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy could be set as the standard for the understanding of oneself, fitting perfectly into the mainstream idea of homosexuality. This can be seen again through a quote from Kressley:

Straight Guy: Did you put the gay on me?
Kressley: Yep, I put the gay on you. In 24 hours you're going to be buying flip-flops.

 A gay male viewer could be influenced based on the expertise and dialogue of the gay men portrayed, and spark his interest for pursuing fashion, high culture, interior design, and so on. It could be said that one wishes to emulate a role model, especially one who is a member of his or her own ’group’ (such as Kressley), or maybe a group they aspire to be a member of. On the other hand, the same is true of the portrayed stereotypes of the ‘Straight Guy’ within the series, as a heterosexual male viewer could infer that being straight corresponds with messiness, a lack of taste in food, furniture, and wine, as well as no sense of presenting one’s self physically. Within Cotner and Burkley’s study, it was concluded that when men, both gay and straight, are not consciously thinking about their sexuality, that their fashion knowledge, intelligence, and design appeal were evenly the same across the board.  Whether positively of negatively, these ingrained stereotypes, especially in reference to their portrayal on television, offer the audience insight into a mainstream version of themselves, whether it be desired or not.
            It is interesting to note that if the straight guy changed his hair to a more fashionable cut, updated his clothes to the latest from Nordstrom’s, created a nice living space within his apartment, as well as learned to create a gourmet meal all on his own, it would not be too presumptuous to say that his ‘bro’s’ would probably question his sexuality. However, due to the fact that the ‘Fab Five’ were the ones implementing this change, the straight guy is allowed to claim no responsibility for his change in appearance and lifestyle, thus allowing him to retain his traditional understanding of his own masculinity. Our understanding of gender not only corresponds with our sexuality within mainstream society, but also affects our judgment of others, which is greatly influenced by the mainstream gender binary we see in society.
            In addition, it could also be said that the power allotted to men in society, is unequal to the amount given to women, which corresponds to the representation of men within the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. If the ‘Fab Five’ were instead of a group of female designers, stylists, fashion designers, and the like of, perhaps the influence of the group would have been severely lessened. This also parallels to the common misconception that a person who is both male and homosexual is assumed to be fashionably inclined, which Cotner et al proves false.  
            In contrast to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, TLC’s What Not To Wear has less of an overtly homosexual tone, and instead focuses on fashion, as opposed to a constant bombardment of gay themes and catchphrases. However, TLC’s series came much after Queer Eye, and thus was able to bring elements from the show and take if to a further, more modern, and more politically correct level. On the other hand, Queer Eye was revolutionary for its time, by bringing a more positive perception of homosexuality into mainstream America, and displaying a spectrum of five different gay men’s personalities to offer more variety to the traditional depiction of gay men, as seen in Bewitched.

- Vinny Battaglia

Kressley on Body Perception: How to Look Good Naked

Works Cited

Cotner, Chad, and Melissa Burkley. "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy: Sexual Orientation And Stereotype Lift Effects On Performance In The Fashion Domain." Journal Of Homosexuality 60.9 (2013): 1336-1348. Academic Search Elite. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.



  1. This is a great piece. It is really interesting point to me that the Queer Eye For the Straight Guy helped to reinforce stereotypes of gay, but also offered various views of gay. However, I think it would be more great if you explain more about the TLC's What Not to Wear and its coincidence between Queer Eye. Since it appeared all of a sudden then the paper ends right after that, it feels like there should be more than that. But overall, I love your styles of writing, including format and tone! So easy to follow with proper evidence for the most part :)

  2. I think you make an excellent point that the media shapes our beliefs and form the stereotype of gay men on television. Majority of the time when you see gay men on TV shows they do enjoy "fine dining, fashion, wine, high culture, etc." I think you picked an excellent show that portrays every aspect of a stereotypical gay man. I am however curious as to why we hardly see gay men TV shows who do no posses these characteristics. Is it because they may not be as entertaining as the more high cultured and fashion interested gay men? What about the gay men who enjoy sports, the outdoors and beer?

  3. Very well written! I agree that TV does shape our perceptions on how gay men act and how straight men act. Whenever we see gay men on TV we just assume that they are knowledgeable in fashion and beauty. Although there are gay men that do fit this description, it is important that viewers realize that just because some men fit these characteristics, not all gay men do. On the other hand, it is more important to watch a gay man like Carson on TV, than another gay man who doesn't cat like him. Overall, very enjoyable to read!


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