Feb 16, 2015

Here at the New Yorker: Homophobia, Elitism, and a Scary 18th Century Dandy

I've spent 28 years on college campuses, as student, grad student, and professor, but still, I often feel out of place.

When I'm not out, there's constant heterosexism:
"Will your wife be coming with you?"
"There will be a lot of single women at the party."
"There's not a man alive who wouldn't want to be with her!"

When I'm out, it changes to homophobia:
"How do you know you're gay if you've never tried it with a woman?"
"Why do gay men act so feminine all the time?"
"Are you the boy or the girl in your relationship?"

And the elitism is constant:
"How could you stand growing up in Illinois?  Nothing to do but ride tractors and milk cows!"
"How could you stand growing up with parents who didn't go to college?  They must have been so ignorant!"
"Why did you go to Augustana?  It's such a third-rate clown college!"

Elitism and homophobia come together in The New Yorker, a weekly magazine for people who think that Manhattan is the center of the universe, regardless of where they happen to live.

I lived in Manhattan for three years, and none of the gay people I knew read it.  But all heterosexual college professors did.  And quite a few outside of New York, in California, Florida, and Ohio.

Why is it required reading for elite heterosexuals but anathema for gay people, regardless of their elitism?

1. It's the height of insularity.  Manhattan is the center of the universe, California is full of wannabes, the rest of the U.S. is a "flyover" full of cows and rednecks, and the rest of the world doesn't exist.

Gay people know that West Hollywood is the center of the universe.

2. It's the height of heterosexism.  Endless stories about elite heterosexuals agonizing over failed marriages and dying relatives.

Endless cartoons about heterosexuals saying things that make sense to them, but not to gay people.  This guy tells his date, "I want Chardonnay, but I like saying 'Pinot Grigio."  She is shocked.  What's going on?

3. Gay people appear only as subjects of heterosexual discomfort.  In a similar restaurant, perhaps the same one, two feminine stereotypes are arguing (notice the limp wrist).  One says: "I wouldn't marry you if you were the last gay person on Earth."

Why is this funny?  Because he specifies "last gay person?"

Because it's rather disquieting for a heterosexual to think about gay people discussing marriage?

4. An 18th century Dandy and an owl form the masthead "The Talk of the Town", a section of brief stories that elite heterosexuals in Manhattan find amusing.  I find it disturbing.  I don't even like to look at it.

Apparently the Dandy's name is Eustace Tilley, and he was featured on the first cover, drawn by Rea Irwin in 1925.

Occasionally The New Yorker gets something right.  It rejected a homophobic "gay marriage" cover by Robert Crumb, and when the Supreme Court rejected DOMA, it printed a cover of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie cuddling on a couch.

But those glimmers of "gay is ok" don't make up for that 18th Century Dandy and his owl.  Shudder.

See also: Robert Crumb: From Fritz the Cat to Gay Marriage.; and Pearls Before Swine.