Dec 7, 2014

The Walking Dead: Gay People Unwelcome at the End of the World

I saw an episode or so of The Walking Dead on Netflix a couple of years ago.  I wasn't impressed.

It begins, like 28 Days Later, with Georgia cop Rick (Andrew Lincoln) awakening from a coma to discover that most of the population has turned into zombies, leaving only scattered bands of survivors.  He goes off in search of his wife and son.  The first survivor he meets is heartbroken because his wife has become a zombie.

That was more than enough heterosexism at the end of the world, thank you.

Recently I've begun watching again. We're in the middle of Season 3.  So far there have been innumerable other men who have lost their wives, plus a few women who have lost their husbands.  Apparently the zombies target only one half of each heterosexual couple. 

And there's been exactly one reference to the existence of LGBT people: when former prison inmate Axel (Lew Temple) joins the group, he complains that it doesn't have any eligible women: they're either too young, or already involved, and Carol (Melissa McBride) is a lesbian. She protests that she's not a lesbian -- she lost her husband to the zombies --she just happens to have short hair.

That's it.

The comic book series apparently introduces a gay couple in Issue 67: Andrew and Eric, "the only two gay guys left in the world," who live in the Alexandria, Virginia Safe Zone.  Eric is eventually killed, but Andrew survives and becomes a regular character.

The tv series hasn't gotten out of Atlanta yet, so there has been no opportunity to introduce Andrew and Eric.  You could invent gay characters of your own, of course, but every time a fan board suggests that this or that character might be gay, the producers summarily deny it. 

Norman Reedus (left), who plays Daryl Dixon, the redneck hunter (and the only one in the group who hasn't found a way to stay perfectly coiffed) states that his character is "prison gay," open to same-sex relationships if there aren't any women available.  But this apparently was his own decision in fleshing out the character, unknown to the producers.

There are no gay people in their series to date.

Are they making a homophobic statement about the survival chances of limp-wristed, fashion-obsessed swishes in a zombie attack?  

Or are they proclaiming, like Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that with so many important survival issues, there is no room at the end of the world for discussions of "orientations"?  Except heterosexual orientations, of course.

Or are they just following tradition: except for a few low-budget indie pictures and Stephen King's Cell, gay people are always unwelcome at the end of the world.

But not to worry: there's plenty of beefcake, such as Shane (Jon Bernthal (top photo, Rick's cop buddy who slept with his wife while he was in a coma), and Glenn (Steven Yeun, left), a former pizza delivery boy who becomes the group's most skillful scout.

And there's plenty of same-sex buddy-bonding going on, sometimes between men who don't express any heterosexual interest (presumably they are still grieving over wives lost to the zombies).

So we can go back to what we did in the dark ages before Stonewall: find glimmers of meaning even when we are being told over and over again that we do not exist.

Or we can stop watching.

The Secretary: The Bottom Always Calls the Shots

It's not often that I agree to watch a movie about heterosexual romance, but Jeremy wanted to see The Secretary (2002), so I watched.

I wasn't happy:  first, it's set in a weird faux-retro world with cell phones and the internet, but everyone looks and acts and thinks like the 1950s No one has ever heard of the women's rights movement, or sexual harassment (turns out that it was actually based on a short story published in 1988).

Second: this is an utterly gay-free world, with not even a subtext to alleviate the heteronormativity.  I don't think two male characters are ever in the same room with each other.

Third: there's no beefcake.  There are full-body shots of naked women (I mean breasts, vagina, the works) in bed with fully-clothed men (I mean even the shoes stay on).

Still, I found something that accidentally resonated with my coming out experience.

The plot: repressed, emotionally unstable Lane (Maggie Gylenhall), who cuts herself, goes to work for repressed, emotionally unstable lawyer Mr. Grey (James Spader).  He is a very bad boss criticizing her hair and clothing, asking personal questions, and berating her for making typing errors.  After a particularly egregious error, he bends Lane over his desk and spanks her.

She loves it.

She begins making errors on purpose, so Mr. Grey will spank her again.

Soon he is dictating how she should get to work, what she should have for dinner, what she can do with her boyfriend (Jeremy Davies of Lost, playing yet another emotionally unstable person).

She loves that, too.  In fact, by allowing herself to be controlled, she blossoms, becoming more assertive, standing up to her weird parents, walking through the park alone for the first time in her life. She stops cutting herself.

Neither Lane nor Mr. Grey have any idea what is happening.  Why do they have the desire to control and be controlled? Is Mr. Grey evil?  Is Lane sick?  They have no vocabulary, no models, no explanations.  As far as they know, they are the only people in the history of the world who have felt this way.

They stumble about, searching for meaning.

I kept wanting to yell, "You nitwits, there's no big mystery -- you're into S&M!  There are clubs, newsletters, guidebooks, retail outlets!  Go online, and look it up!"

But then I thought about growing up in a world where same-sex desire absolutely did not and could not exist, where gay people were never mentioned or written about in books.  I was stumbling about in the dark, without even a name.

And, as far as I knew, no other person in the history of the world had ever felt this way.

In case you're wondering, Lane does do some research, figures out what S&M is, and then demands that they start a full-time dominant/submissive romance.  Mr. Grey reluctantly gives in.

The bottom always calls the shots.

See also: Finding Larry's Fetish.; and Fetish 101.

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