Has homophobia ruined straight male/male bonding?

Before I say anything, watch this video:



Wow, this video is vintage in so many ways. Who on earth would expect to see that kind of performance on mainstream television today? None of us, I’m sure.

So what do you think is going on here? Are Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis making fun of homosexuals? In my opinion, I would say “no”.

(BTW, homophobia in cinema and television is another topic altogether, which I don’t want to address here.)

I’m not positive what year this was, but I am guessing perhaps late 40s or early 50s. In order to understand this clip, I really think we’d have to interpret it through the eyes of people of that time, which of course, we cannot really do (unless you are old enough to have been alive during that period). I surely can’t. However, I can guesstimate what I think is going on here.

It is a safe assumption that both Martin and Lewis were straight, and both knew what a homosexual was, and probably worked with quite a few of them. But did the mainstream audience know what a homosexual was? I’m not so sure. I’ve know the people my parent’s and grandparent’s ages that claim they had no ideas about homosexuality or alternate forms of sexual expression, such as oral sex, when they were younger.

But if that is the case, why was this so funny to the audience? Probably because it was perceived as not normal; simply out of character because it was so unexpected. Men don’t act like that, so it is funny when they do. In a way it has always been funny for a man to act as a woman (and by extension a fem homosexual, as applicable), dress as a woman, or do unmanly things (such as screaming in a high-pitched voice when scared). I get that. I’ve laughed at men dressed as nuns or drag queens in movies, and it does not offend me if it is not meant in a mean-spirited way. (Think Laurel & Hardy, Bugs Bunny, and Bosom Buddies.) But I certainly don’t think that this particular performance was a slight to gays.

This next video shows that this kind of behavior was not uncommon for this comedic duo (and not censored by the producers, either):



But why, in a modern world that is so much more accepting of gay men, has this kind of humor/behavior become verboten? When was the last time anyone has seen these kinds of antics in television or film? If we are so progressive, inclusive, and tolerant of differences in people, then why do producers and actors shy away from male/male displays of affection, even comedic ones?

I cannot be certain of this, of course, but I believe it is quite possibly because prior to the gay liberation movement, general audiences weren’t gay savvy, so antics such as this were not a real threat to men’s personal masculinity or identities as men (and let’s face it, frequently the male perception of a homosexuals is that they are not “real men”), and nothing untoward was implied.

Now take a look at these random, vintage photos I found online:








Would anyone who viewed these photos at the time they were taken have assumed from the get go that these men where homosexual simply because they were expressing affection for one another? Not likely. Sure, some might see it that way, particularly if they were homosexual themselves. And though some of the men in these photos might have been gay, I am convinced that the viewer’s assumption would not have been that these men were romantically or sexually involved. Rather, it would have been seen as just guys doing what guys do. Nobody would have thought twice about it.

But not any more! For the most part, men just don’t act that way in this day and age. Maybe that is not 100% true, but generally speaking, I think it is. Men act as though they must keep an arm’s length between them. Compare these photos to the ones above:




So has an increased awareness and visibility of gay men, and by extension, an increase in homophobia, created in straight men a kind of self-policing behavior meant to constantly reassure others that they are not a fag? In other words, have straight men lost the ability (or will) to express affection for one another out of a fear of being perceived as a homosexual?

If so, why? Are straight men even aware of this kind of self-policing behavior? And whose fault is it, gay men’s or straight men’s? In fact, is it anyone’s fault, and what can be done about it either way? Should anything be done about it?

Can men learn to express affection for one another once again, in an innocent, friendly, and sincere way? If they do, would society at large accept or reject that behavior?

If straight men could learn to be at ease with expressing affection for one another, I strongly feel that it would no only benefit them, but improve the world’s perception of gay men and male camaraderie. It seems to me that rampant homophobia is not only a disservice to gay men, but to straight men as well. It’s time our culture came to accept that non-sexual affection between men should not be frowned upon, and in fact, it should be encouraged.

Tags: camaraderie, friendship, gay, heterosexual, homophobia, homosexual, machismo, male, male bonding, men, More…public display of affection, sexuality, straigh

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Replies to This Discussion

It's a good question... Shall ruminate.
I do believe you are on to something here. Since the GLB community has been more and more in the public eye, A decrease in male non-sexual affection due to fear of "acting gay" seems to be the unfortunate consequence. I personally am not a very "touchy feely" kind of person anyways, But during my younger days I found myself closer to my gay male freinds than my straight male friends. Perhaps it was my desire for the male non-sexual affection that I was missing out on with my straight friends. I find also that culture plays a large part in acceptance or dissaproval of male to male affection.
I personally am not a very "touchy feely" kind of person...

I am an extremely, touchy-feely kind of a person. BTW, most gay men don't seem to have a problem being affectionate with their friends (I guess for obvious reasons). We always hug when we greet one another -- well, maybe not if we see each other daily, but it is a common occurance, and certainly not frowned upon.

But during my younger days I found myself closer to my gay male freinds than my straight male friends.

And you never felt threatened by their gayness? BTW, was their behavior masculine or feminine? I find most straight men have a prob with fem behavior, more than the idea of gay sex.

Perhaps it was my desire for the male non-sexual affection that I was missing out on with my straight friends.

I've heard that before, which is basically the motivation behind this post.

I find also that culture plays a large part in acceptance or dissaproval of male to male affection.

Very true, which is why I'm not always in favor of tradition. Bad habits/ideas/behaviors are still bad, even if your father, his father, and his father before him did them.
No, I really never felt thretened by thier gayness. I figure they acceped my personality quirks so why should I not accept thiers. I had both effeminate and masculine gay friends, They were usually coupled that way. I had two close friends that performed in drag and one that was a Bear and into the leather scene. I had personal issues from my rather "hands on" upbringing by my step father, So I was not used to non violent contact from men. Now however, I dont mind a hug or two or three from a man.
I agree...And the word "day" is now a put down used by straights,as in:"That's so gay."
Why is this?
And how much of the treatment of gays have to do with religion? (You knew I'd get to that,didn't you.)
I remember watching a black comedian doing his drag queen act..I knew what being gay meant,still I found it funny.
"That is so gay!" was developed in the younger community, and while not an absolute direct attack on gay people, I think it is meant to signify something as being idiotic, or the act of a looser, but not specifically meant to signify "fem or gayish" behavior. At least, I don't think so.

Yes, religion is usually the motivating force behind most discrimination. Being part of a religion makes you part of the "in crowd", a mentality that is reinforced by demonizing the "out crowd".

Yeah, drag can be funny I guess, at times. Do you remember the old TV show "In Living Color", and they had that skit "Men on Film"? Gay people loved that skit. It was so funny to them, and not offensive at all.
Yeah,I remember it...I do think drag can be funny, but then again,I have a good sense of humor.
I loved Flip Wilson in drag.

I had forgotten about Flip Wilson.

Okay, but answer this: Why is it funny for a man to dress as a woman, but not funny for a woman to dress as a man? I mean, have you ever seen a really good comedic routine which revolved around a woman acting as a man?

Perhaps it is because culturally we see femininity as frivolous and superficial, but masculinity as serious and essential.
I don't recall the female comedians (I find feminine versions of gender-nonspecific role nouns annoying) involved, but I remember one routine where two women were exploring what would happen if men had periods, and how they would be proud of them, rather than squeamish. They weren't in drag, but they lowered their voices, acted macho, and engaged in a round of friendly boasting about their time of the month, their heavy flows, etc. I thought it was a pretty funny gender-reversal bit.

I can't think of a lot of actual women-in-male-drag routines, though. Victor/Victoria, maybe? There are some scenes in Shakespeare where women pretend to be men. I get an odd sense of vertigo when I think about the fact that the plays were originally performed with all-male casts, which means men were portraying women pretending to be men.
That routine sounds funny.

I can't think of a lot of actual women-in-male-drag routines, though. Victor/Victoria, maybe? There are some scenes in Shakespeare where women pretend to be men. I get an odd sense of vertigo when I think about the fact that the plays were originally performed with all-male casts, which means men were portraying women pretending to be men.

Yeah, but these routines weren't really "funny" were they? Not for gender reasons, anyhow. But put a man in a silly dress, and the content doesn't have to be good or funny for it to still be hilarious.
Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that typical male dress is less showy than typical female dress. Maybe women dressed as men was funnier back in the vaudeville days, before women typically wore men's clothing. Now it's common to see women in jeans and t-shirts, but not men in dresses. I still think it's amusing to see women with stick-on moustaches, or playing macho for effect.
I remember one lone drag king at my local gay bar (before it was demolished due to eminent domain...man that sucked). She was kind of butch already, and she'd put on some facial hair and men's clothes (I'm remembering "beater" shirts). She was more sexy than funny. Some of my straight girl friends even thought she was hot!

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