“It does not seem possible to think of oneself as normal without thinking that some other kind of person is pathological”
— Michael Warner, The Trouble With Normal
These Are The 8 Types Of Gay Guys You’ll Date In Your Twenties. So tells us a new video released via BuzzFeed. It’s a humorous and satirical (?) take on the “types” of gay guys an invisible you will date. The premise, set as it is in an urban-set coffee shop populated by nominally different gay clones (note that despite the differences, all adhere to a certain body and grooming type — just as in Grindr, you want “no femmes” and “no fatties”), leads the way to the most explicit example of homonormativity I have yet to encounter.
ho·mo·nor·ti·vi·ty (n.) “The democratic diversity of proliferating forms of sexual dissidence is rejected in favor of the naturalized variation of a fixed minority arrayed around a state-endorsed heterosexual primacy and prestige. This new homonormativity comes equipped with a rhetorical recording of key terms in the history of gay politics: “equality” becomes narrow, formal access to a few conservatizing institutions, “freedom” becomes impunity for bigotry and vast inequalities in commercial life and civil society, the “right to privacy” becomes domestic confinement, and democratic politics itself becomes something to be escaped.”
— Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy
How does a comedy video about dating gay men get us to a sense of normalizing the homosexual community? Let’s examine the evidence. During the video, we meet these aforementioned “types”: The Scenester, The Revolutionist (which, yes, admittedly hit close to home but more on that in a moment), The Sophisticate, The Manchild, The Romantic, The Competitor, The Alternative and, of course, The One. The first seven play off of variously established stereotypes that the video is both at home referencing and replicating while — and here is where the video’s sardonic humor lost me — establishing “you” as exempt from them. If these are the ones you’ll date (all of which you find wanting in one way or another) it logically follows you are not in one of these categories, no?
What struck me while watching the video, good “Revolutionist” that I am (however repellant the camera/you may find me) is the way it codifies gay men creating a seeming rainbow of dating possibilities only to realize you rather enjoy the pot of gold at the end labelled “The One”, one unencumbered by all those hang-ups you find in other boys. He’s the “end of this list but the beginning of something special.” Just as you, he is unmarked by any association to the previous types. Framing the end of the list as an end-point but also a beginning creates a sense of teleology of “dating in your twenties.” A rite of passage wherein what you end up with is domestic bliss (you drive around, you buy groceries at Trader Joe’s, you walk hand in hand on the street).
This is the promise of contemporary LGBT politics, which have heeded Andrew Sullivan’s pleas to ultimately take up conservative values of monogamy, marriage, and couplehood to achieve equality. The “respectably coupled” was the imagined horizon for gay men in Sullivan’s eyes, after they grew up and matured from the reckless (sexual) abandon that had marred so much of late twentieth century LGBT activism. Implicit in that call, and in this video, is the erasure of difference in an attempt to normalize, while painting such a move in romantically coded language and visuals that make it seem like a mere personal choice but which has a weighted political statement embedded within it. This is not to dismiss couplehood broadly speaking, but to understand the way the “couple” that is prized by this video is one which creates itself as “normal” while the other types remain at bay (not to mention all of those that don’t even make it into the purview of this dating pool). The video’s purpose may be taxonomical (even in jest) but in doing so, and in exempting both you and “The One” from being labelled, only manages to make the “normal” gay male couple one visible by its very invisibility. Or, more insidiously, who suggest that that’s where we will all end up: “The Romantic” we are told, will be great boyfriend material…”in ten years”; the same is implied in the description of “The Manchild.”
The video plays into the type of advice that’d be at home in a Cosmo column in the 1950s (and sadly, in stands right now); it is ideology made viral. Not only does it construe dating as a necessary narrative of your twenties, but its ending in finding “The One” manages to erase all the diversity you encountered before, this you who remains faceless, invisible and not for that any less central to the story at hand. This again is an implicit endorsement of “normal.” In the famous 1977 LGBT documentary Word is Out, which told the story of twenty-six gay-identified “regular” Americans, one of its subjects could intone the following and make it seem novel: “I think that the radicals are necessary and I think that we are necessary. And the point is, I think, that in terms of coverage we are less sensationalistic. I mean, who wants to see Mr Middle of the Road? But nevertheless we are there and we’re DAMN important.” The last decades have positioned “Middle of the Road” (could we not call “The One” that, instead?) as the fulcrum of our struggle. That’s where the video ends up, but it is nevertheless a beginning, a welcoming into homonormativity. From the fringes of the gay community (from the scene to the downtown world, from intellectual halls to the fashion world) you emerge triumphant having successfully disavowed those aspects of the gay community (and yourself?) which you find incompatible: no politics, no fabulousness, no activism.
The defense of “it’s just comedy” won’t suffice. Given its status as intended viral content, designed to be shared because of its knowingness (in my FB feed alone it was shared with comments like “So true!” And “cannot like this enough!”), it very carefully manages to speak directly to a specific subset of gay males that by the very end of this video see themselves by precisely /not/ seeing themselves. If you feel interpellated by this video (that’s totally me; I’ve dated those guys), you’ve successfully imagined yourself exempt from those very types you define yourself against. By the end “of your twenties” you’ll have both outgrown and grown weary of the activists and the sophisticates, the alternatives and the revolutionists (I’ll leave the other three alone since they seem less coded in particularly “gay” subcultures). You’ll have eventually homogenized yourself (and your social dating pool) and joined the ranks of the new normals whose privilege (be it in terms of race, body image, nationality, financial stability, etc.) allows you to see yourself as unmarked, part of the homonormativity that demands a place at the table, away from the coffee shop table of speed dating that so forcefully and annoyingly puts you in contact with so many gays that are just not (for) me.