Gay Vague – The Advocate, 9/30/2000

Recently my eye was uncharacteristically drawn to the New York Times House and Home section. I generally flip past that section because the houses scare me. Where do they keep their tweezers? But a picture with two fancy tuxedoed men and one woman in a black cocktail dress walking through a manicured field, carrying champagne flutes and laugh laugh laughing, well gaily, stopped me. The copy line read, “It’s time for your crystal to come out of the closet as well.”

The accompanying article deconstructed this and other ads as examples of a new cutting edge genre called “Gay Vague.” The line about the closet in the Waterford crystal oeuvre was cleverly used only in gay publications which seemed reverse to me. The ad for a swivel top trash can, “Swings both ways,” was parsed. Another furniture ad with two fit, white men on either end of a white couch with a cherubic child on a child-size chair in front of them was said to cause perplexity in straight audiences who were confused by the triangulation, while it caused irresistible retail urges in gay audiences who then rose up as one, went out, bought a couch and a child. If I read the article right.

Gay Vague targets young gay bucks with big bucks who don’t want to label themselves. The label-less state is dubbed “genderation inspecific.” Even that is vague. It is really “orientation inspecific.” In google-researching this article, I was unable to locate any discussion on gay vague and bisexuality.

The Times article “When Intentions Fall Between the Lines” prompted a steamed column from Amy Holms in The Subaru ad, “It’s not a choice. It’s the way we’re built,” was as offensive to her as elephant dung is to others. She opined that the ads make straight people out to be dolts. She felt the ad for the Lesbaru was a not just a blatant pitch to the gay niche, but was also selling the notion that the straight, urban world is an enemy of liberation. Hey, we are not the ones buying the Humvees.

When Robert Kennedy, no not that one, publisher of the upcoming American Health and Fitness wrote to potential advertisers that unlike others, he would not use those “debauched, wet-lipped men” who “look like they can be seduced” on his muscle covers, he outraged some gay activists and no doubt disappointed others. GLAAD’s Scott Seomin said he thought Kennedy’s message of the gay voyeur sets gay men up for discrimination and second class treatment. It’s no mean feat to distinguish one’s health magazine in the racks and racks of them, so even talking against the gay vague type is a wily and free ad strategy. I know it prompted me to be on the lookout for the pasty featherweights in pinstripes on Kennedy’s covers.

While for some ad people, gay vague is a strategy, for me, it is a perfect description of the unsettled feeling I’ve been having about my dear old gay movement. June used to be the month of Gay Liberation celebrations. After marathon, knock down, drag out committee fights, the words Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender were added. Then because all those words took up too much ad space and costly ink, it became the sandwich-sounding GLBT. In the past two Junes, all those hard won words and letters have been dropped for the bland “Pride” brand. Gay Liberation marches have become Pride street fairs.

Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out, though tasteful was too unvaguely gay for people. Her show was canceled, because people could not allow it the time to be lesbian and funny. HBO, home of “Sex in the City”, which most of my gay men friends in true gender inspecificity, believe is about them, has brought Ellen back in a new hour special. She has not lost her ability to be wicked funny, but I wanted to hear that same smart specific humor turned on the details of her coming to coming out and its aftermath. The opening hilarious, though wordless dance was meant to represent that whole historical moment and I was left, like Tony Bennett in New York, feeling somehow sadly gay. I have faith she will get to those details in her new series.

Now rainbow decals and equal signs are wink, wink, nudge, nudge brands meant to signify gay identity. Going to WNBA games [the new women’s music festival], gay chat rooms [the new closet] gay cruises [“The only straits you’ll see are Gibralter!”] pass as political work. Consumerism as activism? I’m not buying it.

During the Republican Vague convention, bracketed by so-called Reality TV, Log Cabin Syrup Republicans announced hopefully that anti-ERA, anti-choice, pro-slavery Number two, Dick Cheney is a moderate because he and his wife have a lesbian daughter. They grant him humanitarian points for not disowning or having Mary committed to an ex-gay rehab. They gloss over Lon’s “She did no such thing!” response to a question about Mary’s coming out.

But heck I’ll be leaving the political comedy biz soon and returning to high school English teaching because, if I heard Dubya right, there is going to be big bucks in education come November and I for one am not going to miss the money train this time around.