Artsculture

'Fag Hag' Anthro

Women who love gay men, for some good reasons.

By Shannon Rupp, 29 Sep 2005, TheTyee.ca

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As irritating as the CBC lockout is, the labour dispute has been good TV-side. It has forced management to run a host of delicious documentaries, making the holy mother corp's schedule the most interesting on the airwaves.

Tonight's Passionate Eye offering at 9 p.m. is Fag Hags: Women Who Love Gay Men. It looks at the once closeted relationship that has become fashionable thanks to shows like Will & Grace and movies like the Jennifer Aniston vehicle, The Object of My Affection. "Fag Hag," according to the documentary, once meant a woman who was such a loser she couldn't attract a "real" man. But it has been reclaimed along with all sorts of bigoted terms.

Directed by Justine Pimlott and written by Maya Gallus, the doc follows the stories of three middle-aged couples who found their significant other in someone whose sexual interests weren't a match. They fell into profound, usually platonic love relationships in the days when "he's musical" was code speak for someone playing on the lavender team.

It's complicated

One couple, Kevin and Dodie had a deep friendship that grew into love, then a sexual relationship, and eventually they married. Although he is quick to say he's a gay man -- Dodie just happens to be his soul mate. One of the friendships broke-up after years of dealing with the impossible love, but reunited when one of them became sick. And the third, youngest couple, are contemplating having a child together, without being a romantic couple.

At under an hour, the interviews only skim the surface of their stories but the film raises interesting questions for everyone about love, gender roles, and the nature of all friendships.

For many straight women it's also going to raise the question, yet again, of just what the hell is wrong with the way men are socialized that so many women find their most profound relationships with gay men.

I was wondering this aloud, when one of my male friends observed (as he dragged his knuckles across the floor) that women who hang out with gay men are likely to be closeted lesbians. Although there are no doubt men who will share this view, I assured him that it's just classic straight-guy thinking. In the interests of peace, I resisted commenting on the twisted assumption that something must be "wrong" with any woman who isn't entranced by stereotypical hetero-male behaviour, which includes treating women like prey.

It's as if straight men are handed a script that gives them a narrow role in a simplistic story and too many of them can't get beyond the typecasting.

'Mark of Excellence'

Not all straight men, I hasten to add. Despite the message behind the film When Harry Met Sally, straight men and women are quite capable of being close friends and developing platonic relationships. But only if the men are able to perceive women as something more than lockboxes full of goodies that can only be accessed with one kind of key.

For evidence of this, I give you my friend Mark -- my "Mark of Excellence" as I've dubbed him, since he has become the yardstick by which I measure all other men. Mark is straight, but there's so much more to him than his sexual orientation that he isn't compelled to let the little head do all the thinking.

Oh, he fits the straight guy stereotype in many ways. He's large, hairy, and hockey-obsessed. He has a deal with his wife that, should the opportunity to boff Uma Thurman arise, he has permission to take his shot. (Since he writes film and television this isn't as unlikely as it might seem.) He dresses like an unmade bed, and given the chance, will live with one. Mark is the reason maid services are necessary

But he's always had women friends because, as he puts it: "Women have way more interesting conversations."

In short, he actually likes women.

And I wouldn't be surprised to hear that some of those women fell in love with him because of it. He comes perilously close to being the ideal man in that he's genuinely interested in women, not just in what they can do for him.

Beyond stereotypes

And so it is with a lot of gay men. I don't know any straight woman who doesn't include a couple of gay men among her pals -- and not just for fashion advice. As my friend Serge points out whenever anyone suggests this stereotype: "Ya think all gay men dress well? We're taking a walk up Davie Street!"

In the documentary, Cynthia, whose passion is unrequited, notes that she has always been a magnet for gay men and speculates, briefly, on whether it has to do with there being more of a balance of power. She alludes to a question that plagues a lot of thinking women who also want children: How can you fall in love with someone who fancies himself superior by virtue of his hormones -- and then wastes lots of time proving it?

Oddly enough, I think it's the question that plagues a lot of men too. Only they phrase it as, "What the hell do women want?"

Which is what makes Fag Hags so good. At just under 52 minutes it doesn't supply any answers but it will get people asking all the right questions.

Shannon Rupp, a regular contributor to The Tyee, is a widely published Vancouver writer.  [Tyee]

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