Trendysomething in SoMo
To be, or not to be the Sassy Gay Friend
Replacing the ubiquitous water cooler as officeplace conversation incubator is the online exchange of distracting YouTube videos. Not only is it a careful art to balance productivity with viewing your friends' assigned videos, but pretending to watch said videos requires a whole new level of savvy.
After an instant message link is dispatched, I wait a solid 60 seconds before I respond with an implied virtual laughter to convince the conversant that I am indeed completely unoccupied with work, and free to watch clips of cats performing the role of public transit all day. A simple "LOL" or "haha" comes off as impersonal and may too easily reveal your disinterest. Instead, say "OMG where did you find this?," (without reading the response), or better yet, misspell "haha" to convey that you are so overcome by riotous laughter that you are unable to type straight.
Yes, the vast majority of YouTube clips exchanged between friends from nine to five bring little more than a chuckle to the table. But a month ago, I came across a literary comedy sketch with some particularly poignant social commentary: The Sassy Gay Friend.
It's an odd, yet successful pairing: Hapless, moody Shakespearean damsels in distress intervened by a stereotypically "sassy" gay friend who comes to dispense harsh judgments ("I think you're an idiot. You took a roofie from a priest. Look at your life. Look at your choices.") before saving the day. The Chicago comedy troupe Second City has also produced clips of Othello and Hamlet, in which the SGF storms into the climactic scene declaring, "What are you doing?! What, what, what are you doing?"
In the videos, Juliet, Desdemona and Ophelia are the Renaissance incarnations of the 21st-century fag hag, forlorn and eager to be called a slut, complimented for her hair and be told, "You're a stupid bitch." Unlike the unfortunate hag-along stereotype, the women share robust love lives and good complexions.
Yet the heroines' otherwise put-togetherness is not so different from the modern day fagnet. A recent study by Nancy Bartlett out of Mount Saint Vincent University (apparently Nova Scotia is a fag hag hotbed) indicates that many women report enhanced self-esteem and feelings of attractiveness as a result of attention from their gay friends. The stereotype says that these women are not compensating for a lack of romantic attention from straight men; the friendships are indeed not a refuge from the harsh world of heterosexual social situations — much in the way gay men hide in relationships with their dogs.
The tragedy is a myth, as reported recently in the veritable Scientific American: There is no link between a woman's relationship status, the number of times she'd been on the receiving end of a breakup, or her body esteem and the number of gay male friends in her life. In fact the study refers to this section of women as "culturally robust": The French refer to such women as soeurettes ("Little Sisters"), the German brand them as Schwulen-Muttis ("Gay Moms"), and the Mexican slang is "joteras" (jota being a term for "fag").
Having diminished the negative connotations surrounding the SGF's leading ladies, it's important to get to the low-lighted roots below the social construct of the SGF. After hours spent at the local library, I determined that the historic precedent is not far off from Shakespeare's times, and may be traced to Renaissance-era Florence. The original SGF is none other than Leonardo da Vinci, a man who devoted his life to art, hung out with "fabulous" wealthy women, and when he was my exact age, was arrested for sodomy. I can easily imagine Leo calling Mona Lisa a "stupid bitch" as they clinked cosmos.
Somewhere between da Vinci and Queen Elizabeth II knighting Elton John, something went awry, leaving recent years with less admirable examples of the SGF. The late 1990s presented TV audiences with such stereotypically gay characters as Jack from Will & Grace and Stanford and Anthony in Sex and the City: Loud, superficial accessories to their female leads.
Ironically, the Sassy Gay Friend depicted in the Shakespeare interpretations is not making fun of gay men, but is a satire of the sort of camp gay men the media subscribes to. The character, played by Brian Gallivan, flits into a room wearing a terribly tight calico top and signature tinseled orange scarf, and after a two-minute diatribe in a fake New York accent, whisks away the drama queen, presumably to get manis and buy out the Galleria.
Indeed, it's a simple YouTube video, but once the laughter dies down, certain questions arise. Is SGF the heroine's fashion accessory or savior? Is he the embodiment of negative stereotypes or the presentation of a legitimate cultural archetype? And what does it say about our society that has created this character out of an already-marginalized populace?
Perhaps what spurred this list of questions was not the (miniscule) cultural impact of the video, but determining to what extent I personally identified with the man with the orange scarf. I, too, find myself surrounded by pretty girls with problems, but to avert the stereotype, find myself holding back those judgmental declarations and blunt advice that these women so desperately require. On many occasion, I've held my tongue from such statements as: "Just because you had a coupon doesn't mean that you should have gotten highlights," "Quit spending your entire paycheck at Forever 21 and save up for a nose job," "Is that designer cupcake really worth it?" and the classic, "Please stop dating assholes."
Attempting to avert the stereotype and instead appear "laid back" is a full-time job, and so I look to celebrity blogger Rich Juzwiak, who also co-stars in Jezebel's Pot Psychology series, in which he doles out advice while toking with his token woman who likes men who like men, Tracie. Rich is so much more dynamic than just an SGF; he's also down to earth, a stoner and racially ambiguous.
Oddly enough, Rich proves that an archetype is different from a stereotype, just as Madea isn't every black woman, or how Latinos don't talk like the Taco Bell chihuahua. It seems that the best option is to dabble a little in SGF territory, but maintain one's own authentic character — own it, and grow it. Because that sass is going to come in handy when you're caught not watching your friends' favorite YouTube videos.
Watch the original installment of Sassy Gay Friend: Romeo and Juliet:
Watch a "Best Of" edition of Pot Psychology: