Guest Blogger: Pink Lemonade by multi-talented author, Jon Wilson



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A five-part series wherein I examine the pitfalls—both real and imagined—and difficulties—both encountered or merely anticipated—to being a gay author in the 21st Century, and attempt to discuss how said pitfalls and difficulties can be used to our advantage, thereby employing the old adage “Making lemons into lemonade.” (And, in advance of the inevitable inquiry, allow me to retreat into the naivete allowed one of my advanced years and answer simply: “What’s a Beyonce?”)




Part 5:
Gay Villainy

or

“But I Don’t Wanna Play a Cop, Momma”



The January 1955 issue of ONE magazine featured an essay by Norman Mailer entitled “The Homosexual Villain”. Yeah, written by the very same guy who infamously proclaimed “homosexual potentiality” was something true men overcame. According to John Loughery, in The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives & Gay Identities – A Twentieth-Century History:


“Though [Mailer] later repudiated “The Homosexual Villain” as a lapse on his part into liberal sentimentality, gay readers were impressed at the time by the novelist’s admission of his own homophobia and use of gay men as cardboard bad guys in his fiction…”



Sadly I can’t find Mailer’s essay archived online. Proof of its existence, like the existence of the Colossus of Rhodes or the Babylonian Hanging Gardens, lies only in other’s retellings of it. (Really we need an online LGBT archive people!) Or you can buy Mailer’s book. He’s been dead almost ten years but I’m sure where ever that’s left him, he’s still gleefully counting sales.


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It’s actually probably worth at least checking out from your local library for “The Homosexual Villain” and “The White Negro” alone.



I discussed masculinity and the gay perspective in Thursday’s Pink Lemonade Part 3 (or, alternately, HERE). Today I want to talk about Gay Villainy and whether or not we’re now living in a post-GayLib world.



Last year, the Advocate offered a list of the 21 Best and Worst Queer Movie Villains (watch out, there are ads galore on that website). Five years ago, Salon took a more focused look at the topic (an even worse site as far as intrusive ads are concerned), wondering whether Javier Bardem’s Bond villain should be seen as progress or relapse. ..Though they, too, couldn’t resist the clickbait that are listicles.



I do appreciate that there isn’t complete overlap in the lists. For instance, Salon includes Baron Harkonnen (from Dune) and Frank Fitts (American Beauty), both of whom I’ll talk about a little more later, and the Advocate lists Joel Cairo (The Maltese Falcon), the Leopold and Loeb clones in Hitchcock’s Rope, and Dr. Elliot (Dressed to Kill). There is of course cross-over and its about what you’d expect: Ripley, Tramell and Buffalo Bill, among others. Both also include Miriam Blaylock (The Hunger) which left me scratching my head. Maybe it was where I was at at the time, but I never saw her as a villain.



Interestingly, the lesser-known (to me) website NewNowNext compiled the best list maybe because they came at it with a more decidedly gay sensibility and realized “Embarrassing” was the appropriate way to describe some of these characters. I loved the inclusion of Praetorius (The Bride of Frankenstein) because he looms so large in my childhood memories.


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Ernest Thesiger, as Praetorius, also looms large over John Carradine in director James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein.



None of the lists mention Sebastian Venable, maybe because he’s already dead at the start of Suddenly Last Summer. I discussed that play/film in yesterday’s Pink Lemonade, along with my thoughts on Tennessee Williams. I claimed Venable was the prototype of the evil homosexual perceived by America in the post WW2 years: manipulative (he employs his mother and cousin as bait) and predatory (he does something never-quite-made-explicit to young men).



For me, the various gay villains listed fall into a few discreet categories. There are those who’s evil seems to stem solely from their queerness. I’m looking at you boys from Rope, and you Frank Fitts and, yes, even you my beloved Praetorius. Praetorius also falls into another category, which is ‘he’s gay (or a pansy, which is what it usually means) because then the audience/reader will immediately know he’s up to no good’. Other examples from that category include Waldo Lydecker (Laura), Joel Cairo and even Scar from the Lion King. Scar crosses over into a separate subset, ‘pansy royalty’, rubbing his leonine shoulders and pedicured claws with the Princes John and Edward, (The Adventures of Robin Hood and, everyone’s favorite film, Braveheart, respectively). And then there are those who’s gayness is a sort of character enhancement. This category would include Ripley (can I just say how much I hated that Matt Damon movie?), Baron Harkonnen, and Bond’s Raoul Silva. (It’s maybe Bardem himself, but that character really creeped me out.)




About five years ago, The Wrap, also ran a story about gay villainy, this time “applauding” the arrival of what they called the new gay villain. These were examples from my last category above. Those who’s gayness seems to have been added as a character enhancement.


“Once, branding a villain as homosexual was dehumanizing. Today, a villain’s homosexuality is often the most humanizing thing about him.


“The arrival of more nuanced, less stereotypical gay villains comes as gay characters receive more realistic portrayals on shows like ABC’s hit “Modern Family.” Rather than remaining relegated to the rom-com role of gay best friend, gay characters are finally moving the action. ”




Okay, first, I object to Cam and Ginger’s characters being called more realistic. They ARE NOT routinely humiliated for the sole fact of their sexuality. but they spend a lot of time being “gay” (as a tv character trope) as opposed to “gay” (as a real life phenomenon).



The Wrap article goes on to say this, without any apparent irony:


“[A]t least Bond has a worthy gay adversary.


“In the bad old days, films and movies gave their villains mincing walks, frilly outfits, flowery language, fussy cats and all sorts of other supposedly effeminate accessories to tip off viewers that they were homosexual – as if homosexuality were synonymous with weakness.”



Now watch that scene again. Yeah.



John Waters, appearing on the now-defunct Craig Ferguson show said this: ”I sometimes argue with some of the gay militant groups because, why do we have to be ‘good’ all of sudden? I’m for the rights of bad lesbian mothers. I think that I’m for gay villains. I don’t think suddenly we have to be good all the time.”



I agree with Waters generally. I haven’t yet featured a gay villain in any of my books. (It’s been suggested that Liam O’Mara and Sam Mackey may have had a homosexual past, but, for me, the closest thing to a villain I have in A Hundred Little Lies is the protagonist, Jack Tully.) But I’m not adverse to it. There is the shady character of Hobie Wainwright in the Declan Colette books, but nothing much is known about him at this point and whether or not he emerges as a good guy or a bad’un remains to be seen.


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The Author’s Westerns (yeah, I keep pimping them)

Available from Lethe Press!



I do worry about putting in a gay villain who’s villainy stems from his or her homosexuality. And I fret when I read current gay mysteries that seem to fall back, at least in part, on that trope. I can happily say that the most distressing formula that still regularly recurs is the murder (or suicide) as a result of gay blackmail, which I hope to address (and hopefully subvert) in a Colette story soon. I’m also not pleased that so many gay mysteries still involve, to varying degrees, male prostitution. I’ve never known a male prostitute, in RL, except the one I hired one time so that I could say I did, but as they are more often victims than villains, that’s a topic for another time.



I don’t worry about writing a gay villain who’s gayness is merely character enhancement. I’m not sure I’d be able to do that. Nor do I worry about creating a character who’s gayness is merely a symptom of his deviance. At the very least, I’d hope such a signal would be misread by my readers! No, both of those seem like pitfalls straight writers need to keep an eye out for.



So, writing this, I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a gay villain I “liked”. The Wrap article identifies Omar (HBO’s The Wire) as a “model for the modern-day gay villains…” But, like Catherine Deneuve’s vampiress in The Hunger, I never thought of Omar as a villain. He’s an anti-hero, which is a VERY different character type.



The best I could come up with were Joel Cairo (in the book, The Maltese Falcon, more than the movie) and Praetorius, even though both of them were tagged as “weak” (or sissified) by their deviant natures. And then I remembered Doctor Smith from Lost in Space, who typifies every bad stereotype a gay character can embody (though more so as the series progressed, early on he was quite evil). But, y’know, even as a kid I felt I knew where he was coming from and always found myself secretly rooting for him…


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Jon Wilson is the author of Cheap as Beasts, a current finalist for the Lambda Literary Award Best Gay Mystery of 2015. He’s also written a follow-up volume, Every Unworthy Thing, as well as two westerns. He lives and works in Northern California, where he worries that all that bleach may have done irreparable harm to Javier Bardem’s hair.





The Pink Lemonade Blog Tour concludes tomorrow at Charlie Cochrane’s Blog, and, if you missed any previous entries, you can find them HERE (Part 1), HERE (Part 2), HERE (Part 3), and HERE (Part 4).

I’m giving away a signed copy of both the Declan Colette books at the end of this blog tour. Just leave a semi-cogent comment (which, I suppose, means I’ll have to allow “YOU SUCK!”) to any of the five parts in the Pink Lemonade Blog Tour to enter (if you leave multiple comments or comment each day, you get entered for each comment)!


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