It is not often I read a perspective that just stops me in my tracks. Charing Ball, writing for Madame Noire, manages to do that quite often, and this time is no exception.  The woman is fearless, and this topic, while taboo for many, is one that needed to be broached.

Are Gay Men the New “Mammies” of Reality Television?

Yes, they are, says Ms. Ball. And she explains why with stark clarity and without apology:

Heck, I’ll even go as far as to say that the gay black man has become the new housemaid “Mammy” to these women’s Scarlett O’Haras. Think about it for a second: Most of these gay characters harken back to a time in cinematic history where the white rich women in the antebellum South needed their “sexually non-threatening ” black female maids to nurture and basically make them feel good about themselves. If the black maids weren’t “fussin’” after the mistress of the house, making sure her dress fitted properly and her hair was tight, she was in the kitchen, dancing, smiling and singing Go Down Moses as she whipped up for her mistress a big ole’ mess of her famous fried chicken and sweet potato puddin’. The gay male characters of today act very much in the same vain. But instead of shucking and jiving for the approval, and favor of rich white women, these gay best friend characters trade on their non-sexual “companionship” for heterosexual legitimacy.

But she doesn’t stop there. Continuing to call these women out for the master/slave relationship many seem to foster with their gay sidekicks, she doesn’t shy away from what the relationship is being marketed as in the contemporary narrative:

[They are] quintessential gay manservants.  These men do everything: furnish apartments, do hair and makeup, personal shop for clothing, carry purses and luggage and act as a shoulder to cry on.  In most of these situations, we know nothing about the gay black man other than that he is sharp-tongued, stereotypically effeminate, and basically says “Gurl” and “Chile” a lot. Oh, and he is a loyal worker to his woman. Evelyn Lozada had one to help run her TV shoe “store.”  Tyra Banks had an army battalion of gay men to help her weed through her search for the next top model. And on the “Housewives” series (pick one, any one), there are, like, 2.5 gay sidekicks to every female character, doing makeup, training them at the gym, and tossing their wigs for them. It’s like the gay sidekick has become hot new accessory on reality TV – like the new pocket dog or a Louis Vuitton knockoff.

The barely sheathed hypocrisy and passive prejudice is all brought to light here. Particularly, when Ms. Ball notes that rarely, if ever, will you see these women with lesbian sidekicks — because it’s just not the “in” thing to do.

Weigh in, Clutchettes: Do you think gay black men are the new “mammies” of reality television?

  • andryce

    Yes they look just as stupid as everyone else on reality TV
    But the difference is Mammies didn’t get paid
    And it’s no different from a black person playing a maid or a slave or gangster in a film
    Let people play the roles they wan’t to play in their own lives
    These people are adults and if they wan’t to be treated that way it’s their buisness

  • http://twitter.com/lilysea Shannon LC Cate (@lilysea)

    Definitely. It’s been apparent for a while–and in fiction as well as “reality” television/movies. In a lot of ways white gay men play this role too. It’s one of those places where racism–homophobia show themselves to morph into and out of each other.

    As for lesbians as sidekicks, that wouldn’t work because the lesbian stereotype is not serviceable the way the gay stereotype is. Lesbians are stereotyped as serious (feminists, man-haters, unfashionable) not “fun.” They threaten, rather than support patriarchy and sexism, the way gay male “stylists” can seem to (not saying they necessarily truly do).

    One of the key reasons Ellen Degeneres is such a genius is that she manages to be a public lesbian–even a slightly butch lesbian–while coming across as unthreateningly “fun.” I find her popularity in the female (considerably heterosexual) daytime tv fan world to be stunning. But she never discusses being a lesbian–or even being a woman–almost at all, let alone in a politicized way. Her humor is almost all benignly “clean” and g-rated.

    As for Black lesbians, they are all but invisible in popular culture, and for good reason. I don’t blame the ones who choose to stay closeted. Black women get enough hate as it is. The last thing they need is more of it from the homophobic crowd. But pop culture certainly has no niche for these rare and mysterious creatures who might just say or do something to upset the happy patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist apple cart that is “reality” television.

  • http://twitter.com/lilysea Shannon LC Cate (@lilysea)

    Yes. It’s been apparent for a while–and in fiction as well as “reality” television/movies. In a lot of ways white gay men play this role too. It’s one of those places where racism–homophobia show themselves to morph into and out of each other.

    As for lesbians as sidekicks, that wouldn’t work because the lesbian stereotype is not serviceable the way the gay stereotype is. Lesbians are stereotyped as serious (feminists, man-haters, unfashionable) not “fun.” They threaten, rather than support patriarchy and sexism, the way gay male “stylists” can seem to (not saying they necessarily truly do).

    One of the key reasons Ellen Degeneres is such a genius is that she manages to be a public lesbian–even a slightly butch lesbian–while coming across as unthreateningly “fun.” I find her popularity in the female (considerably heterosexual) daytime tv fan world to be stunning. But she never discusses being a lesbian–or even being a woman–almost at all, let alone in a politicized way. Her humor is almost all benignly “clean” and g-rated.

    As for Black lesbians, they are all but invisible in popular culture, and for good reason. I don’t blame the ones who choose to stay closeted. Black women get enough hate as it is. The last thing they need is more of it from the homophobic crowd. But pop culture certainly has no niche for these rare and mysterious creatures who might just say or do something to upset the happy patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist apple cart that is “reality” television.

  • Me

    Actually, this article is almost exactly what I was thinking when I read “8 Reasons You NEED a Gay Boyfriend” on Uptown Magazine. Every reason they gave was of some stereotypical depiction of what gay men embody and it made me cringe. I agree with Ms. Ball’s assessment. It’s the new age shuck/jive

  • Me

    To clarify–the shuck/jive is about the stereotype, not homosexuality. I believe there’s more to gay men than caterng to divas and playing this over the top role for the media to latch onto.

  • Monique

    I find this analysis to be very offensive. Gays like black people have been victimized all their lives and still are. If this is how they want to spend their lives voluntarily, who are we to judge, God Almighty? No, we are not. Let the be.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I just want to understand why it is ya’ll want to intellectualize these train wrecks called reality TV. Jesus surely did not shed his blood on Calvary’s crossings for shit to ever be made to look like gourmet food. uh uh!!

  • Misha

    I’ve noticed this trend of treating gay people in general like side show attractions. Especially gay men. I don’t think people should be friends with anyone if it’s going to be a one-sided, selfish proposition. Too bad a lot of people in general settle for less.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Reality TV makes it seem one sided, but I know in real life they are not being treated like a fake Loowebooweyton purse.

  • Dani

    You are ignorant African “Mammie”.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    you can kiss my yansh while you are at it!!

  • http://twitter.com/lilysea Shannon LC Cate (@lilysea)

    Monique, I don’t think this analysis is a judgment of these men themselves at all. I think it’s a judgment of an entertainment industry that trades on narrow stereotypes about what gay men are and only allows them to be shown playing certain roles. Those roles are similar to the old stereotype of the mammy in that they are only useful if they are propping up white women.

    I’m a lesbian and I didn’t find this article offensive but thoughtful and helpful in undoing the negative effects stereotypes have on people.

  • http://twitter.com/Echidiime @echidiime (@Echidiime)

    I agree, we shouldn’t be intellectualizing RealityTV, but I saw this gay black man stereotype all throughout undergrad. It was the thing to aspire to, to have a gay, well-dressed black boyfriend to listen to your whining, to go shopping with you, etc – all the cool kids had one, including daughter of then President Bush. Such ladies were were all too willing to call themselves “f*g hags,” and literally carried their gay boyfriends like life-size accessories. This was also true to some extent for some white homosexual men.

    Today is Sunday, and this article is preaching. The comparison of these men to black mammies is on point and puts to words my queasiness at this scenario. It’s setting us back.

  • Yootha

    But why do they always have to look like over made-up plastic surgery disasters??? There are plenty of real-looking gay black men out there, why do they insist on hiring these stereotypes??? YUK.

  • http://twitter.com/JoelJavier BantamWeightLover (@JoelJavier)

    As a black queer man I definitely appreciate the thrust of this article and someone for pointing out how popular it is for women to view the ‘gay best friend’ as the ‘perfect accessory’ (like some purse that goes with everything plus offers witty repartee to boot). The true issue at hand is WHY has the entertainment industry chosen only to promote a very narrow view? And why do those who’ve been oppressed feel the need to oppress others as though that ‘fully legitimizes’ their struggles?

  • Yeahright2011

    I don’t have any gay friends.

  • Hmmm

    What I find most interesting is that unlike Scarlett O’Hara all of the culprits you named are black women.

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  • RJ

    I completely agree with the author’s sentiments. But, I understand why this happens. As Shannon pointed out, these “characters” are more palatable to mainstream audiences because they are fun and they serve the purpose of entertaining heterosexual women. Just like any other minority group, as long as you are tap dancing for the majority, they will have you around. These woman may actually be homophobic deep down inside (e.g. Marlo from Real Housewives of Atlanta who called someone a f*ggot out of anger – despite the fact that she surrounds herself with gay men).

    A very masculine, “normal-looking” gay man who is not stereotypical, is not as fun and is actually threatening hetero-normative standards. My favorite depiction of a gay man is Will from Will and Grace, his relationship with Grace was balanced and he was also a fairly balanced character.

  • Ms. Lady

    I strongly disagree. Espcially in fashion or any creative field…gay men rule and women are the minority. Don’t believe me? Balance the number of male top fashion designers to female and you will see the scales r n favor of men since the first catwalk was invented.

    Behind any fashionable everday woman is an even more fashionably gay male to put it all together. One trait these women have in common is that they are not waiting for a man to come rescue them. Hands down desperate women have a negative ‘will u please be my man’ vibe that repels men. And any good gay male companion does not have time to be around a woman that scares men away.

  • gmarie

    good argument although the trend isn’t exclusive to gay black men. It’s more about flamboyant gay men of all races (which bothers me for other reasons, the primary reason being it reinforces the idea that this is how ALL gay men carry themselves). Most current “reality” shows and a good number of scripted shows seem to have it’s own “pet” gay male accessory for both comedic relief and companionship

  • PhillyGirl12

    Yeah, African Mami does suck. Consistently.

  • The Comment

    …………………..@ Dani & the 12-yr-old. Please go to Bossip or YPF, where all the inarticulate and churlish congregate. This is a decent site where different opinions are not met with snickery. Well we do have it but just to call someone ‘ignorant’ shows you haven’t mastered the art of debate. Which really shows that you are a trash talking bore. Now go open the dictionary and try again. African Mami can say what ever she wants. She is one of the most tolerant commentors on here. I am not.

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  • Brenton

    Great analysis Shannon!

  • an actual gay black man

    there’s a difference between a GAY man and an EFFEMINATE man. All gay men are not effeminate and all effeminate men are not gay. This article is nothing but silly stereotypes standing in philosophical thought. I can’t believe it’s 2012 and we’re still assuming that gay = flamboyant.

  • omfg

    totally on point.

  • james

    i like to meat some one

  • Rob

    Reality TV seems to be the “one stop shop” that places “in depth” but not so in depth the degree of Black culture. Straight or gay.

    TV producers (White & Black) salivate on ratings. And they somehow seem to keep finding a loud mouth group of “look at me shine and act an @$$” type Black women who somehow always seem to have a gay Black male friend. Go figure.

    This article is about how Black men are being negatively marketed en masse to the public outside of Black life in America. Some of you can’t seem to wrap your heads around that it is NOT about Black men “playing” gay. It is about how TV wants to market us in a bubble. This way we can only affect/infect ourselves. White men, gay or straight can’t relate to those “New Mammies”… Most importantly, the marketing of the “sissified” gay black male in reality TV is not meant in the least to be a comparison of an actor taking on a gay role. At least in those type stories … STORIES … the writers do a great job bringing those gay characters to life as multi layered characters who are more than their sex.

    Y’all keep thinking this stuff doesn’t matter

  • Austin

    I don’t know what is more pathetic… Ms. Ball reviewing Reality TV shows or that fact that you are reviewing Ms. Ball’s comments about Reality TV… I’ve decided there is nothing more pathetic… you guys are idiots and now I feel like an idiot for wasting my brain cells on this garbage!

  • Carl

    Much like the Mammy was a neutered, passive, extension of their white charges, the representation on Reality TV of black gay men is indeed parallel in their treatment by the media. In this respect I can agree with Ms. Ball’s assessment. However, Ms. Ball is not addressing the REAL issue here, the failure of media to represent the breadth of a class of human beings. Just as in earlier times, the images of African Americans are engineered to elicit a particular response to create ideals for African American identities: angry black women, devoid of civilty, predatory black men who are a sexual threat, hypermasculine black lesbians that emulate the predatory “nature” of their male counterparts, and prissy, bitchy, black “queens” that have absolutely no redeeming qualities. These images serve to corral the views perspectives and provide a narrow, one dimensional understanding on a whole race of people. The subtext of her writing, in my opinion, says she actually buys into the stereotypes of black gay men. Very Sad indeed. Mammies were a tool of opression… So is the modern black gay “queen”.

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