A few weeks ago Tony and I watched film starring Meryl Streep titled, Hope Springs, where they make reference to gay men and sex in conjunction with straight women in a somewhat peculiar way. We did what we always do when we see things like this in hetero mainstream films or TV shows: we looked at each other and groaned.
It wasn’t a bad film, and Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell were all excellent. I even loved the setting, which I’ll get into in a moment. But to be perfectly honest, we purposely waited for it to be released on cable because we’d seen the previews on demand and didn’t want to spend the money to rent it. And we rent films on demand often, so it’s not like we’re sitting around pinching the pennies. I’ve also been known to spend money I didn’t even have if I wanted something badly enough. But I’m glad we decided to wait for Hope Springs to come on cable, because we wouldn’t have been happy paying extra for it.
The basic plot revolves around a married couple who’ve been together for many years and are living in that proverbial empty nest. They’re still too young for retirement, and yet old enough for certain aspects of the marriage to dwindle. In their case it’s intimacy and sex, which is not all that uncommon. As the film begins, the Meryl Streep character and her husband, played by Tommy Lee Jones, are sleeping in separate bedrooms and not having any kind of intimacy whatsoever…not even hugging or touching. As a side note, I personally think the producers of the film know very little about marriage and how people evolve in marriages over time…or the ups and downs of marriage for the long term. In other words, if these two people had only been in their thirties or forties I would have been far more worried about them. The one thing that saved the film in this respect was the lack of intimacy in a general sense. But I tend to think most marriages go through periods like this, and it’s not always the worst thing in the world that can happen to a marriage…gay or straight. I would also wager a guess the people who produced this film have been married multiple times. But I could be wrong about that.
In any event, in order to save the marriage, in a dramatic move that’s unlike her, the Meryl Streep character confronts her husband about visiting a marriage counseling clinic in (I think) Maine, in this quaint little tourist town were everything costs three times more than anywhere else. The price, without expenses, is four thousand dollars. He refuses, she cashes in a CD and books the trip anyway, and she tells him she’s going with or without him. He clearly loves her and joins here on the trip. I’m not going to get into anything else because I don’t want to give spoilers for those who haven’t seen the film. But they ultimately wind up in this little town, in therapy with a marriage counselor played by Steve Carell.
From a clinical POV I think the film worked, however, there was one scene in the film where the husband is rejecting everything and the wife gets so frustrated she goes into a small bookstore in this little tourist town and buys a book that’s titled something like “What Gay Men Can Teach Straight Women about Sex.” I don’t remember the exact title, but it was something like that and that’s the part where we groaned. Because for the life of me I honestly don’t know what gay men can teach straight women about sex. The fact that there’s this mentality out there that thinks gay men can identify with straight women with regard to sex is far from correct. In a parody it’s funny; in real life it’s ridiculous. Gay men think like men. They are wired like men and in spite of their individual backgrounds they behave like men. I’m not getting into the exceptions to the rule. I know they are out there. Right now I’m talking about gay men in general. We do vary…gay men…but not all that much when it comes to sex. I hesitate to give examples because this blog is rated pg.
Not to mention the fact that the female anatomy is about as unknown to most gay men as the inside of a stripper bar is to an Amish preacher. If anything, straight men know far more about the female anatomy in a physical sense than most gay men will ever know. I can personally say in all honesty that I have never even seen a vagina up close, or at a distance. So how I, as a gay man, could help counsel a straight woman with a sexual intimacy issue truly passes me by. I once tried; it didn’t end well. I might be able to help as far as intimacy and romance goes, but even that would be a stretch. Books have been written about this, studies have been done hundreds of times. And the fact remains that men and women think differently when it comes to intimacy and sex, and gay men aren’t that different from straight men. At least none of the gay men in long term marriages/relationships I know are.
I also think it’s important to take this to another level. This image we often get from the mainstream, with TV shows like Sex and the City, and films like Hope Springs, isn’t correct, either socially or politically. It’s actually insulting when you compare it to some of the older films in Hollywood where African Americans and people of Asian descent were stereotyped and misrepresented with things like yellowface and tap dancing scenes.
I think one of the reasons why so many gay men don’t ever speak up about it is because they can’t. So many of us are so busy trying figure ourselves out we often ignore the things that don’t actually affect us personally because it would be too overwhelming. I get e-mails from gay men all the time discussing this exact topic and the best I can do is agree with them. If I were a shabby blogger I would insert quotes here from some of these e-mails, but I wouldn’t do that because I believe these e-mails I get are personal and private. So the best I can do is call attention to it in a blog post, and show how we, as gay men, are often insulted by the very people who think they are trying to help us. Because I don’t believe for one second that anyone associated with Hope Springs meant any harm. I just don’t think they know any better. No one saw anything wrong with the way African Americans were treated in old movies until someone came along and pointed it out.
Update: After I clicked “publish” I thought it was important to add that I think this concept of what gay men can teach straight women about sex also puts straight women in a bad position, too. It is insinuating that straight women don’t know as much about sex as gay men, and I don’t believe that’s true for a moment. One thing is for certain, at least gay men and straight women do have one thing in common: we’re often misrepresented in the same ways.
Update 2: A facebook friend actually pointed me to a book that’s out there just like the one I mentioned above. I’m not linking to it. However, it is #14 right now in the “Psychology Self-Help” bestseller category on Amazon. Interesting.
Photo attribution: Wiki Commons