Over the weekend, Something Positive’s Monette met her girlfriend’s half-brother, who wants to write showtunes when he grows up. Friday’s Real Life featured Tony taking Greg to task over singing a song from Monty Python’s Spamalot. Where did the showtunes=gay (or at least effeminate) stereotype come from? While we’re at it, where did the art=gay stereotype come from?

I mean, most of the people who actually write musicals are probably straight. Not all of them, of course, and some of the exceptions (Cole Porter, for instance) are rather prominent. And I would guess that a majority of the actors and audience are probably straight, also.

I have no doubt that the percentage of gays in the arts is higher than in the general population. I studied drama in college—all I had to do was look around to see that. But that’s a far cry from “most.” I mean, to pull some numbers out of thin air, let’s say it’s 20%, or even 30%, instead of the commonly-cited 10%—that would be like saying an industry with 30% women is primarily female.

Now, I’ve always figured that the reason you find more gays—or at least more who are out of the closet—in the arts is that creativity requires an open mind, so creative people are more likely to be accepting of anything that differs from the mainstream. (Is anyone in the mainstream?) But you also get self-selection once the stereotype is in place. If you’re straight and you don’t want to risk being seen as gay, you might avoid fields where people will make that assumption. If you’re gay and you don’t want to hide it, you might go into a field where you figure you won’t have to.

Katie pointed out that since our society looks at everything through the prism of sexuality, straight men in the visual arts run into problems. If you paint or photograph men, you’re appreciating the male form and obviously gay. If you paint or photograph women, you’re either a pervert who likes to look at women’s bodies, or you’re only appreciating them for their artistic value and therefore gay. (Here’s a news flash, people: straight men like to look at women. Deal with it.)

But again, where did this stereotype start? There was a time that women were not taken seriously as artists, and the idea of a woman as an actress was positively scandalous. These days, art is considered a feminine pursuit. And of course, in many people’s minds, feminine=effeminate=gay. But when, and how, did art make that switch?

2 thoughts on “Who invented the gay artist?

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