This first struck me in reading Wednesday’s letters to the editor (if you follow the link, it’s the first letter), but when I saw the very same argument being made in a letter in today’s paper (in this case, the last one), I had to say something.
Both letters complain about our having run a Pat Oliphant cartoon making fun of all the hoo-hah over "Brokeback Mountain." For those too lazy to follow the links, here’s an excerpt from the first letter:
The comment from the “cowboy”: “Of course, they’re pearls, silly — what
else would I wear with basic black?” is what puzzles me. I know a
thousand gay men, including many in Darlington County, and not one of
them speaks this way, owns a set of pearls or has any interest in
women’s jewelry. That’s quite a slur.
It is?, I thought. Anyway, I set that aside until the Thursday letter, which in part said:
The cartoon appearing on the Saturday Opinion page regarding the harm
done to the cowboy image by the film “Brokeback Mountain” was a cheap
shot aimed at perpetuating insulting stereotypes of gay people.
Do you see the common thread (aside from the fact that neither writer is overly blessed with a sense of humor)? In both cases, the cartoon supposedly insults gay people by associating them with transvestites. This suggests that there’s something wrong with a man who wants to wear women’s clothing (or in this case, accessories).
This seems kind of judgmental to me. Did it seem that way to you?
This forced association of homosexuality and transvestism, which Mr. Oliphant is obviously using to ironic effect to mock the controversy (stereotypes are a fundamental part of the language of cartoons; the more absurd, the better), reminds me of a previous work of humor. I’m thinking of a particular sketch in Woody Allen’s "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But were Afraid to Ask)," the one titled, "Are Transvestites Homosexual?"
It certainly wasn’t the best bit in the movie. I vaguely recall Lou Jacobi being mildly amusing when, having snuck upstairs to the master bedroom, he pranced about in great delight wearing a dress belonging to his hostess. I don’t recall the putative question ever being answered, except that it seemed obvious that he was not supposed to be gay, but was a "regular guy" who got off on cross-dressing.
But that title, which I suppose came directly from the original book, seems in retrospect to contain a judgmental suggestion aimed not at transvestites (comical as they may presumably be), but at homosexuals. In "Are Transvestites Homosexual?," there’s a certain hint of, "Is there anything really wrong with transvestites?"
That was 1972 — well before it became unacceptable in Hollywood to suggest that there’s anything wrong about being homosexual. Much has changed since then. Today, we’ve got folks sticking up for homosexuals (defenders of tolerance, in other words) who call any suggestion of transvestism — even an ironic one — a "slur."
Is this progress?