This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

"Straight People Are Looking at You:" Heterosexual Privilege and Homonormativity in American Visual Texts




Blair, Nancy

Type of Degree





My dissertation deals with the topic of representations of gay men in such American popular texts as film, television, and mainstream theatre. I advance the argument that while the 2000s have seen a dramatic rise in the number of gay people, primarily white men, depicted in these texts, this growth has had many consequences that actually serve the interests of the heterosexual majority far more than the gay audiences that consume these texts. Gay men in popular film, television and drama are often presented either as saints, who either die or suffer profoundly in order to teach the straight audiences lessons, or as victims that need to be saved from their (often gay) oppressors. Texts that include these portrayals advocate not acceptance of sexual diversity, but tolerance, which reinforces inequality rather than challenging it. While these representations reflect straight creators and audiences' desire to both disavow and cling to the privileges they enjoy at the expense of gay people, they are also the result of gay creators and audience's insistence on "positive representations." I argue that these representations are part of the political stance theorist Lisa Duggan calls the "new homonormativity," which homogenizes gay people by shoring up the mainstream values of monogamous marriage, child-rearing, and consumerism. The spokespersons for this view are primarily white, male, and middle class, and show little interest in the ways in which gay identity intersects with race, gender, and class. Many queer theorists have recently argued in favor of a more intersectional approach to gay politics and theory that considers how all of these subject positions impact each other, and my methodology is strongly shaped by this approach. While most of the texts I consider are mainstream and strictly conform to the new homonormativity, I also examine texts from the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s that stressed both diversity and resistance to the limitations posed by positive representations to suggest a more progressive direction for current mainstream representations. In my reading of these texts, I argue that mainstream texts cannot meaningfully advocate for equality between gays and straights until gays are represented with the same racial, political, and ideological diversity as their straight counterparts.