‘Ocean’s 8’ is Extremely Gay—So Why Isn’t It Gay?

The all-female Ocean’s reboot hits theaters today, starring eight vibrant and galvanic women in the titular roles, and though critics are claiming Anne Hathaway stole the show (she totally did), I had my eye on the bubbling sexual tension between the two leading ladies. Debbie Ocean and Lou, played by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett, played, essentially, a couple. Many a gay have picked up on the inherent queerness of this movie and the nature of their relationship, and multiple moments in the con film nod to a relationship between the two. And while this is inarguably a gay movie put forth by lesbian propagandists as a means to convert heterosexuals and lead them down the path of righteousness—no one in the film actually confirms this relationship.

Lesbian bias aside, I can’t imagine watching this movie and not thinking Cate and Sandra have a long-winded romantic history together. First of all, the Carol actress’s character reads as extremely gay. Every outfit she wears was crafted to queer perfection, from her emerald velvet suit to her pastel suit to her jumpsuit to—look, there were suits. But if you can get past the aesthetic porn of Ocean’s 8, you’ll see there’s something real and tender between Debbie and Lou.

At times, I felt like, maybe the filmmakers are saying it without having to actually say it. While recounting her history of running cons with Lou, Debbie refers to Lou as her “partner,” which can be up for interpretation: Does this moniker exclusively refer to their business relationship, or is there something more? It’s an interesting choice of words, made more confusing by the next play.

Bullock’s extremely chic lead recalls a rock-bottom moment for the two, when they were pulling scams at an elderly home’s bingo night. Debbie refers to the period of time 10 years ago as her and Lou’s “rough patch.” Again, up for interpretation: Was it “rough” because they were strapped for cash? Or were they on the rocks romantically? Tough to say, because the moment is so catastrophically ambiguous. Queer women would interpret this moment as an exclusively lesbian admission, while clueless straight people would easily watch and think, “Aww, gal pals”—a conundrum known all too well by the gay community as The Great Straight Divide.

Additionally, there’s physical flirtations between the duo. In a diner, Sandra spoon-feeds Cate a bite of her food, in a very intimate Lady and the Tramp-esque manner. I don’t know about you, but I never delicately place forkfuls of diner food on to my platonic friends’ tongues. Whenever the duo interacts, it’s clear there’s a shared intimacy between them that the other women don’t experience with each other.

And while we’re at it, there’s another scene where Lou reprimands Debbie for trying to exact revenge on her male ex while simultaneously stealing millions of dollars worth of jewels from the Met Gala. “Do not run a job in a job,” Lou chides. But is she genuinely concerned about the ways in which Debbie’s emotional center will interfere with the job, or is she jealous that Debbie still harbors anger towards—excuse my French—a MAN! So for me, nothing about their relationship points to “just really good friends.”

All these ruminating questions are exactly why queer people feel so fed up with major studio films lately. Though the minds behind Deadpool 2 have insisted that the titular character is pansexual, and the creatives behind Solo have made the same declarations about Lando Calrissian, neither movie actually dubs either one as queer. They flirt with the idea, sure—Ryan Reynolds’ character is very touchy-feely with his male cohorts, and they play with plenty of comedic homoerotic moments. The same was done for the Ghostbusters reboot, where Kate McKinnon played the extremely gay Jillian Hotzmann, who director Paul Feig confirmed was gay, without there being any proof of such in the film (he blamed the studio). Ocean’s 8 follows suit—speculations aside, there’s no actual evidence to prove the movie is gay. And that’s frustrating.

Ideally, I would love to live in a world where films like Deadpool 2 and Ocean’s 8 have explicitly queer characters who never have to actually “come out” or make overt declarations of their queerness—they can just be and live as freely as their heterosexual counterparts, and the audience will pick up on these little nudges and quantify them as “evidence.” Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.

I wish we didn’t have to write speculative pieces about “proving” a movie is gay. I feel like the It’s Always Sunny meme of Charlie desperately stringing together a wall of evidentiary claims. Or the deranged Carrie from Homeland who hides her wall of theories from the outside world. But until we are there—a little lesbianism can go a long way, and I know it would’ve meant a lot to me, and other people with a lesbian agenda, if Debbie or Lou had just declared it once.

And for what it’s worth, Carrie was right in the end.

‘Pose’ and ‘My House’ Are Reclaiming Ballroom

Last Monday night, the Meatpacking District in New York City hosted a special edition of Vogue Knights, a recurring mini ball in the city. It was founder Jack Mizrahi’s birthday and the local scene turned out in force with legends like Dashaun Wesley commentating in addition to other scene notables like Kelly Mizrahi, Monster Labeija, and Tati 007 all making appearances. During one of Jack’s introductory bouts on the mic, his speech took a turn.

He explained the importance of community to culture at large. “Our culture is culture,” he said, underlining how ballroom lingo, verbiage and ways of life have been mainstreamed and adopted by pop culture. But he pushed the point further.

“RuPaul has built a legacy on the backs and struggles of this community and trans people of color,” he said leading up to the height of his speech. That comment was referencing Drag Race’s frequent usage of ballroom language and methods, incorporating them into challenges and essentially commodifying the culture with little respect for accuracy or connection to the actual community. “But on June 3, we will let the whole world know who we are.” The legendary commentator was referring to the debut of PoseRyan Murphy’s latest FX show set in the early ballroom scene but following fictionalized characters. One of the lead actors, Ryan Jamal Swain who plays Damon, was in fact at the ball and introduced by Jack as a face to watch.

It was quite the introduction for the ball but it was true: the Ballroom community is finally at the forefront of culture as much as their art form is. Dashaun, father of the House of Lanvin, was recently in a Christian Louboutin video for the popular high fashion e-tailer MyTheresa.comMonster LaBeija and his house brother Ivan Caci LaBeija make an appearance in Lil Mama’s new music video. Tati 007, Precious Ebony, and Alex Mugler of Viceland’s My House all make it into Blink Fitness’s latest commercial in partnership with Gay Men’s Health Crisis. They are joined by Luna Lens from the House of Khan and Monet Performance.

Ballroom, not just voguing, is here and reclaiming its time.

Last week’s episode of My House dug into that exact thing. Tati and Alex were chosen to walk in the Gypsy Sport Fall 2018 at New York Fashion Week in February. “For us to be here is surreal,” Tati says in the episode of the event. “Who knew that ballroom could take us to these heights?” But only four months later, it’s clear that experience was only one part of an upward trajectory.

There is a learning curve, however, to this integration and commodification of ballroom. “A lot of people in ballroom get taken advantage of just because of what they don’t know and that’s how people in the entertainment industry get you,” Alex says on the show, revealing that he works at a cabinetry company to keep his life consistent and stable. “So now I think it’s our responsibility now to tell [the entertainment industry] not to just take on the low and not give us the credit or the coin.”

Proper compensation and credit is an important and longstanding conversation. It was what ultimately soured some opinions over the impactful Paris Is Burning. It is a conversation happening in culture at large under the banner of cultural appropriation. And many times, as the ballroom community is finding, when that compensation comes, it is an afterthought and doesn’t come on the same terms as it does with others.

“Bitch, you wanna act real funny, bitch better gimme my money,” Precious raps on a track played in the episode. She explains the context later to a friend. “I came up with that song because I’m tired of bitches playing. When you book me, bitch have my deposit, come correct. Times is changing. I’ve become one of those people that has mastered what I’m doing so come at me correct. Don’t come at me half step. Don’t try to send me on a bus cross town.” And increasingly now, the community is reaping benefits and compensation on par with their talent not only in the form of My House but also the fictional Pose.

Pose’s importance is immeasurable for this community. While many accolades of its “firsts” have been lauded, one has been forgotten: this is the first major television show to place the ballroom scene at the center of its narrative. And though it’s fiction, the characters are baked in the history of the community.

| Score the #HouseofAbundance | #PoseFX | 📸 by @dcmphoto.biz |

A post shared by Jason A Rodriguez (@slim.ninja) on

Elektra (Dominique Jackson), mother of the House of Abundance, most resembles Crystal LaBeija, founding mother of the House of LaBeija. The writers lean into this characterization, pulling quotes like “I have a right to show my color,” which Crystal uttered in the 1969 documentary The Queen, for actual lines. Crystal was known for her searing reads, as is Elektra.

Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), who becomes disgruntled with Elektra’s iron fist, decides to strike out on her own, beginning the House of Evangelista by picking up house members off the street, and building a ragtag group based on equal parts talent and need for family. She is Pose’s equivalent of Angie Xtravaganza, founding mother of the House of Xtravaganza. And in comes Jamal, her Hector. Professionally trained as a dancer, Jamal is her secret weapon at ballroom competitions; she is fiercely protective of and invested in him. Also of this house is Angel (Indya Moore), a sex worker pursuing the white filtered American dream.

But there’s more. Pose has not just put members of the community into the stories, they also make appearances throughout the show. Jason Rodriguez, who is a member of the actual House of Ninja, has a recurring role on the show in the House of Abundance. Twiggy Pucci-Garcon, Hector Xtravaganza, Jose Xtravaganza and others appear on the judging panels. But they are also behind the screen.

Ballroom notables like Leiomy Maldenado and Danielle Polanco’s names are prominently listed as choreographers in addition to their cameo appearances. Twiggy is listed, too, as a consultant. This means that not only is the beauty of ballroom explored on the show but it’s done so by the actual community in ways that will now allow them to navigate the entertainment industry more easily. These aren’t just talented artists in the underground that “someone should take a chance on.”

These are now artists and creatives with resumes, with credits anyone will take seriously. These credits as consultants, producers, cameos, and actors mean that Pose may be the stepping stone for many to translate their ballroom talent into mainstream success, birthing an entire generation of talent that had been before relegated to the underground.

Time for the world to know indeed.

The Cis White Gay Man at a Crossroads

Sometime over the past several years, my perception of myself and my place in the world changed.

 

I’d grown up a viciously bullied kid in 1980s Massachusetts. I was called a faggot on a daily basis years before I even knew I was gay. In high school, where I was just barely closeted, a typical day might involve being thrown in the trunk of a football player’s car, driven out to the edge of town while “Born in the USA” blared from the radio, then left there to walk home five miles in bitter cold.

 

After a certain point, I didn’t even question this kind of treatment. Massachusetts may be progressive now by national standards, but in the Reagan era, homophobia and bullying were not articulated social epidemics. Even certain school administrators and teachers told me to grow up and butch up.

 

I thought that withstanding such treatment and moving on to college, then New York, made me tough, a survivor. In fact, it did. It also fucked me up. I was in the throes of depression and addiction by my late twenties. I was HIV-positive by 30. In both recovery and therapy by 32.

 

Believe it or not, I also had fun in those New York years. Like many gay men, I’d typically dance the night away to the sound of black women wailing over a house track in a club, lyrics about being set free or taken higher or getting lifted up from the pressure. And this always felt like a very obvious match, this idea that gay men and black women were both oppressed and hence it made sense that gay men danced to the tracks of, and also fetishistically worshipped, black divas who sang us our pain and our desire for freedom. We were on par. As gay white men, we were one of many persecuted groups.

 

This was the ’90s, mind you ― only 20 years ago. The idea of gay marriage, that we might wed and have kids and blend into mainstream society, still seemed absurd. Gay bashings, some fatal, were a daily reality nationwide. We had been decimated by AIDS for nearly two decades. The disease hung like a suffocating shadow of fear, stigma and decay over all of us, even those who weren’t infected. We had no legal rights except for some anemic laws in a handful of cities and states. We had a president who sold us out at every turn for political capital, welshing on his military promise and, in the shameful dead of night, signing a law barring federal recognition of our civil unions.

 

All of which is to say, it wasn’t folly that we felt like society’s punching bags.

 

But, of course — due in large part to our own activism, public anger and shrewd, well-resourced organizing — things changed in the new millennium. Will and Grace. Same-sex marriage. While other members of the LGBTQ universe remained invisible, the adorable, stylish, witty professional urban gay white man became America’s darling. Every straight girl wanted one of us for her very own. Even their boyfriends wanted us for fashion and interior advice, were jealous of the relative ease with which we could procure NSA sex. We rose to iconic public status in the image of Ian McKellen, Adam Lambert, Alan Cumming, Lance Bass, Clay Aiken, Neil Patrick Harris, Andy Cohen ― eventually even Anderson Cooper.

 

Somewhere in these years, I started to see myself differently. It wasn’t just that I was no longer bullied, depressed and drug-addicted ― the very embodiment of the trauma-addled gay male statistic. And it wasn’t just that I no longer felt as marginalized or unsafe as an urban gay man as I had in the ’80s and ’90s. Even though both of these things were very much true.

 

It was that, from about the murder of Trayvon Martin onward, and particularly when Eric Garner was choked to death by a cop in 2014 here in New York, I was shaken into a new consciousness about the fragility of black lives. I remembered walking alone in the wee hours in the ’90s past groups of young black men, terrified that I would be gay-bashed, one of them stepping out abruptly toward me and yelling “Boo!” while the others cracked up laughing, as though they could smell my fear.

 

To suddenly think of such young men as not threats, but threatened ― mostly at the hands of cops ― to think of them as anxious and fearful, the worried voices of their parents in their heads, was mind-blowing.

 

I had also, like many, had little understanding in the ’90s and early 2000s of what being transgender was. My best understanding of it was certain drag queens who had apparently chosen to live their whole lives in drag. But in the 2010s ― and particularly after the stunningly brutal death of Islan Nettles, again here in New York ― data emerged showing that black transgender women were being beaten and sometimes killed at rates that looked like what gay men were subjected to here in the city in the earliest, most phobic years of the AIDS epidemic.

 

All these things contributed to my own dramatic reinterpretation of my own societal status. Without discounting the genuine pain I had suffered because of homophobia, I was also now able to see clearly how my own privileges of race and class had ― often in subtle ways, such as via my social networks or even my own concepts of hope and possibility ― afforded me the resources to climb out of trauma and move forward.

 

And to that I would also add my privilege of maleness. Which is a difficult thing to add for any gay boy who was systematically bullied for being gay, because, often, we grew up feeling, not without warrant at the time, that we had less power and safety than the girls and women around us.

 

 

A STATUS SHIFT

 

But my own story is not just my story. It is the story of many gay white cisgender men in America now ― particularly those my age (48) and older who have lived through seismic changes in our status, even in our literal survival rates, thanks to the advent of effective HIV treatment and prevention pills.

 

Now, in the age of Trump, we find ourselves with a curious mixed status, particularly if we are blue-state, urban, well educated and well employed. (I have reported beforethat the situation can be markedly different for red-state, rural and working-class gay white men.)

 

“We’re like the centaurs of the oppressed,” says Peter Staley, the veteran HIV activist who, while secretly gay and HIV-positive in the 1980s, worked as a high-paying stockbroker until he finally left and came out to help found the pioneering activist group ACT UP. (He will publish a memoir.) “We’re like half white men, with all the privileges thereof, and half an animal that many people worldwide would have no compunctions about shooting dead. We get into a problem when we point only to our unique horse part and ignore the white man part.”

 

And he acknowledges that, for those of us of a certain age, that can be easy to do. “Look at the grief we’ve gone through, especially in the ’80s and ’90s with AIDS. Therefore, we feel that we’re as oppressed as anyone and want to tell people not to wave their fingers at us and tell us to check our privilege. But that would be a mistake.”

 

Pointing to himself, he notes that even the rage that fueled AIDS activism in the 1980s and ’90s was driven by white male entitlement. “Many of us at the time were using some portion of the closet to protect ourselves and keep many of the privileges that straight white men had. Then we realized those privileges meant shit once the virus hit us and the government was just going to let us die. That was a shock to our privileged selves. We said, ‘How dare you?’ And traditionally oppressed groups may not have leapt immediately to ‘How dare you?’, some sense of shock that rocks their foundation.”

 

LURED TO THE RIGHT

 

I don’t feel alone in my reassessment of my place in the world in recent years. There are many middle-aged cis gay white men out there who see where they fit in a matrix of privilege and safety and are willing to not only ally with, but step aside for, less traditionally privileged quarters of the LGBTQ population.

 

For me, this has been, and continues to be, a truly mind- and heart-expanding exercise in listening and empathy, a chance to start with the premise that I don’t know what lived experience is like for other LGBTQ people and to take them at their word when they tell me that the best role I can play in their struggles is to show up as a supporting ally, to continue confronting other cis gay white men on their prejudices or limitations, or often simply to keep listening.

 

Yet at the crossroads, some of us also find ourselves being enthusiastically asked to join forces with a sector of the population that historically has denied us rights, vilified us, used us as a political scapegoat: The Right.

 

As various groups around the country coalesce against Trumpism ― specifically its attacks on vulnerable populations including transgender people, Muslims, both documented and undocumented immigrants and the disabled ― many conservatives have realized they have new foot soldiers in the form of cisgender gay white men who share their hostility toward what they see as rampant illegal immigration, cultural pluralism and political correctness.

 

They’ve adopted as their gay free-speech darling the race-baiting provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, particularly after he was ostracized by much of the LGBTQ community for sparking racist digital mass attacks, complete with pictures of apes and death threats, against the black comic actress Leslie Jones and the biracial social-justice activist Shaun King.

 

How do cisgender gay white male Trump supporters, whose very existence baffles so many, form their identity? I’ve often wondered as much, so for this story I reached out to several via social networks. I’ve chosen to obscure their identities because my goal was not to spark a social media war against them, but to truly try to understand their thinking.

 

In our talks, there were common themes. One, shared with the broader world of Trumpers, was a conviction that the left’s political correctness was killing free speech. Another was the idea that gay people and transgender people had nothing inherently in common ― “homosexuality is an attraction, transgender is an identity,” is how one put it to me ― and shouldn’t be in the same rights movement.

 

But the thing I heard the most from these men was that they weren’t “victims” and they weren’t “vulnerable.” They said that the tendency of groups on the left, including LGBTQ people, to label themselves as such sickened them, and that they found Trump’s willingness to “hurt the feelings” of such groups to be refreshing. (One said he thought Trump’s much-reviled mocking of a disabled reporter during the campaign was “funny. It humanized him for me. He’s the perfect antidote to this squeaky-clean, speech-obsessed culture.”)

 

 

“NOT A VICTIM”

 

Yet what interested me most was how, in almost a split-screen image, these men situated themselves, uncomfortably, on both sides of victimhood and vulnerability. On the one hand, many of them nearly preened as they said that they in no way felt unsafe. “Not for one second,” said one, a financially comfortable Manhattan lawyer, the one who enjoyed Trump’s mocking of the reporter.

 

I asked if that was because he passed as a white man. (He has an ethnic background that could be called racially ambiguous, but he looks to me like what I call a white ethnic, which is what I consider myself, with my half-Irish, half-Arab ancestry.) “Of course that’s going to be your response,” he said. “And the answer is no. It’s a consequence of my having balls and not caring what people think of me.”

 

Had he, to his knowledge, ever experienced discrimination for being gay? “Not that I know of,” he replied. “If anything, it’s probably been social cachet.”

 

Empirically, discrimination against gay people is not over. It is still technically legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in most states, and some states are challenging the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. In a 2015 story I wrote, I was shocked by just how much anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination there seemed to be in just one state, Indiana. Polls still find that a majority of LGBTQ people have experienced violence, threats or harassment.

 

But it was important for the men I talked to to feel that homophobia was largely a thing of the past. “We’re finally there today,” said a 47-year-old white gay man in Atlanta who’s had a successful, and somewhat public, career. He loves Trump mostly because “he’s not talking bullshit like every other politician” and believes that “deep down, he’s a good guy.”

 

He continued: “We have gay marriage. I myself have had no issues [with discrimination] ever. The majority of corporations are highly concerned about diversity. So I don’t believe it’s an issue.”

 

So, I asked, does he feel safe? “Don’t get me started on safe,” he replied. “It’s a different day. I’m not a snowflake. I don’t need a safe space. I’m not a victim. That’s why I’m a conservative.”

 

That was another theme that came up again and again, particularly from white gay men my age (48) and older. We had suffered, been kicked around, bullied, gone through the AIDS crisis, toughened up ― and had come out of it stronger. Why shouldn’t other groups ― younger LGBTQ people of color, transgender people ― be subjected to the same test of character?

 

“I was an openly gay man in the ’80s and I took a ton of shit from chefs in restaurants I worked in who called me a faggot and threw shit at me.” I was told this by a successful Manhattan real estate agent, 51, who actually told me that voted for Bernie in the Democratic primaries and is pro-immigration and pro-choice but still considers himself highly conservative, mainly because he distrusts government and thinks that political correctness is “just shoving discrimination and hatred behind closed doors.”

 

He says he went to a Milo Yiannopoulos “coming out conservative” party in New York over Pride Weekend 2018 and enjoyed himself despite not sharing the sentiment when the almost entirely white crowd began chanting “Build the wall!” (He has recently posted pictures of himself with Yiannopoulos at New York-area Republican events.)

 

He continued: “I had to put up with [bullying at work in the 1980s] because I needed the job. But now I have to deal with people getting upset because I used the wrong pronoun? I’m a tough person. For a lot of people, I was the first gay person they ever met, and I didn’t judge them if they had a hard time with homosexuality at first.”

 

His voice rose and quickened. “I’m certainly not going to be judged by some 24-year-old after what I’ve had to do to survive and the skills I’ve gotten. The fact that young people are now in a world where they’re not forced to talk to someone in a MAGA hat doesn’t make them right and me wrong.”

 

The successful Atlanta man told me that only in his late thirties, after more than a decade of clubbing and partying and finally giving up alcohol and drugs, did he fully come into his identity as a pro-life Christian conservative. At one point, I asked his reaction to Trump’s tweet, in July 2018, announcing that he would ban transgender people from the military.

 

“I started laughing,” he replied. “It’s hilarious that the gay community has to find a new issue [to be upset about] when they laughed at trans people when I was in my twenties. Now they add in the ‘T’ because it’s the new victim.”

 

Did he support transgender people serving openly in the military?

 

“You’re not gonna put me in a gotcha game,” he replied. “If this hurts feelings, well, I’ve been through a lot of pain. We all have.” His voice then broke and he sounded as though he’d started to cry.

 

A CHOICE GOING FORWARD

 

At the heart of the new crossroads for the cisgender gay white man is the question of masculinity. The core of homophobia toward gay men in particular is misogyny, the idea that loving and desiring other men makes one less than a man, soft and vulnerable in the traditional cast of a woman. Historically, in the eyes of society, you are a bitch. Not hard and protuberant, but pliant, breachable. A pussy.

 

Certain cisgender gay white men, often those possessing or at least adjacent to some degree of money and power, have finally been invited into the circle of full manhood, recently identified as potential allies amid an urban, plural sector of the population seething against Trump and all that he represents. A sector, in fact, in full resistance mode against the shadow of unfettered, unashamed patriarchy and nativism embodied in Trump’s ascent.

 

I remember, in high school, when, for some inexplicable reason, perhaps as the culture shifted slightly toward things that were more “indie,” I suddenly became the darling of my longtime oppressors ― the very boys who for years had called me faggot near-daily and threw me in the trunk of the car. I completely embraced the invitation. It was irresistible, erotic even, this opportunity to be the pet of boys I had both feared and desired.

 

It’s not surprising to me that fratty white MAGA boys, barking “Build the wall!” or “Lock her up!” in great, roving packs, have become the stuff of gay porn.

 

To ally oneself with power and privilege after historically having one’s own inherent gender and racial privilege compromised because of one’s sexuality is extremely seductive. It’s also uncomfortable, to say the least, to know that your new bros are perpetuating cruelties that you know in your gut to be real because, especially if you are an older gay man, you remember such cruelties to the point that your voice rises and breaks when you allude to them.

 

It can be so uncomfortable that, in the next breath, you deny their authenticity. People who feel vulnerable and unsafe, you say, enjoy playing the victim. Your new status in the world depends on not connecting your own former, or fleeting, suffering to theirs.

 

Yet deep down, you have a cellular memory of being society’s bitch. In the eighties, many of us loved Morrissey because he modeled how to openly desire other men while still being clever, resilient, funny ― that particular brand of gay “toughness” we cherish so much ― perhaps overcherish.

 

But Morrissey also sang: “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate. It takes guts to be gentle and kind.”

 

It takes guts, as well, to cede some of your own hard-won power in the service of others’. Society’s bitches, even those who currently enjoy an illusion of safety, find their real power when they identify not away from, but in alliance with, all the other bitches.

 

Image via Getty