Toronto
3 min

Divas & their inner gay men

In a recent interview with The Advocate, Mila Kunis — who stars alongside, and briefly between the legs of, Natalie Portman in Black Swan — discusses her relationship with queer culture.

“I grew up in West Hollywood, in the heart of the gay community, so I’ve always been attuned with the gays,” she says. “I was raised in a household where there wasn’t a separation between straight people and gay people, so I never saw being gay as something out of the ordinary.”

Kunis goes on to discuss anti-gay bullying, Prop 8, her queer film roles (see 2007’s After Sex and 1998’s Gia), and her belief that Family Guy (Kunis provides the voice of Meg Griffin) is among the “gay-friendliest” programs on the tube.

What’s getting the most attention, however, is Kunis’s closing comment, delivered in response to The Advocate’s tease of Kunis’s declaration that she’d rather “stay home, take a bath, have a glass of wine and watch Bravo,” than get shit-faced and table-dance alongside LiLo-inspired Hollywood youth.

“Bravo, huh?” asks The Advocate.

(NBC Universal’s Bravo is known for its queer programming — take Queer Eye for the Straight Guy/Girl and Boy Meets Boy — and in 2008, the Prime Access/PlanetOut Gay and Lesbian Consumer Study named Bravo the foremost “gay-friendly” corporation in the US.)

“I’ve often been told I’m a gay man in a woman’s body,” quips Kunis.

Gossip blogs have been eager to slam Kunis for “drop[ping] the most annoying line in the fag-hag canon” (gawker.com).

It’s true that over the last decade, the turn of phrase has become exceedingly popular among Hollywood’s T&A elite.

During her 1993 Girlie Show tour, Madonna told audiences she was “a gay man trapped in a woman’s body.” In 2005, she reprised the statement on UK talk show Parkinson when asked about her status as a gay icon. “They didn’t have a problem with my Sex book,” said Madge. “Maybe I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body.”

In 2001, Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell told BBC Choice’s That Gay Show: “I’m a tomboy who likes to dress like a Barbie. I’m a gay man almost trapped in a girl’s body.”

In 2003, Pam Anderson identified as “an honorary card-carrying drag queen” in the monthly column she wrote for now-defunct Jane and mourned the 2002 murder of trans teen Gwen Araujo. Said Anderson: “We are all born naked. Everything else is drag, right? I often feel that I am a gay man trapped in this body. With a tilt of my tiara and a click of my stilettos, I feel blessed to have this life.”

In 2008, Courtney Love discussed Harper’s Bazaar’s musical-inspired photo shoot featuring daughter Frances: “Frances grew up on musicals. I think musicals comfort her; it’s a stability thing. And she’s a gay man trapped in a woman’s body, like me.”

Then there’s Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham: “I’m so camp! I’m such a gay man trying to get out. I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks” (2008, Elle); “I love gay men. I always say it. Inside me there is a gay man who wants to come out! With heterosexual men I have nothing in common — excluding my husband, brothers and father, you understand” (2009, Vanity Fair Italy); “I love modern pop — I am a gay man in a woman’s body, so God supposes I should love singers like Lady Gaga” (2010, Vogue Russia).

Speaking of Gaga, in 2009 she said of her sartorial sense: “I guess you could say I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body in my own way. Look at Freddie Mercury!”

So what’s going on here?

We can’t know whether any of these superstars actually identify as trans or genderqueer. We can know, however, that the flippancy with which the phrasing is often used most certainly minimizes the experiences of those who do identify as trans or genderqueer. Furthermore, the phrase adheres wholly to stereotype — both in terms of fag culture (Musicals! Pop singers! Flamboyant dress! Sexual excess!) and straight culture’s virgin-slut paradigm, wherein women are still asked to rationalize their sexuality, aesthetic and access to power.

Indeed, what each of these women has in common is that their bodies have or continue to be the subject of interrogation and debate. Every time Beckham claims her inner fag, media is quick to highlight her “boyish figure.” Gaga is consistently attacked for her “manly looks” and potential penis. Madonna, too, is frequently charged with “looking like a man.” The rest are treated as write-offs: Anderson is plastic, Love is a psycho drug addict, Halliwell is a failed solo artist, and Kunis is a kid.

While the turn of phrase is problematic, then, it also troubles straight culture’s endeavour to box gender and sexuality. Here’s to queering the conversation.

Tongue Lashing appears in every second issue of  Xtra.