“Cool beard!” a small boy said as he passes Rick Shory in the parking lot.
Shory smiles. Kids often comment on his beard. When he was younger, adults would comment too, comparing him to John Muir or Edward Abbey.
Lately, he’s been akin to Santa Claus.
The facial hair and the gray wool pants he wears, held up by suspenders and falling at the ankles of his six-foot frame, keep him warm in Colorado’s forests where he does research as a botanist for the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at Colorado State University.
If a bushy beard is uncommon enough to attract attention, Shory said, it is even less common in the gay community.
“It’s rare for gay men to have beards,” Shory said. “I think there’s pressure within any oppressed minority to conform.
“When I was young I thought gay guys wore cologne and paisley shirts,” Shory said, recalling the “cognitive dissonance” he experienced as a teen when he would feel attracted to another man.
“I would look at what I saw and thought of as gay, and I wasn’t like that at all, so I just buried any thought of it,” he said.
Shory said it wasn’t until he was 28 and fell in love with a man, who he met at a Quaker conference, that he began to explore the possibility that he was gay and what that meant.
Men learn how to be gay from what they see in the media, Shory said. And though media stereotypes are changing, change is slow.
When he sees gay men depicted in the media, he said he sees drag queens, such as “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” men with “limp wrists and lisps,” or guys who are hairless and muscular. Will and Grace is an exception, Shory said.
“That guy is a regular guy,” he said of Eric McCormack’s portrayal of the gay character Will on the show.
While grappling with his identity as a gay man, he explored what it meant for his life and concluded, “I guess gay doesn’t mean you’re a drag queen. It just means you’re interested in guys.”
“Nowadays actors are coming out a lot more, so you have a broader perspective.” Charles Hunt, a sophomore microbiology major, said.
Hunt, who is gay, refers to actor Ian McKellan as an example of a man who doesn’t fit the media stereotype.
The gay teen magazine “Xy” “has a good looking gay guy on the cover,” but inside a variety of men are portrayed, Hunt said. He believes the stereotypical images are portrayed because “sex sells.” These images contribute to a high depression rate in the gay community, Hunt said.
Shory uses his own research methods to gauge stereotypes in TV and film.
“My two-point litmus test for portrayal of gays in the media is first the snuff test: whether the gay character dies in the end,” he said. “I think authors don’t know what else to do with a gay character . That’s where I think a lot of it comes from, is they realize it’s a sad, horrible, ironic thing and so death is this powerful image. I mean ‘Brokeback Mountain.'”
“The movie ‘Fire’ – that passed the snuff test gloriously,” Shory said.
He sees existence of such films as evidence that media outlets are doing a better job representing gay issues.
“So the next thing is whether the portrayal breaks any stereotypes. It seems like if the characters don’t die, then they’re like drag queens or something. And there’s very little that’s not that.”
Speech communication professor Eric Aoki reviews media for the Journal of GLBT Family Studies. He sees changes in some of these stereotypes but said they are still the most commonly seen.
“The well-dressed gay man, specifically the high-consumption-based, cosmopolitan, gay man,” Aoki said, is what we see on the screen, though he says the image of “metrosexual” began to blur this line. Now a man who chooses certain clothing often “gets read as a gay man.”
Aoki, who identifies himself ethnically as “one hundred percent Mexican-American and one hundred percent Japanese-American,” would like to see media “open up more spaces for how we as gay men view ourselves and how we can be viewed by larger society.”
On “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” there is one ethnic minority represented on the show, Aoki said, but these gay male images are still based on style and a love to shop, which remains a narrow range of representation.
It will be a long process getting away from these stereotypes, sophomore Hunt said. He wants to see media communicate to gay men “that you don’t have to have this perfect body or be super skinny.”
Often gay men are so happy to see “a movie about gay stuff,” Shory said, that they don’t even care if it doesn’t look at all like their lives.
He said he would like to see gay media stereotypes change like the way those of women have recently.
“You never see a Navy Seal fighting a war and having a relationship with another man,” Shory said. ” I just want to see some guys, like the ones that are really out there. I’d like to see the gay equivalent of G.I Jane.”
Staff writer Shari Blackman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.