Tyra Banks conducts a gay social experiment


Ever wonder what it would be like if the LGBT community ruled the world? Well, GLAAD Award-winner Tyra Banks wondered too, so yesterday on her show she conducted a little “social experiment” called “The Gay Kingdom.”

(I’m going to use the labels each participant gave his or herself for the sake of simplifying this post.)

Six members of the LGBT community — who identified themselves as: “masculine gay man,” “transgendered woman,” “butch lesbian,” “drag queen,” “feminine gay man,” “bisexual man,” and “lipstick lesbian” — volunteered to vote on and role play a LGBT social hierarchy, and discuss the results on Tyra’s show. With a few exceptions, their assessment of one another’s sexuality was surprisingly harsh.

The task of The Gay Kingdom was to assign the following roles to each of the participants: king, queen, pauper, jester, cook, villain, concubine. (You know, to make it as applicable to the real world as possible.)

It was conflict from the word “go” when Hedda Lettuce, the drag queen who took on the role of moderator, asked who deserved to be king. Michael, the masculine gay man, said he was the stereotypical king figure. Sam, the butch lesbian, argued that she should be king because she is able to show both strength and vulnerability. Jasen, the bisexual man, said he should be king because he is at the “top of the totem pole.”

The more masculine gay man received the most votes, and was made king.

The role of queen was just as hotly debated. The feminine gay man, the lipstick lesbian and the drag queen all wanted to take on the position. The lipstick lesbian, who ultimately won the most votes, said she should be queen because she is what society perceives as normal.

“Yeah, let’s just go with what society perceives as normal,” Sam, the butch lesbian, said, rolling her eyes.

Hedda Lettuce, the drag queen, echoed her sentiment: “Frankly, I’m shocked that we’ve gone for this very traditional, heterosexual version of what this thing should be. We are gay people; look at us!”

The other roles were doled out as follows: Sam, the butch lesbian, was made villain; Hedda Lettuce, the drag queen, was voted jester; Michael, the feminine gay man, was relegated to kitchen duty as cook; Jasen, the bisexual man, was chosen as the pauper; Sasha, the transgendered woman, was made concubine.

Things got really uncomfortable after a commercial break when Tyra had the participants on a panel to discuss their pre-recorded experience. The fictional Gay Kingdom was ready-made for conflict, because who wouldn’t choose queen over concubine? Sadly, the participants wasted no time slinging around stereotypes and harsh words back in the real world.

Nearly every participant took a shot at the bisexual man, telling him that he just needed to pick a team already. Sam, the butch lesbian, called him “confused,” to which he responded: “Then, as a member of the GLBT community, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

Everyone but the butch lesbian had harsh words for the drag queen, saying that she was just a clown in a costume, which was weird, considering that the drag queen had been nothing but eloquent and empathetic to everyone in the Gay Kingdom.

When Tyra asked Sam, the butch lesbian, why she thought she’d been made villain, she said, “They saw me as a threat. To be who I am right now, I have to have the strength and the courage to be like this 100% every day.”

Tyra noted that feminine gay men are often represented on television, but it’s very rare to see a butch lesbian portrayed. Hedda Lettuce jumped in with an assessment: “Feminine lesbians, it’s easy for men to fantasize about. Masculine lesbians, they go, ‘She can fix my car, but oh my God, don’t come near me!'”

Kayden, the lipstick lesbian, came under fire for persisting on calling herself a “straight lesbian.” She explained it like this: “Once you look at me, I don’t classify as a butch or masculine or anything. You look at me, and guys will hit on me, you know what I mean? Not knowing that I’m a lesbian, and because I am lipstick, I tend to hang out with the same type of girls like myself. We like to wear dresses, get our hair and makeup done.”

She insisted that at the end of the day, she was going home with a girl, but if she needed to trick people into thinking she is straight to get ahead, she would happily do so.

Watching the show was like watching two friends breakup on Facebook: You can’t look away, but the entire time that you’re reading the passive-aggressive status updates you’re thinking, “shouldn’t you be doing this in private.”

While I appreciate the dialogue a show like this could open up, something about it rang false. First, the sample was way too small to be indicative of an entire populace. Second, the LGBT community certainly has stereotypes and social capital issues, but on the whole I have found it to be a warm and accepting place. And third, if Tyra Banks really created a Gay Kingdom, you absolutely know she’d make herself the ruler.

What are your thoughts on The Gay Kingdom?

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