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Stereotyping gay men as ‘fashionable’ and ‘witty’ is damaging, says research

By Troy Nankervis

The mainstream media pushes a “harmful” narrow image of gay men through programming such as Will & Grace and Sex and the City, a new study has found.

Psychology researcher Ashley Brooks from Anglia Ruskin University in East England is conducting a study of “ambivalent homoprejudice”, and says many gay men feel pressured to adhere to particular stereotypes, reports The Independent.

Drawing on programming and pop culture figures including playwright Oscar Wilde and Irish TV host Graham Horton, Brooks said the media perpetuated an image of gay men as “overly positive”, “fashion conscious”, “witty” and “a woman’s gay best friend”.

“It can be particularly harmful for young people, adolescents who are less secure in their identity, who might feel they have to live up to the stereotype,” she said.

“And because these attitudes appear positive, they gain widespread acceptance and remain unchallenged despite their potential to cause long-term damage.”


During a series of focus groups with gay man, Brooks found participants would “deliberately point out their own terrible fashion sense and how they were quite humourless and dull.”

“There are plenty of introverted gay men who don’t want to be shoehorned into the Graham Norton box,” she said.

Cultural commentator and novelist Paul Burston agreed with the research’s findings, noting that though he might be “stylish, witty, urbane and very theatrical,” he was also “playing a part”.

“It’s not the whole of who I am,” he said. “It’s very exhausting being stylish and witty all the time. It may not be a negative stereotype, but it is still quite limiting if you are expected to behave in a particular way when that’s not really who you are.”

Burston added the way in which TV and chick lit novels have portrayed “gay men as the arbiters of taste, there for women to cry on their shoulders” was problematic and “patronising”.

“This assumption that gay men have the monopoly on being stylish and witty is terribly unfair to straight men,” he said.

“Some gay men are very, very boring and very badly dressed.”

To explore the stereotyping of gay men further, Brooks is currently seeking 1,000 respondents to complete an online questionnaire looking into people’s attitudes towards gay men.

“It is encouraging that we have transitioned from horrible, hostile [stereotypes] to something more accepting, but this is about going beyond that and appreciating the diversity within gay men.”

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