In what appears to be a now-deleted Facebook post, out actor Tuc Watkins expressed his discomfort with Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) on Modern Family, and it wasn’t kind.
Hmm. I think Modern Family is clever, hilarious, even terrifically subtle at times. But, for the most part, I have a hard time laughing at the gay guys. In fact, I kinda cringe. It feels a little bit like the gay equivalent of “blackface.” It doesn’t feel “modern” at all. Sure, people come in all shapes, sizes, etc. So why are we fed such 80s stereotypes every week?
It’s a harsh assessment, but if I’m honest, it’s nothing I haven’t thought myself at times, except I usually think “gay minstrel show.” But Jesse Tyler Ferguson responded to the post on Greg In Hollywood, and while he waited for publication, he put his unedited response on Facebook.
Oh well. Can’t please everyone. I commented on this story. It’s still being reviewed for publication by the editors but here is what I said:
Sorry you feel that way Tuc. I know lots of guys who are just like Cam and lots of guys who are just like Mitch. We can’t be expected to represent every gay person. We can only represent these two people. Also, Mitch is basically a version of me…so I never know how to take it when people say that he is stereotypical. And in defense of Cam, I still can’t figure out how a clown & football coach who also happens to be gay is a stereotype. When all is said and done, it’s a family sitcom. I feel our writers do a fantastic job of servicing 11 characters each week in just 22 minutes. I am incredibly proud to play Mitch and I have a lot of pride in our show. As a closeted kid of the 80’s I would have loved to have had a show like Modern Family to watch with my parents. It would have meant a lot to me to see who I secretly was reflected on television. TV has come a long way and it continues to forge new ground. I am thrilled with the work that you did on Desperate Housewives. It opened the door for shows like ours and hopefully we can hold that door open for many more shows to follow us. At the end of the day we can’t please everyone..and we shouldn’t try to. Kinda just like life, right? Take care. Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
Despite admitting that I’ve had these thoughts myself, I have to wonder if the discomfort with Mitch and Cam isn’t part of gay men’s long running discomfort with how we’re publicly portrayed, that it’s really fed by internalized homophobia. “I’m not that kind of gay” you hear all the time. “No femmes. Masc man seeking same” you see on Grindr. Then you’re confronted with a hugely popular portrayal on television that isn’t how you feel you want to be seen, and you run from it.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson is right. There are lots of gay men that are similar to Mitchell. And yes, “clowning” aside, even Cam. These characters are well-written, beautifully-acted positive representations, and if they make us squeamish then the problem is probably within ourselves, not the characters.