No, Cam and Mitch on ‘Modern Family’ are not ‘the gay equivalent of blackface’

12.22.14 2 years ago

Actor Tuc Watkins, best known for his role as David Vickers on “One Life to Live” and Bob Hunter on “Desperate Housewives,” took to his Facebook page to post about Cam and Mitch, the gay couple on “Modern Family” played by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. 

“Hmm. I think 'Modern Family' is clever, hilarious, even terrifically subtle at times,” he posted. “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?”

Watkins, who joined “One Life to Live” in 1994, came out as gay in 2013. Jesse Tyler Ferguson responded to his post with his own feelings about Cam and Mitch.

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 “80s 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.

A very smart and diplomatic response. Kudos to Ferguson.

My feelings aren't as cordial. You know what's an '80s stereotype, Tuc Watkins? Being a closeted actor for decades. Also: Criticizing important gay characters on TV for not being the kinds of gay characters you prefer and thinking that because you don't want Cam and Mitch at your dinner party, they must not be TV-ready. There are plenty of real gay people who act like Cam and Mitch, just like there are plenty of gay men who act like the guys on “Looking,” “Queer as Folk,” and “Will and Grace.” Just because you can identify a gay character's gayness thanks to a performer's acting choices doesn't mean his work is comparable to hideous racist caricatures. You just insulted every real gay person who relates to Cam and Mitch by mistaking your juvenile “ick” response as a salient cultural issue. I think slamming gay characters as “stereotypical” is a coward's way of saying, “I'm uncomfortable acknowledging that many gay people have specific personality traits in common.” Well, guess what? Many gay people have specific personality traits in common. Some of us think that's a great, life-affirming thing. We've fought for gay characters on TV to be out and real, not just strategic avatars designed to feel “cutting edge.”  

If Tuc Watkins thinks gay behaviors are something that should be policed, modified, or cringed at, he's definitely the dated one. 

UPDATED: Watkins responded to Ferguson with an apology and some clarifications.

Dear Jesse,

I”m glad to see that a FB post can stoke a fire that burns in the LGBT community, and supporters of our community.

Many doors have opened in gay people”s fight for equality. Civil rights, marriage rights, and depictions of us individually and collectively on television. Great strides have taken us from tolerance into acceptance and towards true equality.

Stereotypes still exist. They probably always will. And while the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, stereotypes polarize us. No news there. But while an explanation of a stereotype can make good, logical sense, it still leaves the stereotype intact.

I”m glad to have played gay characters, but at the same time have been frustrated by the stereotypes I feel I”ve been party to in playing those roles. I”ve begged wardrobe designers so I wouldn”t have to wear paisley shirts, directors to reconsider a “snap” at the end of a scene, and writers to remove ‘Hey, gurl!” from dialogue.

I did it because when I was growing up, trying to figure out where I fit it in, I couldn”t seem to locate a role model. The stereotypes I saw made me think, ‘Well, I don”t identify with that so I must not be gay.” I can appreciate that one man”s roadblock may be another man”s role model. I feel like my growth was stunted, but understand that another person”s may have been bolstered. I believe that, as a community we want to make the path easier for those who come after us. I want that. I”m certain you do too.

Some audience members can laugh through a character, but it can also distance others. We each come to the fight with our own baggage…as well as our own weaponry. ‘Revolutionary times call for revolutionary means.” My comments were extreme, and my use of the word ‘blackface” inexcusable. I regret creating dissension among the ranks, especially when we”re all in this fight together. I see your point. I hope you”ll consider mine.

Sincerely, Tuc

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