Who likes to see the naked gays on Game of Thrones? Is it the straight women watching? Or the straight men? Or the gay men? The latter category is almost definitely a yes. It makes us feel happy because we see gay men in a mainstream show, and they’re naked and having sex with each other. We’re visible that way.
I’m sure a lot of women like it too. I’m sure a lot of straight men grimace. This is the reaction that they train themselves to do—the flight away from the suggestion that they could enjoy or even be interested in the gayness. This flight is part of the performance of masculinity.
But the thing is, the gayness in Game of Thrones is hardly different at all from other representations of gayness in mainstream TV. You might think it’s different because it’s more explicit or more naked. There is no ambiguity over who is doing what to whom.
And yet men bonking each other is taboo in Westeros.
This is clearly a world where young men and women in the aristocracy and royal families are groomed by their families to marry members of the opposite sex. The role models that the peasants see are all straight (or pretending to be so). Straight marriages are one of this society’s strongest pillars. Procreation through straight sex is the principle policy driver. Gayness is a challenge to all of that. It is therefore the stuff of whispers. Even when gay relationships are in the open, they are dismissed by other characters as inconsequential, momentary, lusty.
Sound familiar? Indeed, Westeros may have dragons and family members who slay each other without any sense of modern justice…but gay people are still weird. I know that many countries in the world today are welcoming to gay people, but even in the most welcoming (mine being one of them) gay people are still seen as a bit weird. Misperceptions remain. The imposition of traditional relationship structures is still placed on gays (and straights) who feel drawn to living a different lifestyle: ‘which one of you is the woman?’, ‘are you going to get married?’, ‘will you have kids?’, ‘what do you mean you have an open relationship…?’
Game of Thrones is great fun but it does nothing to break down these misperceptions. Anyone who says it’s progress that Game of Thrones is OK to represent naked gay men can’t see far enough. Gay TV shows like Looking and Cucumber are properly progressive. The mainstream is still in the dark ages.