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Letter to Councilman LaBonge
Female Actors, Part Two
One Culture Hero Award
Adelante Gay Pride Gala
Best Work of Fiction?
Tom of Finland: Sexual Liberator or Enslaver
Lying Writers
Review of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson
Promiscuous Thoughts
A Crime of the Heart
A Letter to Michael Silverblatt
"Have you no decency, sir?"
Political Incorrectness: Female Actors and Trojans
He Hugged Moms and Dads
What is a Girly Man?
Review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
From Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive
The Gay Mammies
A Writer Protests
Review of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro
A Spirit Preserved in 'Amber'
The Supreme Court Case
Review of Live from Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal
Review of Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951 by Christopher Isherwood
Review of Out For Good
Review of Hoyt Street: an Autobiography
Review of Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict.
Review of Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation
Review of Whores for Gloria
Muscles and Mascara
Review of "Blonde"
Brother Paul, Sister Jan, Brother Hinn, God and the Folks
Advice to the Next Generation
Sins of the Fathers
Beatin' Around the Bush

Cruise Not Gay! The Judge Has Spoken

The Horror, The Horror
LA--a Cliché?
Dominick, Mark & Orenthal
Holy Drag!
Ms. Hill & Mr. Tom
Mrs. guy Ritchie 
Supreme Court 
Tom Cruise 
New Times Article 

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Female Actors, Part Two

The Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday was much like all other such events. Performers blew kisses at fans, thanked everyone in their lives, and there was abundant arrogant humility. There was, however, a major difference, a new element at play. An honorable word, "actress," was in effect banished, and the axiom never to use two words when one will do was thrust aside. For two words, "actor" and "actress," four were substituted, "male actor" and "female actor." This was a victory of sorts in a years-long campaign waged by several actresses to neuter their special designation, the main rationale being that doing so will bring about very just equality in pay and employment in admittedly male-oriented Hollywood.

     Some of us, including myself, who have consistently supported women's rights and have written extensively about unfairness in that area may rue the dour development and view it as a confusion of where equality lies. Paradoxically, the attempt to erase gender identification creates an opposite effect. The totally gender-identifying word, "female," appended, emphasizes gender much more than the suffix "-ess."

     Even more self-defeating is the implication that the male appellation is superior to the female appellation. If that is not a conclusion to be drawn, why not seek equality by extending the female form--actress--to actors? That would blur gender as effectively as the current choice, and assert the prominence of the female-designating noun; e.g., actress Woody Allen, actress Sylvestre Stallone, et al. The plural, "actors," has always designated both males and females, without qualification.

     The word actress has a long and dignified history. Sarah Bernhardt, Elenora Duse, Victoria Fabrigas, Garbo, Maria Felix--all were proud actresses and are celebrated as such. Shall history be revised and that formidable cadre of actresses now be labeled female-actors? Female actor Sarah Bernhardt! I imagine each of those grand legendary actresses, stiffening their proud backs in resistance like affronted queens--not kings.

     Shall we now refer to female princes and male princes? Female kings and male kings? The Spanish, French, Italian languages award gender even to sexless objects. The sturdy rock is "la roca," the female form, the flickering earring is "el arete," the male form. Note this spectacular assault on sexism: The male organ in Spanish is honored with a feminine designation, whereas a woman's breasts carry a masculine identification.

     As a gay man, I am no stranger to similar confusions that occur in the area of fighting prejudice through semantics. Although I now use it, I am not comfortable with the word "gay," originally a reference to loose women. Christopher Isherwood once said that the pluralization--"gays"--made us sound like bliss ninnies. Still, it is now the word of choice among homosexual men. Then there came an even more odious word, "queer." Formerly a word of oppression, the language of gay-bashers, it was quickly and eagerly seized even by dippy academics who converted into yet another undecipherable "theory."

     Queer theory! The rationale? Defuse the word of its scurrilous meaning, arrogate it, convert it. How about embracing other hateful words in order to defuse them and turn them into arcane "theories"?--denigrating names for women, for Jews, for African-Americans. Would that strip them of their dangerous power? I envy lesbians their superb appellation, with literary and historical resonance--and now, exotic popularity in a popular television series.

     The issue among actresses today in choosing to be known as "actors" is, I understand, the matter of equal pay, opportunity, non-discrimination based on gender. Great. But how does the reference "female actor" erase gender? With few exceptions, names themselves reveal gender; e.g., Jane and Jerry. Female actor Jane. Male actor Jerry.

     The struggle for equality for women in all endeavors is a noble one to be upheld and championed. But even noble struggles may diverge into well-meaning but self-defeating directions.

John Rechy
February 2007
Los Angeles, California

Click to read John Rechy's earlier thoughts on this issue in his 2005 essay, "Political Incorrectness: Female Actors and Trojans."

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