The State as the intruder: The Boys Back in the Closet

  • Simone Aramu Independent Scholar
Keywords: Hegemonic Masculinity, Queer Studies, The Boys in the Band


When The Boys in the Band premiered in 1968, Off-Broadway it was the first time that gay people had the chance to be depicted explicitly as a community, without any straight-pleasing filter on stage in the US. This play is indeed to be regarded as a watershed in gay culture, anticipating the 1969 Stonewall riots and representing a sort of double consciousness embodied by the gay people, which are interiorly divided between their identity and culture and their belonging to a nation (the American one) that despises them. The gay people tend, thus, to see themselves through straight eyes and measure their behavior through the hegemonic values.

In Mark Crowley’s play Alan, a straight pulled-together white man with an “auffully good family” plays the part of an uninvited onlooker at an all-gay birthday party. The encounter between Alan and the other members of the group triggers a sequence of reactions and counter-reactions that I intend to explore as a metaphor of the shrill collision between the gay community and the state. In truth, I read the very presence of Alan as a projection of the normative power of the state onto gay people’s life. Even though he finds himself to be the ‘sexual minority’, in fact, he does not renounce to exercise his socially granted hegemony on those whom he perceives as repulsing. He meticulously selects the men to bond with, who happen to be most adherent to an alleged heteronormativity - masculine, professional and married, taking for granted the heterosexuality of those he interacts with.

When Alan decides to talk with Hank, a straight-acting Math teacher wearing a wedding band, he not only embodies the misconceptions based on the stereotypes that mirror the majoritarian perception of gayness, as a compendium of indecency, extravagance and de-masculinization, but he also delineates a hierarchy of respectability, excluding definite behaviors and aesthetics. The party resembles an unveiled Panopticon where the subaltern can detect the origin of the normative gaze. Although this visible set-up may suggest a subversion of power dynamics, in which Alan gets recognized and subdued by the environment, he manages to reproduce his power. As a consequence of his presence, the participants of the party start self-regulating their behaviors. They stop dancing, they mutually censor themselves by limiting each other’s effeminate acting or they avoid to clarify their sexual orientation. The living room becomes a hostile place and the characters recede into the closet, where the gay men feel vulnerable and insecure, and their friendly bonds are turned into reciprocal tension and competition.

Considering Michael’s house as a shelter, and the intrusion of Alan as the extension of a norm created and endorsed by the state, I aim at analyzing the relation between the gay community and the state through a critical lens which I borrow from Michel Foucault’s ‘panopticism’ and biopolitical theory. I read the home as a heterotopia, a space that at the same time “represents, challenges, and overturns” reality, becoming a tool of contestation of an inhabited space.

Thematic Section