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Together Alone The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness

“I used to get so excited when the meth was all gone.”

This is my friend Jeremy.

“When you have it,” he says, “you have to keep using it. When it’s gone, it’s like, ‘Oh good, I can go back to my life now.’ I would stay up all weekend and go to these sex parties and then feel like shit until Wednesday. About two years ago I switched to cocaine because I could work the next day.”

Jeremy is telling me this from a hospital bed, six stories above Seattle. He won’t tell me the exact circumstances of the overdose, only that a stranger called an ambulance and he woke up here.

Jeremy is not the friend I was expecting to have this conversation with. Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea he used anything heavier than martinis. He is trim, intelligent, gluten-free, the kind of guy who wears a work shirt no matter what day of the week it is. The first time we met, three years ago, he asked me if I knew a good place to do CrossFit. Today, when I ask him how the hospital’s been so far, the first thing he says is that there’s no Wi-Fi, he’s way behind on work emails.

“The drugs were a combination of boredom and loneliness,” he says. “I used to come home from work exhausted on a Friday night and it’s like, ‘Now what?’ So I would dial out to get some meth delivered and check the Internet to see if there were any parties happening. It was either that or watch a movie by myself.”

1.That’s not his real name. Only a few of the names of the gay men in this article are real.

Jeremy[1] is not my only gay friend who’s struggling. There’s Malcolm, who barely leaves the house except for work because his anxiety is so bad. There’s Jared, whose depression and body dysmorphia have steadily shrunk his social life down to me, the gym and Internet hookups. And there was Christian, the second guy I ever kissed, who killed himself at 32, two weeks after his boyfriend broke up with him. Christian went to a party store, rented a helium tank, started inhaling it, then texted his ex and told him to come over, to make sure he’d find the body.

For years I’ve noticed the divergence between my straight friends and my gay friends. While one half of my social circle has disappeared into relationships, kids and suburbs, the other has struggled through isolation and anxiety, hard drugs and risky sex.

None of this fits the narrative I have been told, the one I have told myself. Like me, Jeremy did not grow up bullied by his peers or rejected by his family. He can’t remember ever being called a faggot. He was raised in a West Coast suburb by a lesbian mom. “She came out to me when I was 12,” he says. “And told me two sentences later that she knew I was gay. I barely knew at that point.”

This is a picture of me and my family when I was 9. My parents still claim that they had no idea I was gay. They’re sweet.

Jeremy and I are 34. In our lifetime, the gay community has made more progress on legal and social acceptance than any other demographic group in history. As recently as my own adolescence, gay marriage was a distant aspiration, something newspapers still put in scare quotes. Now, it’s been enshrined in law by the Supreme Court. Public support for gay marriage has climbed from 27 percent in 1996 to 61 percent in 2016. In pop culture, we’ve gone from “Cruising” to “Queer Eye” to “Moonlight.” Gay characters these days are so commonplace they’re even allowed to have flaws.

Still, even as we celebrate the scale and speed of this change, the rates of depression, loneliness and substance abuse in the gay community remain stuck in the same place they’ve been for decades. Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to take their own lives. We’re twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. And just like the last epidemic we lived through, the trauma appears to be concentrated among men. In a survey of gay men who recently arrived in New York City, three-quarters suffered from anxiety or depression, abused drugs or alcohol or were having risky sex—or some combination of the three. Despite all the talk of our “chosen families,” gay men have fewer close friends than straight people or gay women. In a survey of care-providers at HIV clinics, one respondent told researchers: “It’s not a question of them not knowing how to save their lives. It’s a question of them knowing if their lives are worth saving.”

I’m not going to pretend to be objective about any of this. I’m a perpetually single gay guy who was raised in a bright blue city by PFLAG parents. I’ve never known anyone who died of AIDS, I’ve never experienced direct discrimination and I came out of the closet into a world where marriage, a picket fence and a golden retriever were not just feasible, but expected. I’ve also been in and out of therapy more times than I’ve downloaded and deleted Grindr.

“Marriage equality and the changes in legal status were an improvement for some gay men,” says Christopher Stults, a researcher at New York University who studies the differences in mental health between gay and straight men. “But for a lot of other people, it was a letdown. Like, we have this legal status, and yet there’s still something unfulfilled.”

This feeling of emptiness, it turns out, is not just an American phenomenon. In the Netherlands, where gay marriage has been legal since 2001, gay men remain three times more likely to suffer from a mood disorder than straight men, and 10 times more likely to engage in “suicidal self-harm.” In Sweden, which has had civil unions since 1995 and full marriage since 2009, men married to men have triple the suicide rate of men married to women.

All of these unbearable statistics lead to the same conclusion: It is still dangerously alienating to go through life as a man attracted to other men. The good news, though, is that epidemiologists and social scientists are closer than ever to understanding all the reasons why.

Whether we recognize it or not, our bodies
bring the closet with us into adulthood.

Travis Salway, a researcher with the BC Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, has spent the last five years trying to figure out why gay men keep killing themselves.

“The defining feature of gay men used to be the loneliness of the closet,” he says. “But now you’ve got millions of gay men who have come out of the closet and they still feel the same isolation.”

We’re having lunch at a hole-in-the-wall noodle bar. It’s November, and he arrives wearing jeans, galoshes and a wedding ring.

“Gay-married, huh?” I say.

“Monogamous even,” he says. “I think they’re gonna give us the key to the city.”

Salway grew up in Celina, Ohio, a rusting factory town of maybe 10,000 people, the kind of place, he says, where marriage competed with college for the 21-year-olds. He got bullied for being gay before he even knew he was. “I was effeminate and I was in choir,” he says. “That was enough.” So he got careful. He had a girlfriend through most of high school, and tried to avoid boys—both romantically and platonically—until he could get out of there.

By the late 2000s, he was a social worker and epidemiologist and, like me, was struck by the growing distance between his straight and gay friends. He started to wonder if the story he had always heard about gay men and mental health was incomplete.

When the disparity first came to light in the ’50s and ’60s, doctors thought it was a symptom of homosexuality itself, just one of many manifestations of what was, at the time, known as “sexual inversion.” As the gay rights movement gained steam, though, homosexuality disappeared from the DSM and the explanation shifted to trauma. Gay men were being kicked out of their own families, their love lives were illegal. Of course they had alarming rates of suicide and depression. “That was the idea I had, too,” Salway says, “that gay suicide was a product of a bygone era, or it was concentrated among adolescents who didn’t see any other way out.”

And then he looked at the data. The problem wasn’t just suicide, it wasn’t just afflicting teenagers and it wasn’t just happening in areas stained by homophobia. He found that gay men everywhere, at every age, have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, incontinence, erectile dysfunction,⁠ allergies and asthma—you name it, we got it. In Canada, Salway eventually discovered, more gay men were dying from suicide than from AIDS, and had been for years. (This might be the case in the U.S. too, he says, but no one has bothered to study it.)

“We see gay men who have never been sexually or physically assaulted with similar post-traumatic stress symptoms to people who have been in combat situations or who have been raped,” says Alex Keuroghlian, a psychiatrist at the Fenway Institute’s Center for Population Research in LGBT Health.

Gay men are, as Keuroghlian puts it, “primed to expect rejection.” We’re constantly scanning social situations for ways we may not fit into them. We struggle to assert ourselves. We replay our social failures on a loop.

The weirdest thing about these symptoms, though, is that most of us don’t see them as symptoms at all. Since he looked into the data, Salway has started interviewing gay men who attempted suicide and survived.

“When you ask them why they tried to kill themselves,” he says, “most of them don’t mention anything at all about being gay.” Instead, he says, they tell him they’re having relationship problems, career problems, money problems. “They don’t feel like their sexuality is the most salient aspect of their lives. And yet, they’re an order of magnitude more likely to kill themselves.”

The term researchers use to explain this phenomenon is “minority stress.” In its most direct form, it’s pretty simple: Being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort. When you’re the only woman at a business meeting, or the only black guy in your college dorm, you have to think on a level that members of the majority don’t. If you stand up to your boss, or fail to, are you playing into stereotypes of women in the workplace? If you don’t ace a test, will people think it’s because of your race? Even if you don’t experience overt stigma, considering these possibilities takes its toll over time.

For gay people, the effect is magnified by the fact that our minority status is hidden. Not only do we have to do all this extra work and answer all these internal questions when we’re 12, but we also have to do it without being able to talk to our friends or parents about it.

John Pachankis, a stress researcher at Yale, says the real damage gets done in the five or so years between realizing your sexuality and starting to tell other people. Even relatively small stressors in this period have an outsized effect—not because they’re directly traumatic, but because we start to expect them. “No one has to call you queer for you to adjust your behavior to avoid being called that,” Salway says.

James, now a mostly-out 20-year-old, tells me that in seventh grade, when he was a closeted 12-year-old, a female classmate asked him what he thought about another girl. “Well, she looks like a man,” he said, without thinking, “so yeah, maybe I would have sex with her.”

Immediately, he says, he panicked. “I was like, did anyone catch that? Did they tell anyone else I said it that way?”

This is how I spent my adolescence, too: being careful, slipping up, stressing out, overcompensating. Once, at a water park, one of my middle-school friends caught me staring at him as we waited for a slide. “Dude, did you just check me out?” he said. I managed to deflect—something like “Sorry, you’re not my type”—then I spent weeks afterward worried about what he was thinking about me. But he never brought it up. All the bullying took place in my head.

“The trauma for gay men is the prolonged nature of it,” says William Elder, a sexual trauma researcher and psychologist. “If you experience one traumatic event, you have the kind of PTSD that can be resolved in four to six months of therapy. But if you experience years and years of small stressors—little things where you think, Was that because of my sexuality?—that can be even worse.”

Or, as Elder puts it, being in the closet is like someone having someone punch you lightly on the arm, over and over. At first, it’s annoying. After a while, it’s infuriating. Eventually, it’s all you can think about.

And then the stress of dealing with it every day begins to build up in your body.

Growing up gay, it seems, is bad for you in many of the same ways as growing up in extreme poverty. A 2015 study found that gay people produce less cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress. Their systems were so activated, so constantly, in adolescence that they ended up sluggish as grownups, says Katie McLaughlin, one of the study’s co-authors. In 2014, researchers compared straight and gay teenagers on cardiovascular risk. They found that the gay kids didn’t have a greater number of “stressful life events” (i.e. straight people have problems, too), but the ones they did experience inflicted more harm on their nervous systems.

Annesa Flentje, a stress researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, specializes in the effect of minority stress on gene expression. All those little punches combine with our adaptations to them, she says, and become “automatic ways of thinking that never get challenged or turned off, even 30 years later.” Whether we recognize it or not, our bodies bring the closet with us into adulthood. “We don’t have the tools to process stress as kids, and we don’t recognize it as trauma as adults,” says John, a former consultant who quit his job two years ago to make pottery and lead adventure tours in the Adirondacks. “Our gut reaction is to deal with things now the way we did as children.”

Even Salway, who has devoted his career to understanding minority stress, says that there are days when he feels uncomfortable walking around Vancouver with his partner. No one’s ever attacked them, but they’ve had a few assholes yell slurs at them in public. That doesn’t have to happen very many times before you start expecting it, before your heart starts beating a little faster when you see a car approaching.

But minority stress doesn’t fully explain why gay men have such a wide array of health problems. Because while the first round of damage happens before we come out of the closet, the second, and maybe more severe, comes afterward.

“You go from your mom’s house to a gay club where a lot of people are on drugs
and it’s like, this is my community? It’s like
the fucking jungle.”

No one ever told Adam not to act effeminate. But he, like me, like most of us, learned it somehow.

“I never worried about my family being homophobic,” he says. “I used to do this thing where I would wrap a blanket around myself like a dress and dance around in the backyard. My parents thought it was cute, so they took a video and showed it to my grandparents. When they all watched the tape, I hid behind the couch because I was so ashamed. I must have been six or seven.”

By the time he got to high school, Adam had learned to manage his mannerisms so well that no one suspected him of being gay. But still, he says, “I couldn’t trust anyone because I had this thing I was holding. I had to operate in the world as a lone agent.”

He came out at 16, then graduated, then moved to San Francisco and started working in HIV prevention. But the feeling of distance from other people didn’t go away. So he treated it, he says, “with lots and lots of sex. It’s our most accessible resource in the gay community. You convince yourself that if you’re having sex with someone, you’re having an intimate moment. That ended up being a crutch.”

He worked long hours. He would come home exhausted, smoke a little weed, pour a glass of red wine, then start scanning the hookup apps for someone to invite over. Sometimes it would be two or three guys in a row. “As soon as I closed the door on the last guy, I’d think, That didn’t hit the spot, then I’d find another one.”

It went on like this for years. Last Thanksgiving, he was back home to visit his parents and felt a compulsive need to have sex because he was so stressed out. When he finally found a guy nearby who was willing to hook up, he ran to his parents’ room and started rifling through their drawers to see if they had any Viagra.

“So that was the rock-bottom moment?” I ask.

“That was the third or fourth, yeah,” he says.

Adam’s now in a 12-step program for sex addiction. It’s been six weeks since he’s had sex. Before this, the longest he had ever gone was three or four days.

“There are people who have lots of sex because it’s fun, and that’s fine. But I kept trying to wring it out like a rag to get something out of it that wasn’t in there—social support, or companionship. It was a way of not dealing with my own life. And I kept denying it was a problem because I had always told myself, ‘I’ve come out, I moved to San Francisco, I’m done, I did what I had to do as a gay person.’”

For decades, this is what psychologists thought, too: that the key stages in identity formation for gay men all led up to coming out, that once we were finally comfortable with ourselves, we could begin building a life within a community of people who’d gone through the same thing. But over the last 10 years, what researchers have discovered is that the struggle to fit in only grows more intense. A study published in 2015 found that rates of anxiety and depression were higher in men who had recently come out than in men who were still closeted.

“It’s like you emerge from the closet expecting to be this butterfly and the gay community just slaps the idealism out of you,” Adam says. When he first started coming out, he says, “I went to West Hollywood because I thought that’s where my people were. But it was really horrifying. It’s made by gay adults, and it’s not welcoming for gay kids. You go from your mom’s house to a gay club where a lot of people are on drugs and it’s like, this is my community? It’s like the fucking jungle.”

“I came out when I was 17, and I didn’t see a place for myself in the gay scene,” says Paul, a software developer. “I wanted to fall in love like I saw straight people do in movies. But I just felt like a piece of meat. It got so bad that I used to go to the grocery store that was 40 minutes away instead of the one that was 10 minutes away just because I was so afraid to walk down the gay street.”

The word I hear from Paul, from everyone, is “re-traumatized.” You grow up with this loneliness, accumulating all this baggage, and then you arrive in the Castro or Chelsea or Boystown thinking you’ll finally be accepted for who you are. And then you realize that everyone else here has baggage, too. All of a sudden it’s not your gayness that gets you rejected. It’s your weight, or your income, or your race. “The bullied kids of our youth,” Paul says, “grew up and became bullies themselves.”

“Gay men in particular are just not very nice to each other,” says John, the adventure tour guide. “In pop culture, drag queens are known for their takedowns and it’s all ha ha ha. But that meanness is almost pathological. All of us were deeply confused or lying to ourselves for a good chunk of our adolescence. But it’s not comfortable for us to show that to other people. So we show other people what the world shows us, which is nastiness.”

Every gay man I know carries around a mental portfolio of all the shitty things other gay men have said and done to him. I arrived to a date once and the guy immediately stood up, said I was shorter than I looked in my pictures and left. Alex, a fitness instructor in Seattle, was told by a guy on his swim team, “I’ll ignore your face if you fuck me without a condom.” Martin, a Brit living in Portland, has gained maybe 10 pounds since he moved there and got a Grindr message—on Christmas Day—that said: “You used to be so sexy. It’s a shame you messed it up.”

For other minority groups, living in a community with people like them is linked to lower rates of anxiety and depression. It helps to be close to people who instinctively understand you. But for us, the effect is the opposite. Several studies have found that living in gay neighborhoods predicts higher rates of risky sex and meth use and less time spent on other community activities like volunteering or playing sports. A 2009 study suggested that gay men who were more linked to the gay community were less satisfied with their own romantic relationships.

“Gay and bisexual men talk about the gay community as a significant source of stress in their lives,” Pachankis says. The fundamental reason for this, he says, is that “in-group discrimination” does more harm to your psyche than getting rejected by members of the majority. It’s easy to ignore, roll your eyes and put a middle finger up to straight people who don’t like you because, whatever, you don’t need their approval anyway. Rejection from other gay people, though, feels like losing your only way of making friends and finding love. Being pushed away from your own people hurts more because you need them more.

The researchers I spoke to explained that gay guys inflict this kind of damage on each other for two main reasons. The first, and the one I heard most frequently, is that gay men are shitty to each other because, basically, we’re men.

“The challenges of masculinity get magnified in a community of men,” Pachankis says. “Masculinity is precarious. It has to be constantly enacted or defended or collected. We see this in studies: You can threaten masculinity among men and then look at the dumb things they do. They show more aggressive posturing, they start taking financial risks, they want to punch things.”

This helps explain the pervasive stigma against feminine guys in the gay community. According to Dane Whicker, a clinical psychologist and researcher at Duke, most gay men report that they want to date someone masculine, and that they wished they acted more masculine themselves. Maybe that’s because, historically, masculine men have been more able to blend into straight society. Or maybe it’s internalized homophobia: Feminine gay men are still stereotyped as bottoms, the receptive partner in anal sex.

A two-year longitudinal study found that the longer gay men were out of the closet, the more likely they were to become versatile or tops. Researchers say this kind of training, deliberately trying to appear more masculine and taking on a different sex role, is just one of the ways gay men pressure each other to attain “sexual capital,” the equivalent of going to the gym or plucking our eyebrows.

“The only reason I started working out was so I would seem like a feasible top,” Martin says. When he first came out, he was convinced that he was too skinny, too effeminate, that bottoms would think he was one of them. “So I started faking all this hyper-masculine behavior. My boyfriend noticed recently that I still lower my voice an octave whenever I order drinks. That’s a remnant of my first few years out of the closet, when I thought I had to speak in this Christian Bale Batman voice to get dates.”

Grant, a 21-year-old who grew up on Long Island and now lives in Hell’s Kitchen, says he used to be self-conscious about the way he stood—hands on hips, one leg slightly cocked like a Rockette. So, his sophomore year, he started watching his male teachers for their default positions, deliberately standing with his feet wide, his arms at his sides.

These masculinity norms exert a toll on everyone, even their perpetrators. Feminine gay men are at higher risk of suicide, loneliness and mental illness. Masculine gay men, for their part, are more anxious, have more risky sex and use drugs and tobacco with greater frequency. One study investigating why living in the gay community increases depression found that the effect only showed up in masculine gay guys.

The second reason the gay community acts as a unique stressor on its members is not about why we reject each other, but how.

In the last 10 years, traditional gay spaces—bars, nightclubs, bathhouses—have begun to disappear, and have been replaced by social media. At least 70 percent of gay men now use hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff to meet each other. In 2000, around 20 percent of gay couples met online. By 2010, that was up to 70 percent. Meanwhile, the share of gay couples who met through friends dropped from 30 percent to 12 percent.

Usually when you hear about the shocking primacy of hookup apps in gay life—Grindr, the most popular, says its average user spends 90 minutes per day on it—it’s in some panicked media story about murderers or homophobes trawling them for victims, or about the troubling “chemsex” scenes that have sprung up in London and New York. And yes, those are problems. But the real effect of the apps is quieter, less remarked-upon and, in a way, more profound: For many of us, they have become the primary way we interact with other gay people.

“It’s so much easier to meet someone for a hookup on Grindr than it is to go to a bar by yourself,” Adam says. “Especially if you’ve just moved to a new city, it’s so easy to let the dating apps become your social life. It’s harder to look for social situations where you might have to make more of an effort.”

“I have moments when I want to feel desired and so I get on Grindr,” Paul says. “I upload a shirtless picture and I start getting these messages telling me I’m hot. It feels good in the moment, but nothing ever comes of it, and those messages stop coming after a few days. It feels like I’m scratching an itch, but it’s scabies. It’s just going to spread.”

The worst thing about the apps, though, and why they’re relevant to the health disparity between gay and straight men, is not just that we use them a lot. It is that they are almost perfectly designed to underline our negative beliefs about ourselves. In interviews that Elder, the post-traumatic stress researcher, conducted with gay men in 2015, he found that 90 percent said they wanted a partner who was tall, young, white, muscular and masculine. For the vast majority of us who barely meet one of those criteria, much less all five, the hookup apps merely provide an efficient way to feel ugly.

Paul says he’s “electrified waiting for rejection” as soon as he opens them. John, the former consultant, is 27, 6-foot-1 and has a six-pack you can see through his wool sweater. And even he says most of his messages don’t get replies, that he spends probably 10 hours talking to people on the app for every one hour he spends meeting for coffee or a hookup.

It’s worse for gay men of color. Vincent, who runs counseling sessions with black and Latino men through the San Francisco Department of Public Health, says the apps give racial minorities two forms of feedback: Rejected (“Sorry, I’m not into black guys”) and fetishized (“Hi, I’m really into black guys.”) Paihan, a Taiwanese immigrant in Seattle, shows me his Grindr inbox. It is, like mine, mostly hellos he has sent out to no reply. One of the few messages he received just says, “Asiiiaaaan.”

None of this is new, of course. Walt Odets, a psychologist who’s been writing about social isolation since the 1980s, says that gay men used to be troubled by the bathhouses in the same way they are troubled by Grindr now. The difference he sees in his younger patients is that “if someone rejected you at a bathhouse, you could still have a conversation afterwards. Maybe you end up with a friend out of it, or at least something that becomes a positive social experience. On the apps, you just get ignored if someone doesn’t perceive you as a sexual or romantic conquest.” The gay men I interviewed talked about the dating apps the same way straight people talk about Comcast: It sucks, but what are you gonna do? “You have to use the apps in smaller cities,” says Michael Moore, a psychologist at Yale. “They serve the purpose of a gay bar. But the downside is that they put all this prejudice out there.”

What the apps reinforce, or perhaps simply accelerate, is the adult version of what Pachankis calls the Best Little Boy in the World Hypothesis. As kids, growing up in the closet makes us more likely to concentrate our self-worth into whatever the outside world wants us to be—good at sports, good at school, whatever. As adults, the social norms in our own community pressure us to concentrate our self-worth even further—into our looks, our masculinity, our sexual performance. But then, even if we manage to compete there, even if we attain whatever masc-dom-top ideal we’re looking for, all we’ve really done is condition ourselves to be devastated when we inevitably lose it.

“We often live our lives through the eyes of others,” says Alan Downs, a psychologist and the author of The Velvet Rage, a book about gay men’s struggle with shame and social validation. “We want to have man after man, more muscles, more status, whatever brings us fleeting validation. Then we wake up at 40, exhausted, and we wonder, Is that all there is? And then the depression comes.”

FX Boss On Giving Platform To Older Actresses, Continuing Diversity Push: TCA


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (7820618c)
John Landgraf
FX Executive Session, TCA Winter Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA - 12 Jan 2017

FX has a had more nominations for mature women than any other brand in television for the last decade for acting awards,” FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said during the company’s TCA executive session today. And that was a longtime strategy that hails back to Landgraf’s early days at FX when the network had three major series on the air, Nip/Tuck, The Shield and Rescue Me, all with male leads.


That is when the network was pitched Breaking Bad but opted to go with legal drama Damages starring Glenn Close instead.

“Of course I wish I didn’t pass on Breaking Bad but I’m glad we picked up Damages. We were the first to bring a female film star to be on a show (with Close’s arc on The Shield.) She had said after that that she would not do a television show unless we wanted to develop for her. Even though it didn’t win as many awards as Breaking Bad, Damages set the stage for our ambition to bring great female actrors to our network.”

Jessica lange Susan Sarandon

The list includes Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates, stars of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story and his upcoming Feud: Bette and Joan, which as Landgraf noted, features four Oscar-winning actresses, Lange, Bates, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Lange, Sarandon and Murphy carried on the topic of ageism in Hollywood and its impact on actresses during the Feud panel that followed the executive session.

Landgraf also reiterated the network’s commitment to increasing diversity behind the camera. Following FX’s push to get from the back to the front of the pack in diversity among episodic directors, going from 88% to 48% white male directors over a year, the network will continue the effort, Landgraf said.

“It’s a mandate in terms of hiring writing staffs to have greater diversity, it’s a work in process. And we said we were going to do it, and we’re going to keep going until every aspect of our channel is fair and better reflects the diversity of the population of the country we live in and is not as skewed as the whole industry has been towards white heterosexual males.”

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s race swapping shows the limitations of white writers tackling black perspectives

“The Gang Turns Black” is more insightful on body-swap clichés than racism.

A Timeline of the Gay Male–Straight Female Friendship on TV


Photo: Kelly Chiello and Photos by Getty Images, HBO, Hulu

It’s a tale as old as time: A gay man meets a straight woman on a TV show and friendship sparks fly. With the latest iteration of this all-important relationship, Difficult People — starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner — in the middle of its second season on Hulu, we decided to take a look back and trace its evolution on TV. Early on, the gay male was often presented as an afterthought on television (see: Coco, the gay houseboy on The Golden Girls never to be seen again after the pilot), or as accessories to the lovelorn female character (see: Stanford Blatch to Carrie Bradshaw). Whereas lesbians have been largely ignored in the cultural landscape, for decades gay men have served as wise, sassy sages, snapping in a Z formation and providing a sympathetic shoulder for women to cry on. But, as Dan Savage says: It gets better! Over time, gay men have become fuller, more well-rounded characters, and consequently, their friendships with women are more three-dimensional: They’re equals more than they are appendages. Let’s take a little tour through the most memorable straight-gay TV friendships from the past 30 years.

The Golden Girls, 1985
The friends:
Coco and the Golden Girls
The relationship:
The pilot episode featured Coco, a manservant cum houseboy who existed as a literal set piece for the women to interact with, and dressed like a fully clothed Agador Spartacus, Hank Azaria’s character in The Birdcage.
The read:
Coco doesn’t really do much except stir a pan of enchiladas with a very limp wrist. And after the creators of the show realized that the Golden Girls could stand on their own, Coco was never seen again.

My So Called Life, 1994–1995
The friends:
Ricky, Angela, and Rayanne
The relationship:
Ricky Vasquez was friends with Rayanne first, but after Angela dyed her hair and ditched the normies to hang out with them, she joined the fold.
The read:
Ricky, Angela, and Rayanne’s friendship felt revolutionary for its time, and Wilson Cruz’s portrayal of Ricky deserves more recognition. As the first openly gay teenage character on American network television, he opened doors for the rest of the teens on this list. His sexuality is not a plot device to further his relationship with Angela and Rayanne, but an important story line on its own.
Memorable moment:
When Ricky’s emotionally and occasionally physically abusive uncle kicks him out of the house, Angela and her family take him in, no questions asked.

The Show: Sex and the City, 1998–2004
The friends:
Carrie and Stanford; Charlotte and Anthony
The relationship
: Stanford is Carrie’s trusted confidant, unafraid to call Carrie on her various transgressions. Anthony serves a similar purpose for Charlotte but, like, way sassier.
The read:
Stanford is fully formed but exists as a secondary character, present mostly to dish up advice and catty quips. Anthony is a stylist who exists solely to fluff Charlotte’s ego. Eventually, the two characters marry each other in Sex and the City 2 in a move that only makes sense because, naturally, two gay men who’ve spent time together always, always get married.
Memorable moment:
Carrie improbably walks in a couture show wearing nude sequined underpants and a royal blue morning coat and trips. As Heidi Klum steps over her prone form, the camera cuts to Stanford, who proclaims her “fashion roadkill.”

Will and Grace, 1998–2006
The friends:
Will and Grace; Jack and Karen
The relationship:
Will and Grace have been friends since college. She dated Will in college (a popular trope) and is positioned as the slovenly, neurotic foil to Will’s smooth high-performer. Jack, Will’s flamboyant best friend, met Grace’s functionally alcoholic design assistant, Karen, and the two have been besties ever since.
The read:
The friendship between Will and Grace laid the groundwork for almost every other gay male–straight female friendship depicted in popular culture — see Michael J. Willett’s role in the not-very-good 2013 movie Gay Best Friend and the relationship between Sasan (Zachary Quinto) and Tori Spelling in So Notorious, the VH1 sitcom based loosely on Spelling’s own life. Jack and Karen’s ecstatic friendship is similar to Will and Grace’s, too, but it’s played primarily for comic relief more than anything else.
Memorable moment:
In the episode “Das Boob,” Grace’s water bra springs a leak at a very important gallery opening and the beautiful bit of physical comedy that follows is the perfect representation of why their friendship works.

Dawson’s Creek, 1998–2003
The friends
: Jack and Jen
The relationship:
Jack dated Joey first, but then realized that he was gay. Naturally, since Joey was busy with other things — namely Dawson, Pacey, and rowing that boat to shore over and over again — Jack bonded with Jen because outcasts have to stick together.
The read:
Why do so many of these friendships start with misguided romantic interest? Regardless, after Jack comes out, he and Jen become best friends and even follow each other to “Boston Bay College,” which is most likely a stand-in for Emerson College, an artsy liberal arts school in Boston full of theater majors and would-be novelists. Jack and Jen are two misanthropic peas in a pod, like a sadder and angstier version of Kurt and Rachel from Glee.
Memorable moment:
In a move straight out of a yet-to-be-written Nicholas Sparks book, at the end of the series, Jen’s “weak heart” finally betrays her. She leaves her best friend Jack with something that every 25-year-old man surely wants: a 1-year-old baby named Amy.

Queer As Folk, 2000–2005
The friends:
Debbie and everyone else on the show, basically.
The relationship:
Debbie is the mother of one of the protagonists, Michael, and on just about every count they are very — maybe uncomfortably — close. She runs the Liberty Cafe that functions kind of like Central Perk, but covered in rainbows. She’s super chill about homosexuality.
The read
: Before anyone self-identified as an ally, there was Debbie Novotny, PFLAG mom and proud wearer of rainbow vests and shirts. She’s comic relief, but she also represents an idealized version of a parent with a gay son: supportive, bawdy, and loving.
Memorable moment:
Debbie gladly opens her house to her son’s friends, providing a safe haven for those whose parents are less accepting than her. Nothing shows her generosity of spirit more than the slightly after-school special moment when she finds Justin’s art in the trash and talks him into following his dreams as an artist.

Degrassi: The Next Generation, 2001–2015
The friends:
Marco and Ellie
The relationship:
Ellie misinterprets Maco’s interest in the Edward Gorey book she was reading as romantic interest, but because Marco wasn’t 100 percent sure of his own sexuality, they “date” for a while. When Ellie presses Marco to go further, they eventually kiss. He then comes out to her, and she agrees to be his beard for a spell, but he eventually comes out.
The read:
Because Degrassi is an earnest show for teens, Marco’s sexuality is treated with the kind of consideration most other shows lack. He’s a fully formed person with his own story lines and is never seen as an accessory or an accomplice.
Memorable moment:
Ellie reaches her breaking point as Marco’s beard and tells him she won’t do it anymore, leaving Marco to figure out how to handle his sexuality by himself.

Gossip Girl, 2007–2012
The friends:
Eric van der Woodsen and Jenny Humphrey
The relationship
: United initially as outcasts and then divided by Jenny Humphrey’s bad eyeliner and social-climbing ways, Eric started out as Jenny’s friend and stuck by her side until he realized she was turning into a monster.
The read:
This started out feeling like a real friendship based on their shared status as social pariahs, like Kurt and Rachel on Glee but with more social climbing and class anxiety. Eric stood by Jenny long enough for her to realize that he was more useful to her for access than actual friendship.
Memorable moment
: Eric’s boyfriend Jonathan accidentally starts a feud with Jenny and her friends, which ends with Eric getting splattered with yogurt.

Glee, 2009–2015
The friends:
Kurt and Rachel
The relationship:
Hummelberry started out as frenemies competing for the honored title of the best Glee club singer and the attention of Finn. They eventually become friends, move to New York, leave New York, and finally, return to McKinley High in order to fulfill their destiny of running the Glee Club.
The read:
They are the distillation of every high-school musical-theater enthusiast’s friendship with their teenage partner in crime, but with more nuance than one would expect from a show about dorky theater kids who break out in song every five minutes or so.
Memorable moment:
The “Diva-Off” between Kurt’s upper register and Rachel’s earnest singing face set to the tune of “Defying Gravity” at the end of the first season is the moment they realized they were stronger together.

Real Housewives of Atlanta, 2008–present
The friends:
Miss Lawrence, Derek J, and Sheree Whitfield
The relationship:
Miss Lawrence and Derek J were brought on the show to serve as Sheree’s friends, confidantes, and erstwhile hairstylists.
The read: The Real Housewives haven’t always been the most enlightened in their relationships with gay men on the show, treating them as set dressing rather than actual human beings. Both men left the show due to the Housewives’ constant and insidious homophobia.
Memorable moment
: Since Miss Lawrence and Derek J have moved on to better and bigger things, the best encapsulation of their place in the Real Housewives’ ecosystem is their web series, Spill the Tea, in which both gentlemen sit in a Bravo-branded studio in bathrobes and, uh, spill the tea.

Happy Endings, 2011–2013
The friends:
Max and Penny
The relationship:
Max and Penny are intimately close, and inhabit a special world in which everything they do or say is uproariously funny to one another.
The read:
Max is the least “stereotypical” gay man on this list: He’s slovenly, lazy, and a total bro. Also, his codependent relationship with Penny borders on the unhealthy and dips occasionally into toxic territory, but that’s probably the most realistic thing about it.
Memorable moment:
Halloween episodes are usually hit or miss, but Penny dressed as a mother with Max as her child strapped to her chest in a Baby Bjorn with bonus interactive arms is the best Halloween costume of all time.

Girls, 2012–present
The characters:
Hannah and Elijah
The relationship:
Hannah used to date Elijah in college and found out he was gay after he came out to her over drinks in the first season. He and Hannah later reconnect and move in together after Marnie moves out. His relationship with Hannah has a ride-or-die ethos to it.
The read:
Elijah is the moral center of the show, unafraid to tell the titular girls precisely how and why they are the way they are.
Memorable moment:
When Elijah presciently called Hannah’s father gay all the way back in the first season after unceremoniously coming out to Hannah and leaving.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 2015–now
The friends:
Titus Andromedon and Kimmy
The relationship:
Kimmy Schmidt was sprung from an underground bunker and moves in with Titus in Brooklyn.
The read
: Kimmy doesn’t understand anything and Titus, who hasn’t lived in a bunker, knows a thing or two. For the first season, he mainly functions as Kimmy’s introduction to the world, but in season two, Titus gets his own story lines, including a boyfriend. As it grows, their relationship begins to show reciprocity — an image of what an actual, healthy friendship can look like.
Memorable moment:
While Lillian may have been manning the camera for Titus’s seminal work, “Peeno Noir,” without Kimmy working as Jacqueline’s best friend/servant, there would be no opulent setting for this music video.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Music Video “Peeno Noir” from InSync PLUS on Vimeo.

Orphan Black, 2013–2016
The friends:
Felix and Sarah Manning
The relationship:
Felix and Sarah were both adopted by Mrs. S and spent their teen years running amok in London. Sarah finds out that she’s a clone. Felix does whatever it is he can to help her deal with this.
The read:
Sarah and Felix begin as siblings bordering on friends, but he seems to have evolved from fully fledged character to fall guy for everything Sarah and her sisters get mixed up with. Felix is there for every single clone for whatever they need, which is an awful lot of emotional labor.

Looking, 2014–2015
The friends:
Doris and Dom
The relationship:
Doris and Dom are high-school friends, roommates, and as close as two people can get without being in a romantic relationship.
The read:
Doris and Dom are perhaps the best example of a gay-straight friendship on this list because they feel like real friends. Just about every interaction they have demonstrates how much they care about each other.
Memorable moment:
Doris and Dom discussing a much-maligned chicken shack in what looks to be the worst Zumba class I’ve ever seen.

Difficult People, 2015–present
The friends:
Billy and Julie
The relationship:
Billy Kessler and Julie Epstein are best friends and aspiring comedians with strong personalities and an alarming lack of self-awareness. They like each other and don’t really like anyone else.
The read:
Billy and Julie are friends because they have the same interests and disinterests. Nothing about Billy’s sexuality feels like it’s played for a joke and Julie is just as “difficult” as he is, so they’re on equal footing.
Memorable moment:
Watching Billy and Julie walk down the street in the opening scene of the pilot and listening to their non-stop commentary felt like eavesdropping on the perfect conversation.

James O’Keefe Stings Himself

On March 16th, a man who said his name was Victor left a voice message at the offices of the Open Society Foundations, which are funded by George Soros, saying that he was a potential donor. Then, he forgot to hang up the phone, and the machine recorded “Victor” and his staff describing what sounded like an entrapment scheme. This week, James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who has used undercover videos to try to embarrass Planned Parenthood, NPR, and ACORN, admitted that he was the caller and apologized to his supporters for the failed operation. On “The New Yorker Radio Hour,” the staff writer Jane Mayer goes through the voice-mail recording to see what it tells us about O’Keefe’s methods and the scope of his ambitions.

The Guy Behind the Planned Parenthood Sting Videos Is Now In Trouble With a Second State

Y’all remember David Daleiden, the guy behind the attack videos against Planned Parenthood, don’t you? Well, his videos generated a bunch of state investigations that turned up no evidence at all of any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. But how about wrongdoing by Daleiden? That’s a whole different kettle of fish. A second state is now going after him:

Investigators with the California Department of Justice on Tuesday raided the home of David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind a series of undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood, the activist said. Authorities seized a laptop and multiple hard drives from his Orange County apartment, Daleiden said in an email. The equipment contained all of the video Daleiden had filmed as part of his 30-month project, “including some very damning footage that has yet to be released to the public,” he said.

Daleiden is now in trouble with both Texas and California. But I suppose it’s all good PR as long as they spell his name right. At this point, Daleiden can probably do better as a martyr for the cause than he can as a straightforward activist. After all, his activism produced squat—except for lots of death threats against abortion providers. But maybe that was the whole plan.

How Netflix’s Original Programming Is Poised to Outpace the Top Cable Networks, in One Chart


Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by Netflix, FX and HBO

Just before the February 2013 debut of House of Cards, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos revealed his game plan for the streaming service. “The goal,” he told GQ, “is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” More than a few TV-industry insiders dismissed Sarandos’s statement as bluster, tough talk from a Silicon Valley outsider playing to investors and the tech media. But by at least one major metric — the size of its original programming roster — it turns out Sarandos wasn’t bluffing. Barely three years after it started churning out its own programming, Netflix already has more original series in various stages of production than HBO, the longtime leader of premium cable content and a network that has been in business for over 40 years. What’s more, as the chart below illustrates, Netflix next year is poised to expand its lineup to more than two dozen series, blowing past both HBO and TV’s most prolific basic-cable programmer, FX/FXX. A service until recently known mostly for repurposing other people’s movies and TV shows will thus achieve a major milestone: It will boast the biggest collection of first-run scripted content of any other subscription-based network in America, cable or streaming.

To be clear, having so many shows in production does not by itself stand as some sort of “game over” moment for Netflix or its rivals. HBO still maintains a massive lead in Emmy nominations, this month pulling in 126 nods versus 34 for Netflix. HBO this year also did what Sarandos predicted it would back in 2013: It “became” Netflix by launching HBO Now, the direct-to-consumer, no-cable-subscription-required clone of the mothership. And then there’s the yardstick that matters most to Netflix shareholders: profitability. While Netflix last year had more subscribers and revenue than HBO, the cable veteran still outpaced Netflix in terms of overall profitability (by a margin of nearly 10 to 1, by one analysis).

And yet the rapid rise of Netflix as a source of original programming is breathtaking — and without recent historical precedent. FX and HBO, for example, had been in business for one and two decades, respectively, before they began seriously expanding their scripted offerings — and then did so at a much more measured pace than Netflix. (It should be noted that both FX and HBO stepped up the pace of development in recent years — a reaction to the disruptive force that is Netflix as well as the slew of other new entrants into the scripted game.) On the broadcast side, the (relatively) short-lived WB and UPN took about five years to build up to their peak programming rosters in the late 1990s, and then rarely produced more than 16–18 titles each season. Fox followed a similar flight path as it built up its slate in the early 1990s. The closest precedent to Netflix’s scale-up can probably be found back in the earliest days of linear television, in the late 1940s and early ’50s, when CBS, DuMont, and NBC invented the notion of TV networks in America and flooded the airwaves with programming (even then, many shows were unscripted or only 15 minutes in length).

To illustrate just how quickly Netflix has evolved into a programming powerhouse — and how its lineup has grown relative to its main rivals — we’ve put together an interactive chart documenting all of the service’s scripted originals, by year, since the 2012 launch of Lilyhammer. For comparison’s sake, we’ve also included similar charts for HBO and FX, currently the leading suppliers of first-run scripted fare in the premium and basic-cable spaces. A few ground rules:

  • Our chart counts only comedies and drama series that run at least five episodes, thus accounting for limited-event programs (the single season [so far] revival of Arrested Development and next month’s David Simon–produced Show Me a Hero on HBO) but leaving out short-run mini-series (thus, no Casual Vacancy).
  • We left out series designed strictly for kids; those with crossover appeal, such as Netflix’s upcoming Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, are included.
  • We’ve folded in programming produced in conjunction with, or acquired from, international partners, and we’ve marked those shows accordingly. (Right now, these shows give a bigger boost to Netflix’s overall tally, though by next year, it is still expected to have more originals than HBO or FX even when acquisitions are excluded from its tally.)
  • We’ve listed some veteran shows during years in which they didn’t actually air original episodes: FX’s Louie, for example, didn’t have new installments last year, but it was still part of the network’s roster in the minds of viewers and execs.
  • And two final notes: First, since Netflix, HBO, and FX haven’t announced premiere dates for everything on their rosters, we’ve combined shows that have already debuted this year with those scheduled to launch later (in 2015, 2016, or possibly even 2017) into a single “2015 and Beyond” column. Second, Netflix, HBO, and FX will be meeting with reporters starting today for the semi-annual TV Critics Association press tour, where they’ll almost certainly be revealing even more new programming.

*Correction: An earlier version of this graph left off The League, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Man Seeking Women under “FX, 2015 and Beyond,” and Getting On and The Young Pope under “HBO, 2015 and Beyond.”

Why Netflix Should Buy Its Own Studio

Taylor Schilling in a scene from Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.”
Netflix doesn’t actually make its “original” shows like Orange is the New Black (pictured). But with a studio, it could.

Photo courtesy Jessica Miglio/Netflix


This post originally appeared on Business Insider.


The volume of TV content is going to grow exponentially over the coming years, and creative talent won’t be able to keep up, according to analysts at Barclays.

In a note last week, the analysts outlined the case that an “over-the-top” (OTT) powerhouse like Netflix might have to actually acquire an established studio at some point in the future, simply to continue in the arms race for content.

The analysts believe we are at the start of an explosion in the amount of TV that will be produced (including streaming content from the likes of Netflix or Amazon). Indeed, Netflix alone will spend at least $5 billion on programming in 2016.

But eventually there will be a limit on how much good content can be produced, the analysts argue. “Creative talent is not infinitely scalable,” they write. And if the competition to woo top TV talent heats up, organizations that can identify talent early and maintain a relationship will become more valuable. This means studios, “especially those with established franchises and an ecosystem of talent,” according to the analysts.

Given the lack of big studios, in this new climate it could make more sense for a “OTT” player like Netflix to buy one, versus having to continually bid against its rivals, the analysts write.

Right now, when Netflix puts out an “original,” it doesn’t usually produce the show. Lionsgate Television, for instance, makes “Orange Is the New Black.” Netflix then pays for a global license.

But Netflix appears to be moving toward producing more of its own shows, including Chelsea Handler’s upcoming talk show, according to Bloomberg. Buying an established studio could supercharge these efforts.

What is bubbling under the surface of Barclays’ prediction is the threat that traditional TV giants might stop licensing their shows to Netflix. For the past few months, media executives have grumbled that they might have to reassess their relationship to Netflix. If media companies shy away from licensing to Netflix, presumably because they see the practice as financing a competitor, then it will become harder for Netflix to maintain its steady flow of content.

The analysts write that “OTT” platforms like Netflix will need a “more controllable” pipeline of content over time. One way to get it: Buy your own studio.

Netflix was not immediately available for comment.

Code/Media: Hulu CEO Says There Isn’t Too Much TV, Just “Too Many Crappy Shows”

Mike Hopkins says Hulu will add documentaries that are consistent with its pop-culture, TV-focused brand.

Hulu could soon be adding documentary films to its slate of original programming.

“The way we’re looking at originals in the doc world is that we’re pop culture, we’re entertainment, we’re TV,” Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins said Thursday at the Code/Media conference in Dana Point, Calif. “When we make something it probably ought to be in that vein.”

Hulu recently added to its small but growing slate of licensed films through an output deal with IFC that gives it streaming rights to titles including Sundance’s Weiner. Hopkins said that such deals help Hulu build up a library to support the investment into originals. “Our customers like it,” he added.

This will be a telling year for Hulu’s push into originals. The company — which is co-owned by Fox Broadcasting Group, ABC Television Group and NBCUniversal Television Group — had its first awards showing in January with comedy Casual up for best original comedy series. (It lost out to Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle.) Now it is pressing forward into bigger-budgeted scripted drama fare with Monday’s release of J.J. Abrams-produced event series 11.22.63 starring James Franco.
“We’ve been very aggressive,” said Hopkins, arguing that a content creator would not immediately sell their show to Netflix or Amazon over Hulu. “We’ve been in virtually every conversation.”

When asked about whether Hulu’s original content competes with the content coming from its owners, Hopkins was emphatic that that’s not the case. “We look at ourselves as a complement to everything,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to say, ‘I’m just going to buy Hulu or Netflix.’ A huge percentage of our customers buy pay TV as well. We’re an add-on.”

Meanwhile, Hulu is also investing in its product, adding an ad-free tier that Hopkins said has not cannibalized advertising revenue. “Our ad business, since we launched commercial-free, is up 30 percent,” he boasted.

Hopkins sidestepped questions about whether Time Warner will join Hulu’s existing owners. “I’m not going to advance that story here today,” he said, adding that Hulu has a great relationship with Time Warner through a licensing deal with Turner and a partnership with Warner Bros. on 11.22.63.

Hulu, which reported about a year ago that it had 9 million paid subscribers, is one of a growing number of streaming platforms diving into original programming. In addition to industry leaders Netflix and Amazon, YouTube also has started funding programming.

But Hopkins isn’t worried about the “too much TV” argument made by FX Networks topper John Landgraf and others. “My personal point of view is that there are too many crappy shows out there and not enough good shows,” he said. “We’re all trying to make good shows.”