"Don't Shoot!" Hetero Masquerade on Project Runway

Curator's Note

In Season One of Project Runway, we learn surprisingly little about characters’ backgrounds. It is only in the last episode that we encounter the finalists on their home turf. Visiting Jay in Lehman, PA, Tim finds him enacting a full-on masquerade of redneck masculinity, pointing a gun, wearing a plaid hunting shirt, and sporting a curly wig in place of his usual stringy Jesus hair. “Don’t shoot!” exclaims Tim, in high camp mode. Here, the show’s homonormativity finds its fullest expression.

On Runway, it is the un-closeted heterosexual who is the odd man out. The gay men lean towards the femme, with Tim as slightly more virile by virtue of his button-downs, and glamour queen Austin Scarlet clearly occupying the Tinkerbelle end of the queer scale. Jay has been somewhere in the middle all along, his manner on the bitchy side, his look goofy but often rather gender neutral. But in the final episode, he playfully goes butch. His hetero act does more than parody “normal” masculinity; as the bumpkin “protecting his property” he also enacts a particular class position. He is playing the yokel who would be mocked mercilessly by the fiendish Paris Hilton if this were The Simple Life.

But since this is a reality program with a soul, Jay introduces us to his plump, uncool, middle-class family without embarrassment. He shows off his father’s concrete creations. And, finally, he mentions how when you are “artistic and experimenting” at 14 people call you names and hit you. One suspects that Jay’s teenage iconoclasm marked him as “different” in ways that far exceeded the sartorial, but his family hops in to interpret this as a statement purely about fashion, and Jay does not correct them. It is a disconcerting moment. Gayness is repeatedly performed on the program, yet here it cannot be spoken.

Comments

Jonathan Gray's picture

Thanks, Heather. I find

Thanks, Heather. I find primetime television’s slow foray into the realm of adolescent gayness quite interesting: whether it’s this guy here talking about being an “outsider” as a 13 yr-old, Ugly Betty’s younger brother’s sexuality going unquestioned because seemingly less important than whiteness, skinnyness, or immigration issues, or this week’s Slash Simpsons where Nelson and Bart’s impromtu “friendship” finally gets the official queer nod at the end with a Brokeback riff and sensitive “Ha Ha” revision from Nelson. Tentative footsteps, all of them “iffy” and hidden behind history, performances of smalltown (hetero) manliness, and/or humor, but a 1.5 on the Richter scale at least…

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