No one ever understood Southern sexual politics better than Tennessee Williams. But given the time in which he produced his work, some points had to be made subtlety and obliquely…and much can be read into his work and that’s a liberty I’m going to take….
Sexual politics are an art form in the South. Tennessee Williams understood this as does every Southerner who has a mind….
Arguably, Margaret Mitchell first illustrated this with her creation of Scarlett O’Hara. I’m convinced several generations of Southern women- and men- were totally both empowered and screwed up by her creation. I’m also convinced that Margaret Mitchell allowed the myths of the South to last for several generations more than they would have had she not written “Gone With the Wind”. That book screwed up more people in the South than any other artistic statement…..
The problem with the book, and more so the film, is that too many women misunderstood the myth of the Southern Belle.
To be blunt, there were a lot more Suellen O’Hara’s than there were Scarlett’s and that was never clearly defined.
Scarlett married men she didn’t love to get money and to ensure material survival. She had little respect for “the rules” that, published or not, spoken or not, governed behavior in the South for generations. Breaking these rules was pretty rare. Usually women had to finesse and manipulate them….
Suellen, Scarlett’s younger sister, would pout, ponder and have fits of pique. In my experience, that was much more common behavior for Southern women. Florence King, the great Southern writer of “Southern Ladies and Gentlemen” said, and I paraphrase, the difference was that Scarlett would do whatever it took to save Tara and her family; Suellen would scream and stomp on her hair ribbons while bemoaning the unfairness of life….
These were the precursors to Tennessee Williams and Maggie the Cat.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is, in my humble opinion, Tennessee William’s greatest play. I don’t have much patience with Blanche Du Bois and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I always wanted to slap Blanche….She is the ultimate Suellen O’Hara Southern Victim. They make me tired….
Maggie was Scarlett on steroids…..
She wouldn’t have wasted five minutes on Ashley Wilkes…
She left that game to Brick and Skipper….
Maggie had balls. She had cojones…
Scarlett worked within the status quo; Maggie did, too, but she challenged it….
Scarlett would have tried to charm Big Daddy. Maggie tried to beat him at his own game….
I think you can define different groups of Gay Southerners as either Maggies or Scarletts…
When I came out as Gay, the women in my family immediately reacted to what I was giving up. I was abdicating the entitled position of Power that is intrinsic to being a White Man in the South.
Their question was, where did that leave me and why would I be stupid enough to give that up and to have to play the game they had to play?
My Mother was a Suellen, a Scarlett wannabe. She was thought I should lie and manipulate my way within the existing power structure.
My Aunt Goldie was more of a Maggie. The pragmatist, she was worried how it might impact my business career and how I would maneuver those obstacles. She advocated honesty, with manipulation, whereas my Mother just advocated lies and manipulation.
Whatever you do, you can’t get past manipulation in the South….not if you want to survive.
I chose Maggie the Cat as my role model. It took me a long time to come out, but when I did, I faced it openly and, I hope eventually, fiercely. But with a little manipulation….I wasn’t stupid.
I was like Maggie the Cat…I knew the rules, but played them instead of letting them play me…
Gay Men of my time in the South had to make these choices. And Scarlett and Maggie were our role models. We didn’t have much else and, like Tennessee Williams understood, we had to identify outside our own sexual role models to make it work for us….
We couldn’t be Rhett’s or Ashley’s or Bricks if we wanted to survive, we had to be Maggie’s or Scarlett’s. The very narrowly defined Southern masculine roles didn’t work when you abdicated your place by coming out, so you had to be creative….
Tennessee Williams understood this…
“The charm of the defeated is not mine.”
“My hat is in the ring and I’m determined to win”
“You can be young without money but you can’t be old without it.”
These are the words of Maggie the Cat.
Beats the hell out of Scarlett’s “Tomorrow is another day.”
And I can’t help but think Scarlett, with her support of convict leasing, would have been a New South Georgia Republican whereas Maggie would have been a fighting New South Democrat….
But we learned well from Maggie’s words….
I like to hope the new generations of Southern Gay men don’t have to make these transsexual role model identifications. But I’m still not sure that is the case…
It seems to take a lot longer for the South to move forward and I still see the fear driven by the rules and religion handicapping yet another generation of Southern Gay Men….
I like to think it’s changing even if it’s changing slowly…
In the meantime, my advice to those boys is to focus more on Maggie and less on Scarlett….