Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Case of Bambi Stern - Real vs. Stereotype

Lately, there has been some discussion on the character of Bambi Stern in my novel Cutting the Cheese. Bambi is a hefty Lesbian, who smokes cigars, wears a man's suit and fedora, and is motivated by cocktail weenies. She is also the president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists of New Birch and Sipsboro. The character has caused some anxiety (not to say, resentment) in some quarters of the Gay Community. Of course, the novel is my "bad boy" work, which goes out of its way to highlight many of the more outrageous foibles found in the Gay Social order. Without doubt, the various characters are based on people I met when I first emerged from the closet. The community, being mapless otherwise, has created its own clue set for any newbie on the scene, who would need a pink compass for navigation otherwise. So, while some characters like Kelly Rodriguez, the snippy hustler or the even cringing Paddy can be received with wicked laughter, when some confront Bambi Stern, the portrayal cuts just too close to the bone. Harumph. Stereotypes. Truth be told, of all the characters in Cutting the Cheese, Bambi Stern is closest to the real life Lesbian she is based upon.

When I first came out of the closet and took up the mantle of Gay Activism, I was set to my first important task - cutting blocks of cheese into small cubes to be served at an executive board meeting. It was an important task, because it tapped into the heart of gossip and provided my first glimpse into the nelly, campy world. It scared the bejeebers out of me. Then I was comfronted by the president of the group, who roared with her bull-moose voice, slapped all the fairy backs and was famous for having made an entrance at a fabled party by strutting down a staircase wrapped in naught but cellophane. If I left Bambi Stern out of Cutting the Cheese, I might as well scrapped the book. Of course, while most readers find outrageous humor by looking in the mirror, some do not, and had even suggested I withdraw the work from review. One reviewer stated (code) "there were issues with this story that took away from my complete enjoyment." Such reaction only encourages me to step up to the plate and dish out some more. Thin skins beware.

The question here is "what is a stereotype?" I often wonder about this. Is a stereotype a cruel set of crude and rude attributes grafted on scapegoats to make them bigger targets, or are they a collection of traits that communities adopt for identity? It's a fine line, but having caroused at Gay Activist meetings and at the general mayhem of a Gay Pride celebration, my observations record that members of the gay community tend to slip into camp whenever they feel the need. It's the yellow brick road to our own private OZ. Therefore, Bambi Stern and her Edward G. Robinson cigar manner is a living, breathing reminder to my gay friends (and enemies) that we haven't cornered the market on self-righteousness. We need to be proud of identities no matter how much cellophane we wear. 'Nuff said? Not nearly.

Edward C. Patterson

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