Don’t Hide Your Pride (and Prejudice): The Gay-ification of Jane Austen in Fire Island

Some might offer the idea that Jane Austen was already the pinnacle of gay. What with all of her main characters forced to stifle their true desires and feelings due to the pressures of a subjugating society that not only looked down upon the free expression of sexuality, but especially the free expression of sexuality on the part of women. Who might end up “making a fool of their personage” if they threw themselves at a man who wasn’t actually interested, thus risking total social ostracism with their no-longer-secret affection being out. In other words, the story of every gay man’s life up until very recently in our society. And, please, don’t get it twisted in thinking that there isn’t still insane judgment directed toward same-sex couples, most especially male ones who can’t be “eroticized” by the patriarchy the way that lesbians can. What’s more, gay men have always “threatened” a certain type of straight man (the one who fears that such “proclivities” are within himself). Which is often the reason why you won’t see too many daring to “be infected” by Fire Island. Or rather, infect the island with their “straightness.” 

To the point of gay men mirroring women in general (and, in this case, Regency-era women in Jane Austen novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice), it plays into something Jeremy Atherton Lin freely admits to in Gay Bar, a book that appears in the opening scene of Fire Island with Pride and Prejudice placed on top of it. Toward the end of said treatise, Atherton Lin writes, “Looking around as I danced to ABBA and the Spice Girls, apparently the ladies were over-identifying with the ladies, too. Gay appropriation coming full circle—a mindfuck. The loot we pillaged had been plundered.” Fire Island gay-ifying Austen takes that pillaging to the next frontier. All with the help of Joel Kim Booster’s deft reimagining of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet through the characters of Noah (Kim Booster) and Howie (Bowen Yang). 

In that same opening scene where we’re to remark upon Noah’s literary prowess based on the books he has on his floor, he’s just wrapping up a one-night stand that he doesn’t want to continue into the day, let alone risk it becoming an “actual thing.” That’s simply not part of Noah’s rule book. One that he rewrites from Pride and Prejudice when he opens with a voiceover that quotes the famous Austen line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Noah adds his own take to that: “No offense to my girl Jane, but that sounds like some hetero nonsense.” Of course, he seems to overlook the fact that the opening sentence to Pride and Prejudice is a classic example of irony, but then, that wouldn’t suit the overt need to shade the straights and how their narrative has taken up so much space in all storytelling formats. So it is that Austen has long been overdue for a homo reimagining. But Kim Booster takes it one step further by also highlighting the gay Asian experience, one that is often marked by either discrimination or fetishism, being that the gay community is well-known for its exclusionary tactics in “finding a partner” (a.k.a. someone to fuck and/or serve as convenient arm candy). Yet another reason why Austen was teeming with potential for a gay male perspective, in that gay men still treat “courting” in much the same elitist way. Especially those who spend their summers on Fire Island. 

Accordingly, there is the still-relevant mention of how owning property is the mark of true wealth in this ever-clinging-to-capitalism society. Which is why, while on the ferry (save the fairy jokes) to the island, Noah remarks as he describes his friends in voiceover, “So yeah, we’re poor. Not like poor poor, but poor as in none of us have a chance in hell of ever buying property…ever.” And sure, that’s definitely “poor” by Austen’s and any modern rich person’s standards of bona fide affluence, but, in a way, it just comes across as sort of cringe at this moment in time. Mainly because it’s another prime example of people who have it better than most complaining because their status isn’t “on-brand” for what New York City (Fire Island being a mere offshoot) contaminates the brain with in terms of making its residents think a certain way about what they “need” to have in order to be “successful.” 

As a gay man, part of that “success” is reflected in the “other half” they’re seen with. And as a remix of “Pure Imagination” by Kathleen soundtracks their approach to the island, it’s clear that each man in Noah’s “family” is hoping for just a little bit of magic—better known as: someone hot and maybe even rich to take them through the summer. Being that Noah already mentioned the collective’s broke assery, however, the only reason they can “afford” to stay on the island is because of a requisite “den mother.” Specifically, an older lesbian named Erin (Margaret Cho), who is modeled after Mrs. Bennet herself. Unlike that matriarch, Erin is slightly less obsessed with “her boys” being coupled up, and more concerned with having to sell her property because of her own financial disarray. And as lines like, “Can I trade someone a Crest white strip for a PrEP pill?” are tossed about among the brood, it becomes very sad indeed to think that this will be their last summer together on the island. Unless, of course, one of them manages to bag a rich dude with his own house in a posher part of the water-surrounded confines. 

Cue a remix of Charli XCX’s “Boys” as Howie—the “demure” one—locks eyes with Charlie (James Scully), the Charles Bingley of the equation. Amid his group of white bro-y friends is Will (Conrad Ricamora), deemed by Noah later on as the “token” ethnic friend. With his Fitzwilliam Darcy personality, Will’s attraction to Noah comes off more like contempt in his bid to hide anything resembling emotion. It isn’t until he sees Dex (Zane Phillips) cozying up to Noah’s friend group that he starts to let his guard down ever so slightly as a means to act protective. Based on the dastardly George Wickham character that Elizabeth starts to fall for in Pride and Prejudice, Dex’s modus operandi is filming the men he bones without their consent and then posting it online. My, what a long way we’ve come from the nineteenth century with regard to Ways to Be Humiliated. However, it takes seeing Will become so defensive of his friend, Luke (Matt Rogers), the Lydia Bennet of the ensemble, for Noah to realize that he does have monogamous tendencies. Even if such a revelation “goes against” the “gay cliché.”

And maybe, had she been writing Elizabeth Bennet as a gay gentleman, Austen would have come up with something to the effect of what Noah says to Howie: “Monogamy is a disease created by straight people to make us less interesting.” To be fair, however, the more accurate aphorism is: “Monogamy is a disease created by capitalism to sell more shit you don’t need” (yet another reason why corporations have jumped on the Pride Month bandwagon more than anyone).

That gay men have fallen prey to said trap amid the phenomenon of so-called “inclusivity” is enough to make some “wistful for the days of secretive sodomy,” as Henry (Jim Parsons) in Hollywood phrased it. Because if the straights have unwittingly taught “the other” anything, it’s to act the exact opposite of how they do. Which doesn’t exactly coincide with remaking Pride and Prejudice, but hey, as previously mentioned, it was a story that already smacked of gay male sexual repression anyway. 

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