“These Gays, They’re Trying to Murder Me”
How Tanya’s Plotline in The White Lotus Speaks to Gay Male Misogyny
by Genna Rivieccio (Paris, France)
WITH the likelihood of viewers reeling from the season two finale of The White Lotus for years to come, it bears noting that Tanya McQuoid’s (Jennifer Coolidge) fate is deeply rooted in the oft-underlooked or brushed-aside phenomenon of gay male misogyny. Although, at first, things follow a seemingly usual pattern of older queens gravitating toward a “fabulous” woman’s bombastic style, it gradually becomes evident that there’s something vaguely nefarious afoot. But Tanya, being the hopelessly self-involved black hole that she is, can’t see it—would never even dream of it. Instead, she takes it all at face value when a supposedly well-to-do Englishman named Quentin (Tom Hollander) and his coterie of gay comrades, Hugo (Paolo Camilli), Didier (Bruno Gouery) and Matteo (Francesco Zecca), approach her with nothing but flattery. A tried-and-true technique that butters her up enough to be susceptible to just about anything Quentin suggests.
As a first step in establishing his long con (starting in episode four, “In the Sandbox”), Quentin “coincidentally” passes by Tanya in the hotel. He then stops in the middle of what he’s saying to Matteo to grandiloquently announce, “So chic,” of the bright blue number Tanya has on. Ready for a compliment from anyone in her vulnerable state, Tanya turns around to gratefully respond, “Thank you.” Quentin continues to blandish her with, “You have impeccable style. The moment I saw you last night, I said to Matteo, ‘Finally, a glamorous woman in Taormina.’” From there, he’s able to launch into his backstory—they’re at the hotel visiting friends and brought the boat ‘round from Palermo to see them—before inviting her to join them at the beach club. She nods along, prone to taking pretty much any direction at this point.
After a day spent with them at the beach, Tanya naïvely remarks to her assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), “Those guys are nice.” If only she knew how little they actually thought of her. For they view her in the same way as her husband, Greg (Jon Gries), mirroring his straight male misogyny with a gay twist. Which comes in the form of catering to the intrinsically-embedded female belief that a woman’s power and worth is tied entirely to her appearance. And so it is that Quentin keeps emphasizing how lovely and stylish he thinks Tanya is—knowing full well it’s the Achilles’ heel of her manipulability. That and bonding over rich people problems like Didier having “the most incredible family estate” in Èze but, oh, how tragique, it’s crumbling to the ground.
Gaining Tanya’s trust in this way—through the mutual assurance of “fabulosity”—Quentin is able to create a fast false rapport. As are many gay men when it comes to ingratiating themselves with a “breathtaking” straight woman. One they often want to emulate for aesthetic and verbal affectations or potential drag purposes. This being the crux of why RuPaul’s Drag Race is a nonstop parade of hyper-caricaturized interpretations of “femininity.” A simultaneous obsession with and derision of women being patent in such acts.
Offsetting some of the rampant “queen energy” among Quentin’s crew is his “nephew,” Jack (Leo Woodall), himself ostensibly “gay for pay.” And quick to inform Portia “jokingly” that he mostly feels abused among this lot, commenting on spending the past two months with them in Sicily, “It’s all right, if you don’t mind a bunch of gays grabbing your ass and copping a feel.” The typical laughing off of sexual advances when they come from a “harmless” gay man. Jack continues, “Some of these guys get pissed, and some of them are really fucking strong as well. They have these parties out in the villa, and the only women they invite is just old, rich hags.” And there comes the automatic tie-in to that “term of endearment,” “fag hag”—which Jennifer Coolidge has done her best to embody for the majority of her twenty-first century filmography. In fact, perhaps the sole reason she was able to “get away” with her now “iconic” line in the season finale, “These gays, they’re trying to murder me!” is because she’s considered an “ally”/gay heroine.
And then there is the consideration of writer-director Mike White himself being bisexual, therefore “allowed” to play the dual card of being both gay and gay-“hating” (or “ribbing,” if you prefer). For only someone who veers toward the gay side could “dare” to play with language that might be construed, in the “wrong” hands, as homophobic. Which “the gays” refuse to process with regard to The White Lotus anyway. Very much in a manner that harkens back to Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) on Arrested Development remarking, “If that’s a veiled criticism about me, I won’t hear it and I won’t respond to it.” Nor will gay men respond to an overt “trend” in pop culture of late: gays being murderous and getting off on it. Even if mostly in the work of Ryan Murphy (see: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Dahmer and American Horror Story: New York).
As for White’s homo leanings, he admitted of his portrayal of gay sex in both seasons of The White Lotus, “There’s a pleasure to me as a guy who is gay-ish to make gay sex transgressive again. It’s dirty… men are having sex and you have this Psycho music underneath. It just amuses me.” And it likely amuses anyone looking for another reason to call out gay men for being “dirty” and “diabolical.” Yet there is, believe it or not, a certain “cushion” gay men get from all-out criticism of their behavior (lest one be deemed a homophobe), especially when it is misogynistic. Moreover, there is a commonly-held misconception that the oppressed can’t be oppressors themselves. But gay men are known for being exclusionary of anyone who represents “undesirable” qualities, including being too “femme.” Hence, the playing up of one’s “masc” appearance/persona on apps and other assorted hookup mediums—this adhering to the inherent patriarchal belief that to be “feminine” is to ultimately be “lesser than.” Just as Tanya is viewed by the gays targeting her. After all, if she had any common sense like a man, she would have been able to see past the bullshit of their flattery and detect something “off” about the foisted friendship, right?
Even Tanya’s final fate bears the mark of gay male misogyny. She’s not a woman in control, she’s a woman who can’t even get off a boat properly. A daffy parody of femininity (like a drag queen, as it were), complete with over-the-top heels she doesn’t have the intelligence to remove in order to successfully extricate herself from the yacht. Even after going through all the trouble of killing most of “these gays.” A scene that would pair ironically well with her previously saying to Portia, “If you’re looking for a friend, gay guys are really the best. Because, let’s face it, women are kinda… depressing.” Here, Tanya’s own internalized misogyny rears its ugly head, prompting Portia to reply, “Oh. You think?” Tanya confirms, “Yeah. I think most women are drips. But… it’s not their fault. They have a lot to be depressed about. But you know, they are not fun. These gay guys are fun.” As fun as a barrel of murderous greed.
Alas, Tanya hadn’t accounted for that (no money pun intended) in her assessment of Quentin’s ostensible lifestyle. For when she goes to his villa in Palermo, she’s in awe of its beauty, musing to Portia, “It’s a good feeling when you realize that someone has money. Because then you don’t have to worry about them wanting yours.” Naturally, that’s just a red herring to lull her into a false sense of security. Sort of how it happened to Edie Sedgwick with another notorious gay named Andy Warhol.
And, speaking of those two, the fetish for tragic women that gay men are associated with having is alive and well in Quentin, who tells Tanya, “After hearing the story of your love life, we decided you were like a tragic heroine in a Puccini opera.” She asks, “Is that a compliment?” Quentin assures, “Oh yes.” Of course, it’s only “complimentary” in the eyes of the gay men who get their erections from the doomed, wounded bird archetype of a woman (à la Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Princess Diana, Britney Spears and, again, Edie Sedgwick).
Viewing Tanya as a real Madama Butterfly type and openly declaring it, Quentin then takes her to a performance of the opera in question. It is there that Tanya acts as gauche as Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) in Pretty Woman. Looking around, she sees an elegantly-dressed older woman and inquires daftly, “Who’s the lady? Is it the Queen of Sicily?” “Yes,” Quentin says, encouraging her artlessness (a polite word for stupidity). Indeed, laughing to himself about how easily fooled she is. How he’s got her wrapped around his finger, just as Greg does in their marriage. And yes, Quentin mimics the straight male treatment of a woman presumed too dumb to fend for herself, therefore it’s her own fault if she gets taken advantage of, davvero?
In the fifth episode, “That’s Amore,” Quentin highlights another key component that drives gay male misogyny: the transactional “relationships” that gay men frequently seem to prefer. So it is that Quentin quotes Gore Vidal with, “I can understand companionship, I can understand bought sex in the afternoon… but I cannot understand the love affair.” In other words, better to be penetrated coldly than waste time on “feminine” notions like romantic love. The superficiality of what gay men typically prize is also manifest in the assertion, “I’d also die for beauty, wouldn’t you?” What he means to say, of course, is that he would kill for it. Kill to get the money necessary for the upkeep of his precious villa/fuck palace. The one asset he has to lure people like Jack into his web and puppeteer them for whatever purpose (sexual or otherwise) he sees fit.
As for further luring Tanya into said web, he appeals to that thing most women—namely “older,” therefore “less desirable” ones—can’t help but be tantalized by: the promise of hetero dick. Not just because a woman wants to be fucked, but because she wants to feel desired. Wanted. That’s why Tanya gives in so easily to the temptation Quentin presents to her in the form of Niccoló (Stefano Gianino). And, obviously, there’s cocaine too. For the only drug more stereotypical of a gay festa would be ketamine.
To be sure, there’s likely a majority (of gays more than straights) that would condemn such an interpretation of Tanya’s treatment by “these gays” as anything even remotely misogynistic. A person of any sexuality is prone to killing for money, no? It’s just another symptom of the capitalistic hell hole we inhabit. And yet, the plot wouldn’t be nearly as believable if it had been a gaggle of straight or gay women taking Tanya under their wing with an ulterior motive. Misogyny being far more ingrained in the homosexual male than perhaps even the straight male.
“It’s not your typical gay men story,” Coolidge noted of the eventual outcome for her character, “but it was a genius idea. Tanya was just one of those people who is susceptible and got in with the wrong crowd, and they just happened to be gay.” But it smacks of something more pointed than that. This idea that gay men are unapologetically debauched in general and willing to kill to afford decorating their houses in particular is a “dangerous” way to present an already vulnerable community. At the same time, it does open up the conversation about why it feels quite plausible for a group of gay men to treat a woman so disposably after endlessly complimenting her and subsequently forging a fake friendship she thought was all too real.