I really enjoyed learning about the history of queer portrayal throughout the years in The Celluloid Closet. In fact, before knowing about the blog prompt I was writing down some of Harvey Fierstein's comments. His comment about any visibility being good is short-sighted. Films, as many of the other interviewees point out, serve as a way for us to know how to behave, what to expect, and they "project subtext," as Gore Vidal put it. For queer characters to be portrayed negatively, it projects an image of queerness as negative.
The subtext on display in the stock (implicitly) gay character, the sissy, is perhaps the straight man's fear of homosexuality. Kaplan asserts that the default film viewer is a (straight) male, and so that gay character must be made both nonthreatening (physically slight), unserious (silly, in pursuit of "unimportant" interests such as decorating), and asexual.
Hmm, this sounds familiar. The sissy has made a return in modern pop culture in the form of the Gay Best Friend. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this trope, explained quite well by Thomas Rogers in this Salon piece titled "Ladies: I'm not your gay boyfriend". The only difference, I believe, in the sissy of the past and the gay best friend of film and television today is that the former's sexuality is implied while the latter's is explicit. By explicit, however, I do not mean explicit; no, the gay best friend is just as neutered as the Sissy in most cases--he never discusses dating or sex like his female friends do. This stereotype, while increasing queer visibility, has done nothing to help viewers understand the complexity of a queer existence. I disagree with Fierstein--unlike publicity, not all portrayals are good portrayals.