The Deuce has proved that its forté is examining the business of sex and the gender dynamics of said economy through the burgeoning porn industry and the street-based sex trade in 1970s New York City. However, episode four proved that the show is willing to tackle even more personal identity and political issues. The main character Vincent ‘Vinny’ Martino (James Franco) runs a bar that attracts people from all walks of Manhattan’s nightlife. He has employed an openly gay bartender, Paul (Chris Coy), and they had an interesting exchange on Sunday night’s episode. It provided several good examples of how allyship can go right or wrong.
Smoking — the habit that wasn’t nearly as taboo in the '70s as it is now — is what prompted the conversation between the two men. Vinny runs out of Marlboros, and Paul offers him one of his cigarettes. They’re Parliaments, the cigarettes that Vinny’s mum used to smoke. Vinny shares this tidbit with Paul, who clearly takes it as a dig about his sexuality. That his choice of cigarettes would be compared to a woman’s ways is something Paul could have seen coming, he says. Vinny insists that his mother really did smoke Parliaments and quickly realises that he’s just “making it worse.”
Wanting to smooth things over with Paul, Vinny asks him to join him for a smoke break outside the bar. This is the first Do: When you think you’ve hurt someone’s feelings or offended them based on their sexuality, care enough to want to make it right. Sitting on a stoop for the shady hotel on the block, Vinny reassures Paul that he is a good bartender, but Paul isn’t so sure Vinny’s place is one he is welcome in. This isn’t the case, Vinny says, because there was one of Paul’s “kind” in attendance on the bar’s opening night, looking pretty enough to be at the opera.
Vinny insists that this mysterious patron was a man because their Adam’s apple was visible. But it turns out Vinny is referring to a trans woman that Paul knows as Dora. Vinny is making the situation worse still. Don’t: assume you know what someone’s gender identity is or refer to them as someone’s “kind.” Paul makes it clear that Dora prefers “she” and Vinny finally gets something right. He uses the correct pronouns and says Dora is great. She makes the place “sparkle” because she adds diversity to a New York crowd that likes to be “surprised.”
Trans people are welcome in Vinny’s bar after all because they’re good for business. Don’t: exoticise LGBTQ people as extras for an experience you’re trying to create for straight people. This is enough for Paul, who worked at two gay bars before Vinny’s, one of them being Stonewall. His boss even asked for more details on how the riots started, and all was well between them. Do: learn some history.
To that last point about history, it’s ironic that The Deuce showed this exchange happening in a '70s landscape. Because over 40 years later, we are still struggling to have these conversations in a meaningful way.