(Published on ARTSCLASH)
“Judy, Liza, Barbra, Bette, These are Names I Shan’t Forget…”
Will and Grace, ‘Fagmalion Part 2’
So surely it’s time to raise the rainbow flag and all join in a rousing rendition of ‘Born This Way’? Well, no. There is one slightly horrifying strand of serious homophobia that is starting to emerge and, as the horror movie cliché goes, ‘it’s coming from inside the house’, from the gay community itself.
I should clarify here. Firstly this is not a masked homophobic attack; I’m an out gay man myself, and this is based on my own observations of time spent in the gay community. Secondly, I am not saying that all gays are homophobic to to all other gays, but rather a large, vocal, minority have chosen as their target the ‘stereotypical’ camp gay man.
Whether it came for positive reasons (trying to pass gay love as the same as straight love to access marriage equality, forcing ‘straight-acting’ couples to the fore,) or a mirroring of the resurgence of sexism that comes under the headline of ‘banter’, at some point the gay community (or at least the young gay community) turned on itself , attacking those who were ‘femme’ or camp.
You can see this everywhere: on gay ‘dating’ sites such as Grindr; in the use of the word ‘gay’ in gay conversations; and in everyday conversations with other gay men – something which, as someone who likes to play with ideas of gender and camp I’ve experienced first hand.
The implications of this are far-reaching, and need someone with far more political or sociological nous than me (writing what is essentially an arts and culture blog) to work out. What I want to focus on here is the implications this has had on the rich history of lovingly portrayed stereotypically gay characters, camp classics, male gay actors and the traditional gay icons, including the Judy, Liza, Barbra and Bette of my beginning quote but reaching further in time up to their modern counterparts. The Minajs, the Gagas…
If this masculinisation of the gay sensibility continues, I worry that we lose not only some wonderful pieces of culture, but also a completely unique way of being, a history and an aesthetic. And whilst of course I’m not suggesting we all abandon our football kits for tank tops and start singing Streisand songs, I believe that we all (myself included) have something to learn from the gay media of the past, something that we can’t just let die because it makes it easier for society to accept us.
So call this beginning of a project. Every week I’m going to watch, listen to or read one piece of classic gay culture to see what I can learn from it and what it offers the world (both gay and straight) that we might otherwise forget. From Dietrich to Madonna, Barbra to Brokeback Mountain. Starting next Sunday with Jenny Livingstone’s seminal 1990 documentary of the New York drag balls, Paris is Burning.…
Please suggest future cultural artifacts to me @ARTSCLASHdotCOM. And comment on this article if you agree or disagree with what I have to say…