The Theatre of Gays


Former BUCF Treasurer Daniel Cowdrill delivers his assessment in the University Newspaper on  what it means to be gay and ‘conservative’ about it…

Of the gay sub catagories that exist within the ‘gay community’ I tend to be described as ‘straight acting’. This means that I refuse to prance down Hurst street swinging my manbag screaming ‘I’m free!’, nor do I have any particular fondness for Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, Gin & Tonic, Waitrose, Nicky Clark, Desperate Housewives, or the Audi TT.
Ergo, it’s obvious. I must be fundamentally insecure about my sexuality, crushed by the weight of suburbia, the Roman Catholic Church, Margaret Thatcher, and every other thinkable instrument of homosexual repression. In order to emancipate myself I must increase my ‘campness’ The logic being that surely the more expressive I am the more sexually secure I am?
But this is wrong-headed. You may say that behaving like Alan Carr is who you are, but this is not the case. Being gay is not a package that comes with accessories like tight jeans, a pocket book of sexual innuendo, and a pink cow boy hat. All these things associated with gay men are a socially constructed stereotype that society and the gay community construct for their own mutual convenience.
‘Campness’ (for want of a better word) is tribal. Camp allows other camp men to know you’re gay, and the rest of society to know that you are too. Camp characteristics make it easy for yourself and everyone else to put you away in a neat box, where you can be accounted for, monitored, patronised and humiliated. This is not to charge gay people with the blame, it is merely to acknowledge their complicity in their own alienation.
As far as society is concerned it is as much my job to be camp, as it is for a woman to stay in the kitchen. The Women’s Liberation movement was correct in observing that such stereotypes were the very chains of female repression. At least Woman’s Lib can be credited with moving society’s perception of women on a bit. The gay movement has done nothing but render their own suppression.
And incidentally, its not just gay people who are repressed by stereotype. Their conformity is matched by the conformity of straight people. Maybe a group of straight blokes who are currently down the pub after going to the football, should question their horizons just as much as a group of camp gays should question theirs’. However, the fact that they rarely do, perpetuates their stereotypes and draws others in.
By rejecting some forms of ‘campness’ you can assert your agency and move beyond the structural stereotype of yourself. And this isn’t necessarily denying yourself, for this would be to assume that your camp characteristics are genetic and unique to you. In fact, much of them are socially constructed in the form of inherited prejudices and acquired values. So why not unconstruct yourself?
As for me, I am not ‘straight-acting’. This is an intellectually weak and abusive phrase that simultaneously suggests that I am inwardly insecure about my sexuality and outwardly in denial. In other words, my life is an act simply because I don’t conform to the societal stereotype of what a gay man is supposed to be. I think this is unfair and wrong. It’s not me who is acting.


32 thoughts on “The Theatre of Gays

  1. Dan brace yourself: I agree with you. It is very rare I agree with you… particularly on liberal issues such as this lol… but in this instance I agree 100% and think you have expressed your argument confidently. I do not believe ones sexuality should define ones behaviour. To be frank who you go to bed with is a matter for the individual and their partner. I don’t want to know about it and I wouldnt want anyone else to know about it. Its private and should remain as such. I also agree that labels such as ‘straight acting’ are derogatory. I would argue that ‘straight acting’ gays are homosexuals in ‘the purest form’ and that the way many ‘overtly gays’ act today is the result of social stereotypes and repression rather than any ‘natural’ pattern of behaviour

  2. Bloody fantastic Dan. A blog on the political issues I care about. And about time.

    Though I will say one or two things. Your blog implies that men who act ‘camp’ are doing so, whether subconsciously or not, to conform to perceived roles in society. I don’t think that is always true, at all. Some gay men are effeminate, just as some straight men are. And though I agree completely as a bisexual liberal feminist that a stereotype for any sector of society is damaging and usually inaccurate to a lot of people within it, I think it’s not true to say people conform to it to identify. At least not all of the time.

    I think personally, that the idea that ‘straight lads’ have to be blokey is more of a socially expected stereotype than gay/bisexual men having to be camp.

  3. Laura!

    I don’t disagree with a word of that. I was attacking three things. 1) the ‘put on’ campness, which is sometimes done deliberately, and that I think can be particularly damaging. 2) I think the term ‘straight-acting’ is an offensive comment on gay men like myself. 3) I think that to be accused of being sexually insecure because one is not camp, is unfair.

    These were my three main bug bares. I don’t mean to say that ‘campness’ needs to be systematically extinguished, or indeed that it can be, but that individuals themselves have some control over it and should perhaps question their behaviour more.

    I think that society’s perception of what a gay man should be like is very rigid, and is very similar to the stereotype of women back in the 1950s. Women had to consciously challenge their stereotype to break from its damaging perpetuation. And I think there are similarities with the gay community.

  4. Dan!

    Then we are on the same wavelength I think :) And yes, I find it something that gets thrown up in the face of anyone who is not heterosexual time and again. I am bisexual. Not gay, not a lesbian, bisexual. I’m also not ‘butch’. I am also a Conservative (albeit a incredibly liberal one) so I don’t display any norms that people expect. These pieces don’t fit together. So I don’t know about you, but I get a bit of stick for them.
    So I very much agree it’s the way society, and maybe LGBT people themselves, need to view how they perceive they should act or self-identify, and re-evaluate.

    Also, quite depressingly, I think I feel just as equally persecuted being a Conservative in an LGBT and Feminist political background, as a bisexual feminist in a Conservative background. Which I find slightly sickening.

  5. well done daniel, when i come to write a diss on this, i think you should do it! very eloquent. Laura’s qualification and you clarification is crutial, it is the “acting” camp which is dangerous, not being naturally effeminate.

  6. “The gay movement has done nothing but render their own suppression.”

    So we (when we stand together as a comunity) are to blame for being too open? Urging us to keep sexuality hidden as a dirty little secret encourages homophobic attacks. End of.

  7. What a cretinous comment.

    I was talking about homosexual stereotype not homosexuality itself. I’d have thought the distinction here is perfectly obvious. I am gay myself and evidently I’m not keeping my sexuality “hidden”, neither am I advocating any such course of action.

    However, I am concerned about homosexual stereotype and how this is sometimes rendered by gay people themselves. This article is not an instruction to the community to act differently, it is an attempt to challenge the gay stereotype, which like any stereotype can be damaging.

  8. There are some people who frankly use their sexuality as an excuse to attention seek. The fact is society by and large doesnt care anymore about who you go to bed with but running about going ‘we’re here, we’re queer’ just pisses people off and encourages hostility toward the gay community. I have a number of friends who are gay but refuse to let their sexuality define their behaviour. I support them wholeheartedly in that position.

  9. As a gay conservative I disagree with section 28, very strongly, and am not proud of my party’s authorship of that legislative clause.

    I am concerned for the damage that the gay stereotype does for gay people, and have a serious issue with your own classification of anyone who challenges the gay stereotype as “homophobic”. I also dislike the term ‘straight-acting’.

  10. Nice thread – shows your true Tory colours. Didn’t take long you to call me names and say that I encourage hostility.

    Show me a camp hetero and I’ll show you a closet gay. Footballers are the worst – I hope you’ll agree with that. Even if Posh didn’t look like a young boy, could it be any more obvious that David Beckham is a screamer?

  11. This thread has taken a predictable path. Before you flounce off, Ben, can you outline the benefits of pigeon-holing yourself?

  12. That’s ridiculous Ben. At no point was his article party political. All he was doing was raising the idea that some members of the gay community to a certain extent prop up the gay stereotype. Perhaps to feel they belong in the community. And that that is a bad thing

  13. I have to agree with Dan.

    While there is nothing wrong with a comedian being camp, I do think that some people in the media use homophobic stereotypes in ways that would not be tolerated with other groups. I mean can you imagine ‘three niggers and a saxophone’ on Friday Night with Jonathon Ross? I’ll probably get censored for writing that but no one complains about the fact that it is actualy on TV but only with gay people rather than black people.

    I’m no psychology expert but when people are put down they often resort to embracing the negative stereotype that they’ve been saddled with. If any of you used to watch ‘Life on Mars’ you might remember a black detective taking a similar path. This isn’t the time or place but I could lead into a rant about poverty of asperation which is certainly a linked problem.

    And no Ben, a lot of gay events where the gay community (whatever that is) ‘stand together’ just look stupid now days. At a time when gay people are fighting for the right to adopt, how does it help to have people marching down the streets in their underwear? No one here is suggesting that gay people should hide but running around birmingham city centre half-naked isn’t pride but probably more like insecurity. I am all for gay events in our major cities, but how does this: make homphobic attacks less likely?

    I think the league of gentlemen sum it up quite nicely:

    (I was lucky enough to see this live) : )

  14. Yes, being a Tory is definitely the latest fashion. Some more things in fashion are intellectual arguments, open-minded attitude and behavior, manner and courtesy.

    Personal attacks, name-calling, ignorance and drama are certainly not in fashion.

  15. That is absolutely typical. Ben, you make a criticism, then when you are responded to, you act like the victim (‘Excuse me for breathing.’). Not only that, you’re a hypocrite, – in the same line, you write that we are ‘a bunch of creepy rightwingers’. There is nothing anyone could say on this website that you wouldn’t sniff at, so why bother looking?

  16. ‘a bunch of creepy rightwingers’

    ‘If they have to attack one personally then they don’t have a single credible political argument left’

  17. I think this show,s if anything, the ‘creepy rightwingers’ to be forward thinking and a party whose membership does not always conform to stereotypes; articles and discussions like this make me proud to be a ‘creepy rightwinger’.

  18. Dear all, I wish to indicate that the above postings may appear in my name and link to my website but they did not originate from me, don’t speak on my behalf and appear to be an attempt to undermine me in some way.

    I’ve emailed the committee and president to indicate this and am looking into discovering who has done this.

    I wish to distance myself from those comments, the writer of them and apologise for any distress caused.

    Ben Whitehouse.

  19. You know it’s me because I haven’t linked to my blog (correctly or incorrectly) and I’ve blogged/tweeted about it and it’s very distressing to have someone pretend to be me.

    I’m hoping the blog owners will see that these comments have the correct emails, know it’s from me and that the distasteful comments above aren’t from me and don’t reflect my views.

    I’d like to lay this particular distressing episode to rest. Much as I’d love to continue my connection with the guild of students my time and energy are employed elsewhere.

  20. No worries Ben. If you say it’s not you, then that’s as far as the matter goes in my point of view. I hope you get it sorted out. It’s a wonder why someone would do it at all.

    Best wishes.

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