An excerpt from a conversation I wish had not happened, but unfortunately did after approaching a female friend of mine in a nightclub:
Stranger: I wouldn’t bother with her, she’s got a boyfriend.
Me (in a moment of facetiousness): She’s my friend, and besides, I have a boyfriend too.
Stranger: Wait, you’re gay? But, you don’t look gay.
That is the abridged version; I excluded his reasoning on how experimenting with watching some rather niche pornography somehow proved his open mindedness and a rather awkward fist-bump. This is one of several encounters I have had where my sexuality has been treated with reactions of scepticism by people I have only just met. The common denominator in all of them is that I have always been told that I don’t “look” gay.
I try not to take offense, for who could blame them? In a media-saturated society we are constantly barraged by images of what LGBT people “look like”. R.W Connell’s germinal book Masculinities describes the pervading cultural image of homosexual identity as a repository of characteristics that are seen as not fitting for hegemonic “masculinity”. These traits aren’t difficult to list, for they permeate almost every construction of homosexual identity in culture: flamboyant mannerisms, an ostentatious dress sense and fastidious grooming. Henceforth they become a schema for those who are unaware of the true diversity of the LGBT community.
I find it frustrating that due to these misinterpretations, men like me who don’t dress like Liberace or Kurt Hummel are treated as an anomaly. What frustrates me further is the pressure that gay men are under to act more conventionally “masculine”, that by being defined as “camp” you are somehow inhibiting the acceptance of the LGBT community.
Glee’s Kurt Hummel, portrayed by Chris Colfer.
I’ve been to one gay club in my life and after one too many drinks I often find myself on the dance-floor, either slurring or screaming songs such as Born This Way, Raise Your Glass and other songs that you may not necessarily find on my iPod, but may be defined as an occasional guilty pleasure. It may be what you call “camp”, and I don’t tend to do it very often, but it felt good to be uninhibited, to do something that may not be ‘masculine’ and not to particularly care.
It’s saddening that gay men are turning on one another in a quest to break out of the sphere of “camp”, to disavow the flamboyant, the fey and the fabulous in order to pander to those who say “you don’t look gay” as if it were a compliment.
It’s not a compliment. It’s ignorance.
And instead of internalising and indulging, try educating. Tell these people that actually being gay is your life, not your “lifestyle”. I’m not saying that there aren’t those of us in the gay community who don’t particularly feel comfortable being defined as “camp”, and to these people I say:
Live your life however you please, just don’t throw other people under the bus in the process.