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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Running Around With Handbags...

How much does being sexually different from the mainstream world really give us in common? It's something I've thought about before, and it raised its head again the other day after Andreas Derleth, Mr Gay World 2012, said he wanted to change the image of " gay men running around with handbags".

He didn't mean we should ditch Gucci for Prada.

It reminded me of the equally dumb and homophobic comments made by Mike Puru a few months ago that he doesn't want to walk his little dogs in public and be seen as a stereotypical gay man.

But it's a fact that can't be ignored - an awful lot of gay men just want to live "normal" lives in the suburbs with their partners, they don't want to be associated with the more flamboyant and socially non-conformist sides of gay culture as it has grown.

For them, the old stereotype of a gay man as a mincing nelly queen, interested in opera, interior-decorating and gossip, is something they simply cannot identify with. They want to be "men" and fit in with their straight mates. They don't want to be different.

Their position assumes that this is better, this is "correct" way to be a gay man and that being a not-so-butch homo is a bad thing. I understand their desire to be accepted, I really do, but no matter how "straight-acting" and handbag-free they become, a taste for cock up your arse or down your throat is never really going to be seen as truly butch by your straight mates and colleagues.

Gay men can fit in with the mainstream more than any other group of queers though, and hold onto a lot of the power and privilege that goes with being a man in our world. And that is just what a lot of gay men want - they see no need to change the system, they just want to fit into it and get on with life. The "Gay Community" is less central to their lives, or even totally irrelevant.

I'd argue they don't understand either the history of gay oppression and Gay Liberation, or just how we actually got to the position of relative social freedom we now have. It wasn't from fitting in and dumping the handbags. But that was then, and the world has changed hugely. Gay men have choices that a generation ago would have seemed impossible.

And there is no doubt that gay men have done the best out of the movement for sexual liberation and rights. If you're elsewhere on the spectrum of sexual difference, of being "Queer" things aren't as rosy.

The great promise of the "Queer" movement of the late 80s and 90s was to bring that whole collection of letters (LGBTTIF)  that makes such an alphabet soup under one umbrella, to say we are all sharing in the same oppression and have the same interests.

It hasn't really worked out that way though, and it never really held water outside the world of university theorists as far as I can make out. A happily Civil-Unioned white gay lawyer in Remuera just isn't going to have that much in common with a Samoan MTF trans-person. The assumption that sexual difference, that "queerness" unites us all doesn't hold up.

But when someone gets a title like "Mr Gay World" I do expect more of him. I do expect him to realise that in fact a hell of a lot of young gay guys get bullied, get driven to self-harm and suicide because they don't fit in, because they are not butch, because they are in fact, close to the old "handbag carrier" stereotype. And not just young gay guys, all queer youth. Maybe he spoke without thinking, I don't want to spoil his joy in his title, but I hope he reconsiders.

Otherwise he becomes part of the problem, he excludes those who don't or can't fit in. And that's not what I thought this competition and title were about.


Hans Versluys said...

Linked your blog to my blog roll. Cheers, Hans

The Gay Blade said...

Hey thanks Hans - much appreciated and I'll return the favour