Image problem: gay or straight, we are all actors. Image by Pacifico Silano, 'Male Fantasy' series
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Damian Barr: Why do so many gay men hate camp men?

Masc only”, “Str8 acting”, “Not into camp”. Strain your thumbs swiping Grindr and you’ll see a depressing amount of this prejudice. You’d think that, having been oppressed, we’d be more enlightened.

Violence has a way of crackling the air just before it erupts. Like with thunder, you feel it before you hear it. An oppressive atmospheric weight. Gay men develop a sixth sense for it. Walking home along Brighton seafront around midnight about a decade ago, I lowered my head passing a knot of trackie-suited loud-mouthed lads. I knew I was going to have to run and that if I didn’t run fast enough I was going to have to fight. And if I didn’t fight hard enough?

The seafront was almost empty, so I could sprint properly. After what felt like for ever I dared to look back. They were gaining. Was that a knife? I felt ashamed for not turning and fighting. I felt desperate to get home to my boyfriend. I thought of all the times I’ve had to run. I remembered that scene in Torch Song Trilogy where Harvey Fierstein and Matthew Broderick finally dare to move in together and one of them pops out to get a bottle of champagne to celebrate but doesn’t make it back. Would I make it home?

I did. Just. I slammed the front door and fell back against it, panting. Milliseconds behind, the gang slammed into it, pounding the wood, shouting “poof” and “queer” and all the old names. Shaking, I hauled myself upstairs. I didn’t bother calling the police because back then it wasn’t worth it. Next day I told my then boss, who blurted: “But you don’t look gay!” As the day wore on, this response recurred, often accompanied by a sympathetic side-head or a cup of what passed for tea. They were trying to be nice: so why did I feel hurt?

What those sympathetic, mostly female, colleagues were really saying was: “You don’t look gay . . . so you didn’t deserve to be chased.” The implication being that a more obviously gay man would be fair game. It’s the short skirt argument. It’s blaming the victim. It’s where homophobia and misogyny meet and metastasise: men who refuse to perform masculinity and women who refuse to be corseted by femininity deserve to be punished. Much progress has been made in the decade since I last ran for my life but the twin forces of homophobia and misogyny are far from defeated. Now we have slut-shaming and the bullying to death of gay teens on social media. We have Emma Watson getting rape threats for speaking about feminism at the UN, and Women Against Feminism, and the rise of the straight-acting gay man – the most homophobic man there is.

“Masc only”, “Str8 acting” and “Not into camp”. Strain your thumbs swiping Grindr, the gay dating app, and you’ll see a depressing amount of this prejudice. You’d think that, having been oppressed, we’d be more enlightened. The punishment on Grindr is to click BLOCK so the offending profile disappears. The camp man becomes the invisible man. He is relegated to a minority within a minority. Like Jewish guards in the ghetto, we now police one another – we chase ourselves late at night.

I am a white, English-speaking, middle-class man. More accurately, I am white as only a Scottish man can be: white like the armpit of a cavefish (if fish had arms). I am English-speaking but my aforesaid Scottishness affords me bonus cultural prestige, especially as my baritone burr is non-threatening and heather-scented. I am middle-class now but wasn’t always so – I am the first, and so far the only, person in my family to go to university. I was born a man and haven’t felt the need to change that. I am, for the moment, able-bodied. I have basically won the lottery of life. Except for my gayness. If you work in “the media” this can be a bonus and it’s no accident that I’ve made a place for myself in an ecosystem where I can not just survive, but thrive.

There is a growing resistance to the straight-acting gay man. “Masc” is just another mask and the straight-acting gay man is just that – an actor. The bromosexual chooses his clothes as carefully as any drag queen; his mannerisms are as studied, his voice as carefully modulated. He is trying to pass. But so is the straight man. It’s just that over centuries all his careful nurturing has been naturalised. He is the norm but he is not natural.

All men and women are oppressed by straight male masculinity but we are not all oppressed equally. Some of us are chasing and some of us are chased, but we are all running. It’s time to stop.

Damian Barr’s memoir “Maggie and Me” is published by Bloomsbury (£7.99)

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Grayson Perry guest edit

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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