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

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“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.