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12 March 1999

Down with the Stepford gays

There's more to life than shopping and cruising. Tim Teeman blasts the dim conformity of the urban h

By Tim Teeman

How can I, an out gay man, be homophobic? Surely, we leave all that stuff to Tory backbenchers, homosexuals from the 1950s, barking churchmen and loopy pressure groups like Family and Youth Concern. Well, not necessarily. Liberals have a kind of critical myopia around homosexuality. Many New Statesman readers probably believe that everything done in the name of gay equality – an equal age of consent, a plethora of positive images in popular culture – is good, and that campaigning homosexuals themselves are at the vanguard of liberationist politics, redefining notions of the family, identity and community.

Think again. Watch, as I did with mounting nausea, Channel 4’s Queer As Folk to get a handle on the real metropolitan homosexual lifestyle. The producers of this new drama are right to crow that it’s revolutionary: with its scene-centred, sexually compulsive, bar- and body-obsessed protagonists we finally get modern urban gays represented in all their shallow glory.

The reaction of gay campaigners has been predictable. We’re not all like that, they protest. Well actually, in the cities at least, homosexuals are. The stereotypes in Queer As Folk are rooted in reality.

As the gays in Queer As Folk testify, no group so vibrantly embraces its victimhood as homosexuals. We want to be treated equally, yet still celebrate our sexual difference as something special. This would be understandable if we had a “culture” or “community” to celebrate. But gays don’t. Sure, many writers, artists and powerbrokers have been gay, but all of them, pre-and post-gay liberation, would strongly resist their work being reduced to “gay theatre”, “gay fiction” or the initiatives of a “gay politician”. Yet their contributions are consistently appropriated into an amorphous pink canon. Why are homosexuals so desperate to maintain such bogus alignments?

It has always depressed me that a group so associated with radicalism should be so obsessed with narrow self-definition. There are right bars to visit, underwear to buy, and home decoration to salivate over. With such pressure to consume and perform, contemporary gay life and lifestyle is total Stepford. Maybe all this will be revealed when gay households are monitored for the first time in the next national census. Stand by for a glut of “We go to Ikea, then Trade” in response to “How do you spend your weekends?”

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A recent night out on the scene with friends confirmed the terminal, dim conformity of it all: clumps of men dressed all in variations of a uniform, preening silently, observing each other’s gym-honed bodies hawkishly. The gay scene, with one or two valiant exceptions, is predicated upon blunt sexual desire. You don’t go home alone thinking how marvellous it was to have communed with your fellow man. You just didn’t score, did you?

It’s shameful that, at the same time as (quite rightly) fighting for an equal age of consent, campaigners are happy for 16-year-old gays to have access to a scene that negates human interaction, while retaining all the worst elements of a judgemental, petty, shallow ghetto where only the emotionally stunted survive. How ironic: a group famed for its inclusiveness and diversity displays anything but either.

The thing is, we gay men haven’t felt the backdraft of feminism and other civil rights movements; our prejudices have been allowed to go unchecked. Indeed, against heterosexuals it’s seen as simple payback. But how mature is a group that demands total integration in society, and also its own territory outside, to be treated the same in law, yet retains a hermetic system of rules of its own? Any attempt to question these contradictions is decried as homophobia or censorship, just as anyone questioning the divine right for gays to have sex when or wherever they want is either anti-gay, or, if you’re gay yourself like me, simply self-hating.

The liberal media is complicit in this. Documentary-makers and editors love gays who buck trends yet edify – gay parents, long-standing couples, plucky gay teenagers – but I haven’t read or seen anything lately about the more prevailing, dessicated gay culture of anonymous sex, bar-room cruising, copious drugs, “fuck buddies” and Internet pick-ups. For a group so famed for its emotional literacy, why are intimacy, romance and commitment such taboos? In reality, gays outlad the laddiest of men with their constant partying, drinking, screwing and discarding. Homosexuals measure their own and others’ sexual performance, as well as their partying prowess, with the gusto of the most virile of chauvinists.

Gay men during the HIV epidemic of the 1980s were deservedly congratulated for facing down the prejudice of the time and leading the way in safer sex. No longer. Research last year from the Health Education Authority showed that over a third of gay men on the scene were having unsafe sex, despite awareness of the risks; and that gays under 25 were more likely to have sex with men identified as bisexual or “basically straight”. Last month, the Terrence Higgins Trust published research showing a third of gay men who are HIV positive don’t know it. It’s crazy that gay men who know better are indulging in high-risk sex.

The most damaging deception surrounds the notion of a “gay community”. Gay ghettos are nothing more than captive markets, a community measured in a till take at the end of the evening rather than by any meaningful act of coming together.

The central element of what I understand to be real community – a sustaining, collective identity – is glaringly absent from contemporary gay Britain. The political work is done by a small group of organisations and individuals – unaccountable maybe, but hard-working and (thanklessly) committed to moving agendas forward. Work with disadvantaged gays who have suffered discrimination or mental health problems is done outside “gay villages” in underfunded and understaffed offices. But these initiatives are invisible to the metropolitan party kids who, when faced with a collecting tin at a club, give wretchedly small amounts.

My homophobia, then, has less to do with hating the sin, as questioning the easy lies of the sinner. Lest the distasteful likes of Adrian Rogers and Baroness Young are dusting down the welcome mat for a convert, I’d emphasise that gay equality is vital, and gay sex ain’t so bad either. But homosexuals would do well to look at the accretion of indolence and hypocrisy that belie gay “community” and “identity” – just so they’re ready when the real homophobes come knocking.

The writer is a former editor of the “Pink Paper”