Patrick said ‘Despite the prevalence of camp humour, being camp is still seen as an unattractive trait whether you’re gay or straight.’ His article got me thinking. I’ve just read the comments at the bottom of his article, and I can’t even...
So, without further mincing about - the word ‘camp’ comes from French slang ‘se camper’ which is ‘to pose in an exaggerated fashion’ and what’s wrong with that?
Gay men’s views on camp men
I’ve been told, on gay dating websites there’s a lot of people looking for ‘straight acting’ or ‘no camps/femmes’ which I find quite sad. I wrote about why I went to Brighton Pride, even though I am not proud to be gay, the main point I was making is that there are so many different ways to be gay nowadays, that there’s no such thing as ‘the right way.’ However, from what I’ve read about these websites, this isn’t quite the case.
Society’s views on camp men
They’re often only OK for entertainment and humour from society as a whole: there’s plenty of camp men in the media every day: Alan Carr, Graham Norton, Joe McElderry, Will Young, and in the seventies, Larry Grayson, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtry and John Inman.
Why is this a problem?
Both these views basically amount to the same thing: that camp makes you less of a man – a gay man or a straight man – than not being camp.
Doing and being camp
There’s doing camp and being camp. Doing camp is when someone puts it on for effect, and can return to non camp if they want. Being camp is just how some people are – gay and straight men – and it’s not something they can turn on and off, they just are.
Some gay men can ‘pass’ – as in it’s not obvious they’re gay, they might do camp sometimes, but they’re not being camp. That’s one of the many ways of being gay and I welcome this diversity. However, there are other gay men who can’t ‘pass’ so easily. I remember saying to a friend that I didn’t really bother coming out any more, because normally when I walked into a room, I could see on people’s faces that they were thinking, oh look, it’s a gay man. And I’m fine with that, I have to be. There’s nothing I can do about it, I can’t change my persona, actions, how I talk, any more than I can really change any other aspects of my personality. Nor, I think should I have to.
How this attitude can be hurtful
When I was at uni, I met a guy at the student union bar and we ended up coming back to my room in halls of residence. I thought it was all going well. We arrived in my room and he looked at the Steps and A1 posters – it was the late nineties – and said, ‘You’re basically a walking stereotype aren’t you?’ (I had a H from Steps-esque haircut too, all spiky fringe and highlights.) So I told him to leave and he looked so surprised, until I pushed him out of my room, down the corridor and out the front door.
This can be a double edged sword: in some instances being a bit camp (a bit, I hear you cry!) has allowed me to get away with things I otherwise couldn’t have done. We had Kim Woodburn from TV’s How Clean Is Your House visit my work place and I asked for a photo from the professional photographer of me wearing the feathered rubber gloves, stood next to her. The chief executive said, ‘You have no shame, Liam,’ and she was clearly keen for Kim to get on with the job in hand. And I replied, with a smile and a feathery glove, ‘No, I don’t suppose I do.’ To which the chief executive said nothing. I still have that photo.
On the minus side it means I am essentially a beacon of camp wherever I go. I’ve had a car drive past me along the road where we live, with a man hanging out the window shouting ‘poof, fa**ot, queer, bender’ at me. I assume this was because I wore a pink striped T shirt, and had peroxided hair. Recently, I was driving back to the New Forest from a suburb of Southampton in my little – admittedly pretty camp – Mazda. Late at night, a car overtook me and a man leant out the window and shouted abuse at me. I turned up my Dido CD, and drove home, checking my mirrors in case the car was following. It wasn’t. It took me a few Dido tracks and a few junctions on the motorway until I had calmed myself down.
These are all examples of homophobia because of camp. And because camp is generally accepted as a way of being less of a man, this homophobia is more readily accepted in society in little insignificant ways, small comments, in the same way that racism or sexism probably wouldn’t be so accepted.
So next time you’re laughing at a camp comedian on the TV or radio think about why that is, and maybe pause to consider why if you’re a gay man you only want a ‘straight acting’ boyfriend/ sex buddy, and what that says about you. Or, as Patrick summed it up perfectly, ‘Maybe it's time we all lighten up and embrace our inner camp a little more often.’ And maybe for those of us whose inner camp is a bit more outer camp, that should be celebrated
Until next time,
Liam Livings xx