Isn't it time we 'cut the crap' and started to treat each other with the respect we all deserve?
"Did you see what that guy just did?", my friend Emma exclaimed as we stood in a queue for the cinema. She continued to recount in disbelief, how a gay guy stood next to us had taken a step back, looked me up and down from head to toe and then turned back around again dismissively.
"Like he was inspecting a new bookshelf in Ikea, and then decided it to be below his standards"? I asked.
"Yep exactly like that", she concurred.
"It happens all the time", I assured her with a nonchalant shrug.
Rather than be irked by such behaviour, I had actually become accustomed to it within the gay community. But whilst I may be unfazed by such actions, I still do not believe them to be acceptable. Call me old fashioned if you will, but when I'm checking out/perving on a guy, I at least try to do so discreetly, and not resort to such brazen stare-downs.
(Before we proceed any further, I should point out my sartorial choices on the day were pretty uninspired; Topman plaid shirt, navy straight leg jeans, and suede desert boots. A bit geography supply teacher, on dress down Friday. Hardly a look that should elicit such a response, I think you will agree).
It was certainly not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that I was at the receiving end of the 'mean girl' gay behaviour. Whilst there is still much work to do, the lives of gay people (in most of the western world at least) have improved immeasurably. But unfortunately our own personal demons seem to be as prevalent as ever. It's abhorrent how the world has treated gay men but it's also dispiriting how gay men still treat one another.
Gay guys are well- known for their acerbic put-downs and withering criticisms. This biting humour may gain laughs aplenty, but what of the consequences? Others may join in on the laughter, but it unquestionably leaves friends and colleagues wary of you. How long until I am the one at the receiving end of his acid tongue, they must surely ask themselves?
What may seem like harmless banter in gay friendship groups, can over time become a real issue. The snide remarks eventually begin to rankle, building into a resentment which simmers just beneath the surface, until one-time strong bonds are irrevocably damaged. We're all a mass of vulnerabilities and who knows what seemingly innocuous remark can provoke them?
It still saddens me that once strong gay friendships of mine, which should have stood the test of time, were needlessly ruined by this kind of insecure and catty behaviour. In popular fiction the bitchy character usually gets their comeuppance and finishes the story isolated. In my own experience, life has tended to imitate art.
It doesn't take much time in the psychologist's armchair to uncover where much of this behaviour stems from. As Alan Down explains in his book The Velvet Rage: "Because we have such a low tolerance for invalidation and experience it so painfully, we also are hypersensitive to it in our environment [The gay man] knows to expect invalidation and he is armed with fistfuls of it in return." Matthew Todd corroborates this in his book Straight Jacket; "we often employ the defence mechanism of rejecting before we are rejected. This is why we are sneery and nasty to each other." Growing up in such homophobic environments has understandably left very obvious scars.
Over the years there have been myriad occasions, when I have been speaking to a gay guy, who pretends to listen to you but is in actual fact looking over your shoulder, scanning the room/party to see who else he can talk to. Sadly, not only has all this not been an imagining in my head, it transpires this behaviour is pervasive on the gay scene. So much so, it has even been given a name - 'glistening.'
The subtext of 'glistening' is clear; it's a chore to speak to you, I don't find you interesting and you're just not good enough. At least that's how I used to interpret it. Young and impressionable, I thought this treatment directly reflected on me and was a measure of my already pretty low worth. Now that I'm older and wiser I swiftly remove myself from these situations whenever they arise and I know I can choose my response to this kind of behaviour.
But to my mind the real blemish on the gay community's character is, that of femme-phobia- the discrimination of camp/effeminate gay guys by fellow homosexual men. Not to mention the fat-shaming and casual racism which abound on dating apps such as Grindr. Whilst we have been rallying against one type of bigotry from the outside world, another has been residing on our own doorstep all along.
The media portrayal of gay men was traditionally stereotypically camp and many feel this has led to an inaccurate representation of gay men as a whole. Alan Carr has said that; "the most homophobia I get is from the gay community." It's shameful that lovely Alan Carr (incidentally my dream GBF) and other camp gay men should be treated in such a way.
But why so much value is placed on the misguided belief that one person or even a section of a community could represent such a large and diverse group of people such as gay men, is in itself absurd. In 2017 we should be able to see this thinking for what it is - antiquated and outdated.
Hiding behind what might be considered a more socially acceptable facade just isn't an option for camp gay men. They are the ones who serve on the frontline. Imagine how devastating it must be, to venture out on the gay scene for the first time, expecting to find a safe place free from discrimination, only to realise you still have to contend with it and this time it's coming from your own community. It must be a very lonely place to be.
"It's much harder for me to come out, I don't behave like you", was a comment frequently levelled against me, by erstwhile gay friends. My love of gay icons such as Kylie and Madonna was frowned upon and I was regularly accused of 'perpetuating the stereotype'. But as soon as alcoholic beverages were consumed by these 'straight acting' gays, nights out would invariably be filled with eye-rolls, limp wrists and hips swaying aplenty. It is inevitable that much of the discrimination gay men experience ends up being internalised. Femme phobia is just another example of how this shame has manifested.
What could possibly be the most important lesson to be taken from growing up gay? Surely it must be to accept others for who they inherently are and to be respectful of our differences. We're all guilty of passing judgement on people based on superficial evidence or hearsay but it's a real shame this life lesson seems to have been lost on so many of us.
Truthfully, what is the real measure of masculinity? Is it the clothes you wear, the width of your bicep, behaving in a 'straight acting' manner? In my book, it's having the courage to be your authentic self and to do the right thing even when it's hard or means having to stand alone. I think that takes far more courage or 'balls' than to appear 'straight acting'. Bigotry of any kind, it certainly isn't. We've all experienced the pain of discrimination and prejudice; let's make sure we don't inflict it on one another.