GAY REVOLUTION, NOT RACISM!
I call upon all gay men to start a revolution, but I don’t mean taking up arms and waving the rainbow flag in the face of straights down your high street. The revolution I want to start is among gay men themselves. I want to break the moulds which nobody really wants to talk about but which are holding our community back.
I have been running gay dating events for longer than I care to remember and I quite regularly receive calls from prospective customers who want to attend but they are not sure if black/ Asian men are allowed to come. My reaction has always been one of surprise as I reassure them that Urban Connections guests are just a microcosm of the racial mix of London & everyone is welcome. But a recent survey by FS magazine (which revealed that – 80% of Black guys, – 79% of Asian guys, – 75% of South Asian guys have personally experienced racism on the British gay scene) leads me to see these questions in a new light. A few weeks back, thousands of gay men were filling the streets of London demanding equal treatment: to be seen in the same way as straight people, whether that means adopting, marriage or any other rights. So, surely, it would seem logical that expecting equality and respect from the wider world would automatically mean they themselves treating others among their own community with equality. But something has gone wrong. While it seems that gay men have made huge strides to be accepted and respected in a hetronormative world, there seems to have developed a ‘mainstream’ idea of gay acceptability, which is white.
There is huge diversity within the gay world: a white young gay man can decide in his 20s whether he wants to bulk up and become a muscle Mary so he can whip his top off on the dance floor, he may decide to become a fashionista or to grow a beard and join the bears. But do black young men have the same multitude of options which they can experiment with and find their place? Why are there less men of colour visible on the gay scene? If they feel unwelcome then this is needs to be put right because the gay scene doesn’t belong to any one ‘type’ – it is for everyone to come and express themselves freely.
So I started to think about running some kind of event in response to this survey, to celebrate the myriad of skin colours in our city but when I started to research around this issue, I found that it is not just coloured gay men who are being shunned, there are other groups too. I wrote a book in 2010 and one of the chapters mentioned the awful phrase that is often seen on gay dating profiles: ‘no fats/ no fems’ or ‘I don’t do camp’. The gay main stream expects gay men to repress the slightest hint of femininity and aspire to be totally ‘straight acting’ (which is another phrase commonly found online). This means beefing up your biceps and walking the walk of a straight man. So, despite the years of fighting and campaigning for liberation, all gay men should now be marching towards a goal of being like straight men. How could this have happened? Graham Norton, the flamboyant TV Presenter, told Attitude magazine in 2014: the most criticism I get about being camp comes from gay people. There’s this sort of weird self-loathing in the gay community’. So if allowing any expression of femininity is so frowned upon by the mainstream gay culture, where does that leave transvestite men who want to wear a dress? They are not straight acting so they can’t join our club – either join the rest of us and repress yourself and pretend to be someone else or go and play somewhere else!
Despite all the awful comments visible on Grindr and other dating sites to ward off fatties, femms and Asians etc, I believe the users who post those messages are thoughtless rather than racist. They are just repeating what they have seen other users posting, albeit in a derogatory way (but that doesn’t make it right). If you sat down individually with each one of these men and asked them to imagine how it would feel to be on the receiving end of such comments if they were, in fact, feminine or Asian etc, I believe they would retract them straight away. I prefer to see the good in people and I think it’s just a case of education. Everyone is free to their own tastes and preferences; if you prefer a certain look or skin colour then there’s no need to change that, but there is also no need to put down any other colours or imply that any one group or look is less attractive than any other. There is a site which shames the worst Grindr offenders http://www.douchebagsofgrindr.com/ so it seems there is some kind of movement already happening.
It all comes down to looks: looking attractive (which means being white and having a gym body) is central to the mainstream gay culture and this gives us a clue to where the gay scene is heading. The scene is not a place for going out to make new friends in a place where you can relax and be yourself or have interesting conversations, instead it’s about seeing all the gay men around as potential sexual partners and nothing more. In the FS survey, many of the black males who were questioned said they were only approached by white guys because it was their sexual fantasy to go with a black guy and they assumed that they would be hung. It’s a sad state of affairs to reduce everyone to a particular sexual value or worth but that’s how it is. Ten years ago, I lived in Barcelona and enjoyed the thriving gay life which went on till the early hours; the venues were packed. Last year I went back to the city and couldn’t understand why there were no gay men bustling around the streets. Why had all these bars closed down? The answer I got again and again from the locals was one word: Grindr. The gay locals just need to use their phone to get a man, there was no longer any need to go out. But, again, this is reducing the whole gay scene to a means of finding a shag. Is that all it really is? It could well be, here in London too, that’s why I think it’s time that gay men think about what kind of gay community they want. Just as local high streets up and down the county are becoming globalised with Starbucks and Zaras; the gay cafes and bars in central London are disappearing one by one. Who needs a physical meeting place with all these apps – better to demolish Old Compton Street and build another Westfield.
So this is where I throw down the gauntlet and challenge gay men in the UK to think about their own attitudes to other gay men and how they see them and treat them, both in person and online, and also think about what kind of gay community and gay scene they want. Over to you.