Dear Gay Community,
I know you’ve had it hard, it’s the one thing we can all agree on. It’s the one thing keeping the L,G,B and T together. Our shared pain, our shared oppression and our shared desire for a better future.
But, some people inside the community have been doing things that hurt all of us, and very often they’ve been arguing against their own kind precisely for this reason: “When you sleep around you make us all look bad” they say, “when you walk around like Alan Carr and act up in public, you make us all look bad”, the theme continues.
It’s natural to be concerned about image. Indeed, image is the thing that gets you noticed. Whether it’s the first time your mother looked at you funny and asked you if there was “something you wanted to tell me” or the kids at school who always sensed you were a bit different, despite your constant attempts to tone it down and blend right in.
But, you see, it’s this history that forms the biggest reason why, today, you should try just that little bit harder to not judge those who live differently to the way you believe a gay man should live.
I know it’s natural to judge and to form opinions about what you feel is right and wrong, but in doing so you risk creating the very same culture of oppression on the less assimilated queers, who weren’t so able to blend in, who weren’t so able to go under the radar. These people have always lived under the spotlight, and must deal with the same pressures you did, and having it from people who are supposed to be family, just makes it all the more painful.
Indeed, these people who form a part of our cultural history have often been the very same ones who had to fight for the rights you enjoy today, precisely because they had no choice but to stand in the spotlight. When it becomes impossible to blend in, fighting is all you have left.
Every time you look down on a guy for being too ‘fem’ you savage the pioneers, the sequin-smothered queens at the front of the first pride parades, the queer club kid who threw the first punch at the stonewall riots, the gender outliers who made your own progress possible.
Every time you pass judgement on an individual who uses PrEP and practises consensual sex with other men, you reinforce the stigma originally jumped upon by our political oppressors to smear and associate our reputation with an accidental illness no one asked for, and no one deserved.
Every time you judge a body for being too fat, or too thin, you reinforce a dominant idea that has been used to oppress humans since the beginning of time, whether it was the association of the thinning body of the AIDS patient, or the fat body of the queer kid who never fit in the school sports class for his limp wrist and ‘girly’ ball throws.
Every time you smirk at people who enjoy non-monogamous relationships, or weekend orgies at a Premier Inn, you knock every gay man in 16th century Britain who had sex in the backroom of a tavern led by a house mother, whose job was to keep the queer’s safe from planned police raids to stop the crime of man-on-man sex – sodomy – in the community.
Ours – all of ours – is a community built on deviant sex, deviant relationships, and queer, gender non-conforming, loud and proud voices. It was not just the straight-acting lad’s lad, married with 2 kids who got us our rights, today. It was every other, far less ‘assimilated’ queer he owes the thanks for that privilege.
This is not to say that gay men should, therefore, carry on those maligned, often painful histories, or actively avoid leading ‘normal lives’, indeed, it is a sign of progress that we are now able to do those things, but it is not a sign of progress that we judge people who wish to remain queer and non-conforming. Those people deserve our respect in our present, just as much as they did in our past – at a time when asking for respect wasn’t even an option for being any boy who loves boys, or any girl who loves girls.
We must stop being a community deeply divided between ‘insider’ and ‘image damager’, and the emphasis on this lesson learning, is not on the queers. They’ve done enough.
It is the gay man who believes that being anything other than in a monogamous relationship with a chiselled, straight-acting white man is a stain on his community, that needs to hang his head in shame, admit his ignorance and take a lesson in queer theory. It is not the queers, who live alternatively, but openly, who are the damaging ones here.
I wish you nothing but love and happiness, whether that’s attending orgies at the local bathhouse or settling down with a glass of wine with your other half in the evening.
Or all those who fall somewhere in between.
I hope you’ll extend the rest of us the same civility.
Words by Daniel Ashley, Sex and Gender Researcher – University of Brighton