Friends of Boshemia and partners Tom Holmes and Alex Nolan unpack the toxic, tragic, fabulous and fierce aspects of gay pop culture.
I don’t like Madonna.
Sure, the odd song, such as ‘Vogue’ and ‘Beautiful Stranger’ takes my fancy, but I certainly don’t “stan” her as a great deal of gay men do. While I feel that her contributions to gay culture and the world of music are certainly noteworthy, I think she is a bit of a lucky karaoke singer.
Some of you may be gasping, hand clutched to breast at the outrageousness of the above paragraph, but that is exactly what I want to address. I don’t like Madonna, and that’s alright. I don’t want you to stop liking her, nor do I believe that my views are clever, funny, “cool” or, indeed interesting. Despite that, many gay people must think that I do not fit in, am just trying to be non-conformist.
When I first came out, I can’t deny I felt a sense of family and belonging. But I couldn’t feel like I fit in. ‘Gay culture’ insofar as what others said it was, did not correspond to how I really felt, or the things I liked.
“Paris is Burning is an absolute must. You simply can’t call yourself gay without it!” – hipster gay swirling brandy, 2018
“YAAAAS QUEEN SLAY MAMA, YAS HUNTY okurrrrrrrrrrr *tongue pop*” – every homosexual under 20 who found RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix.
– also me, in 2015.
My coming out and introduction to gay culture were separate events, I suppose. I came out at fifteen, and I was the only gay male at my school. I didn’t have much of a scene or culture to participate in. I already loved fashion and shopping, and I had stolen my sister’s Britney albums years ago. I threw myself head first into all the things I’d always known I’d loved but had never been brave enough to allow myself to publicly enjoy. I started acting and buying clothes in bright pink. I could finally be me, be as camp and as fabulous as I wanted to be, and that felt so amazing.
But as I grew up and started trying to meet guys, I came across men who had internalised their misogyny so hard, you had to be straight-passing to be worthy of a glance. The slightest show of femininity or stereotypical ‘gayness’ was a threat. I didn’t know who to be for a while. So I defined myself by what those men wanted me to be. There was, and still is, this pervading toxicity trying to stamp out anything that was womanlike, or not heteronormative. For two months in my attempt to ‘not be so femme’ I pretended to know what the hell was happening in games of rugby and drank pints in dingy pubs.
I got the D, so it kinda worked but I felt gross and would go home and sing ‘There Are Worse Things I could Do’ in the shower.
Drag Race, Musical Theatre, Oscar Wilde, Glee, Gay Bars, tight clothes, promiscuity and recreational drugs; some of the so-called hallmarks of gay culture. You shouldn’t have to pretend to like something to be accepted by people. You shouldn’t have to act or pretend to be a certain way.
For a while, I regret to say, that is exactly what I did. When I came out and felt this pressure, I hid parts of myself from my new gay friends. I stopped listening to metal, wore different clothing, tried different hairstyles and started watching different films and TV shows, as well as my lowest moment – unironically using words like “Yaas”, “Slay”, and “iconic” in my everyday language with a put-on camp voice. I hid those things away from my friends, despite them being just as much a part of me as my sexuality was. I came out as gay, and went back into the closet as a metalhead, a fan of ugly, comfortable clothes, and a fan of American Pie, football and WRC.
For a while, I tried to edge the ‘gayness’ out of my personality to attract men. I’ve worked my way out of that state of mind. I won’t perform heteronormativity or masculinity for anyone, and I can embrace who I am. Luckily, that seems to be working for me. I have an amazing group of largely LGBTQ+ friends who have no preconceptions about how a person should be queer. It’s important to celebrate our culture, but gatekeeping and misogyny can stay out of it (that’s on us, gay men) because they make it way less fun.
Luckily, after some time, I became proud enough of those traits I’d hidden to let them back out, becoming the truest representation of me. I became the Tom who wore trackies and hi-tops every single day, because I liked them. The Tom who watched whatever he wanted, who listened to metal, knew every lyric to Tempa T’s Next Hype, and encouraged his friends to take whiskey shots with him, because that was the real him. Allowing people to see that side of me didn’t mean I wasn’t also the Tom who dresses in Drag, loves Ariana Grande, Troye Sivan, Wicked and who cried at Moana (thrice).
(Alex’s note: he cried at Moana four times).
Gay culture is something to be explored, remembered and revered, sure – but that doesn’t mean it’s everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s a good thing. Gay culture can be toxic, and it can be fabulous.
The message of our community should be inclusion and diversity. We are supposed to celebrate the fact that we are all different, and that is a wonderful thing.
Your negative preconceptions won’t help anyone. Be proud of how different we all are.
If you see a guy screaming in excitement over Ariana’s new single dropping, that’s okay – don’t call him out for being femme. That’s super shitty. And maybe next time you hear an LGBT+ person say they hate Madonna, maybe your response should be “Fair enough.”
Or, “Okurrrrrrr? *tongue pop*”.