“But you don’t look gay!” The issue with camp within the gay community.

It was not until I read an article addressing homophobic backlash from the gay community aimed at a gay comedian did I realize that many gay men actually have a big problem with campness and effeminate gay men. The article was about a P.E.T.A campaign a British comedian took part in, in which he was portrayed as a fairy. Despite being openly camp and renowned for it, the image of the comedian, Alan Carr, sparked huge controversy and created a great amount of abuse. He then tweeted a message saying that “The most homophobia I get is from gays” and followed with the hash tag, ‘#selfloathing’. This is an extremely interesting statement and one that addresses something that is rarely talked about; homophobia within the the gay community in relation to campness. This seems partly due to the feeling that campness invites homophobia and the reasons behind this is the fact that society’s gender roles and norms have socialized all men into thinking that heterosexuality masculinity is the natural order. This then leads to ‘internalized homophobia‘ which is often the feeling of shame and denial and can lead to the hating of other gay people, especially camp gay men. The stereotype of a gay male as a ‘camp queen’ has led many gay men to present themselves as ‘straight-acting‘ on dating websites and to refrain from presenting themselves in anyway that may lead them to be portrayed as camp. It is now a compliment for a straight person to tell a gay male that they don’t look gay, but this highlights serious issues not only within in the gay community but in society as a whole. The statement portrays being gay as a lifestyle choice and these assumptions of gay people are based on stereotypes that view all gay men as effeminate. All of this refers back to the strict gender norms society produces, especially that of masculinity and for a man to challenge this discourse by acting camp society, including the gay community, will react by asserting traditional gender norms. It is important to recognize the wide spectrum of gay men and camp is just a form of gender expression but it seems that being camp is much harder to accept than being gay.

The image that ignited this debate was that of comedian Alan Carr dressed as a fairy. The pink wings, pink wand and the luminous pink text is extremely camp and I understand how the image can be seen as encompassing the gay stereotype that dominates society.

Controversial campaign that sparked backlash from the gay community.

One argument that is put forward by Owen Jones in his article for the Guardian is that many may view this as portraying all gay men as fairies, contributing to the stereotype that all gay men are simply court jesters and therefore this image is extremely offensive. Jones helps explain why this view is shared amongst the gay community, when gay people appear or are portrayed on television and in the media they are “one dimensional, caricatured camp clowns, a kind of gay minstrel show.” Despite this argument Jones points out that it is important to realize that Carr is not claiming to represent all gay men. Carr is known for his camp personality but his sexuality has never been a focal point in his comedy. His camp act with his shrill, giggly voice has faced countless criticism from the gay community with him being accused of being a throwback to the limp-wristed homosexual stereotypes of the 1970s.

Despite his obvious camp mannerism, he ever explicitly mentions his sexuality.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2008, Carr stated that “gays hate me” and the community views him as if he is “letting the side down.” He also goes on to say that he does’t talk about being gay and that is what he believes preaches gay equality. This is extremely interesting as he is not being judged by his sexuality but he is being judged for being outrageously camp. This is because, according to Jones, there is a sense in the gay community that “loud and proud campness” invites homophobia and therefore all gay men suffer as a result. This is complicity with oppression and can be linked to the way in which a woman is blamed for a sexual attack if she was wearing a short skirt. The issue of campness, according to Damian Barr, is where homophobia and misogyny meet and metastasize. Men who refuse to perform masculinity therefore deserve to be punished, just like women who refuse to be “corseted by femininity.” It is a way of policing within a community; it is sending the message that if you act camp then you deserve the homophobia.

The issue with camp is major. The argument is that campness is a much harder thing to accept than being gay, because it comes with judgement all round. This hostility towards campness comes from the desire to conform to society’s gender roles; which Jones accurately states that gay men have already subverted whether they like it or not. This all round judgement also includes homophobia from gay men. Whilst initially I found this surprising after further reading it started to make sense. Gay men grow up in the same society as straight men that teaches that settling down with a woman is the natural order. Masculinity is viewed with such prestige in society that anyone who goes against this paradigm is often punished with ridicule. Liam Murphy also suggests that it is society’s fear and hatred of the feminine and the rigid adherence to gender roles that underpins the intolerance of campness. Other factors such as hearing the word ‘gay’ being used as an insult, or seeing the horror on a straight man’s face when being accused of gay, not to mention the frequent violent verbal and physical attacks gay men receive can lead to internalized shame within gay men. This is explained in Alan Downs book, The Velvet Rage. He states that internalized shame is formed in gay men at a young age “during those tender and formative years” where it is taught that there is “something flawed” about them. As a result of developing and living in an environment of hostility towards homosexuality, gay men internalize anti-homosexual views in an effort to achieve society’s desired masculinity. In David J. Allen and Terry Oleson’s article they argue that the dissonance between an internal negative view of homosexuality and an emerging homosexual identity tends to create tremendous conflict. Allen and Oleson also point out the fear of being seen or exposed as an undesirable in the eyes of society can create shame and therefore many gay men will avoid the stereotypical traits that society attaches to homosexuality in favor of passing as a heterosexual.  Therefore a result of internalized homophobia is the discrimination of camp and effeminate gays as they fail to conform to societal gender norms and may attract ridicule for other gay men. But it is important to recognize that campness is a form of gender expression and something that happens in conjunction with sexuality; campness does not equal homosexuality.

Due to this attack on campness, ‘straight-acting’ is now the crowning achievement to many gay men, especially when it comes to dating sites. According to Andy West’s article in The Independent the most common phrases on gay dating websites are; ‘straight-acting’, ‘non-scene’, ‘no camp guys please’ and ‘real blokes only’. It seems that masculinity has become the benchmark for attractiveness and the stereotypical traits of campness such as; flamboyant mannerisms, ostentatious dress sense and fastidious grooming are at odd with heterosexual culture. Obviously every person has a different perception of what they find attractive but according to Cameron Lamont, that does not necessarily mean that inherently camp men are any more likely to reject their inner camp simply because they might be found more attractive. The desire for gay men to fit into the heterosexuality norm has resulted in the phrase “but you don’t look gay” being used as a compliment, as if reassuring them that their homosexuality is barely visible. This again refers back to the blaming the victim ideology, because if they do not look gay then they do not deserve homophobia. But if you are a ‘straight-acting’ gay surely this means that you find women attractive, this label is deeply ironic and perhaps it would be better to simply accept that humans have a diverse range of personalities, traits and behaviors. According to Dave Stalling, by applying the term camp or straight-acting to gay men, it simply contributes to the myths and misconceptions of what is feminine and masculine.

surely straight-acting means being heterosexual?

Despite the fact that, in Britain, there has never been a better time to be gay with the majority of anti gay laws being overturned and marriage equality, being gay still means you are an outsider and homophobia is extremely common. It seems that gay men are now under more pressure from the gay community to “tone down and reject” their camp, due to fear of exclusion or because it is not found attractive. Referring back to the example of Carr and the fairy campaign, camp is a form of gender expression that does not necessarily relate to sexuality. His routine and personality may be camp but his sexuality does not play a role. People’s difficulty in accepting campness comes from the strict gender roles that have dominated society and have caused many gay men to internalize the shame of being gay in order to fit in with the heterosexual masculinity norm and escape the label of camp. It seems that all men and women are oppressed by straight male masculinity, therefore it is important to challenge homophobia, especially within the gay community as this rise in campophobia may lead to victim blaming in cases of homophobic attacks. Instead the gay community needs to unite and celebrate its differences otherwise the camp gay will become a minority within a minority.


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