Fancy a large one? Ooooh Matron! Gay camp - is it time to live and let live or time to move on asks OutUK's own little treasure Adrian Gillan.

First things first: there's no logical - or biological - connection between someone's sexuality and their general demeanour and behaviour. Such things are social constructs - part conditioned, part chosen.

It's certainly not hard to explain why so many gay men - either habitually or in certain situations - camp it up, both physically and vocally. Some aim to seek attention and acceptance, some to deflect and diffuse hostility, others to ironically subvert straight imagery, and most to adopt a social code that identifies and sustains a distinct sub-culture. It's got very little to do with sex: few people fall for camp or seduce with it.


Our fave Top 10 Happy Campers are 1.Graham Norton, 2.Dale Winton, 3.Kenneth Williams, 4.Frankie Howerd, 5.Julian Clary, 6.Larry Grayson, 7.John Inman, 8.Boy George, 9.Oscar Wilde, 10.Quentin Crisp
But should we judge gay male camp - and lesbian butch camp can be analysed along similar lines - as a charming, harmless and colourful social phenomenon to be treasured? Or is it - as some increasingly hold - all too often a self-perpetuating stunting stereotype that - left unchallenged - holds us all back?

Detractors claim camp is all part of a viciously circular cliché dutifully acted out by much of gay culture in reaction to the mainstream who in turn demand it at the crack of a whip. Seemingly premised upon male heterosexist and narrowly defined gender roles and sexualities, they say camp is Gay Man moulding himself within - and then subverting - a straight image. His camp identity and culture is merely a reaction - however understandable - to straight reference points but not a positive expression in its own right.

Apparently the world has changed. It's now confusing for gay youths to grow up with old camp clichés that swamp scene and mainstream media alike; it's patronising when straight people expect you to play gay; and it's just plain irritating when encircled by bods with tracks stuck eternally on Diva. Sooner we stop acquiescing in and perpetuating this hetero-oppressive self-fulfilling prophecy the better. Say they.

However, aren't such moans premised upon and merely reinforcing the very hetero-assumptions they attack? Are not such detractors in fact tacitly suggesting that all gays should assimilate, conform and play straight like so many scratch-and-sniff blokes or dull grey suits?

The essential point is this: for a variety of reasons - code, defence, identity, insecurity, irony - camp is a well established part of gay culture both on and off the scene. It even influences the mainstream from Bruce Forsyth to Llewellyn-Bowen. And it would be prescriptive and illiberal social engineering to either judge it harshly or seek to eliminate it. It's fun, it's there and it's what many of us grew up with. You have to start with human nature and society as you find it. By all means explain it, but why judge and change it?

Society changes under various forces anyway. So question: if camp essentially emerged in reaction to a male-dominated heterosexist, homophobic society and the needs of gay men in particular to adapt and survive - then if society in our part of the world ever changes in this respect, might gay culture decamp?

Well if so it won't happen overnight. It'd take a seismic shift in attitudes - further breaking down gender stereotypes and embracing the full spectrum of sexuality including the gay-straight taboo on bisexuality - to properly counter the old straight-male-dominated reference points and our gay reactions to them.

It'd take a world where increasingly boys like girls who like girls who like boys who like boys and where tired Tarzan-Jane role-play no longer oppressively divides, for old codes and characters like Disco Dolly and Spanner Dyke to fade away along with White Van Man. A harmonious world that is in many ways fairer, but perhaps duller.

 

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