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.
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.