Kevin Troughton, in an essay in Tuesday's Guardian, declares that effeminacy in gay men, a sad vestige of our oppressed past, is on its way out. Sighting a pathetic stereotype of a queen in his provincial gay bar prompts a bit of grand theorizing on masculine and feminine behavior in homosexual men with the conclusion that "'[m]asculine' gay men are in the ascendancy."
Troughton lays out a sweeping hypothesis which rests totally on the (unstated, unquestioned) assumption that there is a natural state of man, which is essentially masculine -- a word he does not define -- and that, left alone, we will return to it. Feminine men are aberrations.
Troughton's problem is a poverty of imagination. He suffers from the white, middle-class disease: a tendency to assume that what is true of me is true of everyone. Instead of recognizing that there are many ways of being heterosexual and many ways of being homosexual, he tries to make a case that effeminacy in men is a twisted artifact of more fearful times, that men are normally masculine, and that "camp" (that is, feminine) behavior will disappear as we are all folded into one homogenous mainstream:
It occurs to me, suddenly, that there seem to be fewer of these very feminine types around these days. Most of the gay men I know or see around me aren't camp at all: you wouldn't pick them out as gay at work, in the supermarket, or even at the hairdressers. A small city like mine, where the gay scene amounts to one bar and a men-only ballroom dancing class, is perhaps not the place for flamboyancy to flourish. But this is fairly typical middle England, the sort of place where millions live, and it has become pretty much a camp-free zone.
I don't know what he's comparing to what here. Yes, maybe there aren't many limp-wristed queens in his provincial gay bar these days. But there didn't even used to be gay bars in small cities. I suspect he's right that, in general, there are more regular Joe-types in gay bars now, what with the whole bear thing. Guy guys feel more at home in a simulacrum of a sports bar than they would have felt in the kitschy gay watering holes of yore (though, I don't know, I've encountered plenty of big sissies in flannel shirts at "bear bars"). But here's a thought: you used to see more effeminate men in gay bars because they were the brave ones, the ones who couldn't hide it. "Straight-acting" homosexuals, the ones who could pass, stayed in their small-town closets, married women, and found others like themselves not in bars but in truck stops and park bathrooms.
What's changed of course is that homosexuality is becoming less stigmatized -- and the least stigmatized if you are stereotypically masculine. So now Troughton and all his straight-acting homos feel safe hanging out in gay bars where they can frown and tsk and pity the poor queen at the end of the bar who doesn't know she's living in the past, that it's okay to lower her voice now and spit and say "bro," grow some facial hair and wear a baseball cap because that's what natural men do.
Troughton's statement that effeminacy is a "relic of a time when gay men risked prosecution and when a lisp and a limp wrist were a relatively safe way of communicating your sexuality to other men" is the silliest thing I've ever read (and I've read a lot of bullshit written by reactionary homosexuals lately). Since when was it safe to be a mincing queen? Since when would the kind of flaming queen he describes ("[i]ndulge your most extreme stereotype of the effeminate gay man, and you won't be far off") fly under the radar of straight people?
Troughton might want to take an anthropology class. There have always been masculine and feminine men, in societies with and without oppression of sexual minorities. And the fetishizing of straight or straight-appearing men in gay circles has a long history. What's new is that the regular guy-types are more comfortable being visible in these more tolerant times. But some men are just girly and can't help it.
In modern cities, they congregated (along with straight-acting men who enjoyed their company) in bars I would guess for the same reasons anyone congregates in bars: conversation, companionship, laughter, music, the chance of a sexual connection. That's why the bars used to be full of lisping faggots. Not because the bars were safe. If they had been safe, all those you'd-never-guess-I'm-gay homos would have been there, too, instead of cowering behind their wives or hovering over a glory hole.
I'm sick to tears of this new timid homosexual which Troughton represents, afraid of diversity, afraid of femininity, afraid of their own difference, afraid of their own shadows. Coming out used to be bold and terrifying, not for the faint-hearted. Evidently, it doesn't take as much guts as it used to.