One of the best things about being gay is that you can totally objectify and degrade your sexual partners without being accused of sexism. That, and the promiscuity and the drugs. But I find myself increasingly in the minority these days when it comes to enjoying the more subversive side of gay life.
Most gay couples I meet are uptight, humourless, smug and depressingly domesticated. They don’t go out any more and they look on illicit substances with disdain. They’re more likely to argue over who’s going to feed the cat than who gets the ball-gag tonight. And the stuff they listen to and read is getting boring, too, as the naughtiness that was such an essential and thrilling part of gay culture starts to disappear from their lives.
Just how bad the situation has become was brought home to me on Friday, when I was railroaded by a friend into seeing a “gay play.” Two hours of affirmation therapy and tired 80s camp with no interval: what was I thinking? But it was worth sitting through in one regard. It confirms my suspicion that gay culture is dead.
Widespread acceptance of gay lifestyles has killed gay culture because the deviance that gave birth to great characters and literature is gone. The present generation of gay British men is a smug class of particularly sanctimonious middle-class bores.
The truth, of course, is that gays can privately be the most bigoted, vicious, waspish people around… and that’s just the lesbians. But they’ve learned to act right-on in public–even, occasionally, sexually prurient–and become uniformly dull as a result. Just as heterosexuals are fleeing from marriage, homosexuals are eagerly colonising suburbia, desperate to get a slice of that idyllic normalcy they feel they’ve never had access to. I can’t be the only person who finds that a bit sad.
Iconoclastic gay icons such as Quentin Crisp would have cringed mightily at My Night With Reg, currently playing at the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue. The fact that this naff eighties comedy is getting a run in one of London’s most prestigious theatres–and that the place is full–is depressing The play is full of crap, self-deprecating jokes and “impressionistic” pauses whenever Aids is mentioned. It’s a pallid retread of Crisp’s brilliant routines.
But then, I suppose it’s a sign of the times: today’s most famous homosexual, Stephen Fry, is himself a self-conscious imitation of a much greater wit from history. That’s not a bad summary of most of what we see in the pages of gay magazines these days.
The play was written twenty years ago, but I mention it because nothing has changed since. Consider Cucumber, the execrable Channel 4 show about homosexuals currently airing. It is one of the most irredeemably terrible things ever broadcast–and I say this as someone who has seen Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus. I defy you to endure more than ten minutes of it.
Predictable gags, self-absorption and limp bathos. So why was it commissioned? Because it’s gay, and because the writer, Russell T Davies, has the right politics. He once called David Cameron and Nick Clegg “savage and evil people.” If you ask me, “savage and evil” is a far better moniker for the creator of televisual torture Queer as Folk than it is poor hapless Clegg.
(I make the point about politics because gay right-wingers are something of an endangered species. I’ve never been sure what my sexual proclivities have to do with my opinions on taxation or the nuclear deterrent but apparently you can only be a conservative and enjoy the company of men if you’re “self-loathing” or “confused.”)
My Night With Reg wraps unthreatening humour, sentimentality, victimhood and self-indulgence–all the chief virtues of the political left–into one cloying two-hour festival of self-love. The current run started at a smaller theatre in a publicly-funded production, because, well, obviously. It’s the melancholic stage equivalent of Gay Pride, and just as soulless and boring.
The worst of it all is that this stuff gets rapturous applause from audiences who don’t know any better. Gay audiences can sometimes seem stubbornly unsophisticated, full of middle-aged men who, like Bill Maher’s studio crowd, will laugh at anything. Perhaps that’s because, despite the integration of gays into mainstream society, audiences remain obsessed with gay-this and gay-that, as if it’s the only thing they’ve got going for them and the only mechanism with which they can relate to one other.
They’re also getting older, which I take as more evidence that queer culture is stuck in a rut: it’s not engaging young people at all. The audience on Friday was so ossified and spindly I’m surprised there wasn’t AZT on tap alongside the Peroni. (That’s the sort of joke, by the way, that if you have the right politics you get applauded for but if you’re a Tory can end your career on trumped-up charges of homophobia. For the gay Establishment, it’s all fun and games until someone votes Conservative.)
The only boys in the theatre under 30 were obviously being paid for–some things never change–and with the exception of a few dutiful female collaborators, the place was packed floor to ceiling with the walking dead. Young gay men today are giving up even on middle-brow culture, it seems, retreading into admittedly gruesomely entertaining but utterly vapid TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Has there been a single truly great gay record, movie or book published in the last ten years? I’m not talking about soppy sentimentality like Brokeback Mountain or Milk. I mean challenging, uncomfortable, riotous, colourful experimentalism like Hedwig and the Angry Inch or Isherwood’s Berlin novels or Queen’s A Night At The Opera.
I’m not saying I want a return to queer-bashing by the police and chemical castrations, obviously. But there’s truth in that old joke: “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace–and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Someone please prove me wrong. Because I’m about ready to check out.