Comment: Where did ‘gay’ culture come from?
In a comment piece for PinkNews, Jacob Wilde assesses the different historical facets of the LGBT community.
Something that has always left me slightly baffled is the idea, prevalent it seems in the LGBT community, that there is a ‘gay’ way to act, a ‘gay’ culture and that to deviate from this is indicative of trying to stay in the closet.
When we think of a ‘gay community’, there is a mixed set of ideas that we can attach to the concept. Among the positive we count inclusivity, tolerance and acceptance, and perhaps a certain cheerful, party-going nature. And yet it often seems that the acceptance forms a shallow layer for many. For, while acceptance is free-flowing for those who conform to certain ideals, an aggression can sometimes seem to arise against those who are seen as betraying the community.
Firstly there are accusations against gay men, on whom I shall focus, who do not conform to behavioural stereotypes. I read recently about a website set up for gay men who struggle to find a place in the ‘gay community’, having interests instead in gaming, driving, sports or some other such area. This was not in any way an attack on the LGBT community, it was not an insult against people. It simply said that these men had struggled to integrate themselves into a certain culture, and thus found community amongst each other without having to try and be something they were not. Yet the response left me shocked; people claimed that they were trying to hide in the closet, or that they were somehow betraying the gay community.
If we were to go back one hundred years, we would find Britain a very different place. Sexuality did not really exist as a concept. A vibrant ‘queer’ culture – encompassing what we may now consider the LGBTQ community – developed in London in particular (although not exclusively) through the twentieth century; one needs only look at the 1926 Chelsea Arts Ball. The New Year’s Eve costume ball was renowned for attracting working-class queens, wearing drag and socialising without fear of repression due to the police’s inability to act within the boundaries of the hall. But the ‘queer’ culture that emerged was not limited to a ‘gay’ community; it was more of a working-class phenomenon than one of sexuality. Queer culture allowed the inclusion of a great number of men who were probably ‘straight’, but also saw no problem with having sex with other men for a bit of fun or money. Why? Because there was no real stigma against it in the way there is today.
Meanwhile, the middle and upper classes had a very different culture; open and fashionable homosexual fraternities existed in Oxford and Cambridge in the inter-war period, but there was less of the ‘Queer’ culture’s flamboyance and display.
Ultimately, there can be no legitimacy in refusing to accept diverse cultures. One size does not fit everyone, and trying to claim that anyone who does not conform to a fairly flamboyant expression of sexuality is insecure is damaging the ‘gay community’ – if such a thing even exists. All it really tells us is that some people are brought up to be very open and expressive, while others are more subdued or restrained. Accusations of being ‘in-the-closet’ or ‘insecure’ because a person doesn’t conform to a particular stereotype are wrong and ultimately damaging. We simply need to realise that a great number of people act the way they do because they’re most comfortable that way – trying to force them to conform to a social expectation is as bad a crime when committed by the LGBT community as it is by the heterosexual community.