So tonight I was watching 'Celebrity Come Dine with Me' (Yes, I'm single) and one of the contestants made a very blase comment about a fellow contestant which sent me on a voyage of philosophical thought. The fabulous Lynsey de Paul (Sugar me) was dining with the gorgeous blonde one from G4, Tamara Beckwith and a rapper from So Solid Crew. They all seemed to get on well and it was the usual reality-come-cookery fare on offer with most of them following the new Delia technique of buying dry old shit from Tesco and talking about it as if you've studied under Escoffier. In a break between courses, the marvellous Miss de Paul said, "When they said you were a rapper, I went 'Oh no!', I won't have anything to say to him" and then went on to say how he was very sweet and not at all as she'd expected. It got me to thinking; what is we swapper the word 'rapper' for the word 'gay'. I believe we'd be tapping into a fundamental basis for homophobia with the worry of differing cultures breeding ignorance. It's interesting that recently a chap on a forum I frequent has stated that he feels that if you dont 'accept' homosexuality then you're labelled a bigot, a closet gay or an extremist. Part of me agrees but part of me wonders what the alternative is and what exactly he's objecting to.
I could go into the whole "being gay is natural" and "we don't choose at birth" but those arguments have been done to death and I think most people who feel uneasy about gay people (I'm not talking the out and out bigots here) have legitimate reason, that reason being that they simply don't know how to approach the issue. Over the years I've learned that some people can only accept one type of gay man, that being the John Inman assexual stereotype, and so quite often I would tailor my personality to put people at ease. For example, very macho straight rugby players at school suddenly became adoring friends when I camped it up. Why? Because they felt they knew me and were comfortable. If one of their fellow breeders had suddenly said, "I'm queer", they would have freaked because the idea of 'one of them' slipping under the wire and potentially seeing them in the showers was too much to handle. People seem to be comfortable putting people in boxes and if they can do that well enough, they can then ignore those people they don't feel comfortable with. Why else would we have China town and the huge gay focal point that is Soho? The same goes for the sex industry. Put it in Soho backstreets and the rent boys popping off to an MPs seaside apartment don't exist. People can walk past Soho and ignore what they don't want to see whilst the people in Soho can seal themselves off and do what the like.
I'm not a frequenter of gay saunas but once I was talked into it as something I should experience. So off I went. A huge complex with swimming pools, jacuzzis, steam rooms and about 40 small dark rooms for guys to get to know each other. Condoms were free, attendants kept an eye on the proceedings and generally the place was clean and professional. But how many people know they exist? From the outside, Chariots is a health club. Inside there's a very active part of the gay community. A dear friend of mine who lives in Amsterdam recently sent me some gay mags from dear old Holland and the amazing thing was the advertisements for darkrooms. In Britain, we keep a Victorian view of sex that if we don't see it, it isn't happening. Perhaps because the gay community is more used to hiding away, the concept of darkrooms and sex on the Heath isn't so seedy or strange but rather it's a part of human sexuality. But darkrooms are just that - dark - and nobody from the outside world sees what you're upto unless you want them to. There are exhibitionists but they form a small part of the gay community and in no way should be confused with those who take part in pride parades. They aren't exhibitionists, they're simply proclaiming their gratitude and thanks for being able to be ourselves and they recognise that one can be open and proud without engaging in sexual acts on the street.
When it boils down to it, I believe that there's a fine line between showing off to deliberately make people feel intimidated and in showing pride just as there's a fine line between not understanding gay people and being a thuggish bigot. It's very similar to the immigrant communities and the way they've settled into London. By segregating themselves into communities, the Asian, African and Eastern Europeans in my local area have immediately raised a barrier between them and the natal residents of the community, whereas the Chinese, Indian and Afro-Carribean communities have integrated with ease and with flair. Everyone has a local Chinese takeaway, Chinese food markets are always bursting with English people experiencing new things and there simply isn't the divide that exists between people from Nigeria and people from Dagenham. We have African food markets and meeting points but instead of including and explaining what's on offer and making an effort to mix their culture with the pre-existing Essex culture, they've simply built walls around roads and claimed it for their own. The result? Modern ghettos. And Soho has always been a Ghetto in much the same way. The predominance of rainbow flags serves as a mark of territory and man's natural instinct is to challenge the territorial claim of his neighbours.
So what's the answer? So we stick a sex shop, darkroom and G-A-Y bar on every corner? No but we do need to open the doors of our community and if Mohammed refuses to come to the mountain, take the mountain to Mohammed. This year's London pride will stick to the same old route and the same people will take part. If the gay community wants to begin breaking down the divide that exists between the straight community and the gay community, we have to take pride to places like Dagenham. We have to get our voice heard in the local press and be a clear presence at local events like town shows and carnivals. We have to become a bigger presence in pubs and clubs instead of sticking to those we know we can pick up trade in. And if we do all those things without ramming our cause down people's throats, they'll come to see that although we unite in one community to tackle homophobia, we remain individuals who still live by the values of decency and politeness, tolerance and that all important motto of "the right thing at the right time". It's a case of give and take and I truly hope that in the future we begin to live as members of a national family rather than members of polar communities. End of sermon. Keep it glam gals. xXx