Monday, June 27, 2005

Pink Power

There were probably quite a few gay men and women who bought the Independent on Sunday yesterday for its 'Pink List' of the 101 most powerful gay men and women in Britain.
In one sense it's as absurd as publishing a list of the most powerful ginger people in Britain (actually, it wouldn't surprise me if someone has already done that), but we are where we are. Sexuality, like skin colour, remains an 'issue' and we are curious about the private lives of the famous.

Spotting the Gay has always been a popular game, not least for gay people themselves. It reminds me of the sketches in Goodness Gracious Me, where the Indian father claims everyone from the Queen downwards as Indian. For stigmatised minorities it gives reassurance to see people like themselves who are talented, rich and famous. In my youth it was mainly long-dead writers and poets. Today, with greater openness, young gay people have many more contemporary role models.

But citing high-profile gay people never really worked as a way of gaining acceptance for yourself. Famous people are by definition 'other', separated from ordinary life, and people tended to say 'yes, of course, a lot of famous writers and actors are gay but that doesn't make it right.'

Another problem was that drawing attention to famous and powerful gay people always fuelled one of the favourite obsessions of the homophobic: that there is a sinister 'gay conspiracy' dedicated to destroying heterosexuality and traditional families and 'corrupting' the nation's youth. Since every gay person on the planet sprang from a heterosexual union, it's difficult to see why gay people would wish to stamp out heterosexuality.
It was as recently as Labour's first term in office that the Sun splashed a front page on the gay conspiracy that was running Britain. And that was even before Peter Mandelson was outed. They later apologised for this nonsense.

One merit of the Independent's list is that, as well as all the expected names from show business, there's a good spread of occupations, including top civil servants, a judge, the athlete Rob Newton, a Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander, an Ambassador, police chief Brian Paddick, and Sir Michael Bishop, Chairman of BMI. None of which should surprise anyone, although it probably will.

I doubt if the number of gay people in any particular occupation varies by more than one or two percentage points from the number of gay people in the population as a whole. Contrary to popular belief, most actors, hairdressers and ballet dancers are straight. We simply don't share any characteristics other than our sexuality, any more than straight people do.
Arguably the greatest poet of the last century, who happened to be gay, was a shambolic, scruffy man who pissed in the sink and never changed his underpants and almost certainly couldn't dance. I refer to the late W.H. Auden.

It would be interesting, and possibly more educational, for the Independent to publish a list of the 101 least powerful gay people in Britain. The ones who drive the buses and trains, empty your dustbins, stack the shelves in Sainsbury's, stamp your library books, teach your children, sell you your newspaper or are unemployed. For these are the ordinary people that I have mostly encountered amongst the thousands of gay people I have met over the past 40 years. And not forgetting the young rent boys who sell their bodies because, even in this sexually tolerant New Jerusalem, their parents, who are happy to watch Julian Clary (no 39 in the list) hosting the Lottery show, have kicked their queer son out into the street.


At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Alan said...

To be perfectly honest I think that sometimes things like this can be counterproductive by reinforcing stereotypes. For instance, one thing noticable about this list was that there were ten or twelve fashion designers compared to, say, only one architect.

It's like the Gay Olympics. I have never understood why this competition exists or why the gay community as a whole should support its existence. Holding a "Gay Olympics" simply reinforces the stereotype that gay athletes can never be as good as heterosexual ones and therefore need their own competition in order to be able to compete on a level playing field. This is plainly a misconception. There are many top-class gay sportsmen, even though many are not "out". Surely it would be more productive to work towards a greater acceptance of gay athletes in mainstream sports. Lets face it, someone like Sol Campbell fools nobody by being photographed with a succession of interchangable statuesque blondes or with his short-lived engagement to a woman old enough to be his mother. And not only does he fool nobody, he almost certainly makes himself miserable in the process. No matter what he does, he is going to have to spend the rest of his career enduring opposition fans singing "Sol Campbell Takes It Up The Arse" at him, so wouldn't it be so much better if he could just turn round and say "why, yes I do, now tell me something I didn't know!"

I think I wandered off the point I was trying to make there. Oh yes, it's that the problem with this list is that it almost marginalises these people for being gay, when in truth their sexual preference really should have no bearing on their level of success.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

alan, I agree with all of that. One inevitable flaw in the list is that it can only include people who have chosen to reveal their sexuality.
The only justification I can see for this kind of thing is that it provides some role models for kids who are gay, and who may be having a difficult time, other than some of the camp airheads who mince across our television screens.

The logic of your argument, which I agree with, is that there should be no need for gay pubs and clubs or gay anything. But as I said, we are where we are. Until there is complete equality and acceptance, not 'tolerance', gay people have to create spaces where they are free of intimidation and abuse. That is probably one of the justifications for the Gay Olympics.
One of the dangers of things like the Independent's list is that it obscures the fact that gay people are still subjected to apalling levels of abuse and physical attack which doesn't arouse the same degree of concern as attacks on racial or religious minorities. Shouting 'nigger' will get you arrested. Shouting 'queer' won't. Chanting racial abuse at Sol Campbell would be illegal. Homophobic abuse is presumably just 'laddish' fun. We've still a little way to go before we're on a level playing field, both socially and legally.

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Lost said...

I have to sadly agree with your answer to Alan in the comments. Until there is acceptance, there will always be a need for the "gay community" to have places where they are free to be themselves.

At 8:48 PM, Blogger robin said...

Julian Clary??!!

Say it ain't so!

Didn't read it myself although my wife bought the paper in question. What number was Sir Cliff?

At 8:48 PM, Blogger robin said...

Very nice last para, by the way.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

robin, couldn't find Sir Cliff in the list. Bet he's well pissed off. lol

Another flaw was that they never defined what they meant by 'powerful'. Sir Elton was at No 1. OK, he's rich and famous but in what sense is he powerful? More powerful than the politicians in the list?

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Jay said...

I think Willie Lupin sums it up perfectly - although there shouldn't be a need for such organisations and events, many of us feel much more comfortable in a gay team/competition than a predominantly straight one.

I do wonder though how much of it is unnecessary self-ghettoisation due to how we assume people will react to us? Refresh magazine this month has interviews with several gay sports teams, and all of them mentioned that they expected a lot of hassle from other teams, but in fact received noneā€¦

At 7:53 PM, Anonymous looby said...

I've just come over here after the recommendation in Troubled Diva and I'd like to say what an excellent piece it was. Makes the Independent's original piece look quite shallow and star-struck in comparison.


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