Is this homophobia, or am I just being oversensitive?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Resigned: Andrew Sullivan, after editorial struggles, from his post at the New Republic, to catcalls from staff. No, his resignation has nothing to do with being the author of Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality.

In free fall: Michael Barrymore's show, according to the Daily Mail. Message - it was a mistake to Come Out.

Sacked: House of Commons clerk Philip Hensher after writing a novel that drew on his Parliamentary background. He points out that Edwina Currie has committed the same crime, but it cuts no ice. So Hensher's dismissal has nothing to do with the book mentioning gay MPs and rent boys, then.

Did Sullivan depart the New Republic to boos because he was gay, or because he had dragged the magazine through two libel suits? Is Michael Barrymore's career wobbly because he's gone off, he's a faggot, or because the Daily Mail ran a story about a smaller audience that can be explained by seasonal adjustments and tougher competition on BBC1? Was Hensher sacked because he wrote a Parliamentary insider's novel, a Parliamentary insider's "gay" novel, or because he told Attitude magazine he fancied Gordon Brown? Was he - are they - victims of ... what's the word? Homophobia.

It's a trickier proposition every day. It's not just that homophobia has sort of slipped underground and/or taken on discreet new forms as gay men dive into the mainstream, It's that many gay men have grown wary of using the word.

Of course, homophobia exists, but it's also such a convenient excuse: the world is doing this to me because I'm gay. Well, not always, though you're conditioned to believe it, if you've been verbally abused, queer- bashed, rejected by your family or ejected from your job. Victimhood is powerful. Knowledge of it can free you, and yet it may drive you into the perfect cop-out for all your personal faults (many of which will result from the aforementioned conditioning). Either way, you live in a state of hyper-sensitivity, intensely aware that paranoia lurks permanently at your shoulder and must be fought, or you'll be crying wolf so long, so loud and so often, that you will lose credibility in the big bad world.

It isn't always going to be, of course. Otherwise gays - and blacks, and fill-in-the-minority-of-your-choice - wouldn't be merging with the mass, and vice versa. You realise that. You don't want to be considered shrill, defensive, a head-banger. And - let's admit it - it's entirely possible that when it's pointed out that you are being shrill, defensive and a head-banger, that's exactly what you are being. Their homophobia or your terminal touchiness?

It's becoming impossible to decide. Take Ros Coward's column on the academic field of Queer Studies in the Guardian last week. Homophobic or just Smug Left? It seems you can tell Queer Studies is a bandwagon because the books all look the same (yeah, just like queers): "The cover has either a naked ultra-muscular man (pastiche) or some gay fashion icon, still usually a James Dean lookalike," says Ms Coward. Let's apply the reversal test here. As a feminist, how would it read to Ros Coward if I wrote of, say, a collection of women's studies essays: "The cover has either the usual hatchet-faced, dungaree-wearing old boot or some fashion icon, usually Kate Moss, invariably with a disapproving telescopic sight imprinted upon her body."

Or would it be best - less paranoid - to quietly point out that one must see the image to explain it? And is there distaste in Ros Coward's description or am I projecting?

I could go on. And I will. Is Coward ignorant rather than homophobic when she goes on to say that queer studies used "Liberal guilt to come into existence"? Or does she know something I don't? Was she made privy to a manifesto I'm unaware of (I imagined queer studies had to fight for every inch), or is she miffed that queer studies have "definitely pushed aside women's studies as being essentialist"? (They are? Like the way fags took over fashion?)

And does she mean her liberal guilt, as opposed to liberal guilt in general? Has she discovered that her tolerance for gays is narrower than she fondly supposed. This never happens to Sun writers, who are totally intolerant, but always to humanists, who believe themselves to be the opposite. Whatever she means, how does she actually prove her assertions? The answer, if this really is homophobia, is that one doesn't need to. Assertion does just fine.

And how do I prove my suspicions when I'm not even sure there is anything to prove? I'm conditioned: part of the covert trade-off for a gay platform is grinning and bearing it when criticism comes, as criticism must. And recognising that's it's not only OK for some to criticise, it's also cool. They land kudos for brave chic and you're petted for being able to take it.

After all, Ros Coward doesn't really mean it. In the last paragraph she reveals herself as a standard-bearer, knowing what gays today need: "This can be good for no one except those writers who will make a career within an academy who will ... reward their language but ignore the discipline's founding politics."

Or does that make me sound shrill, defensive, a head-banger? Yes? No? Come on, you can tell me. I won't bite your empty head off - honest.

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