Now everyone's wearing ruby slippers

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Remember the bit near the end of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy accidentally splashes the Wicked Witch of the West with water and Baroness Thatcher's role model begins to liquefy, screeching "I'm melting, I'm melting", all the while?

Well, after decades of identifying with the tripper in slippers, I now sympathise with the touchingly terminal WWW and her famous last words: "I'm melting, I'm melting". For that's exactly how I feel about my identity as a gay man. Once it was as sure as underarm deodorant, now it's evaporating or something.

Call this a fairy's story, but once upon a time I could walk into any room, anywhere on this little ball of mud spinning merrily in space, and no matter how crowded, I would be able to tell who in that room was gay. Truly. It was like calling to like, usually through visual and verbal codes, signs and clues that made the Free-masons covert identifications seem pathetically obvious. It was the cut of the hair, the gleam of the gel, the lurking presence of toner, moisturiser and aftershave that wasn't the great smell of Brut, the way faded jeans had been shrunk so tight they were taking the blood pressure of the gym-built body.

And the body might hazard a meaningful glance, and murmur about a certain nightclub or the latest Broadway flop and, my dear, it was queer. Reinforcement accomplished and contact made. All below board and no heterosexuals frightened. Easy. Sexy. Exclusive.

Then along came (collective yawn everyone) New Man and no longer could I or my fellow followers of Sodom scan a room and do the instantaneous gay ID thing. For New Man was a pseudo-homosexual phenomenon: he looked gay, he dressed gay, smelt gay, and, weirdly enough, could even be courted as gay (see all those homoerotic-cum-narcissistic Calvin Klein ads), because that's the only way the advertising and vanity industries could turn on those no-to-low spending male breeders with bulging, but unopened wallets. Which was bully for the advertising and vanity industries and bully for breeders - but flaming hell for faggots.

Not only was our graven image ripped off but, much worse, entire evenings were (and are) wasted hitting on masters of disguise. You flirt with them and, damn it Janet, they flirt back. That's a New Man thing too. So they get to feel frightfully urban/liberal/daring and gather material for their next dinner party and still leave with their girlfriend. Talk about safe sex. Me, I get to go home and cosy up with my video copy of The Young and the Hung: the safest sex of all. Not a fair trade.

The bastards sound just like us too: say ''damn it, Janet,'' and they'll shoot back, "Rocky Horror Show." For the baby boomer/Po-Mo phenomenon hit at around the same time as the New Man business (give me half an hour and a crate of gin and I'll knit you a lovely conspiracy theory), and camp as she is spoken - the obsessive references to all kinds of everything from Barthes to Bewitched; the knowing adoration of kitsch; the appropriation of cultural icons, elevated and gutter, and the twisting of said icons to individual taste - became common parlance. The nadir: there was East End lad Danny Baker in a not unfetching red jacket presenting TV Heroes, no more or less than straight camp, like those bloody endless BBC2 and Channel 4 theme evenings.

This is why the moment in Paul Rudnik's play, Jeffrey, where the gay basher enumerates his weapons and then asks the hero what his weapon is and Jeffrey answers "irony", implodes. Gay irony is now everyone's cold dish of the day. The basher's included.

I'm melting, I'm melting, and I never did get to try on those ruby mules. They've stolen my look. They've lifted my language. Now they're aping the subculture's inventive diversity of lifestyles. The nuclear family has detonated, the lifetime commitment of wedlock isn't working and suddenly "normal" male-female relationships can be about serial monogamy or having a person-planet to circle around but with lots of little agreed satellite touchdowns (you want irony? This is happening in Squaresville while Boys Town has moved ever closer to marriage, courtesy of the A1 trunk road that went crashing through the area - the A stands for Aids).

Thus heterosexual sexual-social exchange is currently being conducted in what used to be thought of as wholly gay or scandalously bohemian terms (same difference). And not just the sweaty stuff. It's now permissible for male-female relationships to be strictly platonic, give and take, and funny and sweet learning experiences like those traditional unions between gay men and their best female buddies. Melting, melting, melting ...

Maybe all of this could be endured if modern straight man didn't also sob at sad movies, remember Mother's Day and hug and tell his mates meaningfully, "I love you". But they sob and hug and sincerely declaim, until I guess the only thing that still makes me gay is what I do in bed and who I do it with (believe me, in many ways, the very least of it). Really, who would call this an adult choice: being a puddle or defining yourself as a damp patch?

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