the revenge of the raging queens

By the time you read this, it will all be over. The march, banners, beers, slogans, pick-ups, snogs, rubber shorts and nipple-rings, Portaloos, gay and lesbian dance groups, the surprise guests (Bananarama, it says here), Boy George, and the inevitable Jimmy Somerville, all will have fused into a warm, sticky, fuzzy memory of Gay Pride 96. Or rather, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride 96, to give the event its full, delicious, have-we-left-anyone-out-here? monicker. There will be disco divas, there will be drag queens, there will be Chrystal Rose and Toyah and Shakespears Sister but not Vanessa Feltz, who is, apparently, shopping in Rome. Why on earth would anyone want Vanessa Feltz on a Pride march anyway? "Oh, you know, it's that typical misogynistic thing: she's a blowsy blonde with big hair, a big voice and hideous clothes, so of course gay men are bound to love her," says a sneery friend of mine.

Pride is more about hedonism than politics, although this year's theme "Generations of activism", celebrates young and old getting together to fight homophobia. "And that's a laugh," continues the sneery friend bitterly, "considering the gay community's absolutely divided along age lines. Y'know, that old joke about 30 being 210 in gay years ... " When you're sneery, you see, Pride is nothing to be proud of: it celebrates brainless optimism, mawkish sentiment and uncritical consumerism. And yet this year there's been a fag-end in the cold-cream, a false eyelash in the cappuccino. His name is Divine David, he's one of the co-hosts, and he represents salvation for the anti-gay movement: those men who like having sex with men (the easy part of being gay) but can't be doing with the pecs'n'poppers mentality of your average disco muffin. The joke is, the organisers seem to think they've booked a standard-issue drag queen, and instead they've got "the fiercest queer performance artist", as Sneery puts it. The name would appear to promise wigs, slap and sequins, but Divine David, it seems, is not at all glad to be gay. I hear all this from our mutual friend M, who fills in the background: apparently Divine David is full of rage due to having been born in Blackpool (just like David Thewlis, who seems full of rage, too). The son of a merchant seaman, he discovered, on emerging into the light of queerdom, that the pumped-up gym bunnies despise skinny pansy types just as much as, well, your average merchant seaman does. So Divine David was born, half self-loathing angst-merchant a la Richey James, half crazed working-men's-club slapper.

"When he lived in Manchester," confides M, "he used to send me cassettes of himself impersonating John Hurt impersonating Quentin Crisp, with bongo drums playing in the background. And I'd say, hmm, very nice." But DD persevered. "At his gig last week," M continues, "he was lacerating himself with broken glass." David is also fond of singing, Shirley Bassey- style, every syllable quivering with overcharged emotion: "Being gay ... is a waste of time!" How will the happy-clappy punters in tight shorts and identikit singlets deal with this freight of gloom? Not too well, perhaps - David is "obsessed with sportswear", according to M. "He goes on a bit about it, actually, but it's very funny. The overkill is all part of the act." Another highlight is when Divine David displays his weakling physique and draws on a washboard tummy and a pair of disco tits with a Magic Marker.

But M has called on other matters. Will I come to dinner? "Oh good," he says briskly. "We need a woman." This might be a very gratifying remark outside the gay context, but here it has distinct overtones of: "Some of my best friends are ..." Much to my disappointment, Divine David will not be there. He's much too real to cope with over-char-grilled polenta, and besides, he might decide to eat the cutlery in some inner-directed fit of rage. Although if it's anything like the last gay dinner party I attended, I might have to chew the knives myself. The hot topic of the night was how horrible lesbians are: how fat and aggressive and ugly and whinging. Their cat-owning, pulse-eating, lack of personal hygiene, bristliness ... every insult that used to be flung at feminists 20 years ago. What's going on?

The pink pound tends to be the gay pound, and the boys resent what they see as the persistent chippiness of impoverished lesbians. As Paul Burston put it satirically in Time Out: "It is well known that gay men are a bunch of middle-class bastards who have never suffered a day's oppression in their lives, due to the fact that on the day he reveals his true self to the world, every gay man is immediately handed a great wad of cash and the keys to a swanky flat in Soho. Lesbians, on the other hand, immediately become the victims of a patriarchal conspiracy which not only silences them and renders them invisible, but forces them to live in Hackney on a diet of pulses and karaoke nights at the local women's centre." If you think that's savage, you should have seen the anti-dyke tirade he carried in his pages by a straight woman who called herself a "hasbian".

It seems the flashpoint for this new spat between gays and lesbians was last year's Pride march and its well-meaning "Visibly Lesbian" theme. Rumblings of disgust over women-only areas combined with widespread mockery of "Look at me, I'm here!" as a political aim. Let's hope this year's anti-ageism theme will be less divisive. Virginia Woolf once remarked that the old age of buggers was something not to be contemplated. And she'd been to a few gay dinner parties in her time, I reckon.

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