What would you expect the most common phrases on gay dating sites to be?
Don't answer that you bigot. I'll tell you. They are as follows...
'No camp guys please.'
'Real blokes only.'
Time and time again, you see the same sentiment popping up and revealing the harsh truth: a lot of gay men don't fancy camp guys. And I, though I'm uncomfortable admitting it, am one of them.
A very cute-looking bloke messaged me on POF (The Plenty of Fish dating site – catch up!) last night. He seems clever, interesting, funny, caring, driven and fit. But he has a certain…way about him. There’s something about his plucked eyebrows, polished skin and, what is it? His posture? His…smile? His cravat? That tells me he might not be the most masculine of men. My interest droops. I chastise myself…and then delete his message anyway.
I can’t date camp guys. I've tried it. Only recently I showed up at a pub, excitedly scanning the packed room for the tall, broad-shouldered mountain-climber from the profile photographs. I recognised him instantly when he appeared but...I don't know...it was as though he was a marionet puppet of the bloke I'd imagined, only with his strings being handled by a dove. His hips swung, his head lolled to the side, he held his wine glass delicately at the stem and his voice was high and soft. He was a beautiful man with bright green eyes, tanned skin and brown hair and he was clearly kind and intelligent. I would gladly have chatted to him for hours but...I didn't want anything more.
Why do I feel so awful saying that? I can state that I don’t fancy very short men or very fat men or men with beards or men who wear jumpers from Next with a little bit of T-shirt stitched in but I can’t say that I don’t find 'femme' men attractive? Why not? It can’t be homophobic because lots of gay men aren’t at all camp. And saying I don't like gay men is like saying Mary Berry hates cake. No it isn't homophobic to find camp men unattractive. Perhaps it's…campophobic.
Before going any further, it's worth taking a moment to ponder what camp actually means. Is it the way you move and talk or is it also your musical tastes and personal interests? Giraffes are camp: For the sake of argument, I'll have to define it as behaving in a flamboyant and effeminate fashion. Do you agree? Do I care?
You can be straight and camp of course. I don't find those men attractive either. Effeminate heterosexual men like Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen and George Osborne are no more attractive to me than effeminate gay men like Alan Carr or Julian Clary. It's the campness that switches me off, you see, not the sexuality.
I just fancy men who act like...men. That alone is a clumsy thing to say, I know. I suppose what I mean is, men who like cars and play football and talk in deep voices and drink pints. Is my preference genetic or chemical or is it the result of social pressure? Those of you who have read my article on bullying will know that I was painfully self-aware as a boy and I did try not to behave in a 'girly' way around other boys. Am I rejecting feminine men because I was taught at school that acting queer is embarrassing and shameful? And, if so, is that what other guys on dating sites are doing too? Or is it merely that I find men attractive and the more manly they are, the more I like them? My mum likes chocolate. Therefore, triple chocolate fudge cake with chocolate icing and chocolate shavings in chocolate sauce is more appealing than a Caramac.
Being serious, I genuinely think there's something troubling...pernicious...about campophobia. It has seeped well beyond the realms of simple attraction. It reflects the new way in which the gay world regards itself. Post-campist culture prides itself on being normal. Loud and proud gay guys are an anathema to that.
So now I often hear gay men belittling camp men in just the same way that straight men have attacked homosexuals for centuries; ever since the first homo sapien refused to go hunting until someone helped him set up a series link for Hollyoaks on Tivo. A date said to me the other evening: 'Why would I fancy camp guys? If I wanted to date women, I'd be straight.' What does that mean for camp men? That they're not allowed to be male just because of their voice or their mannerisms and facial expressions? It seems a somewhat nasty sentiment to me, but I do hear it regularly. I might not be turned on by camp blokes but I don't see them as de-sexed. I have only dated two camp men in the past but both were steely, determined, single-minded, brash confident and – it must be said – aggressive. On paper, aren't those traits masculine?
It's a vein of prejudice that runs through the whole of society. How often have straight people said to me: 'I wouldn't have known you were gay because you don't act it!'? Or, as one friend at university said: 'It's okay you being gay because you're not at all queer.' It's okay to be gay, it seems, as long as you don't act gay. And that rule increasingly applies on the 'gay scene' as much as anywhere else. I find that worrying. We shouldn't be ridiculing one another. We are a band of incestuous brothers. Sticking together is what we do best.
So maybe I should delete the line; 'Likes straight-acting' from my dating profile. I'm a hypocrite anyway because, like 90% of gay men who claim to be blokey, I am - in 100 subtle ways - very camp indeed. Just press the trigger and out it pops from under the supposedly butch façade like Kenneth Williams tumbling from a Jeep. Sure, we 'non-scene' guys walk and talk like most other men. And yes, we run around parks all manly-like. But, if you dashed past in the other direction with a Laura Ashley cushion we would be on your tail like a pack of greyhounds.
Well it is all academic anyway. I can't help myself. I will continue to hide my camper side on dates by wearing baggy jumpers and jogging pants and drinking cheap, tasteless faux-Australian lager because, frankly, it goes down a storm. And I can't make myself fancy camp men any more than I can make myself fancy Inuits (something to do with the igloos). Perhaps I should try to be less shallow and look at the person inside rather than the shell. Problem is, we are dealing with sexual partners, not eggs. This isn't the 1990s anymore and I think most of us now accept that sexual attraction exists, is important, and to discount it is to deny a wonderful and important part of who we are.
So I shall continue to be campophobic on the dating scene, in spite of my own discomfort. After all, I pay a high price. Masculine blokes might be cheeky, sexy and fun but they are also often selfish, sex-obsessed, unreliable bastards. I continue to date. Offers gratefully received. Straight-acting only.