Philip Hensher: There's more to gay stereotyping than Kylie. So here's my guide...

One of the curious things about gay male society, as glimpsed from the world of the heterosexual, is that it gets represented by marginal and rather outdated images
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The Independent Online

Mr Justice Rodger was doing his best. Presiding over a gay asylum case, he concluded that gay people should be as free to live their lives as heterosexuals.

Reaching for what he described as stereotypical examples, he said that heterosexual men were free to play "rugby", drink "beer" – no doubt in that legendary pub invented by Nick Hornby, the Patronising Bastard – and talk about "girls" with their "mates". Similarly, "male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female friends".

Oh dear. Still, he was on the right side of the argument, and clearly coming to terms with an unfamiliar and perhaps daunting world. One of the curious things about gay male society, as glimpsed from the strange twilight world of the heterosexual, is that it gets represented by marginal and often rather outdated images. If you turn to one of Mr Richard Littlejohn's columns about gay people, they are invariably illustrated by a cartoon of a gentleman in a handlebar moustache, not much seen in real life since about 1985. Rodger's stereotype was not quite as bad as that – no one doubts that it was gay men who kept the faith in Kylie through long dark years of neglect. But one gross stereotype can't stand for the whole range of gay society. Here are some more. How Kylieable is each of them?

What Rodger was talking about is the Disco Bunny. His natural habitat is G-A-Y at Heaven; he wears glitter on his chest and highlights on his head. He lives with two other disco bunnies; he has never voted, but cares passionately about "the environment". His flat is furnished entirely from American Retro, and is perfectly hideous. At the unsophisticated end, he will, indeed, have a passion for Kylie; at the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, Lady Gaga rules the roost. Kylieability: eight out of 10.

The Disco Bunny sometimes turns, in the course of years, into the Muscle Mary. He hangs out not so much in Soho, more in Vauxhall, where you can dance solidly from Saturday evening till Monday lunchtime. His head is shaved: his knockers gigantic: his fist-pump dancing rudimentary. The tattoo on his arm actually says Kung Po Chicken, did he but know it. He sometimes does a little drug dealing, though he dips too enthusiastically into his own stock to make much profit. Otherwise, he may work in the traditional gay craft of airline stewarding. Kylieability: surprisingly high at seven out of 10.

The A-Gay may even refer to himself like that, without any irony. He and his boyfriend were the first in line for a civil partnership. The party for that cost £40,000, and they took a Brazilian waiter back to the loft in Clerkenwell afterwards. He made a killing over the past 10 years by selling worthless art to the gullible, or through a buy-to-let empire. He hasn't worn a non-designer item of clothing since 1990 or read a novel since 1986. He lives for dinner parties, and treasures the memory of making John Barrowman laugh – at someone else's dinner, alas. Kylieability: only if there's a private box at £500 a head.

The Old Hand used to live and go out in Earls Court, but things have moved on, and the centre of the Old Hand universe is Vauxhall. The Old Hand could do anything at all for a living – a consultant surgeon, on the dole, a university lecturer, a vicar, even. He is good company, and generally fairly pissed on beer and a crafty bump of K. He might have been one of the first in line at Trade, back in the glory days of 1990.

These days, a 40th birthday has come and gone, and the urge to have some fun not receded at all. My God, they keep hard at it in their combats and trackies and perhaps even leather, going between the Horse Meat Disco and the Vauxhall Tavern. Kylieability: only when she joins forces with the Scissor Sisters, and otherwise about four out of 10.

Not many of these tribes could lay much of a claim to fashion in the ordinary sense. Only the Hoxton Bitch, probably. Last week, the place to be was the Dalston Superstore, and Anne Hathaway was glimpsed sipping a cocktail at the bar. This week, it's probably moved on. Here is a part of London where irony never died; Mr Littlejohn's handlebar moustaches are worn and waxed by 22-year-olds in bright yellow Rupert Bear checks, and the trendy party entertainment may be ludo, bridge, a ventriloquist or morris dancing – do keep up. The Hoxton Bitch comes from Lancashire, rechristened himself Humphrey last year, and lives with two other fashion students. Inspiration Leigh Bowery, and, just like the young patrons of Claire's Accessories, for him Getting Ready Is Half the Fun. Kylieability: 10! Out of 10! Unless we mean it. Or don't mean it. So it could be zero. Er.

Not everybody lives in London, alas. There is also the Country Member. He lives in Lanarkshire, Hull, Devon or some other total gay hell-holes because of unambitiousness or a clingy old mother. His clothes are sometimes rather odd, through taking the fashion pages in Attitude – which arrives through the post on subscription – too literally. He used to be a cottaging stalwart of the layby five miles down the A41976. Grindr has saved his life, or it will do when it starts showing anyone but Kevin with his top off, 7.5km away in the next valley but one. Kylieability: nine out of 10. When she puts on a London show, the Country Member pays his biannual pilgrimage on a weekend break. It's like Lourdes for them, hoping to be cured of that hangdog look.

At the end, there may be a fate which is not so bad; the Grand Old Gay. They are known in the outside world: they are actors and musicians, politicians and pundits, writers and artists, perhaps even bankers and lawyers. They are quite appallingly snobbish about the A-Gays. They are loved by their heterosexual neighbours, who consider themselves quite enlightened for having Sir Stephen and his young friend for dinner. The Grand Old Gay doesn't get out much, but every so often, he does descend with a little entourage after a friend's first night at the theatre. He looks around, amused, expecting recognition; some time later, he may even go into the nether regions and cop a distinguished feel or two off a Brazilian. Kylieability? Wasn't she that charming girl who came to stay at Wimbury in January?

The tribes are numberless, bohemian or conventional, mortgage-paying or squat-dwelling, famous or anonymous, and they do not have Kylie in common, nor cocktails. Some drink beer and listen to Brahms, for heaven's sake. There are gay men who are interested only in hiking in the countryside, and ones who have never knowingly met another gay man. Nevertheless, one thing that gay men like to do is to be recognised by another, and to develop a little sense of belonging. Subject to peer pressure, a gay man will have a tendency to join a number of social groups, often more apparent from the outside to an observer.

Still, Mr Justice Rodger was on to something. There is a freedom in the UK to like Kylie, to gossip about boys, to drink a cocktail and slip your number to the handsome mixologist; freedom, too, among gay people here to choose to do none of these things. They seem like the utmost trivia, but it probably doesn't seem like that if you come from a country where you are liable to be executed for your nature. There are any number of ways for gay people to live their lives in the UK, some approaching a stereotype, others much less familiar to non-gay people. Mr Justice Rodger was, in his cack-handed way, leading a worldwide chorus of gay people in much less fortunate positions, and the chorus goes like this: I Should Be So Lucky.

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