Echoing something which has recently happened in the Italian LGBT media, Peter Tatchell has gone on record criticising broadcasters here in the UK for portraying homosexuality as exclusively camp. He’s mentioned such flamboyant characters as Graham Norton and Alan Carr to get his point across.
In a similar Italian case recently in the media, the director of an LGBT online media publication has openly criticised the producers of the Italian version of Big Brother for never having included a “next-door type” gay character in the programme’s 10-year history, his implication being that the flamboyant, openly gay character in the current series is too camp and should be considered a transgender. Mr De Giorgi stated that “Maicol doesn’t represent us” and his letter was echoed by a number of groups that have popped up all over Facebook to the same tune. The very camp twentysomething-year-old has indeed once mentioned feeling like a woman in a man’s body but he’s never stated his intention to transition and has always defined himself as gay.
In the UK Tatchell declared: “I am not saying Graham Norton and Alan Carr should be taken off TV. I am just fed up with the way this camp, cliched stereotype is mostly the only one that gets broadcast”.
He may have a point on this. Mainstream media have often loved portraying gay men as ubercamp funny characters as this seems to be the model that tends to please and entertain straight audiences the most. It is the model that doesn’t challenge the assumption that real men should be manly: “me Tarzan — you (better be) woman”. So if a gay man is camp, he’s not really a man, and proper manly men can continue acting the real man’s stereotype and have a civilised, modern good time enjoying a tolerant laugh at or with these other varieties of male humans: the homosexuals.
The fact that this way of thinking is behind our current gay comedy genre is, in my opinion, a given. Whether TV producers are entirely to blame for this is a different story altogether. Entertainers like Norton and Carr are hugely successful and, I would assume, not being forced to act camp. I for one thoroughly enjoy following both and would define Graham Norton as bitchy rather than camp but that’s beside the point. The issue here is that it is absurd to blame those who are camp for campness being comforting to heteronormative society. There is nothing inherently wrong with being camp or feminine and we should only ask ourselves the reason why non-camp gay men don’t appear more frequently on TV. Or do they?
Well, I could never have told you this myself because I must admit I don’t know much about TV personalities but others have pointed out in online forums that the list of non-camp TV celebrities is indeed quite long. I won’t mention them all here because it seems rather silly to list names of people, simply because I’m being told that they are gay but I will mention the name of one I do know very well of: Derren Brown.
I’ve seen Derren on TV many times and I know he’s gay. Yet, when I heard what Tatchell said I didn’t think of him at all, in the same way Peter probably didn’t think of him when he said what he did, the illusionist’s sexuality being something that’s hardly relevant to what he’s known for.
So I must wonder: when Peter Tatchell zeroes in on camp characters judgmentally using them as demonstration of society’s lack of non-camp gay models but fails to mention the many non-camp celebrities whose non-obvious sexual orientation seems irrelevant, isn’t he actually himself demonstrating to us what the real problem is? Gay people are only taken as such when they act the gay out. The positive non-camp gay role models inhabiting our ideal world might actually already be here but regrettably, in an unfortunate catch-22 scenario, they’re just not acting camp enough for us to take any notice of them.