Ah, Barry Manilow, he of the famous nose and the camp jumpsuits and the big songs that are probably being played at someone’s wedding, somewhere, as I type. People may claim to hate him but nobody does. He’s a legend.
But Patrick Strudwick, the Gay of the year in some circles, well Gay journalist of the year. Well Gay UK broadsheet journalist of the year, Patrick doesn’t like Barry.
According to Strudwick, instead of taking the mick out of Manilow’s conk, as people have been doing forever, (and with renewed vigour since he made an appearance on UK TV recently), we should criticise him for ‘not coming out’. http://twitter.com/PatrickStrud/status/13379410971336704
Now, I am not going to launch into a discussion of the history of gay rights, or deny the fact that if no gay people had/do come out in times and places where being gay was and is treated as a sin, or an illness, or a terrible perversion, we’d not have many gay rights at all.
But here in Britain in 2010, when gay people are pretty well as free or as constrained in terms of their sexuality as the rest of us, why pick on a great icon of pop to stand up for the cause? So he didn’t write a song for Stonewall in 1969, and he didn’t play Pride in 1998. He didn’t do a Will Young and come out on national TV, or a Joe McEldery and come out all over the tabloids. So, he stayed in. Is it such a big deal?
As a non-Gay person, I like having some stars who keep the flag of sexual ambiguity flying. When I was a kid I adored Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey, and Frankie Howerd. I don’t remember them telling their ‘stories’ to the press. They were quite sad stories as well. I loved Boy George in the 1980s, and Morrissey, refusing to be pinned down to a sexual identity that can be packaged and adopted by ‘The Gays’. What about us? The Confuseds? The Strange? The Unsure? Can’t we have a hero or two, too?
Gay Evangelicals these days like to make out that ‘coming out’ is some kind of heroic act, and also that not coming out is cowardly. That it lets the side down. Leads you to live a lie. My friend Dan Savage has made some quite savage comments in his columns about people who are married, for example, but who may be gay or bisexual and don’t acknowledge it. But that is a fact of life for many many people I believe. Some people do explore their sexuality without it turning into a rainbow flag over their doors. Some of them keep quiet about it, because they don’t want to be ‘gay’. They just want to be. Savage and Strudwick share more than a sexual identity and a love of going on and on about it, they are both wedded to the idea that being gay is ‘natural’ and ‘innate’ and unchangeable. So people who refuse to identify as anything, but who they know or believe practice same-sex sex, really annoy this pair. Because they challenge their whole little Gay Religion. If people can be ambiguous, or can change, or, God forbid can make choices about their sexual preferences and activities, how can Being Gay be such a virtue? Such a minority identity? Such a place for victims and heroes to flourish?
There is no shame in being gay. So why should there be any shame in not identifying as ‘gay’? It’s one less guy for the team. One less float at Pride. But so what. I am not proud of my sexuality. It’s a pretty fucked-up shoddy little piece of tits and ass. I’m not ashamed of it either. Sometimes it can be beautiful and exciting. But I am quite proud of people. People who resist being forced into the homo-genous pre-packaged boxes we are offered in the way of sexual identity. People who are prepared to be themselves without having to define who that is. I have to say I am quite proud of Barry. And I’ll be dancing at the CopaCobana for many years to come.