As I sit down and get myself ready to watch Kylie Minogue's 2002 Fever Tour live in Manchester premiering on her YouTube channel (of course I already have the exact same show on DVD and digital file, but it's a Kylie event, how could I miss it?), I can't help thinking that this is a very stereotypical gay thing of me to spend my Saturday night on. Which leads me to reflect on just how much of the gay stereotype I do actually fit in, what impact this has had, and whether it matters at all...
Come into my world
I have been a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community since 1997 (using as a reference the year I first came out, after a long period of confusion, questioning, and worries - I didn't suddenly become gay one fine day of 1997, struck by the realisation that I would have much rather pushed Rose into the water to make room for Jack on the raft at the end of Titanic; and warmed him up..). Yet, armed with my new gay membership card, did I take the responsibilities that came with it seriously and fulfil my obligations, or did I just leave it and forget it in my wallet like most gym membership cards? If indeed, as suggested in Will & Grace, there was a gay mafia, with Elton John as its godfather, would I be safe or should I be looking over my shoulder for fear of being targeted to repay my debt towards gay culture accumulated over the years?
At the tender age of 18, living near Paris with such a bustling gay nightlife, working weekends at Disneyland Paris in a very gay friendly environment (think Prince Charming only has eyes for the Princess? Think again...), all was there for me to start embracing my gay identity and having some fun. Well that would have worked if I hadn't been riddled with inhibitions and insecurities, meaning that striking a conversation with strangers in a crowded bar would feel like an insurmountable challenge, and dancing was a total no-no (which it remains to this day, except for a few occasions where tenacious friends - and a few glasses of champagne - pushed me to show my very uninspiring moves). Instead, it was much easier and more convenient to stay at home, watch my VHS cassettes of Ab Fab, or listen to depressing music (albeit absolutely fantastic depressing music) while hoping that Prince Charming would magically materialise (while Prince Charming was shaking it in a gay bar in central Paris..).
Confide in me
Coming out did have one effect in my relationships with my female friends (90% of my friends at the time), which was to remove any sense of ambiguity in terms of my potential intentions, or the state of our relationship - even though one or two might have seen it as a challenge to try and "turn" me, which was flattering, but destined to fail. It means I have developed some incredibly close friendships, acting as a confidant, spent nights laughing, chatting, gossiping, listening, and shared some special moments in their lives, a level of intimacy which I'll always feel privileged to have experienced. That said, I can't help thinking that my female friends were robbed of a side of the "gay best friend" they weren't getting, which was any degree of extravagance, penchant for heavy partying, or exciting stories of wild nights I might have had. There were a few points of the role description I definitely wasn't fulfilling; still I am grateful that my friends seemed content enough with a partially faulty gay best friend.
As I was developing and enjoying these friendships, I didn't really make huge efforts to try and develop a circle of gay friends, and find my place in the community. Part of the issue in the early days was that, in the desperation caused by the need to find someone to give my overflow of affection to, a 2 minute conversation with someone who would show a little bit of friendly interest would be enough to make me think that some connection was happening, and that I was madly in love. Needy and clingy? You could say that.. Having now been happily settled with my partner for a good number of years, I think I can safely say I have evolved much from that perspective, however remain mindful that I perhaps haven't been involved with the LGBTQ+ community as much as I could have. Still, I now feel, probably more so recently, that I have developed some more connections based on solidarity, and a sense of responsibility to support others in whichever way that I can.
On a night like this
Despite using methods relying more on wishful thinking than anything much more proactive, I had my first relationship in 1998, and in true form it quickly turned into a passionate whirlwind, deserving of its own post someday. In the years that followed, I never really "played the field", perhaps I didn't know where "the field" was, or was just not wearing appropriate footwear to play. The reality is that I was never really looking for anything else than a genuine relationship. And my next step was to try and find it via online dating.. This turned out to be an eye opening experience, at least to start with, especially to try and navigate the burgeoning market of gay online dating websites from the early 2000s. There seemed to be at the time a widespread misunderstanding of what a "profile" picture meant to involve, with a few smiley faces being mixed with a large number of shots taken firmly below the belt. And those weren't just cases of clumsy framing, they were obviously clearly declaring their ambitions. In the midst of all this, and through the more serious sites, I did have a few dates, a couple turning into (short-lived) relationships, until the last online date, which turned into a long-distance relationship between Newcastle and Portsmouth, and after 6 months of it led me to quit my job and move so we could be together - and 16 years later we still are!
In your eyes
Those 16 years have been - and continue to be - filled with plenty of adventures of various kinds, and lots of excitement. However, you won't find pictures of us partying the night away, or looking fierce in our speedos on a beach in Ibiza (no one deserves to see this..).
Instead, within a couple of years of being together, we had matching raincoats, and National Trust membership cards. Of course I am underselling it a bit, as we have travelled to amazing corners of the world, and had many unforgettable experiences. 10 years into our relationship, we decided to make things official with a civil partnership. Some might expect that there was a spectacular and emotional proposal involved, when the reality was that we talked about it one evening on our sofa while watching TV, and got on with it from there on. The news, as soon as it filtered out, in particular amongst my work colleagues, created a bit of a shock wave, and big levels of excitement and anticipation. A gay wedding! The party of the year! Well, instead, we had a simple ceremony at the registry office with three friends acting as witnesses. Even the registry office lady who performed our civil partnership couldn't hide her underwhelmed feelings when she found out there were no rings or speeches. Was the day any less meaningful and emotional for the two of us? I would argue it wasn't. That said, a number of friends and colleagues still feel that they were robbed of an extravagant gay wedding!
Better the devil you know
So, if the gay mafia arrested me, and I was questioned by Judge Rinder while being tortured by Tom Daley tickling my feet with his knitting needles (by no means a euphemism or fantasy), what would I have to say for myself? Well, in the gay textbook, I still fulfil a few of the criteria:
I know by heart all episodes of French & Saunders, and Absolutely Fabulous, which I used to learn English (my colleagues were a bit bemused when I first moved to the UK, with my use of "bloody b*gg*ry b*ll*cks" as my swearword of choice)
I am a lifelong Kylie Minogue fan, and my attendance to her shows goes into double digits (even though I just quietly appreciate her performances rather than dance and sing my heart out)
I consider the Eurovision song context as a time of year I wait for with as much anticipation as Christmas, and religiously listen to and assess all songs in the run up to the event
I have always loved all things Disney, spent 5 years of my life working for Disney, and am on my way to having visited all Disney parks in the world (just missing a trip to Shanghai to complete the set)
I have been proudly using man-bags for the last 20+ years, refusing to stop after moving to the UK, despite it not being a widespread thing for men to use here (it's ok, you go ahead and put your bulky wallets and keys in your jeans pockets, while I keep looking fabulous).
Can't get you out of my head
Here we are, Kylie left her chart-topping hit for a third encore - you weren't fooling anyone Kylie, there's just no way you would leave without singing it - concluding one of her best ever shows. And while she says her usual "love to you all" before leaving the stage, I'll say a final "sorry" for being a boring gay, and not always living up to the expectations put upon us. As Edina Monsoon tells her gay son when she finds him in a library in New York in a special episode of Ab Fab (aptly named "Gay"), "being gay is the single best reason for not being boring", and I think she'd have a thing or two to say about my lifestyle.
Of course, everything I have written here is meant to be light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek, and there are many more profound reflections to be shared about stereotypes, societal expectations, and inclusion more generally. I will leave these for another time. So, after all this, am I really sorry? You decide...
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