Sunday, 1 November 2009

311: Sing If You’re Sad To Be Gay

"Gay used to be one of the most agreeable words in the language. Its appropriation by a notably morose group is an act of piracy." - Arthur Schlesinger, 1971

One of the side effects of the popular adoption of the word “gay” to describe homosexuals was that the word also opened several new avenues for casual jokes about homosexuals. There was the lazy tactic of employing a camp gesture or mannerism every time the word “gay” happened to be used, a conspicuously limp wrist or bitchy “ooooh”ing. The other tactic, not necessarily humorous, but often employed by conservatives was to protest that homosexuals had hijacked “gay”, that “they’ve taken away our lovely word”. So the next step after that was to complain that “gay” men didn’t seem at all gay. That homosexuals were in fact the opposite of gay. Demanding rights and equality, gay men are all so angry, or strident, or depressed. They were no longer funny, silly, delightful and trivial, which had previously made them at least a bit acceptable. There may also be some implicit mockery that being homosexual is actually a more miserable condition, and that “gay” is just a pretence.

from “Auberon Waugh’s Diary”
by Auberon Waugh
illustration by Nicholas Bentley
in “Private Eye” 10 January 1975

The comment about Enoch is a reference to the British politician Enoch Powell, who gave an educated voice to racist fears about immigrants. So Waugh employs racism, misogyny and a little homophobia, but each is somewhat ironically and allusively played off of each other, while under the cover of Waugh making a pretence to liberal understanding.
Bentley does capture a look of weary disdain in his homosexual’s face. Although really he’s only drawn the one figure several times in different attire, with long, curving bouufant hair, and slightly casually kicked up heels.

by J.B. Handelsman
in “Playboy” January 1978
Most of the patrons of this gay bar look more like fashion models than gay men of the period, but if you assume that gay men are fashionable then it’s easier to copy a few models than have to think about what you really have to depict. I really don’t know about the neck scarves though. Although right in the background there is a more burly type and even a black man.

by Ken Pyne
in “Punch” 14 April 1982
Of course Gay Pride is the magic phrase in this cartoon, with all of its social connotations. It is a typical Ken Pyne cartoon, since most of his straight characters are also normally miserable and lamenting their condition. So nothing actually denigratory here. You’ll notice most of the men have earrings in this bar. Whether that’s because of fashion, or merely a way of indicating effeminacy, I can’t be sure. The main figure in stripy trousers and hat could probably have been drawn at any point in the ten years previous. I’m a bit dubious about the bell bottoms and lapels as well.

by Michael Heath
in “The Spectator” 25 September 1982
Just your usual sombre Heath-man. Nothing even faintly gay. Which is rather the point.

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