Are Gay Men Drama Queens?
Are gay men drama queens? Are they prone to histrionics? It’s akin to asking whether Anne Widdecombe likes carbs or if George Michael likes the odd rambling expedition on Hampstead Heath. Just a quick look at the divas that we admire reveals our love for the dramatic: – Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Amy Winehouse – just some of the larger than life, tortured creatures that we find endlessly fascinating.
Perhaps it’s all about the grand gesture. Why walk quietly into a club when you can sweep in with your entourage of hangers on and sneer at the doorman “do you know who I am?” What’s the point in quietly accepting that someone has upset you when you can have a full-blown sambuca fuelled hand bag fight in the middle of Old Compton Street? After all, it’s more fun that way, isn’t it?
Recently someone posted a link to a Wikipedia article about ‘Histrionic Personality Disorder’ on to Facebook. Symptoms of this little known malaise include attention seeking, seductive behaviour, manipulation and exaggerated displays of emotion. Just another day for some. Subsequent online comments from gay men certainly indicated a high degree of self-diagnosis.
According to the article ‘Histrionic Personality Disorder’ usually affects women. A similar condition in men is known as ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder’. Shortly after I read this article a friend mused: “sometimes I think all gay men are narcissists.”
The comment is fair enough. I’d lie if I didn’t admit that this is something that occurs to me everytime I reach for Grindr to find another faceless picture of a well oiled torso, posing under just the right light, while inanely holding an iphone’s camera to a wall length mirror. Let’s face it, we’re all to a certain extent, honorary graduates of PRADA (the Poofs Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts).
Little research has been carried out on ‘Histrionic Personality Disorder’ and given the condition’s similarities with other mental health issues such as co-dependence, and the current state of the so-called ‘National Health Service’, the money is best spent elsewhere. What research that exists has, unsurprisingly, dragged up the old war horse of ‘childhood trauma’.
Here we’re back on familiar territory for gay men:- the distant parents (often the father), the playground bullying, the feeling of growing up as an outsider in a heterosexual world. A few years back US writer Alan Downs used this as his central thesis in his book The Velvet Rage.
Downs’ book caused controversy when it was published. Some accused him of betraying the gay cause. “We’ve fought hard for what we have,” they shouted, “and now you’re saying that we’re inadequate.” The truth is that Downs said nothing that a long line of gay novelists, journalists and critics had not written about before. He simply expanded upon it and addressed it in a more direct way. It’s called savvy marketing.
I have issues with Downs’ book. It over simplifies the problems and goes for a ‘one size fits all’ approach, always problematic. Moreover, it’s written from a distinctly white, gay middle class perspective (I lost count of the number of the author’s friends who were architects, media executives or corporate clones). That’s lovely dear, but what about working class people from ethnic minorities who don’t have the charge card at Bloomingdales?
What the book did do was instigate debate. Discussions sprung up on both sides of the Atlantic giving us an opportunity analyse our behaviour – behaviour that many are not happy with, but feel unable to admit, let alone address. It was long overdue and while HIV rates among gay men keep rocketing and people are dying from cocktails of drugs in saunas it remains vital. There’s nothing ‘histrionic’ about finding yourself in body bag in St Thomas’ – it’s just plain tragic.
After a while blaming the parents for who we are and what we keep doing just gets boring. Get some therapy or write about it – I’ve done both – and then move on. We’re all fallible. We all mess up. We should celebrate our complexities and the quirky things that make us individuals. Drama, when not taken to extremes, can be great fun and it’s a form of escape. Gay men know better than anyone that bottling up emotions and concealing their real selves only leads to misery.
Our history is one of prejudice, whether this be the pre-1967 criminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, the psychological discourse that deemed as ‘sick’ or the toothless legislative bile of section 28. Scores of gay men have grown up without any positive role models. We’ve felt alone, despised, second-rate. We’ve carried that into adult life and, yes, it’s affected our relationships. You’d have to have skin tougher than Angela Merkel’s not to take some of this onboard. And people wonder why we ‘act out’, to borrow the psycho babble?
We’ve survived this legacy of hate by sharing our unqiue stories in a constructive, mutually supportive way. Our culture is an oral one – by talking we document the past, breaking the silences, revealing where we’ve come from and where we long to go. Far from signalling weakness, recognising our shortcomings has allowed us to thrive. This defined the best activism of the 80s and 90s, the time that we came together, pooling our resources as we seized the senseless vitriol of others and turned it into the power of anger. Never were we stronger.
Yet somewhere along the line we’ve lost this ability to talk to one another. As we’ve won more rights we’ve become politically apathetic, but the really important issues – the ones about feelings – remain. The age of internet communication has made everything quick and immediate, but has also dliluted meaningful interaction. Squirting your DNA at a stranger has never been easier, airing your emotions never harder.
Log on to a hook-up ap. and you’ll see hundreds of guys within just metres and yet the majority of our conversations still begin and end with a few characters tapped out from behind a grimy smartphone screen: ‘hung?’ ‘NSA?’ It’s like sizing up animals in the zoo before daring to poke them – our own lazy language of dislocation.
As gay marriage looks set to become a reality this week, we’re finally being offered the opportunity to cement the way that we love one another. It will be the greatest sign of mainstream validation that we have ever achieved. It sends out a bold message that we’re equal and authentic. Let’s make this the message that the next generation of gay people will internalise and act upon. Let’s take this as our ground zero – an opportunity to treat ourselves and our peers with respect. Keep the drama for a Saturday night out, don’t let it become the ‘disorder’ that defines you.
Words: Alex Hopkins
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