One of the strongest images of gay men in popular culture is that of a rather effeminate, limp wristed and simply put, ‘camp’ man. The media certainly harnesses it and perpetuates that stereotype on a frequent basis to the point where many gay men get intensely angry about it. In the past I have been disheartened and angered by yet another gay storyline in a TV show that fuels that stereotype. I've argued that it isn't truly representative of the diversity that exists and that it certainly doesn't help show the rest of the world a wide snapshot of the community. However, it does still raise some interesting thoughts.
I wouldn't call myself particularly camp. I have my moments I guess and they can very much depend on my mood or level of alcohol consumption. In particular situations I become very camp and others less so. The thing is, it is never something I would say I am consciously doing. I am not intentionally behaving in a camp way, it just, well, happens.
I have been asked in the past, by straight friends, why gay men feel the need to start acting camp when they come out and to be honest, I can't really answer it. I am no psychoanalyst but I do have some thoughts on the matter. You have to remember that for many gay guys out there, they have spent many years trying to act 'straight' because of the social situation around them, especially if they are having a hard time with it all. They have been surrounded by homophobia or simply by the all pervading heterosexual environment throughout their lives. For many people, conforming to whatever society tells them is a big thing. They are actually keeping part of themselves a secret for all that time but when that secret is over, bam, the queen is out so to speak. Over the years they may have behaved 'straight' to try and cover the deep routed feelings that they don't want anyone to find out. Eventually they come to terms with it in themselves. When that happens, their personality can also change, after all, they are no longer spending so much energy on a facade that suppresses who they truly are.
Still, being my own devil's advocate and considering other thoughts, being camp is not necessarily a personality that is being suppressed and then released upon coming out. It may very well be that we adopt the ‘norms’ of a culture or a subculture as an expression of belonging to that group. For example, some guys might not be camp on a day to day basis but they may 'act' it in a given environment as a demonstration, consciously or otherwise, that they are part of that group. I’ve seen other cultural groups adopt a street patois with their friends and community which they wouldn’t use with their old school friends or other non-group friends. In other words, could ‘camping it up’ be just as unreal as ‘acting straight’? Then you can really throw a spanner in the works and consider the fact that some straight guys out there are also quite camp...
That isn't to say that all gay men have this kind of experience. Having met, dated (and now married to) a few guys (only married to one I hasten to add) I have found a very broad spectrum. I know guys who look very much the image of what society deems to be a straight guy when they are openly gay. My husband is a prime example. No one ever guesses that he is gay and when introducing him to new people I am quite used to hearing, "… well, I would never have known he was gay!" (the fact that I introduce him as my husband might have been the penny-drop moment?) It is quite often one of the first things people say the moment he is out of earshot.
Still, even if a guy does come out and almost instantly seems to be camper, whether it be a conscious choice, an act or the release of a suppressed personality; does it actually matter? I have heard people make comments like 'why have they gone all camp, it's totally fake' and 'there is no need to be like that' but I would argue that since we don't know what has led to them becoming camper, nor do we do know the ins and outs of their psychological profile, perhaps they are happier that way? It certainly isn't hurting anyone and ultimately, it is their own personal expression.
Returning to an earlier point, I appreciate that people take umbridge that the representation of a gay man nearly always tends to be that of a camp guy. It is after all, a stereotype. But that stereotype has to come from somewhere. Stereotypes do no not just appear because someone felt like inventing them. They happen because they exist, or they are amplified interpretations of a visible proportion of particular people. Think of all the other stereotypes you are aware of. They all come from somewhere. That's not to say everyone from that background fulfills the stereotype, but they have come about because many people do seem to fulfill that stereotype.
It seems to me that we are getting to a point, where even in the gay community, camp is becoming a no-no and it is becoming a minority in itself. You can see examples of it in gay chat rooms for instance. People actually request things like ‘…no effems!’. Of course, that all comes down to personal preference and the freedom of choice but to me it is the oddest notion. To have gay people, chastising others for being too gay. It seems a rather sweeping generalisation to say, "ooh, I could never date one of those really camp guys". Really? That makes it sound like the camp aspect of their personality is the ONLY aspect. Come on guys! For a bunch of people who have been ostracised so much over the years we need to remain open-minded.
If we are a rainbow, shouldn’t we embrace all the colours of the spectrum?