So the story goes like this… A friend of mine who used to work at The Express is talking with some friends in the office. She happens to mention me in conversation. A passing acquaintance of hers stops with a start… “Tom Coates?” she asks… “You know Tom Coates from Time Out?” My friend nods… The acquaintance gives a disapproving look… “I’ve heard things about him,” she says. “He’s supposed to be incredibly homophobic…”
You have to laugh. But then you also have to stop for a moment and look around nervously. How did I get here? My tendency to jokingly call other people poofs has got me into considerable trouble in the past, although my habit of referring to myself a great big poof has got me out of just as many… I always assume that the joke is understood – that people get that because I have strange trouser-feelings towards other men, I can say the word ‘poof’ when other people can’t… As a result it feels strangely liberating, and weirdly a bit like it’s challenging some entrenched conceptual positions somewhere down the line… So in one way, I suppose, it’s a statement of personal resolve with a little bit of overt confrontationalism thrown in for good measure.
More interestingly, perhaps is the way this kind of behaviour acts as a weird kind of bonding agent between traditional advantaged (straight) and disadvantaged (gay). I don’t know if it’s a collusive, mutually-useful, atmosphere-reducing strategy though or whether it’s all that and also a weird kind of selling-out. Does it buy into or even support our culture’s nervousness about the potentially sexualised aspect of man-to-man friendships? [check out Eve Kosofsky-Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet if you're interested in this stuff]
Here’s another example for you… An old (straight) friend once looked mischievously towards me just as I beat him in an argument and said – in the most school-boy style that he could manage – “Yeah, well maybe, but you’re … a big homo!” After I’d spat my drink out of my nose, and howled in delighted outraged glee, I did the only thing I could do in the spirit of the occasion – I said, “Am not! Take it back! Take it back! You’re a big gay homosexual…” As I look back at this I can see more clearly than ever that this episode was basically a disavowal of any sexual component that might exist in our relationship. The fact that each of us felt capable to declare in turn, and comfortably, that we weren’t big homos – even when we both knew quite clearly that one of us was and was pretty comfortable with it – was evidence that our relationship had become easy, comfortable and free. But at the same time, in retrospect you wonder if this is an appropriate way to structure your sexual identity.
When I look at my relationships with gay men, they’re strained at best. I have a few very close gay friends in London – many less than I had in Bristol. Some are close as family to me, some of these ponced off to New Zealand and deserted me and I don’t see why I should forgive them. But while I’ve always found overly heterosexual posturing tedious, after a flirtation with gay identities, I’ve also come to find the trivial assembly of scene-based identities in London deeply irritating – even repulsive. There’s more honesty in the basic down-and-dirty sex that happens continually around London than there is the posing and posturing of the gay scene. Or at least so it seems to me at the moment.
I suppose, at thirty, I’m finding myself at a weird crossroads. Am I a self-hating gay man who finds himself unable to feel anything but repulsed by the community of my fellow poofs? I don’t think so.. But there’s something wrong, somewhere… Else why would I feel so invisible? Why would my sexuality have deteriorated so fundamentally in importance to me. Most people I meet don’t know I’m gay. Many people who read this site don’t know I’m gay. Despite being best poof in the world once, significant gay sites have just not even noticed my man-friendly tendencies… But this is wrong! They should know. It’s important to me. Maybe the answer comes from another story… I’m walking down a street with a straight friend of mine, and we’re watching the hot boys walk by, and I’m lamenting my lack of relationship (for the thousandth time) and asking if they thought I was just criminally fucked-in-the-head and they reply… “Tom, I don’t know how to say this, but I hope you’ll take it as a compliment… I don’t think you’re in the slightest bit fucked up about being gay, I think you’re fucked up about everything else…”