Having just completed a successful run of his latest play Superficial, playwright Patrick Cash is continuing his ongoing exploration of the identity of gay men with the release of the video of his monologue The Bravest are the Gayest.
We caught up with Cash to talk about what it means to be a gay man in today’s world:
Your play Superficial is exploring how gay men seem to be valuing guys who appear masculine over guys who appear feminine. Is this a new thing? From Bob Mizer to Tom of Finland to the Village People, hasn’t hyper-masculinity always been prized and eroticised?
Yes, I’d say that’s true, but it’s odd that you use those examples because, to me, the hypermasculinity of Tom of Finland and the Village People is very visibly camp. Or, at least, it’s an expressively gay aesthetic; if you saw a character from Tom of Finland
rooting around the local Tesco Metro you wouldn’t have to dig deep with the Gaydar, would you?
The modern gay masculinity I explored in Superficial, and in the poem, is a masculinity that absolutely eschews any sign of ‘gay’. It’s a masculinity interchangeable with ‘straight’ and straight acting. And having done that myself to survive growing up, it
often aids me in adult life: I don’t have to worry (much) when I get on the bus that I’ll be found out by a gang of youths, or drunken football fans on a train. I’m not saying that masculine men are in any way cowards, but I am saying that sadly, in a society that is often still homophobic, overtly feminine gay men are fucking brave.
So it’s an odd code of honour to prize masculinity ‘no fems’, ‘masc4masc’ over femininity in gay cultural hierarchy.
Gay men seem to learn self-censorship early on, initially to try and conceal their sexuality, and then perhaps to project the image they think will make them most attractive to other guys – why is that gay men seem most drawn to a hyper-masculine ideal?
I think it’s almost a Stockholm Syndrome situation with the straight man. Stockholm Syndrome, to quote Wikipedia, is where ‘hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.’
We are, evidently, not literally held captive by straight men. But we do grow up gay in a world overwhelmingly designed for the straight man, where the majority of us are simply assumed and expected to be straight from an early age. Any sign of femininity in a boy is frowned upon, and all boys and men, regardless of sexuality, are placed under the same pressure from an early age – to act big and strong (‘boys don’t cry’), like a ‘real man’.
In a patriarchal world, gay men (and other LBT) therefore become the hostages to this prison of idealised heterosexual masculinity. When something is so exulted all around you when growing up, it’s not surprising so many find it so attractive, even though ultimately it’s a facade in itself what on earth does a ‘real man’ really mean?
Do you have a type? What sort of guys do you go for?
Yes, I totally used to go for the ‘straight acting’ guy when I was in my early twenties. I did the whole thing of just dismissing anybody who didn’t meet my strict criteria of masculinity as non-sexual. Even a haircut that was slightly too gay could put me off.
It took some years of self-exploration before I realised that I was projecting my own intense internalised homophobia from going to a patriarchal, overly masculine school, from growing up in a church-going Irish Catholic family onto others around me.
Now my type is far more wideranging, and I can see and appreciate the sexiness of femininity and expression, alongside traditionally physically attractive qualities of masculinity.
Have you ever personally felt rejection from other gay guys because they told you that you weren’t masculine enough?
I’ve become a lot easier and freeer with myself now than when I was younger. When I was 20, guys would tell me how
attractive I was because I didn’t seem ‘gay’ at all, and I’d feel so proud. I look back on that time now and see that feeling for what it was – a strange and warped type of shame.
What advice would you give to young gay guys, struggling to figure out their identity within today’s gay community?
Be yourself, and help others to be themselves too. If you see somebody being fabulous, outrageous, or rocking a very visibily gay outfit in a club or on the bus go up to them up and say: “You know what, you’re great.” It’ll mean a lot.
Give others within the community what you’d want yourself – acceptance, belonging, strength in solidarity, and pride.
Patrick Cash will be hosting Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs – Homophobia at Ku Klub, 30 Lisle Street, WC2H 7BA on Thursday 7 July from 18:30. Free entry, and all welcome, whether to speak or listen.