In The Closet

Picture this. You’re out with the lads on a typical night out at Park End. A beautiful girl (give or take a few pints) is looking your way and you’re reciprocating. She struts over and makes it very clear that she’s very interested. That same stunning girl who walked into the club, getting stared at by every guy there is now grinding against you and states explicitly that she wants you tonight. You should be ecstatic! You’ve pulled the hottest girl
there, gaining you instant kudos among your mates. However, as she’s grinding harder you realise that she has noticed you aren’t quite as turned on as she  apparently is. She tries to ‘help you out’ but still the blood isn’t flowing. So you make your excuses and leave; heart pounding, head dropped in shame and the same
daunting questions going round and round your head.
I used to think I was the only confused guy, but I’ve come to realise that I’m actually one of many. People in Oxford think too much and expect too much. There is constant pressure from tutors, friends, team mates and even family who are never satisfied with how far you’ve come. If you haven’t come out as gay or bisexual before university, it seems you have missed the boat. Anywhere other than Oxford, people can go out, get drunk, wake up the next morning with their best mate naked in their bed and just laugh it off. After all, university is meant to be the time to experiment and enjoy yourself, to discover who exactly you are. Two guys could have a short fling, secret or not, and if they like it, could continue batting for the other team. And if they don’t, they could just be happy that they did experiment, knowing their friends won’t have changed their opinions of them.

In Oxford, shagging your best mate at the end of a drunken evening just cannot happen. The atmosphere here isn’t conducive to experimentation. The Oxford bubble feeds off the newest and dirtiest pieces of gossip. So for me – someone who enjoys sport and being one of the lads – being exposed as bisexual or gay would undermine the social life I’ve built up. Not only would the ridicule in scrums be unbearable, but the elitism that pervades Oxford would become even more pronounced.

It’s not just the team mates, it’s everyone. I was friends with a guy in first year who came out towards the start of this year. My friends in college were merciless, directing their ‘banter’ directly at him. This is clearly completely
wrong. But the underlying fear of losing my friends or being excluded as he has been means that I haven’t felt comfortable coming out. He has been ostracised  by the straight/cool college circle. But why? He hasn’t changed as a person. He doesn’t act any differently now. The stereotypes still hold true and that’s why I will leave Oxford undoubtedly feeling regret and uncertainty, probably more confused than I was when I arrived.

The image of success and achievement that you manage to pull off is central to how popular you are in Oxford. Maintaining this image is hard enough, let alone if you happen to gay or bisexual and therefore permanently paranoid and insecure. I may be straight, bi or a “straight-acting” gay, but I do not want to be labelled until I have worked it out in my head first. But I know that if I just kissed a guy, my peer group’s perceptions of me would be fundamentally altered. So I keep quiet, feel like I’m keeping some deep dark secret from my friends and remain horribly confused.

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I understand why my friends would react this way. They’ve been brought up to believe that gay men are unnatural. To deviate from the norm is something incomprehensible to them. I am happy that I’ve formed the friendships I have. Perhaps they’re stronger as I’ve not been distracted by relationships. My peers
aren’t bad people, just ignorant. Unfortunately, whilst I realise the sporty lad stereotype doesn’t fit them entirely, I have no doubt that they would struggle to separate the gay stereotype from me.

Whilst I understand the difficulties the gay guys face in Oxford, I myself am afraid of being identified as part of that culture. I have come to accept the stereotype that gay men are promiscuous or camp myself even though I realisethat this is not always the case. For me, it’s just easier to not come out. I don’t have to incessantly prove myself to the lads that I am actually good at sport and that shopping isn’t that big a fixation of mine. If I knew for sure that I was gay or bisexual, I would be more inclined to come out and enjoy being me. I don’t know what I am and for that reason I haven’t explored my sexuality.

I will leave Oxford unsure, regretting never having experienced an emotionally honest relationship. In my mind it was a sacrifice which had to be made in order to maintain the façade and friendship groups which I had established. I’ll go along with the cliche and say that my time at univesity was the best time of my
life. But I will always regret not being able to be truly happy. 

OUT AND ABOUT Harry Cooper
Once, whilst attempting to get through a sixth pint of lager (not a cocktail with one of those umbrellas languishing in it), I was pounced upon by a rather brash girl. “Oh my god, are you actually gay?” she asked. “Erm, yes,” I replied.“That is SO cool, we MUST go shopping,” she squealed enthusiastically. Aside from feeling rather bewildered at being accosted in such an aggressive manner bya complete stranger, it got me thinking about what exactly I’m meant to be, as a gay individual.

When asked to write this article, I was initially hesitant. I loathe to be labelled as a ‘gay’, in the same way, no doubt, that a girl who happened to be lucky enough (or not) to be born blonde would feel annoyed at being the butt of countless jokes. Conjure up the image of a gay. Do the same for someone straight. While the gay stereotype springs to mind immediately, the latter seems harder to define. On what grounds does this stereotyping of gays rest? Why has a sexual preference for men become inextricably tied up with the ‘gay
stereotype’?

Of course, straight stereotypes do exist. The emotionally unstable blond bimbo or the aggressive loudmouth lager lout are just two examples. But who actually assigns straight people these stereotypes on meeting them? Almost nobody. I decided that writing this article would, in fact, be the ideal chance to make the point that being sexually attracted to men does not reflect on an individual’s personality. Anyone who does not want to be identified as gay, but is attracted to the same sex, is immediately locked away in the proverbial closet. Many fear that their group of friends might decide that that their sexual preference clearly has some fundamental influence on who they are. Stereotypes are destructive and misleading. They only encourage prejudice. To
my mind, there are three main stereotypes that have come to dominate mainstream society’s perception of gay men.

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The first is the so-called gay best friend. The lovely lady I mentioned above clearly expected me to respond with, “That would be so amazingly cool, I would be like the perfect accessory.” The idea lies in the belief that girls don’t feel threatened by gays, and that, as a gay, you are still privy to the mysterious world of men. It’s an unfortunate misconception that every gay guy will, by definition, love shopping and gossiping. Of course, some men do, and that’s absolutely fine. But this generalisation shouldn’t be accepted as the norm.

The second relates to the supposed promiscuity of gay men, who are, apparently, notorious for being promiscuous and overtly sexual. Of course this completely ignores the fact that there are many gay men who are monogamous. And ironically sexual activeness is something many straight men would probably envy. The promiscuity of a straight man is often lauded as an achievement, whilst gay men are regarded as in some way sexually predatory. A room mate at school once told me he had thought, for about two years, that I was going to try to rape him during the night. This type of irrational fear was responsible for much of the isolation I felt for much of the time before I came to Oxford.

The last stereotype equates being gay with being camp. Let me emphasise that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being camp. Still, it is inaccurate to classify such a diverse group of people as all sharing the same personality traits. It would probably surprise a significant number of people that an individual is just as likely to be gay if they play on a rugby team as they would be if they worked in a flower shop. It’s no wonder these stereotypes exist, given their media reinforcement. Think Daffyd, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or, closer to home, the Wadham Queer Bop.

Having said all this, it must be said that our generation no longer suffers from the appalling discrimination still in existence around the world. We are reaping the benefits of the work activists did in the 60s, 70s and 80s and it seems that homophobia is thankfully at last receding. I feel incredibly lucky to live in Britain, and especially Oxford, rather than Iran, where only a few months ago two 19 year olds were stoned to death for the ‘abomination’ they had committed. Put into context, being stereotyped pales into insignificance. But this doesn’t make life any easier for those still struggling to come out for fear of being identified in a particular way. The gay scene, whilst allowing individuals to feel comfortable and free from harassment, can encourage the entrenchment of stereotypes and segregation between gay men and mainstream society. That a gay man was beaten up by a group of homophobic drag queens at a bop meant to celebrate the tolerance of ‘queer’ society is testament to the hypocrisy and paradox of modern prejudice and acceptance. It has become increasingly apparent to me that the ignorance and prejudices concerning gay men will not be dispelled until both gay and straight realise that such stereotypes are unfounded and extremely dangerous.