The Gay Liberation pamphlet
With Downcast Gays (1974)

by Andrew Hodges and David Hutter

Part 6 of 8 Parts


Today a sense of humour is probably the only obligatory virtue, and gay people more than others are expected to find themselves and the situation amusing. "Thank God," we say, "I can see the funny side — at least I don't take myself too seriously." It is a revealing claim — almost a definition of self-oppression.

Fortunately some gays have not taken society too seriously either, and the mocking humour of Wilde, Firbank, Coward and Orton is an example of the way in which gays have been able to extend to all social conventions the absurdity which they find in thir own situation. Their homosexuality becomes a means of entering the privileged company of those who recognise the stupidity that lies at the heart of every cliche judgement and delight in its exuberant reversal.

Such insolent subversive humour is light-years away from the dreary mechanical joking about gay people that forms such a large part of popular entertainment. Actually it flatters the comedy business to suggest that jokes are made about us. No such effort is needed, since apparently the very act of alluding to homosexuality is enough to raise a laugh. Wit is seldom wasted upon us since we are its cheap alternative. Interestingly it is not homosexuality itself which is the automatic laugh-raiser. What really has them rolling in the aisles is the idea of effeminacy in men or masculinity in women. As Don Milligan argues in The Politics of Homosexuality, far from rejoicing in the upturning of received ideas, homosexual comedians, by ridiculing their own failure to measure up to the approved masculine stereotype, help to reinforce the rigid definitions of male/female behaviour.

If comedians do allude to homosexuality as such, the aspect picked out for derision is the notion that a man could be a desirable and approachable, or passive, sex object — a role normally reserved for women. Women apparently find this just as funny as men do, failing to see that the point of the joke lies in its confirmation of th idea that it is the role of men to choose and use, and that of women to await selection and be valued accordingly. Their laughter puts them down just as much as the gay people they laugh at.

Far from feeling resentment at the commercialised mockery of their lives, homosexuals seem positively to revel in it. More than this, as comedians, scriptwrters, novelists and publishers they create it. Not long ago blacks were able to get by with strumming a banjo, rolling their eyes and crooning "Lordy, Lordy". Most gay people would find such coon-show entertainment disgusting, yet fail to notice that every simpering lisp and mincing step made by homosexual comedians in order to amuse the non-gay world has the same built-in "Yus, massa". The crowning irony is that plays like Staircase and The Killing of Sister George, whose chief content is the mockery of gay people, actually receive the applause of liberal critics for their breaking of barriers in the treatment of a 'taboo' subject.

Of course amongst the sophisticated it is taken for granted that queers will be amusing, and no really smart gathering can afford to dispense with the smooth malicious gossip of a few tame homosexuals. And there is nothing like an exotic gay to give a touch of chic to a mediocre novel.

In fact all the recent pious talk of relationships, integration and the rest has not changed in the least the fact that the only role homosexuals are welcome to play is that of entertainer. Of course the motivation behind the willingness of gay people to become a comic sideshow is a simple desire to alleviate their oppression. Mockery is much easier to bear if one feels that people are laughing with one rather than at one, and in camping it up gays certainly come out; but they could hardly find a more disastrous way of doing so.


So far we have avoided mention of the humour of the gay world since this raises the question of those grey areas in which it is impossible to decide whether or not an attitude is self-oppressive. How should we regard the "Yvonne the Terrible" or "Comfort Stations of the Cross" type of joke: with affection, as something uniquely our own and an ingredient of the mortar that could bind us together? Or should be reject it as the product of our oppression: self-deflating humour akin to the sardonic wit born of the Jewish ghettoes? Certainly from the unending "Get you dear" of the gay bars to the perfect art of Ronald Firbank all is reaction to our situation. Had homosexuality never been identified and then stigmatised, gay humour would never have arisen. We do not know what gay culture would become were the stigma on homosexuality to disappear; but there is little chance of that happening while so many gays go along with the idea that "We may be a joke on the part of Nature; it's up to us to make it a funny one."

Introduction | Preface and Links | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Reciprocal Link: a serious study of 'Beyond Lisping.'

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