Conversations on Being Queer in 2022




It's 2006, Britney is not yet in a conservatorship and I am 16. It's also the year where I stood on a table at a New Years Eve party, and rather pompously declared: "Guys, I am 110% gay!" to which my group of friends wonderfully punctured my pretences by replying: "Congrats but we don't care!" and partied on, not batting an eyelid. Back then, we were on the cusp of widespread LGBTQ+ acceptance. My friends and I lived in a suburb on the doorstep of London, so we had the countries most diverse communities within arms reach, but sex eduaction at our school was poor, there was zero LGBTQ+ education, and Jack from Will and Grace, along with Jon-Paul and Craig from Hollyoaks were my main visibilities of homosexuality in the external world.


After the genuine relief that none of my friends held my sexuality against me, what followed is the much-storied, awkward but fun process of figuring out my place in the new, big, glittery gay universe. This mostly consisted of stepping out with cocktail cans in hand on the Central Line on a Friday night with my one lesbian friend in tow, stumbling out from Tottenham Court Road station and cackling towards Old Compton Street in our H&M best outfits to scout out a gay bar, usually KU-Bar or G-A-Y. Nights would start with a tipsy promise that all my dreams could come true, before being flattened with frustration that I was being welcomed in to a new community that wanted to further box me in and define me.


Jock? Twink? Otter? Cub? Top? Bottom? Vers? Vers-top? Vers-bottom? Side? Switch? Masc? Fem? Dom? It was like I had to complete a US Immigration-style Interview about my deepest preferences before I could even steal a kiss from a handsome stranger, and not only did I not want to label myself as one thing - I was still trying to figure it all out internally for myself. So, I decided long ago to stop letting external signals and signposts define me as a human being (quite a lofty pursuit for a 19 year old), and I decided to not revolve my entire life around going to gay bars, and instead joined book clubs and musical theatre societies to meet new people who shared common interests outside of being 'professionally gay.'


I thought I was done questioning my sexuality and drawing my own identification boundaries in my early 20s, until we flash forward 14 years, and everything shuts down during the worldwide pandemic. Everything in my life, like everyone else's, is at a halt. As a former performer who now had no gigs - mine was at a complete standstill. All I have is all the time in the world to reflect, and sort out some of the issues that I thought I had dealt with a decade ago. I'd been contemplating a complete career change for a while, and with that, an identity shift. But it had me thinking all over again - who am I? Or at least - who do I think I am? Moreover - am I as comfortable with myself as I think I am, or do I still carry shame, not least shame around my sexuality?


Too 'Straight-Acting' To Be Gay


The year before the pandemic struck, I was on a solo trip through Laos and I met another backpacker of the homosexual variety in the exotic temple city of Luang Prabang, and he said to me: "You are so straight acting. You even look really straight." I was shocked. I think my voice is quite camp, I unashamedly love the Spice Girls, and I even used to perform in musical theatre. But I don't dye my hair pink. Or wear mesh vests. Or have earrings or a septum piercing. Why is this? Do I still harbour unprocessed shame of my sexuality? At this point I was travelling, and unsure of some laws regarding homosexuality, so perhaps I, subconsciously, toned it all down, for safety. But it did make me think: I do have a lot of straight friends. And I do deepen my voice sometimes when I am uncomfortable. And it took me a while to realise this: but having to hide who you are at all is not ok.


But that one incident started to make me reflect deeper on the role of my sexuality, and though I usually avoid politics, I have recently become aware of the tension between exploring and expressing my innate queerness, with my desires to have the choices and mainstream luxuries, structures and securities afforded to heteronormative society.


Being Queer But Also Craving Heteronormativity


When I accepted my sexuality at the age of 16, I suddenly felt I had the license to eschew the traditional trappings of heterosexuality that seemed so restrictive and outdated. The pressure to get married young and have kids, to have a mortgage, to work a job you don't enjoy for the money, to be content with settling into the template laid out for you, and your one holiday a year. When I was young, I wanted to settle for none of that. I wanted to put my heart and my needs first: find meaningful, joyful and expressive work that only I could perform - namely, to be an artist. To travel the world at my heart's content, and to only get into a relationship for true love. To not worry about buying a home, but having home be wherever you laid your head, and to never sell out, and to, utmostly, refuse to trade your most valuable commodity - your soul and your time - just for money. I thought I wasn't being naïve, but upon leaving school at 18, what else can you be?


Over ten years later, and with a less than stellar career as a singer-songwriter and performer behind me, I'm sat here questioning: what if I do want some of the heteronormative ideals that I so quickly discarded in my youth? Perhaps they aren't so bad?


Love


Let's start with the obvious. I want the option to marry - and in all legal senses, as of March 2014, I have it, but I don't necessarily feel my life would be empty or incomplete without it. But furthermore - there is a culture in the queer and gay world of questioning the very structures of relationships. Being open, polyamorous etc are all great in theory, and each couple can make up their own rules and I respect that. But what if I don't want that? What if I don't want complicated? What if I just want it to be me and him? And with that - why do I feel judged for being 'too straight' or 'conservative'? Have we gone off mark?


It's easy to tie this into the #woke movement, yet underlying this is a deeper cultural trend: that we all perhaps have too many options, or are encouraged to blur every line before we even decide what it is that we are, or what it is that we want. So here I am, saying that I don't want things complex, blurry and indecisive. Sometimes things feel too fluid in my world. I want to draw my lines and tell someone that I love them, and I want them by my side, no matter what.


Work


And this mentality also seeps into the job market - where everyone is now a digital nomad content creator. But I have tasted that life, trying to occupy a blurry space that others have monetised heavily before me. It's freelance, low paid creative work with infrequent contracts, and I often find myself working weekends, worrying about whether I can afford a holiday, or even worse - spending my free time worrying about where my next paycheck is coming from. Perhaps I do want a salary, fun co-workers that become friends, holiday time and an office with gym classes included in a fun Shoreditch location.


On the other hand, I want to have the unbridled freedom in pursuing a life of 'joy' that being queer or gay to me signifies - to ability to put my creativity and art first, the freedom to move country at the drop of a hat, the choice to not marry or have children without intense questioning from family or relatives. But is having that freedom also an excuse not to commit to things? At this age, I am aware that I don't want to be an irresponsible party boy for the rest of my life. In other words - I don't want to use my freewheeling, wild and romantic queerness as a permanent excuse to never settle down.


Settling Down


There is a phrase often thrown around the inspiring quotes pages of instagram. 'Never settle.' But surely, some settling is good? Settling for a city you can call home for years at a time and where you can build a community is nice - a familiar face at your local coffee joint who knows your order, a co-worker or friend apart from your mum who would take you to the hospital should you need it, or help you to fix a broken light. Settling for a job which you might not love, but where you can build expertise, and be proud to be good at it - and be called upon by others for your valued insight, and insight that is actually helpful or useful. Or how about settling for someone who isn't perfect, and doesn't check your boxes, but knows what flavour ice cream you like, and brings it to your bed when you're having a rough day? Basically - what if you're tired of never settling down? And what if you are tired of measuring every aspect of your life against some invented benchmark that presents itself to you as 'queer'?


Rebellion and Being Queer


I think about the life that my successful, straight compatriots are leading - and though it seems seductive, I also still long to be different, and to be more 'queer', and to have this queerness radiate and express itself in everything that I touch. Indeed, I often think that for me, my need to rebel, as well as my innate, queer desires go hand in hand. Yet so much about me isn't queer. As I said, I don't have any piercings. I don't dress in an anti-establishment fashion, or go to queer parties. And I don't change my hair colour.


But as I mentioned before, growing up, I was trying to hide my sexuality and thought that the straighter that I appear - the more acceptable I was. Has this simply carried over into my adult life?


Being cast out by 'mainstream' and 'straight' crowds growing up, while trying to hide my sexuality, gave me a deep desire to belong to a group or community. I often find myself doing almost anything to try and 'fit in'. When I didn't fit in to the gay world after coming out, and having trouble finding my queer tribe, as well as growing older - I find myself asking: am I trying too hard?


I have been told by numerous gays that I am not gay enough as I'm not really into RuPaul and Drag Race (though I have nothing against it at all) and I don't have many close gay friends (but I do have two or three who know me inside out and I could call upon at any ungodly hour), but surely this isn't a requisite to truly and proudly being accepted by a community?


The Problem with Building a Queer Community


The major issue with being queer in 2022 is that, fundamentally we are a tribal people. Yet how do you find belonging in a space or under an umbrella where we all identify differently, or, as many things in life, have to draw our own boundaries or definitions on what we want? The problem with being queer is that it tries to define the undefinable. It is the collecting under an umbrella of a group that does not fit under an umbrella.


Yet I often worry that I do not do enough queer things or activities. I go to Pride to dance in the streets, but with every financial and corporate institution now having a large, heavily sponsored presence, can this still be called a radical act? I still long to celebrate my innate queerness, and all the things that identify it as the 'otherness' from heterosexuality - less of the emphasis on hierarchy within a corporate environment, no restrictions on what you wear, or arbitrary ages that you need to have accomplished things by. And yet the older I get, the more sensible, alluring, practical (and mentally healthy) the heteronormative structures seem to be. I am conflicted.


But I also don't want being 'gay' or 'queer' to be my only identity. I long to be an actual, three-dimensional human being who has other interests, needs, wants and desires outside of being 'professionally gay' - how about I'm just a regular person who happens to love men? But I also long for my gayness, my queerness - to flow through everything I do, as it is a vital, differing part of me. The idea of universality, or compassion for the otherness, of celebration of diversity, of a heightened sensitivity and relationship to alternative arts and sub-sub cultures.


Perhaps, I am simply rebellious at heart, or like Rum Tum Tugger from Cats - who craves to be indoors when he is put outside, and constantly vice versa - I am doomed to be unhappy with how our culture defines being 'queer' and being 'heteronormative'. When I am chasing my heteronormative ambitions, such as monogamy, wealth creation, property ownership and success in business, I desire more queerness: wearing anti-elitist clothing, growing my hair out, putting on makeup, embracing my divine feminity. And yet, when I buy into any external artefacts of a queer lifestyle, forcing myself to watch RuPaul or contemplating a risqué tattoo, I think, 'why am I trying so hard?' Being queer can be anything you want it to: that is the beauty and the problem itself.


I find myself constantly part of a balancing act, as well as always redefining my identity, and still waiting for the culture to catch-up with post-gay and post-queer theories and expressions. Perhaps it is truly queer to be unable to be placed anywhere - or to be pissing off the people that call themselves queer because you arn't queer enough. Until then, it is part of my life's work to define my own definitions of being queer, as well as marrying my contradicting, and often conflicting desires. Until I reach more clarity, I'll be here, embracing and embodying my own wonderfully gay, joyous and uniquely different life.