I’d been happily sitting in my hetero bubble aka ‘the real world’ – sipping pints with the lads in my local on a Saturday night – for quite some time when a friend dragged me to Gran Canaria this summer. My preconceived idea of hell got worse the night we arrived and I was introduced to the ‘wondrous’ world of the Yumbo Centre. In case you are as uneducated in gay iconography as I was, the Yumbo Centre boasts one of the biggest concentrations of gay bars in the world, apparently. I warily screened my surroundings and balked at the thought of having to come up with a full week of different excuses not to have to mingle with the fake-orange-skinned-and-bottle-blond, shrieking crowd I became estranged from about three years ago. My friend and I compromised: we would alternate between ‘going gay’ and going to the pub. Even then I managed to ‘miss’ a few gay nights, courtesy of pretend tiredness. I had applied this trick before at a barbeque on a posh London rooftop when, surrounded by unbearably fake and pretentious gay company, I had feigned looming sunstroke to escape after only one burger.
I don’t want to go all Samantha Brick on my own kind, but I felt increasingly acute embarrassment and even occasional vicarious shame watching these holiday-goers at the Yumbo Centre. I particularly cringed at the British tourist walking down the steps to the bars in what looked like a low-cut flamenco dress, arms, hands and fingers curved in all directions, flanked by two equally flamboyant friends as if he were Dana International on her way to her encore at the Eurovision. ‘No dah’ling, not for me!’ he giggled at a local trying to sell him a toy watch. The Spaniard subsequently turned to me trying to flog his ware. Please, don’t pigeonhole me into the same category because we happen to both be gay, my eyes begged. “Why do you enjoy the scene?’” I interrogated my friend while we were trying to outshout Madonna blaring from the speakers. “Because I feel more comfortable in gay bars”, he replied. Me: “It makes me feel uncomfortable. They don’t represent me.” “That’s because you’re getting older,” he gleefully retorted, a mere two years short of 30 himself. I pointed out that I was at least ten years younger than most of the other queens out that night. “And they look absolutely desperate for it, nearly tragic”, I said.
I don’t suffer from internalized homophobia, nor can I tearfully recall a torturous coming out, that would make me want to distance myself from the typical gay scene that I often find ridiculous and utterly exhausting. It seems as if most people hooked on it are so insecure and lonely that they need to forge an individual identity that’s… identical to everyone else’s, based on the coincidence of their sexuality. It’s not like I’m condescendingly judging looking in from the outside: from the tender age of 19 until my early retirement at 28, I lived on and for the scene. I also happened to be a bag of issues. What I didn’t realize for years is that the place that felt like a safe haven from the mean outside world, was reinforcing whatever issues and insecurities I had and making them considerably worse. The mean world, I started to understand and accept, was the one I was moving in, with all its drama, back-stabbing and casual sex in search of, and mistaken for, meaningful affection.
As I grew up and became somewhat wiser I, unwittingly at first, started withdrawing from the gay herd. I’ve been leading a much happier, more content and satisfying life since, in a place where priorities aren’t focused around the occasional navel-gazing of a minority group that sometimes refuses to integrate into wider society, preferring its cocoon of ‘individuality’ and which then, ironically, shouts out its indignation at being treated differently.
I am writing this from the south of Italy where the sun beats down as mercilessly as it does in Gran Canaria. Yet the people are tanned, not tangoed. I switched on Grindr to find the nearest gay was 25 miles away. Instead, two evenings ago I sat outside a tiny bar when two boys joined me. They were keen to practice their English and we kept chatting all night. I smiled when Edouardo excitedly told me about this girl from Milan he’d just met, and how he’s hoping they’ll go a long way. He picked up a deck of cards and taught me how to play. It was an idyllic, perfect night, serenaded by crickets rather than Kylie, with genuinely friendly handsome boys to chat to instead of ones that were secretively dissing me or trying to get into my pants. It was back in the real world for me.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with a gay shindig, but it’s the segregation many gays seem to opt for that worries me. There is a life off the scene that is extremely rewarding and more stabilizing. Are the men devoted to a life solely amongst their peers not precisely creating the segregation they ought to resist, with a warped sense of community and values as a result?