If you managed to report on gay issues in 2016 without resorting to tragically outdated stereotypes, homophobic tropes, telling women why they need a gay best friend, outing gay Olympians, perpetuating HIV stigma, incitement, disregard, bigotry and everything in between – congratulations. You’ve passed. To everyone else: do better. But from the casual to the outright homophobic, British journalism was far from perfect last year. So if you’re planning on writing about gay guys in 2017, then familiarise yourself with these guidelines on how to avoid getting it really wrong.
WE KNOW HOMOPHOBIA STILL EXISTS, THANKS
“Watch what happens when these straight guys hold hands in this homophobic town.” My guess: a few surly looks, some subtle smatterings of disgust, and maybe even a fairly conventional confrontation with the town bigot? I cannot tell you how bored we all are of watching these videos by desperate-to-go-viral straight journalists. We know the general public can still be intolerant. We know that homophobia exists. We’ve been telling you for quite some time now. Your heart may be in the right place, but if you want to wield your journalism to raise awareness then pick literally any gay writer out there and commission them to write about their experiences instead.
GAY MEN ARE NOT YOUR NATURE DOCUMENTARY
You’re under immense pressure to generate original content, you’ve had an exciting idea which to your knowledge hasn’t been done before, you do some groundwork, conduct an interview or two, write a cracking headline, hit publish, then BAM! Your piece baiting gay Olympians on Grindr has potentially outed an athlete from a region where homophobic violence is endemic. Such is its infamy it’s become the piece which has launched a thousand hot takes. It’s eventually taken down. Who would have seen that coming? Most gay men, had you asked them. We are, of course, very, very interesting creatures. But sensationalist voyeurism for the sake of satisfying heterosexual intrigue is not only in poor taste, it can carry unforeseen consequences. If in doubt, ask a gay writer what they think. Or just find something else to write about.
YOU CAN STOP CALLING US ‘OPENLY GAY’ NOW
Please. Stop it. We’re not ashamed. You don’t need to be suspicious of us. The most interesting thing about an out gay ex-Olympic fencing high court judge is the fact they are an ex-Olympic fencing high court judge, not that they are an out gay man. Unless someone’s openness about their sexuality is crucial to the story (e.g. the first openly gay premier league footballer) just gay will do fine, thanks. If you need to qualify at all (you probably don’t).
NEVER OUT ANYONE
INANIMATE OBJECTS ARE NEVER GAY
I’ve seen a lot of weird shit in my ephemeral time on London’s gay scene. Sodom, Gomorrah, an ethereal John Sizzle dressed as Princess Diana lip-sync to Beyonce’s Halo, the lot. I have never seen a Feast sodomising a Solero. Feather boas, jock straps, frozen dairy desserts - no matter how threatened objects make you about your masculinity, it has absolutely nothing to do with the arbitrary marker of sexuality you’ve placed on them and everything to do with your own insecurities. Ice creams are not gay.
STOP THREATENING US WITH ISIS
1 minute and 10 seconds. That is the (estimated) average length of time that passes between a gay man posting pro-Islamic sentiments online and a racist twitter egg with a dubious Knights Templar cover photo reminding them that their life would be much, much worse under Isis. “Religion of peace? They behead guys like you in the Middle East, you know.” Thinking of bringing up the track record on gay rights of Trump/Theresa May/UKIP? “Try living in Iraq then mate, see how Isis treat you.” Not happy with the way media personalities are perpetuating gay shame? “Gay men should back off Richard Hammond and focus on Islam,” says The Sun’s Kelvin Mackenzie. This sinister whataboutery is total trash and completely erases the experiences and existence of gay Muslims, especially those who are actually fleeing from the atrocities being committed in regions which criminalise. For the rest of you ‘openly gay’ guys out there it’s meant as a threatening reminder that the rights afforded to you can be stripped away if you don’t play ball. “Just be grateful we’re not throwing you off rooftops, mate.”
WE’RE BORED OF BEING TOLD HOW TO LIVE OUR LIVES
Look, cliché conservative commentator, I know as a journalist it is your God-given right to unreservedly express your opinion on any subject you wish to, but that doesn’t make your tedious observations any less boring. You’re a prude and you don’t think gay men should be barebacking, fine. You think gay men take too many drugs at late night clubs, OK, that’s your dreary opinion and you’re entitled to it. But honestly, if you really feel the need to take to the national press and tell us how to live our lives, then at least find something original to say.
SEXUALITY STILL MATTERS
I feel for Owen Jones. When he’s not having to gaysplain to patronising presenters why Orlando was a homophobic terrorist attack on LGBT people (and not simply “people trying to enjoy themselves”), he’s having to break it to the blissfully ignorant that, yes, George Michael was gay and that actually this was kind of integral to his work. Our sexuality might make you so uncomfortable you want to pretend it’s not there, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant. Whatever the context, as long as there’s homophobia, sexuality still matters.
Follow Chris Godfrey on Twitter here @ChrisPJGodfrey