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Unstrung Letters – Sexuality and Identity in the Modern World

by Pat Cash

This paper was presented at the informal lecture series Unstrung Letters. You can listen to the audio recordings and see photos of Pat’s presentation here.

How do we define identity in the modern world?

Identity is an opalescent notion, it is not codified, and there are many ways of terming/phrasing its definition. The three main definitions as I have narrowed it to here are:

  • ontological: ‘the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another’
  • epistemological: ‘condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is’
  • solipsistic identity: ‘the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time’

It is simultaneously a singular notion – the fact of who you are, or how you present yourself to the world – and a polymorphous notion, for that fact is multifaceted in itself; your identity is a tapestry made up of many intersecting weaves that wrap and coagulate themselves around your self as you develop throughout life. These factors include your age e.g. ‘why is he or she dancing on that night club table over there and flashing his or her private parts in all those poor businessmens’ faces?’, if you reply ‘oh, he or she is a nineteen year old’, you have defined their identity in part by their age; your socioeconomic group; your birthplace and your education.  In childhood you are largely not in control of these factors, but by the maturity of adolescence and certainly by adulthood you have autonomy over most of them – excluding of course your age, although perhaps the most rigidly officious of us may try and plan out our lives day by day in advance. Identity is made up of rigid and malleable life factors.

rigid factors:                age, gender, socioeconomic group, birthplace, heritage/ethnicity, place/type of                                            education

malleable factors:        achievement, interests, dress, behaviour, place of living

Personal identity can never be a stereotype; ‘such a stereotype of a camp gay man’ is not the same semantically as saying ‘is a stereotype of a camp gay man’, as a personal identity is too complex and byzantine a concept to simply silhouette; however a facet of personal identity can be referred to by a generalisation or archetype; ‘he is an introvert, he never speaks’, ‘she is Irish, she drinks a lot’, ‘he’s private boarding school educated, he is likely to be snobbish.’

Identity is inextricably linked to sociability, it is defined in your interaction with others. If you do not have others around you, if you are the only person on earth or if you become a hermit in the wilderness of the Tibetan mountains for the rest of your life where literally no one else can possibly follow, and simultaneously your memory of all other people is wiped out, then your sense of identity becomes void. You are ageless in socially conventional terms because there is no one older or younger than you, there are no sexes, your heritage, your birthplace, your interests, your dress, are all meaningless in identity terms because you have no one to define themselves against but your own self. You are simply and in all purity your identity and your identity is you.

Whereas when your identity is developed and constructed in a social context, you are at liberty to be slightly malleable with how that construct is achieved. Most people won’t be malleable with their defined factors, or you trust and hope that most people won’t, if you don’t yourself, for otherwise we live in a world of hoodwinkers, conmen, fantasists and outright liars. Or Paris, as it’s commonly known. But there are people who will subtly change the veracity of these factors, such as their birthplace, heritage, type of education or socioeconomic group they grew up in. Age is likely to be the most commonly faked physical factor and one at which people go to many lengths to fool others; gender is a less easy and more inexplicable factor to fake, but there are of course ways of doing so.

Malleable factors of identity develop often in correlation to the subject’s burgeoning experience, combined with their awareness of their defined factors, throughout their growth and maturity.

Perhaps finally on this topic of how we define identity the question of how we differentiate personal identity and a persona should be addressed. A persona can be constructed of a subject’s malleable (for the most part; sometimes rigid identity factors such as birthplace or accent may be exaggerated also) identity factors, such as dress, behaviour, interests, as a performative interpretation of those factors.  Personal identity is what lies at the core or kernel of your essential sociability, persona is what you develop on top of that to give to certain groups. Below a persona there will be a personal identity that is made up of true facts, and steeped in both rigid and malleable factors.

What is sexuality? How do our sexualities relate to how we define our modern day identities?

So we’ve come to the sexy part. Your sexuality is ostensibly another facet by which your identity is structured. It is largely moot in childhood, or more pertinently, in terms of how adulthood defines child sexuality, for, despite twentieth century Freudian theories, children are still regarded as largely non-sexual beings, childhood as a time of chasing butterflies and blissful innocence. By adolescent development and the advent of puberty however, sexuality will be, or no doubt be becoming, a major player on the stage of your identity.

Sexuality in its basest concept is the capacity for human beings to experience erotic desire for one another, in the form of responses, and to act on those responses in the form of sexual experience. When it does onset in full in concurrence with the vast hormonal flushes of puberty, it can be, although is not always, a malleable force; people often recount sexual development as a time of confusion, and puberty is traditionally a time within a life where sexual experimentation is most likely to occur. Those who have almost wholly heterosexual identities may indulge in pastimes, of singular or multiple occurrence, at this age that they will discard in later life, such as teenage boys engaging in mutual masturbation to porn films, girls kissing other girls drunk at parties. Although situated at the very outer ends of the same-sex spectrum they are still upon that spectrum, as a physical example of an act sociably viewed not in concord with a normative heterosexual identity.

But then what does a normative heterosexuality identity entail? If our identities are constructed by our sociability, then how does the infiltration, or even the full-scale assimilation by the hitherto unknown force of sexuality into that identity at puberty affect how we engage with and relate to one another?

The primary force is that there will be objects of that sexual desire; in a normative male heterosexual identity it will be objects of the opposite sex, women; and in a normative female heterosexual identity it will be men. The object of sexual desire of a homosexual man or woman is a member of his or her own sex; a bisexual person ostensibly holds desire for both sexes, although may prefer one primarily over the other, rather than being an innate fifty-fifty separation of sexuality; and asexuals, whom Andy Warhol was famously once reported to be by David Bowie, are said to hold no direct object of sexual desire, although sexual desire may manifest itself in indirect ways such as, in Warhol’s case, voyeurism.

In terms of identity you might sociably treat an object of your sexual desire differently from someone who awakes no sexual desire in you. This can cross all identities and genders; for instance if the subject gets tongue-tied and is filled with trepidation  talking to an object of desire or, alternatively, becomes predatory and lascivious, deconstructing that object of desire’s multifaceted identity until they become, in the subject’s eyes, no more than a physical facet of that identity, a total objectification e.g. a potentially oft overhead phrase in English pubs in the 1970s, ‘get a load of the tits on that’. Language here is shown to reflect this objectification of sexual desire, even above the wholly physical emphasis on the body that the phrase contains, the familiar pronoun of ‘her’ is replaced by the gender neutral term ‘that’. Social reaction to an object of sexual desire is not, of course, all bad; you might become exceedingly chivalrous, witty, generous, more forgiving, you may have a wider smile on your face, in the company of an object of desire.

If this cross-fertilisation of sexuality and identity can produce such manifest effects in terms of behaviour to the way we treat objects of desire, then the secondary force that sexuality inveigles within our identities is how we engage with and relate to those who hold the same sexual desire towards the same object as we do. In a phrase of  absolute objectification such as ‘get a load of the tits on that’, which one would hope is no longer heard in English pubs, it is likely that it will only be uttered amongst duos or groups of heterosexual men with no women around.

Sexuality in these terms is a unifying sheath, it brings together and bonds those of a like mind, and provides group identity. Because it is implicitly aligned that members of that group are on the same page with their desires, and therefore becomes a soldering glue, resulting in groups comprised solely of one sex, often coined colloquially as ‘the boys’ or ‘the girls’, ‘lads’ or ‘gals’, and perhaps most particularly typified in the phenomenon of stag or hen parties. The common hiring of strippers of the opposite sex as objects of desire to bond the group, in both of these outings, is possibly the zenith example of this glue of sexuality at work, of a strength which can transcend other factors of modern identity, such as socioeconomic group, age or heritage (although there are religious and educative factors which may prove isolating above the presumed bond of sexuality, despite shared sexual desire in evidence). This is a motif often purported in modern cinema, where two men from disparate backgrounds will find common ground over their shared desire for a beautiful woman, although traditionally less so with women.

There is nothing wrong or sinister about this bond of identity provided by sexuality. Of course uber-objectification of either women or men by subjects who desire them to the extent that their personalities  become subservient to their physicality is wrong within a society codified by liberality, expression and enlightenment. We are beings with complex and vibrantly rich identities, to be distilled into any single facet of that identity is degrading.

Historically, or at least in the mainstream history of the broadly Christian Western world, this unification of identity through sexuality is inextricably tied into the division of gender. Men like women, and women like men. I am a man, you are a man, and whether I am a Lord and you are a peasant toiling my fields, the unspoken assurance is that we both have penises and we both want to stick them in vaginas. Unless I am the Marquis de Sade when there are plenty of other places I can think of sticking it. Likewise, if I am a woman and you are a woman, we will dream of tall, handsome male strangers to whisk us away. This assurance travels fluidly over the age line, if I am an adolescent boy, I can spend a lot of time discussing the merits of adolescent girls with my fellow compatriots; if I am a man I can continue to discuss the merits of women, but also either complain about or crow about my girlfriend and, at a later stage, wife. This works vice versa for women discussing men. It is a cosy and comforting crutch to lean on, a truth of life that will not let you down, even if other aspects of the bewildering world fall into chaos or disarray. Some factors of my identity may be loosely tied to my life, I may lose or gain a fortune, my interests may fluctuate, I may change the way I dress or behave, but the hard wiring of sex is the factor that will always align me sociably with my peers, both to my own sex and the opposite of my sex, wherever I may be or whatever age I am.

However, where there is a spanner thrown in the heterosexual identity works is when a different sexuality, such as homosexuality, comes into play.

How does homosexuality affect the delineation of sexuality with identity?

Up until the twentieth century homosexuality as we know it did not exist. Whilst there were plenty who engaged in homosexual acts, as evidenced by written memoirs, jail records and the very visibility of homosexual sex’s illegality, sociably there was no identity for either a man or a woman but heterosexual. Men who were caught in sexual acts with other men were not defined as homosexual from then on, they were simply men of heterosexual identities who had taken part in illegality or sin. In the underground subculture of big cities like London and Paris people did partake of homosexual identities but these were strictly only upon these plateaus; in mainstream society everyone was straight. Oddly enough female homosexuality was never officially illegal in Britain, perhaps because what constituted sapphic sex to a Victorian mind was vague enough to be thought not necessary of acute policing, or women were just not deemed deviant enough. But the lack of illegality did not make it anymore socially acceptable or visible than male homosexuality. This absence of identity for homosexuality in history lead Michel Foucault to announce in his History of Sexuality:

‘the homosexual does not exist in history; [only as] a sodomite, an aberration’

Indeed, the first known appearance of the term homosexual was only in the late nineteenth century, in 1869, when used by a German author named Karl Maria-Kertbeny.

However, with the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and the ensuing gay liberation movement, there was a new, legally recognized identity for either men or women in town: that of the homosexual. For the heterosexual majority, that unspoken assurance of gender unification through sexual identity is no longer set in stone. Whereas you might be talking to a stranger of the same sex in a bar, there is not a guarantee that they will hold the same object of sexual desire as you do.

A possibly logical and harmonious step forward for mainstream society at this point would have been the move towards a lesser reliance upon sexuality as the cultural context of a man or woman’s constructed identities. But this is almost 2,000 years of ingrained Christianity and indoctrinated bad press of homosexuality as an institutionally criminalised mental illness that, at that stage, a very tiny minority movement is mobilising themselves against. Also, we are in the golden age of capitalism; advertising is huge money and sex sells. Whether homosexuality is official realised as an identity or not, each time an advert is shown selling a traditionally viewed men’s product – such as tobacco or alcohol – featuring attractive women to sell it, or Marilyn Monroe steps onto the silver screen and all the male construction worker extras wolf whistle in appreciation, the message is driven home that what bonds men above all else, to the extent of their very expenditure, is their unification of identity through female objects of sexual desire.

And of course there are many hugely homophobic people in the world of recent gay liberation, most actively found in the churches, but also all throughout society. To an extent this is understandable: these people have grown up knowing homosexuality as wrong and criminal; to change the mindset of a population is not quite as easy as simply changing the words of the law, as can be evidenced in the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union in Russia and Eastern Europe, the ensuing liberality and freedom for all of celebration, and the worrying spread of popular right-wing extremism against minority-groups coming back now, twenty years later. Widespread viral homophobia and scaremongering stories also played on people’s concerns tied up with their very identities.

For heterosexual men homophobic propaganda painted homosexuals not only as in dis-concord with their mindsets, but also as a threat to them. Not only would the homosexual man have a different object of desire from you, that object of desire might even be you. In a world where feminism is on a huge scale increase, this struck right at the heart of men’s heterosexual identities, at their masculinity, their status. It propagated a fear of patriarchal emasculation, whereby the objectifier becomes the objectified, the watcher becomes the watched, and, at an ultimately deeper level of neuroses, the penetrator becomes the penetrated. Even in this day and age the most commonly heard, and most successful, defence for men accused of committing homophobically motivated hate crimes is ‘he made a pass at me’ or similar.

For women it wasn’t quite the same story of some rabid Sappho lurking in dark corners to assault them and assimilate their hard-protected feminine identities. Casting off the shackles of traditional feminine identity where the female sex is viewed as subordinate to the male was after all an active interest of female sexuality in the development of the twentieth century. However, scaremongering here took a more general turn here, focusing on children and families, much like it does in post-colonial sub-Saharan countries such as Uganda today. Homosexuals by their nature cannot breed, so went the line of public campaigns at the time headed by celebrities such as singer Anita Bryant, now more remembered for her extreme right-wing views than her prowess as a chanteuse, so instead they recruit by infiltrating your schools and snatching your children.

What provided most ammunition for these scaremongering theories of homosexuality threatening heterosexual identities, was that it was not innately visible in any one person. Whereas homosexual desire is a rigid factor of identity, it has no attached somatic value that can be witnessed upon the body. Factors of identity such as the behavioural phenomenon of camp are not physically ingrained in the person. The homosexual can be anybody, and they can get away without being recognized precisely because of that prevailing heterosexual identity that wider culture is seeped in. Coupled with anti-homosexual propaganda, a sinister identity is propagated for the homosexual as a chameleon predator, ostensibly blending in but secretly plotting and deviously scheming for the fall of straight society.

Identity, how you declare yourself and define yourself, becomes more important in this context. And sexuality, rather than becoming a less significant factor of how we define our identities, becomes even more embedded in the consciousness of our identities. Whilst the scaremongering theories and anti-homosexual propaganda of immediate post-liberation have happily fallen away in most areas of contemporary Western society – although by no means all, given it has only been the relatively short historical time span of forty years – differing identities for the homosexual man and the heterosexual man, or the homosexual woman and the heterosexual woman, have diverged and separated from one another to create a cultural gulf, paradoxically widening with the perceived greater acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual figures in a society once wholly normatively heterosexual in identity.

We come then now to identities which are no longer just identities, but two separate and differentiated cultural ethoses, defined and delineated by our sexualities.

Gay Cultural Identity verses Straight Cultural Identity

‘Some people are gay, get over it!’ goes the Stonewall ad campaign currently running on the side of red London buses, implying that we all share the same cultural identity and so a differing sexuality should not be an issue. In the modern Western world, this is not in fact true. Gay culture has evolved itself and, in many ways, employed self-enforced segregation upon itself to deliberately separate from straight culture. This quite probably started as a real need to protect itself from widespread homophobia, and as a rebellion against patriarchal hegemony. However, the cultural schism it now presents between these worlds in modern day society entails that it is not quite as simplistic as saying some members of your own gender hold a different object of desire from yourself, get over it.

A straight man or straight woman will typically not want to be seen as gay; they will not want their identity based in heterosexuality to be misconstrued as homosexual. Primarily this is of sexual necessity, if your object of desire is of the opposite sex, you will not want the opposite sex to lack interest in you based on a mistaken perception of your sexual person. However, there may be other reasons why they would not want others around them to labour under social misapprehensions of their identities. For a heterosexual man, to be described as or thought of as homosexual may be equatable with a disparagement upon their masculine identity; to be homosexual in some people’s eyes is to be effete, camp, obsessed with aesthetic detail, narcissistic, physically weak or athletically inept. For a straight woman, to be described as lesbian, may be not just an attack on her feminine identity but a derogatory description of her attractiveness, that she exudes a sense of masculinity or aggressiveness, either in physical or power-based terms, that will be off-putting to her heterosexual object of desire. It is most likely that it is from this insecurity of the heterosexual identity as pitted against the perceived homosexual identity that the widespread vernacular lexicon of insults associated with homosexuality in the UK and the US, although remarkably less so in France, has developed. Terms such as faggot or fag, queer, poof, dyke, any number of explicitly vulgar turn-of-phrases related to the sexual acts of sodomy or cunninglingus, and the increasingly sociably normative use of the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘bad’ are examples of this.

You would think though that the descriptions used above to describe a homosexual man or woman, the former being effete and aesthetically obsessed, the latter butch and aggressive, are stereotypes propagated by the neuroses left over of an insecure patriarchal culture. However they are frequently not. They are in fact stereotypes embodied, emblazoned and perpetuated by gay culture itself, and can even sometimes be described as a self-propagated archetype of gay cultural identity.

The modern male homosexual identity has forged itself a clear cultural ethos on a surface level alone. Pink is the colour, and camp are the affectations; from excessive gesticulations when speaking to a high-pitched and excitable tone in voice. The music is bright and predominately pop-hued; a canon of female singers in the ilk of Madonna, Rihanna and Kylie Minogue are worshipped providing that they are pretty, put on a fabulous live show and don’t write their own lyrics. Fashion is followed, and a certain colourful style will be exemplified upon the contemporary gay scene which strays into the areas of androgyny and effeminacy, including the wearing of an impossibly huge man-bag over one shoulder and maybe even a chihuahua peeping out of it, depending upon how much you find Paris Hilton inspirational. Hair must, and this is a big must, be immaculate at all times. A mirror must never be far away. You tolerate music that you can’t dance to but, if you’re honest, don’t really know why it exists.

I digress into the tongue-of-cheek of course, but the essentials of that paragraph stay true. Often the way a homosexual man dresses and behaves in modern culture will be exemplary of how their sexuality dictates their identity. Likewise a lesbian may deliberately conform to cultural stereotypes, by cutting her hair short, wearing boy’s clothes, getting tattoos and piercings, adopting masculine affectations or ways of speech. It is not the case for all homosexual men or women by any means, as I shall go on to illustrate, but if you go to Soho in London, Le Marais in Paris or Chelsea in New York the likelihood is that you may be able to spot someone on the street, if not the majority of the street, who comes across as homosexual.

This is not to say that this demarcation of homosexual identity by dress, act and look is specifically bad or wrong. It can even be viewed a deliberately self-affirming reaction against a straight culture which ever seeks deeper resonance of its respective masculinity and femininity; look at us, we’re inverting your insecurities, you can’t miss us, we’re here, we’re queer and we’re proud. In this respect, it is a politicised aspect of identity, albeit most probably very few of the younger generation sporting the look, the man-bag or the chihuahua would think of it in this way.

What is damaging though is to purport that this is what homosexuality is, or even in extreme cases what a homosexuality identity should be. Homosexuality is having an object of sexual desire that is of the same sex as your own. Just as male heterosexuality is not rugby, beer and pubs, or female heterosexuality is not lipstick, high heels and fashion, homosexuality is not pop music, man-bags and mirrors. Yet, increasingly in our cultural definitions, both gay and straight, on television, in cinema and the media, this is what a homosexual identity is portrayed as. The bitchy queen casting acerbic aspersions on all as a sidekick to the main character in Sex and the City; the throw-away comment of ‘he’s gay, he must love musicals’; the homosexual but sexually asexual camp comedians that litter TV talk shows. Indeed, from recent first hand experience, I overheard a girl I was Tumbleweeding with the other day say ‘I’m a lesbian, I shouldn’t know how to do make-up’. It is silly, ostensibly harmless and often comically self-deprecating but with its ubiquitous usage, the idea infiltrates itself further into the collective consciousness that this is what a homosexuality is. To be a homosexual man, in short, is to be the antithesis of a heterosexual man as, to an arguably lesser extent, to be a homosexual woman, is to be the antithesis of a heterosexual woman; have you seen the viral video recently online that says ‘Look out guys, gay guys are gonna marry your girls’? The stereotyping within this neatly illustrates my point of how this concept has developed in forty years of gay liberation from malicious homophobia to the idea that gay guys are cerebrally separate from their straight counterparts in ways outside mere differentiation in desired sexual object.

Where this concept goes from damaging to the idea of homosexual identity in theory to harmful in practice, is to those who grow grow up in a still largely heterosexual world – almost all children are brought up with heterosexual identities – with a heterosexual identity they are perfectly happy with, but the knowledge as of puberty they harbour a homosexual desire which excludes them from the unification of group sexual identity with their peers. They look to the homosexual identity of their culture and it offers them a precise antithesis to what they have always known, and demands that they partake of its narrowly dictated interests should they wish to fit in. If they come out as gay and then stay solely within their friends bonded by heterosexual identity they will feel an outsider identity, precisely because of the way that differing sexualities have entailed a divergence of cultural identities. Also, they will be very unlikely to find an object of sexual desire in their immediate social circles. The third option is to stay within the safety nets of what they have always known, their heterosexual identity, keep their heterosexual group identification, and suppress their homosexual desire. This is a depressing and potentially damaging prospect for the person: the phrase from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times ‘closely imprisoned forces render and destroy’ springs to mind; there may be a volcanic aftermath of the breakdown of a heterosexual relationship or even marriage, if those repressed homosexual desires are eventually acted upon; and ultimately, essentially, it is a deliberate choice to exclude oneself from the potential for happiness with someone who the subject truly finds sexually desirable.

Equally, in my final point on this section, for those of a homosexual orientation who do not conform to the gay cultural identity’s set interests, there is little alternative, and the gay scene can be an alienating and lonely experience. Even for those who do conform, it is hardly a warm and welcoming place. The emphasis on aesthetic perfection has lead to a younger generation riddled with narcissism who seek hollow physical goals i.e. everybody wants the perfect athlete’s body, but no one plays any sports. It is more likely that friendships will be forged over shared spite than mutual trust. The cult of youth holds  complete dominance, and if the old are not rich they are largely useless. There is a prevailing apathy for anything that occurs outside of the gay bubble. This is the typical concept of the bars; on the other side of the coin, in the twenty-four hour gay clubs of Vauxhall, frequently there are those who turn up on Friday evening and take enough drugs over the next seventy-two hours to still be shuffling, zombie-like, on a dance floor come early Monday morning. There are beginning to be many witnesses and commentators as to how modern day gay culture is a flawed entity, in its wraps of shallowness and artificiality or its constant seeking of obliteration through narcotic bliss, but it is hard to find an effective solution for its ailments and its self-isolation.

What can be done?

After a talk of largely depressing doom and gloom about the state of human nature, let’s finish on a note of optimism. It is not so much ‘what can be done?’ as ‘what is being done?’ or, even, ‘what’s happening?’ We are aware amongst enlightened circles – and by enlightened I refer to anyone who thinks outside the culturally delineated box, rather than simply educated – that we are more than the sums of who we sleep with, that differing sexualities are not threats to one another’s identities and that the richness of our beings’ complexity is our overriding unifying factor rather than any single facet of our identity. It is a question of transferring this enlightenment amongst the mass majority, gay and straight.

There are ideas of moving forward that should be implemented soon. The phasing out of the lexicon of homosexual-based insults from the cultural vernacular would be an imperative one. Language is hugely important in how we develop our mind patterns and thought constructs and, just as the use of derogatory terms to describe those of different races has become intensely taboo in our society, we should be aiming for the same with homosexuality. Especially with the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘bad’, which has become ingrained into the cultural mindset of high school students and, to an extent, youth culture, and might have the most severely damaging effects upon those at a tender age struggling to align their sexualities with their given identities.

Also, as is widely reported in the press and media, there is a palpable absence of homosexual figures amongst the most lauded of professions, such as premiership footballers, or any professional sports player, and Hollywood actors. To increase the visibility of identity-sexuality variance amongst high-profile media driven careers such as these would remove the concept that they are dreams that only those of a heterosexual, and therefore mainstream, identity can strive for. The only openly gay premier league footballer in the UK since the league’s inauguration was a man named Justin Fashanu who played for Nottingham City and, on account of the relentless pressure from homophobic fans, the footballing industry and the sports tabloids, killed himself in 1998. Rupert Everett, Hollywood’s token gay actor and Madonna’s self-professed gay best friend, has recently made headlines saying he can’t think of anything worse for a child than having gay parents. He is hardly a radical role model of forward-thinking vision and change.

Perhaps the most immediate fashion to achieve mass change in viewpoints is through our media. We should not be seeking the outright extinction of the camp homosexual or the butch dyke depiction, as much as we should not be seeking the extinction of the macho rugby-player character or the girl who’s a shopaholic. Stereotypes can be damaging, it’s true, but they exist because of a basis in truth. However, to spread the idea of an identity for a homosexual man or woman that is not stereotyped, but also based in truth, can be achieved in our television and our cinema. Some examples that have already reached for this alternative truth to stereotype that comes to mind are shows such as the British TV series Queer As Folk (later remade in America), Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, based on the short story by Annie Proulx, and the US lesbian series The L Word.

However, to really achieve a realistic depiction of how those of homosexual and heterosexual identities interact in the modern world it would be to show them as friends, in shows or films that are not specifically described as ‘gay’ from the fore. And beyond the stereotype of simply pitting together the shopaholic girl and the camp male as her gay best friend and saying ‘look, that’s social unity’. To avoid token-ship and sensationalism, and show what can bond two men’s identities or two women’s, a man and a woman’s, or large mixed group identities of myriad rippling friendship ties, in a culture as varied and vibrant as our own, outside of the fact whether one or any of them share a sexuality or not.

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