not all gay men want to be ordinary
David Hockney might be mourning the death of gay bohemia, but maybe he's just looking in the wrong place for signs that it's alive.
The thing I most cringe about having written is a stream of conscious rant I submitted to BUTT magazine in the early 00s about my burning desire to reject heteronormativity at all costs; a penned primal scream about why I wanted my gayness to prevent me from becoming average (!), suburban (!!), and normal (!!!). Luckily the letter never made it into print. Not that I disagree with what I said, but more because of the embarrassingly uncompromising fervour of it all: I was high on university queer theory and the hope of changing how every gay person behaved.
In an interview with The Guardian last weekend, 77-year-old artist David Hockney is talking up the death of Bohemia and is horrified that gay men "want to be ordinary - they want to fit in", and it's got me contemplating the issue all over again. We'll never know how or where Hockney has formed his concept of the modern-day gay man (hopefully not from OK! spreads, reality TV or Cucumber, like much of the country), but it certainly ignores the spirited, alternative queers who still flourish today (who are probably quite ordinary to themselves).
"Bohemia was against the suburbs, and now the suburbs have taken over…Bohemia is gone now," he says, kicking back in a pair of Sketchers, which is either the most depressingly ordinary thing he's ever done, or the most wildly cool. Hockney insists he's never personally been into the idea of getting married to a man, or having kids and is frank about his ex-lover Peter Schlessinger and hubby of 30 years acting "like a couple of old maids" when they met for dinner.
Like Hockney, I'm instinctively appalled by a certain suburban domesticity, but whilst I'm fighting the fervour and trying to embrace different strokes for different folks, I doubt the artist will change his mind on that front (he's been notoriously stubborn about smoking rights in the face of bans and public health warnings). But perhaps the Bradford-born painter would be pleased to know that the extraordinary, the bohemian, the gender-questioning and the longing poolside loungers live on in the gay community.
Take Arca, the Venezuelan music producer who's created beats for Kanye and who joined Björk's creative inner sanctum when working on her latest album. He told Fader that he likes to "operate in openness to both science and superstition…allowing for some form of magic." Arca's also fond of "short-circuiting his brain" to give himself new perspectives, and has a sassy, feminine alter-ego called "Xen." Like him, designer Ed Marler is happy to exist between the masculine and feminine, wearing his own outré fashions and encouraging men and women to wear each other's clothes. "I don't really see what the difference is," he told i-D." Marler's flair for maximalist expression comes from a fine line of theatrical British fashion, from Westwood to Galliano, and also recalls the Alternative Miss World pageants that Hockney himself was seen attending in the documentary A Bigger Splash.
It's this same sort of pageant that Jacob Mallinson-Bird might walk today as his drag queen self, Dinah Lux (a mainstay at gay party Sink The Pink). Mallinson-Bird is a Cambridge graduate and Oxford masters student who's modelled for Jean-Paul Gaultier and Raf Simons and has done a TED Talk on Queering The Norm where he discusses the differences between the world of drag and the heteronormativity of academia and male modelling. Add to this American pop star Shamir, who's said on Twitter, "To those who keep asking, I have no gender, no sexuality and no fucks to give."
And then there's Frank Ocean, whose 2012 album Channel Orange was as good a portrayal of California-based seduction, curiosity and search-for-self as Hockney's legendary LA paintings from the 60s and 70s. Frank has never fully come out as gay, but has admitted to having loved a man - a no-labels approach to sexuality that comes straight out of Bohemia. So there you have it, Hockney - there are still plenty of people continuing your legacy. We say get them round for a cuppa Yorkshire tea and restore your faith in extraordinary individuals.
Text Stuart Brumfitt
Photography Louie Banks