Category Archives: Opinion

Gay marriage, fatherhood and my very own ridiculous, personal dilemma

I have always had something of a knack for talking my way out of answering difficult questions. My first instinct when asked something mildly taxing is to cause a diversion or commit the most egregious of sins and answer the question with another question. But now my luck is running out.

Thanks to all these rights coming the gay community’s way, I’m running out of excuses for why I don’t want to get married or have children. You think you bigots are inconvenienced? You don’t even know the half of it – wind your neck in.

Before, in the bad old days, when gay people were oppressed and bullied and abused and generally treated by the rest of the world as if they were something that had been stepped in and trodden all over mother’s brand new beige carpet, it was very easy to dismiss marriage or fatherhood.

Those sacred landmarks, the rites of passage available to heterosexuals, were out of reach for me. Not for me an emotional proposal (perhaps in a McDonald’s or on a weekend away in Filey), followed by an excruciating engagement party in a working men’s club. Oh no.

Never would I feel the joy of saving every last penny to be able to afford to watch someone I will probably end up detesting in a decade walk up the aisle in a church belonging to a God I don’t believe in, before a gaudy reception in a country house that wouldn’t have let me and my significant other over the threshold were we not brandishing endless wads of wedding dollar. It could only ever be a hypothesis, a vague dream.

And I could, quite easily, pretend to be sad this route was closed to me, that the best milestone I could hope to achieve with any potential partner would be buying an antiques shop or perhaps sponsoring an orphan via postal order.

“Well, of course, you straight people are so lucky,” I would say misty-eyed, giving my Earl Grey another wistful stir, “but I will never be able to experience all that – because I’m gay!”

Pretending I really wanted to get married, but couldn’t because of beastly society, was the only way I could hide my utter lack of interest in the whole institution.

I don’t know why I don’t want to get married; I just don’t. Whether it’s because a failed marriage sounds much more scarring than a broken relationship, or I’d die of embarrassment at having to bring lots of people together to homage to me, I’m not sure, but the concept has never appealed. And so I was kind of grateful – in the most twisted and selfish of ways of course – that I had the perfect excuse.

And then, in 2004, civil partnerships arrived. My first thought? “This is amazing; I am so pleased for all those people out there who have waited so long to have their union recognised in law. What a red-letter day. We are well on our way to equality!” My second thought? “Shit.”

As I watched friends excitedly propose to each other and plan beautiful, tasteful ceremonies, I began to realise that soon the all-seeing lens of conformity would soon fall upon me. I would become that trembling, ageing spinster at a dinner party full of couples.

Cornering my then-boyfriend and me at parties, people would ask “So when are you two going to get hitched, then?” When all my heterosexual friends ‘put a ring on it’ and began to think about reproducing, I could just about handle it – it’s what they were supposed to do, of course. But now all my gay friends were going for it too.

So why wasn’t I? Isn’t this what I’d been waiting for all along? As I watched the penultimate lifeboat leave the Titanic, I suddenly found my rescue. “But it isn’t really marriage, not to me,” I would say, like some idiot teenager on Question Time. “Until we’re totally equal, I don’t see the point.”

And so, while my tormentors were bemused and disappointed, they had to be satisfied with that. And so was I, my marriage-avoiding core hidden away with a dismissive and dishonest excuse. For another few years, at least.

I have always said I never wanted children and, again, I had a pretty good get-out clause with gay adoption being scarce and society wagging its finger at other options like surrogacy or other arrangements or partnerships involving gay parents and the opposite sex. Now, however, everybody is doing it.

Our playgrounds are filling up with all these amazing children with varied, exciting (to me) backgrounds which to them are just ‘normal’ and ‘whatever’.

We are creating a new society and teaching tolerance through nature and nurture. I couldn’t be happier. But of course, I do have to bring everything back to me and, well, this puts me in a very difficult position. I like children, especially my friends’ children, but, oh, I really don’t want one. I don’t. Honestly.

This huge opportunity is now available to me, ending years of oppression, but it is utterly wasted on me. I can’t answer the question “So, do you think you’ll have children?” without sounding hugely selfish and hedonistic. “Oh, well, I quite like my life the way it is, really.” Parents back away from me so fast, the wheels on their Bugaboo whirr with enough power for take-off.

And now, here we go again. Gay marriage is an actual thing. And I’m glad, truly I am. I can’t wait to hear about all these weddings and I am so happy that finally gay relationships get the recognition they deserve. You GO, guys and gals.

But spare a thought for those of us who want to stay this side of the wedding vows. I am 100% FOR gay marriage, but, I am absolutely sure, it is 100% NOT for me.

It feels wrong, somehow, to have all these rights – like I’ve been given an extra vote or a spare lung – and have no desire to exercise them. Am I wasteful? And explaining why I don’t want to is difficult.

But I suppose the real right that has been afforded me is the right to decide whether I want to or not. I have been presented with the option, which feels marvellous and empowering. It feels even more exhilarating to have the freedom to say “Thanks for the progress – but I’ll have to pass”.

So please don’t feel sorry for me or tell me it might one day happen for me if I’m very, very lucky. I’m perfectly happy up here on this shelf of my own construction. Sorry, Prince Charming; it’s going to have to be a no.

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Sorry, ‘straight-acting’ boys, but gay stereotypes exist despite you… get over it

If you asked the average man on the street whether he could tell the difference between a gay man and a straight man, he’d probably say yes, citing a number of reasons such as differing fashion or music tastes, cultural references and mannerisms. He may even suggest that gay men behave in a more feminine manner. And, on hearing that, many gay men would be very offended. But why? Well, put simply, if you can still spot the gayness, they’ve been caught out. All that carefully executed ‘straight acting’ has come to naught.

Gay men don’t like it when their masculinity comes into question. Not all gays are effeminate, of course, but a lot are, and much of the homo world doesn’t like admitting it. We are not fond of reminders of the bad old days, you see. Once upon a time we wanted to be accepted for who we were; now we just want people to think we’re straight.

Up until the 1990s, the UK’s exposure to gay men in popular culture was largely restricted to overly-camp ‘whoopsie’ types of guys. They lived with their mothers and minced around, rolling their eyes and utterly sexless. It wasn’t a particularly flattering view, and gay commentators and tastemakers never tire of pointing out how unjust these stereotypes were on dire, nostalgic clip-compilation programmes. As a reaction to this, there began a slow trickle of movies and TV shows depicting what it meant to be a ‘modern gay’.

Queer as Folk, penned by the future saviour of Doctor Who Russell T Davies, kicked things off, and the standard seemed to be set for the next decade or so. It wasn’t unusual to see male gay characters playing football and hanging out with the boys drinking beer, most of them struggling to come to terms with how their sexuality could fit in with their life, and occasionally falling in love with their straight best friends.

Straight acting, then, moved into the mainstream. Just as the real straight guys were making doe eyes at David Beckham, discovering moisturiser and fake tan and getting in touch with their metrosexual side, the gays started to ‘man up’ and become more macho – or at least their version of it. The difference between straight and gay became increasingly difficult to spot.

One very well-known British TV actor, and beacon for the new generation of straightish gays, has openly spoken at his disappointment at the only gay role models available to him seemed feminine, bitchy and limp-wristed, that nobody seemed like him – an ordinary, straight-acting lad.

A couple of years ago, I sat in front of this very actor on an aeroplane. His ‘straight-acting’ posturing in interviews is just that – a great big act. He was just as caustic, gossipy and salacious as a lot of those gay stereotypes he’d previously decried.

The new gay ideal isn’t just to be accepted as an ‘openly gay’ man. We must now strive for further acceptance by being indistinguishable from our heterosexual equivalents. Rather than carve out our own identity, we ape theirs. Now, the new gay norm is the ‘straight-actor’ with the ultimate compliment being someone not spotting your sexuality. The ‘fems’ or ‘queeny’ guys are dismissed as outdated stereotypes firmly on the descent, but it’s a myth – they’re still everywhere, no matter how much their much butcher brothers choose to deny them.

ITV’s  commissioning of Vicious, a new sitcom featuring a dramatic, caustic  gay couple in their twilight years, has received a rather predictable reaction. Gay men desperate not to be pigeonholed have criticised the portrayal of the two lead characters as grotesque, camp stereotypes, even though played by well-respected (and gay) actors Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi. “This isn’t us!” they cry. “These are not my people!”

The characters do verge on the grotesque, of course, but they are caricatures, cartoons. They’re not aiming to represent the gay community (such as it is). It isn’t pretending to hold a microscope up to homosexuality. And men like that do exist. One could almost be forgiven for thinking some of the sensitive souls taking to social media to sound the ‘gay stereotype klaxon’ have actually recognised a few traits in the characters that they themselves have been known to display. Even the butchest of gay boys has a flounce every now and again.

Leaving aside the weaknesses of the script and supporting characterisation, what few have focused on is the great thing that Vicious is a sitcom with not just gay, but gay and elderly central characters. Yes, gay men get old! It may not be the step forward into total assimilation everybody thinks they’re looking for, but it’s a step for somebody out there, somewhere.

From what I have seen on the many dating profiles or social networking sites I scour, gay men don’t want to have sex with other gay men at all – they’re just interested in straights, or at least someone who can give a good enough rendition of one, despite the very deed of having sex with another man being the least straight thing you could possibly do. They’re at pains to point out how un-gay they are in an effort to attract more men. The word ‘masculine’ is bandied about so much that it loses all meaning.

Perhaps we secretly miss the homophobia of days gone by, and are more than happy to perpetuate it among ourselves, or maybe it’s all those years of being ostracised which make the gay man strive to fit in.

Whether we’re carefully arranging ourselves into ‘tribes’ or behaving in a more traditionally masculine way to avoid ‘standing out’, we just want to belong, even if it means we have to alienate or deny the existence of everyone else along the way. And we’d rather you didn’t point out the futility or unfairness of it all while we’re doing it, thank you very much. We already know.

This post was adapted from a blog which originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Beckham vs Miliband: In the battle of the Davids, it’s no contest for me

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And in the land of everybody looking fairly average in their underpants, it seems that David Beckham has ascended to the throne – a huge magisterial knickers magnate presiding over us mere mortals who live in a perpetual state of sucking in our stomachs when somebody attractive walks by.

I have never ‘got’ all the drooling over David Beckham – especially in the ad campaigns for his underwear range with fashion retailing giant H&M.

Sure, he’s a good guy who cares about his “fahmilee” and can bend a football into the back of the net like few others, but when it comes to the aesthetics, I find him rather bland, obvious. He’s what a Parliamentary Select Committee would come up when tasked to put together a sex symbol – everything in the right place, but no promises of adventure or excitement beyond.

Finding yourself alone in a bedroom with him would have all the passion of a breakfast meeting in a Little Chef just outside Slough. He’s taut, tanned – but utterly functional.

Time, then, to focus my attention elsewhere. Beckham is slowly morphing into a Ricky Gervais lookalike and those hen’s eyes of his don’t reveal much of his soul, if he still has one after years of posing every which way in a variety of undergarments with his numerous body doodles.

I need something more real, something I can work with. Beckham’s humanitarian acts and vacant good looks just aren’t enough for me.

Thankfully, there’s been another crotch in the news this week that’s been very deservedly getting the attention it’s been lacking all these years. And it’s another David. Time to step forward (and zip up) Mr Miliband.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Have I got the right person? The geeky, awkward-looking politician who spent an unfortunate number of years behind some very unforgiving, ardour-shrivelling spectacles? Really?

Oh, yes, I’m deadly serious. And here’s why Miliband gets the coveted spot as my poster boy, reaching the places that Beckham and his hipster trunks cannot.

Brain and stamina
You can’t deny David M has got the smarts. As Foreign Secretary from 2007-2010 during some tough years for the Labour administration, appointed by Gordon Brown, probably the most ridiculed party leader since Neil Kinnock fell over in the opening titles of Spitting Image every week. Representing the UK during a period of acute terrorism paranoia, with the fallout from the Gulf War raining down on him from all angles, the marvellous Miliband held his own. And we bet he never bored his mates about it down the pub. The boy’s got balls.

Charm
He might look like a bank manager on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but I reckon David is an old smoothie at the heart of it. Witness his complete disarmament of his US counterpart Hillary Clinton, who practically threw herself in front of his car at their last meeting, such was her sadness that their ‘special relationship’ was coming to an end.

Hillary is no pushover when it comes to the charm; hubby Bill’s antics will have put her on her guard for life. And yet Mr M sauntered into her life with his lop-sided grin and her icy heart was reduced to bathwater in an instant.

Looks
OK, so he’s not as chiselled as Beckham, and he may not have as sculpted a behind, but not an ounce of fat is wasted on Miliband major. He’s a runner, and is toned to perfection, with muscles a-poppin’ on those wiry thighs of his, and shapely arms thanks to years of carrying around big heavy documents full of politics, as opposed to balancing a manbag on his elbow.

Vulnerability
And yet despite the fact he’s a go-getter, globetrotter and dripping in power, he still has a softer side. He was photographed recently snoozing on the Tube in London, his adorable head leaning on his sturdy hand, his gangly legs splayed and his fly half-undone (revealing nothing – our David’s too classy for that), knackered after a long day of hardcore parliamentary toil. (Err, well it was 3pm, actually, but I’m assuming he’d been up for 48 hours or something.) Despite everything, he still needs looking after. Oh, to tuck him in with his cocoa and copy of The Economist.

So, laugh all you like. Go back to dribbling over the razor-lipped pants monkey Beckham running around with his body double in LA. But I know understated hotness when I see it – and Miliband’s got it in spades.

Kinda.

Why I believe in internet anonymity – even when you’re calling me a ****

We hear a lot about trolls in the news these days. A sub-class of human previously restricted to the mysterious world of specialist messageboards and forums about dodgy TV shows nobody watches any more, the troll has now been brought front-and-centre, blinking uncertainly in the shimmering light that is Twitter.

The adoption of Twitter to the bosom of the mainstream has finally done for social media what Facebook could not and would not: it’s made it okay to talk to absolute strangers, even if you’re not an ‘internet geek’.

Those who partake in trolling — of which there are very many complex levels from ‘mild ribbing’ to ‘death threat’ with a whole sub-genre of sexism, homophobia and vague paedophilia in between — are often thought to ‘hide’ behind the anonymity the internet affords them. Although IP addresses are freely available to any body who can be bothered looking for them, the fact that it’s usernames and not full Sunday names which accompany each bilious entry allow a freedom that we are in turns proud of and disgusted by.

Every so often, there are calls for procedures to identify internet users to be more transparent and robust. Sites like Google and Facebook have ‘real name only’ policies, with the former recently mulling over whether to force their gaming and reviewing users to also ditch their usernames and display their full ‘Wait until I get you home’ monikers.

There has been applause and outcry in equal measures for this approach to posting on the internet. On one hand we remove the opportunity for trolls to post faceless vitriol with little worry about the effect it has on the object of their ire. I imagine menacing posts about cutting somebody’s throat lose their thrill for the poster if their name is easily retrievable, easing the path to retaliation and/or punishment.

Casual racism and homophobia would, perhaps, shuffle off elsewhere from its natural habitat at the bottom half of articles in the leading newspapers and all would be well again. There is nothing quite so powerful as a barrier to online nastiness as having your full name attached to it, take it from me.

But when crusading against the vicious, masked internet assassins, we forget the other side of anonymity: the ability to speak one’s mind without fear of recrimination. Internet posters don’t just spout random opinions and then take their leave — they engage, interact, reply. They try to bully those who don’t toe their line. People on the internet like to disagree with each other, and things can get very heated. An online pseudonym doesn’t just give you carte-blanche to be as unpleasant as you like; it protects you from those who are.

In a world where a name is instantly Google-able (I hate myself for using such a non-word, and no doubt the trolls will be after me for doing so) and almost everyone ‘has Facebook’, an invisibility cloak of some sorts gives the ‘good’ people of the internet the chance to speak frankly about what they believe in — be it attacking racism, talking about the positives of immigration or impassioned essays on horrifying real-life experiences.

Naysayers claim that as long as you don’t post vitriol on the internet and are totally truthful, you have nothing to worry over when it comes to a removal of internet anonymity. But I disagree. For all those who post on the internet, there are thousands, millions more just watching, like a coiled spring, awaiting outrage. Maybe your musings on the situation on Israel or gay marriage or women’s rights in Saudi Arabia may seem fairly balanced and innocuous, but there’s every chance someone out there doesn’t like what you’re saying, and wants you to know it. Remove your mutual veil of online facelessness and your detractor may find other ways to make life difficult for you. And how will they do that? Well, with your name freely available for all to see, he or she is spoiled for choice. A heavy-handed example, yes, but we shouldn’t encourage the opportunity. For every 100 people who just shrug and think ‘what an A-hole’, there’ll always be one twisted mind willing to go the extra mile in the name of internet justice.

So, internet warriors, do your worst. In some ways, it is almost flattering that someone would take the time out to log in (or in cases of extreme desire to express, sign up!) and type furiously away, their tongue no doubt hanging out of the side of their mouth, just to say that you suck. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but I’m hard-pressed to take offence at what humm1ng8ird1876 has to say, even if they’re lobbing outright homophobia my way or calling me a… well, take your pick. After all, they don’t know my name either.

Anonymity is a gilded cage which protects us from each other. Let the key stay lost.

Is David Davies right? Would parents really prefer not to have a gay child?

The gay marriage debate rumbles on. And it really is rumbling, like a tummy which refuses to be sated no mater how much junk you feed it. It’s becoming tiresome to watch, whichever side you’re on. Everyone seems to be making the same points over and over again, like a long line of toy monkeys banging their miniature crash cymbals while an air raid siren whirrs its death rattle in the background. The ‘church’ thinks Thing A, pro-gay marriage campaigners think Thing Z, and there’s a whole load of other soapboxes to stand upon in the letters in between. The stupid thing is that it is all drearily inevitable that the legislation will go through, and still be argued about once it has. A fox hunting de nos jours, but with wedding cake, and an actual advantage for humans.

Occasionally, however, someone says something that rises above the constant din of discontent — a sharper, shriller tone cuts through the migraine-inducing murmur and demands attention. Sometimes it’s a bishop banging on about the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman and sometimes it’s a spoiled Hollywood actor offering half-baked opinions on gay parenting. But this week it’s an MP who’s tapping his virtual microphone and squeaking “Is this thing on?” Step forward David Davies, Tory MP for Monmouth.

David ‘Double Dave’ Davies has a lot of strong opinions and he’s not afraid to share them — one of his lifelong ambitions seems to have been to make sure his face ended up wrapped around a battered haddock and chips — and in between his ranting-by-numbers about gay marriage and sex education in schools and all that other stuff we’ve read time and time again, comes a statement which is actually worthy of attention. Take it away, Big D, talking to the BBC: “I think most people are very tolerant and have no problem at all if people are gay but, and I hate to say this in a way because I expect it’s going to cause controversy, but I think most parents would prefer their children not to be gay, knowing most parents want grandchildren if nothing else.”

Ignoring for the moment David’s protestations that he would really rather not cause any controversy thank you very much and how naughty of us it is to pick up on that wholly innocent thing he just said, let’s take a closer look at what he’s actually saying. David thinks that most parents would prefer not to have a gay child. And you know what? I think he’s right. But not for the boring reason he trundles out — the mythical lure of having loads of toddlers who are vaguely connected to you coming over and wrecking your house every Saturday afternoon.

While there have been protests that Davies’s comments are completely without foundation, isn’t it entirely possible that there are many parents out there who are completely unprejudiced, but would rather not have a gay child because, let’s face it, growing up gay is still a nightmare for most.

When you have a child, I’m told that you love it unconditionally, and all you want for it is the best life free from fear or worry or pain. Understandable, then, not to wish your child the hell of being spat at on the school bus every day, or mocked in the classroom, with teachers either oblivious or sympathetic but ultimately powerless to stop it. Stories of homophobia-motivated physical attacks are still in the news; gay hate crimes are a fact of life even in the most liberated of countries. What kind of parent would want that hanging over a child’s head? Add to that the perception that gay relationships aren’t the same as heterosexual ones, that they aren’t as serious or committed and thus don’t deserve the same status as straight couples. No parent would want their child to be a second-class citizen, right?

For straight people who don’t know or understand gay people, it can be perplexing and frightening. AIDS and HIV, despite a decent PR job over the last decade or two to change perceptions, are still seen as a gay problem. As valiant an effort as the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign has made, gay teenagers still kill themselves because of bullying. The uncomfortable obsession gay society has with stereotypes and being misrepresented means that it’s harder than ever to ‘fit in’ without being put down for not conforming to the increasingly strict, puzzling and ever-changing, invisible ‘rules’ about how not to be gay. Sensationalist stories and the people who love them helpfully blur the lines between homosexuality and paedophilia as yet another once-loved TV star is posthumously thrown to the wolves. And two girls kissing on a soap opera is just as titillating now as it was the first time Anna Friel applied her Lipsyl in anticipation.

In short, being gay in 2012 can be just as confusing, upsetting and horrifying as it was in the 1950s. It’s entirely understandable that no parent would wish such a life on their offspring.

It’s imperative, then, that we look at how we can change perceptions of gay people and reduce this innate fear of the homosexual ‘way of life’. How do we show parents that it’s OK, that their children have every opportunity available to them whether they’re gay or not?

How about we start with not letting politicians, religious figures and social commentators badmouth gay people and, now stay with me here, maybe we should get that gay marriage thing over with and introduce it as soon as possible? Then every parent will get what they really, really want — the opportunity to cry at, not to mention grumble about the cost of, their child’s wedding.

We’ve talked enough, David. Onward.

“Gaybrows”, girl talk and the Sunday Times’ brand of smart-casual homophobia

Being gay is very political these days. What with the world and his wife sticking their noses in about whether we should be getting married and Twitter confusing homosexuality with paedophilia in the wake of the BBC sex scandals from the 1970s. Like the unavoidable pink square in a slice of Battenberg or the writing running through a stick of rock, there’s always a constant air of homophobia which lingers around the reporting of such stories, but it’s not just the heavyweight news events we have to watch out for, oh no. Now, casual homophobia has climbed down from the lofty mezzanine of broadsheet opinion columns, put on a pretty dress and has sashayed down onto the pages of a women’s fashion magazine, spiking its stiletto into the very ‘fags’ it used to ‘hag’ for.

Every week, the Sunday Times publishes a supplement named Style, ostensibly a guide to the essential threads no lady should be without. Helpfully picking out key pieces and pretty crockery for its keen readership, the magazine also slings out a weekly barometer, a journalistic tool so lazy it may as well come with a duvet and an animal-print onesie. What’s hot and what’s not, is deliberated over for what must be whole milliseconds by perhaps the office intern or the bored receptionist – different clothes, trends, hairdos, people and ‘things’ are offered up, accompanied by what passes for a witty remark, and divided into those all-important categories. These busy girls-on-the-go aren’t much use at thinking in any way other than the most binary possible, so we must make do with two camps of popularity only: ‘Going Up’ for what we should love, and ‘Going Down’ (there’s a real science to this, isn’t there?) for everything less favoured.

It’s all as lightweight as you can imagine. Last week, Anna Wintour, the Prada-adorned, skeletal editrix of American Vogue, was lauded, and thus ranked top of the shop, for insisting hyper-famous photographer Mario Testino take her passport photograph. In this edition, readers are encouraged to start using Kate Moss’s surname as a verb for getting wasted, presumably on ‘bubbles’ at a product launch of some description. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, of course. Scan the ‘Going Down’ list, however, and we encounter a small problem. At the very end, once Peter Andre, birthday parties for dogs and under-ripe avocados are dispatched to the social guillotine, we come to a trend or phenomenon described as ‘gaybrows’. “What’s a gaybrow?” you may ask. I know I did. Allow me to shine 100 watts on that for you.

A gaybrow, according to Style, is the following: “Overwaxed eyebrows for him, favoured by the Geordie Shore boys.” Geordie Shore, of course, is a reality TV show on MTV (the ‘M’ long having since switched out its original meaning of ‘music’ for ‘mediocre’) and its subjects are the overstyled, permatanned type of fame-hungry charmers you can see on any high street should you look hard enough. The brows, themselves, are quite common too. Shaped, plucked and pointed to within an inch of their lives, the wearers of these unfortunate hairy slivers usually end up looking like a shop mannequin, an alien or – sorry girls – a woman.

Like many grooming trends currently favoured by preening heterosexual men, it is likely to have some foundation among their gay brothers, but didn’t girls start having brows like this first, centuries ago? Why aren’t they ‘ladybrows’? Or ‘nastybrows’ – as they are truly, utterly horrible and make men who sport them look like they’ve had ten facelifts or are midway through turning into a cat. Well, there’s a really good reason: a shortcut for making something seem immediately undesirable to straight men and the women who get boned by them is to label it ‘gay’. Easy when you know how, and, boy, does the world know how.

David Beckham has been shaping his brows for at least a decade, but it wouldn’t do to call them ‘Becksbrows’ – it’s okay to look like Beckham and he’s the sexual ideal for many of Style’s female readers. No, they must make it clear that these brows are horrible, and thus must be associated with something repugnant, and what better way to hammer home to the ladies and their boyfriends that these brows are unattractive? Why, simply fling the word ‘gay’ in front of them! Instant cringe! It’s so sickeningly transparent and automatic that it’s entirely possible they didn’t realise they were doing it. Oh, hang ON, what is this at the end of the description? There’s more!

The brows are, Style says, “about as hetero as Elton”. Assuming they don’t mean bushy-browed comedian Ben Elton or the flighty vicar from Jane Austen’s Emma, we’re talking about Elton John here. That is how gay these things are. Elton John, with his long-term male lover and civil partnership, is ‘openly gay’, as newspapers are so fond of saying, so the intent is clear here. The brows are awful, not just because they look dreadful, but because they’re not “hetero”. ‘Hetero’ is the ideal, remember; you don’t want men to ‘look gay’ because, well, that would mean what, exactly? Might gay men be interested in them and steal them away? Unlikely if they have a girlfriend; this isn’t TV.

No, the real message here is that the eyebrows make your man look gay, and looking gay is a negative thing, because people will think he is gay, and people thinking your man is gay is massively bad. Why? A variety of reasons – perhaps mainly that you won’t make other women jealous of you if you’re not lugging round a big hunk of male, masculine, cave-dwelling meat for them to salivate after. Is that what all this is about? Another stake in the heart for ‘the sisterhood’?

So with its throwaway comment about something looking gay, which they no doubt think is harmlessly entertaining, the Style editorial team has inadvertently revealed the monstrous, ugly homophobic heart at its core, which no amount of high heels, ‘lovely things’, perfume and designer wardrobe can fully mask. Good call, ladies; now we know what we’re up against. And we thought girls were supposed to be a gay’s best friend. At least that’s one fewer stereotype for us to agonise over.

Why I hope Madonna never, ever puts it away

Even the most noble of queens can expect her loyal subjects to turn against her eventually. Be it a jubilee celebration too far or an over-zealous beheading, every serf has their tipping point.

While not a glorious ruler of any realm in particular, Madonna has had queenly status bestowed upon her for the majority of her career by a legion of gay followers. Having some kind of interest in what, or who, Madonna is doing seems to be a side-effect of being gay.

But now Her Madgesty has displeased her once-devoted flock. But what could it be? The slow degeneration of her music material? The ever-increasing cost of tickets to see her perform live? Her apparent disinterest in her career beyond turning up to the odd interview? Well, perhaps, but Madonna’s crime seems to be the one that most of us commit eventually, if we’re lucky – she got old.

Madonna has always delighted in challenging people’s perceptions of appropriateness. From drying her stubbly armpits in a dirty washroom in Desperately Seeking Susan and flicking herself off on a giant bed while two gay men in conical bras looked on during the Blond Ambition tour to portraying the violence of war in the withdrawn video for American Life, no taboo seemed too small for La Ciccone to overturn.

Aside from a very staid decade or so where Madonna had a misguided, but spirited, go at being a submissive wife to director Guy Ritchie, her frankness, refusal to conform and power to shock have been her lifeblood; they have kept her career ticking over and front-and-centre for almost 30 years, a feat few other popstars – male or female – can boast.

Almost everyone has an opinion on Madonna, and the criticisms against her stack up like building blocks in a Guinness World Record attempt to reach the moon, but, thus far, Madonna has always been able to count on at least one demographic for continued, unwavering (and some might say blinkered) support – the gays.

Back when Madonna was still young enough to make it on to the higher reaches of those all-important, horrific ‘Sexiest Women’ lists that even the most highbrow of magazines insist on publishing, her stance as an awkward, complaining outsider spoke to the gay community in a way few have managed before.

While some might argue her status as a pioneer may be exaggerated and seriously flawed, she at least gave the impression she was doing something new. She championed gay rights, spoke out in defence of her gay friends and hired gay dancers for her tours, and gay men and women lapped it up, long before ‘Mother Monster’ wobbled along in shoes shaped like an armadillo to tell everyone they were ‘born this way’.

Madonna’s openness about sex, and ability to unashamedly enjoy having it, set a precedent for almost every female pop singer who came after her. And all was well with the world, because Madonna was still young and wrinkle-free.

Sex is no longer the sole property of the young. Everyone’s eyes have been opened to the idea of silver shagging. Even Hollywood, the high altar of youth and beauty, has given the nod of approval. Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson got down to it in Something’s Gotta Give and Meryl Streep got a good seeing to thanks to Alec Baldwin in It’s Complicated, but it seems Madonna’s brand of sexuality is strictly off-message.

While it’s no surprise that heterosexual men  have no interest in seeing Madonna in her knickers – they are, after all, force-fed a whole new bevy of beauties to adore, young enough to be their daughters and led by the shampoo ad juggernaut that is Cheryl Cole and pneumatic-lipped Angelina Jolie – it’s much more disappointing to see that some of Madonna’s detractors are the very men who gave her a leg-up to her pedestal in the first place. The gays have turned.

Trawl any so-called fan forum and you’ll see the same disparaging remarks: outrage at her supposed ‘pussy popping’, refusal to ‘grow old gracefully’ (an awful, po-faced phrase whose retirement should come much sooner than Madonna’s) and complaints that the erstwhile Material Girl is as old as their own mum. I know, right? She has birthdays! And the numbers keep going up and up!

“Ewww” said one forum member, in his late 20s, “nobody wants to see that dusty old vagina any more.”

The irony being, of course, that gay men don’t usually ever want to see a vagina, be it in the first flush of youth or swathed in mothballs.

“God, her scrawny arms are horrible,” noted another armchair model scout, “and her hands are all gnarled.”

Gay men, it seems, are now in charge of what is sexy and what is not. Despite their previous interest in women’s looks usually being limited to slagging off their clothes (another totally ridiculous notion; why the hell do women listen to us?) and cooing over their hair once they’ve finished blow-drying it, all of a sudden these guys are the go-to experts when it comes to what the world should find shaggable, even if they don’t want to do the nasty with it themselves.

The idea that one’s sexuality is redundant once grey hairs become the ruling majority leaves a much nastier taste in the mouth than any French kiss from Madonna would.

The media has long been puzzling over what to do about Madonna’s refusal to put her dress back on. Since she deftly shimmied over that magic line into her 50s, actions previously deemed ‘shocking’ or ‘thought-provoking’ are now rebranded as ‘sad’, ‘desperate’ and ‘attention-seeking’, as if Madonna is in any way unique as a singer to want all eyes to be focused on her.

Vanity Fair scratched its chin over the whole topic of Madonna’s sexiness as she prepared to turn 50 in August 2008: “Madonna made her fortune selling sex–what will she sell when the thought of sex with Madonna seems like a fetish?” it mused. Riddle-me-ree, indeed.

Of course, Madonna’s recent ‘nip slip’ and arse-baring during live shows on her MDNA tour have fuelled the moans of those who wish Madonna would stop embarrassing herself, and them, and truss herself up in acrylic turtlenecks. Perhaps lacklustre sales of her last couple of fairly disappointing albums and criticism of her general disconnection from the material she produces have got her thinking more and that’s why she’s reaching around calculatedly to unhook her bra, but I doubt it.

If anything, Madonna’s propensity for showing us what’s inside her thong has led to lower returns when it comes to record sales. The much-hyped Erotica failed to ignite much reaction in the shops, except for “Ewww, she’s got a toe in her mouth”, and she was younger and tauter then. What hope for her now?

Whether the gays have tired of her ‘pussy popping’ (I have no idea what that actually means) or not, Madonna shows no sign of slowing down or capitulating. On the set of Madonna’s her most recent single, 2012’s Turn Up The Radio, she was shown spread-eagled in the back of a convertible, airing her bikini bits to an ever-disapproving world.

While my own interest in Madonna as a popstar wanes with every so-so record, the one thing I do think she’s getting right is saying an emphatic “fuck you” to the ageist brigade, most of them still young enough to be able to think of their dotage as a far-off prospect, as fantastical as a fairy-tale ending.

But old age does not wait to be awoken by true love’s kiss, nor validated by a handsome prince clambering up the ivory tower by way of a long plait of golden hair. Age is coming for all of you, and no amount of denial or mock horror at Madonna in her scants is going to change that. Madonna is living it now.

How many of her critics would be happy to walk so willingly, with head bowed, to the knackers’ yard once they hit 50 and beyond? And when they reach that era – where young people would have you believe there’s nothing but gummy smiles and osteoporosis, dicky bladders and forebodingly steep staircases – they should remember Madonna: uncompromising, unbroken, unrepentant.

Let’s hope when the naysayers approach their twilight years they still have someone close at hand to tell them they look great in their underwear, that they’re still hot and wanted. An empty bed, free of desire, can be just as cold and uninviting as a grave.