Superficial is a new play by Patrick Cash coming to the stage in London, that while comical, addresses some of the more pressing issues within gay society. We spoke to him ahead of it’s opening next week to talk through it’s themes of pop divas, masc 4 masc hype, femme-shaming, body image and the closing of our queer spaces.
Why do you think gay men have such a heightened interest in pop divas?
Both women and gay men know what it’s like to be oppressed: women through misogyny, sexism and rape culture; gay men through homophobia and prejudice. Then in a straight male-dominated world, a diva is unashamedly camp, fabulous and strong. There’s something empowering about that, especially when you’ve grown up feeling weak. Divas often sing emotionally about men so you can identify with their lyrics, in a way you’re not going to find the same identification with male artists. Finally, a diva often has songs of happiness and overcoming adversity, from Katy Perry’s Firework to Britney’s Stronger, and that’s going to speak to our souls as gay men.
To what extent have you witnessed or experienced femme-shaming within the community?
I, ashamedly, used to do it myself. I adopted a masculine persona to survive at school, and slowly I began to think that was my identity: I described myself as ‘straight-acting’ on gay websites etc. So when I came to Soho in my early twenties I found everything so shameful. I wished that everyone would just butch up and calm down, and didn’t realise that my thoughts were years of repression. It took me a while to realise that expressing our voices and visibility and culture is so important to be proud of who we are. I heard someone say the other day ‘I wish that gay men wouldn’t act like that’ and I felt ashamed – but of the guy who said it, not our community.
Do you think the masc 4 masc hype is valid? Or are people being too sensitive?
I don’t think we should demonise what people find physically attractive. There are sexually attractive qualities about physical masculinity. But when people are referring to cultural masculinity: what a guy wears, how he speaks, what his gesticulations are like, it’s important to remember this is simply another form of drag. I dragged up as masc for years. And this ‘masc’ often is interchangeable with ‘straight’; so when somebody says disparagingly ‘looks like Tarzan, speaks like Jane’, really we’re condemning the femme expression of our own community, in favour of chasing a cultural ideal who has no interest in us: the straight man. And when guys who identify as ‘masc’ begin to think they’re better than ‘femme’ men, that’s when we’re really in trouble. And the very phrase ‘masc4masc’ completely erases their existence.
Do you think gay men suffer from unhealthy body image?
I’ve always enjoyed keeping fit so I took to the gay male gym culture quite readily, and I enjoyed the attention I got from guys from it. But there was a time when I’d find myself going to the gym every day during the working week and get angry and agitated if I missed a session, like my body was falling apart. If I went on a date I’d go for an extra long session beforehand and rock up wearing next to nothing, hoping my body would do all the work of making him fall for me. Of course if it did do all the work, then there was nowhere to go with that relationship as we’d found no actual connection. I realised that I was beginning to place all my emphasis on the external body as something about me that was easily changeable, perhaps because I still wasn’t completely happy with what was inside.
How can we change this?
Accept that you have flaws, and others around you do too, but we could all do with a little more love.
Is there anything more we can be doing to save/protect our queer spaces?
Yes, using them! Get off Grindr, get out and on to a dance floor. Also groups like Ben Walters’ ‘RVT Futures’ are very important and always appreciate extra support.
How do you view the future of the gay scene – are we experiencing a hiccup? Or is the forecast bleak?
We’re actually performing the play in one of London’s new queer spaces, The Glory in Haggerston, so often in this debate we miss that other venues have opened up. The Black Cap closed down in Camden, but also Bloc Bar opened up in the same area which carries on a lot of its legacy, especially with Meth and the Familyyy Fierce. Orlando was absolutely horrifying, and I saw some people state after: “I can’t believe this happened in one of our safe spaces.” It would be awful if we now avoided those spaces we’ve grown up in and loved and shared so many memories in, because of fear.
The ultimate questioning of Superficial, is what it means to be a proud gay man in 2016; What does it mean?
Accepting ourselves and everyone around us, whatever our differences.
What do you hope your audience take away from Superficial, and what did you set out to achieve by writing it?
I wanted to address anybody who says ‘the scene is superficial’, or ‘gay men are superficial’. In fact anything, like pop or the scene, that which brings people together can never be superficial. Some of us shared our first kisses under the mirrorball in Heaven, or found the love of our lives in the queue for the toilet cubicles as a Kylie song played – or, at least, a quick blowjob. I wanted to look at what meaning pop, and divas, bring to gay men and how being who you are is so important to being truly proud. I’d love for the audience to walk out feeling a renewed love for our gay world in London, and a strong sense of belonging.
‘Superficial’ runs at The Glory, 281 Kingsland Road, E2 8AS from 20th June – 1st July, 7.30pm. £15