Stoke Newington literary festival was buzzing last month as the Guardian’s Suzanne Moore and the Independent’s Johann Hari made an appearance to discuss Owen Jones’ radical new book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Moore argued that the chav phenomena was possibly on its way out, whilst Hari made the point that all minority groups have a tendency to define themselves into subgroups, including gay men who increasingly say things like “I’m not an annoying camp gay man, I’m alright, I’m one of the better gay men”
It was interesting that Hari brought gay culture into the debate on “chavs” and the demonization of the working class, because one of the gay community’s biggest fictitious indulgences is the chav aesthetic and it’s about time somebody looked into this.
It may come as a surprise to those of you who don’t swim in the deep end of gay pop culture, but dating sites like Fitlads are full of gay men who have chav fetishes, to the point that middle-class lawyers dress up and photograph themselves smoking topless in tracksuit bottoms with backwardly tipped caps. Phrases like “36 year-old scally lad lookin’ to top dirty rude boys” are common-place.
Of course “genuine chavs”, or more rather, victims of chav-tagging don’t actually identify as a chav, they’re not self-proclaimed “scallies”, and so the whole affair is a farcical façade. They're all fakers, modern-day minstrels mimicking our nation's poorest. Ironically, this particular brand of gay men who consider themselves “straight-acting” are actually just harlequins taking on a gritty role that is arguably more theatrical than the set of a drag queen.
There are dozens of chav-themed gay club nights across Britain, too many to name, but a quick Google search shows that London has its own basement night called ‘Scally Ladz’, as well as ‘tracksuit only’ sauna parties and chav events in Vauxhall.There is chav attire and merchandise in Soho fashion stores: not only bling and caps but DVDs like “Dirty Chavs Innit”, the synopsis of which begins “Randy foul-mouthed lads straight off the estate”, and subscription sites like British Boy, Gay Scally Porn and Scally Studs specialise in fanciful sex scenes where skinny white boys crowd around wearing neck chains and white Puma socks, sex scenes that always seem to take place behind bus shelters or in undecorated bedrooms.
Last month for GT (Gay Times) I interviewed a gay porn director who told me “It’s not just here, the main demand lies in America where they don’t actually know the word ‘chav’ but they’re becoming obsessed with that English look – skinny pale boys who act rough” So there is a market for chavs now, not as a consumer group, but as a product in itself. And the trend is global. In France there is a North African gay erotica scene, whilst in Germany one can even find gay nights based around the theme of Turkish immigrants. Indeed, it would seem the gay community has a brilliant inbuilt survival mechanism that can take any social problem and turn it into a party, but in the case of ‘chavs’ has it delivered one step too far? Is the gay limb of the sex industry now pedalling this particular cultural nuance disproportionately, fortifying and even dictating our prejudice?
Perhaps gay men lust after the sense of danger and wrongness that sleeping with a "dirty chav" presents? After all, the largely fictional chav portrait shows these boys to be coarse, homophobic and with a tendency for violence and criminality. This no doubt makes the chav a tantalising sexual conquest for a sector of socially bored identity-confused men.
Many gay men experience in their adolescence a phase of self-doubt and self-loathing as they realise that their heart’s path swims against the maintream tide. Does the faceless, abhorrent ‘chav’ represent a vehicle for revenge and self-expression? Or as a blogger for Bent magazine put it last month – “they want to do the guy who bullied them at school”. Or is the chav a character through which the gay man seeks to rediscover the clandestine excitement of his sexual awakening?
The elite’s sexual obsession with the working class has historical foundations. We see it in the life of Oscar Wilde who had a penchant for renting rough penniless youths. We see it in Chaucerian Britain when particular boys were plucked from obscure peasant backgrounds to become courtiers and be doted on by fond masters. Perhaps in the past sleeping with a lower class of man enabled the homosexual to keep his (then illegal) sex at an arm’s length from his own social peers?
D.H.Lawrence’s 1920s romp Lady Chatterley’s Lover does a fine job of highlighting the perpetual social insecurity between classes, and goes as far to suggest that sex with people who have less is worth more, it feels closer to nature. Perhaps the beacon of ‘chav’ offers a window of escapism through which middle-class gay men can forget the plight of their office jobs? The chav concept also functions to some as a highly-sought contrast to the sickly-sweet centre of mainstream gay pop culture. Nothing could be more remote from a sequin-clad Soho drag queen than a skinhead in a stark Stockwell council flat (despite the fact that ironically one can be both!)
Of course only a very small portion of gay men fetishize chavs, and this blog post seeks only to explore the reasons behind why the chav aesthetic is such a successful spoke of the gay industry’s wheel. Soho video stores are stuffed with titles like the ‘Rude Boiz’ series, whilst the tills of tracksuit-only gay nights are ringing. But what are the longterm socio-political implications of this fantasy?
I think it may have a negative impact on how young gay men grow up to view society and build up the idea of a non-existent ‘underclass’ of ‘scally lads’ all desperate for illicit gay sex and cold council flat orgies, when actually, in my experience, gay working class men are often a lot happier with themselves, a lot more comfortable with their sexuality and a lot more open-minded than their wound-up, more-educated, mother-dodging, mozzarella-scoffing middle class counterparts.
Owen Jones concludes in his book on chavs that “the demonization of the working class is the flagrant triumphalism of the rich who, no longer challenged by those below them, instead point and laugh at them”
Gay writers have always satirised the rich. Just look at the plays Wilde penned when he wasn’t beneath the sheets with chimney sweeps, and look at the works of his contemporary imitators like Stephen Fry. Perhaps one solution would be for gay pop culture to fetishize the rich too. But who would attend a club night where the dress-code was fluorescent socks, comb-overs and garishly large cufflinks? I will therefore now start work on my first adult movie – Eton Messs.
Hopefully in 10 years or so we’ll be able to look back on ‘chav’ porn and it will seem as dated, ridiculously artificial and perversely constructed as the 1970s Tom O' Finland clones in their skin-tight leather trousers and squirrelly moustaches. And let’s pray that these boys who are making chav porn for a measly £150 per scene are in a fortunate enough position to join in with that laughing.