The idea of campness in men depends entirely on the idea of masculinity. Stretching back millennia, the ridicule of feminised men has always been comparative to the norm of what a "man" is. In many cultures, the historic boundaries between gender roles have been closer than they are today, but the dominant model prevalent now stems from cultures who put great emphasis on polarising these differences. But how natural is it to gender conform? According to research in western cultures, only 58% of males gender conform during their formative years and it is only through the growth of social awareness that this begins to change. But lack of gender conformity does not equate campness - just because a man doesn't display all the attributes of a socially prescribed "male", it doesn't make him camp. So what exactly is camp? And where does it come from?
Pre-Stonewall, camp was embraced as a virtue amongst the Gay Community. Known as "nellies" in the UK and "swish" in the US, exhibiting camp was seen as allowing the gay signifier to exist. Butch gay men were regarded as deviant, trying to assimilate and not separate from straight society. Camp then was a way of softening their threat; through embracing effeminacy, there was an element of attempting to appear non-threatening. Post-Stonewall, the prevalence of camp was replaced by the Castro Clone - the hypermasculinised celebration of all things butch at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. This sexual objectification of masculinity was a much bigger threat to gender roles, but at least it resembled a model that straight people recognised in themselves. But for many, camp they could not.
Even while trends swing the other way, there are countless men who could not assume this masculine facade because, for them, camp is inherent in their nature and while some are able to assume gender roles, others cannot. Or would not. However, many people did indeed embrace this change and alter the way they behaved as a result. In the book 'Gay Macho: The Life and Death of the Homosexual Clone' by Martin Levine and Michael Kimmel, the opinion of one gay man who had witnessed the change in opinion toward camp in the 1970s is quoted:
"Just look at all these clones dear. With their pumped up bodies and thick moustaches, they all look so 'butch.' But I remember when everyone was 'nelly'. What a joke! [...] Over the last few years I have watched many of these girls change as the times changed. A couple of years ago, they had puny bodies, lisping voices, and elegant clothes. At parties or Tea Dances, they came in dresses, swooning over [Greta] Garbo and [Bette] Davis. Now, they've 'butched up,' giving up limp wrists and mincing gaits for bulging muscles and manly handshakes, giving up fancy clothes and posh pubs for faded jeans and raunchy discos."
Camp also relies on an element of humour, as well as bravery in the face of contempt. Where gender definition includes weakness as a feminine trait, camp men stand up to the status quo and declare that they will not conform to the expectation that they wear a masculine facade. Whether it's part of our nature or not, camp is a part of the LGBT Community's past and will continue to be part of its future in perpetuity. So while May, many other gay men and even myself of ten years ago may not identify with the sheer flagrancy of camp, there is a difference between not being attracted to it and being embarrassed by it. Masculinity is not genetic; nor is it inherent to our nature, so let's not be weighed down by difference of opinion of how people "should" behave but instead embrace how people do.