Camping it up

The Steam Room Stories video of December 1st, “Camping It Up”, which came to me this morning, is all about performing effeminacy; you can watch it here. (Actors: Ray Tezanos, Evan Bonifant, Raif Derrazi.)

Two of the steam room guys are gaily camping it up — girl, bitch as affectionate address terms, campy repartee, sexual inuendo, gay voice, effeminate hand gestures and facial expressions — when a third regular (played by Derrazi) betrays his heterosexuality (Derrazi, the model/actor/bodybuilder, is in fact gay), which means to the others that they’re not in the gay space they had thought they were, so they switch to butch mode and turn on him angrily. Derrazi confesses he just wanted to be one of them, because straight men are so boring.


[Digression: there’s established gay slang for dropping hints, intentionally or inadvertently, of one’s homosexuality (attested since at least the 1960s): to drop one’s beads, pearls, or (hair)pins. But there are no counterparts for dropping hints of one’s heterosexuality; I suggest to drop one’s tool belt or hard hat. In most contexts there’s not much use for such expressions, since heterosexuality is assumed to be the state of nature, but in specifically gay spaces such idioms could sometimes, um, come in handy. And then GDoS has keep your hairpins up “maintain a ‘normal’ mask”.]

The two gay characters confront Derrazi’s character by saying that of course they don’t act this way all the time — “try acting like that in a Walmart … in Kentucky” — and Derrazi responds:

I was hoping to be schooled from you. … Look, everyone loves gay men – your clever repartee, your wit, your mastery of pop culture. I was hoping that by hanging around you guys I would pick up some of your fun, frolicking fabulousness and it would transfer onto me and make me someone worth being around.

(Love “fun, frolicking fabulousness”.)

Of course, lots of gay men are not particularly effeminate; some are, as an everyday thing; and some can perform effeminacy on occasion, by camping it up.

From HDAS:

camp v. Homosex. to display exggeratedly effeminate mannerisms. [first cite:] 1925 McAlmon Silk Stockings 10: His camping manner, copied from stage fairies in America, sat strangely upon him. [HDAS has n. and adj. uses in the early 20th c.]

camp it up Orig. Homosex. to camp, above; (also) to make an ostentatious or affected display; ham it up. [notable cite: 1966-71 Karlen Sex. & Homosex. 356: The homosexual camping it up at a gay party is saying, “You see, ladies, … I can play your game more extravagantly than you.”

England has had its share of men who publicly camp it up. The queen of this camp is surely Julian Clary, with his gay voice and gestures; outrageous costumes and makeup; sexual innuendo; self-awareness of his role; and in fact sweet disposition (his occasional bitchiness is mostly playful and affectionate). Clary is, well, lots of fun. A few highlights from Wikipedia:

Julian Peter McDonald Clary (born 25 May 1959) is an English comedian and novelist. Openly gay, Clary began appearing on television in the mid-1980s and became known for his deliberately stereotypical camp style. Since then he has also acted in films, television and stage productions

… He entered the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s, first under the alias “Gillian Pieface”, and later as “The Joan Collins Fanclub”. He wore heavy glam make-up and dressed in outrageous clothes, often involving leather/PVC and hinting at bondage. His pet dog “Fanny the Wonder Dog”, a whippet, also featured in performances

… After a number of appearances on Friday Night Live in the mid-late 1980s, Clary co-hosted the short-lived ITV game show Trick or Treat in 1989 with Mike Smith, before achieving greater success later that year with his own high-camp Channel 4 gameshow, Sticky Moments with Julian Clary. More a vehicle for his brand of humour than a genuine gameshow, Sticky Moments was a light-hearted “non-quiz” satire, with him often awarding points because he liked the contestants, rather than because they possessed a particular skill or aptitude. He later starred in the 1992 audience participation sitcom Terry and Julian with Lee Simpson, again for Channel 4. His next series was the BBC’s studio-based All Rise for Julian Clary in 1996, in which he played a judge in a mock courtroom setting.

… He is married to Ian Mackley – the pair have been a couple since 2005, and were married on 19 November 2016. They live in Aldington, Kent, at Goldenhurst Farm, a 17th-century manor house once owned by Noël Coward. [Coward was another notable, though much more restrained, English camper.]

A young glam Clary:


Despite the extravagance of his performances, Clary manages to get his audiences on his side, to take them into the joke. Isn’t this just so preposterous! Let’s enjoy it!

A somewhat older everyday Clary:


Nelliness is Clary’s natural state, but off-stage he seems to be merely sweet, funny, and thoughtful, rather than ostentatiously outrageous.

2 Responses to “Camping it up”

  1. [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

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  2. [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky <a href=””><u>writes</u></a&gt; about the art of being camp and its selective […]

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