It’s time to bin the ‘gay con­spir­acy’ myth, writes

The Press - Zest - - Fashion -

Is it per­ni­cious to say that ho­mo­sex­ual fash­ion de­sign­ers dress their mod­els to look more like boys? With­out fem­i­nism, gay rights would not ex­ist. Bri­tain’s ho­mo­sex­u­als would be im­pris­oned, mar­ried or dead. But there is a ho­mo­pho­bic lie so of­ten re­peated by fem­i­nists and fe­male columnists that it has be­come an ac­cepted truth: that the West’s ob­ses­sion with skin­ni­ness, size zero and the cri­sis of

self-im­age that fol­lows, is the fault of gay fash­ion de­sign­ers. They want ema­ci­ated mod­els, it is said, be­cause they want women to look more boy­ish. They want women to look like young men – de­void of curves.

This was a line along these lines in the Au­gust 7 edi­tion of the Lon­don-based Ob­server: ‘‘It has long been said that fash­ion is a con-trick by largely gay male de­sign­ers to make women look more like men: breast­less, hip­less, as skinny as a boy’’ (from ‘‘ Vogue is not a mag­a­zine for chil­dren’’).

The Bri­tish Daily Mail had a sim­i­lar line: ‘‘The elite of mostly gay de­sign­ers has been cre­at­ing cat­walk de­signs for pre-pubescent teenagers, and each year want­ing mod­els who looked less and less like women . . . The de­sign­ers were want­ing women to look more and more like young men.’’

This the­ory has never been chal­lenged, be­com­ing the so­cially ac­cept­able line in ho­mo­pho­bic thought, but it is not ac­cept­able. Im­plicit in the be­lief that gay de­sign­ers want women to look more boy­ish is the no­tion that gay men are only ca­pa­ble of find­ing beauty in the mas­cu­line, that by mak­ing women more an­drog­y­nous, they be­come more al­lur­ing, that gay men are aroused by boy­ish­ness, rather than man­li­ness. These are all un­true.

Those who be­lieve gay men have only an aes­thetic ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the an­drog­y­nous or the male, need only turn to art cre­ated by gay men – Michelan­gelo’s Pi­eta or Car­avag­gio’s Pen­i­tent Mag­da­lene, or they could note the ado­ra­tion of wom­anly women in con­tem­po­rary gay men’s mu­si­cal tastes – Bey­once, any­one?

No mat­ter how mas­cu­line – or boy­ish, as the rhetoric would have it – a wo­man looked, a gay de­signer would never find her sex­u­ally at­trac­tive. So why, we must ask, would they pur­pose­fully mould women in the al­leged fash­ion? What would be the point? In short, gay men are at­tracted to men, not boys. To blur this line is to per­pet­u­ate the most poi­sonous of ho­mo­pho­bic slurs: that gay men are all pae­dophiles.

The real rea­son fash­ion slashes women’s curves is com­merce. This isn’t so much a pa­tri­ar­chal con­spir­acy as a cap­i­tal­ist one. The way to ex­tract money from some­one is to en­cour­age fear and the de­sire to con­trol. Fear causes us to buy that which pre­vents so­cial re­jec­tion, to be ahead of the Jone­ses – de­odor­ant, the lat­est cut of jeans, the con­stant up­grad­ing of gad­gets. Con­trol­ling ten­den­cies lure us to prod­ucts that shape our­selves and our environment, such as li­po­suc­tion. A thin con­trol freak is fash­ion’s ul­ti­mate cus­tomer.

Which brings us back to clothes. The his­tory of fash­ion con­tra­dicts those who re­peat the gay de­signer slur. Coco Chanel in­tro­duced the more boy­ish look – the struc­tured, straight up and down sil­hou­ette, ig­nor­ing the hour­glass. It was women who made the ar­che­typal male at­tire of trousers fash­ion­able: Mar­lene Di­et­rich and Kather­ine Hep­burn. It was a het­ero­sex­ual male de­signer, An­dre Courreges, who first brought long trousers to cou­ture wom­enswear in the early 1960s.

To­day, which de­signer is most rou­tinely feted for his cel­e­bra­tion of the wom­anly shape? Roland Mouret, the gay cre­ator of the Galaxy dress.

When jour­nal­ists speak of an in­dus­try dom­i­nated by gay men, they ig­nore both the plethora of fe­male de­sign­ers (Stella Mc­cart­ney, Sarah Bur­ton, Vivi­enne Westwood, Donatella Ver­sace, Amanda Wake­ley, Luella Bart­ley and more) and the straight men such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hil­figer.

They ig­nore, too, the im­mense power of pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male fash­ion ed­i­tors. Gaultier and Lager­feld don’t con­trol fash­ion – US Vogue editor Anna Win­tour does.

This anti-gay the­ory, this splut­ter of lazy, base­less thought, born out of jus­ti­fi­able de­spair at body fas­cism, de­serves to die now, or per­haps more fit­tingly, it sim­ply de­serves to go out of style.

Pa­trick Strudwick won the Bri­tish Jour­nal­ist of the Year at the Stonewall Awards and the Best National News­pa­per Fea­ture at the Guild of Health Writ­ers awards in 2010 for his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ther­a­pists who claim to ‘‘cure’’ ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

■Ob­server

Girls will be boys: Ade­sign from the Chanel Fall-win­ter col­lec­tion by Ger­man de­signer Karl Lager­feld. Is he wish­ing she was a boy?

Fash­ion power: US editor Anna Win­tour dom­i­nates fash­ion. The de­sign­ers don’t.

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