Some commentators suggest the first clones appeared in San Francisco’s Castro Street; others that they came from New York’s ‘Village’. Either way, by the 80’s the look had been adopted by gay men around the world.
The most obvious elements were the (obligatory) moustache and ‘the uniform’. Depending on where you lived, the latter would be based on a Lacoste sports shirt, chinos and ‘loafers’ (USA) or checked shirt, jeans and trainers (UK). These minor national differences notwithstanding, the overall look was an overt and unambiguous statement – not just about dress sense but also masculinity and sexuality.
This was an extremely significant act for that time – not least because gay men were, on the whole, still largely closetted. Yet, in spite of this, here were large groups of gay men choosing an image – and a highly sexualised one at that – for themselves. Prior to this, the only ‘sexualised’ images of gay men were as predators – of ‘defenceless’ straight men and, of course, children since we were all paedophiles. And, needless to say, they weren’t images of our choosing.
Within the UK this was also another indication of the Americanisation of gay men or, perhaps more accurately, the gay identity. In a sense, it was almost inevitable, given the sustained hostility to all things gay in the UK (e.g. Mary Whitehouse’s attacks on Gay News, the raiding of Gay’s the Word and other bookshops). The USA was the principal source of many gay resources – from porn to political material. (I shall cover this in more detail in a later blog.)
It could be argued that it was the clones who started to put the sex into homosexual: there are certainly some commentators who believe that they paved the way for other groups such as leather men and bears. Certainly, the collective visibility of so many self-defined gay clones can only have helped put us on the map as a population that was much larger – and a lot less apologetic – than many people had imagined.
Of course, there were always some queens who took it all a bit too seriously. Thankfully, there were others who managed to combine the playful and political elements of the clone. No one in the UK did this more successfully than the artist David Shenton, through his character ‘Stanley’, who appeared regularly in Gay News and then Capital Gay.
I’m not sure if the clone has totally disappeared from the gay scene or simply merged into one of the other diverse ‘identities’ our community now has. But it would be a shame if we were to forget what was our first, ‘home-grown’ positive gay stereotype.