It was awesome to see that, as a judge at this year’s Mr Gay New Zealand competition, I had a tiny part to play in Andy Derleth’s ascension to the throne of Mr Gay World 2012. But then I saw some of his comments in New Zealand media and started to get a little worried.
By ANDY BOREHAM
Beauty pageants lately seem to be trying desperately to remain relevant by pretending they are something more than good looking people walking up and down a stage looking tasty. Mr Gay World is no exception. But is this move helpful, or detrimental?
Kiwi Andy Derleth was pressured to enter Mr Gay New Zealand early this year by some friends and took the title on February 12. A few weeks ago he swooned his way into the position of Mr Gay World 2012, which sent New Zealand’s media into a flutter. But I’m not sure the sudden platform Derleth was given was such a good thing.
You see, beauty pageants these days are striving for relevance in a world where hot people walking up and down a stage don’t deserve titles and adulation just because they are easy on the eye. Mr Gay World, for example, now features an essay component — this year entrants were asked to write an essay on the gay rights movement. (Note to self: get hold of those essays!) And now Mr Gay World has come home to New Zealand with the new-found vigour of a kid after his first chocolate rush: he wants to change the world. (The Mr Gay World ‘delegates’ even got to help change the lives of kids with HIV/AIDS. “We saw these kids who were orphaned from aids and we gave them books and read to them. It was a truly amazing experience.” Yes, I’m sure it was just as amazing for them as it was for you.)
But this is obviously the first time Derleth has thought about the plight of those down-trodden gays because his comments are as contradictory as a bi-polar bunny rabbit, and nearly as dangerous. Mr Gay World 2012 wants to stop youth suicide, but he also wants us to be ‘normal’, by the hegemonic heterosexual definition, that is.
“The role of Mr Gay World is to stand up for gay and human rights, which I’m very into,” he professed to Fairfax. “I want to use this to raise public awareness about gay rights and promote acceptance.” And he’s been given a $25,000 grant to travel the world and make sure this happens! But there’s a catch: you have to fit the hetero-normative definition of being a man if you want to be accepted. He wants to use the money to help banish “the image of us [gay men] running around with handbags”. So, according to Mr Gay World 2012, you can be gay and that’s fine and dandy. But don’t you dare, by any means, do anything outside of what is deemed acceptable by heterosexual society as ‘normal’ and ‘masculine’, at least not if you want Mr Gay World 2012 to have your back.
To be completely honest with you, that comment really fucked me off. How can someone be so contradictory? See this comment he made in the media, for example: “You will get some people who say things about gay people around young people and that behaviour possibly makes it hard for people to come out. We need to see people embracing it and not scaring them away.” And who would be a moderately visible candidate to show young gay people that they can be who they want to be? Mr Gay World 2012. Oh but I forgot, he doesn’t want you to express yourselves outside of the rigid and binary gender definitions society has set.
“There are many cases where young people are scared to come out, so I want to encourage them to get in touch with Rainbow Youth or organisations like that,” Derleth continues. (Can I just note that throwing in ‘Rainbow Youth’ and ‘the AIDS Foundation’ in Kiwi gay pageants is as cringe-worthy as saying ‘world peace’ in Miss Universe). “You hear so many stories of young people who commit suicide and then you don’t know the reason why. It then comes out later that they were gay and they can’t deal with it.”
Let me put this to you, Derleth: it’s because of attitudes like yours that so many young people feel they have no where to turn. It’s because of society’s binary definitions and rigid rules around identity and sexuality and appearance and mannerisms and so on that so many young people feel they don’t fit into the world and feel that suicide is their only option. Telling them they can’t express themselves in whatever way they feel comfortable, which is what you are promoting, causes more harm than good.
So I’d like to use this opportunity to suggest that beauty pageants should remain just that: beauty pageants. The last thing I want to see is Mr Club Ivy running for public office! It’s all very well to watch hot people mince up and down a stage in varying degrees of undress, but please don’t give them the mandate to change the world unless they have explicitly shown, outside of the context of said beauty pageants, that they understand the world to a degree that their comments and actions won’t cause more harm than good. Anyone can be smart and anyone can change the world, even beautiful people, but I’m guessing they’ll probably do so outside of the beauty pageant arena.
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