A fabulous gay royal wedding is no longer hard to imagine, but the British monarchy will always be an institution at odds with the non-conforming spirit of queerness
On a recent trip to Ottawa to visit family, I rediscover a photograph of myself at the age of two. I am sitting astride a plastic toy fire engine, gazing doe-eyed into the camera presumably held by my father. My thumbs are poised over the blue horn in the middle of the fire engine’s steering wheel, and I wear a puckish grin on my face that seems to ask: “Should I honk it again?” I am impeccably dressed, by my mother’s hand, in a red turtleneck and denim Oshkosh overalls.
The moment I pull the photo out of its plastic sleeve in the album, I burst out laughing. It is a laugh born from an immediate and forceful realization: even at the age of two, I was a fairy. I cannot tell you exactly what constellation of subtle signifiers prompts this recognition of proto-queerness, but it feels as clear as lightning foretelling thunder. It is not an adult projection onto the past, but rather an emanation from the past that has only become fully legible in the present. It is clear that, as a two year old, I am not a queer man in waiting: I am a queer child. I am queer in the present tense.
At two I still have no conception of what sex is, though I have a sexuality – an ever-evolving relationship to my body and my gender, and the bodies and genders of others, that is biological, erotic, physical, behavioural, emotional and social. This sexuality will not attach itself to the actual idea of sex for several years to come, though it will manifest in myriad ways before. A year and a half after this photograph is taken, I will make a circle with my thumb and index finger and have my friend Zachary pee through it. A year after that, one of our favourite games will become riding one another as each other’s horse. The list goes on.
While holding this photo of myself at the age of two, it occurs to me that, for most of my life, I have operated under the rather pernicious premise that my queerness was an adolescent development and that, as a child, I was a cypher devoid of sexuality. Perhaps this is why, as a teenager who had internalized societal homophobia, I felt a certain amount of shame and self-loathing when I detected effeminacy in high school photos of myself, but felt no such embarrassment when looking at photos of my equally fabulous and flaming infancy and childhood. In this moment, holding this photo of myself astride this fire engine, it is clear to me that I am an unbroken continuum of being.
As I study the photograph, I am reminded of another image of a young boy that prompted this same laugh of recognition in me. Consider, if you will, this July 2017 shot of four-year-old Prince George of Cambridge, gazing with limpid amazement at an ascending helicopter.
Now, I am certainly not the first queen to clock George in this photo. In fact, I first became aware of the image when the UK-based LGBT news outlet PinkNews published the article People Think Prince George Looks Fabulous In This New Photo. The article, by Josh Jackman, reported how hundreds of social media users had been sharing the image and calling the young prince a “gay icon” for his adorably fey pose. One of the tweets featured in the article proclaimed, “Prince George is already a bigger gay icon to me than Boy George.” Naturally, a frenzy of pearl-clutching ensued.
Northern Irish politician Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, demanded an apology after somehow (one wonders) stumbling onto the gay news website and finding the article. “Sexualizing a young child in this fashion is entirely inappropriate,” Allister said. “To take an image of a little boy and to fantasize of him being an icon for a life defined by sex is outrageous and sick.” Setting aside the premise that homosexuals somehow lead a life more defined by sex than heterosexuals, I never fail to be amazed by how the Jim Allisters of the world cannot see how all children are “sexualized” as heterosexual by default.
A few months later, a blog post went viral in which Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth of the Scottish Episcopal Church called for Christians to pray for Prince George to grow up to be gay. Specifically, Holdsworth wrote that if the young prince married another man, it would help the Church of England become more inclusive. “A royal wedding might sort things out remarkably easily though we might have to wait 25 years for that to happen,” he wrote.
And once more, a paroxysm of indignation followed. Susie Leafe, the director of the evangelical group Reform, told the BBC that she “was very disappointed that [Holdsworth] was prepared to bring a child into this same-sex marriage debate” – as if anti-same-sex-marriage campaigners haven’t brought children into the debate from time immemorial. Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen and a Christian Episcopal Church missionary bishop, called Holdsworth’s comments “unkind and destructive.” User comments in articles about Holdsworth’s blog post were a toxic sludge heap of homophobia.
But let us consider this: the reaction to Holdsworth’s article would have been even more virulent had he outright assumed Prince George was gay, rather than simply encouraged Christians to pray for this outcome. If Holdsworth’s blog post departed from the position “When Prince George grows up and marries another man…,” the outrage would have been mixed with accusations of perversity. How dare he project sexuality onto a child?
And, of course, therein lies the rub: it is wholly permissible and indeed the accepted default to assume a child is heterosexual until proven otherwise. Heterosexuality is projected onto children from the moment they are born.
It was perfectly acceptable and delightful for Cosmopolitan’s readers to encounter an April 2014 story about how a then-eight-month-old Prince George turned down a “marriage proposal” from an 11-month-old infant girl. “Prince George managed to draw all attention away from his mother and her hair by receiving a marriage proposal from an older woman. During a visit to Wellington, New Zealand, an 11-month-old cougar by the name of Ruby Cate Blitz popped out of the crowd wearing a T-shirt bearing the message ‘Marry Me George.’”
Children are never too young to be sexualized in the heterosexual consciousness (nor to be labelled with sexist epithets, it seems). It remains entirely permissible to search for germinal heterosexual desire and courtship in the actions of infants and children. Can you imagine the collective dismay and confusion had an infant boy tumbled forward from the crowd wearing such a T-shirt?
There is a reason that Prince William or Prince Harry weren’t proclaimed gay icons at the age of four. We queers know one of our own when we see one because we ourselves were once queer children. We can locate our younger selves in photos of George’s precious poses and gleeful prancing in no small part because the Jim Allisters of the world made us hyper-conscious of these behaviours. As soon as we became aware of the toxic climate of heteropatriarchy we had been born into, we learned to notice, isolate and suppress these affects or suffer the consequences. This is why, as adults, the rediscovery of these telling childhood photos of our uncensored gay selves are a joyful act of reclamation.
I suspect most parents, whether they acknowledge it or not, perceive this ineffable otherness of their queer child. Certainly more than a few friends said they were bullied by their fathers because of it. Thankfully Prince William has already made it clear that he and Kate would be loving and accepting if any of their children should come out as gay. They are proud of George, and supportive of his interests and inclinations, which at the moment include ballet something for which he was mocked by Lara Spencer on Good Morning America.
Of course there is no easy correlative between behaviour and sexuality. Effeminate traits are beaten out of heterosexual cis men just as much as they are beaten out of queer men. In a more evolved world than our own, we would assume neither George’s sexuality nor his gender. But as long as society continues to impose a heterosexual default upon him, it is both an act of political defiance and emancipation to propose queerness as a new default.
Queer until proven straight. And I use the word “queer” consciously here to suggest a spectrum of possible identities that fall outside of the strict confines of heterosexuality. I cannot predict the full scope of Prince George’s sexuality, but I feel it is an act of love to give shelter to this effete young prince under the broad umbrella of queer. It is an act of love insofar as it creates a space in which he may come of age that renders the need to “come out” superfluous where a gender and sexuality beyond the binary is a joyful given, rather than a painful aberration.
As I hold the photograph of myself astride the fire truck, and study my wistful two-year-old face, I feel a deep love for the child I was. This child who I wish had been afforded a queer default, especially when the signs were so obvious for anyone who cared to see. This child has, in this moment, no inkling of the depths of pleasure he will feel at the hands of men some day. He has no idea how lucky he is.
And I think this, too, when I see Prince George in his purple checked shirt and navy shorts, clasping his face like a model in a perfume advert. Might this boy one day know the love of the most beautiful men in the world.
Courtesy of Jordan Tannahill
I place the two photos side by side. A two-year-old colonial subject next to his four-year-old prince. The monarchy is my enemy. Yet, I cannot help feel a kinship with this little royal fawn. It’s the same kinship I feel when I consider all queer children, and it manifests as a physical sensation in my chest that I can best describe as a kind of sublime, tender protectiveness.
I also can’t help but find it reassuring to know that, one day, there will inevitably be a King of Great Britain who will know what it is to be penetrated by a man. I firmly believe no man should hold a position of authority until he has understood the complex and sublime power of submission.
Alas, the tragedy, of course, is this: no king or queen will be allowed to be queer. If the first openly gay king of Great Britain (though of course: far from the first gay king) married a man, this would be a landmark event in the history of the monarchy.
But the British monarch will never be afforded the chance to understand and embody the truly iconoclastic spirit of queerness. They will never be a faggot, insofar as a faggot understands the power of non-conforming sexuality to challenge the status quo. To find strength from the periphery and use it to destabilize the centres of power. A true King Faggot would upend the whole necrotized institution of monarchy, realizing it has no place in the 21st century. A true King Faggot would understand that the crown has actively buttressed the heteropatriarchy for centuries, and through its colonial conquest, helped proselytize homophobia across the globe. A true King Faggot would feel intersectional kinship with all others who, in their “otherness,” have been marginalized by the monarchy and suffer the traumas of colonized identity.
But while many speculate that the four-year-old George is a queen by looking at this helicopter photo, we also wonder whether he will only serve to defend and prolong the life of the monarchy while embodying a wholly normative vision of acceptable homosexuality predicated on white, cisgender male privilege. When the time comes for a fabulous gay royal wedding, the event will no doubt be viewed as a publicity boon for the monarchy. It is, after all, easier to conceive of a gay king than to conceive of the end of the royal family.
I slip the photo of my two-year-old self back into its plastic sleeve in my family album. I may never be the King of Great Britain, but I am a faggot, and with that I have inherited more than Prince George will ever know.