toby campion

Telling the Lads by Toby Campion

homophobiaThe Sultan of Brunei, not known for being a man of contemporary enlightenment, has decreed that gay sex and adultery will be punished by stoning to death. A number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, and Indonesia still employ stoning as a method of capital punishment. Of the 53 Commonwealth countries, 37 have laws that criminalise homosexuality. Such discrimination harks back to colonial rule. And yet, every four years, athletes compete in the Commonwealth games, where gay people face the danger of being imprisoned, when all they should be concentrating on the competition – one which is meant to bring people together.

Many other countries have long since decriminalised gay sex, and made same sex marriage legal. But like many acts of liberalisation and liberation, they are hard fought, take years of legal wrangling, and still have limits and contradictions. Take Ireland for example; in the Republic, a country whose higher echelons are still staunchly Catholic, now have a gay Taoiseach in Leo Varadkar, and voted in favour of same-sex marriage in a 2015 referendum. Yet, in Northern Ireland, which on the part of the Democratic Unionists at least, always say they would like to be treated like the rest of the UK, but don’t allow such legislation (as well as abortion, by the way).

But as we all know, laws are but a start. They are enacted by a change in enough peoples’ attitudes to sexuality – but that doesn’t mean homophobes suddenly fall into line. In the same way that people of colour experience racism, or women sexual discrimination and abuse, gay people are harassed daily and worse. Perceptions, stereotypes, portrayals in the media, business and politics, all play a crucial role in either changing or confirming attitudes that should have disappeared decades ago. For gay men, this is of particular importance as homophobes on the one hand will fetishize (and masturbate) over lesbian sex, but will show disgust and violence to sex between two men.

BOAT POETS TOUGUE FU ARNOLFINI OCT 2018 PB-7In ‘Telling the Lads’, Toby Campion brilliantly satirises the mainstream stereotypes of a gay man: ‘but I’m not  like      a gay gay/ you know   a vodka cranberry gay/ a here-and-queer gay/ I’m more of just          like      a here gay/ a steak and ale pie gay.’ Then goes on to ‘apologise’ for being gay highlighting the darker side when this apology is not ‘accepted/acceptable’: ‘a sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry/ for the audacity of a tongue gay/ such inconvenient lungs/ a turn on your gay/ a when they came for them gay/ lips split not outspoken.

As it stands today, the Commonwealth is an oxymoronic badge, which hides inequalities and discriminations under a fallout of a colonial venture. The rise of right wing populism in other countries, such as Russia and the United States (so-called leaders of the world), has the potential for discrimination towards gay people to become more violent and more exclusionary. So, such satire as Toby’s, shows there are different ways to break down barriers, and a starting point is the dismantling of stereotypes borne out of outdated masculinity exhibited by the likes of Trump and Putin, never mind the Sultan of Brunei.


Born and raised in the Midlands, Toby Campion is a UK National Poetry Slam Champion and a World Poetry Slam finalist. Recipient of the Silver Wyvern Award and First Place in the Poetry on the Lake Prizes 2017, awarded by Carol Ann Duffy, Toby has performed his poetry on stages across the UK, from Glastonbury Festival to London’s Royal Albert Hall, and in countries around the world, including America, Italy, Spain, Albania and South Korea. His debut play, WRECK, won the Fifth Word Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright 2015. Toby’s poetry collection, Through Your Blood was published by Burning Eye Books in 2017.



but I’m not      like      a gay gay
you know         a vodka cranberry gay
a here-and-queer gay
I’m more of just          like      a here gay
a steak and ale pie gay
an always think twice about whether
my shirt’s a bit too gay gay
don’t kiss in public
not a rub it in your face gay
no pink triangle stitched to conscience
wilted bouquet of police tape filling eye socket gay
I’m a hood up keep walking when OI BATTYBOY
slaps the back of your head type gay
a keep your mouth grateful gay
know your height gay
keep small keep polite gay
a sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry
for the audacity of a tongue gay
such inconvenient lungs
a turn on your gay
a when they came for them gay
lips split not outspoken
a dying to unsleep myself awoken gay
a dying to be gay gay
you know         dying
to be