OPINION - Diplo has elegantly blurred LGBT lines — unlike tricksy Harry Styles

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

This week’s guest on the routinely excellent Emily Ratajkowski podcast, High/Low, was the prolific, charismatic and supremely talented DJ and producer, Diplo. I’ve always harboured a soft spot for both. Diplo rode the raucous EDM wave across the US with a string of propulsive, futureproof dance hits. He’s recently undergone a cheerful Instagram rebrand, moonlighting as mid-life thirst trap. Somebody once described him to me as “Brad Pitt on ecstasy”. That sounded about right.

Ratajkowski is one of the most arresting, successful, erudite models of her moment. Together, they make for an irresistible double act. Minted, beautiful, ambitious, top one per cent people, shooting the breeze. Of course the conversation turned to sex.

During a candid half-hour exchange, Diplo dropped an expression that even I’ve not heard before among the encyclopedic playbook of how to come out, saying “I’m not not gay”. Some of his past experiences crossed the line. There were a couple of men he knew who had the air of life partners. It was all so refreshingly casual, colouring in the mind of a man whose professional life is built on the pleasure of others.

Part of the commercial triumph of EDM was to dress up black, gay house music with the basic trappings of straight, white hard rock. The interview felt like it might be unwittingly addressing a bit of that, too.

It was not a confessional but a leisurely, good-humoured chat. If it was gay-baiting, I fell voluntarily down the trap. On the coming out spectrum, “I’m not gay” could fall into the hazy bisexual lineage of David Bowie’s Seventies and Brett Anderson’s Britpop heyday. But they were skinny boys with bands, searching for a pop vocabulary to express strangeness. Diplo is a buff fellow, with his good-vibes valve permanently switched on. That difference feels crucial somehow.

“I am not not gay” covers a multitude of straight men’s experiences. Men who have felt the need to shade aspects of their sexual development, mainly because to talk about gay experiences was once assumed to be an admission of inferior manhood. This kind of nonsense plays into a pervasive undercurrent of gay shame. Times change. Diplo pointed out that young party kids are more open now. “That generation is so much more fluid. They don’t care.”

I love this kind of conversation. Freewheeling, intimate, exposing and useful to wider culture. It’s a stark counterpoint to Harry Styles’s tricksy evasion on the subject. To be open to instinctive experiences while establishing who you are as a man is to understand that gayness is more than an ambiguity dressing-up box.

The science of attraction is inexact, often inconclusive. That’s OK. This kind of harmless chatter helps everyone relax a little. It is a positive blurring of strict identity lines. Let’s add “I am not not gay” to the new playbook. Oh, and just for the record, I am not straight. Not, not not straight. Just not straight. That’s still a thing.

Flare festival off to a flyer

On Wednesday night, BFI Flare, the LGBT+ Film festival, opened with a screening of The Stroll, the exceptional documentary about transgender sex workers who used to walk New York’s 14th Street.

Flare is one of those occasions that opens the door of a London institution and gives us free rein of it for a few weeks. It feels nice to be invited somewhere specifically and catered to on your own terms. Not every film is of automatic interest to all of its audience but The Stroll was.

It made me think of the other London institutions. One only has to look at the bookshops of The Barbican or The ICA, the audiences and staff of the Royal Opera House or Sadler’s Wells, to see an implicit invitation extended. This is why we gravitate to London from the margins. Pack mentality is a lovely space to find yourself in every now and again.