GAY TIMES July 2004

Terry Sanderson’s new autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

Here’s a plea to TV companies everywhere. Can you send your make-over teams round to my gaffe, please?

I want first of all a visit from those two daft women – Aggie and Baggie – who arrive on the doorsteps of people who live in shit holes and, after a bit of ritual humiliation, clean them up for free. Then I want the makeover team that comes in and throws all your furniture, carpets and fittings in a skip, after which they force you to consign all your most precious and sentimentally valuable souvenirs – including pets – to a crusher, while at the same time training the camera on your face to record any escaping tears for the nation’s amusement.

After that, I want the team that paints the whole inside of the house white and throws out the few bits and bobs that you still have left to create a “minimalist” effect. You then end up with a house that is so bright it could blind you when you open the curtains in the morning, but at the same time doesn’t permit so much as a footstool lest it spoil the effect of endless space.

But this is all arse over elbow. According to the received wisdom, I shouldn’t need these people to sort out my life. Being a gay man, I should be sorting out theirs. Being gay, you see, I am genetically programmed to have good taste, and am instinctively stylish and beautifully groomed.

Just look at Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Fairy Godfathers (basically the same formula but on different channels). In these programmes, a bunch of gay men go round telling straight men how to behave, how to dress, how to wash their feet, how to stop belching so loudly at the dinner table and then trying to get them to control the release of noxious gases in bed. It is usually at the behest of their girlfriends who have grown weary of trying to effect any change in the Neanderthals to whom they have, for some reason, devoted their lives. (Here’s some free advice, girls, take up lesbianism, it’s more rewarding in the long run).

The stereotypical “gay men” who inhabit these shows reinforce the irritating idea that we are all screeching eccentrics who mince around in outrageous clothes, with little polka dot neckerchiefs and whatnot, aching to spend our lives amusing heterosexuals.

If this is really our purpose, then I have failed utterly and completely as a gay man. You see, I, too, need a visit from the Fairy Godfathers. I need titivating and smartening up. I need to spend several thousands of pounds on new designer clothes that will make me look as barking as the Fairy Godfathers do. And I definitely need surgery – or at least dreadfully painful injections – on the face and neck. My saggy tits need a gym all of their own. How did I let the side down so badly?

Oh bugger this. The Fairy Godfathers are not gay. They’re some TV production company’s idea of what is gay. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they’re both raving heterosexuals who live in Guildford with their wives and four children.

I live in a pigsty and dress from Marks and Sparks, I don’t know anything about cosmetics and I don’t care for body shaving (or worse still, pulling off the chest rug with wax). But I’m still gay. The telly stereotypers are not going to take that away from me.

And I was pleased to read that someone else is getting sick of all the “amusing” gay make over programmes.

Fox television in the USA is thinking hard about whether it should broadcast its latest reality show, entitled Seriously Dude, I’m Gay, in which two straight men compete for $50,000 by trying to pass themselves off as homosexuals (which is to say, they force themselves to behave like pseudo women – drag queens without the drag).

The rethink follows complaints from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that the show was exploitative and stereotypical. They branded it “an exercise in systematic humiliation”. GLAAD’s executive director, Joan Garry, said: “They offered us an advance copy of the show and were incredibly responsive to our grave concerns.” Meanwhile, in The Independent, Johann Hari (himself a gay man) has grown equally weary of these gay make over shows. “It is all the more aggravating,” he wrote, “that producers no doubt consider themselves terribly radical and right-on, rather than manufacturers of a latter-day Black and White Minstrel Show.”

But the complaints don’t stop the “liberal” commentators accepting the myth of the gay style gene (they wouldn’t dare carry on about the “black rhythm” gene any more). In The Sunday Times, Michael Bywater was commenting on how marvellously civilised Soho has become since the gays moved in. “The atmosphere became congenial, civilized, cosmopolitan. The coffee improved beyond measure. And the Burger People moved away, like defeated oafs, to vomit elsewhere, and now even the straights dress nicely and look after themselves and are polite to each other and smile and actually seem to enjoy their night out. In other words, the Pink Pound is a civilizing influence.”

Also in The Sunday Times, Bryan Appleyard was commenting on Queer Eye, coming to the conclusion that the gay “experts” act as a kind of catalyst for straight men and women who just don’t seem to understand each other. “His [the gay man’s] evolutionary role is to enable the woman to civilize her heterosexual partner because the great lummox will take from a gay man what he won’t take from a straight woman. The gay gene persists because its stake in the future is the successful and civilized reproduction of others. Or not. The less ambitious insight into this show is that it marks a moment at which a certain idea of gayness has come of age socially.”

Mr Appleyard says that the Queer Eye lads are exactly the same as the Jules and Sandy characters of Round the Horne. But whereas Jules and Sandy were in the closet, the Queer Eye lads are as far out as it’s possible to get. Now that they are no longer outlawed, gays have turned out to be “salutary emblems of domesticity and civilization to the straight world.”

And so, another myth is born. Our purpose in life is to make straight men and women understand each other and to demonstrate to straight men how civilized human beings should behave.

What a burden to hang around our necks.

As Johann Hari says in his Independent piece: “At university I got to know a very butch, very male, very hairy rugby player. I’ll call him Mark. He was the least camp person I have ever known. He drank a pint of real ale over breakfast and burped, it seemed, at 15-minute intervals. The closest he got to elegance and style was when he vomited in the bin instead of on the carpet. Yet I discovered, gradually, that he was gay.”

Perhaps it’s time for some TV production company to make a few programmes about the Marks of this world. That would be truly innovative. I could point them in the direction of quite a few, not a thousand miles from my own doorstep.

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