GAY TIMES March 1996

The Journal of Engineering Geology recently reported that scientists think they have found the location of the original city of Sodom on the edge of the Dead Sea. They say that the city was the subject of a geological shift that caused it to fall into a huge hole, and they now hope they’ll be able to excavate the remains.

This set Daily Telegraph columnist Frank Johnson thinking about what they might find. First, he says, they will come across a copy of Straight Times which will prove that not all the inhabitants of Sodom were gay. They might also find the Sodom equivalent of Time Out, which lists the best straight bars in town. “A few geological layers down might reveal copies of the Wolfenden Report with its controversial recommendation that heterosexuality between consenting adults should be legalised.” Even further down would be copies of The Sodom Telegraph complete with readers’ letters lamenting that they can no longer use the delightful word “straight” without being misunderstood.

Yes, indeed, Sodom has been the bane of gay people’s lives for four thousand years, but, if the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement have their way, all that might be about to change.

It seems that the sodomites at LGCM have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in getting the debate on the ordination of gay priests back onto the Anglican agenda. Richard Kirker, secretary of the LGCM has certainly outfoxed (and outraged) the ghastly church “traditionalists” who — despite what they say —hate homosexuals.

LGCM’s latest ploy, an advertisement in the religious press, marking the twentieth anniversary of the group, has been signed by over 300 senior Anglicans worldwide — including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The ad will, according to The Sunday Telegraph (February 4th) “plunge the Church of England into a fresh crisis”.

Of course, it’s always a pleasure to see the “evangelicals” spluttering and spitting as they lose the advantage to LGCM. Almost inevitably, the Archdeacon of York, the Venerable (sic) George Austin, is quoted as saying: “If successful, this campaign will split the church finally and completely. It is much more divisive than the issue of women priests, and will alienate decent Christian people who don’t want to see buggery blessed.”

Always good for a sound bite is the Ven George, but if it’s alliteration he wants, then try this: what self-respecting Christian wants to be blessed by a blithering bigot such as he?

This latest contretemps was preceded by news (Sunday Telegraph, January 28th) that “the Rev Dr Jeffrey John, a former Dean of Magdalen College, Oxford, has been elected to the General Synod’s Standing Committee, the church’s equivalent of a cabinet.” According to the paper, Dr John “advocates the rights of priests to live in homosexual marriages— and “the unusual speed of his elevation is certain to fuel speculation about the growing influence of the pro-homosexual lobby”.

Then came news that LGCM’s birthday party (or “service of thanksgiving”) will be held in Southwark Cathedral on November 16th. This once again got the “traditionalists” hopping up and down in fury.

The Guardian (January 25th) meanwhile reported on the “installation” of the new Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres. Don’t they just love giving themselves these inflated titles? “His hard line on sexual morality may set him on a collision course with the strong homosexual lobby in London,” the paper said, “where up to 25 per cent of the clergy are thought to be gay.”

The Guardian quotes Bishop Chartres as saying: “The Christian tradition is clear: either celibacy or life-long relationships, which are interpreted as between man and woman. We are not empowered — now, suddenly because the issue has come up very recently — to change that. These are the rules.”

The Rev David Holloway of the “traditionalist” Reform Group (strange title, given that they want everything to stay the same) agreed about the immutability of biblical teaching: “Homosexual acts are wrong and always will be. On this issue there are no grounds for disagreement, if you are going to remain biblical.”

So there we have it. If it says it in the Bible, that’s the end of the matter. But hang on — hasn’t the Christian Church been telling us for 19 centuries that if we aren’t “good” (i.e. if we don’t do what they tell us), then we’re going to roast in Hell?

Hell is described in The New English Bible as “where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched” (page 72) and in the book of Peter (2-4:2) as “punishment with everlasting destruction”. In the past, people who contradicted this dogma have been burned at the stake.

Enter the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission which told us in a report last month that Hell is “not eternal torment… but total non-being”.

Ah! So it turns out they can change their minds about what the Bible says, after all. Or to put it in the eloquent words of the Pink Paper correspondent Mike Parker: “The new Synod members have something of an uphill struggle on their hands, for the Church they hope to alter is based fundamentally on utter bollocks!”

***

Well, is he or isn’t he? And does it matter? I’m talking about Michael Barrymore who, to great applause from the tabloids, has gone back to his wife Cheryl. Mr Barrymore, you will remember, kept the papers busy last summer with one of the best coming out dramas of recent times. Now The Daily Record (January 26th) reports: “Michael gives up his gay ways to win back his wife.” Is that so?

What the papers don’t understand, and never will, is that there is no return ticket to the closet once you’re out. You might lead a straight lifestyle, have straight affairs, but you can’t unsay what has been said. As far as the papers are concerned, Michael’s name will for ever more be preceded by the sobriquet “the gay comic”.

So what’s really going on? Clinical Psychologist Oliver James tried to work it out in The Sunday Express (January 28th) when he put Cheryl Barrymore “On the Couch”.

Dr James says that the couple’s motivations for getting together again are “complex”. Mrs Barrymore is her husband’s manager and mentor. Rather like Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, she thinks it should have been her up there getting the applause. She lives a life of showbiz success vicariously through Michael. Losing him was more like losing an alter ego than a husband.

Lowri Turner in The Sunday Mirror put it another way, describing Cheryl as “more a mother/manager than a lover/wife”.

But what about Michael’s motivation? If you are as dim-witted as John Junor, it’s very simple. He says, in The Mail on Sunday, that Barrymore “needs the respectability of a wife to restore his tarnished image and plunging popularity”.

I think the reason is more to do with fear. Gay life is not easy for a newcomer — particularly when that newcomer is 43 years old. Michael has made little commitment to a gay lifestyle and has found that life outside the closet can be harsh, unremitting and sometimes painfully cruel.

The recent break-up of his relationship with Paul Wincott (graphically described in The News of the World) was obviously shattering. No wonder Mike’s gone rushing back to his previous life, where at least things are familiar and he can relax.

Human relationships are infinitely adaptable and human beings often surprisingly accepting. A lot of “out” gay men have made successful marriages with straight women. Despite their unusual marriage being under constant surveillance by scabrous tabloids, perhaps Cheryl and Michael can renegotiate its terms and go forward to happier times. It doesn’t always have to be one thing or the other, sometimes it can be a bit of both.

***

During a gloriously bitchy interview by Lynne Barber in The Daily Telegraph, Edwina Currie admitted that MPs are, without exception, “very weird people”. Fortunately a lot of them will be leaving us at the next general election (either voluntarily or with a push).

Regrettably, there is an equally weird batch waiting in the wings to take their place. Perhaps the weirdest of the lot is Dr Adrian Rogers, who has been chosen as the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Exeter.

I was going to say that Dr Rogers is “right-wing”, but it hardly seems sufficient. His is not so much a political philosophy as a neurosis. He is founder of the “Conservative Family Campaign” — a tiny bunch of fanatics who appear to have a direct line to the columns of The Daily Mail.

Dr Rogers has been in the news this month because it was discovered that he spent his school days as the only boy among 900 girls at Sutton High School. The Daily Express wondered if this experience could explain his “virulently anti-feminist views”. The Guardian found an old school snap which it reprinted, just for the record, of course.

Then his local paper discovered that Dr Rogers — who, naturally, is also “virulently anti-porn” — once showed blue movies to friends at his home. He claims he didn’t watch them himself, but “only worked the lights”. This did not prevent him describing the film as “gynaecological” in character.

Before they nominated him as their prospective parliamentary candidate, the local Conservative Association were warned by Central Office that he was a liability, but they went ahead anyway.

The Monster Raving Loonies are going to have to come up with something pretty good at the election if they’re going to upstage Dr Rogers.

***

It started with the commercial for Peugeot cars that, the papers informed us, would feature the first man-to-man kiss in British TV advertising history. Shock, horror and lots of lovely headlines.

The trouble was, it wasn’t a kiss at all — the men’s lips met only so that one could give artificial resuscitation to the other. “The papers must have pretty strange imaginations,” a spokesman for Peugeot’s advertising agency told The Observer. “I don’t think it’s normal for one person to hold another’s nose when they are kissing them.”

Nevertheless, Peugeot had tons of extra advertising absolutely gratis. Just like Guinness did with a similar ploy last year.

Then The Daily Express (February 1st) told us that there was to be yet another advertising “gay kiss shock” and it’s “all to sell Virgin Vodka”. Having seen the ad I would have been hard pressed to identify the gay kiss without having it pointed out. It lasts about half a second and it’s far from clear what gender the kissers are. It’s also unclear whether it’s supposed to be advertising a night-club or a vodka. In fact, it was made by The Edge bar in Soho and not Virgin.

The This Morning TV programme asked its viewers to vote on whether the ad should be banned. From a record response — over 60,000 calls — 60 per cent said it should be. It’s all academic in the end. The ad now won’t be shown because it is seen as promoting alcohol to young people.

And now The Daily Mail (February 8th) informs us that a “lesbian kiss” is being used to sell Boisvert lingerie in an advert being shown in cinemas. Of course, the kiss is ambiguous — it could just be two straight friends greeting each other — it’s only the Mail’s spin that renders it “lesbian”.

It seems that if you want free advertising these days it couldn’t be easier: just put out a press release saying it will feature a “gay kiss”. That will guarantee you the kind of press coverage money can’t buy.

Ever felt exploited?

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