Despite Stonewall’s efforts — including its high profile “Equality Week” — the age of consent debate seems to be simmering away on the back burner rather than boiling merrily for all to see. This is understandable, given there is still no guarantee that the issue will be a live one in the foreseeable future. Stonewall stresses the importance of our writing to our MPs, and I would suggest we start now; it may be the beginning of a long and acrimonious correspondence — especially if your MP happens to be Harry Greenway, Geoffrey Dickens or one of those other knuckle-headed backbenchers with the kind of knees that jerk at the merest mention of any liberal or progressive reform.
And talking of knees jerking, let’s see how the patella of Mary Kenny is doing this month (Ms Kenny’s knee jerks in a manner that would almost qualify her as a Tiller Girl). Her Sunday Telegraph column is usually silly and irrational, but it was much more than usually so on October 24th when she wrote: “Joan Bakewell in her TV programme about reducing the age of consent for teenage homosexuals… repeatedly alleged that the British were uniquely ‘homophobic’. This is simply not true. Until 1970, for example, the French had a regulation that someone who was openly homosexual could not be a school teacher or civil servant while the Russians executed homosexual men. Why don’t TV researchers ever do any proper research instead of just talking to propagandists?”
Can you believe this woman’s sheer brass neck in calling other people propagandists? Or is she just an ignoramus? There was never capital punishment for homosexuals in Russia, not even under the Tsars. And doesn’t she realise that France liberalised its laws some time ago — unlike our own fair land, which is still — as I’m sure she would approve — somewhere in the Dark Ages.
Perhaps Nigella Lawson was thinking about Mary Kenny when she wrote in the London Evening Standard (October 27th): “The well-worn arguments about lowering the age of consent were, and continue to be, trotted out by the family values brigade.”
Some of the arguments are wrong-headed, she says, while others are “simply mad”.
Ms Lawson is most perplexed by “the argument that says 16 year olds are too young to understand whether they are gay or not. The extension of this argument is that if they fall in with the wrong crowd they will somehow be entrapped in a sexuality which isn’t naturally theirs.” The problem with this, says Nigella, is that if it were true, “half the public schoolboys in the land would have been marching on Whitehall last week.”
If these malevolent commentators really believe that homosexuality is “unnatural, ungodly or generally unthinkable”, how, she wonders, do they manage at the same time to think that there is “something so attractive about it that it will tempt the weak-willed into a life of sad vice.”
Such reasonableness cuts no ice with Rev N J Holloway of Mid Glamorgan who wrote a letter to The Daily Mail setting out his ideas, “There should be no national age of consent,” he says. “In the Bible — His word to mankind — God gives no basis for an age of consent for sexual activity, either homosexual or heterosexual.”
The good Reverend says there is a “state of consent” which is “the holy and honourable state of marriage”. It follows that no-one — straight or gay — should have sex until they marry. And as gays can’t wed they shouldn’t have sex, full stop.
“Many loud voices will be heard championing the cause of the gay lobby,” thunders Mr Holloway. “The voice of the Christian Church should not remain hushed.”
Oh, it won’t. Even as we speak, the god-shouters are organising a campaign of distortion and misrepresentation that would make the editor of The Sun proud. The question is — are we prepared for the forthcoming fundamentalist onslaught? These right-wing Christians are becoming a serious force to be reckoned with.
An article in The Guardian (November 2nd) by Christopher Reed, explored the new and more sophisticated tactics being used by American evangelicals. They have begun to use tricks learned from the communists of old — assuming false colours and infiltrating influential committees and organisations in order to dictate the agendas.
“I do guerrilla warfare,” says Ralph Reed, executive director of Rev Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. “I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s all over until you’re in a body bag.”
These American strategies are being enthusiastically imported into Britain by the cannier holy rollers. More and more fanatical Christians seem to be making their voices heard in local authorities, on school governing bodies and even in the Cabinet. This is not paranoia, as the activities of John Patten and John Gummer illustrate. We had better beware and be warned, and start doing a bit of infiltrating of our own.
Which does not mean that everyone is beyond rational persuasion. In The Times Magazine (October 2nd), columnist “P.H.S.” (the journalist Michael Bywater) reported that he had been invited to oppose the idea of a common age of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals at a Cambridge Union debate. He seemed a natural choice, having been previously nasty to several prominent gay figures.
He was paired (almost inevitably) with Stephen Green of the Conservative Family Campaign (“a wild-eyed man with teeth and a beard”). On the opposite side were (equally inevitably) Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry.
“Sir Ian McKellen delivers a reasoned and objective address with the famous vocal pyrotechnics held in check until the end, when he recites a list of 23 European countries where a common age of consent is in force,” wrote Mr Bywater. “Then Stephen Fry stands up. The house is unprepared for the astounding display of rhetoric he delivers. He denounces the whey-faced adulterers and hypocrites ‘who have the astounding effrontery to stand up, in a seaside town, and demand a return to “core values’: He exults in his own nature and exhorts the audience to do likewise.”
Then it is Mr Bywater’s turn to speak and, to his own astonishment, he finds himself speaking in favour of the motion. He hears himself declare that he is going to sit with the faggots and advises everyone else to do the same. On crossing the floor he finds no room on the benches, so sits on Stephen Fry’s knee.
The result of the debate — a majority of 600-odd for the motion and about 30 against — is later discovered to be a record.
Michael Bywater says: “I spend the rest of the evening glowing with gay pride, until I recall with a little disappointment, that I am not gay.”
Another angry voice which appears to have changed its tune is that of Matthew Parris, ex-Tory MP and now a writer for The Times. Mr Parris has often been seen as an apologist for the disgusting activities and pronouncements of his former Conservative colleagues, but now even he’s getting pissed off with them. “Try and get anyone, anyone of political stature to speak against homosexual law reform at a debate or public meeting, or on television (and a hundred editors, producers and union presidents will bear me out) it is almost impossible. I could take this inertia from Mrs Thatcher, because she really was right-wing; but from John Major and Michael Howard I cannot, because I know they are not.”
“The argument is won,” he says, “and the government knows it: but still the cowards won’t move.”
He has heard the rumour that John Major has changed his mind and no longer intends to allow a free vote on the issue, He says his hunch is that Michael Howard “has decided to wait for the UK to lose a case at the European Court [of Human Rights], then reform the law and blame it on the EC. If so, it is despicable.”
He says that if the rumour proves to be true, then gay Tories (he claims that there are “millions of us”) “are going to have to decide for how much longer walking over us is to remain the path of least resistance.” He suggests that the European elections might be the place to start to teach the Government a lesson.
The magazine Public Policy Review— a journal that might claim the attention of the “decision-makers” — carried a detailed, five-page article by Mark Lowery, which went into all the arguments for and against reform in depth. The author obviously feels strongly that the law needs to be changed and, hopefully, any of his readers who are in Parliament will feel likewise when they’ve ploughed through his most persuasive and well-researched polemic.
“Equality Week” began with a “lobby” at the House of Commons (covered, as far as I can see, only by The Independent — and they didn’t include a report, only a picture of Sir Ian McKellen looking tired); and it ended with a glorious variety show at the London Palladium. A photographer from The Sun was there, and the next day the paper carried a picture of Julian Clary and Richard (Victor Meldrew) Wilson in their “Sticky Moments” sketch. Unfortunately, The Sun decided not to say what the event had been and referred to it simply as “a charity show”. A classic illustration of how the tabloids use their power to deny readers information about gay matters as well as to distort it when they do include it.
Paragraph 15 of the Press Complaints Commission’s code of conduct says: “The press should avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person’s race, colour, religion, sex or sexual orientation… It should avoid publishing details of (these issues), unless these are directly relevant to the story.”
Over the past few weeks I ‘nave made five complaints to the PCC about stories which clearly breach this paragraph, all have been rejected. A sixth complaint —which the PCC has yet to decide on — concerns, needless to say, The Sun. On October 20th the paper carried a headline, stretched over two pages, reading: “The Homo Provo”. Its subheading was “25 years for IRA bomber who cruised loos for men”.
The story began: “An IRA terrorist jailed yesterday for plotting Britain’s biggest bomb attack is a gay pervert who cruised public toilets for sex with strangers.”
Now can anyone tell me what relevance his sexuality has to this report of his trial for terrorism? When was the last time you saw a story about a “hetero IRA bomber” — even though most of them are? And as for “pejorative references” —the story contained many insulting quotes, some from a supposed “senior detective” along the lines of: “The IRA are normally very conservative about sexual matters and prejudiced against homosexuals. But they still recruited Kelly who was a practising homosexual for more than 20 years… They are now resorting to using a man of Kelly’s sexual orientation, whom they would not normally touch with a barge pole.”
I see, so instead of seeing it as a case of gays generally being too humane and sensitive to involve themselves with an organisation like the IRA, it seems we are considered “not good enough” to maim and kill innocent people. What kind of perverted, inverted thinking is this?
The kind that The Sun and its stinking crew excel in.
It seems that The Sun can’t make its mind up which is the worse crime — cottaging or attempted mass murder. If that isn’t a “pejorative reference”, then I’ll eat my hat. I’ll keep you posted.
Just how many gay people are there in Britain? The vexed question was addressed a couple of times recently. The first was in The People which, on October 24th, carried the results of one of its interminable sex surveys. According to Dr Vermin Coleman, who conducted the poll, “thousands and thousands” of People readers responded to such pertinent questions as “Have you ever bought sexy underwear?” and “Have you ever posed for nude photographs?”
Most interestingly, though, to the question “Have you ever had any sort of sexual contact with a member of the same sex?” 29 per cent of men replied that they had and so did 21 .per cent of women.
Dr Vermin qualifies these findings thus: “The figures regarding homosexual experiences are higher than I expected. But many of you included school encounters. Homosexual experiences between children, particularly those in single sex schools, are so common as to be quite unremarkable.”
Meanwhile another survey conducted by The Oxford Student, was reported in The Sunday Telegraph (October 31st). It revealed that “nearly one in seven Oxford undergraduates claims to have had at least one sexual encounter with a member of the same sex.” That’s nearly 15 per cent! According to the survey most of those were women, but “more men said they were involved in long-term homosexual relationships.”
The paper quoted Dr Glenn Wilson, a senior lecturer in psychology at London University, as saying the results reflected the current insecurity about heterosexual relationships. “A lot of men are frightened to touch women because of cries of rape,” he says. “To avoid this, they must either ask a woman directly if she wants to have sex — a notoriously unsuccessful courtship procedure — or have a homosexual relationship.”
Co-editor of The Oxford Student, Rob Hands, thought that remark was “absolute rubbish”. I’ll go further and say that Dr Glenn Wilson is talking through his arsehole.
Anyway, although these surveys were not scientific samplings, they do call into question the ludicrous statistic, propounded last year, that gays make up only one per cent of the population. I always thought there was an element of vested interest in that one.
The Guardian (October 28th) carried an article by Richard Smith — a name familiar to readers of Gay Times— about the present preoccupation of gay men with body culture. “Take a straight person to a gay club these days,” wrote Mr Smith, “and the first thing they’ll comment on is all the muscle on show —the well-developed young men taking their tops off and getting their tits out for the lads. All those bulging biceps can come as quite a shock. Especially if you’d been expecting a load of limp wrists.”
Indeed, for those of us with a less than perfect physique, the present obsession with body sculpting is somewhat alarming. Gay clubs and pubs — which have always been ruthlessly competitive anyway — have now become almost gladiatorial in their philosophy. “Survival of the fittest” hardly covers it.
“Marty Mark, Right Said Fred, Take That and Bad Boys Inc are the first pop acts since Samantha Fox who’ve been sold on the size of their tits,” says Richard Smith, The culture of the gym has become something of a mania with some gay men and it isn’t difficult to see why. Let’s face it: if you ain’t got much muscle upstairs, you can always get your share of attention by developing it downstairs.
This is all very well, but beautiful bodies tend to decay, and what do you do when the passage of years takes its inevitable course and those oh-so desirable tits start to sag?
Peter Burton, features editor of this very magazine, is quoted in The Guardian article: “The Body Beautiful thing has been around for a long time in the States. I spent a lot of time in the Seventies there and it was always a relief to get home to the diversity of British male bodies. I’m 48 and the body’s all over the place, but I’m happy being me.” How many of the muscle boys can say the same?
In The Observer (October 31st), Roger Tredre was also ruminating on the cult of the over-developed physique and the way that male bodies are being used in advertising in the same way that women’s were it the past few decades. “Provocative image of the naked male can no longer be catalogued under homo-erotica,’’ he says. “The truth is that male nakedness has gone mainstream.” He maintains that Britain will follow the Californian model of “male vanity”. Over there you can have “pec implants”.
Half a million men are regularly “working out” in Britain. Daniel Singer — a male model — says in The Observer: “The Americans are more obsessional, but my friends in London are definitely getting more concerned about keeping in shape.”
The article says that the emergence of the male sex object is no cause for rejoicing. Insecure men who have big problems in their life are using exercise and body building as “therapeutic narcissism”. Psychologists are reporting the first signs of conditions usually associated with women, like anorexia and bulimia. “Images of macho men are going to have the same effect on men as pictures of thin female models have on women.”
But there is yet hope for us Lucien Freud types. According to The Daily Mirror (October 27th) “Hunky models are being inched out of the limelight — by wimps.” The Mirror contends that suddenly it’s “in” to be thin. They cite as an example Nick Moss who has modelled for Calvin Klein and who is “all skin and bone”.
The paper says that leading fashion experts think “There is a spiritual look in fashion reflected by these thinner models… Twenty-somethings aren’t going to the gym any more… they’re all going to the coffee shops and they’re interested in losing weight for the new fashions. It’s a new era out there.”
Oh God. Fat, thin, beefy, scrawny —what is a girl to do? The simple answer is to get off this mad carousel and do something useful with your life.