GAY TIMES October 1991

Chaim Bermant — the noted opponent of prejudice against Jews — has gone into the recycling business. In The Daily Telegraph (3 Sep) he strung together a collection of over-familiar, ignorant and unoriginal opinions, first voiced by the likes of George Gale and John Junor — and subsequently copied by every right-wing ratbag you can think of — and called it a “Personal View”.

“Gays … are reverting to queers,” he starts tiredly, “but given their disposition should they not be calling themselves kamikazes? I ask the question in all seriousness, for they not only seem to have a death wish themselves, but an apparent readiness to inflict death on others.”

He was anxious that his readers should know that a Health Education Authority report “shows that a growing number of gays are no longer taking precautions to protect themselves, or their partners, and that promiscuity among them is as rife as ever.” He then went on to triumphantly quote Lynn Barber’s now notorious interview with Derek Jarman: “He was diagnosed as HIV positive five years ago and presumes he has Aids. Yet he admits he still picks up young men without mentioning his condition.”

Mr Jarman made clear in the Barber interview (in The Independent on Sunday) that all his encounters were safe, but Mr Bermant wants to know how safe is safe sex “given the hazards”.

Well, if you’re doing it right, very safe. But Mr Bermant does not want to know about the particulars of safe sex, he only wants to make points: “The (1967) Act was intended to remove the stigma of illegality from homosexual practices and to end the pariah of the homosexual. But, if politicians could have foreseen what was to follow, the Act would never have been passed … Where they had been retiring and discreet they became strident, assertive, even aggressive … they tried to push their teachings in schools … the homosexual way of life is … a desperately sad one. Their gaiety, where it exists, is extremely ephemeral. There is little love in their lives and their promiscuity is an attempt to snatch a moment of bliss in physical gratification … inherent sterility … Their relationships are generally brief … efforts at proselytisation … protest about pseudo-grievances …gays are pushing their luck and seem to think they can win over public sympathy by alienating it …” etc etc.

This, of course, is the kind of kaka one would expect from The Daily Telegraph — they’ve been publishing the same article, with a different name over it, at six monthly intervals for the past decade.

But do we expect better from The Guardian? Our enemies will have raised a cheer when they saw confirmation of just about everything they’ve ever said about us, served up by a gay man in The Guardian of September 7th. Rupert Haselden wrote, in a major feature: “There is an inbuilt fatalism to being gay. Biologically maladaptive, unable to reproduce, our futures are limited to individual existence and what the individual makes of it …” Mr Haselden says that because we have no children, we waste our meaningless lives in a merry-go-round of promiscuous sex “where Aids dangles like a flashing neon sign in the midst of the gay community becoming a metaphor for the self-destructiveness and self-indulgence that accompanies it.”

He writes about Aids as though it is an inevitable fate for any gay man who dares to have sex with another man. “All around, friends, lovers and acquaintances are dying and we in our turn prepare to make this supreme sacrifice. We are walking to the slaughter as stupidly as bullocks … Perhaps we have become fatalistic but there really isn’t any choice. If there is, it’s to sit at home waiting to die.”

The whole article is couched in this hopeless, passive self-indulgent style. It is shot through with self-loathing and moral cowardice.

Angry gays protested to The Guardian in their hundreds. How could a paper we had considered to be a friend stab us in the back like that? The Guardian maintains that it simply wanted to stimulate debate by being provocative. What it succeeded in doing was handing the right-wing a powerful stick with which to beat us.

The Sunday Express was first to take it up (15 Sep), with a full-page anti-gay diatribe, part of which was based on the Haselden article, exhorting its readers to withdraw any residual sympathy they may have had for gay people on account of how irresponsible we are.

The Guardian, meanwhile, published a supposed apology from Rupert Haselden (14 Sep) which merely compounded the errors of the previous article. He still maintains that “promiscuity” equals death, as though safe sex can’t be practised if you have more than a couple of partners.

If the publication of this trash was simply an error of judgement, then let Peter Preston, The Guardian’s editor, admit it. And let him make reparation by improving and extending the paper’s coverage of lesbian and gay issues.

If it was a deliberate decision to hurt its many thousands of gay readers, then The Guardian should remember that we have at our disposal the considerable power of boycott.

***

The Princess of Wales set an example to the whole country in her care and concern for her friend who was dying from Aids. She didn’t mess about with mealy-mouthed justifications — she just did what she felt was right, and if that didn’t suit the establishment, tough titty.

Not so the vile hacks of our press, who between them have responded to Princess Diana’s shining humanitarianism with a show of mean-mindedness that beggar’s belief.

The smug, self-congratulating Peter McKay on the London Evening Standard wrote: “Homosexuals die of Ads because medicine has not found a way of protecting them from the possible consequences of their sex lives. This is sad, but it is asking too much, I think, of public opinion to accord them more protection, more care, than what is offered those who endure other fatal diseases which they can’t avoid.” McKay, too, referred to Derek Jarman’s interview: “Some homosexuals who are HIV positive argue that they have a right to risk spreading the disease by continuing to have sex with young men they pick up on Hampstead Heath who do not know they are so affected.”

He then goes on to patronise the Princess of Wales’s concern: “(She) is young. She has a good heart. But I hope she develops a sense of proportion over Aids.”

Peter McKay’s apparently unshakeable ignorance is as nothing when compared to the offensiveness of John Junor, writing on the same subject in his column (Mail on Sunday, 1 Sep): “One visit I could understand. But six hours in a single spell? Four visits in 48 hours? A further bizarre visit to his bedside even after he had died? And finally a dramatically starring role at his funeral? Isn’t all this going over the top more than just a little?” He asks. “Just what then do you suppose can explain her preoccupation with this disease? Could she really want to go down in history as the patron saint of sodomy?”

Lynn Barber, in her column (Independent on Sunday, 8 Sep) took Junor to task in a most pleasingly vicious manner over that little outrage: “JJ says it would be ‘inconceivable’ for Princess Diana to have behaved in the same way if her friend had died of syphilis. Really? Is there a pecking order of illness? Where would JJ stand on, say, cirrhosis of the liver? At any rate, when JJ is on his deathbed, I hope his friends, if such there be, will weigh these matters carefully and think twice before visiting him.”

In the meantime, Julie Burchill was trying to devalue the Stirling work being done on Aids by Elizabeth Taylor. In a particularly bilious attack on Miss Taylor’s efforts to raise awareness (and money) for the fight against Aids, Burchill says that Elizabeth Taylor is only doing it because it’s easy. “Aids is not a contentious charity,” says Barmy Burchill (Mail on Sunday, 8 Sep).

But you’re wrong, Julie. Anybody who makes a public commitment to fighting Aids has to put up with — at best — the tawdry sneering and sniping of people such as yourself. At worst they must endure ugly abuse and even violence. The recent London conference of people with HIV and Aids showed the depths to which some people will sink in order to persecute those affected by HIV. Many journalists seem happy to invent the specious ‘rationales’ that make lynch-mobs feel self-righteous.

***

The topic of gay men seeking sex in public or semi-public places has been an issue of contention within our community for some time — to cottage or not to cottage, that is the question. But now it’s spilling out into the straight world in a big way.

According to The Sunday Telegraph (8 Sep), the residents of Hampstead in London are having their liberal consciences tested by the growing use of the Heath by gay men. It says: “The local newspaper is full of letters alleging that the north London parkland … has become a no-go area for families and lone walkers. They complain of men having sex on the footpaths while others solicit for partners.”

The ST then alleges that each weekend up to 500 men gather to picnic and bathe together in an area beside a bathing pond they have claimed for themselves and christened the Gay Lawn. “Some laze naked in the sun in an enclosed men-only changing area they call the Slab. At dusk scores more arrive to seek sexual partners in an area of woodland nicknamed ‘the jungle’.”

The London Evening Standard took the story up (12 Sep) in a two-page feature. It told tales of male couples doing it “doggy fashion’ on public footpaths in broad daylight. Some Hampstead residents claim that they are embarrassed to walk on certain parts of the Heath and worry about what their children might see. The Standard asks: “What would society’s response be if heterosexuals were to behave in the same way as the Heath’s gays?” and suggests the answer might rest in a letter from a resident which was published in The Hampstead and Highgate Express: “Let homosexuals with responsible, loving relationships put pressure on the men who are creating a feeling of despair and dislike in normally tolerant people.”

It’s difficult to know how much all this is a genuine problem and how much is self-perpetuating hysteria exacerbated by newspaper reports. Margaret Drabble, the novelist, has been walking on the Heath for 23 years and she says: “I have never heard of anything remotely unpleasant going on. It does not bother me at all. You know where they go and you can choose to go to those areas or not.”

Now over to Irvine beach park in Ayrshire, where The Daily Star reported (12 Sep) the case of the outraged passer-by who saw gay goings-on in the sand dunes. Mr Albert Brown who “could hardly believe that this was going on in a public place”, took photos of the “loads of naked bodies in the dunes” and handed them in to the local police station, But the boys-in-blue were red-faced when they realised that a participant in the “gay sex romps” was one of their own bobbies!

In Holland they do things differently. The Guardian carried a report about a beach at Zandvoort, west of Amsterdam, where gays gather to frequent the sand dunes. The local population in the area are indifferent, and the police pay no attention. According to the article, the nude beach — scene of many an indiscreet alfresco encounter – “intrigues and enriches the local population”.

Public nuisance or simply public perception?

***

An obituary of Dr Irving Bieber (Guardian 29 Aug) remembered his infamous 1962 research paper, which was to have profound implications for gay people. “He headed a study team that made a nine-year study of 106 gay men to find the origins of homosexuality. He concluded that it was an illness that could be treated or prevented through psychotherapy. He held that early disruptions in family relationships contributed to homosexual development.” Yes, it was Irving Bieber who propounded the theory that homosexuality is “caused” by having a domineering mother and a weak or absent father.

I wonder what the Professor would have thought about the findings of Simon LeVay, another American scientist who asserted last month that he had found a physical difference between the brains of gay men and those of heterosexual men. Surely they can’t both be right — either your mother made you into a homosexual or your hypothalamus did?

But The Independent on Sunday had great fun (1 Sep) tormenting those Christians who assert that homosexuality is a “choice” and therefore sinful. If this brainspot business is correct, surely the Bible’s condemnations are little more than ignorance of the physiological facts. As we know, God is omnipotent. He could not, therefore, have made a mistake in fashioning our hypothalamuses in the way He did if He hadn’t meant us to be gay.

It would be nice to say that it doesn’t matter a gnat’s arsehole what the Bishops and Archbishops think about gay people, but unfortunately The Sunday Times reported (15 Sep) that “A Church of England bishop is supporting plans to introduce American-style therapy sessions that claim to ‘heal’ Christian homosexuals so they become heterosexuals.”

According to the report, 43 “counsellors” have been training at Oak Hill College, North London and are now planning to set up a network of “sexual wholeness” groups at churches up and down the country. At the forefront of the scheme is the Rev Christopher Guinness who will attempt the brainwashing from St Michael’s Church, Belgravia.

Groups to look out for — now that the Conservative Family Campaign has collapsed under the weight of its own hatred — are “The Courage Trust” and “The True Freedom Trust”. It would be pleasant to be able to write off these two barmy organisations as just another collection of loonies with a neurosis about homosexuality. Unfortunately, they pose a severe threat to confused gay people who fall into their evil net.

Or as one gay man who underwent the “therapy” and remains gay says: “It is so dangerous because it parades as an answer to the problem, and if it doesn’t work somehow it’s your fault because you’re being sinful and you’re not giving yourself to God.” The Bishop of Durham was quoted as saying: “They do not face up to the serious probability of science that there are a number of homosexual people who are so by their very nature, and so they could be inflicting real violence on people. It’s in danger of interfering with nature and it’s exploitative, and has nothing to do with Christian grace.”

I’ll say amen to that.

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