GAY TIMES January 2006

When Mary Whitehouse used to say, “I don’t like sex on the television”, the traditional response was, “Well, why don’t you try it on the kitchen table, then?”. If she were alive today, she’d be turning in her grave. Sex on the television? When isn’t there sex on the television? I’m waiting for the first dogging session on Teletubbies – during which Tinky-Winky can let us know once and for all what exactly that handbag represents.

Most people I know quite like a bit of rumpy-pumpy with their viewing and, in these days of equal opportunities, gay people aren’t denied their fair share of broadcast sex.

Not that it pleases everyone, of course. The Daily Star has been having a fit of the 1970’s-style vapours over the Corrie gay story (see news item). “Get this filth off TV” screech its headlines between pictures of bare-breasted women and sordid exposes of film stars’ love lives.

Last month saw a plethora of gay love over the airways. As well as Todd and Karl on Corrie there was Adam and Ian going at it in a polytunnel on The Archers, and then King James I and his friend, the Catholic fanatic Thomas Percy in Gunpowder, Treason and Plot, took time out from blowing up Parliament to blow each other off. There was also Noah and the rent boy on Footballers Wives (conveniently condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who doesn’t seem to have anything better to do than watch rubbish on the box). We also received news that there was to be a black gay Christian character on The Bill (Christian? Now that is pervy).

All this is music to the ears of Liz Hoggard, who wrote in The Observer about her enjoyment in watching gay sex and her desire to see more of it – only hornier. “Why are male gay sex scenes on TV so disappointingly vanilla (Queer as Folk and This Life being honourable exceptions)?” she wanted to know. “Women love to watch decorative men tumble between the sheets together (remember, 60% of viewers tuning into Queer as Folk were female). It’s not exactly rocket science. If you appreciate the unclothed male form, then two at once is even better.”

Ms Hoggard says that a lesbian couple that she knows spends many happy hours downloading gay male porn from the internet. “PC lesbian videos are so tame,” they complain. “It’s all hand-holding and brushing each other’s hair. Gay male sex is hot!”

This opinion is shared by Lauren Henderson, an American gal writing in The Guardian magazine. “If I want to watch sizzling gay-on-gay action these days I hardly need to rent porn any more. Hooray! All that money and video store embarrassment saved.”

She’s noticed a huge rise in gay-themed shows in the United States, too. “It seems every time you turn on your TV here in New York, there’s another insanely hot gay couple getting off with each other.” She can’t help noticing a bit of an anomaly, though. “Fascinatingly, this explosion of gays being presented sympathetically on TV comes just as America is busy debating the pros and cons of gay marriage… And as every talk show host has put it ‘Gays should absolutely have the right to make each other as miserable as straights.”

Back in this country, even our own mumsy Lorraine Kelly used her column in The Sun to tell critics of Coronation Street’s gay story line to stop carping. “I believe the scriptwriters, producers and young actors will portray these difficult and controversial scenes with honesty and, above all, a bit of humour mixed in with the angst.”

Lorraine had to acknowledge that one in five voted in a Sun poll to say they didn’t want to see a gay kiss. She retorted: “I don’t particularly want to watch ANY Corrie characters playing tonsil tennis. I am still haunted by scenes of Ken and Dierdre in bed together which were screened years ago. Todd and Karl will have to work really hard to be as disturbing as that.”

Which brings us neatly to the gay kiss on The Archers. Before it happened, fans of the show were wondering how the embrace would be made explicit, given that its portrayal would depend on sound alone. In other words, how do you do aural sex?

The Sunday Express’ radio critic, Ruth Cowan, was waiting with great anticipation to find out how it was to be brought off (so to speak). “If the sound effects are anything like as realistic as the farmyards noises chances are we’ll mistake it for Linda Snell’s waste disposal unit going haywire.”

In the end it was described by Robert Hanks, the radio critic of The Independent, “When the boys finally found themselves alone in the polytunnel, the kiss was a quiet and tasteful affair – none of the prolonged ‘Mmmm-ing’ that used to be the best indicator of passion.”

I didn’t hear the episode myself but presumably the familiar tum-ti-tum-ti-tum theme arrived just in time to cover any embarrassing unzipping sounds or “you like that big dick, dontcha”-style dialogue. Overall, Mr Hanks was pleased with the result. “Broadcasting House wasn’t struck by lightning. Presumably the Almighty gave up on Ambridge morals in about 1989, when Shula had sex on a picnic rug in a field with a journalist from the Borchester Echo. If Shula goes, anything goes. At any rate, it’s nice that the Archers can now do gay without doing camp. Heavens, it’s almost grown up.”

Indeed, the actor who plays Adam, Andrew Wincott (happily heterosexual father of a 10-year old daughter, of course), told The Mail on Sunday that he didn’t know what the fuss was about. “Adam is not an effete queen – he is a rounded character – a hardworking farmer, but sincere and kind. I don’t think a gay man in love feels any different from a man who loves a woman.”

The Sun, in the meantime, kept on in its infantile way, tutting like crazy over a three-second sequence deleted from Footballers’ Wives in which anal penetration is supposed to have taken place. “Outrageous,” gagged the paper, as it told of the usual “storm of protest”. “The scene will never be broadcast,” the paper predicted, before revealing that the bumming would be shown in what is described, without a hint of irony, as a “behind-the-scenes special.”

So why this sudden surge in homo-sex? The Mail on Sunday thinks it has the answer. And it is, of course, the good old “gay mafia” – this time in the form of Shed Productions, an independent company that makes Footballers’ Wives (“with its brutality and displays of lesbian sex”).

“Shed Productions is establishing itself as the leading purveyor of prime-time sex,” wrote Angello Johnson, in The Mail on Sunday, “indeed, its next project will further cement this reputation. The aptly named Bombshell is an ITV drama about Army life which promises to expose widespread homosexuality in the ranks.”

Shed Productions, the paper reveals, is run by four “proudly and openly gay friends” – Eileen Gallagher, Brian Park, Ann McManus and Maureen Chadwick. All had worked at Granada Television with the man who came up with the idea for Footballers’ Wives, Paul Marquess, now head of drama at Thames Television. “Together they form an influential clique whose imprint is visible across commercial television. They have been involved in writing and producing many soap operas, including Coronation Street, Brookside, Family Affairs and The Bill – all of which have introduced gay storylines.”

Mike Hollingsworth, a former director of programmes at TV-am and a critic of the present pushing of boundaries, is quoted in the article as saying “It’s no surprise to hear people say that Shed is putting out its own sexual agenda. All sorts of groups are selling their views on television and I don’t know where it will end if drama continues on this road.”

Of course, some people think it doesn’t go far enough. Gay storylines make great drama. Gay life, lived to the full, is intrinsically dramatic and incident-packed. Could it be that producers are only now latching on to the endless possibilities and starting to explore them?

But even that doesn’t suit some people. Rupert Smith in The Guardian wanted to know why gay characters in soap always arrive with “a vast amount of baggage.” The truth is that all soap characters are weighed down with about 50 suitcases-worth of past mistakes. Without all those forgotten children, missing relatives and dark secrets, the story wouldn’t be sustainable over the long haul (remember, soaps extend for decades and sometimes, if the Archers goes on much longer, centuries).

Mr Smith makes a more apt point about Will & Grace, which started off as a comedy about a gay man living with a straight woman, and now seems to be about something else entirely. “It’s so hell-bent in involving its characters in stories that don’t revolve around their sexual preferences that it seems to have lost the plot somewhat,” he wrote.

Whether the current obsession with gaiety in broadcast drama is a flash in the pan, or whether homos are here to stay, we will have to wait and see.

But certainly, it’s nice to see our lives – in all their magnificent messiness – reflected back at us from the rackety box in the corner.

GAY TIMES February 2006

Naturally there was a lot of media interest in the launch of the Civil Partnership Act last month and I found myself on Radio Five Live locking horns with a lady called Lynette Burrows.

Ms Burrows is a woman of breath-taking unpleasantness and a long-standing foe of gay rights. A sneer enters her voice and she does not hesitate to express some pretty offensive opinions (in this instance she said that it was self-evident that gay couples should not be permitted to raise a child because… well… you know what they are, you just can’t trust them!).

Callers to the programme were as horrified as I was at the rawness of her bigotry, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise – she’s been at it for years. Mediawatch has reported many articles by Ms Burrows in the past in which she has casually slandered gay people. I remember one in particular, which was published at the height of the AIDS crisis, in which she gleefully announced that we needn’t worry too much about gay rights because “soon there won’t be enough of them to squeak.”

I hate everything that the hateful Lynette Burrows stands for, but having said that, I also passionately defend her right to carry on expressing her bigotry in any way she wants.

I make this point because after the Radio Five Live programme, Ms Burrows was paid a visit by the local constabulary who had received a complaint from an offended listener.

The Daily Telegraph reported it like this: “Scotland Yard confirmed last night that Fulham police had investigated a complaint over the radio programme. A spokesman said it was policy for community safety units to investigate homophobic, racist and domestic incidents because these were ‘priority crimes’. It is standard practice for all parties to be spoken to, even if the incident is not strictly seen as a crime. ‘It is all about reassuring the community,’ said the spokesman. ‘We can confirm that a member of the public brought to our attention an incident which he believed to be homophobic. All parties have been spoken to by the police. No allegation of crime has been made. A report has been taken but is now closed.”

Naturally, old Ma Burrows was disturbed by this development, as were several commentators in the right-wing press.

Ann Widdecombe in The Daily Express: “Democracy is about free speech… I would die in a ditch for the right to sound off across the airwaves because if we cannot debate what is right and what is wrong, then we might as well live in a soviet republic and be told what to think.”

It has surely come to something when I find myself agreeing with Ann Widdecombe, but I share her fears about the escalating threats to free expression in this country. Where is this hypersensitivity to criticism leading us?

I’m not talking here about inciting violence against individuals or sections of the community. I’m talking about engaging in vigorous debate on areas of difference without having to watch every word. The difference between these two concepts is beginning to disappear. Now you only have to “offend” someone (and who isn’t offended by something or other every day of the week?) to have your collar felt.

In Fleetwood, Lancashire, devout Christians Joe Roberts and his wife Helen, didn’t like the way the local authority “pandered” to gay people. They particularly objected to the way that gay magazines were distributed around the council. They wanted Christian literature to be distributed, too, so they wrote to the council opining: “If gay people make the decision not to think gay, they would not act gay. Whatever they are giving attention to will eventually mould them into its image.” As an opinion it doesn’t stand up to much examination but, as we used to say in the old days, it’s a free country.

However, within days of their sending the note, the police were on the Roberts’ doorstep, trying to establish whether a “crime” had been committed or was likely to be committed. A Lancashire police spokesman said: “Hate crime is a very serious matter and all allegations must be investigated thoroughly.”

Hate crime? I thought hate crimes related to beating people up or murdering them or threatening them with violence or harassment. But no – it seems now a “hate crime” can potentially be committed by those expressing a rather eccentric opinion.

It’s clear that Mr and Mrs Roberts are motivated by an over-enthusiastic attachment to their religious beliefs. That’s up to them. I don’t like their religious beliefs, in fact I despise them. Am I now going to get a knock on the door from the local constabulary accusing me of a religiously-motivated hate crime?

Indeed, the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill muddies the boundaries even further. Can we criticise religion when it behaves horribly or can’t we? If the Islamic Republic of Iran hangs two teenage boys in public because they are gay – which it did recently – are we to stand by and say nothing in case other Muslims are “offended”? Have we reached the point where religion is completely beyond censure and anyone who objects to its murderous impulses becomes a “racist”?

We need open debate, argument, examination of each other’s attitudes – even if sometimes that debate hurts our feelings. We do not make progress towards a truly free society if some people – whether they are religious adherents or advocates of gay rights – are trying to silence their critics.

Lynette Burrows says some pretty despicable things, but I want her to have the right to say them, just as I want the right to say despicable things about what she holds dear – even on Radio Five Live. How can we correct the lies that she, and others like her, tell if we cannot confront them openly?

Let us not forget that it is only a few short decades ago that gay people had no voice. There was a time, within living memory, when if gay people spoke out in defence of their lifestyle they would have been sacked or kicked out of their home or even imprisoned. We had to struggle every step of the way to have our voice heard in the face of those who wanted to keep us silent.

Now we seem to have embraced that bullying censoriousness ourselves.

Free speech is not free speech unless it is available to everyone – even to ghastly Lynette Burrows. As Lord Dahrendorf was quoted as saying in The Daily Times of Pakistan: “Free speech is immensely precious, and so is the dignity and integrity of humans. Both require active and alert citizens who engage with what they do not like rather than calling for the state to clamp down on it.”

There must be some restraint, of course – you don’t shout Fire! in a crowded theatre – but this must be kept to a minimum. People who are so easily “offended”, and who want the authorities to protect their hair-trigger sensitivities, are turning into tyrants who want only to hear what is pleasing to them. They are leading us into an abyss of restriction, suppression and self-censorship.

You might think Lynette Burrows should be silenced. But then, maybe she thinks that you should be, too. One day those who support her view may be in power again, and the thought police will be knocking on our doors instead of hers.

We need robust protections for free speech. Instead we have a government that seems hell-bent of curtailing it.

***

Elton John and David Furnish well and truly hijacked the big launch day for Civil Partnerships. Despite the fact that something like 700 couples tied the knot on 21 December, the press seemed only to have eyes for the Windsor bash.

Unable to get photos of the actual signing of the register, some of the papers carried a spoof set of snaps, posed by look-a-likes. They showed what appeared to be Elton arriving at the register office in a big, floaty wedding dress. Pardon me for not finding it hilarious, although I’m sure it gave a chuckle to those macho men at the picture desks of Fleet Street.

But Elton is wise to the wiles of journalists looking to spoil the big day. According to The Sun: “The public lavatories in front of which Sir Elton John and David Furnish did their post-nuptial walkabout at Windsor’s Guildhall were closed for their wedding. The sign saying “Ladies” was also taken down. This was to spoil the chance of photographers getting a shot of the happy couple together with the sign prominent behind them and to thwart headline writers who might be tempted to apply the Little Britain catchphrase “I’m a laydee!” to the new Mrs Elton.”

The Sunday Mirror unearthed a woman, Linda Woodrow, who almost got Elton down the aisle way back in 1970 when he was “small-time musician Reg Dwight.” Linda gave a sob story about how Elton had insulted her in subsequent interviews, telling how horrible their relationship had been. But even so, she was happy that “he has found the man he has been looking for all his life.”

Even The Daily Mail managed to leave off the anti-gay abuse for the day to wish them – and everyone else who did the deed – well. “Yesterday was a celebration of the live-and-let live tolerance that marks our society, a signal moment in our social history and the righting of a long injustice… we wish all those couples good fortune.”, the paper said.

Yes, folks, this was an editorial in The Daily Mail. I might cut it out and frame it for the loo.

But don’t let your guard down. This was just a temporary truce – hostilities have since resumed, and The Mail is as nasty as ever to its gay victims.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

“Civil partnerships are hugely important as a move towards equal rights, but I wish the press would stop describing them as ‘marriages’. It carries none of the baggage of an institution that for so long relegated women to the status of a thing to be given away by one man to another.” – Jenni Murray, Guardian.

“The Civil Partnership Act (CPA) has caused very little distress to anybody apart from a few religious fanatics – and even they get a warm, righteous glow from their distress.” – Tom Uttley, Daily Telegraph

“Ordinary people will be revolted by the sight of these couples embracing and the recognition in our law of what the Bible describes as an abomination and ‘vile affection’.” – Stephen Green of Christian Voice.

“Concerning persons that have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, we are deeply concerned that these hinder them from relating correctly with men and women”. – Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Vatican Radio.

GAY TIMES March 2006

The fate that has befallen MPs Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes is familiar – over-familiar, some would say. How many times does this melodrama have to be played out before politicians understand the rules? If you’re a gay MP and you’re in the closet, the tabloids will one day come knocking on the door (won’t they, Mr Mandelson?). If you remove the door of the closet and come out voluntarily (a la Ben Bradshaw, Alan Duncan, Angela Eagle, Stephen Williams et al), there is nothing that the tabloids can do to you, except occasionally humiliate and belittle you in the gossip columns (but they do that to everybody in public life, straight or gay).

Simon Hughes was a perfect example of the old school of tabloid outings. “Everybody knew” about Simon, we were told after the event. Yet it took these people who “knew” nearly 25 years to say anything. If Mr Hughes had not denied the facts of his sexuality three times in the week prior to his outing by The Sun, then it might not have been so bad. But these outright denials gave the papers all the righteous indignation they needed: Simon was a hypocrite and a liar and therefore, fair game. This was almost a re-run of the Michael Portillo case, when the papers pursued Mr Portillo relentlessly until eventually he admitted that he had had homosexual relationships “in the past”.

It was, therefore, rather bizarre to see Mr Portillo on the This Week political show on BBC, commenting about the Simon Hughes case and managing to do it without any reference at all to his own experience.

Mark Oaten was the other style of outing: the dark secret exposed. There have been numerous MPs who have been indiscreet with prostitutes, both male and female, and even more indiscreet about covering it all up. Harvey Proctor, Clive Betts and Ron Davis were three of those whose sexual peccadilloes led to their downfall.

Traditionally, commentators have been split into two camps. At the liberal end, the line has usually been that a politician’s private life is his own and the tabloids have no business exposing it in public unless there is an over-riding public interest in doing so. This was represented by Bruce Anderson, a columnist on The Independent, who wrote: “I cannot see that Mark Oaten has done anything very wrong. Nor can I see why his sexual peccadillo should destroy his career, but it probably will. Although we need a law to restrain the red tops’ bestial behaviour, many more careers will be shattered and many more families reduced to misery before one is passed.”

To such arguments the tabloids respond that lying, cheating, behaving immorally and generally being “ambivalent” about who you really are, raise questions about your suitability for high office. It’s all big-time hypocrisy, of course. The tabloids are not motivated primarily by serving the public good. They want scandal, exposé – the more salacious the better. That’s the way to shift papers.

From their point of view, the Mark Oaten case, with its three-in-a-bed romps and “a bizarre sex act too revolting to describe”, was far superior to the Simon Hughes episode, with its rather sad admission that he didn’t want to come out because he was scared of his deeply Christian old mum.

At the moment, Simon Hughes is officially bisexual (or, as Richard Littlejohn put it from his new perch at The Daily Mail: “Simon’s not gay, he just helps them out when they’re busy”). Stories that have appeared in the Sunday scandal sheets about him (“I had a one-night stand with Simon 1 hour after we met in gay Net chatroom” as The Sunday Mirror had it, and “Simon says: I’ve not paid for sex” – as The Sun revealed) were pretty anodyne, compared to those Mr Oaten had to endure.

He, too, is, I suppose – in the confused world of sexuality – bisexual. He is married with children, but his compulsion to seek out male company for sexual jollies (not once, but many times) has brought disaster upon the straight section of his compartmentalised life. In The Daily Mail, Geoffrey Levy wrote: “To measure the catastrophe that so suddenly enveloped Mark Oaten yesterday, the place to look was not Westminster but the house he shares with his wife and two young daughters” where there are “poignant signs of a happy and loving family life speaking volumes for the stupidity of man.”

Given the present interest in the film Brokeback Mountain, it was almost inevitable that the Lib Dems would be renamed the Brokeback Party by the crueller elements of the press. But there are striking similarities between Mark Oaten’s story and the story of the two sexually confused sheep-herders in Ang Lee’s film (except, of course, there was nothing of real love between Mr Oaten and the treacherous rent boy as there was between Ennis and Jack in the movie). And then there was the survey in The Observer that showed that 15% of the population has had “same sex sexual contact” (which, given the way people lie to these pollsters, probably means it’s more like 30%).

So, now we come to the other perennial question in cases like that of Mark Oaten and those who have gone before. Why do they do it? Why do successful men with so much to lose both professionally and personally, behave so recklessly?

In the Times, Dr Thomas Stuttaford, explained: “Illicit sex with a prostitute is said to satisfy three drives: sex, aggression and a love of danger, motivating forces that are not unknown to politicians. Journeying along the corridors of power leading to Downing Street is like traversing a hotel corridor studded with tempting rooms and other diversions along its length. To reach No 10, or any other great office of State, successful politicians are likely to be testosterone-rich, goal-oriented risk-takers – why else would they have left their safe jobs? – and rather more ruthless than their contemporaries.”

He quotes psychiatrist Anthony Storr, who says that elderly people tend to become self-righteous and often forget how strong the sexual urge was in their youth. He maintains that “Those men who claim to be able to control it entirely and suppress the expression of sex, while they are still in the first half of their life, are actually undersexed.”

Derek Draper a psychotherapist and ex-Labour spin doctor, who has some experience of gay MPs being put through the tabloid wringer by his (professional) association with Nick Brown and Peter Mandelson, wrote in The Daily Mail: “Oaten would have been in a state of constant anxiety about being discovered. People under great pressure can often ignore their fears and worries – but only for a while. Eventually it overwhelms you. The odd thing, though, is that such a high-octane, high-risk existence can be perversely exciting. To be acting so recklessly can be the only thing that makes you feel really alive. It’s similar to the rush of dangerous sports.”

But Mr Draper advises other politicians: “make sure you sort out your personal demons before you seek high office. You owe it to your voters, your families and yourselves.”

A small crumb of kindness and understanding was offered to Mark Oaten by the novelist Francis King, who wrote to The Independent in response to a rather unkind article by the paper’s gay columnist, Philip Hensher.

“It is entirely possible,” wrote Mr King, “that love was the reason why Oaten married his wife, and that the same love continued to sustain the relationship until a rent-boy decided to blab to the press. When a man destroys his career and possibly his marriage through an act of crazy aberration, then surely the appropriate response, particularly from homosexuals like Hensher and myself, should be of compassionate regret, not of disdainful schaudenfreude.”

That was a small spot of comfort for Mr Oaten in a huge morass of finger-wagging and sneering. The Sun continued its leering headlines: “Lib Dems tell rent boy MP: we’re right behind you”, and other such homophobic sludge. The commentators went for both Hughes and Oaten without mercy.

Sue Carroll in The Daily Mirror opined that “Oaten’s deceit should cost him his seat”. Vanessa Feltz in The Express said: “Anyone trying to do an important job with the constant spectre of blackmail or ‘outing’ hovering over them must find their concentration wavering under the strain. Anyone capable of lying to their wives is obviously more than capable of lying to voters.” Andreas Whittam Smith in The Independent: “Mr Hughes evidently believes… that it isn’t morally wrong to lie to protect one’s privacy. What else, if he attained power, would he think justified deceit? Experience suggests the list would be long. But now we have learned just in time that Mr Hughes is a shameless liar. I profoundly hope that he will fail in his attempt to lead the Liberal Democrats.”

John Gaunt in The Sun advised readers not to buy the PR that these were good men brought down by a cruel press. “Oaten is no Oscar Wilde, he is a hypocrite and his morals make Jodie Marsh look like Mother Teresa. And remember, with him it’s not a case of Free Willy but three willies.”

Perhaps the most shocking comment, though, came from someone who claimed to “love my gay friends”. Lowri Turner says that most of her friends are gay “I work in the media, for goodness sake” and because of her intimacy with so many gay men she has concluded that we should never be allowed anywhere near high office. In The Western Mail she wrote: “Their lifestyles are too divorced from the norm… Gay men face challenges of their own, but they do not face those associated with having children which is a way most of us live. I have gay friends whose biggest headache is whether to have a black sofa or a cream one. If they have a child it is a dog. My gay friends have not sat in accident and emergency with a small child. They have not had to make the decision over whether to give them MMR. They have not struggled to get their child statemented or gone through the schools’ appeals process. Without these experiences at the sharp end of our public services, they do not know how they function. This makes them completely out of their depth in administering them…. I love my gay friends, but I don’t want them running the country.”

It seems that Britain is not yet ready to be quite so laid back about gay politicians as we’d like. Indeed, if these two episodes have shown us anything, it is that we seem to be going backwards.

QUOTES:

“Some critics have argued that Brokeback Mountain is less daring or progressive than it might at first appear… Nonsense! The film, far more affecting than any made by the tart-tongued avant-gardists of the early 1990s New Queer Cinema movement, is a dagger in the heart of all those who think that homosexuality is a disease confined to Democratic states” – Sukhdev Sandhu, film critic, Daily Telegraph.

“Alan Hollinghurst has written something utterly damaging to the gay cause. Here is Alan’s gay world: gay men who will have sex with absolutely anyone; gay men who are hysterical, treacherous, backstabbing, cruel, duplicitous and desperate to sleep with a straight male” (Virginia Blackburn writing about the BBC’s dramatisation of The Line of Beauty in The Daily Express)

“Emmerdale used to be a favourite with me but recently it has become obsessed with gay and lesbian storylines and I find myself switching to another channel” – (Readers letter, Daily Express)

“I am perfectly willing to say I have had both homosexual and heterosexual relationships,” – Simon Hughes in The Sun, after having previously denied it three times.

GAY TIMES April 2006

Despite its unexpectedly poor showing at the Oscars, Brokeback Mountain, “the gay cowboy film” which is actually about bisexual sheep herders, has become a cultural phenomenon on to which just about everybody can hang their own meaning.

During the past month, everybody – from born-again Christians in Middle America to builders from Bristol – has had something to say about it. It is the most searched-for film on the internet at the moment, it has sparked an incredible number of parodies, including a New Yorker cover showing Bush and Cheney as the Brokeback heroes. You can see some more send-ups (affectionate and not so friendly) at http://www.dailysixer.com.

Christians in the United States tried to get themselves worked up into the usual gay-hating frenzy over this film, but somehow they couldn’t manage it. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops gave it an “O” rating – which represents “morally offensive” – and a cinema chain in the Mormon state of Utah refused to show it. But beyond that, there were no calls for boycotts or accusations of corrupting the young, just a few isolated incidents of the kind of spite that the American evangelicals specialise in. For instance, the school that Michelle Williams, one of the Oscar-nominated stars of the film, had gone to told her that she was not welcome ever to return. The school’s headmaster, Jim Hopson, said that the Santa Fe Christian School in California “didn’t want to have anything to do with her in relation to that movie”. He said: “Michelle doesn’t represent the values of this institution. Brokeback Mountain basically promotes a lifestyle we don’t promote. It’s not the word of God.”

Back in the world of sanity, the critics were overwhelming admiring of the film, but gay activists in the States have complained about the tragic ending. Why do gay heroes always have to die?

In Newsday, Jospeh V. Amodio did a survey of Oscar nominees from the past 15 years, excluding this one, and he counted four actors who have been nominated for best actor while playing gay roles. These were Javier Bardem for Before Night Falls, Ian McKellen for Gods and Monsters, Stephen Rea for The Crying Game and Tom Hanks for Philadelphia. Mr Amodio notes that “they are all dead by the time the credits roll, save for one, who’s in prison.” He notes that the mortality rates for women is the same – Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, Nicole Kidman in The Hours and Charlize Theron in Monster and Salma Hayek in Frida all “wind up dead, dead, dead, dead.”

Mr Amodio also wonders what effect Brokeback Mountain will have on gay youngsters who are trying to come to terms with their feelings. He recounts Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, telling how he felt when he saw The Boys in the Band at the age of 17. “That film was praised for its daring depiction of gay men as thinking, feeling individuals with a sense of camaraderie. They were also bitchy, self-loathing and howlingly sad. Sitting alone in the theatre in 1970, I said to myself ‘I’ll do anything to escape this. I’ll learn to think different thoughts’.”

But what message would today’s 17-year old get from Brokeback? Would it be the one that the producers intended – “Live and Let Live”? asks Mr Amodio, or would it be “Follow your heart, sure – but be careful. Follow in some directions and things could get violent.”

John Scagliotti, another critic, writing in Counterpunch, wanted to know why the director, Ang Lee, had chosen straight actors to play the roles of Ennis and Jack. “These cowboys are straight, and there is no helping it even though they do all those nasty gay sex things right in front of the camera. What Ang and his straight scriptwriters and straight actors know is that sex between men happens. What they can’t know is that little, defining liberating moment after sex between gay men who see themselves for who they are for the first time. Gay men in the sixties who were forced to live a straight life knew how to wear the mask of heterosexuality, but once together the mask fell. They were in on each other’s secret… Straight actors, no matter how deeply they believe they can play a role, have no experience of that mask or how to let it drop. They certainly haven’t the slightest chance of understanding it in a creative team as robustly heterosexual as this one.”

Jan Stuart, also in Newsday, wanted to know if Brokeback Mountain could even be defined as a “gay movie” at all. He had been listening to a discussion of the film on a radio phone-in show. One caller opined that it couldn’t possibly be a gay movie because the main characters and the homophobia they were responding to existed within the heterosexual world. Another caller also dismissed the “gay movie” tag, saying that the sex between Jack and Ennis came across as loveless, “prisoner sex: an alternative to the sheep they were tending.”

But then a gay man called in who thought “it absolutely is a gay love story, but the film’s implications of sexual identity and sex roles, of men not being able to express their feelings, is much more profound than just whether it is gay or straight.”

Andrew Sullivan, the gay, Catholic Republican, wrote in his column in The Sunday Times: “Brokeback shows gay men in America have families and have always had families. It shows them among themselves and among women. It shows them, above all, as men. For the first time it shows that homosexuality and masculinity are not necessarily in conflict, and that masculinity, even the suppressed inarticulate masculinity of the American frontier, is not incompatible with love.”

Whatever straight people might get from the film, it is rapidly becoming deeply significant for many gay people. I was particularly moved by a blog I read from a gay man living in the mid-West of America. Back in 1984, he had gone to see a film called Falling in Love which was about a married man discovering his homosexual feelings. At the moment the two male protagonists kissed, a wave of revulsion passed through the audience, and the young blogger was traumatised to the extent that he became phobic about going to the cinema.

It was not until Brokeback Mountain arrived at his local flea pit that he felt compelled to give it another go. He described in detail the apprehension he felt at the prospect of experiencing a similar reaction to the gay sex scenes. He was frightened that it might prompt a return to the depression that had kept him away from films for so many years, and he was also afraid that he might attack anyone who made a disparaging remark.

Inside the cinema, however, and during the film, there was utter silence. Although the audience was made up of mainly straight people, they took the story on its own terms. There was no adverse comment, none of the retching noises he had anticipated. He came out of the cinema floating on a cloud of relief.

What real significance Brokeback Mountain has – if any – only time will tell. It has certainly prompted a quite extraordinary reaction for what is basically an art house film.

Or, as, Andrew Sullivan puts it in his column: “It provides a story to help people better understand the turbulent social change around them and the history they never previously recorded. That is what great art always does: it reveals the truth we are too scared to see and the future we already, beneath our denial, understand.”

* * *

Satirical cartoons can prompt extreme reactions, as we have seen in relation to the Danish drawings of Mohammed that started a world-wide conflagration.

Newspaper cartoons can be vicious and satirical – the best ones are – to make a cutting or damning point in a few strokes of the artist’s pen.

We know that cartoonists sometimes have to resort to stereotypical images in order to make their point as economically as possible. But what are we to make of the series of cartoons that appeared in The Sun last month, which made no satirical point, but seemed to merely represent a crude insult to gay people. They were the work of Bill Caldwell, The Sun’s regular cartoonist. One appeared the day after the Bafta awards, at which Brokeback Mountain had triumphed. It showed the actors dropping one of their armful of awards and asking a male onlooker “Oops – would you pick that up for me?” and the onlooker retorting: “No way.” Funny? I don’t think so. Crudely insulting – undoubtedly.

Then Peter Mandelson was in the news for apparently wanting to put £15 extra tax on the price of shoes. Above the story was the Caldwell cartoon showing Mr Mandelson and his partner Reinaldo in a shoe shop, trying on women’s high heels. “I think these are worth the extra £15, don’t you Reinaldo?” says the Mandelson figure. Did that make a point about the tax, or was it simply an attack on homosexuality?

Then came the day that George Michael was found slumped in his car, reportedly out of his head on drugs. Mr Caldwell’s offering that showed George taking his dog for a walk at night on Hampstead Heath, dolled up in a leather thong, women’s high heeled boots and a gas mask. Two policemen are shining their torches on him, as he says: “What’s the matter? I’m just taking the dog for a walk, officer.”

One has to ask: where is the wit? Mr Caldwell should thank his lucky stars that gay people aren’t as volatile as some Islamists are, or there is a danger that we’d been down at Wapping calling for his head.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH

“Brokeback Mountain seems to have flipped a switch. We have had a six-fold surge in interest”. (Andrew Roberts, who operates a gay cowboy holiday firm in the USA).

“The film industry in California is very old-fashioned. It’s very distressing to me that that should be the case”. (Ian McKellen on the dearth of openly gay movie actors in Hollywood).

“We live in a culture that pretends to accept and understand, but which doesn’t want to deal with the finer details of gay life. Just because you have a few queers in Emmerdale, there is this myth that the world has become more tolerant. It doesn’t understand us at all.” (Boy George).

GAY TIMES May 2006

Gay Times itself was in the news last month in connection with our on-line poll asking: “Do you hold any religious beliefs?” More than 2,000 people clicked on the yes-or-no option, to reveal a perfect 50-50 split.

The Church of England Newspaper said in its report that the survey revealed “high levels of spirituality among gays in the UK”. It continued: “Leaders of Christian gay groups have highlighted the growing spiritual hunger that exists amongst the gay community.” Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude lesbian and gay network was quoted as saying: “I’ve no doubt that many people who might have expressed an interest in some sort of faith or attending church have been put off by all the things that have been reported about homosexuality and the Anglican communion. I’m sure many gay people would probably think twice about venturing through the door of an Anglican church, as they may wonder what sort of welcome they would receive. It’s a real tragedy for churches and these individuals who are being put off taking part in a faith journey.”

You can’t blame gay religious groups trying to spin this result, but underneath it all, what does it really mean? Does it mean, as Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement says, that: “spirituality is more important to members of the gay community than their leadership would often credit.”? Or does it mean that gay people are getting the message that religion is at war with them, and are running for their lives?

After all, if we look at the results of the 2001 census, we find that only 15% of the population at large consider themselves to have no religion. That means that there are more than three times as many non-believers in the gay community as there are in the rest of the country. This hardly indicates “a growing spiritual hunger” – more like a flight to reason.

Interestingly, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association conducted a survey about religious attitudes among gays at the 2000 Pride event, and got a similar half-and-half result for its question “Do you believe in God?” But there were other questions in that survey that told another story. For instance, “Are you involved in any church or religious organisation?” revealed that 17% said they were, while 83% said they weren’t. (See a full analysis of that survey here http://www.galha.org/survey/2000_07.html)

We also have to ask what exactly “spirituality” means in this context. Is reading your horoscope a spiritual experience? Some people think spending the evening in the backroom of a gay sauna is a spiritual experience. “Spiritual” is one of those elastic words that can be stretched to fit all circumstances and any definition you care to apply to it.

Much more importantly, though, is the question about why any gay person would want to be part of a church or a temple or a mosque. Tell me a religion that isn’t waging a vicious and sometimes lethal war against us. Even the traditionally wishy-washy Anglican Church is getting increasingly nasty. Only last month, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a TV interview with David Frost, said that he would put the survival of the Anglican Communion before any overt defence of gay people. Now The Daily Telegraph tells us that liberal US bishops are about to do a U-turn on gay rights. The paper reported: “Three years after consecrating Anglicanism’s first openly gay bishop, the American bishops appear close to bowing to international pressure and shelving their radical agenda at a conference in June. Leaks from a private meeting of the bishops… suggest that they will ‘repent’ for plunging Anglicanism into turmoil by consecrating Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. They are also likely to come into line with the rest of the worldwide Church by backing an indefinite ban on the blessing of gay ‘marriages’ and they may even apologise for having authorised them in the past.”

According to several of the bishops who attended the meeting, they would block the consecration of a second openly homosexual bishop if the diocese of California elects a lesbian or gay man. Three of the seven candidates for the post have gay partners.

So, even the liberals, who seemed to be issuing a long overdue challenge to Rowan Williams to stiffen his spine, have now turned out to be invertebrate themselves.

At least at the Vatican they don’t try to cover over their seething hatred of gays with the kind of impenetrable verbiage that the Archbishop of Canterbury uses. With the first anniversary of Pope Ratzinger the Vile, we see the unleashing and encouragement of a kind of anti-gay hysteria that is beginning to do deep damage not only to individuals but to whole communities.

The National Catholic Reporter covered this phenomenon in an article headed: “Boosting the anti-gay troops”. The report: “The church teaching is beyond dispute. The church holds no place for gay or lesbian couples and rejects the idea of same-sex parents.”

It tells of a conference on homosexuality at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, where a French priest, Tony Anatrella, who is a psychoanalyst and consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family, said without qualification that gay couples “were unable to model the sexual difference essential to any child in developing his or her own sexual identity.” He asserted that 40% of children raised by homosexuals became homosexual themselves. He produced no evidence for this claim. He went on to say that children of gay parents could experience “such an altered reality that we could reach the point where we have violence, and what I call ‘civilised delirious behaviour’.” (No explanation of that gobbledygook, either).

At the same conference, David S. Crawford of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, said that tolerance of homosexuality and the giving of gay rights would lead to a society-wide form of “compulsory homosexuality” in which all relations would be “fundamentally homosexual… They all become in this sense, essentially, or at least for legal and social purposes, gay.”

These people may be wacko, but they have highly influential places at the Vatican table, and they feed the sick fantasies of the man at the top. This is the kind of stuff Ratzinger wants to hear. It helps him justify his crazed persecution of gay people inside and outside of his Church.

Meanwhile, in the world of Islam, the Grand Ayatollah Ali-Sistani of Iraq has told his followers that gay people should be killed in the most horrible ways possible. Sistani issued the fatwa on his website on 15 March when he was asked, “What is the judgment for sodomy and lesbianism?” The gentle Ayatollah replied, “Forbidden. Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.”

“Spirituality? “Faith?” As my mother used to say to the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on the door: “Not today thank you”.

Not today, thank you, not any day – ever. Thank you.

***

Irresponsible newspaper reporting can be extremely dangerous, as ten men in Northern Ireland found out recently. They were all arrested in Coleraine during an old-fashioned cottaging stake-out. The Belfast Telegraph printed not only their full names, addresses and ages but their photographs, too. Although the court only fined them, their real punishment started after the newspaper outed them.

All the men have been subjected to what was called “Ku Klux Klan-type vigilante attacks”. A burning car was pushed against the home of one of them, another has been – in the words of his solicitor – totally traumatised. David McCartney of the Rainbow Project took The Belfast Telegraph to task for its callousness. One of the men had “lost his job, suffered abuse and humiliation, and had been forced to flee his home and his town. He has been forced to seek emergency accommodation at a secret location because of threats,” Mr McCartney wrote. “His vulnerability and suffering was clear for all to see and for those too blind to notice all this, it was reiterated by the magistrate. The team at The Belfast Telegraph should be ashamed of itself. The action it has taken has ensured that all involved are now recognisable, and it has placed all those involved in greater danger than before. It was a totally unjustifiable action and served no purpose – these men prose no risks, as was made clear in the probation service reports.”

The irony of all this is that in the same issue of The Belfast Telegraph that the pictures appeared, there was also a report revealing that nearly two thirds of young gay men in Northern Ireland had considered suicide or had self-harmed.

The crude homophobia that is still rampant in Ulster drives gay people to distraction. It is cruel and anachronistic. It creates almost unendurable loneliness and isolation and that leads otherwise sensible and cautious men to risk it all cottaging. We all need the comfort of human contact, but how do you find it when the culture that surrounds you is dictated a bunch of Neanderthals led by Ian Paisley?

Here’s a message to the editor of The Belfast Telegraph from me: the village stocks have been abolished, or perhaps you hadn’t heard. Or maybe you should take a turn yourself and see how it feels to be reviled by your own community.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

“This is not an anti-homosexual gesture.” – Australian premier John Howard, announcing that he intends to veto plans to give civil partnership to the country’s gay community.

“It is an insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great city’s existing and established customs and traditions, such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need.” – Wording of a resolution unanimously passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

“In total disregard for the Constitution, homosexual activists in positions of authority in San Francisco are abusing their authority as government officials and misusing the instruments of government to attack the Catholic Church.” Robert Muise, Catholic attorney, launching a law suit against the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for passing the above resolution.

GAY TIMES June 2006

Ever since the concept of a gay community was first thought of the issue of stereotyping has been high on the agenda. Who are gay men and, even though they have a label, can they actually be defined? Naturally, journalists will tend to take the easy way out by looking for a convenient opportunity to ascribe common characteristics to whole swathes of people who otherwise have nothing in common. In their hands we become little more than one-dimensional cartoons.

So, which stereotype do you fit? Are you the self-obsessed queen in the Will and Grace mould, or are you the drug-addled, out-of-control dysfunctional from the … well, the world of certain pop singers? Are you a screeching, limp-wristed nelly who can’t sit down without tightly crossing his legs? Or maybe you are just an ordinary bloke, doing a tiresomely repetitive job, trying to generate a wage and live a quiet life. Or maybe you are all or none of these things.

The debate continues and was put centre stage again last month by Simon Fanshawe in a BBC3 programme The Trouble with Gay Men, which caused some controversy. In this programme Simon rehearsed the age-old arguments about what gay men are. In the accompanying article in The Guardian he said that gay activists and gay hedonists “still think it is enough to be gay in order to be good. I no longer do. And in this programme I set out to expose the fact that we gay men are living the lives of teenagers, still obsessed with sex, bodies, drugs, youth and being ‘gay’.”

So, while we severely chide the straight media for making sweeping generalisations about gay people, Simon happily throws around the clichéd stereotypes as though they were newly-minted.

I suppose we have to cut Simon a bit of slack here because he’s a gay man himself and has been around on the scene for a long time, so he isn’t talking out of his arse like so many straight journalists do when on the topic of gay men. But one can’t help thinking that his ennui with gay life might just be something to do with his age. Indeed, at one point in the programme he asked: “Am I just a grumpy old gay man?” Well, yes, Simon, you are – which is not to say that everything in your programme was wrong. Just most of it.

The stereotypes you gave of the gay man eternally seeking sex, going to the sauna and having orgies and dangerous liaisons in woodland areas and thinking of nothing but nooky from morning till night is certainly true of some men – most men, I would say, at some time in their lives. The Sunday Mirror, for instance, reported that George Michael is (according to his cousin) “Hooked on cruising”. The paper luridly recounts how the “troubled singer” “roams the streets at night looking for casual gay sex.” But even that strays into Will and Grace territory when we are informed “He arranged a sex session in a luxury London hotel, but went to the wrong place and woke up an innocent guest.”

Yes, indeed, sex can be a pressing, inconvenient and occasionally ridiculous imperative for men of all orientations. It’s just that straight boys don’t have cruising grounds and saunas where, for the modest price of admission, lovely ladies are floating about waving their fannies and indicating that they are available for use free of charge. If such places did exist, straight men would be as rampant as gay men are. Indeed, because of the lack of equivalent opportunities, many straight men make use of the gay facilities to relieve the pressure. Take this example from The Sunday Mirror agony column: “I am a middle-aged man with a shameful secret. Despite being happily married with two children, I seek out random sex with strange men at night. There is a place in the local park where you can get sexually satisfied – often you don’t even see who you are having sex with…”

But even those gay men who might spend three hours a day at the sauna probably then have to go and earn a living and become another stereotype – maybe a gay builder or a nurse or a fireman. This previously sexually rapacious stereotype probably has to go to Tesco and cook the tea, and then conform to the gay housemaker stereotype, thinking about nothing but fabrics, colour schemes and designer furniture. Or maybe he goes to church and becomes stereotype number 15, or maybe he prefers football. By Simon’s reasoning, all these things would make him a stereotype simply because he’s also a gay man.

It is dangerous when the media folk get on the “all gay people are…” bandwagon and start pointing to some effeminate or ultra-camp member of the entertainment profession. We know better. The reason that people like Graham Norton, Larry Grayson, Kenneth Williams, John Inman and so on are comedians is because camp is fun. It makes people laugh. Indeed, in the programme Graham Norton said BBC bosses are forcing him to ‘camp it up’. Well, of course they are – that’s why he got that multi-million pound contract in the first place! It’s no use moaning about it now – you’re on the telly because you’re over-the-top and larger-than-life, Graham. Enjoy yourself and we’ll enjoy you, too.

But Simon Fanshawe pursed his lips and wagged a disapproving finger at camp comics and asked them “Aren’t you ashamed of bringing us all into disrepute with your foolishness?” But who really identifies with Julian Clary these days as anything other than as a funny entertainer? Are there really people sitting at home any more looking at old Carry On films and thinking: I must commit suicide because I’m doomed to behave like Kenneth Williams or Charles Hawtrey? Even Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey didn’t live like that! We know the difference these days between entertainment and real life.

Simon Fanshawe worries that the gay obsession with appearance is unhealthy. He says: “Our bathrooms look as though someone has dropped a bomb in a sample shop”. Do they? Mine doesn’t. Mine looks like the drug cabinet from Holby City. As my only concession to gaydom, it contains an unopened bottle of Old Spice that my granny gave me in 1984. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall revealed in one gossip column that his bathroom is likewise full of Head and Shoulders and TCP.

And this body fascism isn’t confined to the gay community; a lot of straight men are developing eating disorders, too. Young people of all sexual persuasions are living lives of hedonistic excess at the moment. It is just that young gay men do it a little differently, and there are actually some elements of gay socialising that are better than straight. The noticeable lack of violence, for instance, and the better maintenance of friendship circles.

Simon also laments the ageism that pervades our pubs and clubs – but why would young people want to socialise with people old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers? There comes a time when all gay people realise that they’ve had their turn on the meat rack and must move on to more sedate activities. It is not exclusion, it’s nature.

* * *

Journalist Nick Cohen has noticed that traditionally gay entertainment venues are being increasingly colonised by his straight friends. He recounts (in The London Evening Standard) going to a restaurant called Les Trois Garcons in Shoreditch, “a restaurant that is as camp as its name suggests”. But his fellow diners were “all heterosexual couples.” Then he took himself to a drag ballet and found the audience there similarly straight. He revealed: “Half the men I know have spent their stag nights with Madame JoJo’s Soho transvestites and then walked down the aisle – with a woman.”

Mr Cohen concludes that: “The straights have taken over camp London, which is perhaps why so many gays have decided to get married and have kids.”

When the new Equality Act comes into effect in October, this might become much more of an issue. As Lotte Jeffs pointed out in The Guardian: “Thinking that venues can continue to justify being ‘gay only’ is about as ridiculous as believing that lesbians really do sit around all day comparing biceps and talking about their cats. The Goods and Services Act [sic] will make it illegal for gay venues to dismiss people based on their real – or perceived – sexuality, and heterosexuals will be well within their rights to challenge harassment or discrimination.”

She doesn’t mind. She welcomes their ‘open-mindedness’ and challenges gay people to match it. But her views are not shared by others. Writing in response, Linda Calver of Sale in Cheshire asks when Lotte Jeffs last experienced Canal Street. “A lot of straight men I have encountered there certainly aren’t ‘putting their open-mindedness into action’. Indeed, quite a large number seem to have gone there for the express purpose of harassing lesbians and gay men. This all seems to me a very good argument for gay venues having the right to exclude heterosexuals. It’s a matter of feeling comfortable and safe and having a space that is ours.

Maybe we could learn something from the Christians here. In all these anti-discrimination laws, religionists have argued that they are special and must be exempted from certain aspects of the law, so that they can continue discriminating. Maybe we should also argue for an exemption on the grounds that the presence of heterosexuals, particularly religious ones, would destroy the “ethos” of any gay pub or club – just like gay teachers are supposed to destroy the “ethos” of faith schools and must therefore be kept out.

Or maybe we should just relax and demonstrate that we are better and more open hearted than the petty-minded religionists. And besides, some of those newly-minted Catholic priests – especially the Italian ones – are very easy on the eye.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH

“I really can’t see why the government couldn’t just say gay people can get married – that would have been true equality and so much simpler. But that hasn’t been done because they couldn’t face the furore.” – Sir Ian McKellen.

“It is too much. Nature mocks us, and poets live in torture. That love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement is not our fault. In everybody, the anus is as capable of sexual excitement as the lips.” – Sebastian Horsley, Observer Magazine.

“Homosexuality has become, whisper it, a little bit boring and workaday.” – Kathy Foley, The Times

GAY TIMES July 2006

Well, we’ve had all the romantic bit – the confetti and the cake, the champagne and the honeymoon. Now, after a brief period of walking on air, some civil partners are coming down to earth with a nasty bump. It turns out that “gay marriage” is not, after all, just a bit of fun around which to build a party. Turns out it’s a heavy, legally binding contract, and getting out of it isn’t quite as simple as walking away, like we used to when we decided that relationships weren’t working out.

Yes, gay divorce is upon us and, I’m afraid, it’s just as unpleasant for us as it is for straights. And just to make this easier to read, I’m going to use the term ‘marriage’ for both marriage and civil partnerships because to all intents and purposes they are the same.

Anyway, The Daily Mail got great pleasure in reporting “The First Gay Divorce”. Liz King and Daphne Ligthart tied the knot in February and split up in April, after having previously lived together for several years. The Mail was delighted to report that Miss King left the marital home for another woman – who had been a guest at the ceremony. It was all terribly sad, really, but it no doubt provided a few titters for The Mail’s ghastly staff and a few tutting I-told-you-so’s from its army of self-righteous readers.

A few days later, The Sun was also revelling in reporting the next catastrophe. Girl soldiers Sonya Gould and Vanessa Haydock had become the Army’s first civil partnership, undergoing the ceremony with much hoo-ha and howdy-do in the papers. But now they’ve split up – and with such acrimony that the police had to be called.

The Sun quotes “a pal” of the pair, saying: “It is no surprise – they are the most mismatched pair you could ever meet.”

The two 19-year olds, were both privates in the Royal Logistic Corps when they met two years ago. They registered their partnership in January, and at the time, Sonya said “It seemed so right”. But four months later the police had to be called to their base in Catterick, North Yorkshire after they got into a fist fight. One was cautioned for assault.

A couple of days later, Vanessa sold her story to The Sun, revealing that Sonya had dumped her by text message. In a fury, Vanessa went berserk and smashed up the home they shared, slashed Sonya’s clothes – including her uniform – and cut up her shoes. Sonya claimed that she had sent the text while she was drunk. Vanessa, however, says that she made “a stupid mistake” by going through with the ceremony and that she would now seek a divorce.

But that won’t be easy – or cheap.

No doubt we are going to see much more of this in the coming years. We don’t seem to have learned from the experiences of impetuous heterosexuals who rush in and then find they can’t rush out again quite so easily.

As Julian Ribet, a divorce lawyer, wrote in a letter to The Times: “Although Civil Partnerships are not marriage in the technical sense… on the dissolution of a civil partnership, in most cases there are likely to be serious financial consequences for the parties.” The Civil Partnership Act gives almost identical rights in applying for financial orders on dissolution as those that divorcing straight couples have.

Mr Ribet made reference to two very high profile straight divorce cases that had made the front pages last month, in which the women had been granted very generous settlements. Melissa Miller who, prior to her marriage was earning £85,000 a year, and is expecting now to resume her career, received £5 million from her husband’s £17.5 million stash – after a marriage lasting less than three years. Julia McFarlane was married for 18 years and got half the £3 million assets that she and her husband had accrued in their marriage. She was also awarded £250,000 a year out of her husband’s pay for the rest of her life.

Mr Ribet said that although there wasn’t any case law yet, it was likely that gay couples could expect similar treatment. “In theory,” he said, “the court will be guided by equality and will seek not to discriminate – between the civil partner who is ‘home maker/child carer’ and the civil partner who is the ‘breadwinner’. In reality, the duration of the partnerships (and pre-partnership cohabitation, if any) the respective contributions of the parties and whether there are children, will be relevant factors.”

So, if you’ve got a bit of dough, you can expect a civil partner – however long the partnership lasts – to have some kind of claim on it. And although prenuptial agreements have been feted as the answer, they have no legal standing. The court might consider them but are under no obligation to do so.

After the McFarlane case, the lawyer representing the semi-traumatised Mr McFarlane offered this advice: “One: don’t marry. Two: if you do, make sure your other half is as wealthy as you are. Three: do a prenuptial agreement and keep your fingers crossed.”

This seems to suggest that if you’re a big earner, or you’ve got a big cash stash, you shouldn’t marry.

But soon even that won’t protect you. The government is now considering giving something similar to marriage rights to unmarried couples, and that includes gay couples who haven’t registered their partnership.

The Daily Mirror reported it like this: “Under these proposals…. lower earners could win a share of the home, even if they had made no mortgage contributions, and they may also be entitled to a cash sum, maintenance or a pension.”

Minette Marrin in The Sunday Times was depressed by all this. She saw it as the last nail in the coffin of marriage (and civil partnership, even though we’ve only just got the hammer out). What’s the point when being married or not being married is the same thing? “No-one should embark on a serious relationship without taking a very sober thought for the morrow,” she said ruefully.

But rather than killing marriage off, the man who is leading the enquiry into giving rights to the unmarried, Sir Roger Toulson, thinks it will stimulate more people to take the plunge. After all, there would no longer be any financial benefit for them to stay single.

Indeed, one of the proposals is that cohabiting couples will be treated as married unless they actively opt-out of the system. In other words, egairram (that’s marriage backwards) – you have to sign a contract saying you’re not married, rather one that says you are! Living in sin is the new default position!

What on earth are the bishops going to make of this? Fetch the smelling salts! I can see a bout of collective swooning coming on among their reverences.

But need they worry? Not according to Adrian Hamilton in The Independent. He sees no future for marriage as a “sacrament” among the population at large – fewer and fewer are opting for church weddings. But he does see that it still has meaning for the religious. “For them, marriage is a sacrament of their faith before it is either a legal contract or financial settlement. Marriage in its centuries-long tradition, will survive among believers because it springs from their deep conviction. Perhaps as more and more of us opt for a civil service or none at all, it may be that the real meaning of the marriage service is about to reassert itself.”

Perhaps, eventually, then, the English churches will come to their senses and do what the Church of Scotland has done, and permit those ministers who want to, to bless civil partnerships and allow into the fold those gay people who – for some reason that eludes me – want to be part of the church.

* * *

Excuses, excuses. Really, some of them are nothing short of pathetic. Mark Oaten started the trend when he was shat on by his rent boy (once literally, for £80 and then again metaphorically for £20,000 when he sold his story to the tabloids). Mr Oaten gave a long, maundering interview to The Sunday Times explaining why it was that he couldn’t stop himself going to rent boys. It was all to do with his hair falling out, apparently.

After that little justification, he was roundly joshed by the papers who couldn’t help laughing at the feebleness of it. If he’d just said – I was feeling incredibly randy and wanted a bit of man on man action, everyone would have accepted it as a normal human impulse, albeit one that he was stupid to act upon. But really – “I went to a prostitute because I only need to buy economy sized shampoos these days.” Can you credit it?

And then comes the grandly named Reverend Mugerwa Smith Wilkinson of Stockport, who wrote a letter to The Independent, explaining why Ugandans are thoroughgoing homophobes. Apparently, it’s all because the King of the Buganda (as Uganda was called in pre-colonial times) had 52 page boys for his sexual gratification. “Homosexual activity was a normal activity in Buganda society,” the Rev reveals. “The British missionaries taught the page boys that homosexuality is a sin. When the boys refused the advances of the Kabaka (king) he had them wrapped in faggots of wood and burnt. These 52 boys are feted as Uganda Martyrs and the Church of Uganda is founded upon their martyrdom. Because of this, homosexuality is seen as an icon of oppression by many Africans and abhorred for this reason.”

Oh give me a break Mugerwa, old boy. If homosexuality was common in Buganda then, it is common in Uganda now. People don’t stop having the kind of sex they want because of stories like this. The reason the present-day population of Uganda is homophobic is because your lousy church has encouraged them to be.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

“I am only too happy to believe that Jesus was married. I know that the Catholic Church has problems with gay people and I thought this would be absolute proof for them that Jesus was not gay,” (Ian McKellen at the launch of the Da Vinci Code)

“Gay partnerships are congruous with the deepest biblical truths, about faithfulness and stability.” (Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford.)

“I can just about accept a Minister who, in the name of her God gives herself a good thrashing before setting off for the office. What I find more difficult to accept is that her new job is about promoting equal opportunities for gays when her religion says they are all sinners, and her duty is to spread that message.” (Carole Malone on Ruth Kelly, Sunday Mirror)

GAY TIMES August 2006

In my years working for the gay press, I have seen some pretty nasty and spiteful cases of discrimination against gay people. A recent example was the couple who were turned away from a B&B in Scotland because they wanted to share a double bed.

Some registrars around the country have been reluctant to conduct civil partnerships, even though they are civil servants and supposed to serve the whole community equally. Thousands of cases of petty-minded prejudice are practised against gay people every day. And the hard thing was that there was nothing we could do about it. The law provided no protection. So, if a pub wanted to turn us away because they didn’t want “our sort” defiling their premises, or a local community centre decided it didn’t want to host a gay group, there was nothing we could do.

That will soon change. The Government is proposing to bring forward in October regulations aimed at protecting gay people from this sort of humiliating treatment. The Sexual Orientation (Provision of Goods and Services) Regulations will also make discrimination against gays illegal in the same way as it is on the grounds of race or sex. The proposed legislation will make it a duty on private and voluntary organisations not to discriminate if they exercise a function on behalf of a public authority.

At last! Another important step towards equality, you say. But wait, what is this posse of shrieking old women, galloping round the corner with their frocks blowing in the wind, and knickers in a twist? Why, it’s the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, no less. And they do not like the idea of homosexual people being protected from unfair treatment. They do not like it at all.

In a response to the Government’s consultation on the Regulations, the CofE says that religion must be exempted from the obligation to treat gay people in a civilised way. They want to retain their age-old right to trample on us, insult us and humiliate us in so many little ways. In its response to the consultation, the Church says that it is concerned that Church Schools will be included in the regulations. (“Church Schools”, you might like to know, represent almost a third of our education system and their running costs are paid for entirely with taxpayers’ money. Despite this, the churches regard them as “theirs”, to do with as they please (including refusing to hire gay teachers).

The CofE fears that the new regulations might require it to teach about homosexuality in sex education lessons in a way that contradicts church doctrines. That is to say, the church wants to teach its pupils that gay sex is wrong, wrong, wrong and they will go to hell if they do it. The Archbishops, though, being the gentle people that they are, put this less bluntly. They claim that “behaviour”, not orientation, is their main concern.

This is an outright lie, as everybody who remembers the Jeffrey John affair will know. Canon Jeffrey John was offered the post of Bishop of Reading, but when it became clear he was gay, he was quickly given the bum-boys rush by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan (weedy) Williams. (And this was after Jeffrey had sworn on the Bible that he was celibate and did not mank about with his boyfriend in any way that would disturb the vicarage tea party)

The Church also wants the right to refuse to hire “its” schools’ premises to gay people for use outside of school hours. It says that “Faith schools might be required to make their premises equally available to groups that… could give considerable offence to the conscientiously held beliefs of staff and parents.” So, you see, your very existence is offensive to decent, church-going people. They don’t want you going into their children’s school and polluting it in some, yet to be identified, way.

The Scottish Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brien came to Westminster to join in the gay-bashing. He told MPs: “A fundamental principle has to underpin any proposal for regulation is that freedom of conscience of individuals must be respected. It is not licit to force an individual to act contrary to his moral belief. It is a well-established and reasonable moral position to regard homosexual acts and the promotion of moral equivalence of heterosexual and homosexuals as wrong.” [Note: Cardinal O’Brien resigned in 2013 after The Observer revealed in its 23 February 2013 edition that he had engaged in inappropriate and predatory sexual behaviour with junior priests and student priests and that he abused power. He admitted that he had acted inappropriately with male youngsters throughout the whole of his career in the Catholic Church. He had been doing this even though he had said homosexuals were “captives of sexual aberrations”and homosexuality was “moral degradation.” Even the Vatican’s conveniently blind eye couldn’t overlook O’Brien’s own moral degradation!].

Of course, the Church’s demand to be allowed to continue practising its bigotry against gay people (when everyone else, without exception, cannot) created a lot of comment. Simon Sarmiento in The Church Times says the Church’s case is undermined when it admits in its document that “a range of views is held on that moral issue within the Church”. But the voices of those who don’t want to be spiteful to their fellow citizens – who happen to be gay – don’t get a voice in this response. It seems the bigots have well and truly taken over the Church of England to the exclusion of all others.

Michael Hampson, author of “Last Rites: the End of the Church of England” (published by Granta in October), wrote in The Guardian: “Gay clergy are invited to speak about their experience, but if it involves a committed relationship they will be summarily dismissed, unless they swear the relationship is celibate. This ought to be illegal. In other organisations it is. The church alone has the exemption from human rights law, carefully negotiated by Lambeth Palace, that the church alone might continue, unhindered, in its oppression of its own gay members and staff.”

But, of course, there were supporters for Dr Williams and his increasingly repellent cronies. Take Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday (yes, please take Peter Hitchens). In his usual hyperbolic way, Mr Hitchens makes the Regulations into something that will compel him to approve of homosexuality. “Having justly accepted that what people did behind closed bedroom doors was their business, we are now being ordered to step inside the bedroom and applaud. Or else,” he claims. He says it is the Thought Policeman’s Dream. “It pretends – and this is at the heart of all this rubbish – that choosing to do homosexual acts and declaring homosexual tastes is the same as being black. This is simply false.”

So, if a gay couple were to be turfed out of their digs because their landlord had suddenly discovered the nature of their relationship, and they washed up at the local Christian-run hostel, desperate for somewhere to pass a cold night, would it be OK for the shelter to turn them away, simply because they were gay and won’t hide the fact that they are perfectly legal civil partners? Would a black man and his wife be treated like this? Of course not. That, on the Hitchens’ reasoning, would be truly outrageous. After all, a married couple consists of real people, not gays who, in Mr Hitchens’ world have no authentic feelings or needs and are immune to injustice.

Then came Melanie Phillips, The Daily Mail’s prize poison-spreader. She repeated the completely nonsensical mantra that the law will force “a priest, a rabbi or an imam to fall foul of the law by refusing to bless a sexual union between same-sex couples.” The Church is already completely protected from having to do this. If lying is the only way she can make her argument stand up, then what kind of argument is it?

Ms Phillips says that the regulations will “turn our very understanding of prejudice and discrimination inside out.” She claims that the law will promote discrimination against religions.

This is how she sees it: all major religions (indeed, all religions) are homophobic. It is part and parcel of their very core. Therefore, any legal requirement to act against those tenets will cause Christians to act against their conscience and therefore amount to discrimination against them and their faith.

This is all fine and dandy. But what about Harry Hardcastle, who drinks in the Dog and Bigot and likes to hold forth on the evils of homosexuality? He thinks “them pansies” should be sent to an island and shot. He wouldn’t give them the snot off his nose. He thinks homosexuals should be made outcasts from society. And after his sixth pint he will tell you plainly that if any of them come into his shop, trying to buy the Radio Times, it wouldn’t be a dick they’d have up their bum but his boot. He holds these opinions with enormous sincerity. He feels them deeply. They are part of his personality, his very core. He is an atheist.

Now, given that Harry and the Archbishop appear to share very similar opinions about gays, and both claim that those opinions are a necessary and immutable part of who they are, then why can’t Harry have the right to denigrate and discriminate against gays? Why can’t he have an exemption, too? Why can’t he put a notice up outside his newsagent’s shop saying “Rooms available for all functions – no poofs or lesbos, no dogs”, just like church halls can? Indeed, why bother having any protection at all. Leave us at the mercy of every shaven-headed (or dog-collared) bigot going?

The fact is, the churches want us to believe that their fairy stories give them some special right to be disgustingly unjust and not get punished for it. Well, it’s time for someone to say it – they shouldn’t.

And that person is Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who told the Press Association: “Schools are not the place for religious moralising about sexual orientation. Religious organisations need to understand that they must save that for the pulpit, not the classroom.”

It isn’t clear yet how far the Government will go in complying with the Church’s demands. But last time round, when the Employment Discrimination Regulations were being formulated, the Church of England came along after the consultation had closed and demanded massive exemptions. And guess what – the Government gave them. Are we about to see a repeat here?

QUOTES OF THE MONTH

“People are not born gay, it is something they choose” – Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Bishops Conference.

“I am not an abomination before God” – Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire

“Homophobic bullying happens in every school in the country and crosses every social boundary” – Andrew Mellor, Anti-Bullying Network.

GAY TIMES September 2006

Before you start reading this, I want to reassure you that you are still living in the 21st century, even though the developments I will describe might convince you you’ve been transported back to the Dark Ages.

The Gay Police Association (GPA) is under investigation by its own constabulary colleagues for allegedly committing what has been described as a “faith crime.” Yes, a faith crime! The local rozzers, it seems, have been given the job previously undertaken by the Spanish Inquisition of rooting out heretics and blasphemers.

It all started with an advertisement in The Independent, when the GPA announced a new report they had assembled which suggested most of the homophobia in this country is at present emanating from religious sources. “In the last 12 months, the GPA has recorded a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator,” it said.

You wouldn’t have thought there was much to argue about that – what with the Pope frothy-mouthed every time he hears mention of gay marriage and the Archbishops’ Council lobbying to keep its right to discriminate against gay people in employment and in the provision of goods and services, and various Islamic clerics issuing fatwas indicating the kind of execution that is appropriate for homosexuals, and deciding the most gruesome is best.

The main trouble came with the illustration in the ad, which showed a Bible with a pool of blood beside it. This infuriated the usual band of militant evangelical Christian agitators, who are constantly scouting round for issues to be outraged about. The purpose of these constant offence-takings is, of course, to rally the brain-dead congregations of the evangelical churches. If you can convince these zombies that their faith is “under attack”, you can get them to do almost anything in its defence.

At the moment this amounts to just letter-writing and demonstrating, which is fine. But if you keep firing up over-emotional people, one day they’ll go pop. We saw this with the Danish Cartoons debacle and the Muslim activists who whipped up a lethal world-wide riot about it. Now the “muscular Christians” are trying to hop on the same bandwagon. They look on in envy as they see the success of the Muslim extremists in achieving “respect” for their religion by terrifying everybody into silence. And what better issue could the Christians have chosen to be on their high horse about than homosexuality? It worked in the USA, so why not pull the same trick here?

So, the GPA’s advertisement was reported to Scotland Yard by a cleric from Operation Christian Voice, a supposed political party that regularly contests elections and invariably loses its deposit as it counts its votes in the three and four hundred category.

That’s fine, so far. They’re just exercising their democratic right to complain and demonstrate and protest.

But what’s this? The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) is inciting Christians to add to the complaint at Scotland Yard. It provides email addresses and telephone numbers of the police officers who are dealing with the case.

Andrea Minichello Williams of the LCF has sent a circular to her fellow fundamentalists advising them that the inquiry has been transferred from Scotland Yard to Holborn Police Station, and so Christian complaints should be redirected there. “All complaints are still being recorded so it gives the police an extremely useful indicator of the strength of feeling on this issue simply by the number of complaints being made.”

But how accurate would that indicator be? These are not spontaneous expressions of offence – they are orchestrated from religious dead-heads who will – as I said – do anything if their church leader tells them to.

Ms Williams writes in her circular: “Whether or not the CPS decides to prosecute, the clearer our complaints, the more likely disciplinary action will be taken against the Gay Police Association to prevent further blasphemous advertising. It is therefore important to register your complaint.”

This same crew of evangelicals is also lobbying hard to be exempted from the new regulations aimed at protecting gay people from discrimination in the provision of goods and services – another perfect issue to fire up paranoia among the thought-free faithful. A letter to The Daily Telegraph signed by 176 of these politicised pastors said that the new anti-discrimination laws actually represented discrimination against Christians in order “to appease minority groups”. “The regulations force Christians in churches, businesses, charities and informal associations to accept and even promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality. For the sake of clarity, this is not what the Bible teaches, and it is not what we believe to be the truth. In our view, these regulations are an affront to our freedom to be Christians,” wrote the clergymen, under the banner Coherent and Cohesive Voice (although what is cohesive about wanting to retain the right to hate-monger against your fellow citizens is unclear).

Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement responded to the attack by writing his own letter to The Telegraph: “Reforming the law should help create a greater degree of Christian – and humane – behaviour among those who fall short of it. The reason the law needs to be changed is because that is the only way lesbian and gay people can be protected from discrimination by their intolerant co-religionists.”

Back at the Gay Police Association, there is another complication – the ongoing argument it is having with the Christian Police Association. When a gay police officer applied to join the Christian police group he was told in no uncertain terms that he would have to give up sex first.

Vic Codling, national co-ordinator of the Gay Police Association (are you still with me?) was outraged about this and reported the Christian Police Association to the governing body, the Police Federation. He told the BBC: “Black or female police officers wouldn’t be asked to be ‘less black’ or ‘less female’ in order to join staff associations, so why should gay or lesbian officers?” Reasonable, no?

No, says Ann Widdecombe in her Daily Express column. She put the Christian grievance this way: “What we are now faced with is not equality but a hierarchy of equalities. When any human right comes up against homosexual rights the latter must always win.” She then went on to make this threat: “Hitherto, Christians have fought with argument and protest and the powers that be, including the government, the BBC and police, have brushed us off. The time has come to use the very weapons that have been so successfully used against us. We should complain formally of hate crimes and stirring up of religious hatred and demand our human rights to religious freedom and to religious conscience.”

I wonder if Ann could pinpoint any human right that gay rights trample over – besides the supposed “religious freedom” (which amounts to a freedom to persecute) demanded by Christians? The battle here is not between gay rights and everyone else, but between religious rights and everyone else. For instance, last month a blind woman won a discrimination case against a Muslim taxi driver who wouldn’t carry her guide dog because his religion regards dogs as “unclean” in the same way it does pigs. Gay people don’t practice such discrimination against other people.

As for “stirring up religious hatred” – it seems that any adverse comment about religion, however carefully framed and however well researched, now constitutes a “faith crime”. We are on very dangerous ground here. The free speech that underpins our democracy is beginning to crumble under these assaults.

The confrontation between the Gay Police Association and the Christian Police Association is, in microcosm, the fate that will befall the proposed new Commission for Equality and Human Rights when it comes into existence. This body will supposedly oversee all the human rights legislation covering discrimination on grounds of age, race, sex, disability, religion and belief and sexual orientation. It has become quite clear over the past few months that gay rights and the newly-politicised religious rights are completely incompatible. I don’t think Solomon is available to lead this body, but whoever does get the unenviable task will need his wisdom if they are ever going to reconcile the rights and wrongs of these ever-conflicting communities.

Ann Widdecombe says there is a hierarchy of equalities. She is right. But it is gays who are at the very bottom of that hierarchy. The religious exemptions already granted in discrimination law, and those which will be granted in forthcoming law, mean that religion will be permitted to continue its spiteful discriminations against gay people.

The battle is only just beginning, but the fundamentalists are becoming increasingly aggressive and threatening. They have declared war on us, but we must be ready to fight back with reason and compassion, not with bans and demands for censorship. Let the religious bigots have their say, let them rant and rave. We should not seek to silence them, but to engage with their arguments and demolish their petty-minded demands with reason.

If we don’t win the debate with justice on our side, then the newly-amassing Christian soldiers are going to trample our newly-minted rights into the ground.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH

“Children need to understand the society they live in, and that various types of family exist: ones where there are two parents, a single parent or homosexuals, To deny it is to deny reality, no matter what controversy it causes.” – Spanish Education Minister Alejandro Tiana.

“I think gay marriage is wrong. I’m considered homophobic and crazy about these things and old fashioned. But I think the family – father, mother, children – is fundamental to our civilisation.” – Media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

“If my oldest Italian friend, a devout Christian, who came to our civil partnership with her husband and children, could say in tears after the ceremony that she found it beautiful and that nothing in it offended her Italian Catholic consciousness, then I fear the church is in danger of being left on the wrong side of history” – Ben Bradshaw, MP.

GAY TIMES October 2006

The gay and straight worlds are not separate universes. Homosexuals and heterosexuals are not different species. In fact, the connecting door between gay life and straight life is now swinging so far ajar these days that it is falling off its hinges.

To get down to fundamentals, Matthew Parris in an article in The Times challenges the idea that sexuality is fixed and that there is no choice in whether we are straight or gay. “I think sexuality is a supple as well as a subtle thing, and can sometimes be influenced, even promoted; that in some people drives can be discouraged and others encouraged; I think some people can choose.”

It’s a confused sort of article that has a grain of truth in it. On the one hand Matthew Parris says that there are people who are completely straight and completely gay (himself included), but that there are thousands of others who are wavering, according to circumstance and opportunity.

This isn’t a new idea, of course. But Mr Parris thinks that it is being resisted by gay activists because if we didn’t have clear blue water between “gay” and “straight”, then it would give succour to those who claim that homosexuality needs to be challenged, treated and eradicated.

“We gays have lived in a transitional era,” he writes, “in which we very much wanted to believe the claim that ‘God made us like this’ and ‘we can’t help it’. Whether or not this is true, it is comforting for those troubled by suppressed guilt, and has proved a knock-down argument against those moral conservatives who say we could choose, and therefore should choose, not to be gay. It has also seemed to rebut the complaint that homosexuality could be ‘promoted’ or that gay men might ‘corrupt’ potential heterosexuals.”

Mr Parris says that equality – true equality – will only be arrived at when we are as “careless as a blond or redhead might be whether we were made that way.”

“Does ‘I can’t help being black’ strike you as a self-respecting argument against racism? That ‘I can’t help it’ is a subtly self-oppressing argument for acceptance does not seem to have occurred to supposedly liberated gay activists, for whom it has always been an easy way of ending the argument.”

What Mr Parris doesn’t tell us, is what we do to oppose those religious activists who are determined to create the impression that homosexuality must be eradicated, because they believe it can be. If ‘God made us’, then God can unmake us, in their view.

But there are some of us – and Mr Parris is self-confessedly one of that number – who really don’t have a choice. Those of us who are right at the far end of the gay spectrum and don’t have the ambiguity of a Mark Oaten or a Ron Davis in our approach to the opposite sex. Where do we stand in this worldview? And how do we defend ourselves against those who tell us that we are simply being contrary, and that we really don’t have to live the kind of lifestyle that we do? If Matthew Parris thinks I have the option of saying: ‘Yes, maybe on day I’ll perhaps settle down with a lady friend and have kiddies and the whole damn thing” he has never paid a visit to the inside of my head.

Another writer for The Times, Iris Scott, told how “A week before my wedding I discovered that my partner had been cruising gay saunas for the past couple of years.” When she challenged him about this, he insisted that he wasn’t gay and begged her to give him a chance to “sort himself out.” He subsequently started therapy and his psychiatrist told him that, indeed, he wasn’t gay, but a sex addict.

Printed alongside her piece was another piece from a gay man who said he found it “odd to read of a woman’s shock of ‘discovering’ that her male partner likes men” because gay bars are full of so-called straight men. Iris was told by a gay friend of hers: “Of course gay trumps straight every time”.

Iris then asked Times readers what she should do. Their verdict on her dilemma was: no doubt about it, he’s gay.

But in a follow-up article, Iris Scott told how the story had developed. She had agreed with her partner – whom she called B – that the story should be printed. But she felt guilty that she had exposed him to public criticism. “But my guilt was misplaced,” she wrote. “As was my assertion that he must be homosexual. Unbeknown to me, three weeks earlier, before I’d even decided to write the article, B had slept with a prostitute, or a ‘tart’, as he calls them, and then slept with me the next day. There he was all over the papers, found guilty by a public jury of being a closet homosexual, and all the time he knew that a week ago, he knew he’d been having sex with a female prostitute.”

So, what is going on with B? “Looking back on everything that has happened,” writes Iris, “I don’t think B is gay; he’s a sex addict. He finds sex with strangers irresistible, a need as much as a pleasure. It doesn’t matter who they are – a sauna, a magazine, a grotty flat, a website – as long as it’s illicit, he doesn’t know them and there’s no intimacy.”

Iris wonders whether B’s attitude to sex is any different to the “gruesome” attitudes of the men he works with. B’s psychiatrist says that all men would be as promiscuous as some gay men are, if they had the chance. The only thing stopping them is women.”

Perhaps this is the explanation for the appearance of former defence minister Ivor Caplin putting himself on a “kinky website” “looking for orgies with men in uniform”. Caplin was uncovered (so to speak) by The News of the World which revealed that although he is the father of two sons and a daughter and only recently divorced from his wife of 20 years – he wants “group sex and other activities” with men in military and medical uniforms. He is quoted as saying: “My sexuality has been known to family and friends for some time.” But the question is: how long has heknown about it?

And, I suppose, we can insert George Michael into the equation here. There was a lot of tabloid tutting over George’s carryings-on on Hampstead Heath, but he was unrepentant, and insisted that it was part of his “culture” to go mooching in the bushes at midnight for a bit of disconnected cock. Johann Hari, writing in The London Evening Standard, said that George was “part of an older generation of gay men, and the fact that he comes from a very conservative immigrant community locates him even further back on the long road to progress. He didn’t come out and find a lover – as opposed to a shag – until he was in his thirties. He is closer psychologically to his uncle – one of the countless generations of gay people lost to homophobia – than he is to the generation of gay men I belong to, who find the idea of having sex in a lavatory or behind a bush pretty grim. He belongs to a generation that couldn’t adjust to open homosexuality, who preferred to remain in the shadow in the night rather than the lingering romance in the lights.”

But it’s not always sex that causes the confusion in the increasing cross-over between gay and straight culture. For women this cross over is far less problematic than men. Women with gay best friends are frequent, but straight men who like – even prefer – the company of gay men, but not the sex, are less obvious. One of them surfaced in the agony column of Salon.com, an on-line magazine. Its advice columnist Cary Tennis received a plea from a straight man – styling himself as “I-less in Gayza” – who just likes being around gay men but feels a bit funny about it. “I-less” had been divorced twice – and was no stranger to relationships with women before then, but “I just couldn’t get along with them. I was too critical, not attentive enough, just plain ornery, whatever.”

But the one thing that all these women had brought into his life was gay men. They all had gay friends and he had come to enjoy socialising with them. “I-less” found them such a relief from the straight men “who have too much focus on sports scores and cars, too much bluff and testosterone. I don’t find them relaxing to be around.”

He wants to make clear that he isn’t gay (“I’ve always been a pussy hound”) and finds the idea of “kissing a man, sucking dick or sharing a poop chute” a “total turn-off”. He’s convinced he isn’t suppressing anything – he just likes gay company. “What’s going on with me, Cary?” he asks.

Mr Tennis is a wise old owl who hits the nail straight on the head. “Maybe this isn’t about gayness at all; maybe it’s about friendship.” he tells his enquirer. “Maybe you like gay men because they exhibit a talent for friendship: concern for your well-being, discretion, wit, compassion, intelligence, good manners, discernment.” Gay men represent an antidote to straightness – not in the sexual sense, but in an emotional sense.

Cary says that he – and probably a lot of other straight men – need a relief from the narrow world of machismo. “Who wants to sit around with boring, rigid, frightened men, closed off and incurious? Yikes.”

This is getting interesting. Cary says that: “Some of us straight men grow up with only one way to be intimate with other people, and that’s by having sex with them. The only people we can have sex with is women, so the only intimacy we have is with women. So, if our relationships with women fail, we have no intimacy at all.”

So, Cary says: “But gayness – that is, your idea of gayness – performs an essential service to your psyche. It lets you off the hook, insulating you from the pressure to perform as a macho, heterosexual man. If you were with women, you might feel you had to play the aggressor or suitor or hotshot; and if you were with straight men you might feel pressure to play your role as competitive male. Being with men you regard as gay, with whom you are not competing for women, and who you don’t fear will look down on you if you show an occasional vulnerability, frees you from expectations, so you can just relax and be yourself.”

I think there are many straight men who would benefit from that advice.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH

“When I was a kid, I asked my mother: ‘Mum? What’s a transvestite?’ She said: ‘That’s your father, son. I’m over here.’” – Adrian Poynton, comedian, Edinburgh Festival

“For all those guys who posture and rant about the pleasure that condoms deprive them of, I have this question: Have you ever had an orgasm worth dying for?”- Dr. Monica Sweeney, State University of New York Health Sciences Center.

“George Michael claims it’s how gays behave. It’s not. It’s simply how he behaves.” – Simon Napier-Bell, former Wham! manager.