Into a different closet

What happens when gay men cross the great sexuality divide and dare to go straight?

THE LATEST cinematic outgoing for Friends star Jennifer Aniston, The Object Of My Affection, casts her as a heterosexual woman falling for her male, homosexual best friend. Her love remains unrequited. She will never sleep with him, but whenever she wants to shop, he's her man.

As Hollywood has only recently brought gay co-stars out of the celluloid closet, we can hardly expect them to comprehend the prospect of a homosexual character with a happy, heterosexual ending. But how would it be if the girl did get the gay guy in the end? And not simply in the manner which someone described W Somerset Maughn's switching of sexual allegiances: "(he) has no fear of vaginal teeth - he just simply shut his eyes and thought of Capri".

In the current climate, this would be the love that dare not speak its name. If a gay man goes straight it is unclear whether it's a way of `going in' or another form of `coming out'. But it's guaranteed to incense certain gay comrades and confuse straight ones. Particularly now that the liberal male hearth has embraced gays the way it previously welcomed blacks into the fold, with all the subtlety of the Lenny Bruce joke about `how to relax your coloured friend at parties'. How would the liberal lad accommodate another minority? Who would the role model be?

There is of course, Albert Square's Tony Hills, who has slipped from the arms of Simon the stallholder into those of Theresa from the Trattoria. Randomly accessing the recent past, we find two examples from pop and poetry. There's Tom Robinson, who informed the racks of Our Price that he was "glad to be gay" when punk and protest were in the air. These days he's rumoured to have a girlfriend and a child in tow.

Stephen Spender once said that many men are uncertain of their sexuality until their late twenties. After the homosexual relationships of his youth he settled down to marriage and fatherhood.

When the series Gay Time TV featured a group of gay men who had been, or were being, straightened out by a team of over-zealous Christians, it was justifiably ridiculed. But when a gay man crosses sexuality's wide divide into the other camp, all hell breaks loose among his former peers.

The camp cries are akin to those that greeted the news that David Bowie had lost his touch when he went hetero and made Heroes.

Gay men become like Jewish mothers on hearing their son is dating a gentile. The outraged reactions are mostly shrill squeals from gay campaigners who have spent years clocking up the numbers.

The gay man going straight is viewed on a par with Dorothy Gale leaving the technicolour world of Emerald City, for the monochrome home of traditional family life. And if that seems extreme, imagine if Elton were to hand in his fancy dress and return to Renata.

Sexuality is still seen in either black or white. It's Arthur or Martha and anyone who oscillates wildly between the two can find themselves lightly ostracised by the inversion. Meanwhile, the lifestyles of transvestism and drag get the green light, and sado- masochism is allowed its accoutrements.

Whilst back at the Millennium Dome New Labour proffers a larger than life body with no sex to represent the race into the millennium. But a human without genitals is like a minister without portfolio.

Perhaps for those for whom sexuality is protean rather than fixed, Gore Vidal puts it best: "homosexual is an adjective, not a noun descriptive of a human being."

This appears to be the underlying theme of the controversial new ad for Impulse perfume. Heralded as the first to depict a gay and happy ending, the boy does get the boy, but there is a twist in the tale. The man makes eye contact with a woman, suggesting that acting on impulse, he could go either way.

The sentiment echoes that of the writer Phil Mullen, putting the case for a new, multi-sexuality in The Gay Alternative way back in 1974. "Now that we're finally learning that gay is good, we'll have to start learning that gay isn't good enough," he wrote. "Some of us will obviously be able to make more progress in this area than others."

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