Forget the movies, the stage, music. Tell our life like it really is
Friday 21 June 1996
Anyhow, I'm Andrew, and I'm your writer for today. Usually I run a computer help desk, but this is an emergency.
John was reading the editorial comment in the gay press earlier and he laughed so hard he dislocated something. The doctor's been, and right this second he's relaxing in a warm Radox bath with Chaps, the rubber duck and a inflatable, life-size Tom Cruise doll. Now, I say life-size. I keep telling John it's only four foot tall, but John just laughs and says "Point?"
We've been trying to decide what I might bang on about. I suggested Brian Sewell, of the London Evening Standard, and how he had penned a piece that began by lambasting John Major for attacking the National Lottery for giving money to gay organisations and ended by telling the Prime Minister that he was lucky to be normal, that homosexuality was an affliction that gay men had to bear bravely.
John and I hummed a few bars of the National Anthem as we mulled it over, then John rolled his eyes and said Brian Sewell was an affliction gay men had to bear bravely. Was there anything else?
Yes. "Heston and Vidal are at it again."
John look startled and says beg your pardon, and I explain that the boys are still disputing Chuck's motivation in Ben Hur. Gore, who worked on the script, claims that the scene where Ben (or is it Hur?) meets his boyhood friend Massala again has a homosexual subtext, and that Stephen Boyd played it that way - former lovers reunited - without Chuck knowing, because if Chuck had known he would have fallen apart.
"And who would want to be responsible for that much wood hitting the ground?" John says, which I happen to know is a line from Vidal's autobiography. Anyway, Chuck says, no, no Nanette, no funny stuff.
Now, John and I went to a preview of the documentary The Celluloid Closet recently and it runs that entire obviously romantic moment, and what can I tell you, except that Helen Keller herself would have clocked that Massala wants free and unfettered access tobig Ben's toga. When in Rome...
John asks me to scrub his back - mow it, more like - and mutters mmm. You could manage a few thoughts about Chuck's craven heterosexual reluctance to acknowledge same-sex desire, he announces, or, he grins, you might care to take Heston's side and establish that homo-eroticism isn't the same as homosexuality. Why should the feelings of love that straight men might have for one another be labelled as anything other than that - love. Why must the gay mind forever descend to the mucky?
I remind him that we'd seen the offending sequence and it was clearly about two guys in sheets who want to shag.
That's true, John admits. But you could package it with American fundamentalists demanding that the song "Out There" be cut from the new Disney cartoon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, because it shares its title with a gay advocacy group, and do a dissertation on how the mainstream shuttles between now- you-see-it, now-you-don't, and, he shouts, getting excited, if you mention that an old folks group in Birmingham has changed its name to the Gay Gnomes Club to get Lottery cash, then you could write about no matter if it's recognition or denial, heterosexuality is permanently fascinated - obsessed - with homosexuality.
He's about to shriek Eureka, so I point out that he's probably already done that column - that he's always doing that column.
"Then veer to the domestic," he snaps. "Write about Will and his new bloke, James the priest. About how when they go to bed we rush to the CD and crank Eternal's `I am Blessed' and Dusty's `Son of a Preacher Man' to top volume."
Or, I butt in, I could do a column about the column, and what it's like, if you're Will, James or me, to turn up in it, to feel as if you've been made into a fiction. It's not like being outed exactly, but, as I tell John, "That column about adjusting to the fact that I'd slept with a lot more people than you - the one where you wrote that it would be quicker to make a list of the people I hadn't slept with because, really, who had that much time on their hands?"
John says he always asks permission doesn't he, he changes names, it's his life, too, isn't it? Besides, he continues, gay men are kind of fictional. Our lives aren't the conventional, preordained narratives - engagement, marriage, children, extended family - so we look to movies, books, the stage, music for references. Movies like Ben Hur, maybe music like `Out There', maybe even in news coverage like Brian Sewell's. We make it up as we go along, our existences built around the inherent "drama" of our "supposed problem".
I blink. John mumbles it's only a theory.
I reply good, because me, I'm mighty real. Then Ba, John says, write about that, write about being real.
So that's what this column is about, I hope. Being real: not a paragraph in the press, a dispute on the screen, or an affliction posing as a good cause. The real. Or it would be if John wasn't upstairs shouting for the bicycle repair kit because Tom has a puncture and is disappearing down the plughole.
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