John Lyttle

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Indy Lifestyle Online
These may be the days of "strays" (gay-acting straight men) and "says" (straight-acting gay men) and it might be nigh impossible to tell the two apart in a room with poor track lighting, and you may have heard the smart talk about monolithic male sexuality evolving into something polymorphous and available to all, but, ladies and gentlemen and those who can't make up their minds, trust me - in the ways that count, heterosexual man and homosexual man are still as different as chalk and sleaze.

I know. I've been to the one true fount of wisdom and seen the truth. I have been to ... a movie preview.

Well, two previews. First I saw - all right, endured - When Saturday Comes, a film about inarticulate, working-class Jimmy (Sean Bean) suffering, suffering, suffering to become a professional footballer (he wants to be professional but plays for Sheffield United - go figure). It's butch and Made in Britain. Then I saw - OK, was an innocent bystander at - Jeffrey, about a fey, gay New York waiter cum wannabe actor (Steven Weber) looking for Mr Right in the age of Aids: "Love's an adventure when one of you is sure and the other is Positive." It's camp and Born in the USA.

However, both tell essentially the same story. WSC and Jeffrey are Boys' Own fantasies about Finding Yourself (though you may ask yourself why Jimmy and Jeffrey can't simply Get Lost). They just travel their own special roundabout route to the same place - that dream destination we call Happy Ending.

Now, Jeffrey should get there before Jimmy, because he's driving a motor mouth. Jeffrey talks about his feelings. In fact, as Jeffrey is a Therapy Queen, he won't shut up. The most over-developed part of his body are his lips. Jimmy the straight striker, of course, communicates best with his feet, feet being as far away from the treacherous mouth as possible. But then, Jimmy has problems with the male body in general and his own in particular. His training is strictly solitary confinement, barely coded punishment: blood, sweat and tears. When we glimpse Jeffrey at the gym, it's communal, and sexual: blood, sperm and queers.

Jeffrey likes his body as much as he likes other men's. He's continually kissing, hugging, snuzzling. The only time Jimmy has physical and emotional contact with other guys is when he scores (no, not that sort of scoring) and in the brawn bath after the match, with a swift six-pack inside him. Closeness with his girlfriend, Emily Lloyd, is achieved solely through sex. Otherwise, he keeps apart, though his younger brother receives a cursory embrace in recognition of his worshipfulness.

Jimmy requires worshipfulness. It's the traditional hetero reward for defining yourself through what you do rather than who you are (Jeffrey, on the other hand, is first a person who needs people, and that makes him one of the luckiest people in the world). It's the old masculine work ethic, and it's odd, given that the ethic no longer provides enough work for men to define themselves safely thus. But then, When Saturday Comes comes on raw when it's actually sentimental and embarrassingly nostalgic for the last time men were men; the Sixties, the heyday of full employment and gritty kitchen sink drama, the genre WSC slavishly models itself on.

Jeffrey is nostalgic, too: for the pre-plague years, the last time men could safely be with men. He's losing hope - that's why the hero finds himself through heart, not hard work. He's not ambitious; the sub-text whispers, "Why be ambitious in 'their' world anyway?" For lots of good reasons, none of which the very successful Paul Rudinck bothers to enumerate in his script. But then, he's penning Think Pink romantic comedy, as eagerly artificial as kitchen sink is meant to be "real". Real men in real drama, gay men in romantic comedy, the form even the most well-balanced faggot remains almost pathologically drawn to, because it distils the essence of wish fulfilment. Yet if WSC aches for authenticity - it is Grim Oop North - and is never funnier than when practising its po-face, Jeffrey is never more meaningful than when flashing a grin. Hetero Jimmy overvalues his own angst, homo Jeffrey makes jokes about it. One plunges into black despair over a botched football trial, the other squeezes laughs out of life and death. Which one would you rather have a relationship with?

Ah ... neither. Sorry. I lied. This column isn't about what still separates straight man from gay guy, but boys always being boys. Jimmy might be coarse and Jeffrey may be cute, but this breeder/bummer double bill inadvertently proves that despite all the above perceived sexual differences, a bastard is a bastard is bastard, with everyone else picking up the tab. C'mon: just so Jimmy and Jeffrey can Learn to Commit, others must be treated like scum; pregnant Emily Lloyd is cast aside, and HIV-positive Steve is rejected. Indeed, others must actually die (Jimmy's brother, Jeffrey's friend Darius) so J&J can become better men. Which doesn't stop the deceased from coming back to cheer the lads on and advise them to seize their opportunity: ghosts of a chance.

Such monumental ego deserves a suitable metaphor. Luckily, each movie finds just the right symbol. Jimmy gets sorted by kicking some round pigskin into the back of a net during the big match and Jeffrey solves the oh- so-sweet mystery of life with a red balloon. Seemingly different objects for seemingly different men, but both, when you think about it, balls.

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