To Eric I am a moral problem to be solved - and saved

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Eric Smith, Lord Mayor of Belfast, sits in his drawing room and waves his book of scriptures, "taken from the original translation". The cameras roll. The BBC documentary series 'Spotlight' wants to know if life is better for gays in Northern Ireland or if dim prejudice remains. So, I'm queer, I'm here ...

Eric says: "I don't hold any bitterness against any individual person who is gay." Happy day. I nod. Tight close-up. .

Eric continues: "I love them as people. I feel that what they are practising [oh,the inflection Eric gives "practising"] is wrong. I base that on the Scriptures ...

"God condemns homosexuality. It says in Romans, Chapter I that he will damn them if they continue in that way of life ... I don't believe you are born like that. It is something that we could all fall into, including myself." Sure, Eric. You just need to meet the right boy. Easy.

The Scriptures fan the air.

I wish I had a copy of Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Readable to wave back. No: Jane Seymour's Guide to Romantic Living. Same difference. But I am listless. Maybe it's the hot lights. Or perhaps it's listening to the same tired litany, implacably impervious to logic. It's all so elementary, my dear: gayness can be caught or cultivated (Eric invokes alcoholism: "You start off with one pint ..."), luring the innocent into corrupt and corrupting sexual decadence.

I wish.

I wish I could get suitably enraged the way my friends do. Or engaged, the way Sullivan is. But why waste energy, time or breath on a closed consciousness? Why should I care?

Been there, been bored by that. "Homosexuality," my first homophobe leered, "it's filthy and disgusting." I ponder: "Only if you do it properly."

And here's Eric: "Homosexuality causes disease."

"Mr Smith, germs cause disease." He pauses occasionally to finger his chain of office (where are the matching earrings?), and I know I should feel the anger I finally find I must feign.

All I can think is: homophobes must be the only people more obsessed with homosexuality than homosexuals.

At least gays have an excuse. The world makes us conscious of our "difference" every waking moment. It hangs like a bat in your head. Self-confessed homophobes do not have a convincing reason to be likewise fixated.

Do homophobes think about gay sex all the time? All the ones I've ever met have: anal this, oral that. It's ... unnatural.

On the other hand, don't you just love it when straight guys talk dirty?

I should say this to Eric. But he is being so conventional (Sodom and Gomorrah, hating the sin, not the sinner etc) that, yawning, I opt for the lazy obvious, too: "Have you ever had a homosexual experience?"

Miss Otis regrets: "No. No ... I had a good upbringing." Me, too, Eric. But the point is ...

There is no point. To Eric I am a moral problem to be solved - and saved. I am probably "a likeable chap" but my acts are "evil." I tell him - must I be this basic? - that he cannot separate me into neat packages, that I am my sexuality, and I am more than my sexuality, because I don't just make love with my bloke, I love him, too. I look at Andrew and, Eric, "I have the same feelings you have for your wife." I presume those feelings are tender.

And Eric compares homosexuality to murder, to eating vomit, and I sigh, even though I suspect that hearing this stuff from the city's First Citizen creates the perfect excuse for every wannabe queerbasher in Belfast, even though I am inched into circular, tedious "theological debate": Christ did not mention homosexuality once; the Bible says that eaters of unclean animals should also be put to death, the only explicit mention of homosexuality in the Old Testament is in Leviticus and it merely prohibits heterosexuals from homosexual indulgence.

I agree: these things should be left to the professionals.

Going nowhere slow. The camera whirls. I hope it focuses on the fact that I am on auto-pilot. As a species, the Erics do not provoke my interest, though their pathology intrigues. What causes homophobia? Genes? Conditioning? The Tooth Fairy forgetting to leave you sixpence?

Still, Eric carries his convictions up front. You clock them and dismiss them. He rejects violence, and he is not about to convince anyone who does not already share his views; homophobia is not infectious in the way Eric believes homosexuality to be. And he is not the sort of closet case who proudly informs you they are on your side ... until you Go Too Far and suddenly you are Strident.

With friends like that ... Eric is the homophobic equivalent of a screaming queen: not to be taken too seriously.

The director says he has got enough. "Good," says Eric. "I think it went well." Yes, it did, I blithely lie. "Did you get everything you wanted?" Eric asks. I am desperate to discover where he buys his red velvet robes with the fur trim, but he asked first. Definitely, I reassure. Everything I imagined. And less.

Comments