Life as a gay man in a straight world isn’t easy. The threat of homophobic assault, the nagging terror at familial rejection and the fear of ending up on the streets are all manageable – it’s the everyday tasks that really take it out of you. Take buying a car, for instance. While straight buyers might look for reliability, safety and fuel efficiency, I have to struggle with demands that just aren’t catered for. Will the speakers do justice to the new Britney album? Will the gear stick respond to my limp wrists? Will it be spacious enough for a Calippo-fuelled orgy at weekends?
If you’re puzzled by that last must-have, chances are you’ve missed Richard Hammond’s revolutionary take on modern sexuality. Flanked by Jeremy “I-punch-when-I’m-hungry” Clarkson and that human mothball who third wheels to make the whole event less homoerotic, Hammond took a wrecking ball to the PC-gone-mad tyranny we call modern society.
Reviewing a new Volvo, Clarkson queried its plush cream interior. You “couldn’t enjoy a chocolate Magnum ice cream” in there he sagely noted, ever the defender of man’s right to food. This posed no problem for Mr Hammond, however. “It’s alright,” he quipped, “I don’t eat ice cream. It’s something to do with being straight.”
That’s right, concerned heterosexuals of the world, now even ice creams are gay. That choc ice you just gave your newborn? Gay. That Magnum you ate on the beach of the Costa del Sol last June? Gay. That time your hand lurched towards the glistening box of soft-scoop in Tesco? Unequivocally gay, and you should probably get a blood test – just in case.
Perhaps it’s the frozen-dairy-fuelled madness clouding my judgement, but Hammond’s facile quips – all the more shameful for being so patently scripted – feel all too familiar. The elliptical jokes, the suggestive put-downs, the subtle demarcation of certain objects or behaviours or traits as ill-fitting for a young man bear all the hallmarks of insidious prejudice intended to shame men into dull conformity. Cloaked as harmless fun, the implication that “what you’re doing is gay” contains the secondary implication that “therefore you should stop”. Homosexuality or anything straying from the stifling strictures of conventional masculinity are best avoided, it seems.
The trio’s lame-duck homophobia comes at the end of a year where critical discussions of masculinity have entered the mainstream as never before, in part due to the trio we lost in the chaotic wastes of 2016. Bowie, Prince and now George Michael, pop’s ultimate queer trifecta, all exploded the limits of what a man could be, what he could sound like, how he could perform, and whether he wanted a flake with his 99.
In the choice between the pale, male and stale vision of masculinity The Grand Tour revels in, or the charismatic magnetism of the Eighties’ lost legends, the choice should be clear enough. While the show’s producers ponder that choice, I’ll be down the cornershop, George Michael blasting, writhing among the Cornettos.