Hands off Channel 4 – it helped me embrace my sexuality

Watching ‘Sugar Rush’ on Channel 4’s online streaming service in my teenage bedroom was a revelation

<p> LGBT+ identities were all linked to badness and embarrassment and being a social pariah. ‘Sugar Rush’ cut through the noise</p>

LGBT+ identities were all linked to badness and embarrassment and being a social pariah. ‘Sugar Rush’ cut through the noise

Not content with pushing through a thoroughly benefit-free Brexit, bungling the pandemic response to the tune of 165,000 Covid deaths, offering a 200 quid loan to “help” with an average rise of £700 in our energy bills, and being the subject of a police investigation into Downing Street piss-ups while the rest of us attended funerals on Zoom – the government are now apparently going to privatise Channel 4. How wonderful.

It is an act of cultural self-harm, something that’s hardly surprising when you consider who’s pushing for the change – culture secretary, Nadine Dorries.

Whatever Dorries says, Channel 4 is not “in receipt of public money”. It does not cost the taxpayer anything, funding itself much the same way as privately owned channels, through advertising, programme sponsorship and the sale of content and merch rights. It is owned by the public, but we don’t pay for it, which is a pretty excellent deal if you ask me.

It isn’t being “held back” from “competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon” because it isn’t a global streaming behemoth, and does not make its own content. It is a free-to-air British TV channel, but you cannot expect Dorries to be privy to basic details like these.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that privatisation could have an impact on the kind of programmes the channel commissions, and the effect this could have on Britain’s independent TV production industry.

In 2005, Channel 4 released Sugar Rush, a loose adaptation of Julie Burchill’s novel of the same name, about 15-year-old Kim who develops an all-consuming crush on her best friend, the reckless and determinedly heterosexual Sugar. Starring Olivia Hallinan and Lenora Crichlow, Sugar Rush had female masturbation with electric toothbrush, a gawky, pre-Spiderman Andrew Garfield and plenty of joyful queerness.

For me, watching on Channel 4’s online streaming service in my teenage bedroom, it was a revelation. Perhaps we all have media that we can look back at as formative, shaping the people we end up being. Sugar Rush was important to me, as someone who was deeply uncomfortable with their sexuality and had experienced damaging homophobic bullying in the early years of secondary school.

Sugar Rush was instrumental in helping me overcome the shame and confusion and self-hatred I felt as a young person in the early 2000s. I didn’t have any positive queer role models who I really related to. I had never heard of pansexuality. I just knew I wasn’t heterosexual and that my peers at school thought gay people were weird and repellent and “other”.

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“Gay” was a slur, unimaginative slang variations on “lesbian” were slurs, and LGBT+ people were the easy butts of jokes. LGBT+ identities were all linked to badness and embarrassment and being a social pariah. Sugar Rush cut through the noise, and allowed me to feel differently about my sexuality. I don’t think I’d have been able to accept myself and form the relationships I enjoyed in my twenties.

Russel T Davies’ critically acclaimed drama It’s a Sin, about the lives of gay men and their friends during the 1980s HIV/AIDS crisis in the UK, is another LGBT+ Channel 4 triumph.

Davies was initially turned down by Channel 4, his first choice, BBC One and ITV, but Channel 4’s commissioning editor of drama, Lee Mason, didn’t give up on It’s a Sin, successfully pitching it once certain members of staff had moved on. We would perhaps never have had the joy and heartbreak of investing in Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin’s stories without Channel 4.

To the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, I say this: hands off Channel 4. Sugar Rush is still free to watch online. I recommend it.

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