So far, February has delivered freezing Russian snow and an icy blast from the past on Channel Four. Storm Darcy brought two-foot snowdrifts, abandoned cars and our resident pheasant pecking about for frozen morsels. But it was Russell T Davies’ AIDS-era drama, ‘It’s a Sin’, that really chilled us to the bone. Brilliant as it is, the series made for tough (though compulsive) viewing especially for those, like me, who survived the worst of times, ducking the Grim Reaper’s scythe by the skin of the teeth. By episode three I was ripping open the wine box to squeeze the last drop from the plastic bag.
Many have binge-watched the series on-demand. That wasn’t for us. There’s not enough wine in the box for that. So we took it as it came, broadcast-wise. Last night’s brutal and uncompromising finale was the bitter pill that had us fighting over the Kleenex. The irony of screening the series during another health crisis was not lost on us. I hear it’s gone down a storm with the current cohort of young gay boys putting it about town, leading to a record uptake in HIV testing. Good job, Russell.
Certainly there’s more joy than anger on pride marches these days. Yes, attitudes have changed, things are better. But all that glitters is not gold. Recently, Channel Four ran a series of ads made by Pride in London. It was part of the channel’s ‘50 Shades of Gay season’ marking the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The ads featured belated apologies from parents who rejected or ridiculed their own children because of their offspring’s sexuality or gender identity. Still too many parents disown their own for the sake of family, faith and community. Still too many parents worry about how it looks, not how how it is. Still too many young people suffer bullying and rejection – at school, on the streets, at home. Some cope better than others. Some don’t cope at all. We may be living in the age of sexual enlightenment but suicide rates remain depressingly high. Why is this?
‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’
As famously written by poet, Philip Larkin.
Back in the dark ages, my experience with my own family was unusually benign for the times. It helped make me what I am today, for good or ill (no laughing down the back, please). The people in the ads are actors but the message is powerful. That’s why we march. That’s the point of pride.
Recently, the wonderful Stephen Fry presented an equally wonderful programme on Channel Four celebrating five iconic buildings inextricably linked with the pink community and the struggle for LGBT rights. As a London boy with my London ways, two of the building resonated with me in particular. The first was the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in south London, the scene of many a young man’s undoing – mine included, I’m pleased to say. In 2015, the venue received listed (i.e. protected) status by Historic England because…
…the building has historic and cultural significance as one of the best known and longstanding LGB&T venues…
It’s the only building to be listed on this basis.
The second venue on the list was Heaven. Not the fairy tale beyond the Pearly Gates, no, the paradise on Earth that is the nightclub in the arches under Charing Cross Station in what used to be the wine cellar for the station’s grand hotel. The club opened in 1979 and is still throbbing to the beat today.
I stepped through the now famous doors soon after it opened and the stage was set for my regular Saturday night Bacchanalia. One fateful evening in 1982, someone with arctic-blue eyes and Tom Sellick tash emerged from the mob of vests and chests. I stalked him for what seemed like hours. Little good it did me. I didn’t get so much as a side glance for my trouble. Clearly, my magic wand had run out of juice that night. In the end I thought ‘sod you’, cut my losses and headed for the exit.
As I retrieved my jacket from the coat check, there was a tap on my shoulder.
You owe me a cigarette.
I gave the man with the arctic-blue eyes and Tom Selleck tash my last fag and he smoked it. We were together for 11 years. Funny thing was, he wasn’t a smoker.
Aside from late starters, rent-a-womb celebrities and the yogurt pot and turkey-baster brigade, most people of a queer bent don’t have any children. The social revolution that enabled many of us to step out of the closet and skip hand-in-hand through the pansies also robbed us of a safety net. Where are the kids to protect us in our dotage? The irony is not lost on me. Our various nephews and nieces may well be fond of their limp-wristed old uncles but I don’t expect any of them to give up a spare room or change our nappies during our dribbling years.
Care of the old is a hot topic right now and Channel 4 News has been doing its bit to highlight the fate of the oldest gays in the village. I don’t know where Liam and I might end our days but we certainly won’t be stepping back into the closet for the convenience of a born-again carer, whatever the religious persuasion. So what to do?
I’m reading Alan Clark’s ‘Rory’s Boys’ for a bit of a steer (that’s Alan Clark, travel journalist and former mad man, not the late Alan Clark, former philanderer and right-wing diarist). Rory’s Boys is a fictional tale about Britain’s first retirement home for gay men; a private establishment for the well-endowed. We’re not talking a state-underfunded shit-hole where the inmates are ignored or worse by under-trained, couldn’t-care-less carers on zero-hour contracts. In care homes, as in life, you get what you pay for and it’s all our own fault. Society simply isn’t willing to stump up and pay for the old to shuffle off this mortal coil with their dignity intact. I certainly don’t think the municipal pension coming my way will stretch to private care; maybe assisted suicide will be the answer in the end.
Alan Clark and I have something in common (apart from the shirt lifting thang). Our books were both nominated for the 2012 Polari First Book Prize, made it to the top ten then fell at the last fence. I’m only a few pages into the book but, as the title suggests, I’m guessing Rory’s brave new world of cute orderlies with cut lunches and the Sound of Music on a loop, won’t include any of our lesbian sisters. It’s a sad fact of life that gay men and lesbians often struggle to get along. Activism and the marching season may bring us together now and again but generally, that’s it. When sex, romance and parenting are removed from the equation, men really are from Mars and women really are from Venus.