The trouble with men — or rather, ‘The trouble with gay men’

Why can’t gay men grow up? Why can’t they get them­selves a nice cat instead of behav­ing like dirty dogs? Why can’t they listen to Radio Four more instead of trawl­ing the net for sex? Why don’t they get a pipe and slip­pers instead of thongs and crys­tal meth? Why can’t they stop being so damn undo­mestic­ated and be more… les­bian?

And why oh why can’t gays settle down with nice Simon Fanshawe, espe­cially when he’s done so much for them? Surely they could have drawn straws and alloc­ated him some­body? Or maybe set up a rota?

grey The trouble with men   or rather, The trouble with gay men

The Trouble With… Gay Men TV polemic presen­ted by Fanshawe recently on BBC3, took ‘gay men’ to task for still ‘behav­ing like rebel­li­ous teen­agers’ des­pite now ‘being accep­ted as equals by soci­ety’ and was one of the fun­ni­est pro­grammes I’ve seen in ages. Unfortunately for comedian-turned-busybody Fanshawe, the humour was mostly unintentional.

There’s not really much point in ser­i­ously deal­ing with his argu­ment as there wasn’t one, instead there was just an hour-long Grumpy Old Gay Man Special in which Fanshawe went round London and Brighton’s gay scene feebly tut­ting and har­rumph­ing at gay men’s van­ity, promis­cu­ity, drug-use, and fail­ure to settle down and make cur­tains – des­pite all the ster­ling work people like him and the Stonewall Group have done to make homo­sexu­al­ity respect­able and suburban.

At one point, instead of even pre­tend­ing to offer an argu­ment, Fanshawe merely wandered shiftily around the dodgems on Brighton pier while a lot of head­less stat­ist­ics about gay drug use and STD infec­tion rates were flashed on the screen. Great telly, that.

Even this wit­less approach might have worked – after all, no one could ser­i­ously deny that the gay scene is foun­ded on ques­tion­able habits, and even the keen­est hedon­ist tires of his vices from time to time. But only if Fanshawe hadn’t presen­ted it. 

Hilariously, this middle-aged moral mary moan­ing about muscle marys was the best argu­ment for a life of untram­melled irre­spons­ib­il­ity, super­fi­ci­al­ity and fleshly obses­sion. I’ll bet that after the pro­gramme aired the gay gyms, saunas and back-rooms in London had a major rush on, and crystal-meth deal­ers were work­ing overtime.

Even I, who recently moved to North Yorkshire in part to get away from urban gay­ness, and also give it a chance to get away from me, felt the urge to change into some­thing less com­fort­able and take a taxi all the way to Soho.

More to the point, it became rap­idly appar­ent that this par­agon of the com­munity who kept denoun­cing gay men’s fail­ure to ‘grow up’ was him­self suf­fer­ing from a form of arres­ted devel­op­ment. Clearly he’d never pro­gressed bey­ond the point of being the bossy fat girl at school with the clip­board who thought they were God because they’d be put in charge of the school din­ner queue.

And what was all that whin­ing about the lack of ‘role mod­els’? Why should gay men have someone to copy? Why should they be so spe­cial?  Grow up and do it your­self, like every­one else has to these days.

Now, I’m all in favour of more self-criticism in the gay world, and being beastly to gays is some­thing I’m rather fond of. After all I did edit Anti-Gay back in 1996, the book which gave a bunch of chippy non-heterosexuals the oppor­tun­ity to take on the sac­red ortho­dox­ies of the gay world and gay iden­tity, or at least the gay press, and gen­er­ally have a good whinge. (And which was, fun­nily enough, viol­ently denounced by the gay press).

But this pro­gramme wasn’t tak­ing on mind­less con­form­ity, gay self-censorship, or feel­good pro­pa­ganda, instead it seemed to be about one middle-aged middle class man’s exas­per­a­tion at how gays have let him down by being so, well, gay, and his cor­res­pond­ing des­per­a­tion to pre­scribe a one-sized-fits-all homo-counties iden­tity. Fanshawe is only exer­cised by gay bad habits because he’s so trans­par­ently even more des­per­ate for respect­ab­il­ity than he is for a boyfriend.

Hence the shame­less mug­ging to cam­era dur­ing his visit to a gay sauna, pre­tend­ing to be shocked by a sling, or not know­ing what ‘water­s­ports’ means. Who were the appalled-of-Tunbridge-Wells looks for? The gay men the pro­gramme was ostens­ibly aimed at? The gay men who appar­ently spend all their time in saunas like this? Clearly not.

Ironically, the people that Fanshawe was really address­ing – straight TV pro­du­cers look­ing for a nice respect­able gay presenter and ‘role model’ – also know what slings and water­s­ports are, and in fact were prob­ably lying in one being peed on whilst they watched the programme.

Again and again Fanshawe showed him­self as someone with an almost endear­ing naiv­ety about the real, grown-up world, let alone the gay one, as he went around pos­ing as the adult voice of the real­ity prin­ciple. Visiting a Mr Gay UK heat he dis­missed the oiled-up con­test­ants as ‘super­fi­cial’, ‘pathet­ic­ally deluded’ and ‘vain’. I won­der if he’s taken a look at young straight men lately. In fact, it was blind­ingly obvi­ous that the main prob­lem with the gays he was talk­ing to was not that they were vain, but that they had noth­ing to be vain about – a skinny bunch of mun­ters who would be laughed out of the gym by most straight lads.

And what was Fanshawe’s answer to all this vain, promis­cu­ous, drug tak­ing? An inspir­a­tional trip to the feet of ‘role model’ Chief Inspector Brian Paddick, ‘one of the most senior police­men in the coun­try! And he’s gay!’ dur­ing which Fanshawe made it embar­rass­ingly clear he’d love noth­ing more than to be Mrs Paddick and attend the Chief Inspector’s Balls.

Strangely, there was no men­tion of that trouble­some ex who went to the papers to pro­claim he and Paddick often took drugs together in the Chief Inspector’s house, and who also claimed that Paddick was a reg­u­lar vis­itor to gay saunas (Paddick has denied both these claims).

Then came the chaste cli­max of this hour-long pro­gramme, the sum­mit of everything that Fanshawe says gays should be aim­ing for and the answer to all the prob­lems he had decried: two chubby inof­fens­ive gays in a coun­try house choos­ing what chocol­ate cake they were going to have at their regis­tra­tion reception.

Now, I’m sure they’re nice enough fel­las, but if they had known that they were going to be flaunted by Fanshawe as the ulti­mate role mod­els for gays every­where, the com­puls­ory ideal for all — not simply one option amongst many — and the won­der cure for all that mean­ing­less sex, drug use and exist­en­tial angst then maybe they would have had second thoughts about appear­ing on this pro­gramme. Or at least they might have tried to look a bit happier.

The real prob­lem with gay men, even the campest vari­ety, is that they’re men. Men without wombs in their lives to take respons­ib­il­ity for or slow them down – or give life a point. But instead, lots of testoster­one and spunk and spare time. It’s this that makes them homo. Why do so many gay men have so much sex and take so many drugs, often – and this is some­thing Fanshawe utterly failed to acknow­ledge – even when they are in a relationship?

Because they can.

I’m not par­tic­u­larly recom­mend­ing promis­cu­ity or drugs – and who, frankly, gives a fly­ing fuck whether I do or don’t, But I can tell you in no uncer­tain terms that neither Simon Fanshawe, nor Brian Paddick, nor gay regis­tra­tions, nor even really expens­ive chocol­ate wed­ding cake are going to per­suade homos to become neutered heterosexuals.

© Mark Simpson