Email interview with Mark Simpson by Sarah Walters of Manchester Evening News (unedited version) pegged to his appearance as the bad fairy at this year’s Queer Up North Festival
SW: Sexuality has been part and parcel of your life and writings – how has reaction changed to the topic of sexuality since you started writing? Is there a culture of openness now, or still prudishness?
MS: Things have certainly changed. I doubt that the MEN of 20 years ago, would have interviewed me. If anything, it would have organised a campaign against my visit. Frankly, I wouldn’t have blamed them.
To some extent, homosexuality was dirty and sniggersome back then because sex was. Homosex is, symbolically speaking, sex for sex’s sake – not for Mothercare’s or the Pope’s. This of course is why the pop music kids listened to in the 80s was full of queerness: Soft Cell, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and that band called The Smiths.
Nowadays, everything has gone pop – especially Manchester – and sex is everywhere. Except perhaps in sex itself. I sometimes wonder whether, in a world full of broadband porn – and that’s just the TV schedules – whether there’s any point in actually having sex anymore. Unless you’re doing it in front of a webcam or in the Big Brother House.
Queerness ain’t so queer anymore. Maybe that’s why some of today’s favourite TV queers such as Graham Norton, tend to be reassuringly penis-less creatures from the 1970s.
But then, penised homosexuality can be very scary. And I should know.
Young people seem increasingly more open-minded about discovering and challenging their sexuality. Is being bi-/metro-sexual the new black?
It certainly looks like the future is ‘bi-curious’ and ‘open-minded’. Or at least that’s what it says on its online profile.
I mean, what is ‘straight’ nowadays? Sex outside marriage and Biblically sanctified orifices has become almost compulsory.
For QUN, you’re taking part in the big Debate on May 10, which is always a huge draw – last year was a sell-out. What are the hot topics in queer politics you’re expecting to field?
I’m afraid I’ve no idea what the hot topics in queer politics are. Hopefully, I’ll be asked to comment on the new Gladiators’ abs and David Beckham’s Armani-wrapped lunchbox.
I understand that you’ll be taking a devil’s advocate line on the point/necessity of festivals like Queer Up North and speaking out ‘against’ them on May 24. Anti-gay debate (in particular against gay stereotypes) is something you’ve written about previously – what’s your beef with QUN?
Well, I don’t really have that much of a beef with QUN, especially since they’re putting me up in a boutique hotel for the weekend. And full marks to them for addressing this subject at all.
My argument is that with the queering of the mainstream, there really isn’t such a thing as ‘queer culture’ anymore. Once upon a time, young queers would have to run away from Darlington to the queer metropoli of Manchester or London if they wanted some ‘queer culture’ – or just to be able to come out without losing their front teeth. This is clearly no longer necessarily the case. Many can come out at home without being made homeless, watch soaps with gay storylines – like Shameless – and log-on to look for love or sex. Or go to ‘gay night’ at the local nightspots. Queer culture was largely a product of queer communities. Queer assimilation and crossover means that those communities are increasingly obsolete.
Has Manchester as a city played a particular role in promoting (or, perhaps distorting) gay culture and liberalising opinions about sexuality?
I don’t think there’s a city anywhere that’s done more to queer the world than Manchester. Home of Coronation Street, Take That, Queer As Folk, Man U’s metrosexual ‘Spice Boys’, Shameless and The Smiths. Thanks to Manchester, it’s not just queer up north anymore.
Manchester itself seems to have been transformed from the desolate post-industrial landscape I knew in 1983 when I lived here briefly, to a city fit for hairdressers. And today’s footballers.