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“You’re as camp as a Brighton bus queue!” – The Bon Mots of Benidorm

I’ve snobbishly held out against the sun-damaged charms of ITV’s package holiday sitcom Benidorm, set in the ‘all inclusive’ Hotel Solana, for several series. But the sixth one – which sadly this week pours the sand out of its shoes and packs its bags for another year – had me surrendering to it more legs akimbo than the Solanas’ Mrs Slocombe-esque manageress Joyce Temple-Savage for Matthew Kelly.

benidorm_series6

Created and written by Derren Litten (co-writer for The Catherine Tate Show), Benidorm is Carry On meets St Trinians meets Are You Being Served? meets Lady Windermere’s Suntan – and gets an ‘all-inclusive’ hangover and runny tummy. A proper character actor ensemble, rather than a vehicle for some jumped-up stand-up’s overweening ego, and with some lines that glisten like an obese Brit’s back in the Costa Del Sol noon-day sun, it’s very old-fashioned comedy – which is to say, actually funny instead of just sneery-cringey.

No wonder the critics hate it. (See also that other recent ITV comedy triumph Vicious.) Benidorm is tacky and trashy and stuck in the past but doesn’t mind who knows it, thank you very much.

Kenneth Du Beke

Kenneth Du Beke (Tony Maudsley)

Everyone is a caricature but instantly recognisable. Well, everyone is a caricature except for Kenneth Du Beke (Tony Maudsley) the overweight chain-smoking gay manager of the Solana’s salubrious hairdressing salon Blow ‘n’ Go who with his rather ‘young’ and ‘cheery’ styling was mistaken by Philip Olivier (aka ‘Tinhead’ from Brookside) for a children’s entertainer. He’s just documentary.

Tacky and trashy and trapped in the past it may be, but Benidorm is also often well-written and sharply observed. The whole of episode three (below) is quite brilliant and takes on a very contemporary subject – judgey gay assumptions about the relationship between masculinity and sexuality – that most ‘serious’ dramas wouldn’t dare.

The scene at 21:38 between loveable Liam Conroy (Adam Gillen) , the swishy Tenko and Dynasty fan and hairdresser who has fallen in love with a girl, and his narrow-minded tight-clothed gay boss who knows better and insists Liam is ‘really gay’ and is going to end up ‘living a lie’ deserves an Oscar:

Liam: “You need to learn to accept people for who they are! Just because I don’t fit into YOUR stereotype of how a man should be doesn’t give you permission to call me names! I am what I am and what I am [swings arm and pirouettes, badly] needs no excuses!!”

Likewise Benidorm is what it is and needs no excuses either. And as Liam’s cross-dressing dad Les/Lesley from Wearside would say: “Thank fook for that!”

Oh, and in case you think that Liam’s dilemma could only exist in a silly sitcom and never in real life – have a read of this heartfelt post by the young ballet dancer Chehon Wespi-Tschopp about the way too many gay men treat him because he doesn’t fit into their stereotype of how a man should be.

Tom Daley Comes Out – As Happy

In the affecting, intimate-yet-professional YouTube clip above, a slightly red-eyed and emotional Tom Daley, the Olympic medal winning British diver and best thing to happen to Speedos since Mark Spitz, says he was misquoted in an interview earlier this year in which he appeared to deny he was gay (albeit insisting he wouldn’t be ashamed if he was). He went on to make an announcement that you have probably already read about.

‘Now I feel ready to talk about my relationships. And come spring my life changed massively when I met someone and they make me feel so safe, happy and everything feels great. And that someone is a guy.’

Cue banner headlines announcing TOM DALEY COMES OUT!!. Millions of really witty Tweets about #TomGayley. And The Daily Telegraph informing us on the front page of their online edition that nineteen-year-old Tom has announced he is a nineteenth century medical classification: ‘homosexual’.

Daily Telegraph 'Daley announces he is homosexual'

Daily Telegraph: ‘Daley announces he is homosexual’

Though in the actual clip rather than people’s overheated minds Tom says no such thing. What he Tom Daley, the person whose sexuality we’re all pronouncing-pouncing on comes out as is: someone dating a man who makes him feel safe and happy.

He also goes on to say: ‘I still fancy girls, of course’. He doesn’t in fact define his sexuality at any point, as gay, straight or even bisexual. That may change. Or it might not. And I’m sure everyone has an opinion on that.

But frankly, it doesn’t matter. Whatever we might like to analyse or gossip or speculate – and I’m guilty of all those vices myself – in the end it’s really not our concern. It’s nineteen-year-old Tom’s concern. For all the crowing yesterday from people who ALWAYS KNEW that Tom was A GAY, currently his sexuality remains officially undefined – even though yes, he does still have pretty eyes a soft voice and a really pert bum.

Tom’s journey is his own to make. And sexuality itself is a journey that doesn’t have to have a final destination. But try telling that to the press. This excellent piece in the Guardian by Nichi Hodgson about the media’s need to label Tom as GAY said it best:

“The only facts that speak for themselves are that Daley is dating a man, and wants to be honest about the fact so the media doesn’t try to make assertions about his personal life and preferences for him. Instead, the only thing that has been outed today is the media’s rigidity – and stupidity – when it comes to reporting on sexuality.”

Perhaps Tom might have been able to tell the world he was dating a guy a bit sooner if the world, straight and gay hadn’t been yelling YOU’RE GAY!!! at him for most of his teens. If we all dialled the gaydar down a little and erred on the side of open-mindedness it would make it a lot easier for guys to be open about their interest in other guys. Or bronzer and Speedos.

Though perhaps that is to miss part of the point of gaydar – that it can be a form of surveillance. A way of policing men’s appearance, gender style and sex lives, even and especially when it’s gay men operating it. It’s a source of constant wonder to me how many gay people for all their pride in their super-accurate long-distance gaydar can’t see the sexual liberation wood for the gay trees.

This is the bit in Tom’s vid that we’re all not hearing:

“In an ideal world I would not be doing this video because it should not matter.”

tom daley

Reset the Gaydar – Tom Daley’s ‘Not Gay’

Tom Daley showering

(Originally appeared on Guardian CiF, 11/09/13)

Tom Daley isn’t gay. But the bronze medallist Olympic diver and presenter of celebrity Speedo show Splash! – recently voted ‘World’s Sexiest Man’ by the readers of gay mag Attitude – doesn’t mind if you think he is. Last weekend he told The Mirror:

“I think it’s funny when people say I’m gay… I laugh it off,” says Tom… “I’m not. But even if I was, I wouldn’t be ashamed. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest what people thought.’

Quite a few gay pals of mine know better. Not because of any special ‘inside information’ gleaned from the gay grapevine mind, but simply because they ‘can tell’. Because they’ve seen him on telly they seem to know his sexual orientation better than Daley does himself. Maybe it’s because he smiles a lot, takes care over his appearance, is well-mannered and loves his mum. Or maybe it’s because he doesn’t have a girlfriend at the moment.

But whatever the reason I suspect many of them might be rather less convinced – or interested in expressing an opinion at all – if Tom didn’t look hot in a pair of spectacularly abbreviated swimming trunks.

This kind of gay insistence about Daley’s sexuality (and other pretty boys in the public eye, such as the Olympic gymnast and Strictly star Louis Smith) isn’t malicious, in fact it’s meant very affectionately. But unlike Daley I’m not quite so inclined to laugh it off. In a sense it’s the ‘friendly fire’ version of the homophobic tweets Daley has experienced, and the bullying which made him change schools. Unintentionally it reinforces straight-and-narrow and increasingly obsolete ideas about what boys should and shouldn’t be – if they don’t conform to that then they ‘must’ be gay. Though in the snuggly sense of ‘one of us’ – rather than the phobic sense of ‘one of them’.

Perhaps, for the sake of argument, despite what he actually says Daley ‘really’ is gay, or bisexual. Perhaps he’s currently kidding himself, or us – or both. But so what if he is? He’s nineteen. People should be prepared let Tom be Tom and not project their own past onto his present.

Although gay people – myself included – often pride themselves on their ‘gaydar’, their ability to ‘spot’ another gay person, it’s a very imprecise instrument and getting more so all the time. Now that the streets are awash with pretty, moussed, moisturised, gym-toned young men in pastel colours that look like they’re auditioning to be in One Direction – and who, like boy band stars don’t mind showing physical affection for one another – the poor old gaydar is getting very jammed indeed. Perhaps it’s time to turn it off, or at least dial it down a bit. Particularly since Grindr is a much more accurate detection system.

In a world where being gay – or looking gay – is no longer such a big deal, a world that gay people worked hard to bring about, perhaps we shouldn’t make such a big deal out whether someone ‘really’ is or isn’t any more. Especially if they’re as generous with their fit body as Daley. (Who, by the way, was born the same year as the metrosexual.)

Like many lads today Daley clearly loves to be looked at – and he has way of showering after a dive in front of billions that is, shall we say, very sensual. It’s part of the reason he welcomes the gaze of gays. As he told The Mirror.

“I can understand why I have a massive gay following – I spend most of my life half naked in trunks on a diving board showing off my bare chest.

“I often joke I wear more to bed than I do to work.”

Being voted the sexiest guy in the world by a gay magazine (Daley’s aesthetic daddy David Beckham was runner-up) might result in your straight mates ‘gently taking the mick’ as Daley reports, but in this age of rampant male tartiness, in which almost every straight male athlete that doesn’t look like the back end of a bus has been on the cover of a gay mag in their knickers, they’re probably more than a tad jealous too.

 

Update – Tom Daley Comes Out – As Happy

Promiscuity into Bureaucracy: Gaydar and Online ‘Dating’

The MP Chris Bryant has faced calls for his resignation for appearing in his pants in messages sent via a gay website – but others see Gaydar as the future of dating. So what is it really like? Mark Simpson speaks with the (exhausted) voice of experience

(Independent on Sunday, 7 December 2003)

Gay men are having sex! Lots of it! Every night! With a different man! And they don’t even have to leave the house!

There was more than a hint of sexual jealousy surrounding the ‘outrage’ in the British press last week’s over Gaydar, the cruising website where gay and bisexual men exchange instant messages, personal pictures, addresses and then sexual positions, often in less time than it takes to get served at a West End bar.

To condemn it however is to protest against the inevitable, since Gaydar’s methods will probably end up being adopted by everyone from 18-30 dating agencies to golden oldie matchmakers. And, judging by the passionate envy on display, its sexual mores will soon follow.

Oscar Wilde once famously defined a moralist as someone who likes to lecture on the evils of vices of which he has grown tired. In this accelerated age, a moralist is someone who likes to lecture on the evils of vices that they are about to try. However, as a (mostly) former internet cruiser, I’d like to report from the frontier of human degradation/innovation in the more traditional, Wildean form – as a sinner who has grown jaded.

If internet cruising is the future of dating, then there is certainly no future – or place – for romance. And probably no future for sex either.

At the height of the recent record-breaking summer heatwave, for old time’s sake, I visited the gay reservation of Hampstead Heath in the naive hope that the torrid weather might have made gays more more inclined to leave their pokey, humid bedrooms. But the Heath was deserted. There were one or two punters, but these were men of a certain age who had not yet figured out how to get online with the obsolete computer that a nephew off-loaded on them.

Now, call me old-fashioned, but what is the point of sex to a single homosexualist if it doesn’t get you out of the bloody house? On the hottest night of the year? Gays – all of them, every last one of them, especially those in relationships – are “logged on” with lob ons, looking for someone who will “travel” while they “accom”.

If Joe Orton had his time again his diaries would have been just printouts of thousands of Gaydar profiles and alarming digicam photos. I, for my part, look back on my pre-internet days of compulsive cruising of the Heath in the driving sleet and rain as a golden age of warmth, romance and human contact.

Moralists who protest at gay e-promiscuity should actually be encouraging the Government to provide gays with grants for permanent broadband connections, since the internet not only keeps them off the streets and out of the parks, it turns all that messy sexual energy and appetite into … typing. Gays have become the unpaid secretaries of desire, filing and cataloguing human weakness. Promiscuity is now a form of bureaucracy. Tedious, eye-straining, number-crunching slave work.

Don’t bother feeling jealous, all you sexually frustrated, non-online non-gays: internet cruising is its own form of punishment, Dante’s e-ferno where thousands of disembodied souls in e-ternal torment constantly prod one another with inquisitorial malice: “stats?”, “into?”, and “how big’s your cock?”

The evil of internet cruising – and the reason why it will become irresistibly, devastatingly mainstream – is precisely its efficiency. IT plus a wired world means lust can be much more productive, much more accurate, much more all-consuming, and much more pointless. Internet cruising allows you to pursue endlessly and ever more obsessively your ultimate “type”. Like an especially well-organised, if unfriendly, Roman orgy, there are chat rooms for every (legal) fetish and taste. Gaydar members can search the database on height, age, hirsuteness, ethnicity, hair colour, pec-size and sex role (passive, active, or versatile). Strangely, there isn’t a box to check for “twinkly eyes” or “great sense of humour”.

But efficiency is precisely what sex is not about. Sex is a journey where, if you’re lucky, you get lost – like Hampstead Heath on a foggy night. Arriving is not really the point, it’s the confusions, the collisions, the diversions that are (sometimes) rewarding. With internet cruising there’s ultimately no escape from your own desire. Even when you actually meet someone off the net – one of you, reluctantly, agreeing to leave the house – they never really exist, and nor do you. You are both merely each other’s computer-generated horny hologram, one that dissipates with orgasm – “Cheers! ‘Ave a good one mate!” is the universal, embarrassed e-kiss off.

The most familiar cliché/complaint about internet dating is that when they turned up “they weren’t the person in the picture”. The real disappointment is that they were exactly the person on the profile. To the inch. It was a profile rather than a person you met and got groinal with. You were tricked, not by the flakiness of others, but by the emptiness of your own desire.

And no matter how “hot” the sex was for both of you, and no matter how much you both say you can’t wait to do it again and even make explicit arrangements to do so, it won’t happen. Come the appointed time, you’ll both be online again, looking for another profile that more exactly matches your requirements. What the internet giveth, the internet taketh away.

You see, the real efficiency of online dating, just as with internet anything, is not the way it delivers you lots of pointless sex without leaving the house, but the way that it ensures that you will be spending more time on the internet. The web is a jealous lover, and will countenance no infidelity that lasts longer than a hurried shag with some data it has selected and loaned you for an hour or so. Like a Las Vegas casino, the internet always wins. I’ve never met Mr and Mr Gaydar, and don’t know anything about them except that they must, having figured out a way to tax gay lust, be living in a penthouse apartment atop their own luxury skyscraper in Manhattan.

This kind of fierce fidelity can’t be supported indefinitely, however. Something has to give. Martin Luther may have described marriage as a curative for lust, but today that role has been usurped by the internet. Burn-out is the inevitable consequence of on-line dating. Or heart attack. If I didn’t find myself cured of lust I certainly found myself disenchanted.

By allowing me to focus on the boring “sex” to the exclusion of the arousing “journey” or “travelling” aspect of desire, internet cruising and the spinning bedroom turnstile it brought, utterly demystified sex. It was like working as a hustler but for free, and having to do all that hard work of choosing your clients instead of the other way around. Unforgivably, the internet has deprived me of my most cherished illusion: my faith in sex.

Which is really unfair. I mean, what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? Not that I expect anyone to feel much sympathy. But let my jadedness be a warning to you all: internet dating will ruin your sex life.

By giving you one.

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