Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Month: October, 2010

Toronto circa 2014

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Yes, it gets better

I was bullied in high school. Because I figured out I was gay the summer before grade nine, even though I didn’t in any way ‘come out’, when you know yourself it becomes that much more obvious.

There was one young man in particular who harassed me in class, mostly by saying things under his breath. It was physchologically, if not physically, threatening. As it often is for us little queer boys, gym class was the hardest and I remember another guy stopping in the middle of a floor hockey game to matter-of-factly tell me I was a “gay faggot”. That day, as I was wont to do, I wandered out of gym class early. No one noticed.

I informed at least two teachers of the bullying. I remember one of them trying to do something about it, but it didn’t calm me down. One lunch hour I went home and my Dad couldn’t stop me from crying. He recently told me he feels guilty he didn’t do more.

I don’t think I ever felt I was in real danger, just that I would never feel comfortable at that school. My only recourse was to keep going and by grade 12 I had a healthy number of friends and the incidents basically stopped. And in university I was completely accepted, eventually making my first gay guy friends and meeting my first boyfriend.

Things got so much better, thanks to good friends and an accepting family, that I sort of forgot my bullying experience, which is why I took awhile to relate to the growing ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, spearheaded by gay sex columnist Dan Savage. Once you’re out of the situation, and years have past and it’s gotten better, you don’t want to think about it anymore. You survived and you’re happy.

But that’s wrong.

Not everyone survives their bullying , as a spat of recent queer suicides reminds us. We are winning the legal battles in North America, and are doing even better on the cultural front. But we can’t get complacent and think that TV shows and movies with queer characters are going to do all the work to make this world an accepting place. Watching Kurt on ‘Glee’ can help a gay teen only so much, especially as not all of us can burst out into cathartic show tunes.

I survived. It does get better.

But we have to remember where we came from.

The Ford “Revolution”

Somehow, I’ve ended up relating to two groups I never expected I would: strategic swing-voters and American Republicans. What a weird election.

In every past one I can recall, I knew who I was supporting early on. As a New Democrat, I’m used to my candidates losing, but you should always vote for the person you believe in. Voting strategically, holding your nose and casting your ballot for the perceived ‘lesser of two evils’, often doesn’t work and results in political leaders no one actually likes.

But this election the stakes seemed much higher to stop Rob Ford. Not since Hillary vs. Obama had my parents been divided, with my Mom supporting lefty Joe Pantalone and my father arguing that only George Smitherman could save Toronto from the embarrassment of a Ford mayoralty. Unlike at the provincial or federal levels, when there’s multiple viable candidates and parties can build on past successes, mayoral races are one-time shots, and my Dad worried that a Ford victory would send the alarming message that even in Toronto rightwing candidates can win by mindlessly chanting “lower taxes” over and over again.  

I was leaning towards Pantalone as the torchbearer for David Miller’s Toronto (and no, Miller’s tenure wasn’t the complete disaster the papers think it was) but also because I resented that Smitherman squandered his early lead by not representing anything, by not articulating why he wanted to be mayor and that his campaign ultimately boiled down to ‘Anyone but Ford’.

In the last day I realized that I was doing what I didn’t want to do, voting against somebody rather than for.

Still, polls were tightening and I always liked Pantalone when I read about him or saw his cute diminutive frame on TV.  

I honestly didn’t know who I was going to vote for until I was standing in my old high school’s gym, looking down at all the names. I waffled back and forth before drawing the black line with the sharpie.

My candidate didn’t win, but I’m comfortable with my choice.

It was ridiculous how quickly ‘CP24’ called the election for Ford. Eight minutes past 8.00pm, when the polls closed. They cut straight to his family home in Etobicoke, where the already red-faced Ford turned even redder and distractedly answered questions as his family jumped around him.  Watching his large, blonde brothers (even his nieces looked a bit like him) I started to feel that here was a different side of Toronto not usually represented in downtown politics.

I felt the same way watching his rambling victory speech, when the rag tag group who surrounded him on stage appeared intent on distracting attention; a baby in the back wailed; a weird dude, before being instructed to step off by security, placed a Hawaiian lei around Ford’s neck, which he wore for the remainder of the speech; and a man in a black leather cowboy hat, perhaps a brother, tried to give him a shoulder massage before being scolded by the formidable Mama Ford herself.

Because it’s 2010, and old media feels the need to shamelessly suck up to new media, election-themed twitter tweets scrolled the bottom of screen, which, while divided in their allegiance, were unified in their breathlessness. (Ironically, by #ing ‘CP24’ twitterers were sucking up to the old media which so wants to be like twitter in order to be on TV. Some tweets even ended with “Can’t believe Ford won! Say goodbye to Transit City! Hi Lindsay!” making it clear that twitterers are the new people standing outside City TV or ‘Good Morning America’ waving ‘Hi Mom!’ signs.)

There was a certain naiveté about the pro-Ford tweets, a grandiosity mixed with dangerously vague generalizations. Much about how Torontoians had “voted for change”, had “demanded respect” and “taken back their city”. Ford had tapped into a real sentiment and received a mandate (at the end of the day, even if you added all the Pantalone votes onto Smitherman’s, ‘Furious George’ would’ve only barely won), but what exactly this revolution is about, other than “lower taxes” and “stopping the gravy train”, is pretty unclear.

Generalities work in an election campaign, but not so much in governing. And when you combine them with an enthusiastic voter base, many of whom never voted before, and a hostile, often-dysfunctional council, you’re looking at the potential to disappoint a lot of people, and fast.

Which is what Obama learned in the two years since his unifying calls for “hope” and “change” swept him to power but left Democrats divided on what to do.

Like Republicans watching Obama’s victory speech in Chicago that historic night, I watched the Ford celebration unable to ignore the excitement of his passionate supporters but with the sinking feeling of not knowing what comes next.

My predictions: with all eyes on him now, Mayor-elect Ford will not be as focused as Candidate Ford and will have a stumbling transition, quickly angering activist groups (womens’, queer and immigrant ones, my guess) and unions, and will see a major strike within a year. If Ford is held accountable for it (as Miller was for the garbage strike) or rather seen as the tough-talking defender of voters’ tax money will depend on the media, the public mood and how Torontoians respond viscerally to the new mayor.

All is not lost. Although some new right-wingers were elected, the basic diversity of city council stayed the same, and Ford will have to work with centrist and leftwing councillors (and, hopefully, moderate his positions) in order to get anything done. All the columnists agree that he won’t actually be able to get rid of streetcars, which (perhaps oddly) became one of my biggest fears. If he doesn’t “keep his promises”, as viewed by his core supporters, he has a tough re-election in four years.

Four years…God…

And lastly, sometimes you need an ‘enemy’ to galvanize people, to shake them out of their complacent slumbers and fight for what they believe in. Feminists, LBGTQ-activists, immigrant advocates, environmentalists and even cyclists (especially cyclists!) should start mobilizing now, today, and get ready to cause a fuss as soon as Ford missteps or misspeaks. Our goal should be to create a progressive flipside of the American ‘Tea Party Movement’ (the Herbal Tea Party, anyone?), who, although much less influential than Fox News would have us believe, succeed in having their displeasure at ‘Obama-nation’ heard.

Congratulations, Rob Ford. As my parents, veterans of the dramatic ups and downs of politics, said last night, “It’s all downhill from victory night.”

Pact of Brotherhood

Last week, the story that gripped the world drew to a happy close as the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground since August 5th were one-by-one extracted and greeted by their teary wives and families. Recognizing their instant fame, the miners agreed to a ‘Pact of Silence’, ignoring reporters and banding together to split up any of the proceeds. This lasted less than a week, after Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to be rescued, decided to give an interview. And what was it that made him break the ‘Pact of Silence’?

Gay sex, of course.

According to the New York Daily News, the miners’ silence sparked rumours that the trapped men were secretly engaged in male-on-male sex.

“Nothing like that ever went on,” Sepulveda said. “We were too busy trying to survive to think of sex… Saying we had sex down there with each other is just plain wrong.” Sepulveda found the rumours “offensive”.

It’s hardly surprising that rumours of brother love would crack this ‘Band of Brothers’; homophobia and fears of men growing ‘too close’ haunt almost every form of exclusively male experience, from war time fox holes to professional sports.

Interesting too that it was traditional masculine machismo which led to the short-lived ‘Pact of Silence’ in the first place. As Sepulveda says, the first 17 days without contact or aid from above were “pure hell” and that many of the miners, especially the younger men, had trouble coping. While not given any details, he hinted at fights and emotional breakdowns. God forbid, if you’re trapped deep underground, with good reason to fear you’ll never see daylight again, you’d shed a tear.

That being said, I think a ‘Pact of Silence’ was a good idea. I’m just disappointed that, after everything the miners went through, it was rumours of gay sex which made one of them break it so fast.

So it seems that when the inevitable movie comes out, I suppose staring Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem, there will be no lip-lock between the two Spanish hunks.

Macbeth and Macarons

When it rains, it pours, which is how in one week I went from desperately begging for jobs (I even considered going back on the ol’ Vaudeville circuit) to having two at the same time. This is why my posting has been sparse in the last little while, as I’m sure you, my loyal reader, have noticed.

Suddenly, my life is very busy and it’s all about Macbeth and macarons.

I’ll start with the macarons. Finding a job is not just about talent. Talent is often not enough. As James Mason says in ‘A Star is Born’ you have to recognize an opportunity when it comes along and grab it. When a fabulous new Wornette mentioned that her chocolate shop had lost three workers in a row, I guessed that they were probably hiring. I showed up the next evening with my resume, the manager was right there and I was hired on the spot.

It is the fanciest place I’ve ever worked. It is also the most beautiful. I would describe the decor as that of a gay interior designer in the early-1960’s who was given the budget of an Old Hollywood fantasy and took that as his inspiration. And I mean that complimentary. It’s Audrey Hepburn and Paris in gleaming white and neon pink.

One of our specialties is our macarons, which I’ve been instructed to pronounce in the French way and never ‘macaroons’. They are soft and chewy, made fresh daily and come in all the colours of the pastel rainbow. They really are a bit of flaky heaven.

I had already started there when I received word that I got a job as an usher at a theatre which performs Shakespeare for high school kids, a job I applied for completely on a whim. I thought, if I’m going to be getting paid minimum wage for standing around (and yes, I had given up finding a ‘grown-up’ job again, here defined as any job in which you get to sit), I might as well be learning Shakespeare. And anything to be closer to the stage…!

I showed up for my first day and asked the other usher which play we were doing.

“Mackers,” she replied.

I almost uttered the name of the play she had avoided, caught myself and said “Oh, the Scottish play!”

For those not in the know, theatre people are quirkily commited to their traditions and one of the oldest is that ‘Macbeth’ is a cursed play and to say its name in a theatre is to bring on bad luck. Supposedly, it all goes back to the rumour that Shakespeare used some actual witches’ spells for the chants of the ‘Weird Sisters’ and a litany of productions that suffered some kind of catastrophe followed.

Now, stuff goes wrong in theatre all the time and, as one actor put it, “it’s a play where people run around in the dark with swords,” so some accidents are inevitable. While I enjoy the theatrical culture (it is partly why I took a job in which I herd teenagers into straight lines, a more difficult task than one expects), I am a die-hard skeptic and I have to scoff a bit at anyone who tells me what not to say based on superstition.

Turns out one of the actors felt the same way and made a big point of yelling the name of the play during a Q&A session after the first performance. That very afternoon, the trap door on the wooden platform where most of the action takes place broke open just as Lady Macduff was being strangled, sending her two feet down towards the stage. With a cord around her neck, she could’ve been killed, but because the actor who was ‘murdering’ went down with her, she was fine.

Like a trouper, she kept acting, which meant yelling “MURDER!” so, as her accompaning actor said, “I had to keep the scene going as well and continue to strangle her.” Amazingly, everyone was fine, but they still sealed up the trap door.

So now, when keener students ask about ‘the curse’ the company all chuckle and knock the wood of the stage. One of the actors points out that, considering what could have happened, the fact that nobody was injured is more of a blessing than a curse, but the others see it as a “warning”. As one of the actresses put it, “Weird shit happens with this play.”

Next week we start ‘Romeo and Juliet’, so the only M-word I’ll have to worry about accidentally slipping out is “macaroon”.

Just go for it!

Sometimes a kiss isn’t just a kiss.

Sometimes it can change the world.

When singer Adam Lambert makes out with male members of his band during his concerts it is a part of his Boy George retro-kitsch glam-rock theatricality, an act of defiance against sometime-blatantly homophobic jeers the ‘American Idol’ contestant has endured.

On Tuesday, he announced that he would heed the Malaysian government’s wishes and not kiss anyone onstage during his concert in Kuala Lumpur. He said that his “main goal was to keep people entertained, not make them uncomfortable.”  “It’s a tough decision to make, but there are so many amazing fans in Malaysia that it’s more important for me to be able to come and do my show there for them and entertain them and thank them for supporting me.”

I’m not Adam Lambert (actually, I can’t name one of his songs) but if it was me up on that stage, I would have a full-on, no-holds-barred, snog with a guy. I would kiss a boy and, yes, I would like it.

First of all, the government restrictions, which ban kissing, stripping and jumping (?!) on stage during concerts are gender-neutral and therefore not connected to Malayasia’s horrendous homosexuality laws, so I would imagine the punishment would be less harsh than twenty years in prison for sodomy. Malaysia has the unfortunate combination of priggish colonial laws along with fundamentalist Islamic groups all too willing to use homophobia to gain political power. For instance, while cross-dressing is not technically a crime, transgendered Muslims can be charged under Syariah law for “impersonating women.”

While prosecution for gay sex is relatively rare, for groups like the “People’s Anti-Homosexual Voluntary Movement” (which lobbies for stricter anti-gay laws) and, one fears, the Malaysian government itself (which banned gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people from appearing in the state controlled media in 1994) it is all about appearances and to keep queer sexuality hidden and shameful.

Which is why Adam Lambert should kiss a guy on stage. I assume there’d be a fine, or they would ban him from performing in the country again. Are they really going to arrest an American celebrity? And if they do, they have instantaneously brought the attention of the world onto the state of LGBT rights in Malaysia.

In the 1991 documentary ‘Truth or Dare’ about Madonna’s ‘Blonde Ambition’  tour, when she is about to perform at (what was then still called) the Skydome, a couple of Toronto police officers arrive to warn Madge that if she performs ‘Like a Virgin’ as she has during the rest of the tour she could be arrested. The cops’ problem is her “simulating masturbation” which they claim goes against Toronto the Good’s decency laws (“So what’s considered masturbation?” Madonna asks. “When you stick your hand on your crotch,” her brother replies.)

Discussing it with her managers, she is adamant that she does not want to change her show, that she is an “artist” with “artistic integrity” and that, as a further bonus, if the officers arrest her after the show, she will be in every newspaper in the world the next day (no one could ever accuse Madonna of avoiding attention). After mocking the “fascist state of Toronto” during her dancers’ prayer circle, she performs the song as she always did, grabbing her “crotch” and humping a bed on stage. The police do nothing. Perhaps they thought a warning would suffice in order to protect delicate Toronto eyes?

Later in the film, while in bed with her back-up singers, Madonna remarkably admits that she sometimes is haunted by “who do you think you are” doubts. She knows she is not the best singer, nor the best dancer, but she explains that her interest is in pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas. Considering ‘Truth or Dare’ era alone, her ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour brought a black-latino-queer world of ‘Vogueing’ and pansexuality into the mainstream. Even if you believe it’s all self-centred careerism (as one critic put it, “one long hussle”), you have to admit Madonna has a knack for pushing society’s buttons.

If Adam Lambert really cares about his Malaysian fans, and not just continuing to do concerts there and in the rest of Asia, he should consider his queer fans in the audience. They have never seen a gay person on TV, let alone a kiss. The fearlessness of it would inspire them to be unashamed of who they are, and if it was followed by an arrest they would see clearly what needed to be changed in their country. In this complacent era of facebook ’causes’, where redemption misleadingly seems a click away, it’s worth remembering that sometimes you have to risk something in order to change anything.

If Adam Lambert is thankful for the support of his Malaysian fans he should consider supporting them.

Citizen Zuckerberg

 

For some reason there was a lot of hostility towards ‘The Social Network’, the movie about facebook inventor Mark Zuckerberg. I had at least two friends who balked at the overly dramatic trailer and declared “Won’t be seeing that!” Maybe it was because we felt like Hollywood was piggy-backing on a Gen-Y phenomenon, or that we couldn’t find exciting the story of an invention, like the telephone, which we use every day, take for granted and somewhat resent for its intrusion into our lives. The ubiquitous of facebook is what makes the history worth telling.

The film has not only received mostly positive reviews, but was quickly compared to ‘Citizen Kane’, a mixed blessing as the comparison immediately invites the kind of ‘who do you think you are’ derision that appeared after Obama was compared to Kennedy. But it’s not cinematic innovation that ‘The Social Network’ is linked with Orson Welles’s 1941 classic, but rather plot elements and themes. Both films are about outsiders who achieve riches and power by creating media empires (for Kane, it was newspapers) with a brilliant sense of timing. Although both men are helped by understanding the darker sides of human nature (Kane knows that people want to read about scandals, Zuckerberg, that people want to post about them) neither man is very good at friendship and the second half of both films focus on the alienating nature of success. ‘The Social Network’ even features its own “rosebud” ending!

Another wave of hostility hit the movie from another direction when people complained about screenwriter Aaron Sorkin playing around with the facts. As far as I can tell, the main criticism of the guys who are actually portrayed in the film is that none of it was that dramatic. The complaints would presumably been much worse if the movie was boring, which it definitely is not. While the movie makes a big deal of nerdy Zuckerberg wanting to impress girls and exclusive campus clubs, he claimed in an interview that these were never inspirations for creating, as it was called then, ‘The Facebook’. Truth be told, these ‘Great Gatsby’-esque motivations are a bit dusty and unbelievable: what would a computer genius, whose earlier computer program was coveted by Microsoft when he was 18 years old, care about fraternities?

Not as though there’s not still fun to be had at fraternities’ expense: the testosterone-y named Armie Hammer is perfectly cast as twin brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, WASP princes who would go on to be Olympic rowers. The special effects are flawless (we’re a long way from Lisa Kudrow talking to herself in splitscreen on ‘Friends’), and with his Zack Morris-good looks and deep, aristocratic voice, Hammer proves a perfect foil.

A foil without a hero, though, as the movie doesn’t know what to make of Zuckerberg himself. “Every creation story needs a devil,” Rashida Jones, as one of his lawyers, tells him near the end, and she could be speaking of the film itself. With too many nasty stories to ignore, the movie still tries to justify Zuckerberg’s actions and at times, despite his screwing over his friends and horrendous way with women, you do feel sorry for the guy.

Some have said the movie is sexist, and it’s hard to argue it isn’t. Partly it comes from the unavoidable fact that the facebook team were all male, but that doesn’t excuse the portrayal of girlfriends as angry and irrational. The movie sets up some disheartening female archetypes, all seen through the eyes of men: brunettes are smart but complicated (like Zuckerberg’s first girlfriend, who speaks “in code”); Asian girls, slutty but crazy (one almost burns down an apartment). Blondes are ideal but aloof, like the first female facebook employee we ever see, strutting away in a tight mini skirt.

Actually, the whole movie is filled with archetypes, from anti-social computer geeks (who, ironically, invent social networking sites) to pompous varsity jocks.

I’m sounding really critical. Thing is, I enjoyed it and think everyone our age should see it, as there is much to discuss about one of the defining experiences of our generation.

Which leads me to my final critique: the movie spends so much time on the micro-dramas that the macro-story of how every university student (and eventually, 1 in 14 people in the world) ended up putting all their information on the internet. The facebook-ization of the population is seen mostly in off-hand comments (a girlfriend of a founder demands to know why he hasn’t changed his relationship status from ‘single’ yet). Perhaps the film makers thought, given that we experienced in first hand, audiences didn’t need to be caught up on how and why facebook spread from the dorm to the preschool to the old folks home. But years from now, either when social networking has disappeared or when it’s become so commonplace that no one even notices it, audiences will need to know why this ‘creation story’ is important at all.

Here’s one of infinite reasons: afterwards, my friend Jacob and I went for a pitcher of Strongbo at the pub in the Flatirons building. Every time facebook came up indirectly in the conversation (“I got a message from…”, “I found out on facebook that…”) I’d say “Cheers, Mark Zuckerberg!” and raise my glass. I did it over and over again.

The story is important, despite the inaccuracies, despite the sexism, because it changed the world.

And now I’m going to post this and link it on facebook.

Cheers!

Goin’ Out

The ending of ‘Bob and Rose’ is just as lovely as everything which came before. As the simple and romantic xylophone theme song reaches a glorious climax, the various single characters, straight women and gay men, are shown getting ready to go out on the town. “You gotta get out there!” Holly tries to convince her reluctant friend on the phone. “Anything can happen! One of these nights, we’re going to get lucky!” A chorus of cell phone conversations about where to meet up, what shoes to wear and past and future hook-ups (“Did he call you back?” “Bollocks he did!”) rises above the Manchester skyline.  Coupled with shots of a strob-lighted dance floor, Holly delivers a stream of consciousness ode to clubbing, a rosary chant for the single girl:

“It’s Saturday night. It’s Happy Hour. It’s Ladies’ Night. It’s Singles’ Night. It’s ‘girls get in for free’. It’s cueing up in the rain, and dancing in the heat. It’s every pub and every bar and every club and every single one of us.” The scene of dancing straights is interspersed with scenes of Bob’s friends at gay bars, cruising and strutting around not unlike the triad of ‘Queer as Folk’. The climax argues that gay, straight, female, male, we’re all the same and that being single and going out clubbing is just as valid a happy ending as being in a monogamous couple. Compare this with the standard romantic comedy end in which every character pairs off or disappears.

If it’s a truth universally acknowledged in British TV that any problem can be helped by a cup of tea, ‘going out’ as a solution comes a close second. Every age group in the United Kingdon and Ireland seems to get out and have fun more than their equivalents in stick-in-the-mud North America: old men nurse pints in pubs, young people do tequila shots, middle-aged ladies don feather boas and pink cowboy hats for hen parties.

Knowing not a soul in Dublin when I moved there, I had to go out in order to make friends and not spend my evenings watching ‘Golden Girls’ on my laptop. Sometimes, nothing happened. But sometimes I met new people, danced until my legs ached, kissed a random guy (there was a tendency to treat making out like the equivalent of a ‘thank you for the dance’ handshake). The night when I forced myself to talk to a group of Americans, made friends with a wonderful girl from California (“Max, you’re such a beautiful person!”), made out with an adorable Irish guy (after, startled by his advance, I knocked his cigarette out of his hand, alsmot burning myself), and walked home in a daze, with five new numbers in my mobile, was probably the most fun night of my life.

And even the nights went something went wrong were good for a funny story, like the time the twink I had been dancing with all night started makin out with another guy right in front of me (“What cheek!” my new fag hag friend declared) or on Halloween when I got kicked out of the bar for allegedly being too drunk. I loved walking back home to my little apartment in Ranelagh, just outside city centre. One night in the rain, a drunk young woman joined me as to not have to walk by herself. Another time, I made friends with a group who were walking behind me after I laughed at their funny stories of waking up in the garden: “Oh! I’ve gone to far! I’ve slept in soil!” I joined them for “chippies”. It was remarkable how much life you could see walking hom at three am: people texting or yelling into phones, couples making out or fighting, guys peeing or vomiting.

Truth is, friends you make superficially often end up being only superficial friends: I never saw the “chippies” gang again, not the cute Irish boy I made out with. I moved home largely because I felt like I had roots here that needed to be tended rather than continuing planting seeds in inhospitable foreign soil.

But I’ve stopped going out in Toronto. I had a number of reasons: people here are less friendly; Church Street is dead; it’s too expensive; too tiring; too cold. They are all pathetic excuses. I worried that the chattiness of Irish clubbers had spoiled me for going out in Canada, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if I never make the effort to go out and give new people a chance.

I miss dancing. I miss finally getting inside a warm bar. I miss the irreplaceable feeling of getting slightly shit-faced in public. Most of all, I miss the expectation of the beginning of the night, when anything’s possible.

Despite my achey legs, I’m not old yet. There’s still time to be Nathan from ‘Queer as Folk’ or Holly from ‘Bob and Rose’. Despite my two new jobs, my responsibilities at WORN and my need to save up for India, I’m getting out there once again.

It’s all happenin’.

Labels or Love

After rocking British TV with 1999’s ‘Queer as Folk’, about the lives of a trio of club-hopping gay men in Manchester, spawning imitators both American and Sapphic, creator Russell T. Davies wrote a mini-series which was, in its own way, just as revolutionary. ‘Bob and Rose’, a simple title for a complicated love story, is about a gay man and a straight woman who fall in love. Neither Bob (Alan Davies), a mild-mannered teacher, nor Rose (Lesley Sharp), a straight-talking office manager, were expecting to fall for the other, but the shock of their first unplanned sexual encounter is overshadowed by the shock that they both want to do it again.

Obviously, Bob has trouble wrapping his head around having a girlfriend. He insists that he is not going through a phase, not going back into the closet and definitely not bisexual or straight. Rose is the only woman he is attracted to and he can’t get her out of his mind. Rose has her own adjusting to do, but once the pair stops trying to explain and label everything, their love becomes simple. How everyone else deals with it is anything but.

Neither Rose’s girlfriends (who ask her why the thought of homo sex doesn’t turn her stomach) nor Bob’s bitchy gay pals can understand, while his father is beaming with pride (“Don’t be too happy, Dad!” Bob snaps), and his mother, who leads the group Parents Against Homophobia, takes it as a personal rebuff. And Bob’s best friend Holly (‘Spaced’s Jessica Stevenson), an extreme and a bit cruel stereotype of the fag hag, jealously wonders why it wasn’t her he fell for.

Not surprisingly, the series, while critically acclaimed, did not become an international phenom like ‘Queer as Folk’. But the show had an unlikely influence on ‘Sex and the City’: the writers, all fans of ‘Bob and Rose’, created a fictional British drama about an interracial couple called ‘Jules and Mimi’ for Miranda to draw inspiration from when she starts dating an African-American. It’s funny that ‘Sex and the City’ was winking at the concept of using a fictional show for inspiration as that series inspired over-analyzing woman and gay men the world over (comedian Bruce Daniels: “It’s all about listening in on gay guys’ arguments at the diner at four am after a night of clubbing. ‘I’m Samantha!’ ‘No, I’m Samantha!’ ‘Bitch, you’re Miranda!’”).

Actually, the influence might not be so unlikely: a year after ‘Bob and Rose’ premiered, ‘Sex and the City’ featured a guest appearance by Nathan Lane, playing a flamboyant and presumably-gay piano-player who inexplicably marries a woman.

But back to ‘Bob and Rose’.

“I don’t know,” my friend Dervla said sceptically when we watched it together. “Isn’t it a bad message for the gay community?”

Some queer activists agreed with her when the series first aired, accusing the show of portraying homosexuality as a phase (although there was a counter reaction among bisexuals who related to the discrimination the couple faced from Bob’s gay friends).

Although I am not one for all that Foucaultian social-constructiveness ‘we’re all bisexual’ bizz-natch, I never once questioned the show’s premise. Firstly, the casting helped: neither Bob nor Rose look like traditionally sexy leads (with Sharp’s unglamorous portrayal being particularly brave), but their sex life is discussed so much that by the end you can’t help but view them as sensual beings. Despite being only six episodes, the beginning of the affair is given a properly patient pacing, with realistic set-backs and awkwardness,  making the unlikely romance all the more believable when it blooms. We’re in British ‘kitchen sink’ drama world, so people go out to the pub or “for a curry”, ‘Coronation Street’ characters are discussed like they’re real and it’s thought that any problem can be solved with a cup of tea.

But what led me to believe the premise most of all is that Russell T. Davies based the story on the surprising love story of a friend of his:

“It came partly from real life, from a friend of mine who was the gayest man on earth… Then he suddenly falls in love with this woman and that’s it—marriage, kids, the lot. It was extraordinary, inexplicable—a chance in a million. And the most incredible thing was our reaction to it. We all took the piss, didn’t believe it for a minute. I thought he was leading this woman astray and it would all go horribly wrong. I found out though after talking to him that it was that rare thing, a real life love story.” He concludes, “To see your own prejudices at work is amazing.”

My own official line at press time is that sexuality is complex, mysterious and changeable. We have barely begun understanding its motivations. (The same thing could be said about love.) It’s best to keep an open mind about these things, as anything can happen.

That’s not to say I’m going to end up with a woman.

Sorry ladies.

Post No.100

Guess who!

Adding to the myriad of careers the actor, artist and double-MA student is already pursuing, James Franco has added drag queen and fortunately, has the sexy, sleepy eyes of an Old Hollywood vamp. He’s on the cover of Candy, which bills itself as “the first fashion magazine ever completely dedicated to celebrating transvestism, transexuality, cross dressing and androgyny, in all its manifestations.” Taken together with his performances in Milk and the new Allen Ginsberg movie, Franco has got to be the queerest straight actor working today. Only thing I don’t approve of is using notorious sleaze-bag Terry Richardson for the photos.