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.