The trouble with a documentary on gay men
PinkNews.co.uk’s Adam Smith expresses relief that he didn’t tell his mum to watch last night’s BBC3 Trouble With… Gay Men documentary.
Simon Fanshawe’s documentary looking at the problems with gay men promised a look at the upsides and drawbacks to being a gay man in the UK in 2006. I was looking forward to seeing a balanced view of gay life in contemporary Britain. Maybe the title should have warned me, but what I saw was a hand-wringing despair of gay life in London, focusing on the actions of a minority of gay men, albeit a large minority.
I was expecting a bit more variety in the ‘problems’ identified. Fanshawe could have chosen the way in which gays have allowed Eilean Siar council to announce that it would not hold civil partnerships in its premises, or the apparent lack of compassion for gays who are unlucky not to live in countries such at the UK that respect their rights as a minority. Instead, for the first half of the program he chose to focus on problems that are endemic to youth culture nationwide, such as drug taking, promiscuity and worshipping the young beautiful.
Poking criticism at people with different morals, lifestyles and ideas to his own, he condemns entrants to Mr Gay UK, labelling them as vain and naïve. While he does have some ring of truth to some elements of this (in all fairness, to think that people vote for your personality in these things is a tad naïve) if these guys want to parade around in multicoloured hotpants then why not let them? Aside from your brain, your body is your biggest asset so you should make the most of it while you can.
Just because Fanshawe has decided not to indulge in drug taking or promiscuous sex, why should he judge those who do? Again, they seem to have picked the extreme example here of a Locker Room sauna employee claiming that gay men can never be monogamous. Sure some can’t, but ask thousands of middle aged housewives if their husbands can be faithful and you may get the same answer.
There were some positive points made though. The interview with the Metropolitan Police’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Brian Paddick was particularly encouraging, showing that gay men can make it, even in a ‘macho’ environment.
However again, the programme descended into despair at the gays in the entertainment industry. Focusing on camp, flamboyant and stereotypical queens on TV, Fanshawe ignored the many
gay men who, just because they don’t flaunt their sexuality may not be an obvious role model.
The few that spring instantly to mind are Jeremy Sheffield, David Paisley and John Barrowman.
Instead he concentrated on the views of TV presenter Graham Norton, Big Brother housemate Josh Rafter, and camp host of The Jules and Lulu Show, Julian Bennett.
While I found the programme interesting, I also thought that it served to reinforce the stereotypes that many people have about gays, while not actually exploring the deeper problems that the gay community faces. I agree with many points that Fanshawe makes, in particular the divisions that have occurred within the community.
While this is not such an issue in smaller towns, in cities such as London where clubs cater for niche markets due to the vast size of the community here it has ghettoised groups from each other.
The self-destructive nature of many gay men is an issue; however I would not expect it to be much higher than young, single, affluent people in the straight community. Seeing as this demographic group makes up a much higher proportion of people among gays, it would be
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fair to make this comparison.
Some of the survey carried out could be questionable too. In particular, the ‘1 in 5 gay men have tried crystal meth’ statement could be misleading – were they asking clubbers in an after-hours club? Of all my friends, I know of only 2 that have taken Crystal and 1 of them is straight.
So while I don’t particularly disagree with most of what was contained in this program, I do feel it didn’t cover the breadth of the community. The only venture Fanshawe took out of the gay ghettos of London and Brighton was one visit to ‘middle England’ – Peterborough.
I do not cruise for sex on Gaydar, I am not promiscuous (any more) and have never taken crystal meth or steroids, never paraded on stage in hot pants to be on the cover of QX magazine or aspired to be like Graham Norton.
However if my mum had watched this programme she would have a very different image to the reality of my life and that of my friends. But maybe I have just become a victim of the splintering of the gay community and am stuck in a clique with like minded individuals.
The programme is repeated on Saturday 29th April at 250am