The Great Unhappiness Conspiracy (e)
Do gay men have a problem with happiness? As a single guy trying to find a sane, stable partner, I think my last date kind of says it all. So a guy chats me up over the internet. Let’s call him J. J lives about five hours drive away, so I’m not convinced that this is any more than a fantasy date, but he is quite persistent. J chats to me for two weeks and then moves onto phone calls. He tells me that there isn’t much gay scene in the small French town where he lives. He says that though he always knew he was gay, he got married and only now at forty has found the courage to split up with his wife and to come out as gay.
His definition of “coming out” isn’t quite the same as mine though. He still hasn’t told his work colleagues – it’s none of their business, he says. Or his parents. They’re Catholic. What would be the point? – he says. It would only upset them.
I’m not entirely convinced by this narrative. I have met enough guys who still haven’t told Mum and Dad to know that it even if a relationship does work out, that sense of shame ultimately undermines everything. Humans will always choose the path of least resistance, and running away from a new relationship at the first problem is generally easier than admitting to Mum and Dad that you’re a dirty sinner who will burn in hell for all eternity.
But he wants to come for a long weekend so I say, “Fine, come!”
When J arrives, he’s surprisingly cute. I mean, I have seen photos of him, but for once he actually looks like he does in the photos. He actually looks better.
He’s clever too. Intelligent and articulate. And knackered from a week at work and a very long drive. I cook dinner. We share a bottle of wine and sit in front of the fire. We have a very nice evening, and then he chooses to share my bed (I offer him the spare room of course – always the perfect gentleman, me).
J falls asleep instantly, so that first night we do nothing but sleep cupped together. But as anyone who has been single for a while knows, that’s a nice feeling. It’s more than a nice feeling.
The next morning, we have a leisurely breakfast. Everything still feels nice and relaxed. And then we start to kiss, we move into sex. He wants to be fucked, so, fuck him is what I do. He likes it. So do I. By the amount of noise he’s making – screaming like a banshee – he likes it a lot. This could work out yet.
When it’s over, he lies back and smokes a cigarette. “That was amazing,” he says.
He goes to the bathroom to wash himself off, but when he returns, he seems weird. He doesn’t seem to want to look me in the eye. “I think I might go home actually,” he says.
“Oh! Really?” I say. “I thought you were staying till Monday.”
“Nah. I have stuff to do at home. I think I’ll just go and come back another time when the weather’s better.”
“Are you sure? Is something wrong?”
“No,” he says, still avoiding eye contact. “Everything’s fine.”
“Ok, well drive carefully in this rain, and let me know when you get home.”
And there he is packing his bag, and there he is – gone.
About six hours later I see him back online on the internet. Does he think that counts as “letting me know he got home?” I guess he does.
I filled my first novel - 50 Reasons to Say Goodbye - with stories like these. And it sold like hot cakes because gay men who read it identified exactly with that experience of dating hell. And ten years later, these disasters are still happening. Ten years later, this is still what most dates that I or my friends have are like.
Our potential boyfriends turn out to be depressives or junkies, or newly HIV positive and devastated by it. They are alcoholics, commitment-phobes or sex-addicts requiring thirty different partners a week. They are so frantically searching for Mister Right that they can’t afford the time to actually find out what Mister-Now - already Mister-Yesterday was actually about. I’m sad to say that in my new novel – The Case Of The Missing Boyfriend – in which the lead character is a woman, one of her gay mates kills himself because of his illness and depression. Gay friends who have read the manuscript commented that they found that part particularly convincing. One even said he “enjoyed” that section particularly...
So do gay men have a problem with happiness? Erm, yes, I think they do.
In Europe I’m convinced that the biggest oppressor remains the Catholic church. A few years back I was asked to write a column for the UK magazine reFresh exploring gay life in all the new countries joining the European Union. Because I couldn’t afford to travel around (I was paid eighty euros for the piece) I simply went on gayromeo and chatted to the guys in Cyprus and Latvia and Malta...
The first thing I noticed was that the guys in Poland never show their faces. Neither do the men in Malta. And when I asked them why, there were never more than a couple of lines of text before Catholicism was mentioned. I asked them what it was like to be gay, and again, in Poland the answer was, “Awful.” One guy didn’t mince his words. “It’s the fault of the fucking church” he said. “They’re cunts.”
In Malta where the population is 98% Orthodox Catholic they told me it was quite simply “impossible” to be gay. In Malta, it seems, all gay men still get married. Being gay there means only that one occasionally has sex with other men in a dimly lit car park. Right back to 1930.
And then I talked to the guys in Estonia. Go look for yourselves. Every photo a happy, smiling, clothed face pic. I asked them what it was like to be gay. “Brilliant,” they said. All of them. Really. And are they religious in Estonia? Nope. For historical reasons, Estonia is the least religious country in the entire world.
This Catholic conditioning runs so deep that those who live in Catholic countries aren’t even aware of the power. French friends are constantly explaining to me that the Catholic church has no more power in France since the separation of church and state. They don’t seem to notice that the entire government is white and heterosexual and Catholic. Or that all of the public holidays are Catholic. Or that they tell you which saint’s day it is at the end of every weather forecast. Or that the churches (but not the mosques) still ring their bells in every town to call you to mass. Or that every time the pope has a rant about how evil homos are, or simply scratches an armpit or farts anywhere in the world, TF1, fearing that we might miss it, devotes ten minutes of their primary news slot to reporting it, in HD stereo.
That power is vast, and it is all pervasive. It is the reason that the French government still hasn’t run TV ads directly talking about homosexual sex and the risk of aids. It’s the reason that there still hasn’t been a gay chat show on a mainstream terrestrial channel (Out On Tuesday piloted on Channel 4 in the UK in 1989! Thats 20years ago.) It’s the reason that French cinema still never shows a happy, normal gay couple (they have to be tortured, dying, or confused about their sexuality.) Or they have to be camp enough to get a laugh from the hetties à la Pedale Douce.
It’s the reason that French publishers have told me that my novels have too much sex in them to be translated for the French market. “Gay sex is only acceptable in French literature in a nihilistic, dark environment. A la Rémes.” I quote. I kid you not.
Why? Because the message must be moralising. Show a gay couple living happily and enjoying a faithful, disease-free, sex-filled lifestyle? Heavens above, no! What would Benoit say?!
So in a way, I wasn’t surprised when Catholic J stared shamefully at the floor after sex. I wasn’t surprised when he preferred to drive away and forget me rather than establish any kind of relationship. I was a witness.
What amazes me even more though, is that there are more and more people out there, especially the younger generation, and especially in less Catholic countries who haven’t been taught to hate themselves. I know young people whose friends and brothers and sisters said, “You’re gay? Oh, OK. Anyway, what shall we have for dinner?” And many of these same people are still fucking without condoms, drowning themselves in drink and drugs, smoking themselves to oblivion. And when you talk to them, a lot of them sound angry – incredibly angry – about how hard it is to be gay. When, frankly, I don’t find it that hard at all. And I don’t see much evidence that it’s hard for them either.
We live in societies where being a victim brings status. We love our divas not in-spite but because of their tragic lives. Our governments and support networks and gay organisations run around endlessly to help those who are sick or dying, whilst the silent majority, who are still fine because they put a bloody condom on, remain invisible and ignored by everyone. And excluded from the support networks they feel isolated and alone.
In an era where TV sells us the idea that we should be happy and beautiful and witty, that we should have huge groups of charming Friends. That we should be Pop StarZ or artists, or porn stars with fifteen inch dicks – that in short, we should be exceptional in every way – well, it’s so much easier to blame our mediocre lives on the fact that we are victims of the great anti-gay conspiracy than to take responsibility for it ourselves.
But as oppression (in Western societies at least) fades, we are increasingly victims of little more than our own addiction to unhappiness, our own myth of misery, and our own desire to inflict illness and unhappiness on ourselves.
Human beings have an astounding capacity to keep banging their heads against the same brick walls. And we gay men have been banging our heads against the brick walls of (preventable) illness, victim status, and sexual addiction coupled with Christian guilt for too long. We deserve more. It’s time to change. It’s time to shake off anything the church has to say about us as the mediaeval mumbo-jumbo it is. It’s time to respect our bodies and those of our lovers. We deserve to let ourselves be healthy and happy and perhaps for the first time in history, it’s within our reach. The time has come.