THE GAY TV DRAMA LLAMA? By Beyonce
Remember when Channel 4 made that radical new drama about gay men living in Manchester? Seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? Back in 1999 we saw Stuart Alan Jones rimming a 15-year old Nathan Maloney. Since then we’ve seen Anthony Cotton on Corrie and a gay chav in Shameless. But there hasn’t been anything as groundbreaking in suggesting that gay men aren’t all victims or camp sideshows. Queer as Folk‘s most provocative premise was that we have problems just like everyone else, and they’re problems that matter.
It’s not a secret that there’s a paucity of gay role models on TV. Gay magazines have discussed this issue, at length, before. I’ve discussed this issue before. But what I have noticed is that while we’ve not had a single mainstream drama about and for gay men since Queer as Folk, off the top of my head I can think of three about and (allegedly) for lesbians: Sugar Rush, The L Word and Lip Service. I say ‘allegedly’ because the first came perilously close to teen drama territory, while the last seems entirely for the titillation of straight men.
Perhaps this is why dyke dramas are so much more popular with commissioners than gay dramas. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to Henry Swindell, who develops new writing talent in the north for the BBC, and his thought was that a show that focussed on gay male protagonists would probably only be picked up by Channel 4, with a smaller chance of being picked up by BBC3 if the age-range was 16-25.
When I spoke to Red Media, the production company behind Russell T. Davies’ queer classic, they themselves said it had been a long time since a gay drama had hit the screens, and acknowledged there might be an audience for it. But if there is, why has it been so long?
Why are gay men much less appealing than lesbians to mainstream TV? I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest it’s this: sex.
Think about it. The gay men who are popular and acceptable on mainstream TV are all pretty neutered these days: Graham Norton is a cheeky Irish chappy who seems a million miles away from his raunchier Channel 4 days, and Paul O’Grady has long since said goodbye to the acidic wit of Lily Savage. Add in the unfairly maligned Louis Spence and Anthony Cotton, and all-in-all you have a bunch of gay men without balls. No, let me rephrase that, because it’s not fair: they probably do have lots of balls, but we’re not usually allowed to see them. They’re not allowed to have spunk, and they’re not really allowed to discuss their sex lives outside the realms of camp innuendo.
Gay men on TV these days are pretty much castrated by the powers that be.
When was the last time anyone saw Julian Clary boldly claiming to have fisted a politician? When was the last time anyone saw him at all? These days I only see his face when I pass his book on the shelves in my local Waterstones.
Gay sex must be, if you happen to be a straight male TV exec, rather terrifying. If you’re a female TV exec (and I hear there may be a few out there somewhere), gay sex probably isn’t terrifying, but it might be a little bit . . . dirty. I mean, it’s all bums and public lavs, isn’t it?
But lesbian sex? Well that’s almost dainty. It’s just the glide of fingers with manicured nails, sensual stroking of furry things, and pink lipsticked mouths closing over pert, inoffensive nipples. (At least, it is if you believe the fantasy sex scenes in Lip Service.) Lesbian sex is appealing to straight men and, as it’s presented on TV, cheeky but non-threatening to straight women.
I guess this can partly be chalked up to gender inequality. It’s still perfectly fine to see a woman’s knockers in the family paper, but not at all to see an erect male penis on TV, which is one of the few things still banned. People don’t like to be reminded of cocks standing firm and proud, like a blade ready to cut even the most masculine of men down to size. I imagine straight men don’t like to be reminded that in the face of Stuart Jones’ well-used cock—or even his probing tongue in that opening episode—even they can be rendered passive and receptive.
Commissioners may have something up their sleeves, I guess. But why wait? I think it’s about time to claim back TV drama for the gays. I don’t just want to see the politically-correct, well-behaved, boy-next-door homos of lighthearted sitcoms. I want to see the messy, angry, confused, downtrodded, broken-hearted, slutty, passionate, crazy, fabulous and thoroughly uncompromising side of queer life we all see every day. As a community we’re a weird and assorted bunch. For every clean-cut cissy and disco dolly, there’s a gay accountant or a sex-crazed homo investment banker. We fall in love. We go to work. What’s most terrifying about us, I guess, is that we’re perfectly normal. So if the normal and everyday is the stuff of TV drama, and can be spun into countless variations on a theme, why not when it comes to gay men?
One recent ray of light was BBC’s Beautiful People. Though it wasn’t wholly gay, the main character and his best friend were gay, albeit in an asexual way (they were, after all, pre-pubescent boys). Scriptwriter Jonathan Harvey is the incisive writer of Beautiful Thing and Gimme Gimme Gimme, and he never fails to deliver (those scenes he writes for Coronation Street are the ones where Anthony Cotton actually does shine).
But both Russell T. and Jonathan are from the 90s. Where’s the next queer scriptwriter of our decade? There must be one waiting somewhere. It’s been a very long time.
TV execs take note: we’re here, we’re queer, and one of us must have a script idea!
One thought on “THE GAY TV DRAMA LLAMA? By Beyonce”
Good insightful article which articulates some of my experiences (as a gay writer) of dealing with broadcast TV commissioners. They think that the whole ‘gay thing’ has been ‘done’ thanks to Queer As Folk, (which incidentally I had the pleasure of working on 13 years ago now). There are more gay faces on TV these days, but it’s generally the same old individual ‘coming out’ storylines in TV soaps or the cheeky camp humour of Graham N, Alan C or Paul O. We need provocative, aspirational, challenging dramas that reflect how the world has changed for LGBT people in the 13 years since QAF; in particular the massive effect that living a life online has had on how we live, love and connect with others. I’m developing and writing several new gay drama series, but am primarily aiming to produce these shows for web and mobile platforms to reach out directly to a gay audience. Sometimes you just have to take things into your own hands and don’t take no for an answer! Tom :)
Comments are closed.