THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 138
The way society warps gay people
- a review of the film 'Clapham Junction'
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There was a shockingly brutal film called ‘Clapham Junction’ shown on television a few days ago. It is not a particularly taxing film in any intellectual way as it simply purports to recount the incidents in the lives of several gay men one evening in London. But it is a disturbing film. One might imagine that it was produced to induce an abhorrence of homosexuality in the viewers because the portrayal of brief incidents in the lives of the men concerned were all brutal, violent or bloody. All - except for one which showed under age sex between a fourteen year old and a suspected paedophile - dealt with impersonal sex of the lavatorial sort. In addition there were the attacks on homosexuals by mindless morons.
So was it meant to be entertainment or was it some form of propaganda? I doubt whether it’s primary effect on anyone would have been to make them want to actively campaign against violence towards homosexuals. The much more likely effect would have been to make a large percentage of heterosexual viewers decide that homosexuality was a generally sordid and disreputable affair. However the film does raise some valid questions and we need to see what these are. Perhaps it was an attempt to push the boundaries as regards homosexual sex on television a little further out. Some might think it was homophobic in intention. But I want to use the film to try to outline an aspect of homosexuality in our society that is all too often ignored or forgotten about. But first, what happened in the film?
The key scene in the film is probably at the beginning where a publisher is approached by his gay friend/acquaintance who wants his book about homosexuality to be published. The publisher turns it down on the grounds that ‘the gay thing’ has been done to death. The public wants something different is the message.
Strangely enough, exactly the same sentiment was expressed by Matthew Paris in the Times (26th July), where he said that he had finally decided to take the plunge - he was now a post-homosexualist. He has become bored ‘with the whole damn thing’. ‘Do cats witter endlessly on about being cats?’ he asks. The same sentiment is expressed in Clapham Junction - being gay is accepted by all sensible folks nowadays, so what’s new?
But of course that is very far from reality, as the film goes on to demonstrate. Variously, we saw several gay men being unfaithful to their partners, and suffering brutal attacks, as well as the results of an attack by teenagers on a music student (of indeterminate sexuality). We saw wives being bitchy about gay people, and we saw gay married men desperate for sexual contact with another man, running the huge risks of cottaging - public lavatory sex.
So what are the messages conveyed by this film? Well, the first and most obvious suggestion is shown in the attitude of the publisher - there are some who think that the public is tired of the whole gay thing.
This film addresses this suggestion - one that even a highly respected gay journalist seems to also hold. The film says in effect - look - see - this is what is happening in your so-called tolerant society. This is what gay people have to put up with. Not, perhaps, your well-to-do gay man, but certainly some young gay men and certainly those who are so desperate for male sex that they go wandering onto the Common at nights.
The second thing that this film says to me - and perhaps this is the most important message in this film - is that there is an inevitable warping in the attitudes of gay people because of the strictures of society about their being gay. By this I mean that the homosexual urge shows itself in our society in a warped way because our society treats gay people in the way it does.
When society produces a situation where it is quite common for gay men to be beaten up and reviled by others, is it any wonder that gay men themselves have a warped attitude to their sexuality? Is this so difficult to understand? If you, as a gay man, are raised in a society where homosexuality is not only discriminated against (especially in some religious circles) but is also considered a deeply disreputable activity by many, then of course your attitude towards your own homosexuality will to some extent become warped. And if your gay urges take you out to seek some action (to fulfil your natural urges) then your homosexual sex will probably be warped as well.
At the very least lets say that it is likely that you will find yourself looking for a quick satisfaction of your ‘unacceptable’ sexual desires rather than looking for a relationship with a person of character and worth. Warped relationships result. Such distortions become the norm in gay meeting places - whether on the Common at night, or in the gay club where sex is everything.
The film concentrated on these warped encounters and presented them in such a brutal way that, inevitably, heterosexual viewers react with disgust. Needless to say an exactly parallel film - just as unpleasant and brutal - could have easily been made about two men raping a girl down the lane. But that will not be foremost in the minds of heterosexual people who see this film!
So the second conclusion from seeing this film is that in our present day society it is more difficult for gay people to form a loving relationship with the ‘right’ person, and that because of the warping caused in gay people by the disapproval of society, their lives may well be deeply affected. That for me is one of the main messages of Clapham Junction. It is about the heavy burden that the undercurrent of homophobia in our society imposes on gay men and women. The result of that pressure warps attitudes, feelings, relationships and actions. It inevitably results in pain and suffering for those involved.
We have not yet seen, in this country, what it is like for gay people to grow up in a tolerant society. Although it is enormously easier that heretofore - thank God - for a gay person to recognise their nature and direct their life so that they can achieve some mental and physical satisfaction and happiness, we are still a very long way from gay people growing up in a favourable - or even neutral - atmosphere.
One of the men who beats up a gay man was portrayed in the film as a psychopath. He is clearly mentally twisted - not so much so that his mother could tell - but enough for the viewer to recognise a terrible mental and moral sickness in him. Eventually he himself got beaten up when an intended victim turned aggressor. Was this man harbouring gay tendencies in himself, and did he hate himself for it? There may be a lesson to be learned from that man - how, when we hate one aspect of ourselves enough, we turn against that trait in other people. Going out to batter gay men is a kind of release for us from the intolerable tension we feel within ourselves.
In the film two men who have lived together for years go through a Civil Partnership ceremony - and immediately afterwards one of them starts a sexual affair with a gay waiter. The utter failure of any sense of loyalty or faithfulness is so blatant that the character almost seems unreal. Or is that only my reaction? Certainly his feeling for his partner of many years does not extend to faithfulness. This also raises a question about marriage for straights and civil partnerships for gays. Are we not meant to be faithful afterwards? And what does faithfulness mean? Does a casual and isolated fling matter? What is the ‘arrangement’ between the two partners? Should not the Christian view of faithfulness in marriage extend to civil partnerships? The impression in this film is that loyalty does not seem to apply for gay men. In another scene a husband goes into public lavatories for anonymous gay sex. Is that wrong? Or is it just sad? Is it permissible in any way - is it better than his opting for divorce? ? Or is it sick? Is it a result of an inevitable warping of values? Is that a true portrayal of gay life?
In these and in other ways this film questions established sexual norms. One is invited to ponder on the pressure a gay married man feels - the enormous pull of gay sex. So great a pressure that, in the film, he risks his marriage, his family, his job - in fact his very way of life - in pursuit of what he feels is so urgent a need. Lavatorial sex is depressingly brutal and impersonal - maybe its anonymity is the attraction along with an element of danger. But seeing it on television is enough to enable heterosexuals to gain the (wrong) impression that that is what gay sex is all about.
There is a lot to ponder on that subject too. What about the happily married but gay man who has an urgent sexual need for another man? Is there ever any excuse for him taking some action to realise his desires? Would we view him as a case worthy of sympathy? Or should we condemn him and tell him to control himself? How far is he warped by our society?
In the film a fourteen year old boy has sex with a suspected paedophile - and there seems to be some real feeling between them. It is the boy who pushes insistently for the encounter and the paedophile who resists at first. But, of course, the paedophile did not have the chain on his door when he opened it and one wonders what paedophile would open his door -without a chain on it - in London at nine o’clock at night, and after he had previously been fire bombed because of his sexual activities!
Was it the boy’s first time? Who was wrong and in what way were they wrong in that incident? What does it tell us about the natural urges that overtake us sometimes? The utter hate of the boy’s mother in the later confrontation seems fully understandable, yet deeply unchristian.
Finally there is the interesting dinner table talk between a group that includes a philandering husband, an out gay man and several ‘dark horses’. At one point one of the wives turns on the gay man and says with great feeling, ‘Well you’ve got legal acceptance - what more do you want?’ This of course harks back to the remarks by the publisher - and by Matthew Paris. But does our society now accept gay people? Can we - should we - now relax and stop agitating for greater acceptance?
Clapham Junction is not a very pleasant place - at least it wasn’t when I last trod its platforms. The film Clapham Junction is not a very pleasant film either. But it raises important issues and we should not dismiss it just because it will go down so badly with heterosexual people. We need to see the film and ponder the issues it raises.
What sort of society are we in? There are a myriad mini-societies in Britain - and a lot of them do not exhibit rampant homophobia - thank goodness. I look forward to seeing a film one day about gay men and women where there is love and faithfulness and a life lived usefully in our society. But to imagine that the public now accepts homosexuality and that there is little need for us to battle against homophobia is so far from reality that it is time we all woke up to the need for action.
What action? Well - firstly, that there should be films (and books, and emails and letters and web logs etc) about the present situation - especially the warping effect on gay people of homophobia. Each of us can do something in this direction, even if it is only in conversation. Who knows - you may be connected - perhaps at one remove - to influential people and your contribution might be the key that opens the door for them.
As I have already indicated, I would not recommend this film to any heterosexuals I know. In my opinion it reinforces too many stereotypes, and is too ‘in your face’ for that. Its portrayal of homosexuality is confined to the kitchen sink variety - and I suspect that, anyway, many heterosexuals dislike seeing homosexual sex. But it is a film that should be seen by all gay people and especially those who are in the chattering classes - it is a wake up call to where we have reached in the battle to eradicate the rampant homophobia which still pervades our society - and which is, perhaps, most evident in the religious groups that have not yet accepted homosexuality and appear to be trying to still live in the past.
Secondly, as Christians we must agitate and pray and fight for homosexuality to be accepted by Christians for what it is - as natural a condition as heterosexuality. Some religious enclaves are still preaching that homosexuality is a perversion and an abomination. The ignorance behind a lot of the condemnation of homosexuality has to go. Sadly this film will not achieve that. We have a lot of educating of people still to do. Especially in the churches. We need to proclaim that Christ loves us all equally and that gay people are as acceptable to God as straight people. Some major religions other than Christianity still have the old attitudes embedded in their teaching - teaching that originated long before our understanding of human sexuality reached the level we have today.
If you have the opportunity, see the film Clapham Junction. It may depress you. It is certainly brutal and shocking. But hopefully it will sear into our minds the absolute necessity for us all to continue to fight homophobia in all its forms, wherever it is found. Our goal will be reached when everyone - including most Christians - see gay people as normal.