THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 151
The Street - Thursday 22nd November
[For archived material please go to tonycrosscolumn.org.uk]
Did you see the last instalment of The Street? 'The Street' is the name given to a series of plays and the last one (22nd November), by Jimmy McGovern, dealt with a situation where a married father who is a demolition worker discovers that he has a gay side to his nature. This discovery has disadvantages as well as benefits for him. Facing the consequences back at home provides most of the story and a lot of issues are packed into just over sixty minutes. It would have been very easy for this play to miss the mark - to have been unconvincing in one way or another, but I did not find it so. In fact I felt that it was a good representation of just such a situation.
At one level the point being made in this play is that there is still a lot of homophobia about - at the school when one boy texts the son that his dad is gay, the gym that turns the gay father away and the ribaldry of his workmates. But it seems to me that there are much deeper messages in this play. Lets look at it more closely.
The main crisis of the play is in the marriage, both for his wife and his two teenage children. The dawning realisation by all concerned of what the father having a gay side to his nature implies was, I thought, well done. Perhaps some heterosexuals might have found some parts difficult to accept, but those with any experience of bisexuality will, I am sure, have noted many authentic parallels to their own experiences.
In the play the moment of truth for the father comes when he is away on a job and shares a bedroom with another worker who, it turns out, is gay. The gay man comes on to the father and, after an angry rebuttal - ‘I am a hundred percent normal’ - by the father, a discussion between them ensues. The gay man asserts that some people are a hundred percent gay, some are a hundred percent straight, and some are ‘fifty percent normal’. And he finishes up by saying that, actually, everybody is bisexual and that those that assert that they are ‘one hundred percent normal’ are the people who are gay but are resisting the idea. This is accepted by the father because when he was a teenager he went through a sexual identity crisis about his gay feelings and stifled them through fear of the consequences at school. The two men have a sexual relationship.
The ‘I am a hundred percent normal’ phrase crops us again at the end of the play when the son in the family is clearly going through his own sexual identity crisis and tells his father he is ‘one hundred percent normal’. The father explains to his wife at one stage - when she asks him to go and talk to the son - that he doesn’t want his son to hide his gay sexuality, if that is what he has, otherwise, like his father, he will finish up in middle age, married and discovering - or rediscovering - his homosexuality.
The exposure of the gay activity of the father is covered in a convincing way - the gay man suggests they have a drink in a gay bar he knows before they part at the end of the demolition job (until next time) and in the toilets the father is robbed in a violent encounter with a thief. Later on the Police come calling at his house as they have the thief in custody and want evidence to convict - evidence the father is of course unwilling to provide as it would blow his cover. It is the arrival of the Police that opens the wife’s eyes to what has been going on and thus precipitates the crisis in the marriage.
The father provides a series of lies to stop the truth coming out at home, but the gossip in the school about the father being gay causes a fight by the son which, through the suspension of the son, causes the father to finally come clean with his family. When the truth is out the wife, feeling that she could fight encroachment on the marriage by another woman, but cannot cope with the gay challenge to the marriage, departs with the son in a taxi.
Interestingly, the husband says to his wife at one stage that they cannot afford to split up - an aspect often ignored. This reality may be one reason why the play shows the wife returning home with the son - either on the same day or the next day a few days later. Maybe she has realised that lack of money precludes independent living - or maybe she decides that she still loves her husband - as he genuinely professes to still love her - and thinks therefore it is worthwhile to try to work it out somehow. After all they have had decades together, and presumably were in love at the beginning, and they have reared two youngsters to their mid teens. Their marriage was surely strong enough to withstand the news that one partner was bisexual. The film ends with the husband going off again at breakfast time to do another spell of demolition work away - with the wife watching him from the window.
As a piece of contemporary comment on the situation in Britain today it was very interesting, and part of its value is that it does not try to hide the basic challenge of a new situation that is starting to arise in our society that has accepted gay people and the gay lifestyle. While the situation portrayed might not be common, it is certainly not uncommon! Ask Jeremy Marks about some of the enquiries he receives.
So what are the lessons - if any - that can be drawn from this observant play? One might be that, although at street level there is still a pervading sense of homophobia, this is countered by a growing acceptance of the fact that the perfectly ordinary and normal guy next to you at work may well be homosexual. In other words, homosexuality is increasingly coming to be seen as acceptable.
Another very important lesson may be - although the play did not make this completely clear - that couples facing gay problems can work together to deal with them. If there is love between the partners then a gay challenge can be accepted and countered with the deeper and abiding values of committed love and a relationship that has already lasted decades. We seem to have reached a stage in our development as a society - and this play shows it - where there is not just shock and horror and collapse when the gay experience happens to one partner in a marriage or partnership. Love and common commitment can provide the necessary glue and prove stronger than an outside gay intrusion into the partnership. What matters is the ongoing quality of love and forgiveness between the two people concerned.
One factor in the continued well being of the couple could be how the news of bisexuality is broken to the partner. In this film the husband - very naturally - finds it extremely difficult to tell his wife and family that he is ‘gay’. In fact it has to be finally forced out of him. Breaking the news in the right way may have a powerful effect on the future of the marriage. Of course the situation is very different when the erring partner thinks he or she is in love with the same sex person. That is, as they say, a different kettle of fish.
I will draw a third lesson as well. This is that youngsters going through their teenage years need help and understanding when they face their evolving sexuality. This is no new lesson! But perhaps one of the new truths that our society is discovering is that most of us (or all of us?) have both a heterosexual and a gay side to our nature. Mostly people are towards one end of the scale or the other. What is normal - and wise - is to face this dual aspect of our sexuality and accept any feelings of same sex attraction - especially when we are young. To batten down the hatches with a sense of guilt in one’s teens is a sure prescription for the sort of crisis that the father in this play went through in middle life.
Thank heavens that, as a society, we are beginning to grow up about sexual attitudes. As a Christian I thank God for whatever sexuality I have - wherever it is on the heterosexual/homosexual scale. I see sex as a God given gift and one to be fully accepted and enjoyed - always acting, of course, within our Lord’s commandment to love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind and soul, and to love my neighbour as myself.
That is the morality we are to be guided by as Christians, not ancient historical rules that may have been appropriate centuries ago when sexuality was a closed book and there were also powerful forces at work to control the behaviour of the population.