Wednesday, 28 November 2007

12 - TeeVee and Sympathy 1: That Was The Week That Was

"Confession" by John Braine, in "That Was The Week That Was", edtied by David Frost and Ned Sherin, W.H. Allen, 1963

Heterosexuality is an ugly word. Until recently it skulked in the obscurity of medical text books. Now, one hears it everywhere. Let us be explicit and fearless about its meaning, then. Hetero, as one might expect, is derived from a foreign language, and means 'opposite'. Therefore, a heterosexual man is sexually attracted only to women and vice-versa.
There are few outward signs by which a heterosexual reveals himself, though authorities on the subject claim that a heterosexual will sooner or later give himself away - if only by his clumsiness and coldness, and crashing insensitivity. A heterosexual walks - or rather clumps in hobnailed boots and belted mac - alone. Not for him the joys of true comradeship; his energies are all spent in the pursuit of women. There is nothing he longs for more, than a night out with the boys, but a night out with the boys - in the truest, deepest sense is precisely what he can never enjoy. He is too busy making passes at the barmaid.
What is being done about this problem? Very little. The prevalent official attitude is simply to make heterosexuality as difficult as possible, to scoop it under the carpet.
How do I know all this?
I am a heterosexual.
It began early with me, at my public school. I won't say which one. . . I have dishonoured it enough already. I was fourteen years old, apparently a happy, wholesome normal lad, making friendships which would stand me in good stead for the rest of my life, when suddenly I realised that I didn't feel as I should towards the Captain of the Eleven. I couldn't disguise my growing conviction that he was a big, fat, boring slob. The padre, the housemaster, the housemaster's wife, did their level best to help, but I left school under a cloud.
I became an up-and-coming young executive. My field was corsets. I was good at my job, then one afternoon, I found it necessary to take a client to a strip club. I was watching a young lady in a G-string wrestling with a stuffed snake, when, to my horror, I discovered that I violently desired her. I tried to believe that it was something I had eaten. I tried to behave normally, and only looked at the audience. But it was no use. I enjoyed looking at naked women. .
Of course, my work began to suffer. I lost my job. Now, I am a doorman at the strip club which was the cause of my downfall. I am not actively unhappy, and sometimes the young ladies let me take them home, but it's a strange twilight world I live in. I have fallen farther than most, because I had farther to fall.
Mine is a sad story, but heterosexuals do not cry. I am not a criminal. Before you condemn me out of hand, try and see me as I am, a lost and lonely soul, with perhaps, a more than passing resemblance to - dare I say it - yourselves.


Now that people could admit that there were such things as homosexuals, homosexuality could be a recognised social problem. And so there began to appear TV profiles and documentaries in which anguished homosexuals could appear to confess they couldn't help it and ask for understanding and sympathy from straight society.
This piece by John Braine, famous as an Angry Young Man for writing "Room at the Top" (1957), is an early example of reversing the whole premise.
Charles Beaumont wrote "Crooked Man" ('Playboy, August 1955), a short story about the persecution suffered by the last few heterosexuals in a world gone gay. It's only slightly sneering, but it's notable that it's promoted in 'Playboy' as a horror story. Which I supoose it would be if you're the typical red-blooded, all-man reader of 'Playboy'. Not that 'Playboy' is really homophobic - it's just that homosexuality has to be largely ignored, so that the interest in consumer goods, men's fashion, etc doesn't attract any funny looks.
Martin Amis also rings the changes on this heterosexuals are a minority in a gay world in his short story "Straight Fiction", which I think I can remember finding a lot more unpleasant.
This is a theme we'll see more of later.

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