Saturday, 19 October 2013

What I'm watching: Homophobia for beginners


This two-part documentary, filmed over two years, took Stephen Fry on a global tour of homophobia. Part One began with an interview with Elton John and David Furnish, the Cinderella and Prince Charming of gay couples. And now for something completely different: the public hanging of five convicted gay men in Iran, followed by an interview with an Iranian in London who is waiting to hear whether he can be granted asylum here or sent back to face the odious regime in his homeland. LBGT lives are, as we all know, very different in different parts of the world.

Stephen also bravely went to Uganda and interviewed the government minister who is trying to introduce the death penalty for homosexuality there (it's already illegal). The man was obsessed with anal intercourse and would not listen to Stephen's repeated statement that sodomy is widely practised among heterosexuals. He encountered a similar mindset with the governor of St Petersburg where increasingly strict laws are being introduced during the 'reign' of Comrade Putin.

Disturbing in a different way was his meeting with a 'therapist' in the US who operates a 're-conversion' clinic to turn gay men straight. We met one of this man's victims, a cute young man for whom the therapy confirmed him in his conviction that he was gay: luckily he had a supportive mother - many gays in the Bible Belt are forced into this kind of 'treatment' by parental bigotry. Also disturbing, in Part Two,was the growth of violent homophobia in the cities of Brazil where Gay Pride parades are among the biggest and best on the planet; Stephen met a woman whose teenage son was beaten and strangled by a local gang who went un-prosecuted.

He ended his tour in India where gays and the world's most colourful transsexuals (Hijras) are beginning to enjoy more protection from the law, although tragically most of the Hijras can only survive by working as prostitutes, with a scary rate of HIV infection.

As Stephen kept reminding us, Gay Liberation has brought us greater security in the West: protection from discrimination and, in many countries, the right to marry our partners. But in too many places the bigots are in the ascendant - and they lurk among us in Europe and the Americas. The law giveth and the law taketh away. We need to maintain our vigilance. Before he started culling Europe's Jews, Hitler sent gays to the death camps.

If you missed Out There, catch up with it on BBC iPlayer.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Arab Spring fades into . . . The Arab Fall

Time for a re-launch of SHAIKH-DOWN - comments invited!
* * * * * * * * * * * * 

THE ARAB SPRING is fading  time for "THE ARAB FALL"

  David Gee’s SHAIKH-DOWN offers a timely blueprint for Regime Change on an island in the Persian Gulf. This spicy comedy has a sharp sting in its tail. 
Thirty years ago, Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa al-Khazi, the Emir of Belaj, stole the throne of the tiny oil-rich island from his uncle. Now BARF (the Belaj Armed Revolutionary Front) plans to dethrone Shaikh Khalid and install a republic. Their campaign attracts some unlikely allies: a pneumatic American airhostess and a gay British banker.

“Witty, entertaining, raunchy and very well written.”

Peter O’Donnell, creator of Modesty Blaise


SHAIKH-DOWN is available from Amazon and from bookshops

and as an e-book from

Read extracts on:


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

What I'm reading: an LGBT novel from the great JOHN IRVING


Very much a 'companion piece' to The World According to Garp, John Irving's breakthrough fourth novel (1978), In One Person explores, at considerable depth, the community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (Billy Abbott, his narrator hero, is not keen on the 'transgender' word and happily admits to a major passion for 'chicks with dicks'). Transsexuals and bisexuals are the main focus: both groups are treated with sensitivity and Irving's trademark warm humour. Billy's grandpa Harry is the cross-dressing star of amateur theatricals; his appearances, from plays in Billy's teenage years, to Harry's dotage in a care home, provide some the book's funniest scenes.

Born in 1942, Billy grows up in a small town in Vermont where his stepfather teaches at the local boys-only private school. School plays and the town's dramatic society loom large in Billy's teenage years. Chapter Two is called 'Crushes on the Wrong People', which is to be the 'leitmotif' of Billy's early life. He develops a huge crush on Kittredge, the arrogant and unattainable Golden Boy 'jock' in his dorm. He also has a crush on the town librarian, Miss Frost, who introduces him to the classics of literature (all the way up to James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, the first truly outstanding gay novel); Miss Frost will shape the writer that Billy is destined to become and also gives a nudge to his complex sexuality. She is another of Irving's great comic creations, plainly evolved from Garp's Roberta Muldoon (gloriously played by John Lithgow in the movie).

Most readers are sure to second-guess Miss Frost's Big Secret before Billy does. She and Kittredge dominate the first two-thirds of the novel which is perhaps a bit too long: there is some repetition in the chronicle of Billy's confused teens - too much Shakespeare, too much Ibsen. When the timeline moves forward it's a sudden jump to the Eighties, the era of AIDS, in which Billy loses many friends and a few lovers. Irving reminds us in harrowing and unflinching detail of all those initially fatal conditions that afflicted people with a compromised immune system. The narrative only regains its humour when Billy delves into the last of his family's secrets, in Madrid and back in Vermont.

There's a lot of sex in the book, some of it laugh-out-loud hilarious. An operatic soprano girlfriend hits an E-flat during orgasm, but Billy can't hear it because her thighs have enveloped his ears. There's some wrestling - a recurring theme in several of his novels - but the only bears (another of his trademarks) are bearded gays in Toronto bars!

Even more than Garp, this novel reads like autobiography; are we to infer that the author is letting a cat out of the bag? Probably not. One of Billy's lovers (they meet in Vienna - another location revisited here) says: "his fiction sounds as much like a memoir as he can make it sound." Yes, indeedy. Occasionally maddening, always engaging, deeply affecting, In One Person finds John Irving at the very peak of his powers. Other writers, LBGT or straight, live in his shadow.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Another review for THE DROPOUT

I don't know who TROY BEAL is, but he has just given me a 4-star review on Amazon. Reproduced below, though it doesn't exactly sound like a 4-star review!

What an extraordinary amount of sex this book contains- and of many differing types- straight, gay, gangbangs, prostitution, three in a bed.

It just doesn't stop!

An interesting tale- the scenes of factory life are absorbing- though the whole story is somewhat bleak, and with quite an above average ration of sudden, even violent death.

None of the characters seem capable of much honesty or happiness- the gay characters all have to die miserable, marriage never functions even passably. The English seaside town is a desperate and dour place.

An unusual reading experience.