BiMedia – July 2004

Corrie’s Gay ‘Breakthrough’ Kiss

Sorry, haven’t we been here before? In September last year, Coronation Street pre-publicity went into overdrive, announcing that it would be screening the soap’s first ever gay kiss. As it transpired, that steamy snogfest turned out to be really quite chaste, with ‘confused’ Todd Grimshaw kissing his girlfriend’s brother on the lips while he slept after an evening’s drinking. Over May and June, Corrie decided to do it again, but this time with a proper, full blown affair between Todd (who has gotten engaged and his girlfriend, Sarah, pregnant) and a colleague, nurse Karl Foster. After about a month of tortured looks and toing and froing, the two have the long-awaited (and full blooded) snog on Canal Street (just to make it obvious). This has been hailed by the programme makers, and by much of the gay and mainstream media as a major breakthrough in the representation of homosexuality, which it was – an obviously sexual kiss, between two men, in the country’s most popular soap opera, before the watershed. No allusions, no off-screen happenings referred to later, simply a proper kiss, acknowledged for what it was.

However, as the story continued to unfold, things turned out to be not quite so rosy. As the affair continues, it becomes plain that Todd is only going to be allowed (by the scriptwriters) to either come out and be ‘properly gay’, or stay straight and completely suppress his sexuality. Bisexuality is evidently NOT an option in Weatherfield. Eventually, he does come out, and all hell breaks loose. Sarah leaves immediately, he’s subjected to huge amounts of public homophobic abuse, gets punched several times, his own brother calls him a dirty queer and refuses to sleep in the same room as him, and his mum and her mum have a fight in the street in their dressing gowns. It all becomes too much for Sarah, and she is rushed into hospital in high drama, loses her baby, and her father kicks the living shit out of his lover. The plotline ended with him being unable to attend his own child’s funeral, and only being allowed to grieve once everyone else has left. The character seems to currently be hiding in a box somewhere (as soap characters do from time to time), but apparently will be leaving the Street later in the summer. Originally Karl was supposed to leave too, but apparently due to demand from viewers(?!), will be brought back instead.

Colin Shaw, a former director of television at the Independent Broadcasting Authority and founding director of the Broadcasting Standards Council, accused the storyline of being “grotesquely unfair and unbalanced” and of encouraging homophobia. But an ITV spokeswoman dismissed the criticism, pointing out that the Todd Grimshaw storyline had been written by two gay writers – Gimme Gimme Gimme creator Jonathan Harvey and Darren Little. So that’s alright then. Maybe the intention was to portray the lived experience of homophobia in a more realistic way, but it seems possible that the opposite effect may have been achieved. As one of the soap columnists recently put it: “Poor Todd. If ever there was an advert for keeping schtum, staying in the closet and living a life of bitter subterfuge, then this is it.”(Guardian, 10th June).

Bisexuality seems to be breaking out all over soapland these days (or at least trying to), with bi, or ’confused’ plots currently running in Emmerdale, Family Affairs and Holby City; whilst Eastenders and The Bill have also had similar stories over the past year. More rants on this later – if you have any other examples, please join the Bimedia group and tell us about it.

Bi is the new gay?
In the wake of the Rebecca Loos scandal, any amount of minor celebs seem to have been ‘confessing’ that they are actually bisexual. Most notably, it seems that most of the current crop of inmates in the Big Brother house have decided that we need to know (and see) the intimate details of their sex lives. With the exception of Nadia, a trans member of the house, who seems to have been relatively restrained about her sexuality, two or three of the girls and one of the boys have been at pains to point out their interest in ‘swinging both ways’. However, as people have started to leave, a slightly different picture is emerging:

‘[Emma] said: “I am bisexual. I fancy men and women and think I could fall in
love with anyone.”
But then: “I’m a liberal girl and have fun with girls – but I’ve only kissed them. “I find other girls beautiful and I am curious. I’ve never had sex with a girl’ (The Mirror, 22nd June)
‘Jason [Cowan], 30 … has also confided to pals that he spun a web of fibs on his Big Brother application form. “Jason’s a real ladies’ man. But he knew that alone wouldn’t be enough to get him on the show. So he put on his application form that he was bisexual. He admitted to us that it was a downright lie but he knew they’d love the thought of a strapping guy who swung both ways.”’ (Daily Star, July 4th)
Becki Sidikki, who has been disowned by her family due to her antics on BB, told newspapers after she left the house, “I’ve snogged a couple of girls, but I’m not bisexual. It was partly alcohol intoxication, partly curiosity – everyone’s a bit bisexual. I was painted a certain way – the Big Brother bosses wanted me to sex the place up. But I want people to know I’m not driven by sex – I’m driven by love.”(Sunday Mirror, 11th July)

As one columnist put it: “THIS year’s hot, “must have” fashion accessory for women is a colourful little touch of bisexuality”(The Mirror, June 30th). Across the Atlantic, similar things seem to be happening, with Scarlett Johansson joining an increasing queue of actresses happy to play with the media in this way. ‘Scarlett, … made headlines when she was spotted in a lingering embrace with her friend Tara Subkoff, 30, at the trendy New York bar Hiro in May. In a new interview, Scarlett laughs off the incident but keeps fans guessing about her sexuality by joking about how friendly the two friends really are. She says: ‘Tara is one of my best friends, it never happened. It would be very strange for our relationship.’ But she adds: ‘So of course, two nights later we had a dark, candlelit dinner and I was calling her “my petal” all night. She was just dying. I was like, “Can I get you a glass of wine, my rose, now that we’re a couple?”’(Mail on Sunday, Jul 11th)

Same sex partnership bill in chaos
“The government’s civil partnership bill to sanction same sex unions was thrown into confusion last night after a cross-party coalition of peers and bishops voted to extend the bill’s benefits to a wide range of people who live together in a caring family relationship. Ministers and most gay lobbying groups were furious at what they saw as wrecking tactics… They called the amendment unworkable… But Peter Tatchell of Outrage said he applauded the amendment because it ended an injustice to a group of people who deserved to share the benefits, which extend to next-of kin rights such as hospital access and funeral rights. The Lords should be applauded for extending partnership rights to carers, he argued but should have gone further to included heterosexual couples.” (Guardian, 25th June)

Problem Pages
“DON’T get married. It’s cheating on yourself as well as this man. Even if he knew about your previous sexual history, it would still be a huge mistake.
You’re using him. I know you’re hurting and I can also understand why you might have decided to give being heterosexual a try. But you and I both know you are only playing at it. You’re not even bi-sexual, you’re just temporarily hiding out in a straight world just as your mother maybe hid out in a gay one.”(Daily Record, June 29th)

“IT’S not that unusual, at your age, to feel this strong passion for someone of the same sex. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are gay or even bisexual… Some people are genuine bisexuals of course, but most of us eventually settle down to be one thing or the other.
You don’t have to decide right now though, but I do think you should stop having sex with your boyfriend… This isn’t the right time to make any big declarations though, especially to your school friend. It would embarrass her, or worse, even frighten her. So if you want her to stay as your friend, just keep all of these feelings to yourself and try to take things a little more calmly.”(Daily Record, July 5th)

“Only you know your feelings. If you do desire women sexually then you could be
bisexual. But sexuality is not just a matter of being straight or gay – there are lots of shades in between.” (The Sunday Mirror, June 27th)