Lez Miserable: "Every time I kiss a woman in public, I risk homophobic abuse."

This is a time in which we gays should be kissing and holding hands anywhere and everywhere.

“Look… girls… kissing!” I blurt, dumbly, as Finnish Eurovision singer Krista Siegfrids locks lips with a PVC apron-clad dancer on stage, at the end of her performance of “Ding Dong”.

“Oh. OK,” my dad says, maintaining his ‘how does my gay daughter want me to feel about this?’ brand of neutrality.

My mum, half asleep on the sofa, is equally uninterested and mumbles something that sounds like it contains the word “Lebanons”.

My parents have a point. In an ideal world, a gay kiss on TV wouldn’t be comment-worthy. So why am I even remotely excited by the sight of two women kissing? Same-sex PDAs aren’t exactly new to me. They’re not even new to most TV-watching straight people. It’s all about context though. And within the context of a programme watched by the whole of Europe, much of which is deeply conservative, a gay kiss is a powerful statement. So, that Eurovision lesbian kiss (as well as the man-on-man one that cropped up later in host country Sweden’s half-time song) were both seminal moments for the camp, 57-year-old institution.

Gay Prides and Christmas aside, the gayest event of the year just came out. See, Eurovision is a bit like that guy you knew at school who had a posse of female friends (and yet no girlfriend…), knew the lyrics to the entire Destiny’s Child back catalogue and somehow managed to make school uniform look chic. A few years later, you bump into his sweaty, shirtless self in Heaven (the club, not the transcendental, godly realm – for all you heteros reading this) at 3am and he says, without a hint of irony, “Well, guess you never thought you’d find me here!”

Until last weekend, Eurovision’s gayness was all a bit tongue-in-cheek. The be-sequined, dry ice-oozing event was claimed by the LGBT community many years ago, but it’s never quite (in itself) acknowledged its prominence in gay culture. We’ve all rolled our eyes as Latvian men in skin-tight leather, with perfectly shaped eyebrows sing great warbling odes to their straightness. And Turkey made the ultimate, “what? Eurovision isn’t gay” statement this year, when it refused to broadcast the popular programme on account of the woman kissing a woman thing. So, now that the tongue has been removed from the cheek and placed firmly in the mouth of a member of the same sex, we can all breathe a great big sigh of relief. With the slightest of gestures (both gay kisses were pecks rather than full-on snogs) Eurovision has announced to its enormous LGBT fanbase that the love between them and the programme is requited. We queers love Eurovision and Eurovision loves us back.

Last week, an EU poll revealed that one quarter of the 93,000 LGBT people surveyed had experienced attacks or threats because of their sexuality. Without wanting to blow the Eurovision double gay kiss out of proportion, I think that in an obviously homophobic Europe it was an important nod to acceptance. Whether or not Finland’s entry did so badly in the completion (it came third from last) because of the lesbian kiss part of the song is a matter of speculation. It couldn’t have helped that the song was poor, even by Eurovision standards.

This year’s Eurovision reminded me of the subversive power of the gay PDA. On Monday, the equal marriage debate was dragged out yet again in the Commons and #AggressiveHomosexuals trended on Twitter. The phrase was jokingly hijacked by LGBT people and our supporters after it was used in earnest by former Tory defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth to describe the proponents of equal marriage. This is a time in which we gays should be kissing and holding hands anywhere and everywhere. I’m even prepared to stiffen my upper lip and pretend that lesbian PDAs don’t make me bitter about my singleness. I have a lot of gay friends who are extremely cautious about where they kiss their partners and that’s understandable, even in London. Every time I kiss a woman in public, I risk homophobic abuse. To be fair, the most extreme example of this I’ve ever experienced is a couple of teenage boys spluttering out something truly Wildean like, “Hah! Dykes!” But I think that now is the time, more than ever, to celebrate and practice uninhibited gay smooching. And when the equal marriage bill finally gets thorough, let’s marry the hell out of each other.

 

Krista Siegfrids, Finland's Eurovision entry, locks lips with a PVC apron-clad dancer on stage. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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