Russel T. Davies is an amazing writer. The characters he creates and the sense of time and place he evokes are so spot on. You can tell he is really writing about things that he understands. Just listening to friends rave about “It’s a Sin” and seeing their Facebook comments about how brilliant it is; how it made them laugh and cry and how the soundtrack takes them back, has convinced me that I can’t watch it. The reason I am unable to steel myself to watch it is because I just don’t feel capable of watching something so real about being LGBT in the 1980s. Television drama may be shocking enough, but the reality was much worse.
Fair enough it wasn’t all bad. I certainly made friends with people who remain friends to this day. In fact, I think it may even be true to say that I met a range of characters who I probably wouldn’t have met in today’s more inclusive society. Apart from Gay Bars there were little out of the way (usually seedy) pubs where you could often find LGBT folks, an array of sex workers, a few armed robbers and people from all over the globe having a whale of a time. But the only thing that united us really, was our otherness, being different was our common denominator.
Daily life was different. Couples who lived together often told the neighbors they were brothers or sisters or widows or lodgers, we were very inventive. We were pigeonholed into jobs based in what society thought we might be capable of, handicapped as we were by our sexuality. Bars, clubs and pubs were a refuge where you could be who you were, but getting to them was often a problem. The police (who knew exactly where people were heading) would stop us and interrogate us for fun. And it was a nightly occurrence for men and women to be ‘Queer Bashed’ We relied heavily for support from allies for our safety in those days.
So we aren’t talking about the sunlit uplands when AIDS came crashing onto the scene. I consider myself to be very lucky. I had just finished nurse training and a lot of people I still knew at that time were working in hospitals when AIDS became a major news item. To begin with we had no idea what it was, but we knew enough to start to be really careful immediately. But it was so totally inconceivable that something like this was REAL that many of us denied its existence, ignored it, or simply didn’t know about it at all. The decimation of the community was astounding. People just weren’t there anymore and in the end you didn’t have to ask.
John Hurt was bellowing at us from the TV “don’t die of ignorance” every household in the UK got a leaflet from the government with a tombstone on the front shoved through the letterbox. Minor celebrities were demonstrating how to put a condom on (usually employing an under ripe banana) at 6pm on the BBC! But make no mistake it was the Gays to blame. The Sun newspaper called it the “Gay Plague” and speculated whether gays could be touched without getting AIDS, and if was in in our tears. I believe The Sun has given “It’s a Sin” a great write up. I am positive Russel T would rather they didn’t.
The homophobia was off the scale really throughout the 1980s. It was awful for everyone. Older men in the community were scared to death of a return to the 1950s full of blackmail, imprisonment, chemical castration and suicide. Younger men were targeted for abuse, lost their jobs, families and many lost their lives. Further into the decade the notorious Section 28 was enacted supported whole heartedly by the Tories. This effectively closed streams of funding for groups who were helping the community to learn about the disease and prevent it. Of course, this resulted in many more deaths.
If you didn’t live through this, I think you should definitely watch it. You need to know about it and I think the story is in the safest of hands with Russel T Davies. I can’t watch it, at least not yet. Maybe at some point later on I might watch it. But thank God I don’t have to relive it.
By Jimmy Gill
Jimmy is standing for the NEC as part of the Democracy Alliance. Click here for the Democracy Alliance election list