Stephen Boylan loves The Eurovision. Does that make him a ‘good gay’ or a ‘bad gay’? The argument is bullshit, he says. You can love the Song Contest and be politically active too.
My fellow Outmost contributor, Rob Buchanan wrote an entertaining, if entirely foolish and reductive, article yesterday in relation to the Eurovision Song Contest, and the gay men and women who watch it and love it. I say foolish because this year, of all years, was not the one to bemoan the lack of political activism or nous on the part of the people attending.
But, first things first. Rob asserts that some of his friends think hating the Eurovision makes him “a terrible gay”. As I wrote in a GCN book review a couple of months back, the gay experience is wide and multi-faceted, and disliking or not engaging in any one piece of what is perceived as gay culture (or any piece of that culture) does not make you a ‘bad gay’. You like what you like, and that’s your prerogative. Anybody who accuses you of being internally homophobic for not liking Eurovision, or Madonna, or Gaga, or Glee needs their head examined. If you don’t like the Eurovision, don’t watch it. Simples.
But what is genuinely unsettling about Rob’s column is the incredibly blinkered view he has of people who do enjoy Eurovision. He writes: “Why are some adult gay men so uncomfortable with grown-up causes that directly affect their lives that they must hide blissfully behind trash-pop culture?” As sweeping statements go, that’s pretty out there.
It may surprise Rob to learn that the gay men and women who like Eurovision do have space in their heads for more than one thing, and just because they travel to an event once a year (or even just once in their lifetime) doesn’t mean that they may not work for social justice the rest of the year, or are not up on their current affairs, aren’t conscious of marriage rights inequalities, or aren’t sickened by the rights abuses affecting people in eastern Europe and further afield. (I don’t stick my fingers in my ears the minute the news comes on. In fact, I don’t know any gay men or women that do.)
I’ve never in my life heard anyone suggest that by going to a weekly football match, or staying in to watch The Late Late Show on a Friday, or going to a Garth Brooks concert, that a person would therefore be wholly indifferent to people affected by homelessness, addiction, or illness. If there are issues in relation to a lack of support at Pride marches or marriage equality events, it’s not because everyone is off at Eurovision. A lack of attendance at such events would point to a much more profound issue within the community than one variety show. God knows, there are plenty of people who never show up at those events that don’t care a fig about Eurovision either.
Rob might hate me for saying this, but on the evidence of this year’s contest, Eurovision is getting more popular and more important. I have never seen so many articles or radio pieces dedicated in the mainstream media to the Eurovision. It got people talking, got people engaged, and, more importantly, got people watching. If people didn’t realise why Russia was constantly being booed by the audience, they were told by the commentators, or looked it up for themselves. Perhaps instead of excoriating gay people for doing less to further the rights of LGBT people, maybe we might hope to inspire straight people to do more?
What I thought was particularly special about the contest this year were the constant jibes at those actively seeking to legislate against the rights LGBT people in different parts of the continent. There were constant references to people being comfortable, being who they were, feeling safe, feeling included. These are incredibly important messages to send to gay teenagers in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and anywhere else who lack positive images of gay people, of gay people enjoying themselves, and having the freedom to take the weekend off and go to a variety show if they feel like it. Isn’t that worth celebrating?
I’ll end on this: The first memory I have of the Eurovision is when Johnny Logan won in Brussels in 1987, the day I made my First Communion. In the years after, I always watched the contest with my family and used to talk about it a lot, probably too much. That is, until I went to secondary school. It was hinted that those sort of things weren’t talked about and for many years I took a passing interest in it, but not much more, because I felt I couldn’t or shouldn’t. When I went to college and grew up, started working, and started earning my own money, I rediscovered how much I actually enjoyed the Eurovision and now I love it again. I have a party every year, and invite my (mostly) straight friends over to watch it and we have a blast.
I don’t feel that I’m squandering the freedom the “brave vanguard generation” (whoever that is) have afforded me, because I’m using that freedom exactly as I want, to enjoy and talk about the things I want, to get civil partnered in December, all the while being incredibly conscious of the fact that other people don’t nearly have it as good as I do. I fully agree that it’s good to care about the struggles of LGBT people in my own country and abroad but those causes and the Eurovision are not mutually exclusive, and nobody should be made feel guilty or self-conscious or stupid because of the things they make space for in their spare time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sing about nothing, very loudly, at the top of my very queer head.
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