Is it coy of me or just naive to question the conditions under which a discussion of gay marriage takes place on a topical TV show? Last night as I settled on the couch with a beer (brought by a friend staying the night), I switched over to Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live. If you have not seen this, it is like a post-ironic John Craven’s Newsround, hosted by David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne, Charlie Brooker and Jimmy Carr. They had a segment last night following comments by Cardinal Keith O’Brien among others, that passing legislation for gay marriage would be immoral. As an intenvention in political culture on that other island, the Cardinal’s comments are what might be called direct. It might even be fair to say that he put both feet in, studs showing.
The 10 O’Clock Live segment last night (at 28 mins on their catch up service) was some editorialising by David Mitchell by hosting a panel consisting of Boy George, DJ and musician and Milo Yiannopoulos, journalist and blogger. The former was to represent the Yes to Gay Marriage side, the latter the No to Gay Marriage side but of course it is never as simple as all that. So far, so predictable. Mitchell cracked off with some swipes at straight celebrity fickleness over marriage and opens with the “you’re gay Milo but you’re a Catholic, what’s your problem with it?” question. Yiannopoulos performs well from an orthodox Catholic position: it’s not about equality, the gay community doesn’t really want it, straight marriage is the “cohesive glue of society”. Diminution of marriage by extending legal rights to do so would be “breaking down” something which holds society together. I’m not on board with this particular way of looking at things but let’s move on.
George’s opening remarks are a mish mash of various different platitutdes about the word ‘marriage’, marriage is a celebration, albeit a conservative one, and why would he want to stop anyone having one. He uses the words The Church unproblematically (as if everyone knows what he means) but that’s another post. And then it goes back to Mitchell who takes Yiannopoulos up on the distinction between words and concepts. Here’s where it gets a little more nebulous though: Yiannopoulos makes a point about political posturing and the relationship between the Conservative party and UKIP but then George comes back in with “it’s [not quite clear which ‘it’] such a non-issue, who cares?” to which he receives whooping and clapping. He then quotes John Waters who is paraphrased “anything that pisses off the Catholic Church is a good thing” to more applause. Yiannopoulos does give a charitable smile and then admits to having a complicated relationship to god. George then unhelpfully declares that his god helps him pick curtains.
At this stage it became apparent that putting a journalist who wanted to defend his faith up against a DJ was a little disingenuous on the part of the producers of the show. George declares that growing up gay is difficult yes, but if he had a choice he would choose it again. More applause. He wants Yiannopoulos to be happy to be gay. Yiannopoulos declares that he is not because he feels alienated from the ways in which his sexuality is represented to which George replies that “he should be” happy to be gay. To me, Boy George has a conflict about Yiannopoulos, who is gay but not entirely happy to be so. Yiannopoulos of course has a conflict and admits to it through his writing: he is a Catholic but also a gay man. George wants us to own our life experience “you know this is what I am”. By the tone of the audience, it would seem to be a popular position to hold. This is why my interest is piqued.
Are we self-owning subjects? If I am ‘comfortable’ with who I am, does that make it mine? Do I own my self? I am interested in these questions because I am not sure that we do own (in the sense of legal entitlement) our selves. (There is a whole lot more going on in this segment and yes, positionality as a straight man who works for the Catholic church and all of that.) I would argue that the self-owning subject is the outcome of a definably political process which separates mind from body, my subjectivity from my ‘objectivity’ in place; a process that leads to particular necessary conflicts being tolerated and others not being so welcome. Is there only one way to be a gay man so that being Catholic as well is trumped by the former identity? I doubt that many would accept the assertion that there is only one way to be a gay man. So why is there only one way to be religious, i.e. out of time, conflicted, out of step with us? Can Yiannopoulos not be conflicted about himself and admit to it in public? Yiannopoulos is accused of being a self-loathing gay man: on whose terms? At base, there’s an insecurity in Boy George’s reaction to Yiannopoulos’s conflict. It reveals something about European political spaces and religious belief. I don’t know the answers to these questions yet.