The rise and fall of Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye Bakker was a chirpy, perky televangelist noted for her lavish mascara and her barrel-stave eyelashes. She once conducted an interview on her PTL (Praise the Lord) chat show for which she remains revered among gays. It was in 1985 and she was talking to Steve Pieters, a soft-spoken church pastor with a soup-strainer moustache. He had Aids, a disease that killed Rock Hudson that year and was scything through Reagan’s America. Tammy wanted to know all about Steve’s faith, his health and his orientation. ‘Have you given women a fair try?’, she asked rather naively. The pastor told his story and the interview deepened into an extraordinary confessional.

A well-meaning but dull Official History: Olivier’s Normal Heart reviewed

The Normal Heart is not about Aids. Larry Kramer’s play is set in New York in 1981 at a time when clinicians were struggling to find a link between a handful of rare diseases that struck only gay men and heroin addicts. The term ‘Aids’ wasn’t adopted until late in 1982. And this dampens the wheels of Dominic Cooke’s production. A playgoer is likely to stifle a yawn as the characters on stage try to discover medical facts that have been common knowledge for decades. There are other problems with Kramer’s ageing script. The story follows an indignant activist, Ned, who has to persuade the city authorities to take the

Sun, sex and acid: Thom Gunn in California

San Francisco is a fantastic place… it’s terribly sunny… I am having a splendid hedonistic time here… I find myself continually going to marvellous orgies where I meet unbelievably sexy people… I dropped acid for Christmas Day… had sex for SIX HOURS… Then to New York, which I’ve never enjoyed so much… Some of the people I met introduced me to cocaine (one of the people was a singer for a pop group called Looking Glass), and that is a fine drug… Life is such fun here… I had an extraordinary three-way with two guys I met in a bar… I am really pretty happy… I’ve been doing a lot

What the fight against HIV can teach us about defeating Covid-19

In the eighties, we were warned to beware an easily spread, deadly virus. The government’s ominous HIV adverts told us not to ‘die of ignorance’. Thus a generation was educated through fear how to avoid infection by practicing safer sex and avoiding contact with the blood of those who are positive.  While those messages are still important today, HIV no longer represents the death sentence it once did. Still a life-altering and permanent disease, it can now be managed in a way that means people often live full lives with HIV, rather than die early because of it. No successful vaccination has been developed for HIV, but other medical developments

Nostalgia for seedy nightclubs reeking of sex and poppers

Gay bar, how I miss you. Barely any lesbian joints have survived the online dating scene, and Grindr has replaced the cruising bars. Why get dressed up and brave the buses when all you have to do to get a date is access an app? I was keen to indulge in some nostalgia when I picked up Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar: Why We Went Out. I would now prefer dinner with friends to seedy nightclubs reeking of sex and poppers, but as a youngster I loved a gay disco. Taking us through a personal, historical and political view of the gay bars of London, San Francisco and Los Angeles,

You’ll wish you were gay: Channel 4’s It’s a Sin reviewed

To promote his new drama series about Aids in the early 1980s, Russell T. Davies insisted in an interview that gay characters should be played only by actors who are actually gay. This was maddening for a number of reasons, starting with blatant hypocrisy. One of the things that made Davies’s Queer As Folk so watchable was Aidan Gillen’s mesmerising performance as the smirking, predatory, cocksure queen of the Mancunian gay scene Stuart Alan Jones. It was the making of Gillen, who went on to star as Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish in Game of Thrones. But Gillen, who has a girlfriend and two children, almost certainly fails Davies’s gay authenticity test.