As he surveyed gay culture and heritage, Sam Harrison came to a surprising conclusion.
“I thought there was going to be a happy gay love story in there somewhere, but there wasn’t. So I decided that I ought to write it myself!”
The result is Love Is Only Love, a piece written by Sam and a piece in which Sam also appears as his six-year-old self (Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, February 5 and 6).
In 1993 suburban Australia a young boy’s life – Sam’s – is changed forever when he discovers the romance of Hollywood musicals.
Part of the background to the piece is the celebration, three years ago, of the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of sex between men in England and Wales: “I was a very happy gay man and had always taken an interest in gay history, but being gay was not something that defined me… But I did take an interest in the celebrations that were going on and I did feel a real responsibility of reading and listening and seeing everything I could, the books, the exhibitions. I fully immersed myself in it all.
“I just felt it was my responsibility as a gay person to learn about the history of my elders, particularly to learn about what for so many was a history of struggle. For someone who had led a very happy gay life and whose sexuality was almost incidental to my life, I wanted to know about the difficulties.
“And also I read an extraordinary book, Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd. Todd talks about the essentially unacknowledged mental health crisis in the gay community, particularly in the gay male community, and he talks about the idea of shame, gay shame and that that shame is a legacy that affects all gay men whether we know it or not. Todd says that it has a psychological impact that expresses itself in the overwhelming examples of alcoholism in the community, of sex addiction and drug addiction, of the difficulties maintaining relationships in the gay community. I was fascinated.”
Todd argues that even men who didn’t have parents that kicked them out were still impacted by the fact that certain religions regarded their physical expression of love as a sin: “And reading about that galvanised me into feeling an even greater sense of responsibility.”
He also noticed that so many of the stories that emerged marking the anniversary of decriminalisation were stories of tragedy, of the devastation of HIV and AIDs.
“I just realised that so much of it was sad, stories like Brokeback Mountain and so on. They are all stories that were prisms of gay shame.”
Which made Sam look in vain for the happy stories – stories he couldn’t find. Hence the decision to write one, his own: “I came across my diary from the age of 13-15 which was about my boring GCSE results (the family moved to the UK when Sam was 11), but it was also about my first boyfriend Marc and this beautiful shame-free relationship we had when we were at school together. I looked at it and it just became obvious to me that this was the story in the play. What the play is is a kind of verbatim story of a young man’s search for love using Hollywood musicals as his guide. It all became this glorious world of technicolor and romance and joy. I was looking at the men and women dancing. I wanted to be the woman and then I realised that I actually didn’t want to be the woman. I just wanted to be dancing with the man…”