In my work providing counselling and therapy for gay and bisexual men, clients still ask these questions. That’s a sad reflection on how rarely we see gay relationships depicted in movies and on tv.
But now we have the film adaptation of Holding the Man, which along with Priscilla and The Sum of Us (1994), Head On (1998) and Walking on Water (2002) comprise the few internationally recognised gay Aussie feature films from the last thirty years.
It’s about time isn’t it? After a decade of virtual invisibility we finally have a love story that will (hopefully) get people talking. I reckon that most gay men in their thirties and over in Australia have heard of Holding the Man. We’ve read the original memoir Holding the Man by Tim Conigrave and many have seen the play by Tommy Murphy which has been staged in the Australian capitals as well as in London, San Francisco and LA. Ten years we have a film which is arguably more accessible and potentially of more influence than the book or play. And while most of the mainstream press is presenting the film from a marriage equality angle, I’d suggest they are missing the point. Holding the Man isn’t simply Tim Conigrave’s contribution to the gay romance genre. It is his confessional.
My Tim Story (because everyone’s got one!)
Right now everyone seems to have a story about Tim Conigrave. So I’ll keep mine brief. It’s 1989, I’m twenty years old living on the Gold Coast and a few months into my first professional role. I’m paid to lure gay guys to afternoon teas where I dispel myths about HIV and we chat about safe sex using bananas and condoms as props. Tim and his colleague who run the Fun & Esteem Project at ACON in Sydney have crashed-trained me one weekend along with a bunch of other ‘peer educators’ from across the country. And I’m channeling his presence with men twice my age. He’s a big man who can do both camp and authoritative on a turn. I’m carrying his confidence to conceal my shyness and compensate for my age. And now he is calling me to offer me an interview.
“What you’ve been doing there is really impressive,” Tim tells me over the phone from Sydney.
“But how likely is it I’ll get the job?” I ask.
“All I can say is get yourself down here.”
When you’re twenty, there’s a lot of reassurance and good feeling in hearing this from a man ten years senior. I was a boy from the ‘burbs of Brisbane. Sydney meant sophistication and sex packaged up in rows of terrace houses, beaches, bars and saunas. But I never went to the interview. I had a boyfriend who preferred to stay put. Ironically we broke up shortly afterwards. A few years later I applied again and ended up doing Tim’s job at ACON.
Making Gay Lives Visible
Timothy Conigrave was passionate about social issues as well as performance. His commitment is kept alive not only by these creative works but initiatives like The Institute of Many, a platform for HIV positive people to share experiences. But Holding the Man honours him less by justifying marriage equality than by reminding us of the devastation that public ignorance does to the lives of LGBT people. In this respect it parallels Torka Aldrig Tårar Utan Handskar, Jonas Gardell’s amazing work about HIV in Sweden in the 80s and 90s. On the same weekend that Holding the Man opened in Sydney, the NSW government banned Gayby Baby, a film about same sex parenting. Given what we should have learned about the importance of making LGBT lives visible, that is disturbing.
Aside from dispelling myths and changing attitudes, the significance of Holding the Man is really in the personal story Tim has to tell.
Is it possible for guys to fall in love?
Yes, absolutely, but don’t expect it to always be comfortable.
Can two men have a successful relationship?
Define ‘successful’. Are how will you maintain that relationship when those around you might not understand it? Or when you and your partner want different things?
Do gay relationships last?
Go and see the film and tell me what you think then.
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