I Kissed a Boy needs to realise it’s possible to be gay and not live in London
With half the cast London based, show’s only flaw is its failure to showcase the rest of the UK’s gay scene
Nobody is more shocked than me about how much I love I Kissed a Boy, BBC Three’s new groundbreaking gay dating show that certainly is in no way, shape or form a gay version of Love Island (cough, cough). The first two episodes won me over with their charm, their drama, their messiness. It’s a cast of gays from all over the UK, but as the show plods on it comes clear that there’s an issue with I Kissed a Boy that plagues casting – everyone lives in fucking London. Not only that, but as new queers enter the masseria (that we absolutely cannot under any circumstances call a villa), the show perpetuates the unbearable battle cry of the London gays who believe it’s the only scene worth being a part of in the country. I’m so tired. Here’s why I Kissed a Boy has revealed its biggest problem – regurgitating the annoying refrain that London is the be all and end all of queer life in the UK.
That there London
At first glance, I Kissed a Boy has all corners of the country covered. But dig deeper, and you’ll see where the actual epicentre is. Of the 14 cast members of I Kissed a Boy, half are based in London. Three others are based a short distance away in Brighton or Essex. We’ve then got one in Liverpool, one in Manchester, two in Wales. And that’s it.
This London centric focus perpetuates to me the problem with I Kissed a Boy – our representation from Scotland and Ireland are quick to denounce their scenes back home to big up London life. Which is fine, valid to their experiences, but what about the rest of the UK? Bobski – Essex’s representation has gone, Josh, the representation from small town North Wales quit… so what’s left?
Case study: Dan choosing between Mikey and Ollie
On the latest episode of I Kissed a Boy, the London issue has never been more apparent. Newbie Dan, a Scottish PR gay now based in London, finds himself torn between Mikey and Ollie. Mikey is a Scouser based in Liverpool, a place very close to my heart with a thriving albeit quite small gay scene. Ollie is Brighton based, literally the gay capital of the UK and a short train trip from London. Dan necks off with them both, but the next day finds himself needing to see which of them could fit into his London gay life.
Dan has conversations with both Mikey and Ollie about how important his London gay life is, and how much he needs his partner to be able to get on board with that. He tells Mikey this like the sheer concept of a gay night out would turn Mikey into a pile of confused ash. I accept this might be a personal gripe, but here’s why I personally find this London centricism so exhausting.
This country is so much more than London
A personal tale, if you’ll indulge me. In 2021, I decided to move to London. This wasn’t an impulsive decision. Prior to my move, I’d moved from Stockport to Liverpool for uni and stayed in Liverpool for the next seven years. I have never loved a city more. But as more pals from across my life moved to London, my annual trip was filled with more fun and the chaos of London went from something alienating to something I felt more and more like I wanted to be a part of. Once I got this job at The Tab, that was it. Off I moved. Within perhaps my first four days there, I realised I hated it.
Admittedly, that’s a rash conclusion to jump to. Obviously, I did not pack it all up after four days and head back north. I lived in London for the next 19 months, and had some amazing times but also, day to day, the most miserable times of my life. I found London and the London gay scene hard work – especially coming from Liverpool and Manchester, where I found the gay scene quickly felt like home. What I found most jarring about the London gay scene was the constant mood and attitude that it was the biggest and the best, and any other city paled in comparison to its clubs and what it had to offer. I truly feel like this is just not the case, and a lot of people who love the London gay scene I don’t think have ventured elsewhere to sample what’s going on. Now I’ve moved back north, I’m so much happier – and it’s just further deepend my affinity and passion for showing that there is more to this country, both LGBTQ wise and beyond, than the extortion and exhaustion of London.
I think the issue though is that I felt guilty and embarrassed about wanting to leave London. The way the London scene operates made me feel almost like I was taking a gay step backward if I left, like I was a failure. This shouldn’t be the case, and having so much London representation on a show like this only fuels that fire in my opinion. Sometimes it feels like if you aren’t all in for the London lifestyle, you’re less than.
What annoyed me with the Dan and Mikey conversation on I Kissed a Boy was that it felt like Dan was saying Mikey would have to integrate with the London way, and that was that. It wasn’t even in question if Dan would venture to Liverpool.
Speaking of Liverpool, nothing has made this London centricism more of an eye roll off the back of the city hosting Eurovision, and doing an unquestionably immaculate job. I was lucky enough to be there for all of it, and seeing people who’d never been to the city be in awe of its architecture, its waterfront and most importantly its people made me emotional in a way you’d only get if you’ve lived there. It was magical seeing the world’s eyes on the UK but the focal point not be London. Interesting to note the premiere party for I Kissed a Boy was in Liverpool and not London, although for my money I reckon this is because of a big BBC presence in Merseyside for the ESC and not just to spice things up a bit.
It’s criminal to me that the Birmingham gay scene is seeing no representation at all on season one of I Kissed a Boy, and Manchester – arguably the second biggest to London and inarguably the best – has only ONE. It’s just disheartening, and I would hate small town or even small city gays from elsewhere in the country watch I Kissed a Boy and feel like the only place they can go to have an enriching time in a vibrant LGBTQ community is in the capital.
This isn’t an exclusive issue to I Kissed a Boy – just watch any season of Drag Race UK and see how London centric it is. Season two had Tia and A’Whora from Nottingham, Bimini from Norfolk, Sister Sister from Liverpool, Tayce from Newport and Veronica Green from Rochdale on paper, but the reality was they all lived and worked in London. I Kissed a Boy, if it gets renewed for season two – which it absolutely should, needs to focus on representing men from the gay scenes other than an overwhelming bias to the south of England.
I Kissed a Boy continues Sunday and Monday at 9pm on BBC Three and iPlayer.
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