This year has been one where, whether I like or not, I have been hugely in the public gaze. A big book, goodness knows how many TV programmes and a slew of concatenating public appearances have combined to make me look like a publicity hungry media whore of the worst kind. My god have I been aware of that. Well I shan’t overdo it. If you combine the lecturing and appearing and speaking and chat-showing and launches and lunches and award ceremonies and everything else you get a severe case of Too Much Fry. I have a strong suspicion that even my mother thinks there’s a superfluity of Stephen. And who can blame anyone for wishing I wouldn’t pop up quite so much?
So, to return to the business of Women and Sex. I kept to my rule and consented to no print interviews earlier this year when my book came out. I did however agree to do one profile for a small gay glossy called Attitude. I thought it was a harmless way of supporting a specialist periodical. The fact is, and there are witnesses to it, I only agreed out of kindness. What an idiot I am. A misplaced sense of community spirit that went ludicrously awry…
The Hippo with Attitude
Anyway, I did a photo-shoot for the magazine, during which and after which I conversed with a profiler. I can’t remember his name and I haven’t actually read the article he wrote as a result. They sent me three copies of the magazine and I looked at the photo on the front cover and now the magazines lie piled up somewhere. However vain, smug and self-worshipping you may think me, and I’m aware that many think me a revolting compound of all those things, I can promise you that I almost never watch the programmes I make nor do I read articles about me or interviews that I’ve given. Nor would you if you were me. Well, I chatted to this fellow on the day; he seemed very nice and very charming and we had a pleasant, relaxed and easy conversation. That’s the word, a conversation. I remember very little of it, but I can picture the narrow little room in which the latter part of it took place. At some point we chatted about gay sexuality – well, you would wouldn’t you, for a gay magazine? – and as part of that conversation I repeated the old canard about how men, unlike women, were cursed with their uniquely pressing and annoying libidos. Straight men I have known have often (of course mostly in a kind of bitter jest) said how much they envied gay people the simplicity of their erotic lifestyles (cottaging and cruising and so on) and I vamped for a while on that theme. I do not believe it as some kind of eternal gender truth, I was simply taking a thought for a walk, I was “playing gracefully with ideas” to repeat Oscar’s great phrase, or at least attempting to do so. But the important thing to remember is that the subject was not straight female sexuality, but gay male sexuality. It’s the only sexuality of which I have direct experience and how could I presume to speak of any other?
Was it naïve in me that it never for a second crossed my mind that this conversation would be sold on to other papers? That it would be “picked up” and make a disastrous move from being a conversation to some kind of public “declaration”? “Stephen Fry declares that women don’t enjoy sex.” It was as if I had called a press conference in order to give the world the benefit of my wisdom. For heaven’s arsing sake. Aside from anything else, the whole exchange was a steal from a book I wrote almost twenty years ago called The Hippopotamus in which a rancid, cantankerous old poet called Ted Wallace (loosely based on a compendium of Simon Gray, Kingsley Amis, John Osborne and others) bewails his inability to get his end away as easily as his gay friends appear to and so goes on about how women don’t really have the same urges as men. That was the whole point, it was a comic silliness aimed at a gay readership.