Tuesday, 31 July 2012
I’ve gradually been watching less and less television over the past few years. It’s come to the point where I only ever watch it as a distraction from eating. I’ve mentioned before that I find eating really quite dull and sometimes bizarre and need something to take my mind off it. I usually end up watching a re-run of some reality pap show like “Come Dine with Me”. This features people eating (and being ludicrous) so maybe is my idea of a dinner companion or two. If only I could master reading and eating. My dexterity isn’t that good.
The last few weeks I’ve increasingly found myself leafing through the programming schedules with a feeling of horror. Even when I’ve decided to watch a program, usually a documentary or factual program, it’s often repetitive, littered with adverts and over long and protracted. It’s as if they forgot to apply an edit. I’ve nothing against watching television and am not snobbish about it but just feel that it isn’t for me right now. The fact that there’s wall to wall sport on too is quite off putting too. It brings me out in hives. I’m certainly not looking down on people who do watch it. It just doesn’t distract or entertain me very often any more.
So, I decided to eschew it for a few weeks (at least till the Olympic coverage is done). I can always rely on Radio 4 instead, can’t I? Sadly they’ve also let me down. The news is now all about the Olympics; most of the shows are about the Olympics. Even the weather report is an Olympic weather report, followed by a brief mention of the rest of the country. On Friday they spent an hour speculating what might be in the Olympic opening ceremony and then the announcer stated (with no hint of irony): “...and now over to the sport report.”
If people like the Olympics then that’s fine and good for them but to me everywhere feels saturated with it. It’s on the TV, the billboards, the radio and the subject of conversation wherever I go. I’m not complaining, merely boycotting. I have that choice. The cupboard upstairs now contains one vintage 1950s radio, one television and one digital radio.
I’ve decided to take this a step further. The internet dominates me. It’s smoking that’s to blame. I stand around smoking outside (as one does in 21st century Britain) and am restless. My fingers twitch for the phone and before I know it I’m reading banal statements about what people had for dinner or how lovely their husband/child/cat/mistress is with fascination and adding my own little comments too. Guess what people are currently talking about avidly on the social networking sites? I’ll give you a clue: it involves sport.
It’s nothing radical or new. People manage without social networking and the media all the time and we all managed fine before it came into being. I’m not proud or boastful about it, just explaining. I may well fail and will be back hooked to technology in a week or less. I may also never return to it. We'll see.
Maybe in a week or so I’ll have gone quite mad from the lack of diversion. Who knows? I just feel, today, that I’m better without it all. Bring on the heaps of books, cinema, conversation, board games, plenty of writing and music. Oh, and a few cigarettes. They won’t be going till well after the Olympics finish. I need something to get me through this.
There’s always that question in my mind whenever I see a traditionally dressed skinhead in Doctor Martin boots and braces: Is he gay with a skinhead fetish, a Neo Nazi or part of the real skinhead culture? Maybe all three?
It’s the same when I see a big burly bloke in a checked shirt with a beard. Genuine lumberjack or Hairy Gay Bear? A man in leathers? Genuine biker or a member of the village people? We’ve adopted so many cultural stereotypes that it’s hard to know which one to choose.
It’s not so easy spotting gays now. In the 1950s you knew where you were. Gays were the ones who wore suede shoes, wispy chiffon cravats and the odd dollop of rouge on the cheeks. They’d waft about smoking daintily and call each other Gladys and Beryl. Mince forward to the 1970s and they had big moustaches and checked shirts knotted jauntily over our tight jeans as they danced to disco tunes and had it off in club toilets. The eighties were characterised by over dressed fashion victims and pouting. Then it all started to get confusing.
Straight men started wearing pink, eyebrows got plucked and hair met product. The Metrosexual was born. Straight men knew the rules back in the 80s, when I was young. You certainly didn’t wear an Alice band and own eyebrow tweezers unless you could lip sync along to the greatest hits of Doris Day. You wouldn’t apply anything to your hair other than wet-look gel and only the campest of the camp boys used facial skincare products. Spray tan? The answer would be a smack in the teeth from most straight men.
Walk down the streets of your local town and you’ll see men wearing clothes that would have got me stoned back in my youth. There are advantages to all this of course. We can pass unnoticed, recruiting to our sordid gang of deviants now. On the downside, one never knows which man to wink at or whose bottom to tweak. It’s all so confusing.
I’m being facetious of course. We’ve always been a tribe of people who cover all the bases and we run the full continuum from foppishly camp to scarily gruff. We’ve always been an elite force, hiding amongst all sectors of society. We’re a bit like Ninjas but with better hair.
I've always been intrigied by gay clubs which hold events where you have to wear uniform to get in. I've often wondered if all those men dressed as soldiers, sailors and policemen would let me in dressed as a lollipop man. I suspect not but it would be fun to try.
I say wear what you want and do what you want as long as it’s neat and doesn’t frighten old ladies. I like old ladies.’ O.K., I’ll add to that. Wear what you want as long as it’s not something terribly offensive like a Nazi Uniform or jeggins. No one looks good in those.
Friday, 27 July 2012
Do you ever get those days when you wake up in the worst possible mood? There's the impending sense of doom, the irritability and the feeling of deep dread. I woke up restless and not quite sure where to put myself. None of these sensations generally make for a good day for me. Sadly, normal moodiness has taken on a new dimension since the last bout of depression I had. I can't seem to stop expecting the next epsiode. I’m not sure that any period of prolonged good mental health will stop me anticipating another fall from grace and rapid unravelling.
I've been sleeping badly, partly due to the dodgy neck (yes, it's still dodgy) and partly the sudden hot weather. Britain is a terrible place for weather. The main issue being not the rain or cold, but that the weather never lasts long enough for you to become acclimatised. Except the rain: we never seem to get used to rain however even though we get enough of it. I know that tiredness and being over caffeinated has lead to this niggly mood but I can’t help but worry.
It’s probably a good sign that this mood has become unfamiliar to me. The past couple of years have been really much better for me and in terms of my mental health I seem to be maintaining the status quo and remaining well. It’s something to be celebrated that the all too familiar deep dread is now a stranger who I try to turn away rather than a regular caller who calls in for coffee and then refuses to leave.
A big issue for me when I’m depressed is anhedonia. That’s the sensation where nothing brings any joy at all and everything feels numbing and pointless. I don’t have that today. I’ve seen Paul and felt pleasure in his company, been thrilled by a really stunning art exhibition and tasted and liked food. These aren’t the defaults when I’m depressed. When depressed, I could be shown round the Taj Mahal and think it looked tawdry and cramped and even a lavish cream tea at Fortnum and Mason’s would taste like so much cardboard. On a really bad day, I could be offered a meeting with a resurrected idol (such as queens of mean, Bette Davis and Dorothy Parker) and I’d be unable to summon the energy.
In truth, this fear of relapse is actually not a bad thing as with it comes a certain vigilance. If I know the signs, I can spot the signs. If I can spot the signs I can start to examine my behaviour and do the things I’m not good at doing (resting, resting and resting).
On second thoughts: maybe I’m not going mad at all. There’s a perfectly rational explanation for my bad mood along with the insomnia and coffee excess. It’s bloody hot and the frigging Olympics are starting. Now that’s enough to rile me any day of the week. I have gained a new found admiration for Bradley Wiggins though. Not for his cycling ability but for his amazing nose. What a hooter!
Thursday, 26 July 2012
I’m reaching the end of the road. Not with the blogging. I still enjoy that. It’s with an old friend, lover and enemy: the cigarette.
I’d always vowed that I’d give up smoking by the age of 35. I read somewhere that if you gave up at 35 it was if you had never smoked. I suspect this isn’t actually true but I’m gullible at times. I got to 35, gave up after a couple of false starts and then managed to finally quit. It lasted nine months and a hasty lie to myself (you can just have one and then stay stopped) became a full time smoking habit again. It was Christmas, a time I don’t enjoy much. I felt I deserved a little treat.
I started smoking at 16. I’d always wanted to smoke ever since the childhood days of candy cigarettes. I thought it was stylish and sort of sophisticated and sadly part of me still does. I blame Bette Davis and Noel Coward. After a few heaves and retches, I took to it like a smoking beagle in a laboratory.
By 20 I was smoking enough a day to match my years. I was firmly addicted. I wouldn’t leave the house without a pack or two in my pockets. I stockpiled to make sure I never ran out and kept emergency packs all over the house and in my locker at work. Every habit was associated with a cigarette. Walking the dog, waiting for a bus, that post coital moment. They all needed a cigarette to complete them. A brisk walk in the country felt too pure without a hasty cigarette on the top of a hill.
I’m a terrible addict still and giving up was hard for me. I stuck on patches, inhaled noxious sprays and chewed gum. I also ate copious boiled sweets and became manic at times and bereft at others. I chewed so much spearmint gum that I had ulcers and lost a crown. The cost of the dentistry was more than I’d saved from not smoking.
I’ve come to hate it and smoking is now my enemy. It’s the cause of my wheezing, my bouts of gastritis and inflamed gums. It wakes me up at 4am for a fix of nicotine. I have the typical rationale of a smoker though. The dentist tells me my teeth will all drop out soon as smoking is making my gums recede. I consider how technology has advanced in denture manufacture. I rationalise the money I spend and think of the poor tobacco pickers who need the income. Not to mention the amount of tax I pay to support the NHS (which is crippled by smoking related illness). I hate the smell but just spray on more Febreze and wash my hands more. Copious aftershave suits me.
It’s coming to the crunch though. I’m 41 now and it’s going to get me if I’m not careful. I have a choice. One painful journey through nicotine withdrawal or carrying on the constant cat and mouse game of nicotine withdrawal which haunts me throughout each day? I never sit through a dull meeting or a long film without twitching for a ciggie.
I’ll keep you posted. I may surprise myself and you all by going smoke free sometime soon. Expect trauma and irritation. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Monday, 23 July 2012
There are certain lines which men say which mean that you should not attend the first, second, third or, in fact, any date at all. You should actually just block them on-line, erase their numbers and move house to avoid them.
These lines are things like a) I’m still very close to my ex partner and we spend a lot of time together b) I still live with my ex-partner c) I still live with my mother and we’re incredibly close d) I have a collection of Beany Babies/Leaded Crystal/trophies from past victims.
The line I didn’t heed the warning of was: “I still live with my wife and children but she knows I’m gay.” It was the late 1990s. I was much more naive then.
Of course she does. She’s fine with you being gay, you live as friends. No, better than that. You live as brother and sister. She doesn’t mind you going on dates with men, has helped by giving you tips on advanced blow job technique and is even willing to help you choose your best cock ring before a night out. That’s why he was so keen to arrange a date in a small town thirty minutes drive away. It was because it was “picturesque”. Nothing to do with it being a long way from his wife and children and colleagues.
I knew he was lying but he seemed nice enough, so I took it all at face value. We met in a deserted street where I had to hide till he arrived and he picked me up in his car. We drove the required distance away from his real life and landed up in a small pub where we ate and chatted. He was well dressed, exquisitely scented and not bad looking if you squinted slightly. He didn’t drink as he was allergic to alcohol (easy explanation for alcoholism, perhaps?) so I made up for it and knocked back a few vodkas. It helped.
He was a bit pompous but there was something quite sweet and vulnerable about him too. I was later to realise that the vulnerability was the guilt of the married man indulging in homo-sex which was about to lead to a full on break down.
We strolled a little and then we got in the car to drive home. It had been a pleasant evening and on the way back I was pleased when he announced that he knew a lovely vantage point we could drive to where you got amazing views of the surrounding hills and valleys. He drove us down a narrow country track which I enjoyed. I remember a startled deer running in front of the car, turning to look at us face on in the dark. Of course, the pitch darkness was where his plan revealed its transparency. How could you view things in the dark? There was only one thing he wanted me to look at. We stopped and naturally I had a look.
After it was over he cried. This became a pattern on the three further occasions that I saw him. Maybe it’s a theme of the married man guilt thing. The penis rules the brain telling it to do bad things then once it’s sated its evil desires you’re left bereft and stricken. Who knows?
It’s sad that gay men still get married in this day and age but who can blame them for it? It’s not always easy to come to terms with being gay. It’s even worse though, that they tell their wives tall tales and their conquests even taller ones. Still, the view from the beauty spot was pretty good, even if we never even left the car. It’s just a shame he hadn’t actually asked for a few tips from his wife.
I bumped into him a few years later. He was now out, loud and proud, wearing his newly acquired open gayness like a huge shiny badge. He’d had a complete breakdown a few months after I’d met him and had had to reassemble his life (as had his poor wife and kids, I imagine). He seemed an OK bloke, in the end. People make mistakes.
Friday, 20 July 2012
I got called a faggot on the bus home last week. I was quite amused actually. It felt so retro and dated. I’ve almost grown to love some of these quaint old words for what I am. Maybe I’d have liked it less had I been alone at night somewhere less crowded.
I was with my partner on the bus and a group of six teenage boys were misbehaving, shouting out remarks and jumping across the aisle punching each other. To summarise, I got a bit uppity when they started talking about girls they’d like to bang (their words) and how they’d go for the ones who couldn’t fight back and would just lie there and take it against their will.
I have these moments when I see red (usually in cinemas, on public transport or when I get bad service) and struggle to hold my tongue. I contain my anger and am usually quite assertive and reasoned. I attack the issue like I’m a middle class woman in M and S complaining to a young whippersnapper of a boy about a bad lettuce, cold and aloof.
Naturally they called me a faggot amongst other things. They would do. It’s the easiest target and requires no wit or thought and although I’m not over the top camp, I’m easily identifiable as gay. Had I been fat or old then that would have been mentioned as an insult. We’re allowed to call people fat or old too as well as shout homophobic remarks. The word itself didn’t offend me although the venom it was spat out with took me back slightly. They surmised that I took it up the arse (good guess boys!) and had a backside like a wizard’s sleeve (bad guess and unoriginal cliché). I generally just felt that they were making idiots of themselves and felt faintly amused but maybe I should have been more angry and affronted?
I spent much of my teenage years having names shouted at me at school by other children and occasionally by teachers. It was the 1980s. Homophobia came as standard. I came out aged 15 at a comprehensive school in the Midlands. It was going to happen. Were you to ask me my nickname at school I would reply Poof or Gaylord. I always laugh it off (and tried to at the time) but it was actually not much fun at all and at times left me feeling vulnerable, despised and tearful. My parents also had a cache of anti-gay names they’d hurl at the TV when Boy George was on Top of the Pops or bandy about at the dinner table. That was never very comfortable either.
Working in a shop in my teens, there was a regular customer who’d come in to try to shoplift. If I spotted him and got in his way he’d shout “Yo! Battyman!” I didn’t know the term and thought it was an affectionate nickname so would always wave back and smile.
I still get a knee jerk reaction when I hear homophobic terms. They take me back and raise a tiny hackle or two. I’ve tried owning them and that works to an extent. Calling myself queer or poofter does have a strong disempowering effect on the words. My friends affectionately call me names too which is fine by me. Who can blame them if I call them myself or my friends too? I recently posted a photo of myself on a social networking site wearing a cravat (it was vintage chic, before you start getting funny about it). The comments generally followed the theme of “You are so GAY!” I’m not sure that’s an insult. Is there anything wrong with being gay? I am gay. It’s a fact. Maybe there’s something wrong with wearing a cravat, but it did match my blazer well and bought out my eyes.
My pet hate currently is the use of the word “gay” to denote “crap”. It sends out a terrible message and is regressive in every way. I hate how people in the media have got away with using it too. I wince when I hear people on the bus calling things gay. I once asked an acquaintance who used the word in that context what she meant and she said by saying gay she meant “crap”. Goodness that made me feel warm inside. I avoid her now.
Words do have a lot of power and the old saying is wrong. Names can hurt you just like sticks and stones but maybe in different ways. Look at the statistics of mental illness, suicide and drug and alcohol abuse in gay people and consider what it is makes us prone to these problems. It doesn’t take much thinking to see that the undercurrent of both explicit and implicit homophobia is a major culprit.
I’m not 15 anymore. I can cope with name calling better than before. The thing is though, I’d really rather not cope with it at all.
“So, which one of you is the girl?”
“Well, we have a rota. I do Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He does the Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays. On Tuesdays we both take a day off to chop wood.”
The answer is as stupid as the question. Do these questions deserve sarcasm or genuine explanation? Is it really offensive to have bizarre remarks or questions thrown at you by straight people?
1) Some of my best friends are gay: Yay! I’d shout it loud too if I had some gay best friends. We’re great to have around. We’re behind lots of the most innovative stuff going off in Britain. We design great clothes, produce great comedy, music, films, fiction and theatre. We’re often stylish and witty. We’re may actually be the new master race! Shouldn’t we let them be proud they’re our friends? Most modern women’s fiction characters have a gay best friend. We’re top of the must have list for 2012.
2) How old were you when you knew you were gay? Well, ten out of ten for having an inquiring mind. I applaud this question. Not easy to answer always and it usually gets a stunned silence when I tell them I was 5. I like to quantify it too by explaining that lots of people don’t realise till they’re much older and there isn’t actually a rule. In fact, there’s not actually a need to define yourself as gay or straight or bisexual, unless you really want to or are backed into a corner by a gunman.
3) So, which one of you two is the girl? Now this is a complicated one. Who can blame them for asking? Do they mean sex or domesticity? Our sex lives are full of possibilities. Of course we intrigue. People love to know what goes where. We can be as puzzling as a diagram for a flat pack wardrobe. It’s even more puzzling if we have fetishes or a dislike of penetrative sex or a non-conventional relationship. As for domestic arrangements go: sadly the average straight couple still fulfil lots of stereotypical gender roles. Childcare and household duties are still often predominantly female activities. Sure, people wonder which one of us can use the drill and which one can sew curtains. My partner and I are a real puzzle. I like to clean and he doesn’t. I can’t thread a needle and he can sew beautifully. We can however, both cook well and are both quite nurturing. We can both happily do traditional men’s roles round the house too but power tools scare me. I watched too much “Casualty” as a teenager. He’s in charge of the drill.
4) How did you know you were gay? Erm. Well there’s these things called men and I quite fancy them. So much so in fact that I want to have sex with them. That was pretty much a giveaway. The rest is history.
5) So you gays all like Kylie/Musical Theatre/want to come on my hen party wearing a pink Stetson? We don’t all fit the clichés. Lots of us do and that’s fine. That’s how stereotypes develop. It’s fine to love Kylie, fine to want to drink Barcadi Breezers whilst wearing a pink Stetson and fine to be able to hum all the tunes to The Sound of Music. It’s also fine not too. I can hum the tunes. The other two are a big fat NO. We’re not all anally retentive clean freaks and we’re not all cute, camp or foppish. Life might be easier if we could all be compartmentalised and fitted neatly into our assigned boxes but it’s much more interesting that we don’t.
6) Gays are so bitchy. Really? Well if you want that I can have a go. Fasten yourself in and I’ll begin.
Maybe its better that people do ask. We should encourage dumb remarks and seemingly stupid questions. I’m a firm believer in there being no such thing as a stupid question. It’s much more dangerous to not ask and remain ignorant. It’s our opportunity to break down barriers and try to dent those stereotypes. We should be on a mission to inform. If we can be bothered. Otherwise, sarcasm helps.
Friday, 13 July 2012
I’ve been on a jaunt this week. I got the chance to go to Oxford on a course for work which was really useful but very gruelling. I also got the chance to spend a bit of time in Oxford too before the course started thanks to a day of holiday which I booked. I love walking round cities. There’s so much more to see than in the countryside. The urban landscape changes more quickly. Walk up a hill for ages and you see the other side of the hill, eventually. Walk round a corner in a city and there’s a constant supply of people and buildings to entertain me at each turn. It appeals to my impatience and need to see and do more constantly.
Oxford, to me, seems like a foreign tourist’s idea of Englishness all crammed into one churchy, scholarly city. The buildings are regal and stately, people wear tweed jackets, flannels and boaters and (had it not been raining constantly since last summer, preventing this) people loll about in pastoral scenes quaffing Pimms and nibbling cucumber sandwiches. There are scores of earnest faced young people with furrowed brows looking intelligent and a tad otherworldly with a disregard for image. Older men wander about in improbable coloured trousers (a sure sign of the English Upper Classes). Bicycles abound, chained to anything that doesn’t move. They don’t tend to be racy models either but battered old things with baskets on the front to carry one’s books in. High tea is readily available in the afternoons. In short, it feels like you’re entering a walking cliché.
Scratch the surface slightly more and you’ll see that Oxford actually represents England’s current climate in a more realistic way. The small independent shops and cafes are dwindling and every other shop seems to be a chain restaurant or store. There’s enough Costa coffee available to drown yourself in. The streets at night are scattered with homeless people at brief intervals and the quaint old churchyards are hosting groups of street drinkers. I’m not being snobbish about it. I actually ended up eating in a chain place myself. I always intend not to and then get flustered by choice and familiarity sucks me in. Damn those marketing ploys.
Small sights please me. I was delighted to see a flock of Buddhist monks cramming themselves into the Ashmolean Museum via a revolving door. They created a blur of orange robes as they whirled through, cracked smiles beaming on improbably happy faces. I enjoyed a coffee in a very tatty cafe which was staffed entirely by Italian men and littered with old 1950s signage. They amused me with their posturing and their over loud appreciation of a photo of a shapely girl in a magazine. It felt right that they should be so stereotypical. Stereotypes are so comforting.
The paintings in the Ashmolean made me laugh to myself especially a Stanley Spencer which showed his wife and two children in a field of cows (see below). The children are about to become airborne and the whole scene is faintly comical. There was an array of Madonna and child pictures. No, not Lourdes and Miss Ciccone, the original one. The variety of faces and attributes made me stop and stare and I wondered why some of the artists had chosen such sultry looking girls as models. I always expect a Madonna to be at least a little bit po-faced and not at all racy looking.
I managed to take in the Botanical Gardens. I’m fascinated with lily pads. It’s a childhood thing. I still almost think they contain frogs which can be kissed into Princes or little elves with fishing rods. They didn’t. The hothouses were beautiful though. I sat by the river and a brief spell of sunshine punctuated the seemingly endless summer of rain. Watching the punts go by I wondered what would possess anyone to try that. It looked ungainly and a bit terrifying to me.
My room was in a University college and overlooked a library with huge windows. I found this comforting. The first thing I do when I get into a hotel room is arrange my books somewhere. A little pile of books adds so much to a room. I shopped and bought books, of course and then had to lug back the heaviest bag possible over the bridges of the stations.
Oh, I learnt stuff too. Don’t worry taxpayers. You got your money’s worth.
Thursday, 12 July 2012
If you’re anything like me then the ballet isn’t something you’ve considered as being your thing and contemporary dance conjures up images of incomprehensible manoeuvres performed with ridiculous seriousness. I always thought dance seemed a bit absurd and inaccessible.
I saw a production of Matthew Bourne’s brilliant “Edward Scissorhands” a few years back and was proved entirely wrong. I’ve since seen quite a bit of modern dance and most of it has exceeded my expectations but my loyalties lie with Mr Bourne still. He’s certainly earned the many accolades and awards he’s gathered with his productions including the long running all male production of “Swan Lake”. He’s also earned the admiration of a whole load of gay men with the gay themed “Dorian Gray”, the homoerotic “The Car Man” (loosely based on “Carmen”) and the recent “Early Adventures” with its gay overtones and its homage to male underwear modelling. That’s not to mention the obligatory amount of lithe male flesh which is often on show. The Joan Crawford style stepmother in “Cinderella” was pure high camp and the scene where loose women and even looser men ply for trade in a 1940s Underground Station was enough to titillate even the most jaded palate.
His latest production is still running at Sadler’s Wells and is due to transfer to Norfolk and I’d recommend catching it before it’s too late. Forget the Olympics. This is definitely an inspirational show.
The show is called “Play without Words” and is loosely based on 1960s British films like “The Servant”. It’s set in Chelsea in the upper class home of a bright young thing and revolves around his relationship with his manservant. It’s a fantastic production. The sense of seductive and permissive morals is played out with intensity against a back drop of desperate power struggles. The costumes, set and styling are breathtaking and the show manages to be suave and erotic as well as funny and invigorating. Catch it while you can! It’s the most chic and stylish thing you’ll see this year. Oh, and did I mention the dancers? Lucious.
If you can’t make this in London then try and see his new production of “Sleeping Beauty” which starts a U.K. tour in November.
I've recently reviewed a couple of gay books for a brilliant new website called www.thegayuk.com which is a listings, reviews and lifestyle site. Well worth checking out.
They're not just books for the boys of a certain persuasion though. These are great reads, although straight boys might get a bit of an odd look from the girlfriend or wife if caught reading anything by James Lear.
They're not just books for the boys of a certain persuasion though. These are great reads, although straight boys might get a bit of an odd look from the girlfriend or wife if caught reading anything by James Lear.
Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White
Grand master of gay literature, Edmund White, is now in his 70s and his first novel was published in 1973. He’s renowned for his classic novel “A Boy’s Own Story” which accompanied me through an episode of glandular fever back in my teens and made the days bearable.
His current novel is about a man called Jack Holmes and his friendship with a gauche straight man called Will. The book is poetically written but very readable with some beautifully drawn scenes. Jack starts out blundering through life as he discovers he’s gay and tries to cope with being excessively well-endowed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who could help someone come to terms with that particular problem? The book details his successes and failures and his experiences with sex and love.
The book is expansive, taking in a large section of time from the mid to late twentieth century and the changing nature of gay life in New York is well depicted. The absurd and clumsy friendship and unrequited lust that burgeons in the friendship between a gay and a straight man is both touchily and comically portrayed and is a running theme through this exceptional story.
If you haven’t got round to reading any Edmund White then I’d definitely recommend this latest work as a starting point.
The nation’s women are gripped by “Fifty Shades of Grey” fever. Huddles of women are whispering about it in corners and passing dog eared copies back and forth. Book shops are selling out and the author is breaking records all round with her tale of BDSM sex and raunch. It set me thinking about how a few of my friends and I experienced a similar phenomena with the books of James Lear.
A few years back I picked up a battered copy of “The Palace of Varieties” by James Lear and was instantly in my own pornographic literary frenzy. The book describes the passage (yes, that one too) of a young man called Paul Lemoyne through the theatrical underworld of 30s London. The novel is actually well plotted and funny in parts as well as being incredibly erotic. Paul lurches from sexual encounters in toilets, to romps with dandy gentleman to a very steamy group session in a pub back room. The book abounds with enormous tghrobbing genitalia and lithe bodies. I passed the book on to a gay colleague and we ended up starting a reading chain as it was passed from sticky hand to sticky hand. We’d blush and titter at the more purple passages but all agreed it was a great book which had kept us all very entertained.
James Lear has written a few others including a detective series (think Agatha Christie with more group anal). I’d recommend them all for a light and smutty read but would just add the warning that they must not be read on a crowded train unless you have a particularly baggy pair of trousers on.
My Policeman by Bethan Roberts
Vintage is big business in the 21st century and one decade which brings on warm rushes of nostalgia is the 1950s. Homes are being decorated with stylish repro 50s patterns and tweed jackets are making a comeback, but have you ever considered what it was like to be gay before the law reforms of 1967 made homosexuality legal? This pitch perfect novel captures the atmosphere of repression and fear which surrounded being gay in 1950s Brighton. Bethan Roberts has created a compelling story with strong credible characters which is hard not to become instantly immersed in. The book details the tragic love triangle between a handsome young policeman, a naive school mistress and a more sophisticated gay museum curator. The story is by turns amusing and thrilling but also tragic and moving. The backdrop of historical detail doesn’t intrude on a great story but adds depth and colour to it. I would heartily recommend this book as being well written and eminently readable. It’s a book which causes you to stop and think about how we view the past through a filter of our own current experiences.
Friday, 6 July 2012
I always look back and think I was lucky to get through school without being bullied more than I was. I’ve come to realise as I get older that this was just a technique to minimise it. I spent a lot of years lying to myself.
Growing up obviously gay in England the 1980s wasn’t very easy, really, whatever school you went to and naturally the bullying was there. The brunt of it started when I was 12 and started secondary school. It was quite a good school too, not especially rough. Up until then the other children were more accepting and didn’t seem to find it odd that one of the boys was particularly effeminate and hung out with the girls all the time. It wasn’t an issue. Moving up to a new school entailed mixing with kids who were older and more street-wise, the onset of puberty and the teenage fear of difference and standing out.
It was pretty low key on the whole. I was always obviously gay but more openly identified myself as gay from age 14 onwards. There’d be the odd tripping up on the way home from school which wasn’t a joy. I’ve always been clumsy and was pretty much capable of tripping myself up unaided. There were the whispered threats which chilled me and left me nervous and edgy but generally amounted to nothing much in the end. Snow was a nightmare. I loathed it. A sudden snowfall usually meant a volley of snowballs coming my way on the way to and from school. The shouted name calling was the thing I hated most. It happened most days. If people ask me now if I had a nickname at school I always answer: “Yes, it was poofter, gaylord or queer.”
I call myself these names now, a feeble fight back and attempt at empowerment. I can use them affectionately and they lose their harm and intent. Barbs aren’t sharp if you file them down through familiarity. In truth it was embarrassing and hurtful. I could tolerate it mostly in school although I would blush a little and wince. The worst thing was if I was called it in the street away from school. I recall walking in the city centre and wanting the ground to swallow me up as a teenage girl from school screamed “Poofter!” at full throttle in a crowded street. Everyone seemed to look around and glare not at her but at me. It always hurt a bit more if it was a girl calling me the names. Girls were usually my allies. It defied the order that they could often be the name callers too. I had a circle of close female friends who were on the whole fiercely protective of me. I remember walking home from school one day and a boy pushed me to the floor. As I dusted myself off I looked on fondly as my girl friend punched him squarely on the jaw. Maybe not the most ideologically sound move but it felt good.
One thing that helped a little was that I wasn’t alone. There were four of us in my form class. One was a boy who was mixed race and very camp. He’d mince about calling everyone Darling and often emulated his hero, Boy George, by copying (clumsily) his latest fashions. This look didn’t go down too well, always. We were good friends but fought a lot and when we weren’t secretly cooing over the underwear pages in Kay’s Catalogue or discussing which teacher had the firmest buttocks, we were having terrible slanging matches. The other two boys were pretty obviously gay too but chose to deny it at the time which was fair enough. One had a girlfriend (a very manly sporty girl who is now, unsurprisingly, a gay woman) and the other was vaguely asexual and very academic but now lives with his male partner in London. There definitely felt like there was a bit of safety in numbers. It also figured that if we walked together in the snow we’d get all the snowballs over and done with in one fell swoop and take a share each.
The worse and most humiliating bullying came from the teachers. Conforming to stereotype, the sports teachers were by far the worst, shouting names at me and my friend constantly and belittling us at every opportunity. I like to think that wouldn’t happen now but I may be being way too optimistic. This caused me hideous misery and I hate to sound wet but I cried a lot of tears and paced a lot of the tread from the bedroom carpet due to this continual humiliation. I also still harbour a deep hatred for those men and a desperate mistrust of sporty people.
Unfortunately it wasn’t confined to sports lessons. The worst of the two sports teachers, an oaf with a good physique and nice teeth but the emotional intelligence of a cockroach, was part of a clique of other teachers and they’d join in too. The often mildly inebriated French teacher would make gay jokes in class and then apologise pointedly to me. The acne scarred History teacher would refuse to speak to me and make pointed comments at every available opportunity. If hell existed I’d like to reserve a little space for these men but sadly, I don’t think it does.
I remember liking being in school plays. I’m gay, right? It’s what we do. That all stopped after a particularly nasty incident during a school performance. I’d learnt a monologue to recite as part of a Victorian Musical Hall re-enactment. I got up on stage dressed as a Victorian factory worker in waistcoat and cap and the set up was a pub scene. There were other children playing the punters whose job it was to sway, hold beer glasses and shout “Hear Hear”. A group of older girls decided that it would be hilarious to instead shout “Queer queer” very loudly. This was during the final performance in front of hundreds of parents. I didn’t act again. I preferred to be less conspicuous.
Perhaps I’d have coped better with it all had I had a more supportive home life but that wasn’t to be. My agnostic father would tell me that AIDS was a gift from God to clear the world of queers. Religion occasionally suited him. My mother supported him. They told me that gay people were dirty liars who came to sticky ends. This was hammered home repeatedly. They also banned me from buying records by openly gay singers, told me I wasn’t to read “gay” books and disapproved of my effeminate friends. The full gamut of derogatory terms for gay men were used daily in our household by both parents. My brother would look on with sympathy. I used to forgive them for this and make excuses. I don’t now. Now I’m their age, I judge them as peers and find them mean, cruel and lacking.
It’s not surprising that my academic career didn’t pan out quite as planned. I gave up on it all and my ultimate aim was to grit my teeth and get through it and get away from them all. Sadly I didn’t see far enough ahead to visualise a time when it might end and that University may have been less oppressive and ended up abandoning my place at college. Its little wonder I took to skipping school and necking purloined gin and puffing on cigarettes. It’s also not all that surprising that the first man who showed me attention ended up with me by his side, however inappropriate he was for me and however bullying he turned out to be.
I suppose my lifelong self esteem issues and bouts of depression and self loathing are pretty easy to trace back. It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to work that one out. I know I’m an adult now and it was a long time ago but formative years are important. I still shudder at times when I think of my schooldays. My mother used to spout the old crap that my school years would turn out to be the happiest days of my life and I would retort that in that case, death right now seemed a preferable option. Luckily she was wrong. I’m happier now than my sheepish 13 year old self could ever have imagined.
My point in writing this? It makes me feel better to admit it. I’m also hopeful that someone somewhere reading this will find some sense and a glimmer of hope in my story. I’m definitely now a much happier person and although I can see little positive elements to what i endured I did do just that; endure it. I hate the thought of it, but teenage boys the world over are going through far worse. I imagine that with social media and the internet it’s maybe far worse for them in some ways. I know bullies have their own issues but who cares? It needs stamping out.
In spite of my lingering horror of the sporty man, I do admire one particular persona and that’s retired Rugby player (and all round dishy straight bloke) Ben Cohen. He heads an amazing campaign against homophobic bullying called The Stand Up Foundation. Check out the link below. I love this campaign for obvious reasons.
This piece is directly inspired by the brilliant blogger Bipolar Bear (http://bipolarbear.co.nz/) who runs a similar themed item from time to time. I get statistics on my blog of how many hits I’ve had, where the readers are from etc. More amusingly, I also get a list of what search terms bought them here via Google. They can be quite worrying and I get concerned on two levels. Firstly, why do they end up being directed to me? Secondly: how disappointed must they be if they’re planning a bit of a saucy self love and end up with me wittering on instead. I visualise a lot of rapidly withering erections. Here are my top five favourite bizarre searchers.
1) How big is Christian Jessen’s penis? I do hate to disappoint but although I did once meet the doctor from the Embarrassing Bodies TV show when he examined my left tonsil, I didn’t get round to peeking at his cock. This is not normal during a standard medical examination contrary to pornographic films you may have seen. Even if I had, that’s between me and him. I suspect that the internet may not hold the answer to this burning question and suggest that the only way to find out is to feign an embarrassing anal condition and quickly debag him when he least suspects it. I hope that helps.
2) Gay boy bumsex: O.K. I plead guilty on this one. I have coyly alluded to the love that uses the back door once or twice but I’m afraid I’m no sex instruction manual. If you want tips I suggest using a reputable site such as XHamster where they have some very educational film clips. Alternatively, ask your local M.P. or priest. They often get caught doing this.
3) Back scars: Oh dear. My back is a pure temple of clean unbroken skin which is perfectly respectable for a 41 year old man. I had a lucky escape from back acne. It sprouts a few hairs though, as you’d expect at my age. I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned a scar on my back but suggest that Google is having a laugh bringing you here when what you need is a damn good cosmetic surgeon or a stint on Embarrassing Bodies. If you opt for the latter please try to get an eyeful of Dr Christian’s knob so I can help caller number one.
4) Gay Shower Curtain Sex: I’m sorry? Sex with a shower curtain? This is not a practical or viable contraceptive and will not protect from STDs at all. It’ll also ruin your decor and provide an unwelcome talking point for visitors using your bathroom who notice the unusual stains. I’m not sure even bleaching would solve that one. Is this a new fetish I know nothing of? I thought I’d heard them all. I’m not sure i want to investigate though.
5) Cocks in Speedos: I did outline an unsavoury encounter I had with a weird Speedo fetishist who was frankly mildly psychopathic and displayed a mild desire to kill me. My worry with this one is that it’s him searching for “cocks in Speedos” and he’ll track me down and kill me. If it is you, I’m terribly sorry and won’t ever laugh about your inability to ejaculate unless it was with a man wearing tight nylon swimwear that gives off enough sparks to start a pubic bush fire. I won’t mention your penchant for nipple clamps and hair pulling either. Deal? I think this could get messy. If I’m found garrotted with a pair of nasty trunks you know where to look.
To be honest, whatever brings you here, you're more than welcome. Come one in. Whatever your fetish I accept it. Just leave my shower curtain alone and we'll be fine.
Thursday, 5 July 2012
The year was 1977 and the Queen was coming to my home town. I dressed up in my lumber jack style plaid jacket with the huge sheepskin collar which was a major error for July. I coupled it with a nice floral shirt and flared cords and off we trotted. I remember noticing that the city was strangely clean that day. There was a complete absence of the usual dog turds and litter and the fountains in the town centre which usually housed dust and empty cans were sparkling with miraculously clean water.
We’d already had the street parties which were a bit of a bore as I was mid way through the latest Milly Molly Mandy book and would have been happier ensconced in my bedroom, reading. The copious amounts of jelly failed to console me. My brother and I waited behind the police cordon clutching our plastic flags for what felt like an eternity until she arrived. I was horribly disappointed. I’d expected something amazing and thrilling and all we got was a rather dowdy looking woman walking slowly through the market square in a dull pale blue dress with a fixed grin on her face. I expected much more.
The thing was, aged six, I had a fixation with villainesses. I didn’t want a nice smiley queen. I wanted the evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or at least the deranged Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. This Queen was very underwhelming in comparison. Where was her axe, her poisoned apple and her need to decapitate?
I’d seen a Disney film called The Rescuers that year and was hooked on the villainess of the piece, one Madam Medusa (voiced by the brilliant Geraldine Page). She was overweight and blowsy, a mane of titian hair piled up on her head as she careered around doing evil deeds. She sported red lipstick, a blunderbuss and nails which could gouge your eyes out. I couldn’t get enough of her. I was in love. I had a tee shirt, the set of books and a poster on my wall. This was my kind of woman. I had a strange predilection for the villains as a child. I felt sorry for Frankenstein and Godzilla. I wanted to weep with injustice for poor King Kong. I thought Jack the Ripper had a very desirable cape and liked the Wicked Witch’s attitude if not her complexion. She just didn’t suffer fools lightly. Is that a bad thing?
In short, I believed them all to be misunderstood. The poor Queen in Snow White just hadn’t come to terms with ageing. We’ve all been there. Let’s face it; Cinderella would grate on your nerves after a while with her relentless optimism and chattering to sparrows. If I was her stepmother I’d have ended up giving her floors to scrub just to get her smiley little face out of mine. Madame Medusa just wanted a bit more cash. She had two pet crocodiles to feed and an expensive jewel habit. Who can blame her for coercing two mice into a life of crime? They were only mice for goodness sake. It’s not like she was really bad and abused something cute like a cat. Poor Ms DeVille just wasn’t a dog lover and wanted a nice warm coat. It gets cold in London. We all need coats and Dalmatian fur is so pretty.
These women thrilled me. They were powerful, knew what they wanted and how to get it and stopped at nothing. A few years later a similar woman came into power as our Prime Minister and although the comparisons could be made she didn’t cut the mustard. It’s all very well being evil but you need panache too. A frumpy middle class housewife from the Midlands in a bad two piece suit was never going to attain my admiration. Mrs Thatcher turned me cold.
The good girls bored me. I didn’t want to see sickly child star singers smiling inanely on TV as they hot footed a tap routine. I somehow knew it was fake and less than appealing. Heidi was just totally beyond my comprehension. No one could be that happy walking up and down bloody hills all days and doing endless chores involving whiffy goats. She had no style either: all that gingham. I did have a mild crush on Wonder Woman but that was more because I coveted her jewellery and wanted to beat people up gracefully.
Oddly my love of the bitch has stayed with me. Give me power dressers in business suits barking into mobile phones. Shower me with Dorothy Parker’s mean quips, Bette Davis’ sharp glances and Joan Crawford’s steely stares. Offer me Madonna’s demanding backstage riders or Debbie Harry sneering at me. I can’t get enough.
Luckily, I didn’t choose mean as a lifestyle option. I have my moments but essentially I’m generally pretty compassionate. Besides, I don’t have the right clothes to pull it off. I’ll just live it in fantasy with the odd moment peeping out from time to time. Maybe I’d have been happier with a more damaged royal visiting in 1977. If only Princess Margaret had been free that day. I’d have happily sat at her feet and passed her a gin and lit her Rothmans for her as she looked down her nose at me. What a woman.