Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ramblings: Made to Measure

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

Ramblings: Slippery Slopes

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!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Ramblings: You Scumbag, You Maggot, You Cheap Lousy Faggot

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.

Ramblings: Questions, questions!

“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 to. 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.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Ramblings: Mean Queens

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.