Sunday, 30 September 2012

Ramblings: Corrupting Influences

 

It’s a common misconception among lots of my straight friends that homophobic bigotry is almost non-existent in modern society and that people are generally pretty tolerant.  I’m sure they’d be shocked to read that a peer who sat in the House of Lords has branded the website I write for (ww.thegayuk.com) as displaying an “aggressive type of behaviour”, being a “perverse pressure group” and having a “corrupting influence on susceptible and vulnerable young people.” Bigotry clearly stalks the corridors of power and is pretty poorly informed.

Personally, I wouldn’t call myself perverse or corrupting. I’m certainly not aggressive either; assertive, maybe. I can stand my ground. I work hard in the public sector, pay my taxes and keep a clean house. I even subscribe to the Radio Times, listen to Radio 4 and like walking in the Peak District. I’m thoroughly wholesome, mostly. Just because the gender of the person I sleep next to and have sex with is the same as my own, it doesn’t make me a degenerate. I don’t go around spewing venom and hatred either. That, to me, is the hallmark of an aggressive bad influence. Hatred aimed against whole groups of people is a true evil.

As a younger gay man, the corrupting influences which affected me adversely did not originate from the gay community. They came from the mouths of bigots and zealots. I was continually told by teachers, the government of the day and by religious groups that I was sick and depraved and an abomination. This didn’t make me feel warm inside. The eighties were nasty in many ways, not just because of the bad clothes. The positive influences on me were gay celebrities, gay literature and gay films, which showed me that actually they were all wrong and being gay did not equate being the spawn of Satan. It was just something I was born being.

If only the internet had been around then. I feel heartened that young gay men and women can now access internet forums and sites like this to help them learn that the way they were born is not a crime and doesn’t make them wrong or bad.

The city where I live hit the news in February of this year when three men were jailed for homophobic hate crimes. It was a case that made me feel physically sick. This was a test case using the newly amended laws from 2010. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which came into force in 2010, made it an offence to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. These three men chose to distribute leaflets in the street and through letter boxes which were intended to insult and abuse gay men and to stir up hatred against them. The leaflets called for the death penalty for homosexuality and suggested we either turn straight, burn in hell or face execution. Thankfully these dangerous bigots were jailed for their actions. I know I would have been disconcerted and felt threatened to receive one of these leaflets.

You only have to keep a faint eye on the news to see that bigotry is still big business and hate crimes exist in many forms and at all levels of society across the globe. I know who I think are the real bad influences here and I have just one thing to say: Bigots, bugger off.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Ramblings: Miss Manners

 
 

I suspect that I’ll die in a shushing incident. Someone will take exception with me for telling them to stop talking during a film, eating noisy crisps during a play or playing music out loud on a bus on a tinny mobile phone. They’ll draw a knife and I’ll be done for. Of course, I’ll then become a Saint. Beatification will beckon and I’ll become the Patron Saint of Good Manners. My house will become a shrine and people will come to lay their hands on my cravats and polish my china poodles for hope of an endowment in the form of a Blessing of the Manners. Paul will sell tastefully painted knick knacks.

Damn. I’ve just looked on Google and there are already several patron saints of manners. There’s always someone in the 16th Century who got there first. Apparently, I also have other certain unsavoury qualities which exclude me from sainthood, but hey ho.

I love shushing. It’s become my mission. I was delighted to read that at a cinema in London they now have a set of volunteers who act as theatre ninjas. They stalk the cinema waiting for people sending text messages, talking or eating loudly and dive in and shush them. I want this job.

Recently I saw an incredibly dull film. It left me unmoved and dragged limply towards a dull finale. During the film three middle aged woman were sitting two rows in front of me. They seemed matronly, respectable and well to do but had very poor manners. They talked at normal volume throughout the film.

I accosted them afterwards in the foyer: “Hello. I’m very sorry to trouble you but I wondered if you’d realised that you were talking all the way through that film? It’s quite rude.”

Bossiest of the three: “No we were not.”
Me: “You were.”
Woman; “We were not.”
Me: “Well, the thing is, I’m not psychic at all. In fact, I don’t believe in that stuff. I do however know that you recently had some surgery on your womb, your daughter is about to get married and you’re mum hasn’t been too well. Explain that one?”

She couldn’t. I shall continue with my mission.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Reviews: Coming Out Fiction


Coming Out: Top Ten Novels

 This month, the website which I write for is featuring articles and personal stories about coming out. Having always been a fan of reading, I navigated my way through my teenage years by devouring as much gay fiction as I could. It made me feel affirmed and like I belonged. It’s always good to know it’s not just you. Here are my top ten “coming out” novels:

1)      Maurice by E.M. Forster:
 
This is one of the original classic gay novels. Written around the time of War World I, it’s never going to be a smooth sailing when Maurice discovers that he’s gay in a world where homosexuality is illegal and considered a perversion. It’s a beautiful story, though, with some gripping moments.


 

2)     A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White:
 
 
 
This literary masterpiece from 1986 outlines the coming of age of a young gay man in a tender and well written account. The writing is lyrical and moving with an evocative and fascinating story.


 

3)     Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs:
 
 
 
This is a coming out story with a difference. Burroughs’ childhood was far from usual. He grew up with an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother, ended up being adopted by his mother’s psychiatrist and his eccentric family and had a relationship with a 33 year men whilst in his early teens. Memoirs don’t get much more compelling, brutal or funnier than this one, thanks to Burroughs’ comical take on his life. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Scissors-Memoir-Augusten-Burroughs/dp/1843541513/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347107448&sr=1-1




4)     Sucking Sherbet Lemons: by Michael Carson:
 
 
Young Martin Benson is a teenage boy who’s gradually coming to terms with being gay in a predominately Irish catholic community in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s a humorous and touching book of a boy’s dilemma between the joys of discovering gay sex and the guilt instilled on him by a religion that labels him as sinful. It’s is also the first of a trilogy which goes on to follow Benson as he navigates his way through life.


 

5)     Fifty Ways of saying Fabulous by Graeme Aitken:
 
 
 
Billy is a young boy living on a farm in New Zealand. He’s not quite cut out for farm life and spends his time imagining he’s Judy from “Lost in Space”, fumbling with a friend and lusting after the 19 year old farm hand. It’s a very funny and entertaining read. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifty-Saying-Fabulous-Graeme-Aitken/dp/074725298X/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_3

 

6)     Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron:
 
 
James is a misfit and in discord with his surroundings and fractured family. Caught in a limbo between leaving school and starting university he feels adrift. His psychiatrist is driving him more insane and his crush on a co-worker is getting more than he can manage. This is an above average account of the pain and confusion that sometimes accompanies being a teenager. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Someday-This-Pain-Will-Useful/dp/0312428162/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

 

7)     Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim:
 
 
 
This is a dark and at times disturbing read. It’s a coming of age novel but with a twist. Brian is a guileless innocent and forges an unlikely friendship with savvy cynic and part time male prostitute, Neil. The novel is fast paced and at times shocking as the two move towards a conclusion which causes Brian and Neil to re-evaluate their shared  past. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mysterious-Skin-Scott-Heim/dp/0060841699/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347108912&sr=1-1

 

8)    A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham:
 
 
 
 
Pulitzer Prize winner Cunningham has created a moving account of the extraordinary situation which Bobby, Claire and Jonathan, three friends and lovers find themselves in. The book explores how people manage to find a place for themselves and is an accomplished piece of work. http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Home-at-End-World/dp/0241954533/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347109241&sr=1-1-spell

 

9)     How I Paid for College by Marc Acito:
 
 
 
This camp tale is reminiscent of a 1980s teen movie but with a musical theatre loving cast of misfits and a gay main character. It’s a light and funny book with lots of tongue in cheek moments and an amusing storyline. http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Paid-College-Friendship-Musical/dp/140880221X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347109542&sr=1-1

 

10) Terre Haute by Will Aitken:
 
 
 
      Jared is the son of a wealthy family growing up in Indiana who happens to fancy boys. He’s sly, manipulative and cunning and has a predatory nature. When he enters into a relationship with an older man he quickly gains the upper hand. This is a moody, erotic tale which is really compelling to read but also makes the reader wince a little. Jared is definitely an anti-hero with a difference. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Terre-Haute-Will-Aitken/dp/0385298722/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347109819&sr=1-1



Happy reading people.


Ramblings: Coming Out Again



I came out when I was a teenager and once the tension of the event passed I found that I quite enjoyed it. There was the usual sense of liberation and empowerment and I discovered that the things I’d worried about were not so worrying. I wasn’t reviled or beaten, which was fortunate. Maybe I need to come out again but what about? I’m an open book generally. I could have invented the phrase ‘over sharing’.  I’ll tell you my life story any time you ask. Maybe its better that you don’t ask, actually. It’s lengthy.

I don’t shout my gayness loudly but it’s there to see. I don’t hide the fact that I fancy men. I don’t pretend my partner is just a friend. I don’t mind not being “straight acting”. What’s left to admit? Are there worse things to admit than being gay? How about my bad habits, oddities and quirks? I have a few I’m willing to share. If I tell people I’m gay they’re not generally too shocked or hostile. If I tell them the following then they often look at me with deep suspicion and horror.

1) I don’t drink alcohol. This is very embarrassing to come out about. It automatically leads to an interrogation. Not drinking is viewed as something highly suspicious or odd in the U.K. I’m not an alcoholic; I’m not a prude and am not in a temperance movement. I just gave it up a few years ago. I was a typical binge drinker who binged a bit too often and it made me feel trashy. I sometimes consider pretending that I still do drink but subterfuge is too much like hard work.

2) I really don’t like weddings. I avoid them like the plague. Unlike the stereotypical gay man people imagine, yards of white tulle and fancy waistcoats don’t make me wet around the eyes or anywhere else. I hate a tacky disco and making small talk with someone’s dreary uncle. I find them horribly boring and a waste of money which could be spent on a good holiday. I also find them a little embarrassing and pointless. I’m not against gay marriage though. If that’s what you want then I’m supportive of you. I just don’t want to come to your weddings. If you invite me I’ll politely decline with the line: “I’ll come to the next one”. People also ask me when I’ll marry my partner. I say that I’ll wait till I need a new toaster. My toaster is fine so far.

3) I don’t find eating fun. In fact, food bores me a little. I could throw a brick at the TV if a cookery program comes on. I’d rather watch some other more interesting chore like hovering or dusting. If I mention this me I get dubious looks. I’m not an anorexic or some weird futuristic person who would like nutrients through a pill. I just find eating a little tedious at times. It’s a chore for me. People get offended when I mention this and they resentfully recall meals they’ve cooked for me. (I did enjoy them by the way; perhaps just not as much as they would have liked me to have.)

4) I rarely watch television. This is a great one to get rid of salesman trying to doorstep you into subscribing to pay television channels. They generally look really shocked, then puzzled and usually come up with the killer sales line: “Well maybe if you tried watching it more you’d like it. You need more channels.” I’ll stick to my books and Radio 4 thanks.

5) I still smoke. Admitting this one is like admitting to committing a terrible crime. I sometimes get told I don’t look like a smoker. Am I meant to be a mass of wrinkles, stained yellow and have a wicked glint in my eye? It’s worse than that though. I sometimes smoke indoors too. I know: it’s terrible. I do actually know it’s a horrible too but I’m an addict. (Disclaimer: like most smokers; I’m giving up soon)

Seriously though, there are more embarrassing things than admitting you’re gay. I’m much more ashamed of some of the CDs in my drawer than I am about liking men. We’re all different and we all exist. Isn’t that what matters most? Think about it: which would you rather admit to: your Celine Dion collection, your adult romper suit or your sexuality? No contest.

Originally published at: www.thegayuk.com

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Ramblings: Jingoism Jingle


 
There’s been a lot of talk about being British this summer, what with that Olympics thing and the Jubilee business. I don’t think I fit the definition of being British in those categories. Indeed people criticised me for not being British due to my total disinterest.

I didn’t get too excited about that poor old lady having to watch a load of ships go by in the rain. I just wondered when she might get to retire. This raising the retirement age campaign by the government is getting a positive nod from the royals when a little old lady has to put in an eight hour shift in the rain. I just hope she had some comfy shoes and a vest. I suspect she gets as excited at the prospect of watching a flotilla as I would.

I definitely don’t fit the bill of being British when it comes to sporting fixtures. I really couldn’t care less who can cycle faster, throw an object or kick a ball round and whether they can do it better than anyone else. I’m not sure it makes us any better than anyone else in the World and I’m also not sure that I care about competing against other countries. Do we have to prove anything to be valid? I fail to get excited about it. It bores me senseless and jingoism puzzles me as much as most forms of less socially acceptable and widely encouraged fanaticism.

I can’t bear the horrible teary eyed faux sentiment and flag waving at concerts either. I’m not really sure what that’s about but much like the spirit of Christmas past, it fails to sweep me up in its passion. I find it kind of creepy, like an odd political rally for an extremist group.

I have words for the detractors though. Just because I don’t cry, get excited and raise a flag for “Jerusalem”, Mrs Windsor or a man grabbing balls, doesn’t make me not British or less than adequate. I’m British to the core.

What I believe makes me British is my obsession with rain and the ability to utilise a whole range of words for the condition. Like the Eskimos are to snow, we are to rain. We can revel in drizzle, spit spots, showers, deluges, downpours and torrents. I love my M and S brolly. I obviously fear for my tweeds getting wet in the aforementioned conditions but am actually so British that I would happily sit on a beach or have a picnic in the rain provided I have a sturdy umbrella to hand.

I burn to a frazzle in any temperature above 22 degrees and develop heat lumps. I get edgy if people display manners which are anything less than Miss Nancy Mitford would have advocated and know all the words to several Noel Coward songs. I think coach trips are a good idea, distrust overly spicy foods and I am terrified by the concept of the extended family. I like to see people with comedy teeth and indeed have a set of slightly crooked and chipped teeth of my own which are a lovely colour somewhere between to Magnolia and Nicotine.

I like hefty dry cakes. I keep a well scrubbed doorstep and have read the complete works of Evelyn Waugh. I get edgy if people don’t queue properly. I’m mildly pre-occupied with social class. Do I need to go on?

In fact, may I be so bold as to suggest something? I’m a lot more British than most self proclaimed British people. Cheering loudly at sports or crying in public through joy are just a little bit well...American. There’s nothing wrong with being American at all, provided you are one. I think the more British reaction to an event such as the Olympic sports thing would be to sneer faintly. Pretend it wasn’t happening and be slightly embarrassed at winning a medal. I suspect, I may be a lot more British than people think. I can complain to professional standard. I’m also so British that I don’t actually care that much about it and am of course, very apologetic about it too.

 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Ramblings: Just A Phase You're Going Through


All gay people have fears about coming out. It’s only natural. We’re told all these horror stories about people being disowned and beaten, told we’re a little bit dirty and wrong by some sections of society and taught self loathing by others. For some, coming out as gay/lesbian/bi or transgender does become a total nightmare. There are plenty of unfortunate stories. For the majority though, it’s more of a whimper than a bang.

Talking to friends about it, I quickly realised that for some it can be a humorous experience. Let’s face it: straight people can have some odd ideas. They’re a funny bunch.

I’ll start with me (of course). I told my mother when I was 17. I’d already come out to all my friends a few years before and was pretty open about it. I’d left home and was actually living with a male partner so thought it was maybe time to spill the (not very well tinned) beans. I caught her on an evening when she was alone at home and braced myself with a large vodka.

The response was: “I’m very relieved. I thought you might be bisexual and I don’t like that. It’s greedy.” I disagree with this but it did make me laugh.

Next: “I’m a little bit sad. Homosexuals lead very sad and lonely lives.” Oh Mother, how wrong you were. It’s not the 1950s anymore. We don’t all lurk in shadows and pine over unavailable straight men. I’ve never been especially lonely. In fact I’ve met quite a lot of very nice men, some not so nice men and some terrible monsters. Being gay has meant I’ve met a fair few men. Not to mention all those women who long for a gay best friend. It’s the latest accessory along with a pug and Radley handbag. I’ve also had a few long relationships which were fulfilling and fun, mostly.

Finally: “I won’t tell your dad. He won’t accept it. I won’t tell your brother either and your grandmothers are too old to understand.” Within a week she’d told them all and they all accepted and understood. It wasn’t spoken of much, which is our way of dealing with things. It’s a British thing I think.

Enough about me. Here’s what happened to some of my mates. The names have been changed to protect the less than innocent:

1)      Patrick told his parents and they took him to the doctor who told them it was a terrible phase he was going through. That was nearly 40 years ago. He’s still waiting for the straight phase to start.

2)     Dan told his mum and gran together (ten out of ten for bravery there). His gran chirped up “Ignore him Maureen. He’s making it up. He’s always been a little show off.”

3)     Adam’s mum asked him if it was a side effect of drug taking. That’s a new one for the ‘Just Say No!’ Campaign.

4)     Matt’s mum said “Gay? That meant happy when I was young. They can’t all be bloody happy can they” She’s not wrong.

5)     Jack had been married and had a teenage son and a very angry ex-wife who outed him to his son. His son’s response: “If that’s a lie then you’re wrong for lying. If it’s not a lie then you’re wrong for not letting him tell me himself.” I think he was a wise young man. He also accepted that his dad was gay.

6)     Seth’s gran blamed it on his sister. She believed that his sister had turned him gay by leaving her text books lying around the house whilst training to be a midwife. Mind you, those pictures can be grisly.

7)     Ben’s dad seemed to think there was inevitability that he’d end up having sex in public in toilets and develop A.I.D.S. He’s done neither yet.

8)    Mark woke his parent’s up and told them one night and his dad was jubilant. “See! I’ve been telling you for years he was gay.” He suspects they may have had a bet on.

9)     Max came out to a friend at Uni who said “Great! I’ve always wanted a gay friend!” They didn’t become friends.

10) Rich was petrified that his teenage children would be teased at school. In reality, they had a lot of jealous friends who thought having a gay dad was pretty damn cool.

Joking apart, coming out can be scary and we don’t all get the supportive or warm reactions we deserve. If you’ve done it then congratulations; if you haven’t then good luck. I hope it goes well. If you don’t want to do it then it’s your prerogative. Who am I to judge?

 
(Originally published at www.thegayuk.com)