Bums On The Heath With George Michael

What to do of a sunny Saturday afternoon in London? Well, yesterday, I jumped on a bus and zoomed north to Hampstead Heath. I had been told to find Jack Straw’s Castle, an old pub, from which friendly guides and red ribbons would lead me to my destination. I very much did not find the Castle and instead I ended up amongst the bushes and brambles of the wood passing the odd dog walker, jogger and family. Just when I was starting to despair that I’d never find my destination I heard something in the distance, the lyrics of a song were echoing between the branches guiding me to where I needed to go. The song was Outside and the event was the first global celebration of George Michael Wants You co-organised by the great Queer Tours of London and Camden LGBT Forum.

In essence, it was a big, queer party in honour of the legend that is George Michael. In 1998 Michael was arrested by an under cover police officer for having sex in a public lavatory in a Beverly Hills park. Naturally, the press went for it and tried to tear the man to pieces. They smeared his sexuality over the headlines and boggled as to how a man such as George Michael could do something so ‘lewd’. They marvelled at how ‘depraved’ the gay male community could be without stopping to think that perhaps their relentless prejudice and bullying might exacerbate the many woes the LGBT community so often faces. Never one to admit defeat, Michael responded with the song Outside, a few lines of which read, “Let’s go outside in the sunshine, I know you want to, but you can’t say yes. Let’s go outside in the moonshine, take me to the places that I love best.” I don’t think you need to read between the lines to get what he was doing there, namely, reclaiming something wonderful and natural from the bigoted claws of the regularly abysmal media and turning oppression into a smash hit.

So tens of people gathered in Hampstead Heath’s most famous cruising area to get dancing, singing, laughing and making merry (and possibly making another kind of merry in the bushes, if you know what I mean). And it was just flipping awesome. There were families, friends, dogs and even the odd tourist walking by suddenly caught in the speakers’ music and the smiling faces. One of my favourites was two women and two young boys in sports kit (perhaps two Mums with their sons) who walked quickly by only to spot the guy dressed in nothing but a jock strap. The two women’s faces split into big grins and the two boys started laughing. They tried to carry on walking but kept stopping to take another look at the revelry. I think their behaviour is very familiar: that curiosity, intrigue and, perhaps, a little titillation of being caught on the edge of something that looks a little unfamiliar but also quite fun. And that’s why the event yesterday was an open invite, all really were welcome. I also heard so many different languages, including many from around Europe, and I think if anything can act as a metaphor for the sort of fierce joy and emboldened merriment that we’ll need as we continue through dark times it was yesterday’s first ever global celebration of George Michael Wants You. So head outside folks, whether it’s outside of your comfort zone, outside of your usual social group or outside onto the Heath for a spot of dogging (or dog walking).

F*cking Men And Passengers

One a play at the Vaults Theatre in London about the lives of ten gay men, the other a Hollywood romance about a decidedly straight couple falling in love as they zoom through outer space. The former is a great piece of writing accompanied by some wonderful acting and the latter is actually surprisingly good given that it’s a romance at zero gravity. However, as I watched these productions I felt I had seen them before albeit in different locations: men f*cking in Manchester for example and straight couples falling in love, well, pretty much everywhere. And it was the way the scripts unfolded that disturbed me the most (spoilers).

F*king Men introduced us to a world of brief encounters between men in dark parks, closeted professionals worried their careers would collapse if they out themselves, put upon sex workers and porn stars, HIV stigma and homophobia. It was also a world full of laughter, love and heart as different individuals and couples tried to make it work in a world where guys just seem to want to f*ck all the time. Meanwhile, in Passengers there’s only room for two straight people as Chris Pratt and J-Law discover they’ve woken up ninety years before the spaceship has reached its destination. As it turns out Pratt woke up first, then, a year later, woke up J-Law. Obviously, when she finds out she’s pretty mad but she ends up forgiving him and (straight) love conquers all, it even fixes a hole in the spaceship caused by a tiny asteroid.

And it’s funny isn’t it that the scripts of gay men’s stories don’t always end quite so happily as those of straight lovers. Now, I know I’m comparing an Off-West End show with a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s hardly like with like, but I’m concerned that so many of the shows I see about gay men are bittersweet or sometimes just bitter. It’s like each time we have to go through all the homophobia, shame, prejudice and self-loathing before we can get to asking what might happen next. Whereas there are so many scripts for straight folk that they can do as they please and often get happy endings to boot. Passengers ends in engagement after all (which, I appreciate, doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness) whereas F*cking Men ends with a young sex worker being given extra pay with which he might just be able to afford the mortgage on a flat with a kitchen – but, unlike the hole in the ship, the shame, stigma and self-loathing haven’t gone away. So, dear LGBTQIA+ allies, it’s another call for help – please help us queer folk get happier endings (and not just of the orgasm variety), please help edit the societal scripts that force us into hiding and get us hurt, and please listen to and share our stories. Next year I want to see two lesbians stuck in outer space, or two trans men, or two intersex folk, and I don’t want that plea to sound like a joke because I’m not being funny. And if you’re not going to write the script then I will and in the meantime I’ll carry on enjoying F*cking Men – seriously, it’s great – get your tickets here. Trailer below most definitely NSFW.

G.B.F. And How To Educate Straight Folks The Funny Way

G.B.F. is just a fabulous movie: think Mean Girls meets a less offensive American Pie meets gay. It’s a classic high school tale with an LGBT twist as two gay friends, Tanner and Brent, struggle with coming out the closet. However, when Tanner is inadvertently outed by the exclusively heterosexual GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) he suddenly finds himself the centre of an awful lot of unwanted attention because it turns out everyone is dying to get a G.B.F – Gay Best Friend. Cue an abundance of brutal put-downs that only rival prom queens can dish out and a whole panoply of reactions to Brent’s gayness from the straight community.

These reactions include outright homophobia as the chief jock physically assaults Tanner and calls him a fag. There’s also religiously fuelled homophobia as one of the Mormon characters threatens him with eternal damnation. Then there are more subtle forms of discrimination in which Tanner is simultaneously lauded for his newly revealed homosexuality but objectified for it as well. Like the latest handbag many of the well-meaning but ignorant straight characters want to hang out with Tanner for the kudos it will bring them. However, what’s brilliant about this movie is that it doesn’t buy into obvious stereotypes as pretty much all the characters, even the ‘blond bimbo’ prom queen, are revealed to have multiple sides to their personalities that allow them to revel in the stereotype they are portrayed as whilst transcending it.

Because that’s the thing about stereotypes, they’re a bunch of characteristics that oppressors observe in an oppressed group, which are then turned into the defining features of that group. The oppressed group is then made to feel shame for possessing those features and stigmatised for doing so. So the oppressors get to have their stereotyping cake and eat it: they choose which traits to objectify a group with and then use them to reduce and victimise the oppressed. Not only is the gay guy who likes musicals and skinny jeans reduced to his penchant for those things he is then bullied for liking those things. It’s an endless cycle fuelled by ignorance and prejudice. But G.B.F. calls bullshit and revels in the skinny jeans and pop songs whilst also presenting the gay protagonists as brave, emotional and erratic people, i.e. as humans not just as tokenised extras. Yet it does take an awful long time for some of the straight characters to figure this out which is why this movie is perfect for those of all sexualities. For the straight folks out there who only know closets as the things clothes are put in see this movie as a fabulous and funny education in not objectifying LGBT people and valuing them as people. And for the queer folk out there know that one day the straights will catch up and whilst educating them can be a boring and relentless task it is much funnier when done with this movie.

The Friday Night Kindness Kabaret

You know that gay stereotype, the ‘bitchy queen’ one, when the queer in question gives you a lot of sass and destroys your sense of fashion (or lack thereof) in two biting sentences. Then they down a double gin and tonic before offering a witty critique of each person in the room and why they’re all so damn ugly. In fact, I don’t just think you know this stereotype, I think you help promote it. Every time you laugh at those sorts of punch lines, every time you reduce your LGBT friend to a series of tropes and every time you call something ‘gay’, you are overtly/tacitly promoting the culture of queerphobia that still runs so strong in 21st century society. But wait a sec, aren’t I being a little too mean in a post about kindness?

Sure, I’ll be kind, but if you find yourself reading this post and you’re one of those friendly-but-kinda-ignorant straight people then you probably weren’t at the Kindness Kabaret last night in Soho. I was and it was fuming brilliant. There was burlesque from the epic Rubyyy Jones, some ace tunes from internationally ignored superstar Vanity Von Glow, jokes galore from Shon Faye, words of wisdom from writer Matthew Todd and witty banter from hosts Pat Cash and David Robson. But why was it called the Kindness Kabaret? Because Pat and David both feel that there isn’t enough kindness on the London gay scene. And from my own experience I know they’re right – there’s often aloofness, judgement, prejudice, cynicism and a whole host of other unkindnesses. And that’s not because queer folk are all relentlessly nasty but it’s because we have been relentlessly alienated, shamed and abused for being who we are and it’s no surprise that we internalise this Pandora’s box of prejudice and spit it back at one another. So, yeah, I will be kind but first it’s important that you realise the bittersweet fact of the Kindness Kabaret, i.e. that there needs to be one.

And what was even more fantastic about last night was that even though I went by myself I actually met some fantastic people. I got chatting with two friendly guys (and, no, before you jump to that conclusion I did not engage in a threesome and even if I had that does not make me fit your narrow, prejudiced stereotypes) and learnt lots about Sweden’s gay scene, the oldest coffee shop in Soho (I had my first cappuccino and unfortunately I liked it) and British colonialism’s abysmal homophobic legacy that is still present in far too many former colonies’ legal systems. So, in a scene that is often ravaged by unkindness, I thought it was pretty epic I found the opposite and had a bunch of tequila shots as well. As for you straight folks, I know you have your struggles too and one day I’ll post about them but in the mean time I’m asking you to listen to mine. And yes, I’m angry, of course I’m fucking angry, remember that LGBT sexual health and lifestyle education was banned from 1988 until the early noughties in the UK (aka, my entire childhood) and our education system still hasn’t caught up. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Remember this also, that under the frosty, hostile exteriors of those ‘bitchy queens’ there are vulnerable and fragile interiors scarred by a world so often full of hostility, indifference and prejudice. But you can be part of helping heal those wounds. So, yeah, I’ll be nice but you have to be too.

Does The Thought Of Anal Sex Disgust You?

Not wanting to write about the Referendum again and inspired by fellow blogger Freakypeach’s great post on anal sex, I thought I’d put my head above the parapet and put a good word in for the bum. I want to write this because I know a lot of very nice people who do lots of nice things, however, when the topic of anal intercourse is breached their niceness slightly slips. Some make faces of disgust, some shudder, some don’t want to talk about it, some imply it’s just a little too deviant, whilst others brush it off as ‘unhygienic’ and then start talking about the weather. So consider this post my attempt to counter the stigma attached to anal sex and if, at the end of it, you’re still not convinced then please just remain quiet on the matter and support those friends of yours who want to engage in whatever consenting forms of sex they wish.

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“But it’s the bum!” I have heard many anti-anal-sex folk cry. “We poo out of it.” And their knowledge of human anatomy is spot on as, I imagine, is that of those who’ve had anal sex. And yes, whilst we do poo out our bums like many other things the bum can be cleaned. Douches, flannels, bidets, showerheads…there are an awful lot of ways to keep one’s back passage clean, advisable for all of us, not just those wishing to use our bottoms for sexual gratification. So yes, like the penis, vagina and any other part of the body, the bum can be dirty but it can also be clean. “But it’s poo, I mean, poo!” Yes, I heard you the first time and maybe this is just about your own lack of anal hygiene that you’re assuming everyone else suffers from. If you really can’t get over this hurdle then please just skip to the last paragraph.

So, with a nice and clean bum (or not, whatever works for you) we can now engage in some anal intercourse and guess what, it can be extremely pleasurable. People of all genders enjoy it and many folk even have prostate glands up their back passages and that can enhance the pleasure. To be quite honest there’s a world of experiences to be had up there whether you’re doing it with your fingers, a dildo, butt plug, vibrator or someone else (or a number of people for that matter). Of course, if you don’t want to have anal sex that’s absolutely fine and I hope no one ever makes you feel bad for not doing it but this post is about the people who do want to do it. Please don’t negate, trivialise, ridicule and/or discriminate against their desire to do whatever they like with their bottoms.

In essence, this boils down to stigma. As a male member of the queer community (although these facts don’t tell you whether I’ve had anal sex, want to or even fancy people of my own gender, that’s still none of your business) I’ve witnessed and experienced a certain sort of prejudice: if I got a quid every time I’ve had to watch ‘straight lads’ faux bumming each other because that’s the height of humour (and they’re too repressed and insecure about their sexualities to actually get down to it and shag their mates) I would be rich. Or every time people I like have warned me against the dangers and the lack of hygiene as if I haven’t considered these things for myself. Or people proclaiming “but we poo out the bum” as if that ends the debate. Or been told that what queer men do to each other is deviant. Or read about queer people being beaten up and killed for liking anal sex. The list goes on. If you have nothing positive to say about the joy that is anal sex then please say nothing. Please just support your friends in their adult decisions to have sex however they like. Here’s to the bum!

Oxford’s Vigil For Orlando

Oxford, England. Thunder boomed, lightning flashed and the rain came tumbling down. The English summer is never one for predictably and climate change just makes that all worse. A brief cycle home and I was drenched, my second shower for the day. It was five o’ clock in the afternoon and there was going to be a vigil in Radcliffe Square for the victims of the homophobic terrorist attack in Orlando. More thunder, more lightning, more rain. The Orlando attack was deeply distressing. It is sad to see people robbed of their lives by atrocious acts of violence and it is sad to see the queer community targeted simply because people want to be free to love whoever they wish. However, I’d seen photos of the vigil in Soho, London, and there had been thousands of people standing in silence, in tears and in solidarity, and this gave me hope.

A few hours later I put my waterproof jacket on, jumped back on my bike and head into town. But the jacket was unnecessary because the clouds were breaking and beyond, even at half past seven, the sun was shining. The view of the changing sky was staggering punctured by the sandstone spires of Oxford University. I arrived at Radcliffe Square where hundreds of people had gathered outside the Radcliffe Camera (the only building in Oxford’s skyline that looks more like a booby than a penis). So many people. Like any community, the queer one can be both brilliant and difficult. Great friendships can be forged but so can cliques. Certain groups come to identify themselves apart from others and ‘politics’ can arise. However, that evening we were gathered for something so much greater than ourselves, we were gathered in solidarity for the victims of Orlando and for queer people all over the world.

Vigil for OrlandoA quote from the facebook event reads as this: “LGBTQ people have long been and continue to be the victims of violence and hatred in the places where we try to seek safety. The fact that this attack happened on Latinx night, and that so many of the victims were Latinx reminds us that queer people of colour are disproportionately at risk of violent hate crimes. On Wednesday evening we will come together outside the Radcliffe Camera to remember the lives of the victims of this attack; we will mourn the violence that seeks to destroy our communities. There is no space at this vigil for Islamophobia or racism. We will not be silent in the face of hatred, we will stand together and support one another as we have always done in times of crisis.”

People gave speeches, the names of the victims were read out and a two-minute silence was held. Someone in front of me began to cry and someone next to them gave them a hug – I don’t think they knew each other. There were families there too and heterosexual people, distressed at the attack and supporting their queer friends. Then a beautifully voiced choir sang Seasons of Love from the musical Rent and Somewhere Over The Rainbow. What ace songs. It’s such a shame that it sometimes takes tragedy to bring us together but those moments of unity are exceptionally powerful, and even though I went by myself to the vigil I did not feel alone. Humans have always lived in difficult times and this remains true today. My hope is that the sentiment of belonging to something so much bigger than ourselves – a community of fighters, lovers, queers and allies that runs back throughout history and will run always into the future – will continue to bring us closer together in a time when division is not an option.

Queer People Need You!

Do you have to be Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex or Asexual to care about LGBTQIA issues?

Answer: No!

Now here’s a blog on how to be a queer ally, however straight you are.

But first the word ‘queer’. Why am I using it? Many might know it as a term of offense used to denigrate LGBTQIA people and this is certainly true. As a word it simply means ‘strange, peculiar or eccentric’ from the Old High German twerh ‘oblique’ itself coming from the Proto-Indo-European root *terkw ‘to turn, twist, wind’. By the late 19th century it was being used to describe homosexual people in a pejorative fashion. Fortunately, by the 1980s the word was being reclaimed by queer activists and scholars. And now queer is used as an umbrella term for people who don’t identify as heterosexual and are not cisgender (i.e. do not identify with the sex they were designated at birth). Interestingly, if I tell you I’m queer I’m not actually telling you that I fancy people of the same gender, or of both genders, or identify as the opposite sex. No, those exceptionally personal issues (what I do in my bedroom and how I relate to my own body is my business, not yours!) are not revealed instead I am saying I challenge the binary nature of gender (i.e. male or female) and any essentialisation of people for their sexuality. Of course, the queer community is a large and diverse one and even though I use the term to refer to the LGBTQIA community in general many might not. Many will prefer LGBTQIA and many will use queer to mean something else. However, for the sake of this blog I am using it as the umbrella term described above.

Anyways, in case you missed it, that was lesson one on being a queer ally – understanding the lingo, very important. Lesson two is about using it and this will vary from person to person. I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve often had people try to define my sexuality for me – people would label me with terms I never used to describe myself sometimes because they wanted to understand me, pigeonhole me and/or bully me. When it comes to politics I consider myself queer – I challenge gender and sexuality norms and I advocate for the equality and rights of the LGBTQIA community  – but when it comes to my personal life, am I gay, bi-sexual, queer or something else? None of your business! So please don’t assume you know what my sexuality is because you don’t and don’t ask me either unless you feel it’s appropriate to. If you’re straight the likelihood is you won’t be asked to defend your sexual preferences on a regular basis or even reveal them so please stop asking me what I like to do with my sexual organs! Just be happy with the knowledge that I am Robert and I’m a queer activist. However, I’m just one example, and many people are bisexual, transgender, gay etc and want to be recognised as such – it’s your job to find out what that means to them and to use the appropriate terminology.

Lesson three is about stereotypes. We’ve all got a bunch of them in our heads be they the mincing queen, the butch lesbian, the greedy bisexual, the weird old gay guy etc, and without even thinking about it we project them at other people. One I often get is when I ask to be introduced to other queer men and people immediately assume it’s for sex, I must be one of those “promiscuous gays.” Unfortunately, much of the time I’m just wanting to meet more people from a community I consider myself part of, yet people are still quick to pigeonhole me. Even worse is that if I do ask to be introduced to a man because I’m attracted to him I then conform to the “promiscuous gay” stereotype and just confirm everyone’s prejudices. So I’m screwed either way (although, ironically, maybe not screwed in the way I might want to be!). So those stereotypes you’ve got, whatever they are, just drop them. Even if you think you see someone conforming to a stereotype, they really aren’t because they’re a human and they come with a rich and varied story of their own. It won’t help you or them if you reduce them to a few tokenistic gestures and even if they do like to gesture in that way that doesn’t make them the stereotype. And remember, the more we stereotype minority groups the easier it is to pigeonhole them, to margininalise them, to dehumanise them, to ignore them and to hurt them. So it’s hashtag time, #humansnotstereotypes.

There are so many more lessons to be learned, for all of us, but for now I’ll sign off this post with an ace song from gay twins Tegan and Sara because, surely, even if it’s for sex or just friendship we all would benefit from getting a little closer. And just in case you find the concept of learning lessons about queer people a little patronising then please just see this as a chance to learn more about an awesome bunch of people who can make awesome friends and allies, and who throw pretty epic house parties (oh, and one other thing, never use ‘gay’ as a pejorative adjective. Nope. Don’t want to hear it. Just never. Thanks).