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.

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The HIV Monologues

On 24th May 1988 the authorities decreed that any local authority in the UK “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homsexuality…or promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” This was Section 28 of the Local Government Act and so a generation of children, myself included, were subjected to yet more homophobia and a complete lack of education in how to live a happy, flourishing and safe LGBTQIA life. On 21st June 2000 Scotland repealed this abysmal amendment and the rest of the UK caught up by 18th November 2003. But we haven’t really caught up because there is still so far to go and that’s where The HIV Monologues come in (a few spoilers ahead).

This was never going to be an easy play to watch and it wasn’t but not because it was terribly acted, far from it, but because it’s about HIV. It’s a seemingly simple story about Alex and Nick who are out on a Tinder date. It’s going really well until Nick says that he is HIV positive. Moments later and Alex gets stuck in a window trying to escape and Nick is pretty pissed off. Denholm Spurr makes a great Alex – insecure, selfish but irritatingly cute. He’s one of those likable unlikable characters, a bit like Fleabag from the hit BBC show, and as the story unfolds we do come to care about him. Meanwhile, Sean Hart portrays Nick’s despair, resolve and power brilliantly as he comes to terms with the new normal of his life. The monologues do occasionally become dialogues and when Spurr and Hart are on stage together the chemistry works (more on that in the next paragraph). I also absolutely loved Irene the Irish nurse played by Charly Flyte, who was treating AIDS in the 1980s. A presumably straight woman, she befriends one of her gay, male patients and takes up the cause. A scene in which she tells a bunch of salivating journalists what shame really is was just fantastic and I felt it a shame her character was only met once as she clearly had a life and story of her own that I wanted to know more about. Then there was Barney played by Jonathan Blake who had me crying before he’d even said anything. Blake (not Barney) was one of the first people to be diagnosed with HIV in the UK (and he was played by Dominic West in Pride) and his depiction of Barney was spot on as the partner to one of Irene’s patients. Warm, funny and quietly powerful Barney/Blake is someone I’d like to go for a drink with.

For me the most powerful scene was when Nick aPicturend Alex are on stage together, hiding in the toilets of G-A-Y about to have sex. Alex has just finished performing in an important play about HIV funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation (hint, hint, come on Elton, get your wallet out). But neither of them have any condoms. Instead, Alex says he’s got a pill and Nick’s confused because he’s already taken his anti-HIV pill (of which there are many different types that reduce the viral load of HIV and allow the immune system to repair itself, start here to find out more) but Alex is taking PrEP: Pre-exposure prophylaxis, which prevents HIV infection. I’ll repeat that, it prevents HIV infection. And what ensues is a beautifully described moment in which Alex and Nick enjoy having sex together for the first time. Of course, in the world of the play and the real world PrEP is still not accessible on the NHS and people who don’t have access to the medication nor the appropriate education are still needlessly contracting the virus. As I said, even with the repeal of Section 28 we still haven’t caught up.
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The HIV Monologues are on this Thursday & Friday, get your tickets here. Asides being brilliantly acted the monologues are well crafted and poignant pieces of writing by Patrick Cash and director Luke Davies evokes a whole rainbow of emotions from his cast. The stage and lights are also fab. So, no excuse, go, go, go. Be entertained, get educated and then go do what you can: help ACT UP in the fight to get PrEP mainstreamed, support your friends who might be at risk of getting HIV or who have it and educate everyone else, straight or gay, who has missed out on years of vital education. And then one day we’ll all meet at that epic G-A-Y after party funded by Elton John!

The Chemsex Monologues

Chemsex kinda does what it says on the tin, mixes chemicals and sex. The drugs used can include mephedrone, crystal meth, cocaine and ketamine. Naturally, a whole load of stereotypes get flung at the people and groups who engage in these activities which is why The Chemsex Monologues are so important because they reveal the all too human side behind the prejudiced slurs and sensationalised stories. But before you read my review go book your tickets, it’s on tonight until Saturday at 9.45pm at the King’s Head Theatre in London.

Directed by Luke Davies, written by Patrick Cash and designed by Richard Desmond this was an intense hour-and-a-bit. Through a series of monologues we were introduced to various characters: the narrator, played by Richard Watkins, who falls for that hot boy on the scene with the great abs and the endless energy. Then Denholm Spurr brings that boy to life as Nameless, who gets to live his dream and meet a porn star. Meanwhile, Charly Flyte plays Cath, the ever faithful fag hag who’s getting a little fed up of her so-called fag. And Daniel, the wonderfully upbeat sexual health worker who loves handing out condoms and lube at saunas and brings red wine to a chemsex party rather than chems. All the cast were fantastic, they found the nuances of character and the expressive range to ensure each monologue was delivered as the multi-layered story it was written as. It wasn’t just someone stood up and talking for fifteen minutes instead we were drawn into worlds of sweaty bodies, M&S ready meals and chemically fuelled orgies. That all the monologues wove together to tell a larger, interlinked story and showed the same characters from different angles proved very satisfying but I shan’t spoil anything (but what I will say is that I’m very glad how things turned out with Swallows).

What also worked so well in this production as in Queers (also produced by Dragonflies Theatre), was that thread of emotion that meant the stories told were more than just anecdotes but had real heart. That Cath was so much more than a fag hag but also a loyal friend, a hardworking single mum and an amazing source of positivity. That Nameless was more than the boy in short shorts (and nothing else) but had so much love to give and poetry to share. That both the narrator and Daniel could see the cracks in the facade of this seemingly glamorous world and still be there to offer a hand. I’d also like to add that I sincerely hope Matthew Hodson is as nice in person as the characters he plays are – Daniel was a legend as was the character Hodson played in Queers (no pressure Matthew). However, the niceness of these characters just exacerbates the tragedy that runs throughout the play. There’s a moment when Daniel’s wondering to himself why so many people do mix chems and sex. He thinks back to a GCSE classics class and remembers that the word ecstasy comes from the Greek extasis: a displacement or removal from the proper place. “Why do so many gay men want to be outside themselves?” he wonders and I thought that was a very good question. Is it just for fun or is it that this so-called real world can be so endlessly hostile and unwelcoming, so shaming of minorities yet so quick to tokenise and ridicule them whilst remaining indifferent to their suffering. If this is one of the messages woven into The Chemsex Monologues then it’s a wake up call for so many of us to stop being so indifferent and unfriendly because people like Nameless, Daniel, Cath and whatever-the-narrator’s-actually-called are priceless and should be made to feel at home. Anyways, enough of that, go book your ticket.

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Denholm Spurr as Nameless in The Chemsex Monologues

 

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!

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).

If You’re Not Gay It Does Make A Difference

“The worst mass shooting in modern American history was also a hate crime against the gay community. It’s not the first time LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people have been the targets of violence.” BBC News.

For more information on the recent hate crime in Orlando that claimed 50 lives please read this article and then search for more. For this blog, however, I want to focus on the guardian journalist Owen Jones’ appearance on Sky News to discuss the atrocity.

It does not take long for an argument to arise between Jones and Mark Longhurst and Julia Hartley-Brewer. Jones works hard to ensure that all present acknowledge that this is a homophobic hate crime and act of terror. He describes it as “one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT people in the western world for generations.” This is a statement of fact yet Longhurst and Hartley-Brewer don’t get it. Longhurst tries to ignore the LGBT angle by saying it was a crime carried out against “human beings” and whilst this is, of course, true, the point is that Jones is trying to focus on the homophobia inherent in the crime. Jones repeats his statement but Longhurst nullifies it again by refusing to recognise the anti-LGBT nature of the crime and talks instead of “the freedom of all people to enjoy themselves.” At which point Jones comes out with the zinger, “You don’t understand this because you’re not gay.” Longhurst disagrees vehemently and Hartley-Brewer tells Jones that he does not have “ownership of horror of this crime because [he’s] gay.” These minutes of ignorance and miscommunication are vital in derailing the rest of the press preview as the three continue to argue before Jones becomes largely silent and the conversation moves away from the LGBT community to gun control and the perpetrator, even after Jones said there has been a distinct lack of press coverage on the homophobic nature of the violence.

I hope you, whatever your sexual orientation, can see the problem here. Jones offers the scenario that this attack might have taken place at a Synagogue and if it had done then it would be clear that anti-Semitism was one of the overriding motives for the attack. If then, a Jewish person was discussing how distraught they felt at the attack it would not be for anyone else to tell them that the attack isn’t about Jewish people, it’s about people. This would totally devalue what the other person is saying and, crucially, what they are feeling – that a community they are part of has suffered a dreadful attack. We are all very different people and members of very different communities and the simple point is that whilst we can speak for ourselves and our own experiences of the world we cannot speak for others. It is not for me as someone who is not Jewish to speak on behalf of Jewish people, nor as someone white to speak on behalf of black people, nor as a man to speak for women. Instead, I can try to understand the different trials facing other groups and offer my support.

That is what I attempt to do with some of my posts and whilst I try hard not to speak on behalf of others I realise I might fail but I am always happy to learn how to do it better. Neither Longhurst nor Hartley-Brewer appear to show much sympathy for the LGBT community, they spend more time talking about the perpetrator and gun control, it is only Jones who talks about it. And even though the others both identify as ‘not-gay’ during the preview neither sympathise with what Jones is saying and instead attack and criticise him. They both had an opportunity as presumably straight people to speak and act in solidarity with the LGBT community and they both missed it. And this is a shame for so many reasons not least because the LGBT community needs a lot of solidarity right now.

So yes, it does make a difference if you’re not gay – it means you might never have a same-sex relationship, it means you might never be discriminated against for your sexual preferences, it means the attack in Orlando was not an attack aimed at a community you are part of. But it doesn’t mean you can’t support us. The full acronym I use is LGBTQIA – Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual. However, I think there needs to be another A, an A for Ally.

Little Mix: Holding Hands Is A Political Act

Little Mix are at it again – using catchy pop songs to relay important political messages and this time it’s all about holding hands.

For some holding hands is a simple act done on a regular basis. A guy and a gal just holding hands as they reveal their love to the world and walk to Sainsbury’s to get some snacks. Inside the shop he might put his hand around her waist and even tap her bum. Outside, snacks now bought and waiting in their bag-for-life, they might hug and briefly lock lips. Do you do this? Are you in an opposite-sex relationship where you both feel comfortable to express your affection in public? Well, if so, count your fricking blessings, because for many people holding hands, let alone snogging, could land them with a punch in the face, at the very least.

It’s different for same-sex couples. The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both above the age of 21. That was only fifty years ago and it applied only to men. It was in 2000 that the age of consent for homosexual couples was reduced to 16 years, so only sixteen years ago that gay couples achieved parity with straights. And in the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 was sexual activity between more than two men no longer a criminal offence across the entirety of the UK – yup, fourteen years ago and a threesome+ would have been illegal. What this brief political history demonstrates is that the law can be absolutely ridiculous, focussed often not on upholding justice and equality but enforcing prejudice and discrimination. That’s nothing new but it’s worth repeating.

Of course, it’s one thing for laws to change, quite another for culture. And for this reason same-sex couples holding hands in public is still a political act. There’s still so much hostility and discrimination out there that it makes hand holding dangerous. And even if the passersby aren’t homophobes they may still offer a good stare just because it ‘fascinates’ them to see these exotic queer people demonstrating affection. Whereas, straight couples usually don’t get stared at or if they do it’s because they are swapping way too much saliva. So thank god for this song by the wonderful Little Mix, which speaks directly to this issue. The video below is for Secret Love Song Part 2 as Jason Derulo was involved in Part 1 and he (or his producers) ensured it was decidedly straighter than originally intended. So here’s the better more political version. Thanks for singing out Little Mix!