The Poem In My Pants

Last Thursday evening I was downstairs at Ku Bar in Soho for the last Let’s Talk Gay Sex & Drugs open mic night hosted by Pat Cash. I’ve been a few times and it’s ace (so is Pat). There’s usually a theme and everyone gets five minutes to do whatever they like – read a poem, sing a song, speak from the heart, plug a show, all sorts. I’ve tended to read short stories, something poignant about my experience of queerness and the queer community in 2017. I’ve usually edited and practised the story a lot in advance and love it when I get applauded at the end. The thing is though, I’ve kinda been hiding behind my stories, only revealing myself through the odd metaphor and simile. So last week I thought I would expose myself, which is why I stripped to my pants and read a poem.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0e/Boxer_shorts.svg/600px-Boxer_shorts.svg.png I did this for many reasons. Firstly, for those of you who don’t know Ku Bar, whilst it’s a fab gay bar, it’s also the case that each topless barman is basically a model and all the TV screens project images of hunky men with 8-packs. If you have any hang ups about your body it’s not the easiest of places to be. So bearing my hairy shoulders and my lack of a 6-pack, felt like a political act in itself. For too long I’ve cared about what others think of my body and I’ve projected my insecurities at people I think are hotter than me. I assume the world has only judgemental eyes and is critiquing every hair and mark on my body. But when I was up there reading my poem I stopped caring and just enjoyed my five minutes. If there were people in the audience thinking that I have an awful body or that I’m ugly, then that’s their problem because I imagine they still believe in a conception of beauty that prioritises toned, white, male bodies over all other forms of body. And to that iteration of beauty, I call bullshit.

I am done with the beauty pyramid that ranks us in leagues and fills us all with shame and self-loathing – whether that shame takes us to the gym everyday to work on our abs or that shame means we don’t go clubbing anymore because of the way people have treated for how we look. Instead, I think beauty is for everyone. We are all beautiful and we must give ourselves permission to be. Simultaneously, we must also give others permission to be beautiful no matter how ‘far’ they are from the norm of beauty we’ve been brought up on. Love goes both ways, as does shame, and I’d far rather be able to look myself in the mirror and like the person staring back at me while also letting myself have off days, be unattractive and just to be human. And yes, challenging and changing beauty norms is not easy and there is so much work to do but maybe it starts with shamelessly (and safely) showing ourselves to the world. In essence, I got on that podium for me – to turn all these ideas about beauty into an act, the act of stripping to my pants and reading a poem. Now I’ve done it, I don’t fear it so much, and maybe I’ll do it again.

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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.

It’s Called X-Men For A Reason

Can’t wait for X-Men Apocalypse? I can. And the reason’s in the name. Sure, X-People or X-Humans might not have the same ring to it but we’d get used to it after a while. So, in anticipation of the next Latif and Bechdel test failing reboot of this endless franchise I thought I’d re-cap why the previous two films were such let downs.

X-Men: First Class pretty much starts as it means to go on with Rose Byrne’s character, CIA agent Moira MacTaggert, stripping off to some black lingerie to join a throng of female strippers as they ululate for various men in suits. Was this film made by teenage boy stereotypes? January Jones plays Emma Frost who can turn into diamond, a fairly typical result of minor DNA mutation and also a great excuse to have her in underwear and virtually naked most of the time. And if that wasn’t enough female semi-nudity Jennifer Lawrence plays Mystique, who spends most of her time being naked and blue. So, yup, this is one of those superhero movies for the “lads” – the sort of lads who choke if they eat their popcorn too quickly and fantasise about being Magneto. Talking of whom, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy seem to enjoy getting all the best lines but also playing two right twerps – seriously, young Xavier is such a sleezeball who seems to fail to understand when ‘no means no’ even though he can read minds (a skill he uses to hit on women with, which is just wrong).

The younger mutants don’t fare too well either. There’s a whole bunch of them but they’re mainly white and hetero. The one black mutant, Darwin, played by Edi Gathegi, has a life span of around five minutes before Kevin Bacon’s villian fills him with strange, red energy causing him to implode and shatter into many pieces as his mate Havoc watches through white crocodile tears. Of course, this happens after the only other mutant of colour, Angel, decides to defect and join the baddies’ team (she survives this film but dies off-screen before the next one). So what’s the moral here? That the goodies are white and heteronormative and if you deviate from this trope you’ll end up dead one way or the other.

It’s a similar story for Days of Future Past – McAvoy and Fassender hog all the screen time as they fight over Mystique whose DNA, it turns out, was used to build giant, mutant-killing robots called Sentinels. Yup, a woman is to blame for why all the mutants face extinction. Ellen Page appears but spends most of her time holding onto Wolverine’s head as he gets to do all the fighting. Although you do see his bum for a few seconds in a half-hearted attempt to get some objectification of the male body in the film. It doesn’t last long because all those “lads” are probably too busy snorting on their fizzy drinks and trying desperately to affirm their heterosexuality. The only good thing this film does is to eradicate X-Men: The Last Stand – yup, history literally gets rewritten and one of the worst X-Men movies vanishes. And this means the brilliant Jean Grey is back and no doubt she’ll leave Xavier’s ridiculous school for mutant brats to join a team of awesome queer, female and diversely coloured mutants. So maybe things are looking up for Apocalypse especially with Mystique asking us to “forget everything you think you know.” Does this include the white, cisgendered, heteronormative patriarchy?

What About An International Men’s Day?

Today is International Women’s Day. Now, I get it, women are half the world’s population and they give birth to the whole of it. And sure, they’ve done some important things. Apparently they’ve contributed to science (something about X-Rays and DNA), a couple of them run businesses, some female poets are OK, I think there are some female playwrights, some of them save rain forests, some led armies, there have been a few alright Queens I suppose, others got into politics whilst others didn’t get into politics but still stood up for social justice, I think there was even a woman who is famous for taking a seat on a bus (is that really newsworthy?), some are quite good at sports and there’s the odd, alright female singer. One even got famous for writing about wizards.  So, sure, a day to celebrate women is alright I suppose but…what about men?

Men do important things too. They’ve mastered the art of whistling at women in the streets, whistling is actually really hard. They send dick pics, lots of ’em, and photography is an art form. They get jobs their Dad’s used to do which they then pass on to their sons, men know how to look out for each other. Men are confident and independent whilst women are just bossy and high-maintenance. They’re full of great sartorial and dietary advice for women, yeah, you could do with losing a few pounds. And most of us are really nice guys, we’re so nice, we behave like gentlemen – opening doors for hot birds, only looking briefly at cleavages. Chivalry is not dead and all we ask in return is that women return the favour and act more ladylike. And, unlike, feminists who all hate men we have a lot of time for the opposite sex, we really like women, especially when they’re fit and do what we tell them to.

So, I think guys are pretty great, which is why I’m starting an Avaaz petition to establish an International Men’s Day to remind the world of the glory of man. I mean a patriarchal system designed by and for men predicated on the abuse and denigration of half the world’s population isn’t enough. Nor is the ability to ride on the wave of centuries of unquestioned privilege whilst assuming we are entitled to the power that is arbitrarily given to us. Nor is the systematic undermining of female advancement in professions across the sectors. Nor is a culture that glorifies the objectification of women and trivialises rape and abuse. This isn’t enough, we’ve still got a long way to go. So guys you know what to do. Man up.

Tiny Violins For White People

Countless tiny violins are playing for offended white people all over the world. First, there was Charlotte Rampling saying that “it is racist to whites” to suggest that decades of institutionalised racism have yet again resulted in no people of colour being nominated for Oscars. Then there was Michael Caine reminding us that it took him “years to get an Oscar, years” so it’s only right that people of colour should “be patient” and wait their turn. And, finally, there are the many white people outraged that Beyoncé should use her latest music video to highlight the racism and abuse that black people continue to face in today’s society. I’m getting a bit bored of trying to encourage fellow white people to see things differently (cue my own tiny violin) but here goes.

Charlotte Rampling: As a female actor who rose to fame during the sixties she no doubt encountered an awful lot of sexism. An industry that is still predicated on the objectification and demeaning of women was surely worse back then. So kudos to Rampling for pushing through. However, even if my speculations are right and she did face discrimination this is no excuse to ignore the struggles of others as she willfully ignores the prejudice facing people of colour. “One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final [Oscars] list,” said Rampling whilst discussing the boycott of the current Academy Awards. If the consequences of ignorance weren’t so grave this would be laughable – to actually think the Academy Awards are based on an objective judgement of acting talent carried out by unbiased judges behind closed doors is ridiculous. No, the predominantly white people who form the panel are just as likely to suffer from the prejudices and bigotry that run through all sectors of society resulting in biased behaviour. Sorry Rampling, you may be a good actor but you’re not that good and actors of colour aren’t that bad either.

Fortunately, Rampling issued a statement in which she clarified her position. Whilst not explicitly apologising she did say she regrets what she said. “I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration.” Yes, but come on Rampling, we don’t live in an ideal society and crass comments about how talentless actors of colour are for which you don’t apologise form part of what doesn’t make it ideal.

Michael Caine: When it comes to winning awards, to suggest that people of colour need to “be patient” and hold tight until the Academy deigns them worthy is a right slap in the face. Caine is an individual actor of arguable talent whilst people of colour represent an absolutely vast talent pool. For Caine, as a privileged white male who will never have had to experience the sort of racism that people of colour have faced and do face in the film industry, to compare his situation with that of people of colour is ludicrous. Why doesn’t he hand over his awards to some of the many overlooked and discriminated against yet hugely talented actors of colour? Come on Caine, it’s time to step up by stepping down.

Formation by Beyoncé: Centuries of slavery and oppression meant black people were treated abysmally in the States and all over the world. Whilst slavery might have been abolished in the US its legacies of violence, prejudice and ignorance live on. It’s time white people acknowledged this history and recognised that we still benefit from huge amounts of white privilege (what’s white privilege? Check out this cartoon). Questioning this privilege means redistributing it in such a way that we can all be empowered – so it works out better for all of us, yes, even white people. Sure, it’s going to be tough for us whites to accept that an awful lot of violence has been and is still perpetrated in our name, often by us, but this will never be as tough as actually experiencing that violence. I could go on but Beyoncé’s latest video speaks for itself.

Love (Is) Actually (For Rich White Men)

I sat down to watch Love Actually last night, one of my favourite Christmas movies – y’know, the one where Hugh Grant plays the bumbly prime minister, Colin Firth plays some bumbly writer, Keira Knightley smiles a lot and a whole host of other famous British actors don’t deviate from their usual type-castings. All wholesome, British fun. At least that’s what I used to think but since then I’ve read Judith Butler and generally become more aware of the gross inequality in this country and the many problems of patriarchy. So, this year, I saw Love Actually a little differently and came to realise that it’s basically about rich, white men getting what they want. Spoilers ensue.

For starters, three of the central relationships are about middle-aged men with power (i.e. with important jobs – Alan Rickman (aka Snape) plays the CEO of a charity, Hugh Grant the PM and Colin Firth a wealthy writer) who attract much younger, women of ‘lower status’ – Snape’s secretary, the PM’s Cockney, ‘salt-of-the-earth’ type maid (played by Martine McCutcheon) and Firth’s Portuguese cleaner. The women go out of their way to attract the men whilst the guys just bumble around getting what they want without even trying. As for woman of power in the film…well, there aren’t m/any. Sure, there are plenty of female secretaries, there’s a put-upon wife (played magnificently by Emma Thompson), there’s a dead wife, there’s a nasty, younger wife who cheats on her husband (boo, we’re not supposed to like her), and a blushing bride (Knightley) but there aren’t many inspiring roles for women in this film. Add to that the often abysmal script that many brilliant female actors are forced to speak – Snape’s secretary tempts him to cheat on his wife with her saying cringe-worthy things about “dark corners” as she spreads her legs. She’s also forced to wear devil horns to the office party as women are literally demonised in this film. At least Emma Thompson gets to speak up for herself at the end after a bit of Oscar-worthy acting to the tunes of Joni Mitchell (see below) but I still feel Snape’s apology isn’t sincere enough.

Then there are the people of colour in the film, or lack of them. We’ve got a black DJ (who’s a joke), a not particularly nice black secretary (who is also forced to serve Grant’s PM), a black best friend (who gets the odd token line and manages to defy the laws of physics by being in two places at once) and a black husband (who plays second fiddle to Keira Knightley and that random, white guy from Teachers who is secretly in love with her, cue that awful scene in which it takes Knightley’s character far too long to figure out the Teachers guy is some weirdo who fantasises about her a little too much). But is any substantial role given to a person of colour…no. As for trans and queer characters – well, Emma Thompson makes a joke about a Barbie doll that looks like a transvestite and a few people are asked if they’re gay but then quickly and vehemently deny it. So zero points on the queer front.

And then there’s Colin Frissell – a young, bumbly white guy who never has much luck with the ladies. Perhaps because he calls women he doesn’t know beautiful and is generally inappropriate in the way he talks with women. We’re supposed to like him and his goofy antics but really his attitudes and behaviour are dire. But then he flies off to America and ends up with not one but three (maybe even four) busty American women who, thanks to the stellar script, are complete idiots. So, if at first you don’t succeed lads, just keep going until women relent. Oh, and there’s that plot line about Bilbo Baggins doing nude scenes with Tracey of Gavin & Tracey fame and naturally we get to see her breasts a lot but do we get to see his penis as a bit of nudity parity…nope. I’ve always wondered what a hobbit penis would look like.

As for the other plot lines, there’s one about a father (Liam Neeson) and son which would have been better if Neeson got to shoot some people; a nice enough bromance between an aging, male rock star and his male manager; and quite a sad office romance between an American woman and some French male model. And after all that what’s the moral of this heartwarming Yuletide story – if you want to live in London and fall in love you basically have to be rich, white and male. Happy Christmas.

My favourite scene…Emma Thompson capturing the MAMMOTH emotional repression and inability to communicate of the upper middle classes perfectly. She thought he was going to get her a necklace but he gave that to the nasty, devil secretary instead. Just watch as she tries to hold back those tears and maintain a stiff upper lip in front of the kids!

Suffragettes, Lipstick & High Speed Internet

Seat found, popcorn in hand, fizzy drink in the other. I was ready to enjoy Suffragette, the new movie about the women’s rights movement in the early 20th century, when Emmeline Pankhurst was rallying thousands to the cause, when Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse, and when bricks were being thrown through windows and wires were being cut because women did not have the vote. I couldn’t wait. I love feminism, I think it’s awesome, and a whole movie about it is a right treat. But before the film, the adverts…

First there was the make-up one. John Legend takes a seat at a piano and starts singing La Vie En Rose. Then in comes Julianne Moore followed closely by Naomi Watts, Blake Lively, Leila Bekhti, Eva Longoria and a whole host of famous women. They gather around the piano in their pink dresses and friendly smiles. The camera lingers briefly on their lips, hair, chins and breasts. Legend carries on singing and sometimes the women offer a word or two, you get the impression they don’t really know the lyrics. And it’s all for Color Riche Collection Exclusive, a new line of pink lipsticks from L’Oreal. The advert ends with Moore telling us “we’re worth it” and the impression I was left with is that everyone involved with the advert (hopefully) got paid a lot of money. Ok, famous women using their celebrity status to help promote a product and a brand, it’s hardly new. I mean, it’s not quite on a par with what the Suffragettes did but it’s great that these brilliant women have made it…made it onto the set of a L’Oreal advert. It’s fine, I won’t think too much about it, can’t wait for the movie.

Then it’s Heineken and Daniel Craig. James Bond nicks a speed boat to escape some bad guys except a female water skier is attached to it. Dragged along by the boat she deftly navigates waves, rocks, a wedding, a bar (she even has time to grab a tray of beers) and one of the enemy speedboats. Jumping aboard the boat she throws a top hat at the baddy currently attacking Bond. It doesn’t do much. Bond then prompts her to tie the bad guy up to a parachute who then gets dragged away. Bond then asks her if she’d like to join him for a boozy lunch. Ok, quite funny, yes the woman is unnamed and wearing a swimming costume the whole time whereas we all know Bond’s name and the men are all wearing suits but it’s a beer advert, what can you except? Maybe a little more, maybe? Anyway, nearly time for the film!

And just before it begins a truly inspiring advert, finally! A mum and her young daughter are watching clips of great women doing great things, people like Emmeline Pankhurst, Paloma Faith, Billie Holiday, Steph Houghton, and they’re all winking at the young girl inspiring her to join the movement and become awesome. And what an inspiring way to advertise…Vivid, the new high-speed internet connection service from Virgin. Right, because that’s how we celebrate feminism throughout the years by truncating the narrative and shoehorning it into an ad for broadband. And lipstick. And beer (although I doubt Heineken has even thought about co-opting feminism into their beer-selling cause).

So there was I, excited for the movie, but a little perplexed. As I watched these adverts I couldn’t help but feel like I was at the receiving end of an agenda – an agenda that appropriates amazing moments in our history/present to inspire us, not to try and replicate these events or even celebrate them, but to buy stuff. Consumer capitalism is really rather brilliant at reducing everything to an act of consumption. It also objectifies the female body and uses it as a vehicle for selling make-up and alcohol. None of this is new but it is exceedingly boring especially when it’s juxtaposed with the ensuing film, namely one about women who risked their lives and died so women could have greater equality. And the advertising agenda wasn’t even subtle. I mean lip stick and a feminist themed broadband. It’s clear these brands did some lazy ‘market research’ before crassly targeting their presumed captive audience with the ‘appropriate’ products. But the minutes before a film like Suffragette make for prime time virtual estate. So as I finished my popcorn long before the film started I couldn’t help but feel that despite all the amazing gains that have been made there is still a very long way to go. Time to smash some beer bottles, stamp on some lipsticks and cut some fibre optics.