“Gay, precocious and mentally unstable from an early age.” That’s how Simon Jay is described on the back of his memoir, Bastardography, and it’s also an apt description of his one-man show of the same name on at Theatre N16 in Balham. Jay hand picks a selection of experiences from his youth whether it’s a fellow kid turning a DIY flamethrower (Lynx can + lighter) on him for being gay or his obsession with the film Psycho and not forgetting his many dalliances with psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses as he skirts Borderline Personality Disorder. The result is a revealing romp through recent history with one of the funniest guides.
Jay isn’t even 30 and this isn’t his first show – his unique take on America’s latest dictator president, Trumpageddon, sold out at the Fringe before hitting London, he’s put on a musical about a girl with a robot arm and he even collaborated with me on a series of monologues called Universally Speaking (they were particularly good) – but what’s most impressive about the guy isn’t his talent in directing, acting or writing, no, it’s his resilience. That the world threw so much shit at Jay and he turned it into this really rather fabulous production is testimony to his strength. He cracks many a joke, disregards the fourth wall, points out his penis collage, attempts to circle the stage in heels, is candid with his experiences and does all this to a soundtrack of Pocahontas, Glenn Miller and film quotes. Tickets here!
Margaret Thatcher spoke at the start of the play and her words stuck with me. It was her famous speech of 1987 in which she bemoaned the fact that “children are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay” and subsequently “cheated of a sound start in life.” The next year she introduced a number of anti-gay laws including Section 28, that forbade any school from teaching that homosexual relationships are ‘acceptable’. Jay was born in 1987 and I was born in 1988. The law was eventually repealed in 2003, when I was fifteen. I wonder what it might have been like to grow up in a world where I had role models and cultural narratives to turn to and I imagine Jay wonders the same thing. Perhaps if things had been different we wouldn’t have been cheated of a sound start in life. So kudos to Jay for turning a legacy of hate into a queer, creative, mental health odyssey that, whilst very dark at times, always shines with love.
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.
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.
They say one swallow doesn’t make a summer and the same has to be said for Game of Thrones‘ latest attempt at bridging the gender nudity gap. You might not have heard of GoT but it’s a TV show about monarchs, back stabbing, walls, climatic extremes and sex (contemporary politics basically but with dragons). Something that also features prominently is nudity. Naked women abound in the show, sometimes they’re just hanging out topless at their window, sometimes they’re being stripped in front of the other characters, sometimes they’re stripping, sometimes they’re emerging from flames with no clothes on…you get the gist. However, what is often lacking are naked men…until now (a few spoilers ensue, one involves a penis).
Yup, in a surprise turn of events that has delighted many fans (and infuriated others) we have been shown a close up of a man’s penis (see above but imagine it without the emoji). A few willies have been wangled before on the show (even if one of them was a prosthetic) but this one was up close and personal. The character played by actor Rob Callender is an actor playing another character (it’s all quite boring really) and he gets his dong out to check for genital warts. Turns out he has them. And so GoT did it, it unleashed the penis and we got a face full. The glass ceiling of male nudity has been broken…or has it.
Unfortunately, one penis doesn’t make equality and whilst the odd cock shot does redress the balance it’s about more than just exposure. It’s about a whole culture in which it is normal to regularly see women naked, often objectified and reduced to their genitalia. It is about a culture in which men write the books, direct the shows and get their penises out only once in a while and rarely as sex objects. If we really want “total equality” as actor Emilia Clarke is calling for we’re going to have to do more. But that equality doesn’t have to mean routinely objectifying men as often as women are, in fact, I’d suggest we veer away from routine objectification entirely (you can use google if you really want that). A show like GoT provides interesting characters and their nudity should form part of their role and not be a needless adjunct to please a subset of audience members. Just as Clarke was happy to have her character emerge naked from a fire to show her strength (she has flame resistant skin), let’s have naked men appearing from battle as well and not just checking their members for warts (as important an act as this is). So, yes, a battle has been won, but the war is still waging. Despite winter’s arrival we must call for more men to remove their battle garments whilst encouraging writers and directors to ensure female nudity earns its place on-screen and doesn’t just exacerbate the denigrating and objectifying culture of nakedness within patriarchy. We can reclaim nudity. Equality is coming.
I recently posted about my friend’s dildo dilemma: get her favourite vibrator fixed or chuck it away and spend less money on a new one. The former would not contribute to landfill, employ a friendly vibrator repair-man and ensure she could enjoy her favourite dildo for longer. The latter course of action would yield a fresher dildo in better shape and be cheaper (the Rampant Rabbit has 20% off). Amazingly, in response to the dilemma posed many of my friends got back in touch to offer some innovative solutions. So here’s how my friend can have her vibrating cake and eat it.
Ethical Vibrators And Hardwood Dildos: Ethical sex toys are a thing, hurrah! EthicalSextoys.co.uk is just one example, committed to producing phthalate free products (i.e. less nasty chemicals) and doing their bit for the environment. In their own words: “[we] do not promote the disposable culture we live in – wasting resources and creating landfills of cheap short-life products. All the products on our site are the highest standard of design with durability in mind; an EthicalSextoys product will give many years of pleasure which can help to help to reduce consumption of resources.” Meanwhile, if you want something even more durable, albeit less vibrating, you can invest in a hardwood dildo. Yup, made from trees and those things last for ages.
Recycle: And when your Rampant Rabbit finally runs its last race you’ll be pleased to know that Lovehoney will recycle it for free! So you needn’t worry about throwing it on a giant rubbish pile, you can let them do the hard work.
Stop Malaria: Of all the other great suggestions I had in response to the Dildo Dilemma someone suggested donating the money you’d save from buying a discounted vibrator to the Against Malaria Foundation. As they say, “100% of public donations buys long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs). An LLIN costs US $2.50. We work with distribution partners to distribute nets and ensure use. We conduct net use surveys and track monthly malaria data.”
So not only can you ethically dispose of your dildo and buy a new, long-lasting one you can also help the global fight against malaria. Everyone wins! Although the dildo repair guy wouldn’t win and it is important to support local business. So, maybe, my friend could get her old vibrator fixed, recommend ethical vibrators to any of her friends thinking to invest in a lifelong companion and then donate to AMF. And everyone lived happily ever after.
A NSFW post and if you’re a younger reader maybe best to ask a parent or guardian before you carry on reading!
This question came up at the pub recently: is the flaccid penis a thing of beauty or a joke? The responses were many and varied, and it got me thinking about the male member. On the one hand a dangling willy can look quite silly but does this mean men should feel ashamed of what is between their legs or can they reclaim their manhood?
On the side of the penis-as-joke there were multiple arguments. The simplest was the aesthetic one, that it just looks silly. Now, this of course depends on your taste but I can’t help but feel that if we’re telling men that their tackle is basically one of evolution’s (or God’s) punchlines then we’re going to create a lot of insecure men. ‘Man up’ one might say to this and just get used to the fact that the meat and two veg look ridiculous. A further argument is that a floppy penis is pointless, surely it’s just a dormant erection. This is interesting because it completely instrumentalises the penis, implying it is only of use when it is hard (presumably for sex rather than an object of greater aesthetic worth). The implication here is that the soft penis, in and of itself, is pointless. It’s only useful when it’s doing something else. Curiously, the curators of a recent Madrid fashion show might disagree as they’re clearly using the non-erection to help sell handbags (video very much NSFW).
On the other hand, penis-as-thing-of-beauty, we still find ourselves battling pervasive tastes. If the majority of people have been conditioned to see the flaccid penis as a joke then how do we undo that conditioning so they can come to see it as something beautiful or, if not beautiful, at least as something that isn’t stupid? One possible answer is to continue to create great art (like Michelangelo’s David) that elevates the willy from the ridiculous to the sublime. At least then men, ashamed of what’s between their legs, can see the penis reclaimed and begin to undo the narratives that pervade their own minds telling them their tackle doesn’t amount to much. Of course, we might never reach a place where everyone admires the soft willy but there might be a day where people at least take it seriously.
Now, feminists amongst the readership might be asking why I should bother with a post on the penis. It’s a good question, surely there’s enough phallocentrism out there already, surely most buildings have been designed in the patriarch’s image, and didn’t Freud write enough on penis envy? Whilst this is all true the political is still deeply personal and this includes body image. And sure, focusing on the flaccid penis might come across as a little trivial (but I must confess the tone of this piece isn’t entirely serious) or maybe that’s just because the willy is used to derision but men do care about their manhood. Men who may well be riding off the back of much privilege but who may also feel disenfranchised. Thus, perhaps if we shift the narrative slightly and reclaim the flaccid penis then men will have one less thing to worry about and can get back to the task of challenging male privilege and being awesome feminists.
Anyways, whatever your view on the male member here are some rowers from Warwick college getting their dongs out for a good cause – tackling homophobia in sport. Now that’s an innovative use of the flaccid penis!