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.

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!

Anal Sex(ism)

I posted a while back on the anus and I am going to do it again because anal sexism is rife. It hides in plain sight in our everyday language and we don’t even know it’s there. Once upon time ‘gay’ was just a pejorative adjective we casually used, not thinking that it undermined and tokenised a whole community, permitted violence to be perpetrated against said community whilst also undermining our own lives and the freedoms we could enjoy. We now know better. Unfortunately, that’s not the case when it comes to anal sex.

“He’s such a brown noser.” You know, that terrible person who’s always trying to impress the boss or sidle into each social clique. The idea that putting your nose near someone’s anus is disgusting and befit only of sycophants and losers. “Just go shove it up your arse.” Yeah, you, that person with terrible views and an irritatingly loud voice. Go on, “stick it where the sun don’t shine” because only people we don’t like do things like that, nothing worse than putting something in your anus, amirite. “Ugh, their head is so far up their own arse.” They’re just so arrogant, so self-obsessed, so selfish, so self-absorbed, and naturally all those states of being need to link to the anus, that grim place where terrible things happen and with which we should only associate the bad.

Many of us use these common phrases without a second thought but what we might not realise is that they denigrate a whole host of people who enjoy anal sex. They denigrate the men who like men who like bum sex. They denigrate the women who enjoy anal and are probably already getting enough flack for it. They scare the questioning and the curious who are tempted but worried exploring the anus will make them ‘look gay’ or land them a whole host of ridicule and bullying. And they affect you too, the sayer of such seemingly simple phrases because they belie your fear, your ignorance and your prejudice. That’s not to say you’re a nasty person, of course not, I bet you’re really nice, but you live in this society after all which is so interwoven with prejudice and phobia. It’s probably woven into you as well and you hadn’t even noticed.

And finally, perhaps most obviously yet insidiously, there’s the most famous phrase of all: “Stop being so anal.” It’s blunt, isn’t it. It’s not circumnavigating the issue, it’s a direct order to stop being deviant because deviance is bad and deviance gets persecuted, bullied and beaten. Don’t do that, just be normal and stop being so anal. Stick to conventional sex, recondition yourself and we’ll let you fit in. No, I don’t like the sound of that one bit, I’ll be anal if I want to be. So next time, catch yourself as you say it or stop yourself in advance. Say something else, use the vast vocabulary of the English language and stop permitting persecution and prejudice. And, yeah, I get it, you’re not a bigot and you are a good person but that doesn’t give you carte blanche with your language. Freedom of speech isn’t just a right, it’s a responsibility. Use it well and leave the bum well alone (unless you’re going to sing its praises).

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A great gallery of male bums from ohnips – http://ohnips.deviantart.com

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

 

Game of Thrones: One Penis Doesn’t Make Equality

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).

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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.

The Dildo Dilemma: Solved

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.

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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.