Sunday, 17 November 2013
This article first appeared in www.thegayuk.com on Thursday 21/9/2013, National Stand Up Day
My school days are such a long time ago now that I barely remember them, or is it that I just blotted them out? They seem to belong to a different person who has absolutely nothing to do with the person I am now. I had no idea I would turn out to be gay, though anyone with half a brain could probably have figured it out. I was dancing (in my pram) before I could walk, singing perfectly in tune before I had the slightest idea what I was singing about (all lyrics reduced to lalala), and my favourite films were those involving plenty of song and dance, Fred and Ginger in particular. From an early age, all I wanted to do was dance.
This always singled me out as being a little different, but my earliest days at primary school were surprisingly happy. It was a mixed school and the other boys didn’t seem to mind that I preferred hanging out with the girls and not playing football with them. Well, they probably reasoned, at least they were spared having to pick me to be in their team. My school was in the middle of a highly middle class part of my home town, and the other pupils all came from the same area. Our parents all knew each other. It was a safe and cosy environment. Even so, though I don’t ever remember feeling physically threatened at my primary school, I had to learn to toss off the occasional jibes about being a sissy and a big girl. However in my last year or two, when I was sitting my eleven plus and preparing to go either to an all-boys Grammar School if I passed, or an all-boys Public School if I didn’t, I started to be picked on that bit more. School was not the fun place it had been when I was younger.
I had been taking tap dancing lessons since I was five and would constantly sail through my various exams. Dancing was not a boy’s pursuit though. The penny dropped when I looked around at one of the annual dance school displays and realised I was the only boy on stage. That was probably behind my decision to give up dancing lessons. l My dancing teacher, a friend of the family whom I knew as Auntie Joy, was pressing my mother and father to get me to start ballet. She had been a professional ballet dancer herself and an Honours Associate of the Royal Academy of Dance. She thought that, physically, I had the perfect proportions to be a ballet dancer. However, no amount of cajoling on the part of my parents was to make me change my mind. I had decided that there was no way I was going to be going to ballet class when I got to my next school, and, it has to be admitted, my parents didn’t try that hard to persuade me otherwise. It had been bad enough been singled out for going to tap dancing lessons. I was hardly going to make things worse for myself by doing ballet.
Secondary school (the local grammar) was to prove a terrible culture shock. It was my first exposure to boys from the other side of town, boys who were bright enough to pass their eleven plus, some of whom lived on council estates, and who had built up their own set of tools to deal with the harsher environment they came from. Grammar School was pretty egalitarian in that respect. Boys attending came from all over the town, not one single catchment area. No doubt to many of them, it appeared I had a privileged existence, and in some ways I had. We holidayed in Greece (staying with my grandparents there) when air travel was only for the rich; my father ran his own business and drove a Jaguar. This was enough to single me out, but it probably didn’t help that, though I no longer went to dance classes, I maintained a keen interest in theatre and dance, and would often participate in local operatic society productions, for which my father was musical director. No doubt, all this would have been forgotten if I’d been a keen football player or rugby player, but I had absolutely no interest in sport. At primary school I had made friends with all the girls. Here there were no girls. I found it hard to make friends and I became an easy target. Nobody actually called me gay (well the word didn’t exist back then), but I was called a sissy and a poof, without any of us really understanding what that meant. You have to remember homosexuality was illegal in those days. There was no way I was going to admit to myself, let alone anyone else, that I was gay, and I still assumed that I would meet a girl, get married and have children. I knew virtually nothing about sex. Children were much more innocent in those days. Still the other boys sensed I was different, and this is what separated me from them.
I wasn’t the only boy to be bullied and ostracised though. There were others, who found it harder to get on than me, and I briefly befriended some of them, though ignominiously dumped them when I realised that being friends with them was doing me no good whatsoever. I remember one boy committed suicide while I was there. He was an odd, skinny, intellectual boy, with National Health glasses held together with Elastoplast, evidently from a poor family. Nobody would have anything to do with him, and even the teachers teased him. When he died, there was an announcement in assembly, but the whole sorry business was glossed over. There was never any attempt to tackle bullying in the school, and, truth to tell, the teachers often colluded in it, the idea being that a certain amount of bullying was good for the softer kids, that it was character building.
My elder brother had gone to the same school 4 years before me, and, though we fought like cat and dog at home, he was to prove to be my protector in my early years at Grammar school. He couldn’t be there all the time of course, but at least I had his protection on the walk home from school, and more than once he turned on boys who were calling me names. I don’t know how I’d have coped without him. I wouldn’t have known how to fight back and, other than my brother, my only defence was speed. I could outrun most of the boys in my year, a fact that was first brought home to me on the day we had some athletics tests. To the amazement of all the other boys, who had assumed all sissy boys were useless at sport, I came first in my year in the 100 and 220 (yards, not metres in those days) and also tested well in the long jump. My games master encouraged me to join the athletics team, but I flatly refused, not because I didn’t enjoy running and jumping, but because I didn’t want to spend any more time than I had to with boys who bullied and threatened me. So, for the second time, I didn’t do something I was good at out of fear, out of fear for what the other boys would do to me. I had earned a somewhat grudging respect because I could run, so the physical bullying stopped, but the verbal jibes continued. I was a sensitive child and it hurt. It’s taken me a long time to learn to ignore people who seek to hurt with words. Indeed the scars can take a lifetime to heal.
The only place I felt safe was in music classes, and my viola teacher, who knew how horrific games lessons were for me, ended up programming my viola lessons at the same time as the games periods, telling the headmaster there were no other slots available. I was eternally grateful to him. A kind, gentle, quietly spoken man, with weirdly wax like hands and fingers, I have no doubt that, though married, he was gay, not that I knew or guessed that at the time, but looking back, it seems plausible enough. I’m sure he recognised a kindred spirit. Still, in a more accepting environment, maybe I would not have accepted his offer of programming my viola classes so I could skip games. I admit I rather regret not participating in sport at school now. To this day, I feel a mild sense of panic when someone throws a ball at me, or puts a bat in my hand. I feel I’ve missed out.
When my brother went to university, I had to find a way to survive without him. I did so by if not actually mixing with the bad boys in school, by allying myself with them. I started smoking, let it be believed that I had a string of girlfriends. I’d buy girlie magazines like Mayfair, and make sure the other boys got to see them, though, in all honesty, nothing in their pages really did much for me. Still, they had the desired effect. I started bunking off school too. Suddenly I was cool and the bullying stopped.
But of course I wasn’t cool. My schoolwork started to suffer. Much to the mortification of my parents, I was hauled up in front of the headmaster on more than one occasion. Though I managed to pass 6 out of 7 of my ‘O’ levels (we took a maximum of 7 in those days), I didn’t get the grades I should have done. I went from being one of the top three boys in my class to one of the bottom few. My ‘A’ level results were even worse, and I ended up having to go to a college to re-study and re-sit my English and French, in an attempt to improve my grades.
I suppose I was luckier than many. I never actually got beaten up (because I could runs so fast), and most of what I had to deal with was just words. Just words? I remember shouting back at my tormentors, “Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words can never hurt me.” But it wasn’t true. Words can and do hurt. They hurt me; both emotionally at the time and also in stopping me doing things I was good at and should have enjoyed. I don’t know if I’d ever have been a great ballet dancer or a great sprinter, but the point is I never got to find out, nor did I find my true academic potential. Hell-bent on survival, education was all but forgotten. How many other young people are not doing well at school because of bullying and peer pressure? I have no doubt it is thousands. We hear of the tragic cases, of those , like that young boy at my school, who are driven to take their own lives, and that one young person should feel death is the only way out is reason enough to ensure we, as adults, do everything in our power to stop another child taking their own life. We should also be considering the wider implications of children not reaching their full potential because of the way they are treated by their peers at school. Children feel that they need to fit in, and respond easily to peer pressure. What we need to do is celebrate diversity. We still live in a culture where the boy who is good at football is going to be feted and revered, whilst the boy who is good at ballet is more likely to be ridiculed and called names. We need to tell children that you can be different and still fit in, but until we can celebrate diversity in the adult world, how can we hope to make things better for children?
Thursday, 10 October 2013
So the IOC is “fully satisfied” that Russia’s anti-gay law doesn’t violate the Olympic Charter. Principle 6 of the Charter says: "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement." Sexuality isn’t mentioned specifically (though, in the light of recent events, it seems clear to me that it should be), but it is surely understood within the term “otherwise”. However, according to Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission for Sochi 2014, this only applies to Olympic territory, not to the country as a whole. He is satisfied that there will be no discrimination of any kind in the Olympic village, and adds that the IOC doesn't really have the right to discuss the laws in the country where the Olympic Games are organised. Does this also apply then to any other country with human rights transgressions? If that is the case, can we see a time when the Olympics are taken to Zimbabwe for instance?
As it happens, the IOC don’t quite seem to believe the assurances themselves, as they are already warning athletes that any support for LGBT issues will be seen as political, and any athlete using the Games for political demonstration will be punished accordingly. The message that seems to be coming across here is that it is ok for Russia to discriminate against LGBT people, but not ok for anyone to speak up about it. Athletes are being advised to keep a low profile, deny who they are, if they are gay. This being the case, surely that would mean a legally married gay athlete might win a medal, but would not be allowed to publicly celebrate that event with their husband or wife because that would be against Russian law. Is that what you are saying, Mr Killy? I’m just asking for a little clarity on the issue, because clarity is something that has been sadly lacking. The only thing that seems clear is that the IOC will do anything to appease Putin and the Russians, and very little to stand up for LGBT rights.
At the recent U.S. Olympic Media summit in Park City, Utah, the US Olympic Committee had briefed athletes, telling them to stick to talk of sport and duck any issues regarding the Russian anti-gay law. Bravely Olympic gold medallist, skier Bode Miller, refused to be silenced. The IOC’s rules prohibit athletes from making political demonstrations at Games sites, but he took it as an opportunity to speak out about the duplicity that exists in sport. “There are politics in sports and athletics, and they’re always intertwined,” Miller said. “Even though people try to keep them separate, or try to act like they’re separate, I think asking athletes to go somewhere and compete and be a representative of a philosophy and all that different crap that kind of goes along with it, and then tell them they can’t express their views or they can’t say what they believe, I think is pretty hypocritical and unfair. But, you know the fact is, crappy situations like that have been happening for a long time. I think it’s absolutely embarrassing that there’s countries, there’s people, that are intolerant, that are ignorant.”
That, of course, is the nub of it. The IOC, and political leaders in the West constantly talk about keeping politics out of sport, but sport is political. I have no doubt that Putin sees the Olympics in terms of politics. There was a time, after the fall of the Berlin wall, when Russia was losing its place on the world stage, and Putin has been intent on winning that back by whatever means necessary. The Olympics will be a chance for him to show off Russian wealth and power, and he is using them in exactly the same way Hitler used the Berlin Olympics back in 1936. The IOC chose then to ignore all warnings about what was happening to Jews in Germany, and look what happened. In hindsight that might have seemed inexcusable, but it was much easier to ignore the warnings back then, much harder to find the evidence. Now it is not. The internet has seen to it that, try as they might, the Russians can’t hide what is going on in their own country, but, surprisingly, or maybe not, depending on how you view the IOC, officials are still ignoring all reports of the violence being perpetrated towards LGBT people, most of it silently condoned by the police and the Russian government. And, let’s face it, whatever happens within the Olympic village, there have already been veiled threats from Russian officials that, outside it, the new law will be vigorously enforced. The only advice that seems to be coming from the IOC is to keep a low profile and go back into the closet.
In other words, the IOC has totally failed to comprehend the scale of the problem in Russia, no doubt because of the inherent homophobia that still exists in sport as a whole. Come on, you can’t tell me that, out of the over 2000 athletes who competed in London in 2012, only 23 were gay. The reason there were only 23 is because the majority of LGBT sportsmen and women fear discrimination and ostracism from within their own ranks, and until that is addressed then I doubt very much will change.
However, it is not only LGBT rights that are in question in Russia. Not so very long ago, two members of the girl group Pussy Riot were given prison sentences for daring to stage a protest against Putin. One of the women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, went on hunger strike in prison to protest lengthy work shifts, miserable payment for work, and the existence of illegal prison disciplinarian groups made up of inmates loyal to the administration, complaints held up by Members of Russia’s Presidential Council for Human Rights. Tolokonnikova was moved to a hospital on medical grounds and has ended her hunger strike, but has vowed to start it again if her demands for an investigation into rights violations in her penal colony, the removal of "psychological pressure" on inmates in the colony who talked about penitentiary conditions to inspectors, and her transfer to another penitentiary are not met.
More recently the Russians have seized a Greenpeace ship that was protesting against Russian oil drilling in the ecologically sensitive Arctic, accusing the activists and the two journalists on board of piracy, a crime which carries a 15 year jail sentence in Russia. This is a trumped up charge if ever there was one, and yet another example of Russia throwing its weight around. It’s my belief that the winter Olympics should never have been given to Russia in the first place, or in fact to any country that has a poor record on human rights, but can we ever expect the IOC to stand by its own charter? When money is at stake, I very much doubt it. Unfortunately, by the time the Games actually start in Sochi in February next year, I fear that all talk of human rights and human rights transgressions will be completely forgotten by the media as it gets swept up in the quest for medals and sporting glory. After all, nothing is more important than sport!
Friday, 27 September 2013
This article first appeared in TheGayUK
It was a warm, sunny day in August when I am admitted to the plush inner sanctum of the Groucho Club in Soho. I am here to interview Angus Malcolm, the photographer and mastermind behind the incredibly successful Warwick Rowing Club Naked Calendar, now in its fourth year. Waiting for me at a table in the corner is Angus himself and an arrestingly beautiful young man, tall, blond and blue eyed, who is introduced to me as Lawrence, one of the stars of the coming year’s Naked Calendar from the Warwickshire Rowers. Unfortunately not naked on this occasion, his well-nigh perfect physique is easily evident beneath the simple blue jeans and white t-shirt that he is wearing.
Trying not to drool too obviously, I turn my attention to Angus and ask him how the calendar came about and how he became involved.
“Well, I was actually a writer and producer in TV and film and I used to work in the health and charity sector. In 2008 I felt like doing something different. Having always had a keen interest in photography, I started photographing men. I was approached by a guy on the website modelmayhem and found out he was part of rowing team. At the shoot I asked him if the club had ever thought of doing a charity calendar. As it turned out, he said that they had been actually thinking very seriously about it, so our meeting was quite serendipitous really. Initially the calendar was produced simply to fund the club, but by Year 3 it had started making significant amounts of money, which meant that we could start giving to charity. It was in year 2 that we started targeting the gay market, which lead us in year 3 to make a film of the making of the calendar. Our immediate concern at that time was how to stop it being pirated, and making it a charity project was a way of guilt tripping people into not pirating the film. So in the end the calendar raised funds for the club, and the video was for charity. That’s about to change now though. Instead of donating to other charities, we are in the process of creating our own. Basically all the money now goes into a kitty, which we draw on for charitable objects of this new programme which we are looking at called Sports Allies. Essentially net profits will be spent on the club or on Sports Allies.”
Moving on to the calendar itself, I mentioned the fact that the photos, particularly in the new 2014 edition, often seem to involve a lot of movement. Was it difficult keeping the photos G rated?
Both men laughed loudly at this.
“It’s a fucking nightmare!” exclaimed Angus. “If you look at the images in years one and two, you will find that all the photos are very static. It’s really Calendar Girls with balls, if you like, but now we’re much more adventurous and doing shots with lots of movement in them, which makes it far more difficult, particularly if you are shooting more than one rower at a time. I shoot 365 gigabytes of images and it can take ages to get that one where nothing is seen. It’s often a case of doing the shot over and over again, and directing them to lift a leg a little higher or something like that.”
I asked if some of the guys were any harder to hide than others (well you would, wouldn’t you?).
“Bluntly, yes. And sometimes it really is a case of saying to someone, just go and stand behind that hedge.”
The film is even more difficult and youtube banned one of their videos, which is why they gave up on youtube altogether. As I’ve had cause to mention before the US can be quite draconian about (particularly male) nudity, and the Rowers have also had problems with their facebook page. Paradoxically, though, they have had lots of interest from the US, where they find it quirky that these guys are naked. Angus believes, and I agree with him, that these large corporations, like youtube and facebook globally have too much control and are imposing a mid-West culture on the rest of us.
However the American market is huge and people actually flew in from Texas for the live shoot they did last year, which again raised more money for their charitable causes.
The photos certainly have a great sense of fun about them; sexy, but family friendly, and undoubtedly homoerotic. The guys look as if they are enjoying themselves enormously, and all look completely unselfconscious about being naked together. I asked Lawrence if this was actually the case.
Lawrence speaks with a quiet confidence that is very attractive. “Oh yes. We all get on really well. When you train together as long as we do, you do become close. You have to if you’re going to spend 8 hours in a boat together in tight lycra. Getting naked is all part of the bonding process.”
How was it getting your kit off for the first time?
“I had no qualms, but some of the newer guys did at first. However after half an hour everyone is just fine. Angus is really good at making people feel comfortable, and of course we shoot around the boat house so we are also in a familiar environment. Not to mention that the calendar has been going 4 years now, so the more experienced members make it easier for the newer ones.”
I asked if there were any gay members on the team.
“Yes,” said Lawrence, “but it really isn’t an issue. Not in the least. Certainly for me, I’m used to open showers. I went to a boys’ boarding school. Showering and getting naked with the other guys seems the most natural thing in the world to me. And, incidentally, everyone in the team is aware of the support we get from the gay community and we really appreciate it.”
Angus cuts in, “We actually wanted to play on that ambiguity. The boys are having fun. It’s not sexual fun. But it’s fun none the less. Of course there is a homoerotic charge in a group of gorgeous athletes being together naked. It’s there, and it would be silly to ignore it.”
Last year the proceeds of the film went to the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, and the club will continue to give to the Foundation till the end of this year. I asked why the Ben Cohen Foundation, and had any of the team any personal experience of being bullied.
Angus. “Not that anyone actually revealed, but they immediately saw that Ben’s journey had been similar to theirs. That was the reason why they chose to give money to his charity. It was a combination of nudity and a stance around homophobia, and the guys felt they were making a much more visceral commitment than perhaps even Ben himself. By being completely naked, they were saying, “We don’t care who looks and who enjoys this and we are making a stand and saying we support the gay community.” We had lots of letters and many of the stories came in particular from older men, who wished that something like this had been around when they were young and how much it meant to them. And the guys in the team found that particularly moving.”
Lawrence. “I see it as very important that we straight guys are seen to be standing up and supporting you. I’ve seen “gay” used quite regularly in a pejorative sense – and that’s the most that I witnessed personally, but I think it’s wrong. I’ve also read plenty of moving stories that have been sent to us, one being from a guy in the police force who nearly lost his job because of being gay and him telling us how much he appreciated what we were doing,” and that seemed a good place to wind things up.
Having seen the images in the new calendar, it certainly seems to me that each year improves on the previous one. It’ll certainly be going on my wall next year.
For more information on the 2014 calendar and film, please go to http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/warwick-rowing-naked-calendar/
Saturday, 31 August 2013
Has anyone noticed the recent proliferation of naked clubs taking place in London? Almost any night of the week you can find naked goings on. We have Stripped at the Vault, Buff at the Backstreet, Butt Naked at Central Station, and, of course, SBN at the Hoist. In addition to these, Nudity, a monthly feature at the Union in Vauxhall, is becoming more and more popular, and is especially busy when they have their regular foam parties. These days, if you go to Hard On, there will be a huge number of completely naked guys (more by the end of the evening of course), so what does this mean for the fetish scene? Is it just that naked is so much cheaper than all that leather and rubber?
Admittedly the majority of naked nights are in cruise bars, which are primarily sex clubs, but what is interesting is that the naked scene seems to be taking over from the fetish scene. Guy Irwin, the owner of the Hoist, one of London’s most foremost leather and fetish bars was at one time adamant that he would never do a naked night, but, as interest in the fetish scene started dwindling, he felt he had little choice but to give it a try. Originally just on a Sunday afternoon, SBN (Stark Bollock Naked) became so popular that he now also holds the event in the larger of his two arches on a Saturday night, traditionally his busiest night, and since he made the switch from leather to naked, the club has been packed again. I asked Guy why he thinks naked is now so popular, and he cites numerous reasons, amongst which is the fact that the scene is less underground than it once was. Gay men are less ashamed of who they are, and consequently less ashamed of the sex they have. That they are having anonymous sex in public places, albeit licenced ones, may have much to do with issues of self-esteem on the gay scene, but I’m not sure it has a bearing on why people would choose to do it naked rather than wearing leather, uniform or rubber. Naked certainly makes economic sense too. Investment in leather and rubber is pretty expensive and out of the pockets of many younger guys, particularly those who are still students. No clothes at all certainly takes the worry out of what to wear on a night out. Now even the last bastion of fetishwear clubs, The Backstreet, which once had a very strict dress code, has bowed to pressure and holds three naked events a week.
These clubs, along with Stripped at the Vault and Butt Naked at Central Station are primarily sex clubs, whereas Nudity, which is held once a month at Union in Vauxhall is slightly different. David Jaxx, who runs Nudity, first went into the naked club scene when he co-promoted Starkers, a mixed naked party night, which originally opened in the East End. I remember going myself back in 2004, when it took place in a pub near Columbia Road. Though the club stated it was a club for adults of all genders and sexual persuasions, there was no doubt the majority of the clientele were men, and the majority of them gay or bisexual. Evidently, men enjoy stripping off more than women do. There was a certain amount of sex at the club, though Starkers marketed itself primarily as a social event and not a sex club, and indeed, compared to what you see at most of the other clubs mentioned above, what did go on was mostly just a bit of mild flirting. David’s co-promoter, Jamie, was intent on promoting the club to a straight audience, but with straight attendance falling off, and rarely any women there, David decided to part company with Jamie and start up his own club for men only, and that club became Nudity. Where Starkers eventually fizzled out, Nudity is still going strong, regularly attracting 200-350 naked party goers each month.
Nudity markets itself primarily as a naked dance and social event, where you can have sex if you want, not primarily a sex club. Though there is a lot of sex going on, you’d be surprised to find how many people enjoy dancing and socialising naked too. It’s a really fun night and seems to be becoming more and more popular, attracting a wide range of attitude free guys of all ages and body types. Nudity also holds occasional theme nights, such as naked oil wrestling and naked beach parties, and the foam parties, held just four times a year, are hugely popular, attracting the biggest crowd of all. The last one was on the afternoon of August Bank Holiday Monday. Try it. It’s a lot of fun. Just don’t wear your best trainers on foam party nights.
But what does all this mean for the fetish scene in general? Hard On, which always had a very strict dress code has now opened that up to include sports gear, though the rules here are still fairly strict and are limited to footie gear, baseball, wrestling outfits, jockstraps, rugby or any full sports outfit, trainers only being allowed with the appropriate sports kit. Naked is also allowed, as long as you are wearing boots, and I’ve noticed over the years how many more people are now choosing to go naked at Hard On. Oddly, or maybe not, there are a lot more naked party goers towards the end of the evening than there are at the beginning. Perhaps seeing a few people already naked encourages others to do the same. Full fetish wear now seems to be reserved for occasional events like the once yearly Hotwired, co-promoted by Hard On and Rut, and for special events like London Fetish Week and Folsom Europe in Berlin.
Privately too more and more guys are enjoying partying naked, which is the raison d’etre behind the fairly new site http://www.nakedmates.co.uk. The owner of the site, Mark Routledge, having built up a circle of gaydar mates, who also enjoyed the naked lifestyle, had at one time organised naked parties and night walks via gaydar, but found the site wasn’t really geared up for multiple mail outs or any kind of social networking. Originally he started Nakedmates just as a way of keeping in touch with the contacts he’d made through gaydar, but word got round via social media sites like facebook, and it has evolved from a site of 150-200 members to its current 4000 members, even though the site has never been promoted in the gay press or elsewhere. The site is definitely community based and gives guys who enjoy being naked a platform to arrange naked meet ups, parties and events. Some of these are social, some sexual, some both, but all are very clear about what is on offer. Gay men often feel sidelined on other nudist sites like the now defunct Hangoutnude or truenudists, sites that try to maintain a strictly no sex attitude to social nudity. Nakedmates is more pragmatic, and takes into account that if you fill a room with naked gay and bisexual men, sex is bound to happen at some point, though often party hosts lay down rules which sets one room aside for sex, leaving others free for guests to mingle and socialise, just as at any clothed event.
Personally, I love this new found freedom. I love being naked. I love being naked on the beach, at home and anywhere else it’s acceptable. The more places that open their doors to nudity, the better as far as I’m concerned, and it certainly saves me a fortune in leather. It seems naked really is the new black.
Thursday, 18 July 2013
In May this year I did something I’d never done before. (Yes I know you must all be thinking there can’t be much left.) I read from my own work at Paul Burston’s Polari, a hugely popular, and wonderfully elegant gay and lesbian literary salon, which takes place at the Royal Festival Hall Conference rooms. Once a month Paul gathers together an array of literary talent, most of them published writers, many of them (like me) not, and gives them a platform for their work. It was a very exciting moment for me and my offering went down extremely well, so next week I’m doing it all again, only this time I’ll be naked.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it yet, Naked Boys Reading is a monthly event at Dalston’s trendy Vogue Fabrics, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Every month, an array of different types, beefcakes, bears, twinks, otters, butch femmes, sissy sluts, boys next door with an exhibitionist streak and lovers of naturism with a well-endowed library, will give in-the-buff readings to an audience of people into books and bodies.
Naked Boys Reading began when producers Alex and Justin wanted a new performance based event at Vogue Fabrics in Dalston. Justin suggested Naked Boys Reading, as a brother to the wildly popular Naked Girls Reading event in NYC (produced by friends of Justin). The event began last September and will be a year old this year!
The idea was to create a queer space where the arts and the erotic mingle - attending to each other in equal measure. The boys are literary buffs, naturists and performers, and they alternate between curated events (upcoming in November is a special curated event by Little Joe Magazine - http://www.littlejoemagazine.com/) and performer-chosen themed evenings. Each event covers a broad spectrum of body types and literature - otters, bears, twinks, queers, gender-fuckers, older, younger (18+ obviously!); children's literature, erotica, poetry, spoken word, biography and even a rather hilarious recipe.
This month’s theme is Leather, though there is no injunction to read anything that is specifically concerned with leather, as long as there is somewhere about one’s person or chosen piece a nod in its direction.
So, if you’d like the chance to come and see me naked and in the flesh, come down to Vogue Fabrics in Dalston on Thursday 25 July. It promises to be a fun filled night.
NAKED BOYS READING: LEATHER
“If love isn’t forever, and it’s not the weather; hand me my leather.” - Tori Amos (1992)
“If love isn’t forever, and it’s not the weather; hand me my leather.” - Tori Amos (1992)
A LEATHER CONFESSIONAL PHOTO-BOOTH by Holly Revel
Sharon Husbands, host-ess
Duchess of Pork, Disc Jock-ess
Thursday 25, July, 2013
8pm (door opens 7:30)
£5 in advance (via http://nbr6.eventbrite.com/)
£7 8pm-11pm (night of performance)
A LEATHER CONFESSIONAL PHOTO-BOOTH by Holly Revel
Sharon Husbands, host-ess
Duchess of Pork, Disc Jock-ess
Thursday 25, July, 2013
8pm (door opens 7:30)
£5 in advance (via http://nbr6.eventbrite.com/)
£7 8pm-11pm (night of performance)
Sunday, 14 July 2013
In the news this week is the story of young ballet dancer, Jeppe Hansen. Hansen was on a scholarship with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, when he was told there was no longer a place for him, it having been discovered that he had appeared in gay porn movies, under the name Jett Black. Quite how the Royal Winnipeg Ballet officials discovered this has not been revealed, but the company has stated it has policies and procedures in place, that state that any dancer who wishes to partake in ‘side projects’ must gain approval from the school director. I do wonder, though, if the school would have been quite so intransigent if it had been discovered that Hansen was working as a waiter or even dancing in a fringe production of a musical somewhere,
There can be little doubt that it is the nature of Hansen’s ‘side project’ itself that is the problem, not the fact that Hansen, like many students, was doing something extra-curricular to fund his education. The problem appears to be sex, not only sex, but public sex, though we should remember that Hansen was doing nothing illegal. He was just appearing in a movie and getting paid for it. One has to ask if they would have had the same problem, if he’d got a role in a war movie which required him to kill and maim people. No doubt he’d have been given a warning and allowed to continue his studies.
On the other hand it is a little disingenuous of Hansen to refer to the porn he did as art, a statement that only serves to cloud the issue. Though he may have a point, I’d hardly call any of the porn I did art, and, anyway, the whole question of what constitutes pornography, and what erotic art, is probably food for a whole other article. Hansen banging on about his artistic freedom being breached hardly helps, I feel. The issue seems to me much simpler.
I certainly doubt the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School’s officials wrestled for one moment with definitions of art and pornography. They were just “shocked” and “appalled” that one of their students was having sex on film. But this is where I have a problem with the officials. My reaction to the news was, predictably no doubt, so fucking what? I would imagine he made a lot more money for a few hours’ being filmed having sex than he would have done working as a waiter, and probably had a lot more fun doing it too. Seems to me he was just being inventive. He was given an opportunity and took it.
Am I so completely out of touch with how normal people would react? Not as much as you might think, judging from most of the comments left by readers of the news article in gaystarnews, who all seemed to think the Ballet School over reacted.
As far as I can see, the problems society, and the mainstream media, have with porn are the same ones they have with sex; problems derived from outmoded religious views and the deep seated shame those views create.
Some of you may remember that, a few years ago, The News of the World revealed that Max Mosley enjoyed indulging in a bit of SM sex. Mosley, quite properly considering that what he got up to in his private life was nobody’s business but his own took out a privacy case against the News of the World, which he won, though, by this time, his reputation was in tatters anyway. The law agreed that The News of the World had breached his privacy by revealing his sexual peccadilloes, but it hardly changed people’s attitudes to what he was getting up to. Again, when the story first broke, my attitude was, so what? Why is this even a news story? Is it just that most people’s sex lives are so boring, they can only get vicarious pleasure out of reading about other people’s, and then, of course, condemning them?
On the subject of porn, internet figures suggest that most of us are looking at it, but very few would admit to it. We know that most of the people who have at some time looked at internet porn are men, (8 out of 10, compared to only a third of women), but it’s fair to assume that most of them don’t tell their wives or girlfriends. So, although watching porn is common, it’s still not considered acceptable behaviour, whereas watching movies in which people get blown to bits is. Taking the above figure as the norm, that would suggest that, out of the current 503 male MPs in the House of Commons, we can assume that at least 400 of them have, at one time or another, watched internet porn. These same MPs will publicly voice their concerns about the easy availability of internet porn and talk about ways of stopping it. Ah, how we love dual standards.
Returning to the original question as to whether doing porn can come back and bite you in the bum, then, I am sad to say, that in our present society, the answer is probably yes. In our gay world, doing porn might be becoming more and more acceptable, and indeed more and more gay men are enjoying sex on camera, many being happy to do it just for the thrill, rather than the money, but they really should be careful about who gets to watch it. I suspect many of them would lose their day jobs if their bosses ever found out. Yes it seems totally wrong to me and I can’t help asking why doing porn can possibly be seen to be a problem for a budding ballet dancer. Are people really not going to go and watch him dance if they know he’s had sex on camera? I suspect the reverse would be true. Oh well, clearly society hasn’t caught up with me yet. So a bit of advice. Unless, like me, you can largely opt out of society, admit to all you have done and refuse to be ashamed, it’s probably best that, for now, you give up the idea of doing that porn movie. Either that or wear a mask.
Sunday, 7 July 2013
|On the XXL Float Pride 2005|
This is an article that was published by TheGayUK just before this year's London Pride. Pride is very important to me, and so I am republishing it here.
The year was 1993. I remember it because it was the year the Gay Slayer, Colin Ireland was embarked on his killing spree, and there had been many warnings for us to take special care while he was still at large. Even so, it had been a perfect day, and as the sun started to set on Brockwell Park with Jimmy Somerville singing the words, “As I watch the sun go down, watching the world fade away”, I had never felt so content, never felt so much that at last, I belonged. This was my first ever Pride and, unbelievably, I was 41.
Not that I had been closeted till then. Far from it, but I had never really fitted in with what I perceived to be gay life or the scene. I had come out as gay fairly late I suppose, at about 27, and, having fallen madly in love with my first boyfriend, whom I had met through work, went straight into a domestic, monogamous relationship. We never went out on the scene and most of our friends were straight. When that relationship finished, I went straight into another that was much the same, and then when that finished, I hardly dare go anywhere at all. AIDS was taking hold and sex became something to fear rather than enjoy. The gay scene terrified me and so I took refuge amongst my straight friends. My life became monastic and I practically gave up sex altogether. Looking back, this could well be the reason I am still around today, but it’s certainly not a time I’d like to live through again. In a way I was denying who I was, denying myself the right to be happy, to be considered the equal of my straight peers; and, actually, I was no better than the likes of David Starkey, who believes the owners of a B&B should be able to deny a room to a gay couple, and Andrew Pierce, who believes that we don’t need equal marriage. Urged on by my ultra Conservative mother, I am ashamed to admit I joined with those who condemned the opening of GLC’s London Lesbian and Gay Centre, which opened in 1985, another waste of rate payers’ money by Red Ken. This was not my finest hour. I was no doubt suffering from the kind of internalised homophobia I detailed in my article for TheGayUK earlier this year. You can reference it here.
You’d think that as I worked in an environment where it was ok to be gay (the theatre), I’d have happily embraced my sexuality, and to an extent I did, but I never felt I fitted in with the majority of gay guys in a company, those ultra flamboyant, often screamingly queeny dancers, with their hilariously witty, but often bitchy, repartee, and consequently I distanced myself from them. To be honest, they scared the living daylights out of me, and I tended to mix instead with the straight guys and girls in the company. It was safer to stick with what I knew, even if it meant sometimes tacitly colluding with the occasional unintentional homophobic remark. I wasn’t like other gays, so that made it ok. But of course it didn’t.
I’m not quite sure when all that changed, but, over time, I realised that something was missing from my life. I didn’t truly fit in with any of the people I mixed with. So it was that in 1993 I found myself marching through the streets of London with thousands of other gay men and women, with their families, and with their friends. I was surrounded by men and women from all walks of life, from the flamboyant to the ordinary, from drag queens to soldiers. I couldn’t believe the size of the crowd, and as I looked back down Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner, my heart swelled with a pride I’d never felt before. I was not alone. At least for one day I could walk through the streets without being afraid of who I was.
I think that was the turning point for me. From that day on I became more involved in the scene and more fully embraced the gay community. I think I’ve attended every London Pride since, and been to a few more around the country. I’ve been involved in Pride in various ways too, from stewarding, to dancing on a float in leather, to gogo dancing in a shop window in Soho and then gogoing in the clubs afterwards. I’ve had a lot of fun, and of course Pride should be fun, but it is also a lot more than that. It is a chance for us to show the world that we are a diverse bunch of people, that we exist in all corners of life. We might be drag queens and leather guys, disco bunnies and dykes on bikes, muscle guys and formation dancers, but we are also policemen and firemen, soldiers and office workers, doctors, politicians and nurses. It is a chance for us to show the world that we are not going away.
As London is one of the busiest, most multi-cultural cities in the world, it makes London Pride important on an international level, so that those living in countries less tolerant than ours can see what can be achieved. Urged on by anti-gay religious groups, gay rights are going backwards in most countries in Africa and the middle East. Hardly a week goes by without some new anti-gay law being passed or some new atrocity against the gay community. Things are no better in many Eastern European countries. Russia has just passed more anti-gay legislation, precipitating a wave of anti-gay violence. Even in seemingly enlightened France, there has been an outbreak of violence against gay people since the passing of the equal marriage act. The Catholic Church’s roots obviously go down deeper there than most would have imagined; and if the recent House of Commons and House of Lords debates on equal marriage are anything to go by, there are still plenty of bigoted homophobes in this country, who will go to extraordinary lengths to deny us our basic human rights. There could not be a time when it is more important to stand up and be proud of whom we are.
I’ve always believed that Pride should be both a celebration and a political statement, and have never had any truck with those who say all the excessive flamboyance at Pride makes them feel ashamed, the gay homophobes who believe we should play down our differences, who believe that only by attempting to blend in with the straight world will we get the rights we are asking for. Well I don’t hold with that. We should not deny that a large part of our community is made up of wonderfully flamboyant, inventive, artistic, talented and sometimes wacky people. When better to show off our fabulousness? When the gay community stood up against police brutality at the Stonewall Bar back in 1969, were those drag queens trying to blend in? No. They were demanding their rights as individuals. So the media tends to concentrate on the drag queens and the scantily clad muscle boys. So what? Being different is not a reason for withholding human rights.
If, like me, you have been to so many Pride events now, that they all start to blend into each other. If you are feeling jaded, or feel that it has nothing to do with you anymore, perhaps you should remember the reasons that Pride is still important, and that each Pride will always be the first Pride for someone somewhere, that first moment when that person, whatever their age, can feel that they can be who they really are. Take part in the march, or just come down and watch, but, be part of it and be Proud!