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8 July 2009

Pride

So Saturday, I loved. After getting home before 11pm on Friday and getting a good sleep, Rob and I watched some tv in bed (the chart countdown, which continues to make me feel old these days) before getting dressed and heading to Broadway Market. There I watched the group efforts of a bunch of people trying to rescue a dog who was swimming in the canal and couldn’t seem to get back out. The dog didn’t look particularly upset by this, mind. My favourite moment was when a man passing by ran over and immediately whipped off his top as he leaned over the canal trying to encourage the dog to come to him. I imagine this man whips his top off at the slightest provocation.

We spent the rest of the day at Pride in Soho. Before moving to London I had never been to a Pride event and would probably have been quite dismissive of it, in that way you tend to be when you’ve never been and just believe the stories about it being full of horrific people. Now I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It still feels like it’s an important statement of visibility – but instead of the loud sloganeering of more difficult times, the statement is being happy and comfortable in our own skins. People being whoever they want to be. It was a bit more low-key than last year as we didn’t do much wandering around and instead just pitched up outside a bar with some beers, but it was a very enjoyable day. I was almost disappointed that I had to leave. Almost. I did have to, however, as I was off to see Madonna at the O2.

Ah Madonna. What can I write that I haven’t written before? Suffice to say that I loved it, and it took on a whole new resonance with the death of her greatest contemporary. As has been widely reported now, she paid tribute to Michael Jackson during the show. It was an incredibly exciting (and lovely) moment and the entire arena went mad during it. I guess it must be a bit weird being Madonna and hearing about the death of ‘the King of Pop’.

We ended the evening in the Joiners, dancing for hours. I haven’t felt such unabashed joy on a night out in a while.

I guess this year marks ten years since I became a ‘fully out’ gay man. When I think back to the fear and frustration I felt when I was trying to come to terms with who I was (which you have to do before you can ever be comfortable telling anyone else) and look at where I am now, I do feel….pride. I feel saddened that there is an increasing tendency for younger people to refute that their sexuality is anything more than an incidental part of their identity. Something they tend to refute when going to gay bars, and hanging out with gay people, and consuming gay media. I cannot imagine many heterosexual people ever seeking to deny that their heterosexuality was an integral part of who they were and a huge influence on the direction their entire lives take. Being gay has affected my view of the world, all of the relationships I form in it, the places I go to, the things I create, the aspirations and expectations I have. It is not, and never will be, just about who I have sex with.

And that was my simple, ‘what a lovely Saturday I had’ entry.

Tags: Gay Pride Rob
25 February 2011
1 March 2011

Thoughts on ‘Born This Way’

Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t I?

After the premiere of the video yesterday led to another outpouring of utter drivel, I wanted to articulate my feelings about the whole ‘Born This Way’ thing. Not least because I know that some people who know me undoubtedly believe that my response to it is largely determined by ‘the Madonna factor’.

First of all, I will admit that I have been dubious about Gaga from the moment I heard ‘The Fame’. To be specific, I loved ‘Just Dance’ when I first heard it (when it was first heard in the U.S.) and downloaded ‘The Fame’ when it first leaked. I was immensely disappointed – most of the album is terrible. It also betrayed that what Gaga swiftly became was somewhat of an accident. You don’t make records like ‘Eh Eh’ if you’re intending to end up at ‘Bad Romance’. But end up there she did, and ‘The Fame Monster’ is undoubtedly a huge improvement on ‘The Fame’ and a great pop record in its own right. ‘Bad Romance’ will forever be iconic and was a perfect example of an artist taking their influences and building something uniquely theirs. It is brilliant.

  Now I could write a book about all of that, but onto ‘Born This Way’. It is a dreadful record. Clunking, patronising, lazy and downright stupid. I’ve heard it said that Lady Gaga has been racing through Madonna’s career – if this is the case then ‘Born This Way’ marks her swift arrival at Madonna’s humourless, worthy and superior persona (without the fun stuff inbetween). Where to begin?

Firstly, taken exclusively on its musical merits, the song is undeniably derivative and largely generic. No great crime, but when you’ve spent almost a year being told that this is going to be the greatest thing to have ever happened to music (by Gaga and by people around her) it’s understandable that this provokes a reaction against it. Now when you factor in the ‘gay element’, this takes on a new meaning. Gaga chooses to celebrate the ‘difference’ of homosexuality by returning to disco, the most stereotypically ‘gay’ music genre and one which every pop star who wants to appeal to a gay audience seems to run to at some point or another. It reminds me of ‘G-A-Y’ by Geri Halliwell, except Geri at least had the good sense to make it a b-side and not build it up as being akin to the Emancipation Proclamation beforehand. Already the difference Gaga is celebrating is a very narrow one.

It’s worth noting here that since the backlash against the song, many of Gaga’s ‘Little Monsters’ have been backtracking on the gay aspect of the song and arguing that it’s a wider anthem of tolerance. Yes, the lyrics are more general but to deny that Gaga (and her team) have specifically focused on the gay theme is either being completely stupid or completely disingenuous. I could trawl Google to provide countless quotes to illustrate this but I think it’s pretty self-evident. However, taking that wider theme, the song both patronises and fails. It patronises because it lists minorities in a ‘shopping list’ of difference where we are all interchangeable but the same in our ‘difference’. This celebrates nothing other than Gaga’s self-identification with ‘outsiders’ and, so, Gaga herself. I won’t add to the furore over her use of ‘chola’ and ‘orient’ but I have nothing intrinsically in common with ethnic minorities (except on a broader human level and arguably in terms of places in wider power structures, which I will look at in a second). What we see is a privileged (both in her race and her wealth) woman revealing more than she probably cares to about her very banal (and frighteningly deadening) notion of ‘difference’.

It fails because it does not even coherently follow through on this already misguided notion. Perhaps half-aware of the above argument, she adds religion, ‘white’ and ‘evergreen’ to the shopping list. In adding the powerful and privileged (and, not incidentally, those responsible for much of the oppression faced by the ‘different’) she reduces her point to nothing except ‘be happy’. The suggestion that the power structures in society are ‘born’ is actually counter-productive to any message of acceptance and neglects to tackle the reasons behind homophobia, racism etc, instead reducing all of the social, political and economic circumstances to the hilarious implication that bigots are also ‘born this way’ and should just…not be, while also reducing all identity to a one-note caricature based on a presumed biological foundation.

Clearly most listeners won’t delve this deep into the song, so what if it’s just taken on a superficial level? The one argument that I have heard wheeled out repeatedly in support of it is that it will help closeted gay children. This argument is invariably put forward by out and proud metropolitan gay men and as such I think it’s a ‘straw man’ argument that hides the true purpose of the record – that is, to take a specific gay identity and affirm it back at gay people, and thus commodify it. As I noted above, the difference Gaga celebrates is a very narrow one. It is one largely dictated by privileged Western gay men and one which takes its cues from mainstream gay culture. We must not forget that this culture is not the totality of any of us. It’s not even a small part, for many. Yet its success and position depends on the affirmation of gay people’s differences to, and subjugation at the hands of, everyone else. Gaga is celebrating ‘gay as victim’ and in the process reinforcing a central tenet of a commercialised gay culture. Much has been written about the pressure for gay people to conform to this, from ‘the body beautiful’ to the ostentatious display of wealth. Gaga reinforces every one of these points, identifying gay people with muscular dancers in designer clothes and raising product placement/endorsement to almost religious levels (and also largely ignoring lesbianism, save as titillation or as comedy).

Now, tackling directly the argument about gay children – of course I think it’s positive for gay kids to have role models. But why are we so willing to applaud the crumbs from the table of Lady Gaga and ignore everything else? Is a repressed gay child with a bigoted family really going to be helped by a woman who repeatedly identifies homosexuality with ‘freaks’, ‘monsters’ and aliens (the visual accompaniments to ‘Born This Way’ have underlined this point)? Sure, it may help cement a sense of victimhood and a fledgling desire to ‘fight’, but that is ultimately counter-productive. The fact is that in America (which is where we are always talking about) we have a President  who has explicitly reached out to gay children in speeches. So have many of his peers. He has appointed gay people to high-profile jobs in his administration. We have little to say about this. We have had little to say about the gay celebrities who have come out and…lived their lives. We have little to say about it because it is painting gay people as ordinary people who happen to be gay, and not fabulous angelic creatures who are scorned by all around them. Gaga is not an intergalactic social worker fighting homophobia in a vacuum. She is a pop star whose image and success is tied up in the notion of not being part of the power structure she undoubtedly is (which is also why she has gone to such great pains to downplay her wealthy background, and create urban myths around being a starving ‘artist’).

With ‘Bad Romance’, Gaga was winning me over. In stumbling so clumsily and stupidly into the realms of sexuality, identity and difference, she has re-affirmed all of her worst aspects.

And I didn’t even mention ‘Express Yourself’!

3 March 2011

Can we talk about liberal bias now?

The only criticism I have seen of Johann Hari’s recent silly (dangerously so) article about ‘Muslim homophobia’ has been in blogs:

http://www.islamophobia-watch.com/islamophobia-watch/2011/2/28/are-muslims-responsible-for-a-huge-rise-in-homophobic-attack.html

http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/02/can-we-finally-talk-about-johann-haris.html

Guardian journo Gary Younge tweeted that he disagreed with it, but went out of his way to also tweet that Johann Hari was an “important voice & ought to be engaged, as some have, not demonised.”

Engaging proved difficult. Johann’s response to people tweeting criticism at him has either been to ignore it completely or to, in one case, label the person responsible as ‘extremely unintelligent’ and it seems he has blocked many of the critics (including at least one of the authors above).

Some of the attacks on Johann since his article have been quite hysterical. But most that I’ve seen have been reasoned and calm. It’s raised an interesting, but quietly disturbing question about ‘liberal writers’. Johann and many other ‘left’ journalists quite regularly write indignant columns about the ignorance and stupidity of people like Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn. Whether this is helpful or productive is another question, but it’s not something that most people are going to be particularly bothered by because, on the whole, they do seem to be ignorant and stupid.

However, I have not seen a single one of these writers tackle Johann’s article. An article which has since been shown to be based on a completely incorrect assertion and which, as I argued here:

http://howupsetting.tumblr.com/post/3503560578/can-we-talk-about-muslim-homophobia-now (I wrote this before seeing the above blogs so obviously the crime figures bit is moot)

is factually selective, logically muddled and presents an at times almost incoherent argument. I have absolutely no doubt that if a right-wing columnist of a similar profile to Johann had written a factually inaccurate, inflammatory colum about Muslims that there would have been at least a couple of high-profile attacks on it. The absence of this suggests that it’s okay for a liberal writer to write provocative tosh about Muslims, because they’re on ‘our side’ and write good columns about causes close to our hearts such as UK Uncut.

We’re supposed to be better than the right-wing bastards. We’re supposed to have higher standards. Johann is a writer I have long followed and he has written some things that I have admired. His refusal to either acknowledge that his article contained inaccuracies and apologise, or to tackle the criticism head on and explain why he’s right, has greatly reduced my respect for him. People share these articles and people assume that what they’re reading is based on accurate information (the issue of people thinking about such articles critically is another one entirely). They calcify opinions and create false oppositions. They are, as I wrote earlier, deeply irresponsible.

15 March 2011

Gay ‘literature’

imageimage

Are you interested in gay literature? Save yourself a lot of time and read the two books above. In one fell swoop, you have read 75% of novels written by gay men (except you’ve read them with much better writing – hooray!)

Tags: Gay Anti-Gay
16 March 2011
21 April 2011

OUTRAGE!

Apparently there’s ANOTHER ‘kiss-in’ at the John Snow tonight. It seems there are a lot of people willing to be mobilised against ‘homophobia’ without spending even a cursory amount of time investigating the origins of their ‘outrage’ and the actions they’re signing up to. The more I read about it, the more I am convinced that there was no homophobia in what happened (a summary explanation which I posted elsewhere is below.)

The surge in ‘Twitter outrage’ in the past year or so is incredibly bizarre. It only ever seems to reach a superficial level and rests entirely on a very narrow ‘liberal’ identity of self derived from identity politics. The ‘promised land’ seems to be a place where we can all live without offence rather than achieving any real equality (a significant, substantive equality which recognises class structures and economic power as primary, not who we have sex with.) I’m not sure if it’s pushing people to express opinions on things that they think little about or if it’s just giving a platform to people who have never tended to do this. Either way, it’s a bit dumb. I’ve said it before – for all the shouting about ‘equality’ that certain people do, their entire sense of identity would be lost forever if people *really* stopped giving a shit about people being gay.

Re: the ‘incident’ (it was in response to someone demanding further action so I’m tackling their points):

I’m afraid this is a perfect example of what I said when I wrote about people being outraged without actually bothering to check the details of what they’re outraged about! The version of events that has taken hold (a gay couple kissed and were forcibly ejected) bears little relation to what we’ve been told: - The info about the complainant is here: http://news.pinkpaper.com/NewsStory/5215/16/04/2011/man-who-sparked-john-snow-furore-claims-couple-were-fondling.aspx

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there WAS a complainant. Previously we’d been led to believe that the landlord just took exception, not that a member of the public made a complaint. The complainant’s description of their behaviour tallies with what my friend told me. She said that most people were indeed rolling their eyes and thinking ‘get a room’, but if someone complains then clearly that places pressure on the pub to do something, right?

Secondly, and crucially, you’ll see that both the complainant *and the guy who tweeted when ejected from the pub* acknowledge that they WERE asked to tone it down, and remained in the pub for at least an hour afterwards. If this was a case of bar staff taking offence to gay people, why on earth would they not just eject them immediately?!

Thirdly, in the original story the guys involved said they ‘refused’ a request to moderate their behaviour. They said they told the person who came over to ‘turn around instead’ and ‘took little notice’ and continued to kiss ‘not in a confrontational way, just on the mouth’. That’s a bit different from the version in this story, where they stopped, stayed for an hour and then were randomly ejected.

Fourthly, again originally they described their behaviour as nothing more than a ‘peck on the lips’. One of the SUPPORTIVE witnesses described it ‘full-on snogging, but not heavy petting’.

Next - no-one ever suggested that the John Snow had contacted police or requested police remove them. The police involvement (which only seems to appear in some versions of the story) was that when they were arguing with the landlady, a man in the pub identified himself as a police officer, showed a badge and said they had to leave if she asked them to.

Some other points - I’ve no doubt similar things have happened in other Sam Smiths pubs - because similar things happen in pubs across the country. The implication that there is some Sam Smith-wide policy on gay kissing is risible and an insult to all of our intelligence. There are several Sam Smiths pubs in Soho, myself and many other gay friends regularly frequent many of them without incident. And I have seen straight people being asked to leave pubs after kissing before (not Sam Smiths ones, but I’ve never witnessed anyone being ejected from one of them that I can recall.)

Yes, I do think the people involved should know best - but a) there are so many inconsistencies that it’s impossible for any of us to know exactly what happened, least of all those now trying to destroy the pub b) I don’t think just because someone believes they’ve been discriminated against, it means they have been. If you were asked to leave a pub for kissing, of COURSE you’d be angry and indignant, whatever sexuality you are. It doesn’t mean you were asked to leave because you were gay (and indeed gay people get ejected from gay pubs.)

Lastly, yes it’s odd that no-one from the pub has made a statement, but I don’t think this can be used as some damning evidence of guilt. Because really, it snowballed so quickly that if the pub stuck to their guns, said they weren’t homophobic and had every right to eject the pair, the people who turned up to the kiss-in (and countless others) would be demanding their blood. Perhaps an apology would have satisfied everyone, perhaps not, but maybe they don’t feel the need to apologise and are being stubborn. As for Sam Smith, I imagine they feel at arms length from the situation given their heavy presence in Soho without incident and the fact that the landlord makes the rules about who comes in and who stays, not them

9 May 2011
I really, really do not understand the hold that Nicola Roberts has over a large chunk of teh gayz. She seems to be a moderately talented, moderately attractive, hideously stupid, right-wing…person. Yet she’s written about as if she’s Bjork, with words like ‘strange’, ‘leftfield’ and ‘alien’ being chucked around and a general consensus that she is a Good Thing. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!

I really, really do not understand the hold that Nicola Roberts has over a large chunk of teh gayz. She seems to be a moderately talented, moderately attractive, hideously stupid, right-wing…person. Yet she’s written about as if she’s Bjork, with words like ‘strange’, ‘leftfield’ and ‘alien’ being chucked around and a general consensus that she is a Good Thing. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!

25 May 2011

Relationships, the gay world and ‘social networking’

…as part of an attempt at explaining why so many relationships (by which I mean friendships also) in the gay world (and wider, but it seems to be magnified here) are transitory, shallow and ultimately worthless. In one sense this isn’t anything new, but I think social networking has definitely made it more pervasive. People chat online - a form of dialogue which is very controlled and particular, where it is easy to project whichever image of yourself you want to see reflected back at you - and feel that they know each other. They then become ‘friends’ and hang out together, more often than not going out and drinking, but when it comes to it they don’t really know the slightest thing about each other and don’t really care about each other. The ‘real’ friendship becomes an extension of the online one, where the ultimate aim is to have a certain idea of yourself affirmed. I think the sad fact is that almost all of us have these kinds of relationships with some people; the even sadder thing is that I see entire groups of ‘friends’ who seem to have them with each other.

Then there is the fact that, even ten years ago, you would meet someone and get to know them over time. Now you meet someone (on those increasingly rare occasions where you meet someone outside of the online world) and then go off and start messaging them and chatting and making plans. Everything is sped up and perhaps we neglect the effort necessary to create that special connection that makes a relationship rewarding in the rush. Not to mention the fact that as soon as you meet someone these days all of your friends (and their friends) can and do swiftly move in and start messaging each other and nothing seems particularly intimate.

If there is any ‘point’ to life then surely right up there jostling for top position must be making connections with people and getting the rich rewards that come from that. In the gay world you see lots of people fucking each other then moving onto the next one, fucking them and then onto the next one. A revolving door that goes nowhere. Which is not to criticise promiscuity, but when you don’t even know why you are doing it and/or confuse it with intimacy, then something has gone wrong. Something that grows out of this is that you have heaps of people in relationships because they fancy each other and get along quite well - not because they feel amazing just being with each other, not because they think that the person they’re with is the best person in the world at that moment. They break up, feel sad for a day and then move onto the next one. It’s a place holding relationship to prevent people from being ‘alone’ and having to face up to the things they don’t like to think about, and their friends whose internal lives they know nothing about do the same and perpetuate it.

Make no mistake, these things have changed a lot even in the time I have been ‘an adult’. I cannot comprehend how a 16 year old must approach relationships now - is it essentially the same as when I was 16 (15 years ago!) with bolt-ons, or fundamentally altered, forever?

7 June 2011
Themed by Hunson. Originally by Josh