Life & Culture

Noel Alejandro: The filmmaker creating waves in gay porn

With the release of his new film Call me a Ghost, independent filmmaker, Noel Alejandro is fast becoming one of the most promising creators of adult gay movies. With his unique talent, Noel is breaking the mold by creating new forms of gay pornography that blur the lines that separate porn from art. Gays.com caught up with Noel in his hometown of Barcelona to talk about the philosophy of his films.
 

 
You direct independent gay porn movies. What is your problem with mainstream pornography?
I have no problem with mainstream pornography at all. I am a consumer of mainstream porn, and I love it! But the question is: why do 99% of porn movies all look the same? How come nobody is doing things differently? When I worked with indie adult filmmaker Erika Lust some years ago, I noticed what porn can also be. There is so much more to explore.
 
Would you call your films pornography?
Well, I wouldn't call my work porn, I see it more as kind of independent cinema. But of course, I don’t want to lie to anybody. I know I am making sex films, but real sex doesn't exist in mainstream cinema. All the sex scenes are cut, and the actors don't really have convincing sex, and it was frustrating for me to figure this out. Why is it not possible to show real sex in films? Why is it not possible to just make a regular movie – combining good storytelling with intense feelings and real, authentic sex? Maybe we have to create a new genre of sex films here. I noticed that most people don't know how to label my movies, they call my work soft porn. But they are not soft porn, my films include explicit sex.

 
"Most people do not know how to label my films. They call my films soft porn. But they are not soft porn, my films include explicit sex."
 

 
What did you learn from working with Erika Lust? What can gay pornography learn from feminist pornography?
What I learned from Erika Lust was that porn can be entirely different. There are still a lot of things to experiment with, and maybe, this is what feminism is trying to show us. There is always something more to explore, including different fields of sexuality. But again, there's nothing wrong with mainstream gay porn, as long as there is an alternative as well.
 
What is your opinion about bareback in porn films?
The base of my philosophy is that I am making cinema, not porn. So what is cinema? Cinema is fiction. You are telling a story in the way you need it to be told. I'm not here to teach anybody, and I don’t want to have this responsibility. Most of the time I let my actors choose if they want to use condoms or not, and it's fine for me if they do it without. Of course, they get tested before and sometimes the actors are couples, and they already know each other for a long time. It's entirely up to them, they're adults like we are all adults and they know what they're doing.
 
.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 97%;height: 100%; }
"thank you..". by Noel Alejandro Trailer from Noel Alejandro on Vimeo.
 
Is there a script for your films? Are the actors free in what they do and how they act?
Yes, there is a script. It is almost impossible to make a film without one. But I try to give freedom to the actors for improvisation, most of them are not professional actors, and sometimes improvisation really is necessary - it can make the film much more natural.
 
Where do you get your stories from?
The stories of my films are directly linked to my life. Everything I do is a mix of what I experience in life. Inspiration can be found everywhere; in the movies I watch, in the music I listen to, in the emotions I feel. Everything that inspires you can create a story in your mind.
 
Porn activists like Tim Stüttgen, Laura Mérrit or Beatriz Paul Preciado pointed out that porn always is political. Are there any political statements or issues in your films?
Everything I do is kind of political, and so are my movies. I want to show that sex can be something very positive. When most of the world is against gay sex and homosexuality, it's vital to show sex - and especially gay sex - as what it is: something natural, great and amazing.
 
It is vital to show gay sex as what it is: something natural, great and amazing.
 
 
Your new movie 'Call me a Ghost' will be released soon. What can viewers expect?
My new movie is a quite dark: it's about depression. However, it's a beautiful and sad movie at the same time. This is kind of new I guess: a sad, sex film, but it's still erotic! The actor's performance is stunning, Valentin Braun is particularly impressive. I really enjoyed working with him, and I hope that people will love our work too.
 

 
Love to see more of Noel's work? No problem!
Check out Noel Alejandro's films here or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
 
All images © 2013 - 2016 Noel Alejandro

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Life & Culture

The changing face of London’s gay Soho

London’s gay scene has undergone significant changes in recent years, but there’s still much to enjoy, says Alex Hopkins.

I still remember my first visit to Old Compton Street, at the heart of London’s gay Soho. I was 18, covered in acne (badly caked over using excessive amounts of cheap concealer), wearing a bright orange fake-silk shirt and a too-tight pair of jeans. Like so many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was yet to come out but knew from gay folklore that Soho was the place for all young gay people to go. It promised a nirvana, a world free of prejudice; I soon became addicted.

Over the next ten years I think it’s fair to say that I was mentioned in the fire instructions of many of the gay bars in Soho – and back then, there were plenty of them, catering to every conceivable taste. It was the 1990s, the internet was young, and LGBT bars and clubs were still the focal points of the community. Yes, there was Gaydar, but if you wanted to get laid, the most obvious place was in a gay venue. Things were thriving.

Fast forward another decade, and London’s LGBT landscape is barely recognisable. Scores of venues have closed all over the city, rocked by spiralling property prices. The economic reality is incredibly tough for small, independent businesses who are falling victims to the chains which now dominate the once quirky streets. This has happened in East London and now the Vauxhall gay village, but nowhere has been harder hit than Soho.

Last year, Ben Walters, writing in the Guardian reported that more than a dozen LGBT spaces had closed in the capital, while a handful of other LGBT establishments were at risk. The Yard, one of Soho’s most popular gay bars, has fought a long and public battle against closure, while The Black Cap – though not in Soho but nearby Islington and one of the city’s most iconic LGBT venues – sadly lost its fight in April 2015.

It’s not, however, just a matter of rising rents and the onslaught of luxury housing: the dominance of gay hookup apps means that people are certainly going out less. But as the author Timothy Graves observed: "It may be tempting to sit at home flipping through countless profiles on your iPhone, chemed-up on a cocktail of drugs while waiting for some random to turn up at your doorstep. But is it as much fun as dancing the night away with friends or opening up to the potential for that chance encounter with someone you like?"  

We may be able to do little about extortionate property prices, but all LGBT people can vote with their feet by supporting the remaining establishments as much as possible. In doing so, we can help preserve them for the next generation of gay people who are looking for more fulfilling first-time experiences than swiping at anonymous torsos on a Smartphone. Strange, isn’t it, we live in a world which has never been so well connected by technology, and yet so many of us feel more disconnected than ever. The good news, however, is that there are still some important and vibrant LGBT bars in Soho offering us all the space to create those life-affirming connections. Here’s my pick:

 
The Yard
The Yard is truly unique – and needs to survive! Set around a courtyard – great in the summer – it’s on two levels, offering cocktails, exceptionally hot bar staff and a great meeting space for friends, fun and frolics.  57 Rupert Street, London, W1D 7PL

 
The Friendly Society
One of gay Soho’s best kept secrets is set on a tiny alley where prostitutes still ply their trade – you can’t get more traditional Soho than that! Politely rebuff the ladies’ advances and descend into this delightfully quirky bar with super cool tunes, a goldfish tank and Barbie dolls stapled to the ceiling.  79 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6QG
 
Comptons
Soho just wouldn’t be the same without the venerable Comptons. It’s been going since 1986, and what you see is what you get:  no attitude and men – much like the building – who are big and built to last. 51-53 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 6HN

 
Molly Moggs
Molly Moggs, set on the corner of Old Compton Street and Charing Cross Road, is a Soho institution. There’s cabaret every night of the week from the best drag queens in the business. It’s tiny, very friendly and things can get wonderfully messy –
which is just how Soho should be, of course.  2 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TA

 
 

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Life & Culture

Coming out later in life

Coming out at any age is difficult, but facing up to your sexuality in later life can be particularly daunting. Alex Hopkins looks at the things you should consider.

Walking away 
People enter heterosexual marriage for many different reasons. You could come from a cultural or religious background where it was expected of you, where to be gay was considered the greatest taboo of them all. Or you could simply have fallen in love with someone of the opposite gender earlier in life and then questioned your sexuality later. Leaving a marriage – and telling your partner that you’re gay - is possibly the biggest challenge you’ll ever face. But the alternative – a lifetime of deceit and anguish – will be much worse – for both you and your partner. 

But what about the kids?
Yes, of course having children complicates matters, but having conceived kids with your partner is not a reason to stay in an unhappy and unhealthy marriage. Leaving the ‘family unit’ doesn’t mean that you have to give your children any less love and care – in fact, you’ll probably end up being a much better parent simply because you’ll finally be being true to yourself. Also, don’t underestimate kids’ capacity to understand and sympathize – they’re living in a world which is a lot less hostile to gay people than the one you probably grew up in. 

And then there’s the parents…
What will the folks think? It’s the question that torments every gay person, no matter what age they come out. Look on the plus side, if you’re older, then you’ve got all that life experience and maturity which can help you break the news in the right way and manage the situation - much better than your 16-year-old self could ever have done. No, it may not be easy, but would your parents prefer you spent a lifetime deceiving them? 

I’ve got too much baggage
So, you’ve weighed up the negatives – over and over: leaving the wife/husband, the kids, breaking the news to the parents. Who’s going to want to take on someone with that much baggage? Try looking at it from the flip-side: you’ve got a wealth of life experience behind you. Think of the stories you can tell. You’re not complicated, you’re fascinating. And remember, you’ve already built and sustained very different kinds of relationships. All of that’s to your credit – and you can use the skills it’s taught you to shape a new even better future.

But my best years are gone…
Perhaps you feel that it’s too late, that you’ve missed out on the best years of your life, that your youth has vanished so you may as well settle for what you have now, no matter how tough it is. Contrary to what you may see in certain gay lifestyle magazines, being gay isn’t just for the under-thirties. There are lots of people out there who come out later, from your background and beyond – it’s that which makes the gay community so diverse. Youth, they say, is wasted on the young. Get out there and prove that’s true!

Just be yourself
Despite to what you may see around you, not every gay guy has a six pack and biceps like the Incredible Hulk, and not every lesbian is a dungaree-wearing lumberjack. Ignore the stereotypes and don’t set yourself unrealistic standards of perfection – whatever ‘perfect’ means. Compulsively chasing after twinks to try and recapture what you see as your wasted youth is a path to disaster or at least degradation. But neither should you set your sights too low thinking that you’re lucky to get whatever you’re offered. Respect yourself and others will respect you.



Starting all over again
There’s no training manual for being gay. If you’ve spent years hiding in the closet and living up to the expectations of a heterosexual lifestyle, there’s also no point swapping that rigid type of conformity for some type of ‘new normal.’ Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. Do as you please, love who you want, be free, experiment – and don’t apologize.

 

1 comment

Noel Alejandro: The filmmaker creating waves in gay porn

With the release of his new film Call me a Ghost, independent filmmaker, Noel Alejandro is fast becoming one of the most promising creators of adult gay movies. With his unique talent, Noel is breaking the mold by creating new forms of gay pornography that blur the lines that separate porn from art. Gays.com caught up with Noel in his hometown of Barcelona to talk about the philosophy of his films.
 

 
You direct independent gay porn movies. What is your problem with mainstream pornography?
I have no problem with mainstream pornography at all. I am a consumer of mainstream porn, and I love it! But the question is: why do 99% of porn movies all look the same? How come nobody is doing things differently? When I worked with indie adult filmmaker Erika Lust some years ago, I noticed what porn can also be. There is so much more to explore.
 
Would you call your films pornography?
Well, I wouldn't call my work porn, I see it more as kind of independent cinema. But of course, I don’t want to lie to anybody. I know I am making sex films, but real sex doesn't exist in mainstream cinema. All the sex scenes are cut, and the actors don't really have convincing sex, and it was frustrating for me to figure this out. Why is it not possible to show real sex in films? Why is it not possible to just make a regular movie – combining good storytelling with intense feelings and real, authentic sex? Maybe we have to create a new genre of sex films here. I noticed that most people don't know how to label my movies, they call my work soft porn. But they are not soft porn, my films include explicit sex.

 
"Most people do not know how to label my films. They call my films soft porn. But they are not soft porn, my films include explicit sex."
 

 
What did you learn from working with Erika Lust? What can gay pornography learn from feminist pornography?
What I learned from Erika Lust was that porn can be entirely different. There are still a lot of things to experiment with, and maybe, this is what feminism is trying to show us. There is always something more to explore, including different fields of sexuality. But again, there's nothing wrong with mainstream gay porn, as long as there is an alternative as well.
 
What is your opinion about bareback in porn films?
The base of my philosophy is that I am making cinema, not porn. So what is cinema? Cinema is fiction. You are telling a story in the way you need it to be told. I'm not here to teach anybody, and I don’t want to have this responsibility. Most of the time I let my actors choose if they want to use condoms or not, and it's fine for me if they do it without. Of course, they get tested before and sometimes the actors are couples, and they already know each other for a long time. It's entirely up to them, they're adults like we are all adults and they know what they're doing.
 
.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 97%;height: 100%; }
"thank you..". by Noel Alejandro Trailer from Noel Alejandro on Vimeo.
 
Is there a script for your films? Are the actors free in what they do and how they act?
Yes, there is a script. It is almost impossible to make a film without one. But I try to give freedom to the actors for improvisation, most of them are not professional actors, and sometimes improvisation really is necessary - it can make the film much more natural.
 
Where do you get your stories from?
The stories of my films are directly linked to my life. Everything I do is a mix of what I experience in life. Inspiration can be found everywhere; in the movies I watch, in the music I listen to, in the emotions I feel. Everything that inspires you can create a story in your mind.
 
Porn activists like Tim Stüttgen, Laura Mérrit or Beatriz Paul Preciado pointed out that porn always is political. Are there any political statements or issues in your films?
Everything I do is kind of political, and so are my movies. I want to show that sex can be something very positive. When most of the world is against gay sex and homosexuality, it's vital to show sex - and especially gay sex - as what it is: something natural, great and amazing.
 
It is vital to show gay sex as what it is: something natural, great and amazing.
 
 
Your new movie 'Call me a Ghost' will be released soon. What can viewers expect?
My new movie is a quite dark: it's about depression. However, it's a beautiful and sad movie at the same time. This is kind of new I guess: a sad, sex film, but it's still erotic! The actor's performance is stunning, Valentin Braun is particularly impressive. I really enjoyed working with him, and I hope that people will love our work too.
 

 
Love to see more of Noel's work? No problem!
Check out Noel Alejandro's films here or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
 
All images © 2013 - 2016 Noel Alejandro

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The changing face of London’s gay Soho

London’s gay scene has undergone significant changes in recent years, but there’s still much to enjoy, says Alex Hopkins.

I still remember my first visit to Old Compton Street, at the heart of London’s gay Soho. I was 18, covered in acne (badly caked over using excessive amounts of cheap concealer), wearing a bright orange fake-silk shirt and a too-tight pair of jeans. Like so many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was yet to come out but knew from gay folklore that Soho was the place for all young gay people to go. It promised a nirvana, a world free of prejudice; I soon became addicted.

Over the next ten years I think it’s fair to say that I was mentioned in the fire instructions of many of the gay bars in Soho – and back then, there were plenty of them, catering to every conceivable taste. It was the 1990s, the internet was young, and LGBT bars and clubs were still the focal points of the community. Yes, there was Gaydar, but if you wanted to get laid, the most obvious place was in a gay venue. Things were thriving.

Fast forward another decade, and London’s LGBT landscape is barely recognisable. Scores of venues have closed all over the city, rocked by spiralling property prices. The economic reality is incredibly tough for small, independent businesses who are falling victims to the chains which now dominate the once quirky streets. This has happened in East London and now the Vauxhall gay village, but nowhere has been harder hit than Soho.

Last year, Ben Walters, writing in the Guardian reported that more than a dozen LGBT spaces had closed in the capital, while a handful of other LGBT establishments were at risk. The Yard, one of Soho’s most popular gay bars, has fought a long and public battle against closure, while The Black Cap – though not in Soho but nearby Islington and one of the city’s most iconic LGBT venues – sadly lost its fight in April 2015.

It’s not, however, just a matter of rising rents and the onslaught of luxury housing: the dominance of gay hookup apps means that people are certainly going out less. But as the author Timothy Graves observed: "It may be tempting to sit at home flipping through countless profiles on your iPhone, chemed-up on a cocktail of drugs while waiting for some random to turn up at your doorstep. But is it as much fun as dancing the night away with friends or opening up to the potential for that chance encounter with someone you like?"  

We may be able to do little about extortionate property prices, but all LGBT people can vote with their feet by supporting the remaining establishments as much as possible. In doing so, we can help preserve them for the next generation of gay people who are looking for more fulfilling first-time experiences than swiping at anonymous torsos on a Smartphone. Strange, isn’t it, we live in a world which has never been so well connected by technology, and yet so many of us feel more disconnected than ever. The good news, however, is that there are still some important and vibrant LGBT bars in Soho offering us all the space to create those life-affirming connections. Here’s my pick:

 
The Yard
The Yard is truly unique – and needs to survive! Set around a courtyard – great in the summer – it’s on two levels, offering cocktails, exceptionally hot bar staff and a great meeting space for friends, fun and frolics.  57 Rupert Street, London, W1D 7PL

 
The Friendly Society
One of gay Soho’s best kept secrets is set on a tiny alley where prostitutes still ply their trade – you can’t get more traditional Soho than that! Politely rebuff the ladies’ advances and descend into this delightfully quirky bar with super cool tunes, a goldfish tank and Barbie dolls stapled to the ceiling.  79 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6QG
 
Comptons
Soho just wouldn’t be the same without the venerable Comptons. It’s been going since 1986, and what you see is what you get:  no attitude and men – much like the building – who are big and built to last. 51-53 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 6HN

 
Molly Moggs
Molly Moggs, set on the corner of Old Compton Street and Charing Cross Road, is a Soho institution. There’s cabaret every night of the week from the best drag queens in the business. It’s tiny, very friendly and things can get wonderfully messy –
which is just how Soho should be, of course.  2 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TA

 
 

Read more

Coming out later in life

Coming out at any age is difficult, but facing up to your sexuality in later life can be particularly daunting. Alex Hopkins looks at the things you should consider.

Walking away 
People enter heterosexual marriage for many different reasons. You could come from a cultural or religious background where it was expected of you, where to be gay was considered the greatest taboo of them all. Or you could simply have fallen in love with someone of the opposite gender earlier in life and then questioned your sexuality later. Leaving a marriage – and telling your partner that you’re gay - is possibly the biggest challenge you’ll ever face. But the alternative – a lifetime of deceit and anguish – will be much worse – for both you and your partner. 

But what about the kids?
Yes, of course having children complicates matters, but having conceived kids with your partner is not a reason to stay in an unhappy and unhealthy marriage. Leaving the ‘family unit’ doesn’t mean that you have to give your children any less love and care – in fact, you’ll probably end up being a much better parent simply because you’ll finally be being true to yourself. Also, don’t underestimate kids’ capacity to understand and sympathize – they’re living in a world which is a lot less hostile to gay people than the one you probably grew up in. 

And then there’s the parents…
What will the folks think? It’s the question that torments every gay person, no matter what age they come out. Look on the plus side, if you’re older, then you’ve got all that life experience and maturity which can help you break the news in the right way and manage the situation - much better than your 16-year-old self could ever have done. No, it may not be easy, but would your parents prefer you spent a lifetime deceiving them? 

I’ve got too much baggage
So, you’ve weighed up the negatives – over and over: leaving the wife/husband, the kids, breaking the news to the parents. Who’s going to want to take on someone with that much baggage? Try looking at it from the flip-side: you’ve got a wealth of life experience behind you. Think of the stories you can tell. You’re not complicated, you’re fascinating. And remember, you’ve already built and sustained very different kinds of relationships. All of that’s to your credit – and you can use the skills it’s taught you to shape a new even better future.

But my best years are gone…
Perhaps you feel that it’s too late, that you’ve missed out on the best years of your life, that your youth has vanished so you may as well settle for what you have now, no matter how tough it is. Contrary to what you may see in certain gay lifestyle magazines, being gay isn’t just for the under-thirties. There are lots of people out there who come out later, from your background and beyond – it’s that which makes the gay community so diverse. Youth, they say, is wasted on the young. Get out there and prove that’s true!

Just be yourself
Despite to what you may see around you, not every gay guy has a six pack and biceps like the Incredible Hulk, and not every lesbian is a dungaree-wearing lumberjack. Ignore the stereotypes and don’t set yourself unrealistic standards of perfection – whatever ‘perfect’ means. Compulsively chasing after twinks to try and recapture what you see as your wasted youth is a path to disaster or at least degradation. But neither should you set your sights too low thinking that you’re lucky to get whatever you’re offered. Respect yourself and others will respect you.



Starting all over again
There’s no training manual for being gay. If you’ve spent years hiding in the closet and living up to the expectations of a heterosexual lifestyle, there’s also no point swapping that rigid type of conformity for some type of ‘new normal.’ Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. Do as you please, love who you want, be free, experiment – and don’t apologize.

 

Read more

Drag queens: alternative vs traditional

Drag queens are an integral part of gay culture – but how do they stand up against alternative drag, asks Alex Hopkins.

I was 17, my parents were away, I was acting in a summer theater course. What else do you do but hold a house party? And as the drink flowed out came the leopard print dressing gown, which my grandmother made for me (her tacit her acceptance of my sexuality). Before long I’d transformed myself into Norma Desmond and was singing along to Glenn Close on the cast recording of Sunset Boulevard, dementedly waving my arms around as if I were hanging out the washing.

Before I came out, I spent years sitting in front of the TV in the living room studying Shirley Bassey’s every move. This early ‘drag’ performance came naturally to me. Like many gay men, I started to enjoy drag shows, fixated on the performer’s every move and the way he would chew into a lyric, miming every last drop of emotion out of it.

But as time went on I realized I had a problem with some drag shows. Sure, they were entertaining, but some things made me feel uncomfortable, particularly the often repeated jokes aimed at women in an audience: “Oh, look at the fish over there,” and similarly other predictable jibes about the female anatomy. I began to understand why some feminists found the notion of drag queens misogynistic. Here were gay men playing out their outsized fantasies of what women were: everything larger, more pronounced, glamor all.

In a recent debate about Glenn Close’s recent London performance as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, I crossed swords with a gay male friend of mine. He objected to what he called Close’s “aged” interpretation of the role. It seemed too subtle for him. A female friend pointed out that what she was presenting was an accurate portrayal of a woman of a certain age. “Many gay men want and expect women to be like drag queens,” she said. “We’re not like that.”

As a counterpoint to this kind of representation of women, the increased popularity of alt drag gives us an entirely different – and arguably more profound – disruption of gender ideas. The vision of a bearded man, for example, in high heels and makeup is perhaps one of the boldest statements on the interplay of the masculine with the feminine. In London, alt-drag performers like Jonny Woo has helped bring alt drag into the mainstream and garnered a cult following.
 

Jonny Woo. Photo: Jorge Monedero

But perhaps the most prominent example of alt-drag is Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst. Russia’s fury at her triumph was fantastic and hilarious. Indeed, it is hard to know what was more amusing - the sight of Russian heterosexual men frantically shaving their beards off to distance themselves from the fabulous drag queen, Tom Neuwirth, or the predictable vitriol spouted by the Russian Orthodox Church.
 

Conchita Wurst performing in Poland, 2015. © Praszkiewicz.

Vladimir Legoyda, chairman of the church’s information department, heralded Conchita’s performance – and the world’s enthusiastic reception of it – as an “abomination” – evidence of the planet’s moral decline, and one which 'the results of this competition bear witness to'. Surely, the supreme irony of being condemned by men wearing dresses that make Shirley Bassey look understated can only be taken as the highest form of praise.

Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have brought gender play into our living rooms, and consequently, have the potential to change attitudes. But it’s always those who opt for their own twist on alt-drag, that are the most interesting. But here lies the power of alt drag over a more traditional kind of drag. The vision of a 'bearded lady' play havoc with people’s minds; it’s not so easy to categorize such a performer, to place him in those neat little boxes that mainstream, heteronormative society need to feel comfortable and secure. These outsiders transcend definitions of gender, reminding us that the strongest and most indelible political statements are made when we refuse to blend into the norm.
 
 

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The IDAHO Challenge and Great Global Kiss-In

In 2009 and 2010, Gays.com collaborated with the Committee for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHO or IDAHOT) to launch two awareness projects, The IDAHO Challenge and The Great Global Kiss-In.


The IDAHO Challenge saw Gays.com reach out to its tens of thousands of members and LGBT people everywhere to record a video of themselves (in their language) introducing what country they're from, and how proud they are to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  Released on May 17, 2009, to coincide with the launch of Gays.com, the video spread the message that LGBT people are present in every country and society across the globe.





For the seventh annual IDAHO event, The Great Global Kiss-In was a series of planned public displays of affection that took place in over 60 cities across the globe including London,  New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Tel Aviv, Sydney, and Glasgow.  The events were staged as a kiss-in flashmob to celebrate love and equality and were a huge success. Thousands of people took part in kissing their way to raise awareness for international LGBT rights.




IDAHO founder Louis-Georges Tin said, "In our battle to tear down the walls of homophobia and transphobia, it is of vital importance that we have people who are willing to put their face to what we are fighting for. This campaign is a call for everyone to come out from wherever they are and get your voice heard."  


People getting loved-up at The Great Global Kiss-In.
Kenneth Tan from Gays.com said, ”Here at Gays.com, we are all about fighting the culture of anonymity that is so pervasive on the gay internet landscape. With this project, we want to challenge members of our community to step out of their virtual closets."  He added, ”It's vital that those of us who live in places of peace and freedom come out in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who, based on where they live, risk abuse, jail, torture and the death sentence if they do come out. It is our hope that we will represent every country in this video."


Founded in 2004, The IDAHO Committee aims to draw attention to policymakers, opinion leaders, the media and the public of the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people across the world. The committee has been a key player in drafting the United Nations statement, which urges the decriminalization of homosexuality in every country.

IDAHO is celebrated every year on May 17 in more than 130 countries. 
 

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Being LGBT: Is it time to strip away the labels?

Classifying our sexual and gender identities has won LGBT human rights, but are the labels we’ve given ourselves still needed, asks Alex Hopkins.
 
“Do you like girls or boys? It’s confusing these days”, sings David Bowie in his 1995 song Hallo Spaceboy. Bowie was a master when it came to blurring the lines of sexuality and gender; more so than any other music artist before or since, he defied categorisation, making labels redundant. This song comes from his very aptly named concept album Outside and is set in a dystopian version of 1999. The tone is overwhelmingly dark, sinister even, and fraught with anxiety: How, Bowie seems to be asking, should individuals express themselves in the last five years of the millennium? This question of self-definition never goes away; every generation faces it – and it is certainly pertinent now as Europe faces unsettling times. It's interesting that Bowie chose to frame it with a specific reference to sexuality, however; LGBT people have always had a complicated relationship with labels.
 
Being a sexual or gender outlaw is tough. It’s seen us vilified, legislated against and massacred in the fight for equal rights. A bold declaration of dissident sexuality or gender signifies risk, but it has also allowed us to come together to form communities of mutual support and resistance. Anything that confuses people – as Bowie suggests – is seen as a threat; yet only from a threat can we hasten change. LGBT people throughout history have had two choices: either to hide their difference – thereby accepting the status quo – or to expose it. Naming our orientation has been the ground zero, of which we’ve found one another, become politicized and dared to strive for better lives. And it’s here that we see the function of labels. Without them, the political movements of gay liberation, which have won us the rights we have today, would never have existed.
 
Over 15 years on from Bowie’s Outside, the world is a very different place for LGBT people. The march for equal rights continues, but enormous ground has been covered, mostly with equal marriage. Given this, have labels served their purpose? Where are we now? (to use the title of another Bowie song). Things look pretty good: more LGBT youths are coming out and being accepted by their families; laws exist against homophobia and transphobia; discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace is tackled head on – we even have multi-national companies actively reaching out and recruiting us. These developments would have been hard to imagine some 20 years ago.
 
Crucially, however, these changes are predominantly in the west. In other swathes of the globe, we’re still being persecuted, tortured and killed. Millions of us continue to live in fear, only daring to dream of the day that we will be able to reveal our true selves. All of us in more progressive countries who enjoy the privilege of freedom have a responsibility towards those who do not have the fundamental human rights that we increasingly take for granted. Our visibility – a visibility which is strengthened by our continual use of labels – sends a message of hope to those who do not have those advantages. How easy it is to become blasé about the rights of other people far away, when we have won those rights ourselves. Silencing our identities means that we lose solidarity with those whom we have the power to inspire and help.

Some years ago, when I first came out, my parents – who accepted my sexuality – told me that being gay was not all there was about me; I was so much more than that. And, yes, they were right. Defining ourselves solely by our sexuality and gender limits our world view; it cuts us off from the experiences of others from different backgrounds and cultures. Yet the sexual or gender labels we ascribe to ourselves are also a vital part of who we are. The weight that LGBT people carry when they have to hide is destructive. Being able to vocalize this – to flush it out into the open and thereby provoke and defy structures of authority – is a transformative experience which bolsters our collective sense of self-worth. Yes, since I came out two decades ago it has become less essential to proclaim that I am a gay man – and I am, thankfully, less fearful of the response I will get, but I am also acutely aware that there is a fine balance between not being “militant” about my sexuality (my parents’ worst fear) and becoming invisible and consumed by mainstream society through not exhibiting pride in the way I classify myself.

As the human rights activist Peter Tatchell has said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance” – and only by marking ourselves out as different can we ensure that we hold on to all we have gained. Indeed, it’s the difference that our disparate sexualities and gender identities give us that we can perhaps best harness a potent form of power. Each one of us, of course, has a choice of the categories we use – and that will, naturally, evolve over time – but surely only by distinguishing ourselves can we assert that there are alternatives to the things that we disagree with in this world – the injustices which we long to eradicate, not just in our own lives, but for everyone.

 

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Hen parties in gay venues: a good mix?

LGBT venues have always been popular with Hen/Bachelorette parties, but how easily have straight women and gay men been mixing, asks Alex Hopkins.

The notices on the doors of London’s gay bars and clubs are now more numerous and obvious: “This venue operates an LGBT majority door policy.” The message is unambiguous and non-negotiable: heterosexuals are welcome, but this is an gay space. Within the last few years, there has been something of an outcry on the gay scene about the number of Hen parties descending upon bars. Resentment has set in, and gay men, in particular, it seems, have had enough. But what exactly have they been objecting to? After all, doesn’t every gay man love a 'fag hag'?

A year ago, at a hugely popular and long established venue that shall remain nameless in south London, I saw the “problem” in action – in lurid detail. Around 25 young women, in a state of advanced inebriation, practically stormed the stage as a popular drag queen was in full flight of lip-synching glory to 'It’s Raining Men.'  Security intervened as drinks went flying and a fight broke out between a shaven-headed lesbian and the Bride To Be’s matron of (dis) honour. And that was just in the front of the club. At the back, not even the thumping techno could drown out the cries of passion of another member of the party as she lifted her skirt (which was little more than a belt) and mounted a poor guy who was sat on a rickety bar stool.

This, of course, is an extreme example of bad behavior (why do I always have to witness it?), but many gay men I’ve spoken to have reported similarly unseemly exploits, which include everything from bar staff being insulted to Go-Go dancers being groped. These men have made their feelings plain: they’re very happy for straight women to join them in their venues, and they enjoy them being them being there – as long as a sense of common decency is observed. Sadly, however, it seems that this has a tendency to vanish after several rounds of shots have been necked.



Why though has there been an escalation in this type of behavior? Heterosexual women, after all, have always had special relationships with gay men. Perhaps we can look at the increased acceptance of homosexuality by mainstream society for the answer. Assimilation, it can be argued, is a double-edged sword, and the flip side of saying “we want to be just like you” is possible that some heterosexual people (certainly not all), feel they have a license to disrespect the community venues which we have invited them into. Do gay men behave that way in straight venues? No, they would not dare to.

Inclusivity is, of course, crucial. LGBT people have fought long and hard for it, and for us now to say that other groups should be excluded from our spaces is hypocritical.  But, at the same time, there needs to be a balance, and we lose this balance the moment that gay people feel threatened in the spaces that they alone have created. How do these threats manifest themselves? Certainly in the outrageous shenanigans that I’ve described here, but also, I think, in less obvious ways. Gay people are not here for straights’ entertainment. We’re not circus freaks to be treated as 'camp' objects of barely disguised ridicule or to be patronized and reduced to little more than being 'fabulous.'  

But, I believe, there is something else at play here, which again can’t be divorced from the LGBT community continuing to win equal rights with heterosexuals: notions of the ‘Pink Pound/Dollar’ have arguably spiraled out of control – and become distorted. In a relatively short space of time, we have gone from being shunned to being the latest ultra-cool, must-have label. Everyone wants a piece of us. We are a highly visible market waiting to be tapped into, whether this is for gay weddings, holidays or Hen dos.

The issue when big bucks enter the equation is that we risk selling out. Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves just how much of our culture and heritage we’re prepared to sacrifice to keep the accountants happy. As gay bars in major cities continue to struggle and close, this question is becoming more urgent than ever. How can we attract new punters from outside our traditional demographic without losing our identity? As we search for ways to solve that dilemma, all of us – gay and straight – have a duty to build upon the links that have been forged between our communities. This starts with practicing mutual respect and understanding.
 

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Gay men and lesbian best friends

Do gay men and lesbians make best friends, or do the two groups have too little in common, asks Alex Hopkins.

I remember the moment vividly. The words that I’d held inside me for so long, churning around my head, rehearsing in the lonely silence of my room, came tumbling out: “I’m gay.” And then, overwhelmed with relief and the realization that my life would now change completely, I began to sob. My new friend, Rosetta, put her arms around me and told me that everything would be ok. The worst was over. I no longer had to hide. Three weeks previously, on a summer theater course, Rosetta had stood up in front of a room of strangers, swept back her luscious black hair, and proclaimed that she was gay. I had never witnessed such a courageous, proud statement of identity - it was life-affirming and transformative. Rosetta, I knew, would understand. Together, we could take on the world.

This was 19 years ago, and although I have seen Rosetta infrequently over recent years, she remains one of the greatest influences on my life. She gave me strength when I needed it most; she made me laugh through the pain; she showed me that there was hope, and beauty, even in the darkest of places.

Lesbians often get a bad rep from gay men. At the most basic level, the majority of gay venues are geared towards gay men. In London, there is just one bar solely for gay women. Moreover, stereotypes abound: I’ve met many gay men who dismiss lesbians as aggressive or 'butch' figures of derision to be avoided – or feared. Misogyny, sadly, is, in my experience, prevalent among gay men. And yet, I am not alone in counting a lesbian as one of my best friends. What, then, can gays and lesbians offer one another regarding friendship that other people cannot?

Rosetta has since gone on to forge very close friendships with other gay men. “Sex isn't in the equation in these friendships,” she says. “There is no chance of feelings stirring up and making the dynamics between the two of you complicated. There is a safety there, knowing you can be yourself and sexual attraction will not get in the way. Ever. In addition to this, you will never find yourself competing for the attentions of someone, because you'll never be attracted to the same person.

“All my gay male friends are close to me for different reasons, whether it be art, theater culture. Some became close friends because we had fun going out on the scene and could happily meet up for a coffee and have plenty to entertain ourselves with through conversations. Others I have met later in life.”

Jason Ford has known his lesbian best friend, SimMi, for over 12 years. They met when SimMi had a few extra tickets for Madonna’s Reinvention Tour in 2004, and she sold some to Jason. SimMi cites similar reasons as Rosetta for their friendship lasting: there is no sexual attraction so that they can be completely open and honest with one another. “We’ve also faced the same struggle for equality,” she adds. These are sentiments Jason agrees with: “We've been through break-ups, divorces, marriages, family illnesses, you name it, but SimMi’s the first person I call because we all need that touchstone to ask –‘am I being crazy?’ And to get an honest answer.”

But how do the pair respond to the frequently repeated claim that gay men and lesbians have little in common, beyond the fact that they are not heterosexual? “I can see why that can be, but I don't think one minority opposing another is a productive way to live,” says SimMi. “And indeed a waste of my time. I have never had experienced this. Most of my close friends are gay men.”


 
“I think in our case, SimMi is more like a gay man trapped in lesbian's body,” laughs Jason, “and I'm more of a lesbian stuck in a gay man's body. So we balance each other out that way. She's the yang to my yin. We've both had a stressful couple of years recently, and at times we have been known to scare our friends with fiery debates in public. Mostly it was about blowing off steam, but some people found it troubling, shall we say. But this is the woman I know inside and out, and her me.”

But, crucially, it’s not just sharing their personal challenges that have cemented their bond: it’s in their united response to events that have had an impact on all LGBT people. Together they’ve watched the monumental changes in gay rights over the years. 

“Gay rights have come a long way, but we haven't won the fight. Orlando's tragic and needless attack is an illustration of that,” explains SimMi. “Now we have Brexit to contend with, where xenophobia and gay slurs are being shouted out in the streets of London because suddenly some people think they have permission to behave like that. We should always stand together in unity. Love should always win.”

“Lesbians are our sisters. We have a shared history,” insists Jason. “When gay men were dying of AIDS in the 80s, it was our sisters that looked after us and fought alongside us. We're a family. And in a world where we don't always have the love of our own blood, it's important to have someone in your life that understands.”

Real friendships, Rosetta adds, are those that endure despite the odds. “It's amazing how the gay scene can glue bonds together - and if one day all the gay clubs in your city or town close down - you then find out who the real friends are,” she says. “When that isn't there anymore, you are left with how well do you know this person outside of the scene queen framework? It's a sure fast way to tell if you will be friends, as friends should be to one another.”
 

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LGBT films: Tragedy vs. Hope

Alex Hopkins takes a look at pioneering LGBT films. How have their themes changed, and what can we expect to see in the future?
 
In March this year, to coincide with the annual BFI Flare LGBT film festival, the British Film Institute published its list of the 30 best LGBT films of all time. The number one slot was given to one of the most critically acclaimed films of this year, Carol, directed by Todd Haines, based on the Patricia Highsmith romance novel The Price of Salt. The 1952 novel was groundbreaking in its depiction of a lesbian romance which did not end in tragedy – instead, there is the suggestion that despite all obstacles, the two female leads will somehow maintain and build upon the love affair that they’ve entered into. The film of the novel is no less rare: throughout the history of LGBT cinema, the fates of gay, lesbian and transgender people have all too often been doomed.

How different the end of Carol is from 2005’s Brokeback Mountain (directed by Ang Lee), which tells of the tortured relationship of two cowboys, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. The film may have broken ground in casting two major Hollywood players in gay roles, but concludes violently with Ledger’s character imagining Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist being beaten to death by a gang of thugs. “I was physically sick when I saw that film,” an ex-lover told me a few years ago after I lent it to him. “Why does it always have to end badly for gay men?”

And yet it has not always been this way. The best LGBT cinema offers us hope amongst the darkness. In the midst of the AIDS epidemic, 1985’s My Beautiful Launderette caused a sensation in its depiction of a gay cross-cultural relationship in working class Britain. 11 years later Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing was a game-changer in boldly exploring a relationship between two gay teenagers, injecting some much needed optimism into one of the harshest decades for gay men.



LGBT films, by definition, have always been political. Simply by placing characters with dissident sexualities on the screen, they are rupturing a history in which our culture has so often been hidden or denied. The tenderness of Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, for example, changed attitudes and spoke to legions of closeted young gay men; moreover, some of the seminal LGBT films have been overtly political: 1961’s Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde and directed by Basil Dearden, shone an unwavering light of the struggles of gay men at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the UK, and they were, therefore, ripe for blackmail. It is said to have played a pivotal role in engendering sympathy for gay people and leading to the UK’s 1967 Sexual Offences Act which decriminalised homosexuality in private between two men.

It is, of course, impossible to discuss LGBT film without looking at the work of Pedro Almodovar. The Spanish filmmaker’s Law of Desire (1987) broke away from stereotypical representations of gay men which had for so long focused on shame and homophobia. In 1999 All About My Mother did for trans people what Law of Desire had for gay men: it refused to sensationalise them, instead sensitively focusing on the reality of their individual stories, whilst looking at the issues in the context of wider themes such as bereavement. No other gay filmmaker has so successfully crossed over into the mainstream.


Still from Tangerine (2015). The story follows a transgender sex worker who discovers her boyfriend and pimo has been cheating on her. 

If Almodovar was the enfant terrible of Spanish cinema, his (French) recent counterpart is perhaps Xavier Dolan. “Precocious talent” are the words that immediately come to mind when one thinks of the French-Canadian filmmaker. Not only has he written and directed six feature films, but he has also taken the lead role in three of them. He has won multiple awards at the Cannes film festival – with 2014’s Mommy scooping the Jury prize – and has still somehow found the time to throw in a dozen acting jobs and 30 plus voice over credits. Not bad for a 27-year-old. His first film, 2009’s I Killed My Mother is typical of his work in that homosexuality – while it exists in the film – is not Dolan’s central preoccupation. For example, only later do we learn that Hubert’s friend Antonin is his boyfriend. The teenager’s struggles to find his place in the world – and negotiate a relationship with the mother he both loves and despises – are not determined by his sexuality, but rather by the universal themes we all grapple with – independence, rage and perceived abandonment by a parent. Again, like Almodovar, his message is perhaps the most powerful one of all: these people really are no different from you or I.

This idea of ordinariness, with its infinite potential to break down people’s perceptions about LGBT people, is arguably the future of LGBT filmmaking, being particularly relevant in the age of equal marriage. It was perhaps most beautifully expressed in recent years in Andrew Haigh’s 2011 film, Weekend. Here was a film in which gay men appeared to at last be free of the problems which had so long plagued them on the screen – two young men tentatively building a relationship, which though short-lived would, it is strongly suggested, shape the rest of their lives. Andrew Haigh would go on to produce the popular HBO series Looking – again a non-judgmental exploration of ordinary gay lives, but this time in San Francisco. Looking: The Movie premiers on HBO on July 23, and promises to be the film to represent the challenges that LGBT people face today.
 

 
 
 

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A response to the massacre in Orlando: LGBT people will not be silenced

How can the LGBT community respond to the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando? And what needs to change to ensure that this never happens again, asks Alex Hopkins.

Two days after the massacre of 49 people at Orlando LGBT club Pulse, we are now beginning to hear, and become familiar with, the names of those who were killed. They are no longer just statistics from what is the worst mass shooting in US history. They’re people with their unique stories, people from all backgrounds, individuals who had, for their reasons, chosen to be at Pulse that night to belong to and participate in an active, loving LGBT community, before they were hunted and gunned down like animals by Omar Mateen.

The practice of naming the dead is not just about identification and visibility: it’s about a final act of respect; but more than this, it’s the final, lasting way of denoting that a person belonged to others: to a partner, to a family, to their friends and their community. In this ephemeral world, based so much now on possessions, there is, after all, only one way that we indeed remember one another: through the unconditional love that we give and we receive in return.

This love would have been palpable in the club on the night that these innocent LGBT and straight people died. LGBT bars and nightclubs are special places for our community: spaces in which we can escape from an often harsh reality, where we can cut loose and reveal our emotions surrounded by those that we know will never judge us. These venues are our form of churches, where the inextricable bonds that we have built over years of struggle, prejudice and hatred are cemented. We need to say little to one another at these times. Indeed, everything we need to say is often unspoken as we dance and hold one another, mouthing along to songs that have a collective meaning, our love and joy evident in the slightest of movements, in a body language which all of us understand.

Pulse was deliberately chosen by Omar Mateen on Sunday night in order to cut out the vibrant, beating heart of Orlando’s LGBT community. This was, without any doubt, a calculated attack targeting an LGBT venue and LGBT people. To say otherwise is not only an insult to the memory of the dead but a dismissal of LGBT communities all over the world. In the days that have followed the shooting, there has been much dubious reporting in the media with publications and news channels glossing over the sexualities of those who were killed. Some of the perpetrators are predictable: the London-based Daily Mail chose to run a front page story on Turkish immigrants, but other publications were no less guilty of erasing LGBT identity. As Owen Jones, who quite rightly walked off Sky News when the interviewer repeatedly failed to acknowledge that this was a very particular assault on LGBT people, said in his Guardian OpEd, even original reporting in the New York Times neglected to say that an LGBT venue had been targeted.


MOSCOW, RUSSIA - June 13, 2016: Candles and flowers in memorial near US Embassy in Moscow for memory the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando in 2016. Image: Urban Reporter.

What message are LGBT people meant to take away from this? There is, surely, only one answer: that we are in some way less important, less worthy, second class citizens. At a time when right-wing Christians are praising this atrocity and websites in countries such as Turkey are using words like “perverts” in their headlines, is it too much to expect major media organizations in the West to name this tragedy for what it is? Anything less reveals the deep-seated homophobia which – despite all the outward appearances of acceptance through equal marriage – still lies festering like an open wound in our so called civilised society. Moreover, it serves to reinforce the virulent anti-gay bigotry of the Middle Eastern and African nations who still execute LGBT people – nations which, ironically, the West is frequently all too quick to condemn on these grounds.

It is not only the scale of the Orlando massacre that people are struggling with – it’s also its complexity. How do we define what happened? Is this an act of terrorism, or a hate crime? It is both. They are not mutually exclusive. But, judging by much of the reporting on the incident, the two cannot easily exist together, and, it seems, to comprehend what has happened, LGBT people are quietly being erased from the narrative. Matters are, of course, further complicated by the fact that the murderer, Omar Mateen, is said by the FBI to have been radicalized online by Islamist propaganda. Certain left-wing thinkers and writers – yes, including some LGBT people – in a monumental triumph of political correctness over rational thinking – are totally blinkered in their commitment to downplay extremist Islam’s role in what has happened. While Islamism has undeniably played a pivotal role here, we must also acknowledge that this is about all extreme forms of religion, which time and time again, have shown themselves to be the greatest enemy of LGBT people all over the globe.

As we grapple for answers, there is perhaps only one certainty: if the right to keep and bear arms was not protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, Omar Mateen – a man already known to the FBI – would not have been able to obtain a weapon. At London’s Admiral Duncan Pub, on an evening in which I was just around the corner at another bar on 30 April 1999, the neo-Nazi David Copeland planted a nail bomb which killed three people and wounded around 70. One can hardly bear to think how many others might have died if the UK had the same gun laws as the US. 

We will never know what drove Mateen to turn Pulse into a slaughterhouse. The speculation will continue: was he compelled to act because he saw two men kissing, as his father stated? Or – as recent articles suggest – was he in fact “gay” himself and a regular visitor to Pulse? The media’s use of the word “gay” in this context is, in itself, lazy and problematic, failing to grasp the difference between a possibly self-loathing man who physically desires men, and the political ramifications of the word “gay” – a word which LGBT people, as a community, have taken ownership of, a word devoid of senseless hate.

How then can we, as an LGBT community, respond to this senseless mass murder? Over the last few days, we have seen vigils across the world showing solidarity with Orlando. LGBT people come from all backgrounds, cultures, and classes, but we have all faced the same obstacles, the same fears. Our dreams – love and acceptance – are much the same. Together we are strong, and our visibility has rarely been more important than now. As we mourn, we must also be angry – but, crucially, we must turn our rage into power.

This is the moment to hold people to account. It’s not only the gun laws that must change in the US; in the hours after the attack on Pulse, hundreds of gay men were not allowed to give blood because of a draconian, discriminatory law passed by the Reagan administration during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Our voices must be loud and uncompromising: there is no place for homophobic legislation, just as there is no place for the politicians who feel it is acceptable to denigrate LGBT people, and then stand and hypocritically condemn a massacre in an LGBT club, without even making reference to LGBT individuals. These figures – and all religious hate preachers, whatever their denomination – have fanned the flames of anti-LGBT vitriol and have blood on their hands. Let this be a warning to all those who would rather we vanish: LGBT people, perhaps more so than any other minority, know how to fight – and, no matter how long it takes, we know how to win. We will and not be silenced when our own are hurt.

 

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Are gay porn stars valid idols?

Gay men have always had a complex relationship with porn. But is our idolisation of its performers misplaced, asks Alex Hopkins.

Porn is often a gay man’s first encounter with gay sex. I still recall sneaking off to the Virgin Megastore as a teen and coming home with my prize: what was then an 18-rated Bel Ami VHS tape. In an age in which bareback sex porn is frequently the norm, the sight of Johan Paulik frantically gurning – but minus any shots of his vast member, let alone the hallowed ‘money shots’ – was tame by today’s standards, but nevertheless did the trick for me.

It seems bizarre to think that Johan Paulik is now 41-years-old. Somehow he will be forever frozen in time, his perfect, angelic face with its piercing sea-green eyes, framed by that thick mop of dark hair. Paulik will, for me, always be a gay porn ‘star’ in the true sense of the word: he made dozens of films for Bel Ami, was inducted into the GayVN Hall of Fame and in 2002 even became general manager of Bel Ami in Europe.

Paulik’s career, from ingenue to grande porn business dame in control of thousands of men’s masturbatory fantasies, certainly has its appeal. There’s an enduring fascination with gay porn performers. For many years now, the GAY brand in London has held an annual ‘Porn Idol’ competition in which young gay men are invited to flaunt their wares on the stage of Heaven nightclub. Work with porn studios can follow and twinks grab at it with the ferocity that generations of gay men have longed to take a plunge at Jeff Stryker’s legendary 11-incher.


Jeff Stryker

But how far is the reality of being a porn star removed from the fantasy? In recent years there have been a number of highly-publicized deaths of top performers. In particular, the suicide of Arpad Miklos – outwardly a giant of a man – suggests a much darker side to the business. Given this, do gay men idolize these figures at their peril? There has been much debate about this, and it is, of course, too easy to demonize an entire industry and all of those in it based upon a handful of casualties. But when do a number of deaths start to become a trend?

Yet there is no denying that the life of an established porn “star” is not easy: you age publicly, you can be discarded, if you have low self-esteem (as many gay men do), these pressures can have a major effect on you, and some deal with it better than others. Do the studios offer adequate support to their performers? And what responsibility do those who consume porn have? One only has to look at disparaging and often vitriolic comments under threads of porn star deaths to see how quickly people are to judge. Is what’s really wrong here not the fact that someone chooses to do porn for a living, but the ways in which society views sex per se?

Why are so many of us attracted to this world and the men who inhabit it? What power do they have over us? In his superb, blisteringly honest exploration of his relationship to porn, ‘If You Look At It Long Enough’ the (non-pornographic) filmmaker and writer Paul Hallam says that “to watch pornography is perhaps to disrupt time, to play with memory and to look forward to scenarios unlikely to happen.” Yet, conversely, it also reminds him of past relationships, giving him the opportunity to reassess them, even rewrite them: “I’m astonished how, even in mass-produced porn I find a trace of someone met, a one-night stand, a childhood sexual experience, a longer-term lover…and, always, it reminds me of age and death.” The function of the porn ‘idol’, then, is perhaps to facilitate an escape from our lives, but an escape which paradoxically brings us back to the what we can never truly avoid: our own mortality.

But the word ‘idol’ when used in the context of porn is problematic for others. As a lecturer in film studies at the University of Warwick, Jose Arroyo spends his days assessing star quality. “Things have changed in porn,” he says. “There certainly used to be very big stars, the Jeff Strykers. The sign was always whether their penis was on sale as a dildo. But the whole business has been changed by the internet, destroyed really, and the star system has necessarily changed (the money's all from hustling now rather than the films). There used to be quite a lot of porn star bios (which was another sign of stardom) but Michael Lucas is the only recent one to get this treatment.”

The case of Michael Lucas is an interesting one, raising timely issues about the proliferation of bareback porn. Lucas, previously a proponent of condom use on gay porn, changed his stance in 2013 and chose to direct bareback scenes. At a time when HIV rates are rising among gay men, how responsible is it to depict condom-less sex - and should those who make a career out of it be celebrated, held up as examples?

It is, of course, up to every individual to weigh up the pros and cons of deciding whether or not to have ‘raw sex’, but the important thing is that they are in full possession of the facts. If these are still not adequately taught in schools, and gay men are inundated with images of risky sexual acts, such as ‘creampies’ and ‘breeding’, it can be argued that they are being coerced into particular types of behaviour. Videos showing guys slamming Crystal Meth are easy to find – the more extreme the practice, the more it seems to sell. Just the other day I was told of the death of the ex-boyfriend of an acquaintance of mine who participated in one of the first ‘slamming videos’. He had committed suicide. How far removed all of this is from my early experiences ‘watching’ the fresh-faced Johan Paulik.
 

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Corporate Gaydom: have gays sold out?

Is there a downside to equal rights? Are gay men and lesbians now under more pressure than ever to conform to the corporate world?

The gym has never been a passion of mine: it’s something I tolerate, a habit, a way of balancing out my real love, burgers, and chips. But still, like a good gay, I’m there three or four times a week, doing my thing. I’m a member of a chain of gyms in the UK, and this, it’s fair to say, is about my concession to the corporate world.

This is clearly not the case with many of the other gay gym attendees down at my local branch. The only sight I loathe more than men lifting weights and groaning as if they're being anally fisted, are those I like to call the “corporate gays.” In their polo shirts with the name of a multinational bank or large accountancy firm blazoned across their back, they’re easy to spot. Having previously worked in the corporate sector (and let its petty rancidity drive me to a near nervous breakdown), the specter of these suited slaves to the system still sends chills down my spine.

This is, of course, rather unfair – and a sweeping generalization. Not for one moment am I saying that everyone who works for a finance or law firm is inherently evil, it’s just that they have very little relation to my view of the world, which has always been that of the outsider.

When I came out, I saw the opportunity to declare myself a gay man as a way of embracing an alternative, a stance that did not subscribe to the normative heterosexual trajectory of marriage, kids, promotion, and if you’re very lucky an expensive new company car each year. My sexuality, I felt – and indeed still do – promised opportunities to fashion a new way of living, both in my personal and professional life. There were choices available – and best of all I felt that other gay men and lesbians surrounding me (my new comrades, if you like) would be there to support me, because, put simply, they also passionately believed in the cult of the outsider. That, for me, was the definition of a “gay community.”

Yet in recent years there has been a marked change in the ways that people can be gay – and the lifestyles (a word I’m cautious of, despite having edited lifestyle magazines) that are available to them. Since the banking collapse and economic austerity, the pressure to conform has multiplied. To tread one’s own path is now tougher than ever. In London, as in New York, short of selling a kidney, it’s near impossible for a younger person to get on the property ladder, meaning that generations of people are stuck in the rental trap, with little immediate hope of escaping. As someone who currently can’t even afford to rent a room in a shared house (monthly rental the equivalent of a mortgage payment) at the age of 37, I frequently despair. Today’s society seems designed to make you feel like a failure, and you have to be astronomically emotionally resilient to shut its expectations out all of the time.

Gay people, I believe, can feel this pressure more keenly than heterosexuals. The myth of the pink pound or pink dollar has always been suffocating for those who do not follow a conventional career path, but in the era of same-sex marriage, it is arguably even more psychologically destructive to those whose income is not in a particular bracket. Yes, legal equality should be celebrated, but the flip side is that those who can’t buy into the conspicuous consumption of the grand gay wedding, the luxurious apartment, the expensive holidays, the rent-a-womb kids – I could go on – is left feeling marginalized, forgotten.

In her superb, rabble-rousing book Straight Expectations: What Does it Mean To Be Gay Today, the controversial journalist and women’s rights activist, Julie Bindel, argues that since the early days of gay liberation – which proposed overturning the existing patriarchal power structure – both gay men and women have catastrophically lost their way. Becoming “too tired to fight anymore or too conservative to want to dismantle the remaining oppressive structures” these people, Bindel says, are so desperate to be accepted that they’re not just aping heterosexual, but – worse still – mimicking the most conservative straight people.  Those who have sold out to a Faustian pact where “profit trumped politics,” in a gay commercial playground which values “equity over equality.”

How different this “new normal” is from ideas of queer politics, from the revolution that was promised to not just gay people but straights too in the 1970s. As more and more gay or queer creatives are being forced out of the central areas of our cities, these people are becoming invisible, usurped by hordes of gay men in sweat-drenched corporate shirts whose only idea of marching is the trek to the estate agents via their financial advisors.

Where, then, should the new battle lines be drawn? Between the gays and straights, or between the gays who have and those who don't? Bindel is certainly in no doubt: we’ve been “duped” and are now pathetic shadows of our former selves, “a cowardly mass of apologetic sops,” groveling for crumbs from a largely conservative society, who exploit us for our disposable income. “The gay rights movement has not just lost its teeth,” she fumes, “it is operating like an elderly claret-soaked conservative making his way to the bedpan in the corner of the room: bloated, smug and plodding.” I wish I didn’t agree with her, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to.
 

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Gays and diva worship

Gay men and lesbians have a long history of adoring strong but also fragile women. How have our idols changed over the years, and what do they continue to offer us, asks Alex Hopkins.

Something of a minor scandal is currently unfolding in London’s West End. Hollywood legend, Glenn Close, starring in the musical Sunset Boulevard at the English National Opera House, has – at the time of writing - now missed four performances as the lead role of the reclusive, silent screen goddess Norma Desmond. For two weeks audiences – mostly made up of gay men – have been flocking to ‘the theatrical event of 2016’ to see Miss Close don an increasingly extravagant array of gowns as she sweeps up and down a grand staircase before finally blowing her toyboy lover’s head off and descending into madness.

Gays have a long history of diva worship, and the character of Norma Desmond (made famous by Billy Wilder’s 1950 film) comes from an impressive lineup of much adored Sacred Monsters. She’s right up there with Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich – larger than life women whose capacity for camp, glamour, gender-bending and frequently challenging behavior in a male dominated world, spoke to gay men. These were women who were adept at wearing masks – both on and off the screen – to get what they wanted; outsiders whose grit and determination resonated with legions of gay people. At a time of vicious homophobia these stars offered the LGBT community a much-needed form of kinship; furthermore, a photograph of a booze-addled Joan Crawford in someone’s home was often a telltale sign of that person’s sexual identity.

Gay idols from yesteryear share similar traits. As well as being outwardly tough, they are also often very vulnerable. Glenn Close, in an interview about Norma Desmond, summed this up perfectly: “She’s a fragile creature, and what makes her sympathetic in my mind is the courage, effort, and heart it takes to overcome that fragility.” She could have been speaking for a whole generation of gay men and women who regularly battled the heterosexual norms of society. The momentous star comeback – as represented by the talented, tortured Judy Garland – wasn’t just about the triumph of will over adversity for a performer people had not even met, but about the internal struggles of her faithful admirers.


Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950)

But are these divas now out of date? And if so, who has replaced them? A few years ago a gentleman caller (to paraphrase another gay idol, Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire) visited my chicken coup of a flat and couldn’t name any of the classic stars framed on my walls. Call me a stereotypical gay of a certain age, but I was appalled – so much so that the ensuing scenario was somewhat tarnished. But then why should he have recognized them? Increasingly not just LGBT culture but also mainstream culture has been reduced an endless array of manufactured pop ‘stars’ and reality TV wannabes - and all because they bring in the numbers.

Times change, and we inevitably turn to different people for inspiration. We’re now living in the era of gay marriage where many LGBT rights have been won. The fight is less apparent, but there is still much work to be done. Stars who use their platform to advance this are to be welcomed - they’re facilitating debate and helping to change attitudes. Recently, Rihanna was revealed as having privately supported a man in coming out. Such an act may seem small, but in this high-tech age, it reaches millions. Rihanna – clearly someone with a political and social conscious – was saying it’s ok to be an outsider; the same message as the onscreen images of Greta Garbo in man drag once communicated. There are, thankfully, more important conversations to be had than what color Miley Cyrus is going to paint her vagina as she twerks her way to social media saturation point.

Gay men, in particular, can be very precious about their divas. Some years ago I encountered a barrage of abuse when I dared to refer to Madonna – whose support of the LGBT community has been patchy over her long career – as “a crotch-grabbing divorced mother of four.” Absolute sacrilege, apparently. Most recently, in the ongoing debacle concerning Glenn Close’s absence from Sunset Boulevard – which gay men as far as America and Europe have bought tickets to see – there have been furious online exchanges about who the best stage Norma Desmond has been. Talk about handbags at dawn. 

The Close fallout has not only been hilarious to watch, but it reminds us that the gay cultural heritage of diva worship is as relevant as ever. We may not encounter the levels of hatred we braved in the past, but the inner demons are still there: the bullying, the conflicted upbringing in a straight world, the buried sense of shame that can lead to the disturbing chem sex epidemic we’re seeing in major cities now. Witnessing a deeply flawed, but understandable character like Norma Desmond grapple with madness – and the infidelity of a lover – on a nightly basis clearly resonates very strongly with gay men and women. And as over 2000 people rise again tonight to give one of the most heartfelt, cathartic standing ovations seen in the West End in years, the sense of mutual trust and support which a community – however fragmented – should be based upon is reinforced. Our chosen divas, you see, have that most magical of powers: they make us feel, even for just a few hours, that we’re a little less alone.
 
 

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Is there such a thing as a “gay community”?

We use the words ‘gay community’ constantly, but what does it really mean to people today, asks Alex Hopkins.

It started as an innocent question on Facebook: ‘is there a gay community in London?’ My wall, which like many I’ve come to regard as a type of community in itself, was soon inundated with responses. The comments varied, a discussion grew, definitions were bandied about and alternative words used. The forgotten art of communication lamented and a general sense of nostalgia for something that we had lost, or depending on the viewpoint, something we had perhaps half had or only wished we had had, filled that small part of cyberspace I call my own.

Definitions of a community are varied and complex. Andy Medhurst, a senior lecturer in media, film and cultural studies at The University of Sussex says, “at its broadest, community is a group of people connected in some way that gives meaning and significance to their lives. A community can be forged by geography, ethnicity, class, culture, shared beliefs or interests.

“As such it can have real importance, as a way of sustaining and strengthening identity and forming a rallying point against prejudice or discrimination.” But, warns Medhurst, “it is such a loose, baggy word it can lose impact and grow very fuzzy. At its worst, it becomes just another word used to denote individuals with similar interests.”

To me, community had always come with the assumption of feeling a sense of belonging and friendship – what I craved when I came out as a bullied 18-year-old. I’m old enough to remember using an internet café to access Gaydar, over a decade before the advent of Grindr revolutionized the way gay men interact. Changes in the law and mainstream acceptance have also played a pivotal role. Would Medhurst agree that there was more of a community when gay people had fewer rights – indeed has winning equal rights perhaps diminished a community mentality?

“To some extent, yes. When there were equal rights struggles to fight for, the sense of common purpose and shared aims was more tangible and focused. That’s not to say equality is universal or secure, of course, and vigilance is always required.”

Medhurst’s warning echoes the words of human rights activist, Peter Tatchell – ‘the price of queer freedom is eternal vigilance.' This makes me wonder how effectively, given our current fragmentation, we would be at responding to any systematic; government led anti-gay tyranny – the sort that we’ve seen in Russia, for example.

Simon Watney is now 64. He was one of the gay activists who set up the UK gay rights group Outrage. During the 1980s he worked extensively in the U.S. with Act-Up. “I think community was always an ideal to be established somewhere in the future,” he reflects. “Perhaps it was easier in the 70s and 80s to talk more casually about it, but that was for reasons very specific to the period – everyone shared discrimination of a very acute kind, no matter how much they differed concerning the social disparities between men and women, class and race.”


1st Annual Fresno Lesbian-Gay Pride '91  By niiicedave [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Like Medhurst, Watney is conscious that ideas of gay community are very different today. “Kids coming out today haven’t grown up with the same levels of discrimination. I wouldn’t want to downplay the prejudice that still exists in families and elsewhere in the country, but it is not on the same scale as back then.” He reiterates Medhurst’s point about the sexual desire perhaps being the only thing we now have in common – “a fragile ground.” Watney refers to the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1990s: “I think community gets re-forged and reinvented at times like that,” he admits.

“But now we see the atomization of gay men, especially younger gay men now – the fact that they take things for granted that my generation couldn’t. But who can blame them? I would be mad to think that someone coming on to the scene at 17 today could understand what it was like 20 years ago. Why the hell should they? There is no easy access to finding these things out.”

Simon Harrison is the lead tenor of The Pink Singers, Europe’s longest running ‘LGBT community choir.' The group was formed at the same time as Simon Watney and Outrage were homophobic legislation and began singing at protests and Pride marches.

“I belong to a community now, and I didn’t come out until I was 29,” Harrison tells me. “Back then things like Pride events were important to me, as was going to gay pubs, but it wasn’t that I then linked in with lots of people – the choir is all about relationships in a way that I hadn’t experienced regarding a gay community before.” Like many people Harrison uses the words ‘gay community’ almost instinctively, but does he believe one exists and, if so, what does it mean to him?

“You know I don’t think there is a gay community,” he sighs, “but that we’re united by some shared experiences – oppression and shame. So you go to an event like Pride, and there’s a tremendous sense of relief that we can be in a place where we don’t feel we stand out. It’s almost about invisibility – being able to blend in.” What impressions has he got about how the younger people in the choir participate in community types of behavior?

“There seems to be less pressure on them – they are less hidden now in society, so there’s less need for them to create the kind of niche type communities we had more of in the past – like bears and twinks and those kinds of stereotypes. They seem to find it easier to move between different communities – and the straight community…whatever that is.” How does he think this affects their need for exclusively gay spaces? “You still hear people in their 20s saying they feel like an alien at work. One gay man of 22 stood up at a rehearsal and thanked the choir for giving him a reason to come out to his parents. We’re an invaluable support to these young people, and I find it very moving to be a part of that.”

Harrison has touched upon something here – how we pass knowledge from one gay generation to another. For him the process of singing aids this connection.

“There’s something very particular about getting together to sing – to make a sound together – to see what singing in harmony does to a group – how you have to listen to each other in a way that not all groups do and make space for every member of the choir. It’s quite extraordinary.”

I bring our conversation back to the idea of shared ‘shame.’  It seems to me that while the arguably more cohesive gay community of the past may now have fragmented as we’ve won further legal rights and mainstream acceptance, the one thing that remains are the deep-seated feelings of worthlessness from the past that many shares.

“I think it’s still there and may have gone underground a bit,” says Harrison. “There’s a veneer of acceptance today, and it’s not all a veneer – some of it is very real, but it’s happened very quickly – we’ve won more rights faster than any other civil rights movement – and I think the trauma of stigma is still reverberating. I guess that’s one of the reasons that there’s so much self-destructive behavior among gay people – unsafe sex or use of drugs and drink.”

Winning political rights is vital, we can perhaps conclude, but it can also distract us from these past traumas – open wounds which arguably we can see in the self-destructive behavior of chemsex and other gay men’s health issues. These are possibly the greatest challenges we must confront as we endeavor to build healthy personal lives and, crucially, positive ways of interacting with one another. 
 
 
 

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Is this really the hour of trans liberation?

Transgender people are now more in the news than ever before. But if real progress is going to be made, we need to address issues of freedom of speech for all and look for transgender icons beyond Caitlyn Jenner, argues Alex Hopkins.

In the town that I grew up in everyone presumed to know who the local transgender people were. The words used to describe the woman who walked down the high street each week varied. I clearly remember standing outside the supermarket as she passed by while a mob of ignorant teenagers jeered at her, calling her a “freak”. Others – my parents included – avoided vitriol but instead employed the language of pity. “I just can’t understand it. It’s not their fault though,” my mother once said, before adding, “but they are very brave.”

Thirty years later transgender people have made huge advances. They’re more visible than they’ve ever been and stories of courage are regularly covered in the gay press – and mainstream media. It has been life-affirming to watch as trans people – for too long treated as pariahs who encountered horrific abuse on a daily basis – finally move towards the acceptance that they deserve - to be treated as equals in society. 

The campaign for international transgender rights is now well underway. In 2009 Global Action for Trans Equality (GATE) was founded, a think-tank for transgender rights. It lobbies the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, and on June 17 contributed to a resolution presented by South Africa along with Brazil to the UN Human Rights Council, concerning human rights on sexual orientation and gender identity. Transgender rights are also now considered human rights by Amnesty International, but it is Argentina who have led the way. In September 2015, they passed a ground-breaking law requiring the country’s Buenos Aires province to fill at least 1% of government jobs with trans people. This followed another pioneering piece of legislation in 2012, the gender identity law, which allowed citizens to change their gender without any other requirements.

Europe has also made significant progress, with Spain, in 2007, becoming the first Catholic country to pass a law permitting people to officially change their gender identity. Similar legislation has come into play in Portugal, Malta, Colombia and Ireland – although as important as these laws are, the situation for trans people in countries such as Colombia and Brazil remains perilous, with trans murders a huge issue.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual people – who have historically fought prejudice and now enjoy unprecedented freedoms – have a moral responsibility to support trans people in their fight for acceptance, safety and equality. But at the same time, it’s concerning that some more outspoken trans activists have been too quick to condemn anyone who does not agree with them and brand them as “transphobic” as a result. 

The recent furore surrounding the world’s foremost campaigner for LGBT rights, Peter Tatchell – who received abuse from supporters of trans rights after co-writing a letter in support of free speech when Cambridge University was called upon to withdraw a speaking engagement to Germaine Greer in light of comments she made about trans people - has made this painfully apparent. Moreover, other incidences of attempting to ban speakers from universities – the very places in which we debate and shape future attitudes – have served just to shut down freedom of speech. Only by listening to views that we may not entirely agree with, are we able to mould and reinforce our own arguments. This is something that all human rights campaigners should be aware of. Maturity and respect is required on all sides and the concern is that by demonising prominent thinkers who have conflicting views, some trans activists risk alienating other parts of the LGBT community – people whom they need as allies.

We also need to be more discerning about whom we elevate to iconic status in the trans community. Transgender visibility is vital and must be actively encouraged, but for the trans cause to grow it requires intelligent advocates who believe in equality not only for other trans people but for all minorities. Almost a year ago, the former athlete Bruce Jenner came out as a trans woman, changing her name to Caitlyn. Since then barely a week has passed without her presence in the news. Most recently, she became a model for H&M Sport and partnered with MAC cosmetics. This firmly places a trans person in the mainstream and should be welcomed. It has the potential to change different generations’ views of trans people and is a massive step forward. Yet at the same time, one has to question the readiness with which the gay media in particular has embraced Jenner - who is a Ted Cruz supporting Republican - with her dubious views about the rights of women, gay men and lesbians.


Caitlyn Jenner, Formerly Bruce, Vanity Fair Cover on News Stands, 6/2015, by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube

Becoming blinkered to a person’s reprehensible political views just because they are trans – and giving that person a seemingly ever-expanding platform on which to express those standpoints – not only silences the thousands of other trans people who believe in equality for all, but marginalises those groups – women, gays and lesbians, ethnic minorities – who won rights through long, painful struggles decades ago – and indeed fight to hold on to them. 

Transgender people are now urgently in need of new spokespeople who can take the fight to the next level without denigrating the human rights of others. Until then “trans liberation” is stuck in a limbo, existing as often little more than a self-defeating media circus which threatens to damage all of the excellent progress.
 

 

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Are gay guys scared of monogamy?

Would relationships endure - and be healthier - if they were non-monogamous, asks Alex Hopkins.

I always miss the best events. Earlier this year I was invited to a gay wedding. Now, I usually hate weddings, but this was one I wish I had been able to attend. No expense was spared: at the ceremony (in a deconsecrated church) one of the grooms - an artist - wore black, insisting all guests wore white. For the wedding reception (in an underground club), he switched to white, entering on a white horse. Guests were subsequently treated to a 1970s inspired cabaret show, while being served with poppers on silver trays (by scantily clad Latino waiters), which they could then sniff until they turned blue in a dark room.

But it wasn’t just the nuptials and festivities which were different - it was the ideology behind the wedding. Here were a couple making a commitment within the traditional heterosexual structure of marriage, but on their own terms, to suit their lifestyle. In the lead up to the wedding they created an art installation called ‘Something Blue’: a duvet and matching pillow cases with a full body shot of them holding hands in matching pyjamas. They then invited 144 guys to have sex with them and cum over the duvet. Talk about a powerful way of celebrating a non-monogamous relationship. 

It’s easy to make assumptions about why some gay men do not choose monogamy. The most common are that they are either scared of them or are just plain greedy. Men will be men, they say: they’ll hump a tree, given the chance. I’ve been quick to judge those in open relationships myself - without bothering to enquire about reasons for couples’ arrangements, which are invariably unique. In the case of the pair I’ve just mentioned, one partner had been a serial monogamist but had fallen in love with a man who was not. This prompted him to re-evaluate everything he had learned - and thought - about monogamy. “I believed growing up that monogamy was the only way that one could or even should have a relationship,” he told me. “But as I got older and met more gay men and women who were older than me and had more experience than me, I realised that the overwhelming majority of relationships that had lasted, unlike my parents, were open relationships in varying degrees.” He certainly has had no regrets.



Growing up as gay men in a straight world, we’re offered very few relationship templates. The predominant one is the heterosexual, monogamous marriage - an arrangement, which is, historically, based upon women being traded as property, or, to put it another way: the sense of owning somebody - and, in sexual terms, the ownership of somebody’s body. This presupposes that a couple are - from the outset - entirely sexually compatible - and always will be. Reality is somewhat different: we know that sexual tastes change over time; people experiment; they may wish to include others. Perhaps what we should really be having then is a debate about the emphasis we place on sex – how we may idealise it. If we really love someone, would we want to limit their choices and experiences? In the words of one man who spoke to me: “How is taking away somebody's freedom an act of love? If the man you love is into being tied up and whipped, and you know full well that if you were to be the perpetrator of this tying/whipping it wouldn't be as gratifying for him as if some cigar-smoking Daddy did it, why not let him go off and have that experience?” Imagine what this could mean: more gay men entering into partnerships on the basis that, yes, they could still “play around”; an increase in longer, healthier relationships; and - best of all - a decrease in gay men moaning about being perennially single.

The cynic in me has always said that gay men are monogamous until something better comes along. And yes, I’ve been there: coasting it with someone, while on the lookout for a hotter number. In the cyber age we’re bombarded countless other options. It’s the age of mass connection, yet paradoxically mass disconnection; how meaningless these brief conversations, and often just as brief encounters can be. But while tech has perhaps widened that “revolving door” approach to sexual partners, it’s not, I believe, the cause of people not sticking with one partner. There have always been other options out there. It’s human nature to be attracted to more than one person, and it often takes considerable willpower not to act upon this. But what exactly are we achieving in resisting? Ideas of sacrifice and temptation buy into the kind of religious doctrine that tells us that sex is sacred - beliefs that, in many cases, have seeped into our psyches from birth. Scared of monogamy, or bold enough to challenge thousands of years of a power structure that has subjugated millions? The choice is yours...

Ultimately, perhaps what it comes down to are the ways in which we choose to compartmentalise sex and emotion. The couple whose wedding I missed have a very healthy stance on this: “We’re emotionally monogamous, which for us is far more important than sexual monogamy.” But this I’m told, takes work. It is, however, worth it, claimed a man who is now in his 30s: “I’m now enjoying sexual non-monogamy, and have never been more peaceful. I can make love and sleep with the boyfriend and have morning cuddles, but then when my pervy side strikes, I can go and seek that and it has absolutely no bearing on my relationship.” Sounds great in practice, but not so easy if you’re the sort of person – like me - who too easily equates sex with emotion; well, that’s a Catholic upbringing for you!

What do you think? Post in the comments below...
 
 

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Would you date a HIV positive man?

For World AIDS day, Gays.com writer Alex Hopkins takes a look at the challenges of being in a serodiscordant relationship.

“That’s a horrid question, of course I would.”
“What a ridiculous question, yes I would and I have.”
“I’d be very surprised if you find someone who is prepared openly to say he wouldn't. Only an asshole would find it a problem.”

These are some of the responses I received when I asked gay men if they would date a HIV positive man. The topic is mired in controversy, so much so that a number of people I spoke to found it outrageous that I was even asking such a question. Some things, they clearly felt, should be taken as a given, unquestioned, unspoken about. But as history has taught us, silence around HIV is not an option.
 
Judgements

I will begin with my own experience: an event - some 15 years ago - which, in the words of the respondent above, potentially makes me an “asshole”. I’d met a guy in a bar, and we’d taken a short walk to the beach, where we sat holding one another as the dawn light splintered over the pier. He told me he was HIV positive. “I know this may change things,” he said. “Of course not, it’s fine.” But I lied. My head was immediately swirling with ideas, facts, fears - and yes, I’m not proud to admit: judgements. We began seeing one another, had sex several times; we never spoke about his status again. Whatever we had petered out when he told me he had issues to deal with. I didn’t press him. Truth be told: I didn’t know how to respond to his status, and by ending things he was, in a way, letting me off the hook. As long as we didn’t discuss HIV everything seemed ok. But it wasn’t. It was far from ok, because I couldn’t escape from what had been drummed into me as a child growing up in the 1980s - through brutal TV adverts, ill-informed teachers, a homophobic father: that HIV could make you sick, could kill and, despite all the information I knew to the contrary, I feared that by being with this beautiful, gentle man I was (in whatever small way) putting myself at risk. And how I despised myself for thinking this. 
 
The science

I’ll never know what may have happened between myself and this guy if we’d practiced what is arguably the most important thing in a serodiscordant relationship: talking. What I am now in possession of are scientific facts - information every HIV negative person who is considering dating a HIV positive man should be aware of. The Australian Opposites Attract Study of gay male couples of opposite HIV status “has so far seen no transmission from the HIV-positive partner within a two-year interim analysis.” The couples surveyed were practicing condomless sex, and most of the HIV-positive partners (84%) were on Anti-Retroviral Therapy, with virtually all of these having an undetectable viral load. The study shows that an undetectable viral load is in fact better prevention against HIV infection than the use of a condom. These findings are backed up by a larger study by PARTNER, which reported no transmissions among 16.400 episodes of anal sex (including condom-protected ones) in gay men. Both of these studies have the potential to revolutionise our preconceptions on what constitutes “safer sex”.
 


Studies show that an undetectable viral load is in fact better prevention against HIV infection than the use of a condom.
 
Free choice

The results of relatively recent scientific studies alone do not have the power to change attitudes - often deeply ingrained views which have been formed over many years; opinions which differ according to the age of the gay men who hold them, and their (frequently very valid) life experiences. The most common argument used against dating HIV positive men concerns exercising free choice. One older gay man who spoke to me expressed this very vocally: “There are a bunch of things that limit my desire for other men. Being HIV positive is one of them. I’m sober, and I find that young men especially are loathed to sleep with you if you don't drink or take drugs. It’s a similar thing; it’s about personal choice.” He added that Anti-Retroviral Therapy is not necessarily available to everyone: “Here in America if you can't afford the drugs that keep you undetectable, your sex life is severely limited.” When challenged on whether other gay men would see his stance as prejudice, he referred to the increasing numbers of young gay men who are infected with HIV through bareback sex: “The only ugly prejudice I've faced recently are men on PrEP who won't have sex unless it's raw.” A similar point was also raised by another man, who confided: “I have some friends that are HIV positive and treat it as an exclusive club, basically barebacking each other as they are already positive, which in itself is pretty reckless.” Are these men discriminating, or just expressing a genuine concern for the welfare of the gay male community? Perhaps it is born out of the anxiety that in silencing an individual’s personal decision not to date HIV positive men all we are achieving is stifling debate, and - more controversially still - idealising serodiscordant relationships, to the point that we are normalising the unsafe sexual practices that can lead to infection. In the words of another man: “We have to be careful not to suggest that HIV is not a problem at all; that there are no health complications connected to living with the virus for the rest of your life - which, despite what we’re increasingly being told, we know not to be the case.”
 
Debate and challenges

Since the devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, hugely positive advances have been made in the treatment of HIV and the ways in which we discuss it. Of the men who offered their opinions for this article, the majority expressed a willingness to enter into relationships with HIV men: “We should see the person, not the virus”; “I tend to think that every gay man has the potential to have HIV. It makes no difference to me”; “If someone is/could be the love of your life, would any illness be a problem?” Perhaps the most important thing to consider when we meet anyone new is that gay men’s history has been dominated by victimisation and judgement. We have a shared responsibility to fight this - not add to it. And yet, as we mark another World AIDS day, enormous challenges face us which threaten to complicate this. The increase in HIV rates among young gay men is absolutely terrifying, as is the influence of the new phenomenon of ‘chem sex’. We need frank discussions in order to form effective strategies to tackle such problems before they implode.

We also need to speak honestly about the ways in which we can navigate - and celebrate - the hugely improved aspects of living with HIV in 2016; particularly new, safer types of serodiscordant relationships. We are all still feeling our way here, and opinions will inevitably vary, but the debate - as heated as it may get - must go on. There will be those who are apprehensive about the new options open to us. Reason with them, and try to understand that the place they speak from is more often one of fear rather than hate; it is not constructive to accuse those gay men who are fearful of bigotry - and fear, of course, is best diminished through education. 

But in this new landscape it is crucial that we place those who are battling HIV first. They must not be demonised and tainted with the kind of stigma which we should have banished to the past: the assumption that through their illness they are in someway unclean, somehow unworthy of the love and support that a more meaningful relationship can bring. Continuing to challenge our own personal histories and baggage is pivotal; it’s certainly something I wish I’d had the courage to do in an open, constructive way 15 years ago, when I possibly threw away what could have been the start of real happiness. The key to successfully building any relationship is to treat everyone we meet as an individual, with their own unique backstory, as we leave the judgements at the door. It is, after all, with compassion, rather than fear, that we are most likely to transform our interactions with other human beings for the better. 
 
 

 
 

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What does it mean to be a single gay man today?

Alex Hopkins speaks to single gay men about their attempts to find relationships.  What has changed and what are the challenges?

With age comes the weight of expectation: societal pressures which tell us who we should be, what we should do, what we should possess. But perhaps the most oppressive of all these forces is the expectation to be in a stable, long-term relationship. As I march towards my forties, my own singleness haunts me. How did this happen? Why did those past relationships - usually short and infrequent - not work out? And, in my bleakest moments, the questions that threaten to crush me: What is wrong with me? Will I ever find the soul mate we’re told exists for all of us?

Then I take a deep breath and look at gay men around me. I know a number in long-term, happy partnerships. Some have good relationship histories, but are currently single. Others are in open relationships. And then there are those who have been single for prolonged periods. I wanted to speak to a range of gay men - from different generations and backgrounds - about what it means to be single today. Single in an age of instant hookups, but paradoxically at a time when gay men enjoy more rights than ever before, with the ultimate sign of 'commitment' - equal marriage.
 
Are more gay men single now?
 
Chris is 53 and lives in New York City. He came out at 17 and has been in relationships which have ranged from one to four years. As he got older the gaps between relationships increased. He is admirably open about the possible reasons for this.

"I've been hurt and wasn't ready to be available to get close to another person. There's been a lot of loss in my life, so I avoided involvement."

The pressures of living - and surviving - in a city have also had an impact on Chris's ability to find and sustain a relationship. Working nights meant that his free time was out of synch with many men and he is also now a carer for a relative. Does he believe that more gay men are single compared to when he came out?

"I'm not sure if there are more single men, but I do think there’s more pressure and scrutiny of single guys because of equal marriage. That's the dark side of those pushing the normative agenda. Ironic that there are so many married/partnered guys on apps, though," he laughs.
 
Apps and gay marriage
 
Rob, 41, has had a less successful relationship history that Chris: "Three months here, three there. It just hasn't happened (yet), despite 24 years. I don't want to sound desperate," he tells me, smiling warmly, but slightly nervously. When he came out in 1991 apps like Grindr didn't exist and gay men's social opportunities centred around bars. He believes this made it easier to meet people.

"Today, despite gay marriage, the ethic from my viewpoint seems to be one of shallow gratification or an increasing stratification and division in the community - between those fortunate (or to be brutally honest, good-looking enough) to have relationships, those looking for a quick encounter, and those of us - possibly a large number - who are caught between 'Mr Right Now', whilst still harbouring desires for a 'Mr Right'." Does he believe apps have had a detrimental effect on dating?

"Let's face it, Grindr is a visual business. Ironically, I think for me at least, it's probably reduced the value of the 'body beautiful', as they seem to be two-a-penny. I'm not saying though that I feel Grindr is encouraging a balanced view of potential partners - I still think in practice it embodies the visual and age and other biases of the wider LGBTQ+ communities that use it. It's also a marketplace - which means you may offer something, but if no one is buying it's really quite isolating and can reinforce low self-esteem."

Rob is eager to expand upon his comments about gay marriage. He believes it has had a major impact on the dating arena. "I used to wonder if gay marriage would change the dynamic towards a general emphasis on romantic long-term relationships. I though that might benefit all of us, particularly those dating. I'm not so sure now. I'm concerned a new conservatism has crept into gay relationships, that emphasises visible respectability. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not for everyone. We need to acknowledge our diversity - and that includes what we want from dating - if we want to date or are happy being single, and how we date."
 
Talking to each other
 
Jason, 39, echoes perhaps the most poignant thing Rob tells me about his experience of apps: that men seem to leave their critical intelligence at the door when interacting online. "I think the apps have killed the art of conversation. In my experience, we have lost much of the 'getting to know you' with the online world - and that’s really sad."

Jason has never had a long-term relationship. His two longest relationships have lasted a year in one case and three months in the other. Both were long distance. Over the years he has joined a variety of clubs in an effort to meet men and far from being despondent about being single, enjoys life through personal creativity and friends. He finds this more satisfying than some of the dubious behaviours of has encountered through dating: the cult of the 'straight-acting man' and what he calls the rise of the 'man-child': "emotionally unintelligent, Peter Pan-esque individuals who still want to act like they are in their early twenties when they’re 35+."

Despite dating setbacks Jason continues to put himself out there - both in the real world and on more traditional dating sites like Gays.com, rather than apps - but remains refreshingly pragmatic about encountering 'the one' we're all programmed to believe in. "I am not a failure in relationships. It's just the conditions have not presented themselves and this may not be my path," he concludes.
 
It’s not all about casual sex
 
Tom, at 28, is the youngest man I speak to. He has had what he calls 'five proper relationships' since 2005 - the last one being in 2012. Unlike Chris and Rob, he doesn't believe that equal marriage has put more pressure on gay men to couple up.

"I think people are becoming more free to do whatever it is they want to do as opposed to being forced into making decisions that will impact their lives for better or worse. But I do think that if you're already in a same-sex relationship then there is probably now an expectation to get married with it now being legal."

Tom's generation is often accused of being addicted to the anonymous sex that apps have been said to encourage - but his experiences, and those of his peers, do not bear this out.

"Apps haven't changed my ability to date or form relationships, but I can imagine that some people may become dependent on them and, consequently, could find it harder to approach guys in real life situations. I know many gay friends who don't really have much casual sex or the desire to find a partner." Why does he think he is currently single?

"I generally don't date if I'm unhappy with the way I look at that moment in time and it's something I need to get over," he admits, alluding to the body fascism which bombards gay men in the digital age. And like Chris, the pressures of work have eaten into the time Tom has to meet new men. "But that's something I'm also looking to address. Yes, I'm really looking into getting back into the dating game now as I approach 30."


Have apps killed the art of conversation?

As I approach 40, I am also looking to do the same. Getting out there again takes courage and persistence. Yes, with advances in technology and the advent of equal marriage, the dating landscape is significantly different from when I came out 18 years ago, but the way we should treat one another as human beings should remain the same. I am bracing myself for what lies ahead, but at the same time, I've also decided to try and stop beating myself up for still being single. We should all feel free to choose our own relationship templates, giving us the opportunity to create something entirely new. Ultimately, whether single or in a relationship, it comes down to how we ascribe value to ourselves and others. Of all the men I've spoken to, the ever-optimistic Rob sums this this up the best:

"Value is a personal thing, but the most important thing is to realise that being in or out of a relationship is just one dimension in life. Being single makes it all the more important to be good to yourself, and to go ahead and achieve your own goals. We only get one chance in life so why wait for another?"
 
 

 

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All gay people under 60, please read this!

Gays.com's resident senior blogger, Martin D. Goodkin, explains why we all should take some time out to appreciate the older sections of the LGBT community; they deserve not to be forgotten. 
 
When was the last time you took a gay senior citizen out for a cup of a coffee? When was the last time you sat and talked to one? When was the last time you acknowledged to a gay senior citizen that you appreciate what they did so that you could enjoy what gay rights you have today?

Most gay senior citizens live in poverty and are not welcome to nursing homes or government-run facilities. Many gay senior citizens do not have health care and are alone because they have lost their lovers, friends and peers. In reality, most gay senior citizens are invisible. 
 
Ten More Good Years
 
I don't usually talk about or review documentaries, but the next time you wanna watch a film, instead of spending money on renting/buying a DVD or ordering a movie from NetFlix that you will forget an hour after you watch it, hire or purchase the film 10 More Good Years. The people featured are the gay people who set the stage for gay marriage. These are the people who marched, fought, petitioned, went to prison in order for gay magazines, newspapers and books to be published and distributed - they even fought the US postal service so you could get The Advocate.

They laid the foundation so that Will & Grace, Queer Eye, and The L Word could be seen on TV and Brokeback Mountain on the movie screen. These are the lesbians who were at the forefront of running to help the gay men with AIDS by setting up health centres and the people who started organizations like The Radical Faeries, The Mattachine Society and the Sisters of of Perpetual Indulgence, so that those who wanted to get married in California could.  These are the same people who are alone and lonely, cast aside just because they are old and, in most cases, poor.
 

 
Take time to learn about senior LGBTers

For those of you in your 20s and 30s, study the history of gay people from the 1930s onwards who have done so much for you so you could live the life you are living today. For those in your 40s who can stand out and proud today, acknowledge the debt you owe them. For those of you in your 50s, let them know you are grateful for their rebellion at Stonewall just when you were reaching maturity.

If you live where there is a gay community centre, go and spend time with a gay senior citizen - take them out for a cup of coffee and some conversation. Instead of buying yourself a $5 latte at Starbucks, get them a box of tea which will bring them many hours of enjoyment. If you rent a DVD, ask them over to watch it with you.

Yes, you owe them for what they have done in the past so you could have what you have today. They are poor and living on what little benefits they get because all they were concerned with was marching, petitioning, striking, having sit-ins, etc., and just working enough to have a roof over their heads and food in their stomach. They were more interested in fighting for a cause - your cause - then accumulating wealth and, consequently, they are suffering today.

Those in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s are part of another great generation and you in your 40s and 50s should know what they sacrificed for you - those in their 20s and 30s owe it to yourself to read their histories - all deserve to acknowledge them. An aside, 10 More Good Years is worth watching to see the twinkle in the eye of one man who says he was kicked out of the service as an 'undesirable' but they were wrong because, "I was always desirable!" 
 

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Camp and “straight acting” – what does it mean?

Is it acceptable to state that you're not interested in camp/fem men on dating profiles? Or is this a form of discrimination? Alex Hopkins takes a look at hostility towards camp gay men within the LGBT community.

It was just another Friday night out in the gay village. We’d reached “Shot o’clock” and were hitting the Sambuca and ogling hot Latinos as they whipped off their tops and danced with wild abandon. The guy we’d found ourselves chatting to wasn’t doing too badly in the muscle department either – and he knew it: each time he picked up his low-calorie beer he made a point of flexing his biceps. Still, none of us were complaining.

Then everything changed. He banged down his drink and with a look of searing contempt pointed aggressively across the bar at a young, slim guy who was cavorting outrageously to a mashup of Beyonce’s I’m a Single Lady. “Camp queens like that make me sick! They shouldn’t be allowed out.” The barely contained hate and rage in his voice temporarily stunned me, but I collected myself and challenged him: what exactly was his objection? Why should he be so offended by a stranger’s mannerisms? I watched as he mumbled, his macho façade crumbled and then he flounced off, ranting incoherently about “rancid camp queens.”
 
Hostile attitudes
 
It had been an unpleasant experience, but not a particularly surprising one. Over the last year, a number of friends have had similar confrontations with “camp-phobia” in bars and clubs. And this is to say nothing of the many profiles on dating sites and hookup apps that demand “no fems” and “straight acting only.” The evidence is clear: there’s an increased lack of acceptance among gay men towards “camp” gay men; indeed, I’d go as far as saying that attitudes are often outright hostile. Why is this happening? 
 
Camp reputation 
 
Camp has played a vital role in gay culture, worldwide. It’s part of our heritage, but it’s always had a dodgy reputation. Gay men may love a drag queen, but how many of them would date one? Camp was an important signifier: it marked us out to one another, but simultaneously – and more ominously – it also served as the barometer by which the straight world identified us and marked us out for persecution. 

Before the guy in the bar swept off (in what was actually a diva strop that would have put Diana Ross to shame), he spluttered something about camp gay men being an anachronism, adding two words I absolutely loathe: “blend in.” The worldwide march towards equal marriage is rightly celebrated. If straight people can get married, then why shouldn’t gays? But there’s a part of me that has always been ambivalent about gay marriage. Why are we adopting what is essentially a heterosexual power structure? Are we just conforming? And, if so, what do we lose out on?
 
Superficial judgements
 
The increased zeal of the anti-camp brigade is in some ways, I would suggest, a by-product of equal marriage. As we continue to gain the same rights as heterosexuals the gay community risk losing track of the interesting, unique types of behavior that we’ve created to relate to one another. Instead, the pressure’s on to become “straight acting” and “discrete.” Where to begin with what’s wrong with these terms? Well, the little clue in the first is the word “acting” and there’s more than a hint of shame and internalized homophobia about “discrete” hookups. Trust me, I’ve been on plenty.

But another thing we need to look at here is the often incredibly harsh ways that gay men assess themselves and their peers. Sometimes it seems as if we’re following some kind of gay curriculum, to be marked mercilessly by a parade of Abercrombie and Fitch wearing 24-7 sex machines. Too frequently our judgments of one another are based on superficial images and ideas of adhering to tedious, and frankly outdated, forms of masculinity. The irony is that as we desperately try to butch up and pass as straight, we are often hiding our real selves; moreover, we’re rigidly policing ourselves – no lapses into limp wrists or mincing – in much the same way as mainstream society once policed and prosecuted us. How incredibly sad that is.
 

 
Strength in individuality
 
It’s time for us to re-embrace our individuality. Camp does not equal weakness, but at its best defines something extraordinary and thought-provoking. It celebrates difference, something which can seem like a rude word in today’s gay world. Camp in its real sense means doing something utterly outlandish; something that resonates with real passion. There’s power to be found in this kind of behavior: it’s brave and transformative. Let’s start investing in this and see where it takes us. We can begin by just accepting someone who doesn’t look and act like everyone else on the dance floor.
 
 
 

 

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Pride for the first time

Anyone who has ever been to Gay Pride remembers their first, so as the Pride season kicks off across North America and Europe, Gays.com Community Manager, Mark shares his personal experience of what it felt like going to London Pride in the early 1990’s, and what it means for him today. 

It was London, June 1993. I'd just turned 18 and was desperate to have sex with a guy. I decided that Pride would be the perfect place to find a boyfriend ever since catching a glimpse of the local TV news report about the annual Pride march in the centre of London. 

I had no gay friends at 18, and all I wanted was to know other gay people, there was no internet back then and I can still remember that horrible feeling of isolation. I had tried going to many of London’s gay bars but failed miserably at making it past the door, I was too scared. Shortly after I came out, I asked my friend, Jess if she wanted to go with me to London Pride as I didn't want to go by myself. Jess was a few years older than I and had been to the march a few times with her gay aunt, she told me that Pride would change my life. I wasn’t too sure what she meant, but I was excited to find out.
 
High on a happy vibe
 
After what seemed like months waiting, Pride finally arrived and it felt like 1000 Christmases had come early. The night before, Jess and I emptied the local store of alcohol and stayed up all night blasting out Madonna and getting ridiculously drunk.  The next morning we got dressed up, packed our bags full of alcohol and hit the streets. We caught the bus into the West End where we immediately joined a group of guys sat on the top deck who were already loud and drunk, all clutching their home-made queer banners for the march. We completely took over the bus, making noise and laughing hysterically, I’ll never forget how much fun I had with people I had only just met.

As we came into the West End, London completely changed, the place was heaving with people and the atmosphere suddenly turned electric. As I peered out from the top of the bus at the sight of so many gay people blowing whistles and waving flags, I nearly wet myself with excitement. We piled off the bus and joined the march at Piccadilly Circus, and I become overwhelmed that I was finally surrounded by thousands of people just like me.





We’ve come a long way, baby
 
While on the march I saw lots gay couples holding hands, I had never seen two guys showing affection for each other in public before. I then realised that I was out on the street not hiding my sexuality, and it felt fantastic. As leaflets were being handed out along the route, I discovered that I was oblivious to many LGBT issues, as well as the existence of rights campaigning organisations like: Stonewall, Outrage! and GMFA. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone, and with my new found sense of solidarity, I became angry that we were not equal in the eyes of the law and there was so much homophobia in society. At the time, the legal age of consent for gay male sex in England was 21, and legislation like Section 28 was treating us like second class citizens. I became enlightened and politicised.

As the march came to an end in Brockwell Park, I stood with thousands of others listening and clapping to the speeches, and for the first time in my life I felt proud of who I was. I looked at my friend Jess who was standing next to me, and told her that she was right, Pride had changed my life.

With many marches and parades under my belt, Pride today means more to me than a party and celebration of our diversity. Pride signifies an importance to remember what was fought for and the struggle it’s taken to get us here. There’s still a lot of work to do, especially on the international stage, but Pride's message means never giving up the fight for equality - it also means being true to yourself no matter what, and partying hard while sticking two fingers up at the haters. 

I don’t have any photos of my first Pride march, there were no smartphones then and developing film was expensive. I remember saying to Jess that I didn’t want to document the day, I wanted to enjoy it and keep the memories in my head. Now, I wish I did have photos but I seem to remember being in quite a few of other people’s. Although I didn’t meet a boy on that summer’s day in 1993, I did meet the rest of the gay family, and instead I went home happy and proud, never to forget my first Pride. 
 

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Don't freak out when coming out: here are the dos and dont's!

Whether you’re as far in the closet as you can be or you’re half way there, ‘coming out’ is never easy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s to your friends or family, work colleagues or even teacher; there is no real easy way of saying it. Especially if you don’t want to be asked a million questions afterwards. Fortunately enough for me, my family didn’t mind one bit, and several said they already knew and were just waiting for me to tell them. Of course at the time it seems terrifying, particularly when you don’t know how they’ll react.

So whether you’re thinking of telling your Mum, Dad, great aunt or your cat, here are a few dos and don’ts that you should keep in mind…

Do: Take your time
Don’t let anyone pressure you into coming out. You’ll know when the time is right, and you don’t have to tell everybody at once, so just take one step at a time and tell someone you can trust first.

Don’t: Instantly expect everyone to feel the same as you do
Even if you explain your sexuality in the greatest of detail, people don’t always understand or see it quite so positively as you to begin with. But don’t fret, people adjust and coming out initially is the scary bit, and the rest is history.



Do take your time... and be ready to discuss your feelings


Do: Be prepared for some questions
It’s not an interrogation situation, but be prepared for a few questions afterwards. Coming out to your parents is very different from telling a couple of your friends at school/college/work, so you could easily be facing the questions about ‘the future’, marriage, kids and all that jazz. You don’t have to know any of the answers to these right away, don’t worry.

Don’t: Keep things to yourself afterwards
You might not feel comfortable in chatting to your parents/friends right away about the person you fancy the most, but don’t be afraid to talk to them once you’re both past the dramatic ‘coming out’ situation. Onwards and upwards! Don’t bottle things up or you’ll just be going round in a vicious circle.





Do: Give the person you’re telling some time to deal with it too
It may come as a big shock to them, which is fine, but don’t be put off by this. Some of us know what our sexuality is from a young age and others realise later in life, so they need some time to deal with it too, just like we did.

Don’t: ‘Come out’ with your boyfriend or girlfriend
Whether you just hooked up with someone or not, it’s probably not wise to bring them along and try half the duty of coming out to your friends or parents. Not only will they be stood there thinking ‘who the hell is this?’ at your new boyfriend or girlfriend, but if you coming out is a shock already then they may not be prepared to see you with a partner just yet.





Do: Hope for the best and prepare for the worst scenario
You’re probably unsure how they’re going to react, but if you’re prepared for the worst case scenario then nothing can put you down and the rest is easy.


Scrabble might not be the best time to reveal your true sexuality!


Don’t: Use a defensive tone
Whether you think they’re ready for the news or not, standing with your eyes closed and loudly grumbling ‘I’mgayandIdon’tcareifyoulikeitornot’ in an angry tone will get you nowhere. They’ll probably ask you to repeat yourself and things will just be 100 times more awkward.





Do: Have a friend on standby for a chat afterwards
We all have someone we tell everything to, right? If you’re about to tell your parents, debrief a friend beforehand and let them know you’ll be giving them the lowdown shortly after. It’ll feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders and no matter what the reaction from your parents, you can talk it off and let things cool down before talking about it again.





Don’t: Wear your ‘Some people are gay, get over it!’ t-shirt
So, you might be proud, but this is definitely not the way to break the news to Mum and Dad. •

What's your advice for coming out? Add them in the comments below!

 

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'Coming out taught me how to approach the subject with someone with subtlety'

I think coming out was a fairly anti-climactic experience for me. There were no fireworks, there was no homophobia, and there weren't any negative reactions. Maybe we just hear about the experiences that are one extreme or another; positive or negative. Mine wasn't like that.

I suppose the first person I came out to was an acquaintance in high school. I was 17 or 18, and it was only a month or two before graduation. I had really been crushing on him, and thought he was gay. I asked him. He said 'no', then never spoke to me again. He was a perfectly accepting guy, but my social ineptitude in high school knew no bounds, and I made him uncomfortable in the worst of ways by asking that question.

That was the first experience, and the worst. Still, it taught me how to approach the subject with someone else. With subtlety.

My next experience was a full two years later, in my first week at college in upstate New York. It was a liberal environment, and the male to female ratio was skewed in my favor. More guys than girls. Who could ask for a better place to come out?

I was sitting at a table with three or four other people. All of them happened to be talking about being gay or bisexual, and eventually one of them casually asked if I was. He did it the right way (unlike myself, two years earlier). I said 'yes'. Amusingly, it hadn't been the answer he expected, and his jaw dropped.

"Wait, what? You're really gay?"

"Yeah."

"...Seriously?"

"Yes!"

Apparently one of the witnesses to that event then told another friend of mine, who proceeded to spit out her salad and cry. She thought I was interested in her sexually, and it took her by surprise. We became best friends and laughed about it thereafter.



I've never had a real coming out experience with my parents, nor have I cared for one. I know they love me, and I know it doesn't matter to them whether I'm attracted to guys or girls. That said, they're not stupid, and they know I'm gay. I have a comical personality, and coming out generally precedes a serious discussion. If I came out to them officially, I'd probably just ask someone to pass the salt during dinner and say, "by the way, I like penis quite a bit, if you know what I mean."

If I'm in a serious relationship, I wouldn't hesitate to bring a guy home.

I think it's unfortunate that so many adolescents aren't comfortable with sharing such an intimate part of themselves with others, but of course I understand why. We all do. Most people probably know you're gay already. Even if they don't, the ones who truly care about you will either accept you straight away, or they'll come around.

Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that the fight or flight response was biologically designed to warn us of life or death danger, and that coming out shouldn't logically require that kind of anxiety. •

Enjoyed this story? Then try these:

'When I came out to my nephew, he confused gay with goth!'

'Mum placed our wedding picture on the mantelpiece next to those of my brothers’

Don't freak out when coming out: here are the dos and dont's!

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Labels: girlfriend, boyfriend, partner... what do you use?

Love 'em or hate 'em, we use labels all the time – and other people make judgements based on them. So, how do you label your other half when you mention them? Are you ambiguous and use ‘partner’ when you’re chatting with people who don’t know your sexuality? Or do you shout it from the rooftops and make it obvious that you’re gay and attached at any given opp?

In a same-sex relationship we tend to stick to ‘partner’ or ‘other half’ or even ‘the ball and chain’ if the shoe fits. Is this simply because we feel like we’re back in the playground if we say girl/boyfriend? And while they say your school years are your best, I’ll happily disagree.

Maybe it just depends who we’re talking to, as I remember quite clearly mentioning my ‘other half’ (something which makes me sound like I’ve been married 50 years…) to a lecturer of mine when she asked if I had someone “back at home.” While I know my reason at the time was to avoid outing myself, I think I did pretty much that by avoiding using the words ‘boy/girlfriend’ or any other label. It felt like I was coming out all over again, and while she was professional and waited until I had to say ‘he’ or ‘she’, I was making things harder for myself.

When terms are used that can refer to either sex, what do you assume? There’s no need to rub my sexuality in people’s faces, and while I know that wouldn’t be my intention, others may think I’m someone that goes shouting from the rooftops when I mention my girlfriend.



‘I’m gay, gay, GAAAAAAAAAAAAY!’

I vividly remember sitting in my university library with a friend of mine when a girl from my course decided to tell me a back history of her and her wonderful boyfriend, before turning to me and saying “you have a girlfriend, don’t you?” Before I could reply, she continued: “I looked at your photos and was trying to figure out which one she was.” Oh good, I thought, she’s not only annoying as hell but a cyber-stalker too. Lucky me. And I’m considered the butch-ier one of the relationship, so it would have taken her a while to decide which out of my girly friends was more than a mate.

It’s a bit like ignoring a typo in an email when someone continues to mention your boyfriend you didn’t specify you had in a conversation: if you don’t wear your ‘I love my girlfriend’ cap all the time, you’re presumed heterosexual. Unless you’re in dungarees, have a buzz cut and have a Sue Perkins banner in your arms, then you’re so obviously queer they really won’t need to ask, nor mention your boyfriend ever again… •

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Let's blame the gays for everything!

Right now we live in a time where technology automatically exists in our lives; we spend far too much time uploading photos to Facebook and probably have a closer relationship to our smartphones than we do most of our friends.

But despite all of this, I’d like to think that we have the common sense and decency to realise that we don’t have the answer to everything on the gadget sat in front of us. Google as our daily search engine doesn’t actually know every solution, every piece of advice and reasoning behind some of life’s biggest questions.

We might search for a step-by-step guide on how to master Photoshop, details on the biggest news story at the time, or even why our boobs have grown (!). Whatever you’re searching, just by finding pages of ‘answers’ it doesn’t mean they’re right.

You might be thinking: ‘where is she going with this?’ Well, let me explain…

Despite our intelligence to use the resources around us, this seems to mean nothing when it comes to our common sense regarding sexuality. Is there a diversion of information going on? A roadblock of some sort? Maybe there’s a set of traffic lights in the minds of many, stopping them realising that blaming homosexuality on a variety of factors (as if it’s a form of disease) is damn right ridiculous.

Don’t let those lesbos in!
There have been many forms of ‘doing X Y or Z can turn your child gay’ in the media in the last God knows how many years, but the most recent of these really do puzzle me. Let’s start by taking a look at this piece about televangelist Pat Robertson, who until today I had no opinion on…

According to good ol’ Pat, letting lesbians in your house might turn your kids gay. And this is where religion comes in, but that’s a whole new kettle of fish to argue over another day. Pat warned a TV viewer than by letting lesbian friends into their house it could have an impact on their child’s sexuality, because obviously, homosexuality is a bit like passing on shingles or the chicken pox. Duh. It’s a ‘lifestyle’ choice we decide for ourselves, blah blah blah, change the homophobic record please.

Playing gay
And it gets worse and worse, as this utter moron states that allowing your children to play video games will “turn them homosexual.” Apparently, “It’s high time we call out video games for what they really are – packaged weapons aimed at our children by the gay community to turn our children into homosexuals.” Because of course that was ‘our’ intention, and we homosexuals are in fact the ones behind the million-player-strong gaming industry, determined to “turn” players from a young age. Am I going crazy? Am I actually reading this? Let’s blame the gays for everything!




According to the so-called journalist, the popularity of football and soccer games is where it all started. ‘We want to get your children interested in sport! Play this Xbox game!’ don’t be stupid; we want to turn your children gay! How foolish of me to not realise. According to her blog, the characters’ “tight little shorts” and “overly muscular” characteristics just scream GAY and encourages cross dressing. Er, what?

Dangerous when wet
But if that wasn’t stupid enough, UKIP councillor David Silvester had to stick his ugly face in the news and claim that the recent floods in the UK were caused by the legalisation of gay marriage. Excuse me? Who in their right mind would even connect the dots and result in that explanation? The only relation of the word ‘floods’ to this would be floods of tears. Gay marriage, yay!



Fag for a fag?!
And last but not least, most recently UK ‘newspaper’ The Mirror reported a claim by a Dutch neurobiologist that if mothers smoke during pregnancy then it would increase the likelihood of their child being gay. Is this linking smoking (something that can cause lung cancer and similar terrible diseases) to homosexuality?




Well, if in that case, I hate to think of what they’ll come up with next. Maybe they’ll blame the UK smoking ban (in restaurants, pubs, etc) on those who are wary of second hand smoke affecting their child’s sexuality. Woah, this is just beyond me!

Do you know of any other things the gays have been blamed for? Add them and the links in the comments below! •

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