Sunday, 30 September 2007
I am not half as sure anymore.
The opposition to the compromised position breaks down as follows;
1) Justified anger from transgendered people and supporters of all stripes that any part of the community should be left behind.
2) The belief that Bush will likely veto ENDA anyway to keep his lizard brain base happy, therefore there is no real gain in dropping transgendered protections.
3) Even if ENDA has only recently included transgendered protection, that does not mean that the battle has not been going on for decades and that transgendered people have not given money, time and passion towards the passing of an all inclusive ENDA.
These points would be enough to convince me if for one thing - being morally correct isn't likely to mean much now the legislation has got as far as it had. ENDA is going to go for a vote, with or without the approval of the American GLBT community. You can see this reality in the way the Human Rights Campaign (think the American Stonewall) has reacted to the controversy. They have chosen to buck the trend and support the Democrats plan, obviously in an attempt to keep their influence in Congress.
Also, as I said below, this is the type of issue which brings up how the whole LGBT community defines itself. Maybe I am slow, but I only just realised that now there are people who are adding a Q on to the end of that for 'Questioning' (I think that is bordering on the ridiculous). I know personally that there are a lot of gay men who have a problem with being included with transgendered people when it comes to discussions surrounding rights and discrimination. There is a genuine feeling that the issues involved aren't actually that similar and that it does a potential disservice to both groups to be lumped together.
Now I will be the first to say that there could be more than a little fear or distaste in this. For a start, these are the opinions, overwhelmingly, of gay men, and it may be a failure of imagination or empathy on our part. Secondly, it is also more politically expedient as trans issues are still treated with a huge amount of suspicion and phobia by the straight community.
But I am also confused. I grew up with LGBT as a given, and never truly questioned that formulation. But if community leaders can't take that unity for granted. There is a real need for education about what we all share and about what we all gain by sticking together.
Except that ENDA will not be passed in its purest form. The on the fence Democrats and especially the vital moderate Republicans have gotten cold feet about the Transgendered element of of the Bill. The legislators have had to make a difficult decision - pass an imperfect Bill which would exclude transgendered people and introduce a separate provision in a few months or put the 'perfect' form of the Bill to vote and see it go down in flames.
Legislators chose to exclude transgendered people in order to get a less perfect version of the Bill passed.
I have followed this fight fairly closely over the past couple of months, and I have to admit, I was not surprised when it came to the crunch and the Bill was changed. Transgendered people are only a recent addition to the legislation and public education about their issues is about 20 years behind that of the gay community. It is shitty, but understandable that legislators chose to get a partial victory and move on to the next fight rather than lose badly and face a resurgent opposition.
Barney Frank, the openly gay Senator who is heavily involved in the legislative fight released a statement which I think it worth reading in full.
Transgendered people are, understandably, hurt, angry and brimming with bitterness at this turn of events. In a lot of the comments on gay websites, people have stood with Transgendered people and claimed that the Bill should be all inclusive or it should be shelved. I think this is a mistake - all civil rights legislation is an incremental game. In the 60s, black rights on voting and housing had to be handled separately.
Similarly, just because a Bill can't be passed with transgendered people included does not mean that those people will never get protection. It will just take more time, and yes that sucks, but its useless trying to pretend that high and mighty ideals and rhetoric will make any kind of difference.
UPDATE: Have had a couple of hours to think about this and I am no longer as certain as I once was about this issue. It seems there is a much larger issue going to explode out of this, ie, the place of transgendered politics within the wider GLB community. More on this after I sort out some of my own thoughts...
Thursday, 27 September 2007
A couple of months ago I started watching the new Dr Who (which appears to be relentlessly being replayed on BBC 3 at the moment). I liked Chris Ecclestone well enough but perhaps because of my preconceived notions of him as an actor based on his uber-serious oeuvre, I never really believed him in the role. And Miss Piper effortlessly over-shadowed him.
Then David Tennant (or David Ten-Inch as people insist on calling him) came along and I was, in my own sad televisual sense, swept off my feet. David isn't normally the type I go for at all, but something about the performance, the writing, the conception of the character and his dashing-ness (its a word!) made me kind of fall for him;
He became for a long time, my definition of unsexy sexiness. Or sexy unsexiness...
And now there is a new pretender to that position - another Scot as it happens. James McAvoy is also suitably noble and dashing and pretty marvellous in Atonement (more on that superb film another day) and probably a step closer to my usual 'type'.
It silly I know, but until the next unsexy sexy Scot (or sexy unsexy Scot) comes along, it will be McAvoy who gets the honour
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Organizers of San Francisco's hedonistic Folsom Street Fair — sponsored by Miller Brewing, Co. — have portrayed Christ and His disciples as half-naked homosexual sadomasochists in the event's promotional advertisement. The bread and wine representing Christ's broken body and lifegiving blood are replaced with sadomasochistic sex toys in this twisted version of Da Vinci's The Last Supper.Now don't get me wrong - to me Barber just described a helluva good way to spend a weekend! But Barber is essentially calling a Christianist fatwa against the Fair. Its not too difficult to see how this could potentially play out, with gay people especially coming in for a major hammering. I just think this is a needless controversy that Folsom could have easily side-stepped.
The most unimaginable and vile acts of debauchery are commonplace during the fair. Senator Larry Craig was arrested and driven out of the Senate for allegedly soliciting public 'gay' sex, yet during this event the city of San Francisco suspends the law and allows 'gay' men and women to parade the streets fully nude, many having sex — even group orgies — in broad daylight, while taxpayer funded police officers look on and do absolutely nothing.The mainstream media should cover this event with cameras in hand. There's an unbelievable news story here. The Folsom Street Fair is reminiscent of Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, and the media should document exactly what the city of San Francisco is allowing to occur – in public – in the name of "tolerance."
Monday, 24 September 2007
But I was wrong. I am not sure what I wanted the show to be - but I considered it a mark of some kind of snobbish superiority to deride its technicolour frolicking.
Oh, how I was wrong.
I should have realised that Ugly Betty is a cartoon - a bright, zippy, thoroughly frothy affair that has virtually no tether to reality. I have found the perfect way to catch up with the first season - watching it in 4 episode gulps on E4 every Sunday afternoon, where I have grown to appreciate how outrageously funny the show can be.
And make no mistake, this is the gayest show on television, in every sense of that word. The terms of reference, the hyper sarcasm and bitchiness of its humour and the utter glorious abandon of its plotlines allows the show to mine a level of craziness which is beautifully sustained. It is exhilarating rather than exhausting. If a one liner falls flat, then another one will be along in a moment. The design, writing, editing and acting all trip along a merry tightrope, but do so with pizazz.
And because the show seems so comedically confident, it can afford, every once in a while, to take a breather and allow a little seriousness to slip in. Again, the whole thing is about balance. When the season ended with a character shot as 'Somewhere' from West Side Story was song, it was a genuinely poignant moment.
Finally, I just want to say that Ugly Betty has, hands down, the best cast of any television show right now. A true ensemble show, it includes a star making performance by America Ferrera who gives Betty just the right amount of tart and smart good sense to stop her from seeming drippy. But like all the best tv shows, you could shine a spotlight on any character (and this generous show does exactly that) and find greedy, scene stealing turns at every moment.
I can't WAIT for the new season...
Sunday, 23 September 2007
Maybe they are afraid THE GAY is catching or something.
Seriously, I am wondering if this is a bad portent for gay people. I tend to believe that the 'march of progress' is not so much a steady march as a two steps forward, one step back. As I have said numerous times below, I do feel genuinely privileged to grow up in a time of unprecedented acceptence for gay people. But significant progress is often met by backlash and a part of me fears that the Anglican issues are a bellweather of just such a backlash.
After the horror of the AIDS crisis in the 80's, the 90's seemed to mark a genuine sea-change in society's attitude, which culminated in legislation allowing gay adoption, civil partnership and recently, gain protection from service descrimination. It finally felt that civil society at least was waking up to the fact that the playing ground had to be level for all citizens.
But these laws weren't passed easily. The recent provision of services law met a strengthened and emboldened religious opposition. Now with the Anglican Communion being cowed, I wonder if us gays will now be told "we gave you some of what you want, now go sit quietly in the corner and be happy".
The problem is that the next stage is trying to tackle ingrained homophobia. This is the toughest struggle, one in which the gay community itself has to battle between the impulses of assimilation and maintaining its individuality (and I know I am on shakey ground by even trying to make anything homogenous out of the increasingly splintered community). But it is also dependant on seeing how much straight people really are willing to stand up and work with us against reactionary elements.
Gay people in the states are currently trying to break free from their own backlash which, after the relative calm and progress of the Clinton 90s, suddenly turned poisonous with the election of that nasty little troll George Bush. The Republican strategy of using gay rights as a 'wedge issue' to splinter the Democrat party and energise their bigoted religious base has resulted in some truly horrifying legislation being passed in states.
It's a long haul battle that I hope younger generations are prepared for.
Now, I swear I am going to put the soap box away...
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
I always thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams came off as something of a fluffy old codger. After all, he is head of one of the mildest, least confrontational sects in Protestantism. But his recent attempts to hold the Anglican Communion together are looking alot like appeasement of some of the most hateful and reactionary elements of his church.
Now he is so afraid of being seen to meet gay and lesbian members of his church, that it must be done in secret. LGBT people are used to being treated as second class citizens in the world's major mono-theisms, but it did, for one short moment, seem like the Anglican church was moving towards something more open and progressive.
Fat fucking chance, it seems...
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
I have a loving and supportive family, but even they would shy away from me displaying even half the physical intimacy that I have seen my straight family members display. It would actually upset my family to see me kiss a man. My family is a microcosm of larger Irish society - they want desperately to be OK with it, they may make overtures in an attempt, but ultimately true acceptance is still far away.
Then I saw this...
And I have to say bravo. This is a major Irish safer sex campaign aimed at gay men which is getting widespread play in pubs and the media. OK, so its not as if it is going to be on bus hoardings or billboards, but its getting the right message out in a way which acknowledges that gay sex is something to be enjoyed.
And it was paid by proceeds from the Alternative Miss Ireland - Brilliant!
Ultimately I would imagine it’s a little bit of all three, and this naturally has implications for London also. When I go out in London, it tends to almost exclusively be to gay bars and clubs, unless I am meeting straight friends or work colleagues. Its not only a force of habit, but also an environment where I feel more comfortable. If there is a guy I fancy in a gay bar, then I know the odds are pretty decent that I won’t have to mind getting caught checking him out. If I am with somebody that I am seeing, then I won’t have to worry about the reaction of those around me if we want to be physically intimate (and I am not talking in the cubicle sense)
Maybe my attitude is old-fashioned. There is no argument that younger generations of gay people are finding it easier to fit in with their straight peers. This is leading to a proliferation of straight and gay friendly venues where the crowds are more mixed and open.
At the same time, I don’t think that this will mean the beginning of the end of gay bars. Straight pubs are never going to be wholly welcoming places for the gay community, at least not for the foreseeable future. If I want to shove my tongue down my boyfriend’s throat, or pick up a shag then my local branch of All Bar One just isn’t going to cut it. The scene is undoubtedly going to change a lot in the next decade – one of the interesting ideas floated in the Orlando Sentinel piece is that the increase in the number of older gay couples ‘settling down’ in the traditional sense and having families will have a huge impact.
But I believe this change will ultimately be for the better, and ,may very well lead to changes in just how we define gay and straight society.
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
I haven’t been following the Hollyoaks Gay Storyline, mostly because the show itself bores the bollocks off me. However, I have heard from enough people that the plot line (which follows just-out JP bedding his bi-confused best friend Craig) has been handled well.
This is encouraging, particularly as Channel 4’s much vaunted gay drama Clapham Junction was such a pile of shit. And what is even better is that this is defiantly pre-watershed - a drama aimed squarely at teens and young adults at 6.30pm.
However, one of the issues I have with the storyline is that once again, it defines homosexuality as something which is destructive to straights. I understand the difficulty of trying to come up with storylines for a gay character when it seems soaps and dramas have a quota of one gay at a time, but there has been a consistent theme whereby young gay men and women are shown as a threat to a seemingly stable straight couple.
Coronation Street and Eastenders have tread this line, odiously hyping the transgressive thrill of a gay kiss, before dumping the storyline after a brief ratings blip. It doesn't matter so much if the Hollyoaks storyline has been treated more sensitively. It still plays the same tune, just in an extended disco version.
I hate complaining about this sort of thing. But, as research from Stonewall has shown, despite an increasing visibility in certain prime time genres (where they are generally treated as the 'freak and geek' fodder of reality shows), gay people are still poorly represented. Television seems to be stuck in a painful cycle, whereby gay people only exist in opposition to their straight counterparts, and rarely as characters in their own right.
On a related matter, the actor who played Confused Chris gave an interview with Digital Spy which some American blogs and commentators are calling homophobic. The interview itself is fairly detailed about how the actor, Guy Burnet, felt about playing the storyline. Though I don't think he expresses himself that elegantly, I don't think what he is saying is necessarily homophobic. I think he is trying to be honest about the difficulties of the role. The main 'offending' quote is as follows;
To my mind, this only highlights how far we still have to go to gain acceptance by straight people. Guy works in one of the most homo-friendly industries (at least behind closed doors) and the reception he describes would hardly put a young actor, who may initially be a nervous or unsure, at his ease.
"I'll always be completely honest. I'll always be real. The truth is that it was difficult to play. It was talked about for a long while and I felt uncomfortable with the idea because I didn't think it was justifiable. I thought 'how can you make a straight guy who's a bit of a cheeky chappy, loves the girls and has a sort of camp sense of humour, gay?' ...
"Even towards the end, it was always difficult for me… You've got to remember that the room is full of people and it's not so much that which bothers you, but you're sitting there and – this isn't meant in a homophobic way – I just didn't feel comfortable doing it. It literally would be a silent set, we'd do it and hopefully it was one take and it was out of the way. That's a genuine answer. "
I do sympathise with this worry. When I moved to London, I was lucky enough to live with an older gay couple for a time who were very active in the early 80s and 90s in the community. They gave me a whole new perspective on how lucky I was to be growing up at this time, and in this city. I would sometimes feel jealousy and the closeness and the activism that those years brought, but at the same time I recognised that it is better to live without Section 28 then spend years trying to defeat it.
However, I also think a lot of the criticism is unfair. Gay people my age are growing up in a unique social stew. I am 25 years old – for people a little older and much younger, these are heady times. It is the first real time that a gay man or woman can come out with the expectation that society at large will not prove a brutally hostile place.
Don’t for a minute think that I am declaring all homophobia dead. There are still people with horrific coming out stories, stories of abuse and discrimination. But there has been a social shift and these stories are no longer the norm that they once were. It is not surprising that there is a burst of hedonism, and a desire to shrug off the chains of what happened in the past.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is sad that there isn’t more interest being shown. But by the same token, there isn’t a huge amount of opportunity for young gay people to learn about their history. It is certainly not something which is taught in schools (and imagine the howls of protest if even a token mention were put on the curriculum). Colleges may offer a variety of queer study courses but that is only if you are chasing a communications or humanities degree.
And the scene, which is largely run by people of that older generation who are complaining, doesn’t offer much in the way of compensation. They are too busy taking the money from us consumer filled hedonists to care…
Monday, 10 September 2007
I have read two books by Melissa Bank recently, called The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing and The Wonder Spot. Both have been marketed as ‘chick lit’ (a horrible phrase designed to ghettoise female authors) and thus have what might politely be called ‘girly’ covers (see picture left).
I have found myself, despite my better judgement, slightly embarrassed to be seen reading these books on the tube, bus or train. Even worse is to be seen in a pub or café reading them. I hate the ingrained macho attitudes that this reveals about me. And trust me, macho is not normally an adjective associated with me! I would not normally have picked up either book, except I read Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree and he spoke so highly of her. The covers and their general placement was enough to ensure I, stupidly, would have missed out on something special.
These are wonderful books. Bank writes about the relationships, careers and family ties of young women in big cities (in this case, New York). The bright sparks at Penguin have decided that this means that Bank can’t appeal to anybody outside of the people she writes about. I don’t envy publisher’s who are trying to break a new writer. Girl's Guide was a huge success when it was first released, but it took about 7 years for Bank to write a follow-up with Wonder Spot, which in publishing terms means that they might as well be launching a new author.
But Bank deserves something more than this calculated attempt at niche marketing. Her stories are warm, funny and beautifully written, full of brilliantly sketched characters that most people, male or female, will be able to identify with. Girl's Guide is a bit more fragmented, but has one hilarious story about the trouble the main character gets into when trying to follow a relationship self-help book which is begging for the Hollywood treatment. It could be a rom-com version of How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying).
The Wonder Spot is even better – more mature and thoughtful, but maintaining the biting wit and pitch perfect sense of dialogue from her debut. Bank has more control of her vignette style – parts of it reminded me slightly of Patrick Marber’s Closer whereby we see the beginning and end of several relationships. But unlike Closer, whose misanthropy made for an ultimately one-dimensional experience, The Wonder Spot is far better at capturing the initial stages of flirtation as well as the malaise which then starts to seep into a seemingly fine relationship without resorting to hysterical demonisation of either partner. And Bank may be even better at catching the pitch and flow of sibling and parental relationships.
Friday, 7 September 2007
I also felt that reading the book might be a case of preaching to the choir. I was brought up a fairly strict and traditional Catholic. Though the Church had lost quite a bit of power by the 80s in Ireland, this was before the widespread accounts of sexual and physical abuse completely wrecked its position.
However, I was quite a happy Catholic for the most part. Even when I realised I was gay, I continued to attend church for a couple more years. Religion was a huge part of our education system, so it was unavoidable, but not particularly monolithic. I pretty much gave up on the whole ‘organised’ religion thing when I was about 15, and have slowly crept along the spectrum from agnosticism to atheism ever since. But I was really REALLY reluctant to just come out and say that I just didn’t believe in any of it.
Much tougher than actually coming out. I still maintain a veneer of agnosticism so as not to shock the folks back home.
Dawkins doesn’t have to change my mind, or open my eyes. But it was still a pleasure to read such an entertaining book, one which pretty calmly and reasonably lays out the case against the necessity and value of religious faith. A lot of the book, especially the parts where he dips into evolutionary biology to discuss the development of moral behaviour is fascinating stuff.
What has pissed me off is how Dawkins is so regularly described by his detractors and even by some who agree with him as somehow equivalent to the bible-bashing fundamentalists he is tackling. Maybe my sense of proportion has been skewed by reading blogs, but The God Delusion is hardly a spit flecked, semi-hysterical rant. Dawkins himself skewers this logical fallacy by pointing out that his beliefs are open to change once evidence is produced. If a flying spaghetti monster landed on his doorstep, he wouldn’t just clap his hands in front of his eyes and pretend that nothing was there.
Religious fundamentalists on the other hand do little but clap their hands in front of their eyes and refuse to budge from their cherished beliefs.
But even more than that, calling Dawkins a fundamentalist is just a way to shut down a debate. You might as well call him a Nazi and be done with it (and considering so many religious writers equate evolution with Nazism, I am sure that is a taunt he has endured in the past). It is a way of avoiding actually having to debate him on the merits of his case. The language in The God Delusion is a lot milder than I was expecting after reading some the articles about it. Dawkins doesn’t say that all religious people are stupid or evil, but blind adherence to faith, especially when it proves damaging, does make him angry. This anger is controlled, forceful and eloquent, never harsh or overbearing.
Thursday, 6 September 2007
Musicals are fucking difficult – I would argue they are the toughest of all genres, particularly once you move from the theatrical reality of the stage, to the manufactured reality of the screen. And when was the last made-for-tv original musical that didn’t make you want to poke your eyes out and fill your ears with cement?
The Buffy Musical has it slightly easier. No set-up is needed – the show can just dive straight in. And by the third-way point of the sixth season, the plotting had become so Byzantine that a musical was in some ways a fitting opportunity to bring it all out in to the open.
First, it should be made clear that these songs aren’t going to win any Tony awards. Some are very good, some doggedly get the job done and some clearly are a bit of a mess. This is also a fair summary of the singing voices of its endearingly game cast. Filmed with a Technicolor flourish and verve, there is little doubting that it is a visually arresting hour of television, but that still does not explain how it works so well.
It is a simple case of the sum being greater than its parts. Yes, the casts’ voices are not perfect, but their enthusiasm and skill as actors more than compensates. The lyrics contain the bite and humour that we expect from the pen of Joss Whedon, but have an undeniable emotional intensity when sung by actors such as Gellar, Head and particularly Amber Benson as Tara, whose little duet with Giles is the one genuinely goose-bump musical moment (see clip below).
But more than music, it is the deft, marvellous way that the various emotional strands which had been developed over the preceding years had been brought together in just an hour. The show justified the extravagance and indulgence of the musical episode by having it truly count and that, even more than the myriad of comic and tragic gems which dot the episode, means it will always rate high in the Buffy pantheon.
Are the Chinese military getting warfare tips from dodgy teen movies like WarGames and Hackers (ahhh... early Jolie before she turned itno Earth Mother par excellence)?
Do you think the US military should just find a way to shut down government firewalls that prevent Chinese geeks from looking at decadent Western porn to stop the attacks?
Knocked Up proves that Apatow’s debut was not a freak accident. It bears many of the hall marks of 40YOV, including one of the freshest, spikiest take on relationships in modern mainstream film.
Knocked Up is not as funny as 40YOV – at least not in a laugh out loud way. There is no one moment which is as funny as the chest-waxing scene for example. But Apatow has grander ambitions this time around – not the least of which is convincing you that Katherine Heigel would fall in love with Seth Rogen.
That he manages to suspend our disbelief is a testament to both the quality of his script and the charisma and skill of the actors. Rogen has got most of the plaudits in the states, and I won’t deny that he makes what should be an infuriatingly immature character into a complex and ultimately winning individual, Heigel has a more difficult role, in that she doesn’t have a ‘schtick’ to fall back on. Her performance has to have a reality that Rogen and to some extent, the rest of the cast can avoid, but she handles it beautifully.
What ultimately separates the film from the fold is how Apatow deals with Heigel’s sister and brother in law (played by the marvellous Leslie Mann and the dreamy Paul Rudd). These are two people who the film makes clear (at least to me eyes) that are not particularly suited but have become trapped in their relationship. Both characters are allowed to show the bitterness and hurt which results, but without demonising either party.
For me, Rogen’s journey to manhood isn’t as affecting as Steve Carrell’s in 40YOV. There is a melancholy, and even a bit of tragedy in Carrell’s character, while Rogen is more narcissistic and immature. In addition, Carrell’s character is surrounded by some genuinely inspired support, while the four slacker friends of Knocked Up have the distinct whiff of “been there, done that”.
But these caveats don’t stop me from praising Knocked Up as one of the truly great comedies of the last couple of years and easily the best date movie this year. Just be careful of the argument after!
This is an easy one. RMT have once agian proved that they have little regard for the people of London by throwing the city in chaos for two days and then settling for a deal which had been on the table before the actual strike occurred.
The Olympics are only 5 years away, and leaving aside emergency services, it is transport unions who hold the testicles of the city in their vice like grip. Who wants to bet that there won't be the threat of crippling strikes in the run up to the Games. Vulture like bosses are not going to let that golden opportunity lapse.