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Nine queer moments that made me

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Nine years ago today on a sunny Friday in Southend I told my Mum I’m gay. No rainbow flags or unicorns or cute boys to kiss. Just us.

Perhaps you know that already. I’ve made a lot of narcissistic noise about my official Outiversary before. But that scene is just one episode in my coming out story arc. Like many other LGBTQ people, it’s a story that spans more seasons than any TV network would commission.

Because it won’t make it to screen any time ever, here’s an abridged version of nine queer moments that made me.

When I came out to myself, sometime in 2005

It was a Monday, I was 15, sat in the music corridor waiting for my saxophone lesson. And there I scribbled a letter to myself, to God, to both of us. Even though it was conditional and silent (‘I think I’m gay’), it was the first time I’d found the words.

Last day of school, 2008

Walking into Warwick Chaplaincy, October 2009

When I arrived at University, I knew I wanted to join the Christian Union and I thought I’d found them at the Freshers’ Fair. Turns out it was the LGBTQ inclusive Christian Focus instead. Thank God.

The friends I made round cuppas in the Chaplaincy and the choir showed me you can be an LGBTQ person of faith. They’re the first ones I came out to without any doubt. ‘I’m gay’. And then I went home to tell Mum.

Teaching the Joey Dance to my choir friends

My first time, September 2010

My first time having sex was awful with an even worse fall out. I hate how one bad early experience made me retreat. Now I can look back and see some positives in what happened.

Me in Summer 2010

My first kiss, February 2013

It was in Revenge, Brighton on a birthday weekend away with my friends. Mysterious, magical and drunken. I was hugging the hostel toilet afterwards.

Pre-drinks in our Brighton hostel

That conversation with Rev Mel, March 2016

Rev Mel was a local church minister unconditional in her support for the oppressed. I didn’t know then the vulnerability that comes with being visibly queer in a heteronormative world. ‘Don’t ever forget you are a minority Joey.’

The local church where Mel was minister, now closed

Soho vigil, June 2016

At least 7000 people gathered in London’s Soho the day after the Pulse Orlando shooting. This is what the LGBTQ community does. We remember, we protest, we party.

Where’s Joey? I’ve kept the Soho vigil centrefold photo from The Guardian

Mighty Hoopla, May 2017

I’d just started work at Stonewall, moved back to London and was utterly unsure in myself. Heading to a festival with my new colleagues sounded like a pleasant distraction. I honestly thought if I wasn’t having fun, I could make it home in time for Songs of Praise.

This was a bright day in the dark season of Spring 2017. It was an excuse to wear nail polish and a crop top for the first time. Now the only excuse I need is sunny spells or a night in Vauxhall.

On the way to Mighty Hoopla

Joining London Frontrunners, June 2018

When I’m at work or running, I don’t need to explain who I am. I just am.

Last summer, I joined LGBT running club London Frontrunners to make more friends and improve my running. My 10k time still hasn’t improved, but I felt instantly embraced by a crowd who accept my idiosyncrasies and go to karaoke every Thursday night.

An Easter Croissant Friday with my Frontrunner friends

When Oliver left, January 2019

We met at my favourite club night and only had a month until he was moving out of town. We didn’t have time to play it cool or hold back. He wasn’t my boyfriend but it was a relationship. And suddenly it was the end. I left him at the bus stop in the morning. He went to Australia, I went to Angel.

Club DJ Darren and I. Later that night I met Oliver.

I still have those pinch me moments of euphoria when I’m dancing with queer friends in a queer club. ‘What feels normal also feels like an incredible privilege’* (and it really is, when discrimination and hate crime makes LGBT nightlife in the UK unsafe for many people).

The gay man I am now wasn’t made the day I came out. I’m excited for another queer year and seeing what moments come next complete with rainbow flags, unicorns and cute boys.

Lorraine, the mini unicorn a friend gifted to me

*tweet by Hugh Montgomery.

The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet visits… The Power of Four

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When you want to run away on a Sunday night as fast you can before Monday catches up with you, head to a drag show. The camp world of of glittery gold backdrops is the perfect school night escape.

And last weekend’s Bank Holiday meant London’s usual Sunday night drag shows were bigger, busier and boozier than usual.

I headed to the Two Brewers in Clapham for the Power of Four. That’s a marathon four drag acts over six hours, starting with the omnipresent Mary Mac.

Promo poster from The Two Brewers

My second favourite Scottish Queen (after Queen of Daytime, Lorraine Kelly), you can see Mary most weekends at the Admiral Duncan, the Brewers and other venues around town.

She’s prolific because she’s damn good and gets the gays through the doors. The Brewers front bar was packed by 6pm before the cloakroom even opened.

In some ways it’s a by-the-songbook drag act: a dress made from the sticky shiny paper you used in primary school collages, musicals mixed with nineties pop hits (Streisand followed by Steps) and snarky comments, always with love, about other queens and the audience.

And yet put altogether, it’s more than that. My words can’t tell you how awestruck and happy the familiarity of Mary’s show makes me.

The utter campness, love and laughter radiates form the stage to the crowd. I’ve felt that collective joy even on nights when I’ve been sober, by myself and awkwardly stood next to a bad hook up from the month before.

Mary Mac performing The Two Brewers. Photo by Joel Ryder for Boyz Magazine.

That love is easy for me to feel as a gay man in a venue that is 99% gay men. When I stand out among the grey or checked shirt dress code of Clapham Gays, and Mary tells me ‘it looks like Neil Buchanan puked on your shirt’, I’m in on the joke because I’m in the crowd.

But when acts make racist comments or sound like breakfast TV hosts in their attempt to turn non-binary identities into a joke (as the queen who followed Mary Mac did, in an otherwise entertaining show), they’re attacking people who are already excluded.

Half of BAME LGBT people and a third of trans people have faced discrimination within the LGBT community.

The Two Brewers is one of London’s very few fully step-free venues with an accessible toilet (but not gender neutral toilets) and it hosts an implausible amount of fundraising nights for LGBTQ community groups.

That good work doesn’t stop me feeling let down when someone on their stage is ridiculing a part of our community already under daily attack, for the sake of their punchline.

On Sunday night, scouse queen The Vivienne and Brewers mainstay Sandra continued the show tunes, pop bops and gentle ribbing as crowd became boozier and busier.

It’s hard for me to accurately review their acts, given how many doubles I’d had by then. They too have the wit, audience rapport and outstanding outfits.

Vivienne’s wig seemingly sheared from a sheep especially left me gasping, and her rendition of Defying Gravity brought back my young queer memories of trying to work out where I belong. Now I know it’s wathcing drag shows.

The Brewers’ front bar and stage turns into a dance floor between acts giving time for more Steps, Kylie and both versions of Better the Devil You Know. On busier nights the bigger backroom club is also open.

Unlike the front bar, you don’t need to use your elbows to get to a drink. Huge thanks must go to Liz, my yoga instructor, for giving me the core strength needed to stay standing amidst the bustling crowd pushing past you.

But the compromise with more space is worse music. The backroom club is usually playing a remix of a song that isn’t as good as what’s playing in the front bar, even when that better song is Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley.

A packed front bar at the Brewers during Mary Mac’s show. Where’s Joey?
Photo by Joel Ryder for Boyz Magazine.

By this time Mary Mac had already left, performed another show in Greenwich, changed out of her outfit and as promised returned to join us and judge us on the dancefloor.

And so it was at 2.30am, propping myself up against a pillar that that Mary spotted me and gave me that friendly smirk. Nine hours since I arrived I knew then there was no going back, only going home on the night bus.

Mary’s genuine love for performing and for her fans is obvious, bending over backwards to give the greatest show. It’s her signature encore that makes her a stand out act on the drag circuit.

Looking around the crowd, you can spot the wide mouthed first-timers taking the feat of performance endurance happening in front them. And you see the fans knowing exactly when to raise their phones to get that snap for Instragram.

You know they’re loving every second of it. They’ll be back to hear Mary perform the same kind of jokes and same kind of songs next week. And I want to be back there too.

Mary Mac at the Brewers. Photo by Joel Ryder for Boyz Magazine.

The Essentials

The Cloakroom is £2 cash. They give you a wristband so no need to worry about losing your ticket.

The club Is free before 8pm and £5 afterwards on a normal Sunday, or £8 on a Bank Holiday Sunday.

The venue is one of London’s only fully accessible LGBTQ venues with step free entry and an accessible toilet downstairs.

Drinks are averagely priced around £5 for a pint. Doubles are served as standard, so you quickly spend £7.50 on one drink. The early evening Happy Hour on most days has £4.50 doubles.

It’s a venue dominated by gay man in their 20s, 30s and 40s. There’s no dress code, but the crowd tend to dress for going out out in a way I don’t.

The toilets are male toilets (with urinals and cubicles) and female toilets. On busier and weekend nights there are attendants offering you perfume or aftershave. There is an accessible toilet downstairs.

The songs you’ll always hear are Scared of the Dark by Steps, This is Me from The Greatest Showman and inspirational song of the millennium, Reach by S Club 7.

Joey’s kiss count: Two. I was genuinely surprised this was my first visit to the Brewers without someone I’d already kissed being there. There was however an Instagram crush I’d asked out before.

The Power of Four is on every Sunday at Two Brewers, Clapham High Street. You can find out where Mary Mac is performing on her website.

The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet visits… Push The Button

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‘This Friday night, do it all again.’ Katy Perry, Last Friday Night

A night at Push The Button is a night dancing through gay pop culture and history.

There’s the venue itself. Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London is Britain’s only listed LGBTQ venue which has seen police raids and Princess Diana on a drag night out with Freddie Mercury.

There’s the soundtrack dominated by pure pop songs that only seemed cool once before, at the Year Four Half Term School Disco.

And there’s my recent dating history: those I’ve dated, kissed or tried to kiss all on the same dancefloor as me

Me with PTB DJ Darren. I haven’t tried to kiss him yet. Photo from Push The Button.

Push The Button (not ‘Pull The Plug’ as my Mum called it before I gave her some Sugababes homework) has been playing the hits for eight years.

Every month focuses on a different artist with Janet Jackson and Carly Rae Jepsen featured so far this year, as well as a special live performance by Nadine Coyle.

Alongside lesser played album tracks and B-sides you didn’t think anyone else knew existed, there’s the best pop bangerz from the nineties, noughties and now.

Yes, The Saturdays counts in this category as well as schlager, scandi pop and Eurovision favourites.

I feel at home whenever I walk through the RVT doors to PTB, usually in a crop top. It’s my outfit of choice for feeling cute and cool. Whatever time of year it is, the RVT is hotter than the Chariots over the road.

The club reaches peak ridiculousness after midnight, with a drag show followed by a mass singalong complete with song sheets. Last month’s choice was I Want It That Way by Backstreet Boys.

The joy in singing and sharing music you adore like you would at a gig doesn’t just happen when everyone has the words in front of them.

Even when I don’t know the song that’s playing, seeing someone else on the dancefloor living their absolute best life makes me happy.

For what other nights can you go and dance to X My Heart with people who already know it was Azerbaijan’s criminally underperforming 2018 Eurovision entry? (The answer is obviously Eurofest and Douze Points, which we’ll review on this blog in time).

With a mix of regulars and newcomers there just for one themed night, PTB always has an attitude-free crowd where everyone is respectful (most of the time, I’ve met some smiley guys who turned out to be dicks there)

It’s a night full of familiar faces I know from Twitter and London’s LGBTQ scene who won’t leave me standing by myself all night long. My friendship with Carlo started last summer when he screamed FUEGO! at me.

Me with Carlo (front centre) and all the Eurovision friends I’ve made this year.
Photo from Push The Button.

The night’s downfall is its popularity, making it heavily crowded and hot. But the the slight inadequacies of cramming into an iconic venue makes it more magical for me. And I’m always happy for another reason to get my top off.

Even on the nights I’ve been sober at PTB, I haven’t thought about leaving before 2am. Nowhere else mixes mainstream chart hits everyone knows with the niche tracks just for fans quite like it.

That’s why I keep coming back every last Friday of the month to do it all again.

The PTB dancefloor at RVT. I’m praying to the pop gods for them to play Neon Blue by Steps.
Photo from Push The Button.

The Essentials

The cloakroom is £2 cash

The club entry costs £8+booking in advance, or £10 cash on the door. There’s step free entry but no accessible toilet.

It gets very busy from 11pm and stays crowded until the stage is open after the drag show.

Drinks are averagely priced around £5 for a pint, single or glass of wine.

It’s a mixed crowd of LGBTQ people and allies where gay men are the majority. There’s no dress code.

The toilets are three gender neutral cubicles by the bar. On the other side of the stage is urinals and one cubicle.

The songs you’ll always hear are Cut To The Feeling and Fuego.

Joey’s kiss count (the number of people I kissed): Two. One was quite bitey.

Push The Button takes place at Royal Vauxhall Tavern on the last Friday of the month. Their Britney themed night is on Friday 26th April.

You can listen to Push The Button to the Max Martin! And Pride 2018 playlist on Spotify.

The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet

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‘I didn’t just come here to dance, if you know what I mean, If you know what I mean.’ Carly Rae Jepsen.

Except some nights, I did just come here to dance. And those nights will mostly be Push The Button at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Actual footage of me coming here to dance. Photo from Push The Button.

This night is home for my queer heart. When I first moved to South London, I never went out on the scene (going to gay bars and LGBTQ nights) just down the road from my flat in Vauxhall or Clapham.

I’d walk pass places like RVT and The Eagle with noise pulsing through their blacked out windows, not knowing what it was like and not wanting to find out without friends to go inside with.

But one Friday now living in a lonely East London flat share, I got bored of staying in. I’d seen on Twitter there was a Carly Rae Jepsen night and I wanted to go dance. So I did.

And it was magic. Magic, with a large side of drunkenness, drag and a Celine Dion sing-along.

Carly Rae Jepsen night at Push The Button, June 2017. Photo by Michael Chapman.

Nights like Push The Button don’t exist for you to go home with someone (though that can happen if you want it to). They exist for the love of the music, dancing and unapologetic queer fun.

But maybe like me you don’t know that until you go there and despite a club night’s inclusive values being clearer than a freshly douched ass, you don’t realise guys will be kissing guys.

Or, immeasurably worse, you don’t know if there’s a gender-neutral dress code until you get turned away at the door.

Along the way I’ll also talk too much about my love life, making friends on the scene and the ups and downs of going out alone.

So I’m starting this new blog series, called The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet. It’ll be a review of the gay bars and LGBTQ nights I go to across London, telling you how much cash you need for the cloakroom and other details they don’t put on the promo poster.

Come out, come out and dance with me this Friday, or on the metaphorical dancefloor of this blog with my first review next week. I’m starting at home, at Push The Button. Pre-drinks in Peckham.

#LGBTQCalendar Day 28: Looking back

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It’s the final day of LGBTQ History Month. Whether you’ve followed the calendar every day or dipped into it on some days, I hope you’ve learnt more about LGBTQ history, identities and arts and culture.

Use today as a chance to tell someone what you’ve learnt or enjoyed. It could be the same person or group of people you spoke to on day one about why this month matters to you.

I’ve really enjoyed listening to LGBTQ podcasts and being a new regular listener to Nancy. I’ve learnt more about intersex rights.

I’ve thought about the impact of the words and acronyms I choose to use. I’ve realised the power of an LGBTQ community isn’t a shared identity, but a shared movement for human rights and equality.

What have you learnt and enjoyed? Who can you keep sharing that with after LGBTQ History Month?

Thanks for reading and taking part! I’d love to hear what you’ve learnt, and your feedback on the calendar.

Please keep sharing, learning and standing up for LGBTQ rights.

#LGBTQHMCalendar Day 27: Take action

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I hope this month you’ve learnt about some inspiration role models and the discrimination that LGBTQ people can face.

Today is a chance to think how you can help end that discrimination. What can you do where you study, live or work to increase LGBTQ inclusion?

Here’s some ideas:

  • There are specific days to mark and celebrate LGBTQ identities throughout the year. The next of these is Trans Day of Visibility on March 31st (TDoV). Could you hold a talk, film screening or write blog post?
  • Earlier this month we looked at different LGBTQ groups. Could you hold a fundraising event for one? It could be the classic office bake sale, or a personal challenge like a sponsored run.
  • Does your workplace have gender neutral toilets? Who can help you introduce them?
  • Get involved with or set up an LGBTQ network where you work or study. These groups need the support of allies as well.
  • Suggest people say what their pronouns at the start of meeting and introductions, along with their names.
  • Find out when your local Pride is. Could your workplace support it or take part in the parade?
  • Ask your LGBTQ friends how they are, especially when you hear news that might matter to them.
  • Keep being a visible role model or ally. Keep learning about LGBTQ history and identities. Keep using your voice.

There’s no shortage of actions you can take. Think about what you’re passionate about , what you can do and who can help you to make the most effective change.

What will you change?

#LGBTQHMCalendar Day 26: Five ways to be a visible LGBTQ Role Model or Ally today (and every day)

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Wear it

I wear my rainbow laces everywhere and people really do notice. There’s no shortage of t-shirts and badges you can buy with LGBTQ inclusive messages.

Tell your friends

Use your social media accounts to share LGBTQ news stories, role models, campaigns and why it matters to you. You could just share this blog post. Lots of my friends on Facebook are friends I’ve carried with me from school, uni and faith spaces. They may not always hear about LGBTQ inclusion.

Chat with colleagues

Next time you’re in the kitchen, ask them if they know it’s LGBTQ History Month. Or tell them about that really interesting LGBTQ book or article you read.

Make a change

Have you noticed something that can change in your workplace or community group to be more inclusive of LGBTQ people? Email a leader about what’s wrong, how it can be changed and why it’s important. Offer to talk to them more about it in person.

Speak up

The sad reality is it’s not always safe to be a visible role model or ally:

  • Two in five trans people (41 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.
  • More than a third of LGBT people (36 per cent) say they don’t feel comfortable walking down the street while holding their partner’s hand (Stonewall, 2017).

You can report any homophobic, biphobic or transphobic behaviour that happens to you or you see happening. This could be in your workplace, in public, or online. You can also support your LGBTQ friends when you hear they’ve been a victim of an attack.

It’s your choice of when and how you are a visible LGBTQ role model or ally. It’s OK not to be visible all the time.

#LGBTQHMCalendar Day 25: Support an LGBTQ group

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Today’s post is guest written by Hannah Graeber.

As enriching as it is to celebrate history, it is also important to look forward, and ask ourselves what we can do to further our community’s wellbeing, rights, and sense of community.

With that in mind, and in celebration of day 25 of LGBT History Month, here are five suggestions for charities that you can support in a variety of ways, in diverse locations across the UK.

The Albert Kennedy Trust

It is estimated that 25% of homeless youth in the UK identify as LGBTQ+. Considering that estimates of the percentage in the total population rarely exceeds 10%, it can safely be said that the 25% figure is disproportionate.

Due to evidence that there are often specific reasons why LGBTQ+ young people become homeless, and that therefore specific solutions are often required, a group of volunteers decided to set up The Albert Kennedy Trust.

The trust was founded in 1989, and has been providing safe homes, mentoring, training, advocacy, and support to young people ever since.

This year, AKT will be celebrating its 30th birthday, and takes on volunteers on an ongoing basis for a variety of roles, such as champions, mentors, and fundraisers.

Currently, they are actively looking for suitable people, who are over 25 and located in London, Greater Manchester, and the North East, to host vulnerable young people.

akt.org.uk

The TIE Campaign

The very existence of LGBT History Month indicates to us that there is a lot of work to be done to combat the erasure of contributions to society by marginalised people in terms of their sexual and/or romantic orientations and gender identities.

The TIE (Time for Inclusive Education) Campaign is a Scottish charity that was founded in June 2015, in order to remedy exactly that. They believe that the inclusion of LGBT role models and history, as well as the current issues facing the community, is an essential part of education.

In addition to running a national, political campaign for inclusive education in all schools, TIE also provide assemblies, workshops, teacher training, and resources, all free of charge.

tiecampaign.co.uk

Galop

In addition to celebrating our achievements and successes, it is also important that we take time to take care of each other when things go wrong.

In amongst celebrations of steps forward for equality such as marriage rights, where a pressure to present ourselves as upstanding, fine members of society is often present, it can sometimes be forgotten that just like cis, straight, allo people , we too can have issues within our relationships. (Allo is short for allosexual, meaning people who experience sexual attraction).

As well as dealing with the effects of hate crime and sexual violence, Galop, founded in 1982, provides services for survivors of intimate partner violence.

Like the Albert Kennedy Trust, Galop recognises that there are often extra or different issues specific to the LGBTQ+ community, which cannot always be solved by mainstream services.

Galop are looking for donations for their helpline, support services, and outreach, and are open to applications to volunteer on an ad hoc basis.

galop.org.uk

Intercom Trust

The Intercom Trust works across Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and the wider South West, providing services such as counselling, training, advocacy, and consultancy.

They have also compiled an extensive directory of groups and services in the region, and run a confidential, non-judgemental helpline.

As well as their team of dedicated staff, who have been training organisations and groups such as the police, schools, and healthcare professionals since 1997, Intercom Trust also has a small team of volunteers, which welcomes all new, skilled applicants.

intercomtrust.org.uk

Birmingham LGBT Centre
The centre provides services relating to sexual health, wellbeing, and mental health, as well as fitness classes and peer mentoring.

You can also find a range of social groups on offer, which provide alternatives to the nightlife scene, and encourage people to meet and spend time with people who can relate to them.

Birmingham LGBT also make a particular effort to reach out to older LGBT people, and LGBT asylum seekers; two groups who can be vulnerable to being put last on the list when it comes to services and advocacy.

The centre accepts one-off and regular donations, and are opening their ext round of volunteer training in Spring 2019.

blgbt.org

Whether it’s donating time, money, skills, or a combination of all three – these are just five of the many dedicated, life-changing charities currently doing amazing things for the LGBTQ+ community, needing continued support for their vital work.

If you don’t see anything local or feasible in this list in terms of your location or skills, perhaps it can instead give you a few research ideas if you would like to find something similar in your own region.

Happy helping!

#LGBTQHMCalendar Day 24: Thanking role models

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We’re into the last week of the LGBTQ History Month Calendar. The final five days has some actions and reflections to bring together everything we’ve learnt and discovered.

Today’s action is to thank an LGBTQ role model. This could be sending a friend a postcard, baking a cake to share with a colleague tomorrow or tweeting your thanks to a famous LGBTQ person.

Remember, our role models aren’t perfect. Your thanks doesn’t need to be profusive or about every part of their life.

What do you especially admire in that person? How have they helped you personally and LGBTQ communities?

Let them know the impact they’ve had, and how much you appreciate it. If you’ve got the time, thank someone else too.

#LGBTQHMCalendar Day 23: Reading

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It’s super easy to find LGBTQ content to read, whether it’s articles from the mainstream or LGBTQ specific press, young adult (YA) novels that never make an identity a problem or poetry, memoirs and history books.

My top tip for finding LGBTQ books to read are the same as finding any book to read:

  • Browse, either online looking through recommendations, bestsellers lists or going into your local bookshop or library. My local council libraries helpfully put all LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction books together in one place. And if you’re in London, don’t forget about bookshop Gay’s The Word, 40 years old this year.
  • Ask your friends: currently I’m reading The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which a friend lent to me ahead of our book club meeting
  • Keep reading how you want and what you want: it’s good to read what you like and hopefully that will include different voices and different types of books. Last week I bought a Heartstopper, a graphic novel. Queer: A Graphic History is also an exceptional read.

So, what’s on your reading list?