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Archive: Jun 2016

My Gay Agenda: Brokeback Mountain

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Spoiler alert: this review talks about most of the film’s plot

The silence at the start of Brokeback Mountain quietly continues and defines the film. There is dialogue of course but it feels limited so to make every word secondary to showing what’s on screen: a slow, then sudden and stuttering same-sex relationship.

Ennis and Jack (played faultlessly by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) are hired in a 1960s summer to shepherd sheep in the Wyoming mountains. Camping with only each other, their friendship naturally develops before becoming more intimate, as Jack makes a move and they have sex. Yet that blossoming love is quickly ripped apart. The summer abruptly ends with anguish and a fist fight.

Ennis marries his fiancé Alma, and welcomes two daughters into his family. Jack too over time settles into marriage with Lurleen, far away in Texas. It takes four years after their first meeting, four years of conforming to the heterosexual lives laid out for them, until Jack and Ennis reunite and begin their life-long ‘fishing weekends’ back at Brokeback Mountain.

The homophobia of the 1960s, and into the 70s and 80s dictates the silence and loneliness into their lives. Alma waits eight years to confront Ennis about the flimsy cover of his fishing trips and their loveless marriage, no longer hiding her disgust or homophobia.

As Alma and Ennis divorce, Jack sees this as the moment to have a real, legitimate relationship and life together. His romanticism and optimism is rejected by Ennis, who struggles far more with his internalised homophobia. There’s power constantly being tussled between the pair and you’re never sure who has control or is limiting the other.

Brokeback Mountain is a beautiful film, about a doomed love never given the chance to just be and flourish. Watch it for that beauty, tenderness and torment.It delicately shows the fatal impact that has on Ennis and Jack’s lives and their families, especially Jack’s parents.

It’s not an uplifting film but makes it easy to be grateful for the love and diversity we now celebrate in the UK. It makes it even easier though to think of this just as history, and ignore the homophobic laws around the world that makes some same-sex relationships still just as impossible as Ennis and Jack’s.

My Gay Agenda: Beautiful Thing

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Spoiler alert: this review talks about most of the film’s plot

If you want a gloriously British film peeking into LGBT life, watch Pride. If you want a gentle but gritty film, watch Beautiful Thing. There’s no subdued backdrop of 1980s liberal London or Wales through a 2014 lens. This is a 1996 film in a 1990s council estate, Thamesmead, just south of the river. And two current Eastenders stars in the cast (Linda Henry and Tameka Empson) automatically reinforce its realism.

Jamie and Ste are teenage neighbours on the estate, joined by their frenemy Leah who’s obsessed with Mama Cass, sending the film and its soundtrack even further back into retroism. Amidst loud music, arguments, drink, drugs, pregnancies and part-time lovers, the film focuses in on Jamie’s relationship with his single mum Sandra, and the domestic abuse Ste suffers from his Dad and brother.

Sandra offers Ste refuge by sleeping ‘top to tail’ with Jamie in his bed. What’s been obviously on its way since the glances of the first scene happens as the pair touch, kiss and begin a closeted, tender relationship. It leads them to their first gay bar and running around the woods like the school boy lovers they are.

Amidst the observational comedy of life on the estate, homophobia seeps out at a time when finding out about gay life was smuggling Gay Times out of the corner shop. You see how Leah uses homophobia to build her own power through fear, how Jamie and Ste look for an escape from their self-shame and project it into their parents. It’s Tony, Sandra’s current boyfriend who finds the immediate words of affirmation when Jamie and Ste are outed: ‘This is…  It’s… It’s cool’.

Leah, Jamie and Ste

Beautiful Thing is a simple, understated film, stemming from its stage play and then made-for-TV roots. Its writer, Jonathan Harvey, later adapted Beautiful People into a TV show that does add a camp gloss to growing up gay in 1990s Britain.

I knew Beautiful Thing was a milestone film and mistakenly thought it would be about young gay sex, not the coming of age, coming out comedic-drama it is. 20 years ago when it was released on screen, its power must have lied in that simplicity, those tender first touches that still say ‘gay is OK’. 20 years on, I smiled as Sandra realised her gay son meant she’ll ‘never have grandchildren’. Maybe she does.

My Outiversary: Coming Out and Being Out

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It started like a normal Friday. My first year uni exams had just finished. I’d be back all summer long in just a few weeks but I couldn’t wait and came home especially for the weekend. I woke up and had a cuppa tea on the sofa watching Lorraine. Mum and I went for lunch at Tomassi’s, saw my friend Lea also having lunch with her Mum and then we went to the cemetery.

It was there, in front of my Dad’s tombstone that I told my Mum ‘I’m gay’.
So today, June 18th, is my official ‘Outiversary’, much like the Queen has a real birthday and an official birthday. There were friends I’d already told before my Mum. Some at uni in the days and weeks before, who smiled me on my way home that weekend. There were school friends I’d told years before that ‘I thought I was gay’. And there was me. I can’t name the day, but I still have the message to myself, scribbled in a school corridor saying ‘I’m gay’.
A photo of me in June 2010, a few weeks after I came out to my Mum
That’s the very abridged story of my ‘coming out’ six years ago. The story of ‘being out’ is one I’m living now.
It feels like it only started 12 months ago. Yes, there’s moments from when I first questioned and came out, of confusing and threatening times that I’m almost ready to share. But for five years, I only put my sexuality into innuendo or how much I fancied Zac Efron. I left it aside at the workplace and the church door.
Until I heard a homophobic speaker in the pulpit. Their hurtful words forced me to bring my sexuality and religion together. And get on with being gay.
It’s this last year that I’ve enjoyed being out. A few dates, a few trips to Soho, blogging about my experiences, watching films with LGBT leads, getting involved at Pride in London and CASENET (Christian Aid Sexuality Network), going to same-sex weddings.
My family at Will and Mark’s wedding in March this year. Photo by Alex Beckett
I’ve now realised that my sexuality isn’t a browser plug-in to use as and when I need it. Earlier this week my Mum said: ‘you’re turning into your brother, everything has to be gay’. I am gay. All the time. Now I’ve come out with my words, I can’t stay in with my actions.

The poignancy of my Outiversary this year is ridiculously obvious, sandwiched as it is between last weekend’s fatal homophobic attack in Orlando, and next weekend’s Pride in London. And as I write this, Baltic Pride is marching for equality in Lithuania.

That’s why I’m celebrating today and this Pride season. Homophobia still kills and devastates lives in every country. I’m remembering and celebrating just as I did in Soho on Monday night with at least 7000, maybe 10,000 other people to show that love is winning.

So when my nephew Mitchell, born just a month before I came out asks me about love, I’ll show him this photo from the vigil, point to his two gay uncles (myself and my brother) and tell him I love him.

Ray Lang/LNP published in The Guardian, Tuesday 14th June 2016
This blog post is dedicated to everyone who helped me come out, especially my brother Will and by extension, everyone who helped him come out too.

My Gay Agenda: Milk

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Spoiler alert: This review talks about the final scene of the film

I barely knew about Harvey Milk before watching the Oscar-winning biopic. What little I did know is confirmed in the film’s opening, with archive footage of the tragic announcement from San Francisco City Hall: Milk was America’s first openly gay politician to be elected into a major office, and he was assassinated.

That was November 1978. As Milk (played by Sean Penn) begins to narrate his own death tape to be heard only on his assassination, the film rewinds back to New York City in 1970 where he meets his young lover Scott. Soon the pair move to San Francisco where the quiet, corporate and closeted Milk from NYC is transformed into an open long-haired activist, dubbed ‘The Mayor of Castro Street’. He strengthens the gay community in San Fran, and comes into his own.

The film follows Milk’s three election defeats before victory in 1977 and a seat on the city’s Board of Supervisors. In 1978, the homophobic wave of political action hitting states across America came to California. If passed, Proposition 8 (a state-wide referendum) would force openly gay teachers to be sacked.

Milk takes his pride, visibility and charisma across the state to lead the opposition. His hippy look has long been replaced by the same short hair and suit we first met him in. He and his youthful campaign team manipulates crowds and situations to lead to victory. Yet his integrity is never compromised.

‘I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement, part of a candidacy. I considered the movement the candidate. I think that there’s a distinction between those who use the movement and those who are part of the movement. I think I was always part of the movement. I wish I had time to explain everything I did. Almost everything was done with an eye on the gay movement.’

Harvey Milk’s tape recording, as narrated by Sean Penn in the film

Milk (Sean Penn) and Mayor Moscone (Victor Garber)

Milk was an activist, not a politician as his own words put it so beautifully. This film is all drama and so, going against my usual movie choices, I found it hard to enjoy or engage at first. But not every film is made to enjoy. It crescendos to an uplift of progress, of equality coming, of Milk’s personal life looking less tragic.

And then he was assassinated, alongside Mayor Moscone on 27th November 1978. That evening, over 25,000 people headed to City Hall in a silent candlelight vigil. It’s beautifully recreated in the film by making the most of archive footage and it made me cry.

The day before I watched Milk, I was standing in Soho next to my brother and 7000 other people to mourn the 49 shot dead in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. As I first began to write this review, the death of Jo Cox MP was announced.

The community always comes together. The community never lets a death just be a death. The community loves.

My Gay Agenda: Pride

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Spoiler alert: This review talks about the final scene of the film

I don’t cry much. But then I found myself blubbering at Hayley’s death on Corrie, and the bittersweet hope at the end of Billy Elliot the Musical. And now I’ve cried at Pride. Perhaps it’s proof that I’m really a working class Northerner. More likely it’s testament to the beauty and emotion of Pride, a gloriously British film from the opening scene.

It’s 1984. Mark heads to the annual London Gay Pride march and decides they need to raise money for striking miners. That night in Gay’s the Word bookshop¸ LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) begins. With homophobia and exclusion never too far below the surface, the group supports and visits the mining village of Onllwyn in Wales, creating a friendship of solidarity to take on Margaret Thatcher’s oppression.

The film emotionally embellishes LGSM’s true story with gentle humour and beauty in every scene. You won’t find a more British ‘coming out’ scene than one deep inside Wales’ stunning valleys. There’s a conversation we don’t hear of mother and gay son being reconciled after 16 years. And there’s the ultimate truth that phobia of others (in this case, homophobia) is always ended by friendship.

Pride is not a story about being gay. The rather cheery peek into 1980s gay life that opens the film is eroded away as it continues, unravelling the reality of that tragic time. Estranged families. Leaving home. Firecrackers and brutal homophobic violence. Aids. These were the attacks the entire London Gay scene lived with that the exceptional ensemble cast and script share with everyone. Thankfully in the UK those attacks are largely in the past, a past that was very much the present when I was born.

It was only at the end that I cried. Throughout the whole film, you knew the pits will close. You knew another homophobic blow would hit in the next scene. I’d lost sight of the comedy in the real-life drama. So the ending was a triumphant surprise as bus-loads of miners arrived in London with their village banners to lead the 1985 London Pride march.

Suddenly I saw the symmetry that had been on screen for two hours. The banner parades of Onllwyn and mining communities across the UK, that continue today, take place for the same reason as Gay Pride parades. Community. Freedom. Solidarity. I was left inspired, empowered, angry, loved. And ready to shout out. The battles have moved on, but the need for justice and solidarity across the world hasn’t.

My Gay Bookshelf

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For my birthday earlier this year, my brother Will gave me two books that
show just how compelling Young Adult fiction is. The first was Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne,
a question Evie grapples with around feminism, boys and mental health.

The second book was Two Boys
Kissing
. As I fell quickly into the pages, I realized this was the first
novel I’d read about young gay men, their relationships and their desires. The
first novel I’d read where my sexual identity was reflected back to me from
every page.

Every time I hear, read, see those voices telling stories about being
gay, I’m empowered. As Pride season continues, here’s a quick review of three
books already on my bookshelf that I loved, and previews of three I hope to
love next.
Three to read now


Two Boys Kissing
by David Leviathan
is simply incredible. Centred, as you might expect, around two boys kissing,
the book steadily and suddenly grows with intensity, intrigue and emotion by
offering an authentic snapshot of young gay boys in America. At one point
I was struck with a shudder and a memory from my school days that I’d long
forgotten. The narration makes it a stand-out read that you must discover for
yourself, because it’s too good to give away any more plot details.

Proud by Gareth Thomas
with Michael Calvin breaks away from the formulaic autobiography template,
sometimes interrupting and mixing up the chronology of the Welsh rugby hero’s
coming out to the best effect. The book is intimate, whilst still maintaining
Thomas’ privacy and avoiding a ‘kiss and tell of Soho’ saga. Ultimately it’s a
story of celebrating your identity, and left me hopeful for more British rugby
players and sportsmen to talk about their sexuality. The love and acceptance is
there, and continually growing.

In Fathomless Riches, Rev Richard
Coles
glides through the three stages of his working life: 1980s
socialist popstar in The Communards, full-time raver/artist and then his
ordination to be an Anglican priest. He doesn’t seek to justify his sexuality
and theology but uses it as accepted truths throughout the book. Coles
gives a vivid and personal look into the 1980s London gay scene and the
devastating impact of Aids on the whole community.

Three to read next

Matthew Todd
is Editor of Attitude, Britain’s best-selling gay men’s magazine. His
book Straight Jacket: How to be Gay
and Happy
has already been described as life changing and a must read
by those fortunate enough to get a preview copy. Mental health is a critical
issue for the LGBT community. 1 in 3 young LGB people in the UK and 1 in 2,
that’s half, of all young trans people have attempted suicide. Todd has been
there and seen gay culture from all sides. I’ll be listening to him speak about
the book and review it here at the end of the month.

Also due out in the next year is Vicky Beeching‘s
forthcoming memoir. Vicky made her name and living as a British worship
leader over in Nashville, a city at the heart of America’s conservative Bible
belt. Since coming out two years ago as a lesbian, she’s been an inspiration to
LGBT+ Christians across the world to speak openly about their faith and
sexuality, including me. The fallout of a high profile evangelical Christian
coming out has included her royalties taking a hit as some conservative
churches stopped playing her worship songs. It’s a continuing story that I want
to start reading now.

Garth Greenwell’s debut
novel, What Belongs To You starts with an American in a Bulgarian
gay cruising bathroom. It’s an updated scene that I’d seen before in Tearoom Trade,
the controversial sociological study from the 1970s that was the first book
about I read about gay sex. [I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction. I
mistakenly chose to read it for my course assuming it would be about actual
tearooms]. Reviews for What Belongs To You have already called it ‘the
great gay novel of our times’ and are celebrating its 40-page paragraph.

Have you read some of those books and want to share your views? Or have
other books to recommend? Let me know so I can keep growing ‘my gay bookshelf’!