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Archive: Apr 2017

Betty

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I’ll miss Betty the most.

When I showed her my photo in Attitude magazine, she smiled and wanted to buy her own copy. When I told her I’m gay a few months later, she cheerily said ‘good for you, do what you want.’ When we waited for communion this morning, she asked if there’d be toasted teacakes.

Betty is 97, the minister’s mother-in-law living in a humble vicarage with three more generations of her family. Two weeks ago she was in a wheelchair. Now she’s back on her feet because ‘you either use them or lose them’. We sit together after church services. Her daughter and my Mum bring us tea and a biccy.

It’s Betty, Eileen, and Stella and those already ‘promoted to glory’ (Joan, Elizabeth and Angela) who keep me coming back to the local church. It’s a place where at best homosexuality and your part in ‘God’s plan’ is ignored, at worst condemns you to hell. Even in inclusive churches, institutional homophobia looms large. Just look at today’s news that the exceptional Rev Andrew Foreshaw-Cain has resigned as a parish priest, because he is married to a man.

Whether Betty remembers I’m gay or not, she wants and wishes only the best for me. These stalwart women of the church have loved and fostered me. ‘I hope you’ll be a blessing to your new housemates’ said Mary-Ann after communion. I’m unsure about my blessings and my faith at the moment, but the sentiment will carry me forward.

For tomorrow, I’m moving from Southend to Dalston. A year back at home with Mum wasn’t planned though my soul has recharged through seafront runs, baking and blogging. It’s the year I fully accepted and celebrated my queerness. Now’s the time to go live it as an East London gay.

Betty I hope, and yes, pray, will be there with her tea and biccy when I next visit church in a few months. We’ll chat and smile, discuss the weather through the window and above all, care and love each other in our fellowship. I’ll do Betty proud in Dalston, because I’m doing me.

My Gay Agenda: Who’s Gonna Love Me Now and Aladdin

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Trailed as the story of Saar, a member of London’s Gay Men’s Chorus, I thought I knew where documentary Who’s Gonna Love Me Know was going to take me, and I was there for it. Singing in choirs has given me the best moments of my life and it frustrates me that I just haven’t been able to be in one for a couple of years. Yet the role of the chorus is limited and used to maximum effect as a punctuating soundtrack to a gay son seeking reconciliation with his orthodox Jewish family in Israel.

The documentary (filmed over five years but feeling more like one as its never date stamped on screen) gives a sensitive witness to Saar’s life and choices. Seeing him going to the clinic to ‘check his bloods’ and change his medication was, I’m ashamed to admit, the first time I realised this is the inescapable reality (for now) of being HIV positive. What is inexcusable though is the shocking stigma. Saar himself says his status is ‘karma, because he did bad things’ including promiscuity and group sex (these are not bad things). Most of the conversations are subtitled from Hebrew, a language that doesn’t have the letters for HIV. His patriotic paratrooper father instead describes those who are HIV positive as ‘animals’.

Saar

Throughout the film, you see how thirty-something Saar embraces a wide sense of responsibility to family, both choral and biological, even when he’s been rejected. Directors Barak and Tomer Heymann give a beautiful contrast to the busyness of London and the stillness of a kibbutz in Israel. There’s laughs too, as Saar takes his Dad to Old Compton Street (which I first only recognised from the Caffe Nero they sat at).  I could say much more, but that would spoil the film for you. Who’s Gonna Love Me Now is undoubtedly a moving, subtly shot documentary that answers its titular question and leaves you asking more about transformation and lova in our human relationships and the power of documentaries in shaping their stars’ lives.

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now is out to rent on demand now and to own on digital or DVD on 29th May. The film is mostly subtitled and it helps to have a basic knowledge of Jewish culture. Oriented is another fascinating documentary about three young gay Palestinians and is available on Netflix.

Aladdin

Since Aladdin opened at the Prince Edward Theatre last June, my friend and reviews I’ve read had the same opinion: it’s a bit too panto, but you go with it. At times spectacular, it doesn’t match up to Disney’s other Broadway big hitters, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, both of which translated the animation to theatre without losing any wonder or charm. Aladdin’s monkey sidekicks Abu and Carpet, as well as Princess Jasmine’s tiger Rajah are all disappointingly chopped out of the retold story.

Act One treads water with a too-slow chase in One Jump Ahead and some mediocre new songs until, finally, the Cave of Wonders comes to the rescue. It’s the breathless performance of The Genie (played I think by understudy Oliver Lindert when I went) in Friend Like Me that the musical rejoices in bringing you back to the film. John Gallagher as Jafar also gives a perfect performance as the British villain amongst an ensemble of American voices, seemingly used just to remind you this is Disney.

Despite my scepticism I was laughing along, enchanted by the colour filled costumes and magic carpet ride and thirsting over Aladdin’s friend Omar (Rachid Sabitri), who isn’t quite as sculpted or showing off as much flesh as the titular star. Aladdin was fun and sparkly afternoon at the theatre but you’ll still can’t beat the spectacle, emotion and Disney magic over at the Lyceum where the The Lion King is playing its 18th year.

Aladdin is currently booking until 30th September 2017 and there’s a weekly ticket lottery.

RU Coming Out 5th Birthday Party

And on Thursday, the annual RU Coming Out party finally made me visit the RVT, Royal Vauxhall Tavern. The night was nothing but fun, celebrating the 5th birthday of a invaluable website run by my colleague Wayne Dhesi. Ruby Murray and Charity Shop Sue brought the cabaret and Nate James the soul while Sam Callahan got topless and surprised no-one. It was all a warm-up though for Mutya, belting out the best of the back catalogue and wiping the floor with the other Sugababe I saw this week (Jade plays Princess Jasmine). I drunkenly tweeted Too Lost In You was a highlight of my life and I stand by that.

Next on My Gay Agenda is Angels In America at the end of May.

My Gay Agenda: David Hockney and Queer British Art

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It’s a long time since I’ve seen exhibitions dedicated to single subjects: Kylie Minogue in 2007 and Wedding Dresses in 2015, both at the V&A. But with two headline shows now open at Tate Britain, it was time I got out of the Sunday review pages and experienced more art for myself. The David Hockney and Queer British Art exhibitions have both had publicity and plaudits that an art gallery rarely enjoys. I wanted to resist the reviews calling them ‘fascinating’, ‘incredible’ or other stock adjectives and feel what the art said for myself (you can tell I’ve soaked up the pompousness of reviews I read). Unfortunately I’m not sure either quite spoke the story of emotion I was hoping for.

A Bigger Splash by David Hockney is on permanent display at Tate Britain and one of the nation’s favourite paintings

The first thing that strikes you on a Saturday morning at the Hockney is how incredibly busy it is (a concern I’m sure the exhibition’s 5-star reviewers didn’t have). It’s a mix of struggling to appreciate the art ‘properly’ whilst also appreciating it more through eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. I went in knowing little more than Hockney’s name and his Yorkshire birth, but the opening room, Play Within a Play sets the scene of how his six-decade career has focused on playing with space and perspective.

Whether you get the audio guide or not (I didn’t, though my friend Lucy did) the retrospective tells the story of his career, from a young angry art student with provocative graffiti-style gay art like Two Boys Kissing through to his much-loved pastels and growing realism of Los Angeles, portraits and Polaroid collages before his return to abstractism in the 1980s. Hockney’s creativity and skill is to be appreciated throughout, right up to his latest immersive video wall and iPad installations. Yet only a few pieces made me feel anything. It wasn’t the famous LA pools and naked swimmers as calming as they were (also a favourite of my six year old nephew who saw the show). It’s the larger and later pieces such as Going Up Garrowby Hill that made me embrace their breathtaking explosion of colour and scale. The show’s pieces get bigger as you go along and Hockney becomes unquestionably successful (do not overlook that canvas and paint are expensive).

Exhibition poster featuring Going Up Garrowby Hill

It is, to use one of those stock adjectives, remarkable to see the breadth of work by Hockney, now 80 in one place, however many other people and inappropriately young children you see it with. The story told his one of his career, his expression through different mediums and gives plenty of talking points if not emotion. More Hockney appears downstairs in Queer British Art, though this is a confused collection rather than a single story on display. The exhibition showcases queer art (by queer artists, or playing around with gender norms and sexuality) from 1861 when the death penalty for sodomy was abolished to fifty years ago, 1967, when gay sex was partially decriminalised in England and Wales.

There is impactful art on display: Oscar Wilde’s prison door next to a life size portrait by Robert Pennington. Bathing by Duncan Grant, showing off all parts of the male body swimming in The Serpentine. His private erotica sketches too show active embracing gay sex that he was ‘never ashamed of’. And there’s Hockney’s Life Painting for a Diploma that shows the worry and obsession over white gym bunnies is nothing new for gay men. A few statues and artefacts scatter the route but most of the art displayed is paintings that don’t quite tell the story of drag, or theatre performance that is hinted at. In the later rooms showing queer London in the 1950s and 60s, I was coldly left feeling further away from Soho than my unknowing Grandpa must have been at the time.

Bathing by Duncan Grant

Queer British Art fails to give you the history lesson you might want, or the blockbuster paintings you might expect. They’re elsewhere, including of course upstairs in the Hockney. I’m a keyboard critic with no knowledge of how to curate an exhibition beyond realising not every piece you want will be available, but this is not the story I’d have told. Instead I’d have focused on the 1950s onwards to celebrate the cultural uncovering of queer identities across all art forms, probably at the Tate Modern instead of Tate Britain. It’s still worth seeing if you’re in the area, especially if you can combine it with the Hockney. Both exhibitions, whatever your interest in ‘art’ have individual, exceptional pieces to soak in and dissect.


David Hockney is at the Tate Britain, Millbank until 29th May and Queer British Art until 1st October. Pre-booking for Hockney is essential to avoid waiting for hours. A combined ticket to both, available for most days is £29 including a free glass of wine or hot drink, which you’ll need to fight off exhibition fatigue. Their website was horrendous so I had to ring up to book my tickets instead.

Next on My Gay Agenda: a review of documentary Who’s Gonna Love Me Now and a visit to the National Theatre for Angels in America. Enter the ticket ballots or find a cinema screening on the website.

All pictures in this post come from the Tate website. Go see art in person, not on my blog.

Disney and Bakes: Pinocchio

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The Disney: a wooden child is sold into human trafficking twice before being swallowed by a whale.

When You Wish A Star, if you’ve been good lonely toymaker like Gepeto, your dreams come true. Except this hymn to the Disney Gospel (read Mark Pinsky for more on that) shows a dangerous theology of individual responsibility. Gepeto and Jiminy Cricket are hopeless at parenting Pinocchio, the wooden puppet boy brought to life by the Blue Fairy, who clearly needs to reassess her services.

There’s fun and innocence in the early scenes as Jiminy plays amongst the clocks, Gepeto dances with his cat and goldfish, and accidentally fires his shotgun thinking Pinocchio is a burglar, not his newly-alive son. Jiminy, only appointed Pinocchio’s conscience because the Blue Fairy flirted with him doesn’t do much better. He oversleeps on the first day of the job and naive Pinocchio gets kidnapped on the way to school by the false promise of fame.

After a rousing performance of I’ve Got No Strings (every song is a sheer joy in this film) Pinocchio is locked in a cage by Stromboli who threatens to chop him up with an axe (I screamed, Mum had to ask what was wrong). And yet, both Jiminy Cricket and the returning Blue Fairy are more hung up on Pinocchio’s nose growing, rather than the fact he is hung up in a literal cage of child abuse and human trafficking.

The Blue Fairy is a serene, other-worldly apparition that visually stands-out on screen and is the only female voice in the film. She releases Pinocchio only for him to get kidnapped by the fox Honest John again. This time he’s taken to Pleasure Island, where the boys smoking and eating too much are turned into into jackasses, in the film’s second human trafficking episode. ‘You’ve had your fun, now you’ll pay’ bellows the trafficker, again giving a dangerous message that the boys themselves, not the baddies are to blame.

Pinocchio manages to escape with Jiminy’s help, only to fling himself into the belly of Monstro the whale (he’s not as friendly as the whales Dory knows). There he finds Gepeto, goldfish and all. ‘I never thought it would end this way, starving in the belly of a whale’, he says in the most despondent, understated line of the film. But this is Pinocchio’s moment: the one thing he learnt about fire saves the day as they smoke Monstro out from the inside.

In a crashing finale that you can see The Little Mermaid replicating decades later, everyone washes ashore. Back home, the drowned and dead Pinocchio is resurrected into a real boy by the voice and the flash of the Blue Fairy. Going into the belly of whale was ‘brave, true and selfless’. I’d call it stupid, but it’s not his fault. No-one has been teaching Pinocchio in the traumatic few days he’s been alive, Let’s hope Gepeto and Jiminy Cricket find a parenting class and walk with him to school from now on.

The Bake: Breadsticks and Dip

Everybody nose no trip to Italy is complete without your daily bread. I couldn’t think of a better bake to share while watching Pinocchio than breadstreaks, although my rustic was a bit rusty: it’s been a year since I last baked bread, using Brilliant Bread by Bake Off Series 3 alumni James Moreton. His easy approach with photo guides puts understanding bread and having fun baking above perfection.

My kneading still needs some work and speeding up but I was happy with the chewy inside, crusty outside baton-like breadsticks, especially as due to a catastrophic copy error the book’s recipe actually misses out how long to bake them in the oven for. You can find James’ breadsticks recipe on the Daily Record website.

Whilst the dough was proving, I followed Jack Monroe’s recipes for hummus and pesto from my go-to dinner book A Girl Called Jack. Neither need a blender, creating fresh and chunky dips that aren’t actually that dippable, which I didn’t mind. Of course you could use a blender or hand mixer if you want. 

Bring the bake out when the Blue Fairy visits a trapped Pinocchio and his nose starts to grow, just over half way through the film

Post-bake chat: Pinocchio became a ‘real boy’ when he proved he was brave, true and selfless. What would you have to prove to become a ‘real girl’?

Let me know your thoughts on Pinocchio and your baking snaps using #DisneyAndBakes or commenting below. Next month we’ll get swept away with Mickey in Fantasia.

#LGBTQProgress March 2017

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#TransResistance

There’s been a worrying trend throughout March of transphobia seeping into the weekend papers. It started with broadcaster Jenni Murray’s piece in The Sunday Times saying trans women are not ‘real women’, with authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Fay Weldon and Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman also sharing views that sound less than inclusive. Perpetuating the idea that anyone knows what makes a ‘real woman’ (or a real man, or a real anything) is dangerous rhetoric that keeps trans discrimination going. This year’s TDoV, Trans Day of Visibility (31st March) was spot on with its theme of #TransResistance, especially a day after North Carolina’s ‘bathroom bill’ was repealed in a still-transphobic compromise.

 

Exclusively Gay Missed-Moments?

The press went into hype overload around Beauty and the Beast after its director Bill Condon told Attitude that the live remake features Disney’s first big-screen ‘exclusively gay moment’ as Le Fou happens to dance with a man for three seconds. Soon after, Power Rangers came out with an equally brief moment, suggesting one of the gang might or might not be in a same-sex relationship. It’s hard in the UK to see these ambiguous screen seconds as genuine progress following Moonlight’s pioneering Best Picture win at the Oscars and a first lesbian companion for Doctor Who. The progress instead seems to have come from the hype. Malaysia’s film censors initially banned the film because of the hype surrounding it. They backed down. In one country that bans homosexuality, two men are dancing in the cinema.

 

Research round-up

  • An American survey shows 1 in 5 millennials are LGBTQ, which is three times higher than a similar poll released just in January. Unfortunately, the next National Census in 2020 won’t (or rather, will) set the statistics straight. Considerations to ask about sexual orientation have been dropped.
  • Does your sexuality stop you getting the job, or just your voice? A small research experiment showed that those with ‘gay or lesbian sounding voices’ were wrongly considered to be poorer candidates. Glee and Feud creator Ryan Murphy already spoke earlier in the month about his experience of being mocked for a ‘gay voice’ in Hollywood. Another piece of research suggested female employers prefer gay candidates. Remember, not getting a job in the UK because of your actual or perceived sexual orientation is illegal discrimination (with some very limited, infuriating exceptions). And ‘gay-sounding voices’ aren’t real.

Your new favourite magazine might be a tie. HISKIND launched in print, Diva celebrated 250 issues by launching DIVA Awards and Grindr announced their a travel-focused magazine Into.

Your new favourite football team is also a tie. Manchester United became the first football club to partner with Stonewall, with neighbouring team Bolton Wanderers tweeting their support. Reports of chanting at a recent Chelsea v Man U match are a reminder of the homophobic reality that teams are working to change. Wonderkid, a short film about a gay pro footballer has been aired by Sky Sports and is free to watch online.

Happy Birthday to GMFA. Founded in 1992 as Gay Men’s Fighting Aids, the charity reaches over 1.5 million on its websites discussing safer sex, relationships, mental health, HIV stigma and racism. There’s only one thing on their birthday list and we can all chip in to it: a £25,000 fundraising appeal

Raise a glass and raise your flag for Gilbert Baker. The creator of the ubiquitous rainbow flag died on Thursday 30th March, leaving a legacy of symbolism that is impossible to fully comprehend and fascinating to read about.

Follow me on Twitter @JoeyKnock for more #LGBTQProgress news throughout the week.