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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Catching Up

I have been busy ! Or that's what it feels like anyway with two part-time jobs on the go - I  keep trying to find time to write stuff in here, keep trying to catch the ideas as they appear, but then something else comes up and I lose the thread and well, you know ...

But hey, it's my blog and if I write it every day or once a month is really up to me - though I do get little feelings of guilt at times when I leave it too long, like a pot-plant I've neglected to water.

I gave my annual guest lecture on AIDS and me a few weeks, called "Living My Death" - I do it in for a paper here at the University of Auckland called "The Sociology of Death & Dying", taught by the wonderful Dr Tracey Mcintosh.

I get to weave my own life story through an academic exploration of theories of death, gay social history and AIDS - it is something I really enjoy, but also find quite tiring, and it's also very revealing in many ways - personal narratives have to be to work I guess. And I get to talk about sex and death a lot. But it was good. And I enjoy getting a solid round of applause at the end of a lecture - that doesn't happen all that often.

I try to situate the lecture in the context of gay history of the last 50 years or so, because I think you need to know aspects of our culture to understand what happened, anyway, after the lecture was over, a young gay guy, mid 20s or so, came up to me and we had a conversation something like this.

"I don't understand - you mean the police used to come into gay bars and be able to arrest people just because they were gay?"
 "Sometimes, or if they didn't arrest people they could drag us all out on the street and ask to check ID but yeah, the cops could and did just walk in and hassle gay bars and the people in them."
"But I just don't understand why they'd do it?"
"We were illegal, it was easy work for lazy cops, and no-one really cared that much."
"Arresting people just because they're queer? It makes no sense!"

He was right - it makes no sense, not today - back then it did.

Shame permeated our world in those days - I'm lucky enough to have only caught the tail end of it, I was able to come out in a time of change, when Gay Liberation and Gay Pride were working to being about the changes young queers like this student now thankfully are able to take for granted.

But he was born in 1986 he told me, the year that we became legal in New Zealand. I felt kinda old when he told me that ...

I got to meet the people running the new Pride Festival here in Auckland, hearing their side of the "One Community" idea. Now I gather it's going to be "One community, many cultures" an improvement I guess.

It was good to hear their point of view. In my last blog I talked about how I just can't see us as being "One Community", which they'd put up as one of their central themes, for the parade at least. Now they've moved on to "One Community, Many Cultures" which is much better. I'd argue it's still not all that accurate and sounds more like PR puffery than anything else but hey, I'm a sociologist by training, I've written and taught about "Gay Auckland" so yeah, I have an opinion. In fact I did my other standing guest lecture on "Gay Auckland" a few weeks ago. But I appreciated the chance to talk with them, and I'm really glad they've taken all the hard work on.

My fears that it will be a nice family-friendly-don't-upset-the-straights parade remain, but hey, I'm very open to being proved wrong.

Part of my new job involves updating and creating resources for services that might have queer clients. I've been updating an old contact list, counselling services, community support etc. It gives an interesting little snapshot of where things were in 2001.

We had a Pride Centre back then - based in where Rainbow Youth is today. I think that was the second Pride Centre we've had, wasn't there on before that in town, around Federal Street? Maybe this third attempt will last longer. Perhaps not signing a lease might help - just rent space as and when.

There were two specific community support services linked to  the AIDS Foundation, one for Maori, and one  for Pasifika people. Both gone now.

And we had Gayline/Lesbianline instead of OUTline. Given all the rumours of crisis (  a clusterfuck of idiocy and poor Board leadership or just "normal organisational change"seem to be the two main stories, depending who you talk to) flying around about OUTline at the moment  you have to wonder if that will be on the list in 10 years time too. I hope so, it's a service we really need. I really hope their Board can keep it all going.

And it's election time for the NZAF Board of Trustees. Ah, happy memories. I did enjoy my term on that Board a lot. I met some great people and it was really fascinating seeing how an NGO like that operates. Great to see such a talented group of people applying.

And I'm another year older - 51! Seeing I was told by a Dr in London in 1988 that I'd most likely be dead in 2 years, I'm quite happy about that.

Friday, September 14, 2012

One Big Family ?

The Auckland  Pride Committee (let's not mention the "Lesbian/Gay/Queer" words -  they scare the sponsors) has announced more details of the upcoming fiesta, a daytime parade along Ponsonby Road, a two week festival building on the long-standing success of the Big Gay Out, and even a closing ceremony. Just like the Olympics!

Pride festivals are not new - the photo on the left is from 1972, and lists picnics, parties, food, ,usic - and workshops. They were a bit more political than we seem to be today.

I am a real believer in the idea of Gay Pride, or Queer Pride or as it is now, just "Pride" if you must. Rainbow Pride just sounds slightly icky to me, it always makes me think of My Little Pony, but I'm sure we'll see enough of that as well.

But Pride is important, it's the opposite of shame - it does matter that we can show the world, and especially our youth, that in fact there is nothing to be ashamed of in being queer. We have nothing to apologise for, in fact, the straight world should apologise to us for the violence, oppression, misery and murder it has heaped on us for so long.

I am a little puzzled that the theme for the festival is apparently "One Community". And I know I'm not the only one who went "WTF?" at that.

I know a multitude of different queer communities in Auckland, and some of us have nothing to do with others - we sure as hell don't form one cohesive group. I wonder whether the idea that this Pride Festival will be able to represent "One Community" actually means it'll shut out or miss out those bits of queerdom that don't quite fit.

And a day-time march down Ponsonby Road - yeah, a bunch of queers wandering through Ponsonby - talk about radical -  never seen that before - that will really be breaking new ground and showing our pride to those who don't like us.

It does seem just a little safe in conception, a little white and middle-class, but that's not surprising.

Why not have the Pride Parade in Manukau, or on the Shore? If we're serious about the idea of Pride, wouldn't taking it to the areas that queer people actually need some support be better at building pride than the bland safety of Ponsonby Rd? Or why not back to the heart of the city - take over Queen Street as the first Hero Parades did - that would be showing some real pride and Council support.

Of course this wouldn't have happened without the $100,000 thrown at the project by the Council. I think it's important to remember that. We actually couldn't organise this ourselves, in the way we did in the past. And it has been sold to the Council as a marketing idea, and one designed to bring in money, over $700,000 they reckon. Fingers crossed that works out.

We are being re-packaged now, we're being branded, as part of Auckland Council's branding  "Hey look!" they're saying "We've got homos too, we're really hip!"

I doubt they'll be boasting about this side of Auckland in our expanding tourism markets in countries like Malaysia though.

But "One Community" ? Really ? Have any of these people been out and about lately? There are gay men, dykes, queers of all sorts that I wouldn't cross the road to piss on if they were on fire: are they part of my community? Am I part of theirs? I have good mates who are dykes, but I'm not sure we exactly belong to the same social groups, the same community; sometimes we do, but there are spaces in their worlds I know I don't belong to.  I don't think there is any way I belong to the fa'afafine community. I'm not part of the trans community either. Are they all being invited along?

I look around and recognise the diversity that springs from being differently gendered or sexually different from the mainstream. There are lots of people who fit into these groups, but we're not all one group. That's working with a heterosexist, straight way of thinking about us, that starts by defining us  as not normal, not straight,  and therefore we belong together. But we don't.

This all goes back to the old question - just what makes a community? What holds it together? What are the commonalities that bind a group of people into being more than just a social group but a real community, with a shared sense of identity, and a shared sense of history. As I've said before, simply by virtue of being gay doesn't make me feel some immediate natural sense of kinship with every other homo guy out there. Just cause I love men emotionally and desire them physically doesn't mean I'm connected with every other guy like me. Sexuality alone is simply too thin to sustain the weight of a collective identity.

I'm sure I will go to various events, hang out with mates from all around the country and elsewhere too and have a good time. I will enjoy myself. I guess it's like the gay marriage debate for me, I'm not wildly enthused about it but once it starts we have to win it. The negative fallout if we lose that, or if we fuck this up, is too great. If this falls over, it will in fact do us damage, it will give ammunition to our enemies and undermine the very idea of "Pride" and lead to a more queerphobic world rather than a better one. So I want it to succeed.

I'm just a little uneasy, it all feels too top-down, too corporate, too much of a slick PR job rather than anything actually based in who and what we are. It doesn't feel like it comes out of our communities to me I guess.

But yes, I'll be there!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Watching History

78 - 40 ! Come on ! That is fucking amazing ! (UPDATE _ I've just seen it's 80 - 40 !)

Thank you Louisa - you were brilliant in both your opening and closing speeches - calm, logical, inclusive, passionate - you shone !

78 - 40!  Shit that is impressive ! And is shows such a massive change in New Zealand society - the idea that even 10 years ago, we would be looking at this, seeing this kind of result, well people would have thought you were crazy!

So thank you so much for that, and thank you to all the others who did such a wonderful job tonight. And a real thanks to Kevin Hague, you made such an eloquent, passionate speech.

And thank you Dr Paul Hutchison - coming from National, standing up and making that clear, classically liberal analysis, and admitting you'd been forced to think and weigh the evidence and change your mind. Your speech was outstanding, sincere, and humble. I was really moved.

National MP Jamie Lee-Ross standing up in support, saying that he hadn't been born when Homosexual Law Reform went through, shit that made me feel old - but his defense, his stance of almost bewilderment that this could be an issue - this is not the National Party of Holyoake, Muldoon and Bolger ...

And yes, I was moved, I was involved, even though as I have said here before, I have real problems with the idea, but once this battle was started the stakes are too high for us to fail. And you might call it histrionic, but I'd say it was a victory of good over evil, over reason over fear - it's a social milestone - do not underestimate it.

You might be, as I am, deeply critical of the concept of marriage for philosophical and political reasons,  you might be opposed to the assimilationist tendencies, the kow-towing to heteronormativity - fine.

But if we had lost this, and I do men "we", then the price would have been huge.

It would have sent a message to those people out there who hate us, who are religiously and philosophically opposed to us, or who are just pig-ignorant red-neck bigots, that they had been vindicated, and that we had been shown to be wrong, to be lesser, to be not as good as them.

And that's why, once it started,  we couldn't afford to lose this argument.

We are in fact the full, moral and legal equivalent to anyone else in this society. We are not lesser citizens nor are we lesser humans, simple because we love people of the same gender.

For me it is that simple - that we are able to take part in the complete fullness of life in the same way as any other citizen.

And ... wasn't it great following it all on twitter and facebook while watching it on Parliament TV. I love that - all the contacts, the jokes, the observations, the different webs and networks intersecting. It was watching history, that clash of ideas coming out, I love that stuff. I really did feel connected to a community.

It was a great night. A great result. But we've only one the battle, not the war on this issue. But we will!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

John Banks Believes in Talking Devil Snake.

I am  horrified that I am posting his picture here, I was hoping that wouldn't be till his funeral party, but this news, that John Banks, ex-Mayor of Auckland, the "Leader" of the ACT Party and currently the Associate Education Minister and the main prop of this current government actually believes that the creation fable in the Bible is true.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Given all the evil he has done to the world of queer people in this country, I tend more to tears than laughter.

People should be free to have their own religious beliefs. Just as they are free to hold their own political beliefs - I have no problem with that.

But if he'd come out with that statement before the last election you have to wonder if the voters of Epsom would have been quite so willing to hold their noses, do what the National Party demanded and give him their vote. I'd say not.

Banks' beliefs are actually no surprise if you've paid any attention to him over the years. He has been explicit in his vile, smug, hate-filled anti-gay comments, and always shown a belief that God is on his side. When a caller to his radio show once said homosexuals should have barbed wire shoved up our arses, Banks said that would be a waste of good barbed wire. Did anyone think he'd really changed?

Let's be crystal clear - nutty Christians like Banks believe that homosexuals are driven by Satan, that we are deliberate evil sinners who refuse to see the wickedness of our ways.  For him there is no such thing as biology, or psychology. Evolution is the devil's trickery!  Science doesn't really exist. To believe this bullshit is to believe in magic, not science. The literal view that every word in the Bible is factual breeds the same narrow, ignorant, smug and fearful mindset of a 4th Century Christian monk, a member of Destiny Church, or a contemporary member of Al Qaeda. Fundamentalists are basically the same.

He actually believes this stuff happened. He believes that a talking devil-snake in a tree tempted Eve, and this led to humanity's downfall.

Of course, there are actually two differing creation fables in Genesis, but details like that wouldn't bother him. Banks has never been noted for being a profound thinker.

But above all this shows that he is now positioning himself for the death of ACT, and he needs another political vehicle, and Colin Craig's Conservative Party is the perfect fit. That's where he's going.

Of course, all those right-wing gay men who were happy to vote for him because he was part of the establishment without thinking too much about what he actually thought of us  won't vote for him in that party. Some Jews even supported the Fascists in the early days. But you guys are part of the reason he's still around. Gee, thanks for that.

No matter how he learnt to smile, no matter how he learnt to shake hands with queers without throwing up or calling the police on us, I've never seen any indication that he has ever wavered in his Bible-driven belief that we are evil and sinful. Expediency is second-nature to most politicians, take whatever you can no matter what the source, even pretend to like the donor. He certainly found enough queers who were willing to help him get where he is now. Will they still sing his praises now? Let's see.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Apparently the Buddha once said that if humanity had one more drive as strong as sex there would be no hope for us ever to achieve enlightenment because we'd all be too distracted.

Matthew Stradling
I guess he knew what he was talking about.

I know that sometimes I can sink into some sort of erotic fog, where sex is my major preoccupation, my pleasure, my joy, my reason for being. At times I just want to chase and be chased, to hunt, to find, to feel that anticipation of a new lover's arrival.

And I actually welcome that, I revel in it, I love the fact that I have great, warm, passionate, loving, tender, kinky, and most of all - fun - sex. And yes, I'm just coming out of one of those times again now.

Sometimes that urge just gets so strong, and when it all comes together, well, it's fantastic.

Whether it's with a man I have known and cared for over years or some random off the net I'll never hook up with again, there are times when it is all I want, when I'd rather fuck than eat or drink.

That feeling of skin on skin, the scent of a man, from crotch to armpits, cupping the heft of his buttocks or his balls, the joy of discovery that a new body holds, cock, eyes, mouth, legs, lips tongue - just getting that close up, that intimate, that near to another guy, that sense of almost passing beyond our skins and actually blending into each other. It's so good, so powerful.

Then it passes, and normal life resumes. I have been celibate at times, for quite a long time, for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes I'll go quite happily for months at a time with nothing. But then it returns, and it does feel like a hunger, the way desire can spread through my life and pre-occupy my thoughts and my time.

I can't imagine being gay and not at least having the possibility of sex. I guess I was happy in my periods of celibacy because I knew they were self-imposed and temporary.

Do gay men fuck more?

I think we do, if we can. For such a long time sex was the only way we could express ourselves, and even that meant we risked blackmail, prison, disgrace. The chances to love, to set up home, to settle down, were pretty much denied to us for thousands of years. So fucking became our way of showing who we were. And face it - it's a lot of fun.

Rita Mae-Browm the American lesbian author, got smuggled into one of the gay bath-houses of New York in the 70s, and watched what was going on, and had this to say.

"Since class peels off with clothing you might think a democracy of nakedness and need would develop. But here in the cubicles a new hierarchy took place among these lawyers, artists, grocery clerks, stockbrokers, movement activists, professors and cab drivers. Rank now came through the size of penis, condition of body and age…The irrationality of the flesh commands. Here the great American principle of competition and performance keep those on the make hungry, frightened, and slightly savage. (Brown, cited Jay and Young 1994:75) "

I love that idea of "the irrationality of the flesh", and I guess that's at least part of why I enjoy the wild and free side of gay male sexual life. It is irrational. It is joyous, and yes, it can also be slightly savage.

And it doesn't mean we can't or don't love deeply and truly. We can, and we do. But we can also shape our lives in ways that are different to the ways that most heterosexuals have to. Many, if not most gay couples, are clear on how sex and love differ, and it is pretty common for men who utterly adore each other to be comfortable with having sex with others.

I've been thinking about all this because of a few conversations I've been in, a few debates about the role of sex and sex-addiction, and what it means to be gay, all coming up in the context of the gay marriage debate.

I understand the need some guys have to ape straights. They say they want monogamy and a house in the suburbs, and that's great. A few times I've had that ghastly gay couple of "Modern Family" get cited as a wonderful example of what we could have. 

Do those two ever fuck? They give a bland, Disneyfied, desexed, safe and castrated image of homo-happiness. Not my role-models that's for sure. They do everything but fuck it seems - I get the impression that if you pulled their pants down they'd be as smooth as a Ken doll. But that's what makes them so acceptable on prime-time TV. They threaten no-one. No-one sane that is, I'm not counting religious nutters.

For me, as I've said before,  being gay is about love - it's about wanting to have my deepest emotional connections with men, even though I love some women with a deep and enduring intensity, but it's at least equally about sex, if not more so: I can swim in a sex of lust for men, but I have never had the slightest flicker of desire for a woman.

So lust, the erotic, desire, the search for and delight in the body of a man is just as central to my cock-sucking, arse-fucking faggotry as the emotional component, and I'm not going to deny either.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

An Inconvenient Truth

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last week, you'll know that Labour MP Louisa Wall's Bill for re-defining marriage (let's face it, that's what it is) has been drawn from the ballot, and has a reasonable chance of succeeding. Both she and Green MP Kevin Hague had similar Bills sitting there, and it's great that one of these is going to see the light of day. None of the gay National MPs seemed to bother trying. 

Let me be clear about my own position.
It's not an issue that deeply excites me, but as a matter of principle, based in my committment to the concept of human rights, I think that there is no logical, moral or social reason to stop adults from legally committing themselves to each other. I believe as a principle that any adult should be able to have her or his relationship recognised. Personally I think it should go further - if you want to have your committed loving three-way relationship recognised then you should be able to as well. I don't see why under this logic we don't support polygamy as a legal relationship status, just to be consistent in applying human rights. Of course such talk upsets those aiming to be "normal" and  "just like the straights."But that's another story.

But oh dear - all the fighting in the playpen already. 

You see, even though it has become the issue for many homos, there are a number who really don't care, and a smaller group who are in fact actively opposed due to strongly held political and philosophical convictions. I read one gay man saying something like "This is the last hurdle for gay rights !" No, it isn't. 

It will, doubtless, be a big political struggle, requiring long hours of unpaid labour and personal dedication. There will be letter-writing campaigns, people monitoring talkback and ready to ring in and disagree with the redneck fuckwits who hate us. Worthy, happily-coupled, non-threatening same-sex couples will be trotted out to talk movingly about their desire to have their love recognised. Fine.

But we are being instructed by some that we must all be seen to be supporting this move.  Dissenting voices are being derided and told to shut up and go away, told they don't represent "us".

The thing is in New Zealand, nobody, absolutely no-one, can claim with the slightest shred of authority that they represent the voice of gay New Zealand. But no-one, not the out gay MPs (and certainly not the closeted ones), not the earnest Rainbow policy-mafia in Wellington or their corporate counterparts in Auckland actually speak for us. Neither do venue owners, media owners, or bloggers like me. 

We have our opinions, we get a sense of what people are thinking, especially if we are more connected to the local homo-world - but we don't have the right to tell others to "shut up because they're ruining it for the rest of us" if they don't agree with us.

We do have the right to argue, to persuade, to cajole, or to throw a tanty and stop talking to them, tell everyone else how terrible they are and you wish they would just shut the fuck up,that's  fine. 

But freedom of speech, and freedom to disagree is the fundamental human right. Without it the others fall over. So don't expect anyone who doesn't feel as passionately about this topic as you do, or maybe even has a critical perspective on it, to shut up. You have no right to demand that.

And this takes us back to that basic problem - there is no one united gay community. Being attracted to and loving people of the same biological gender is simply too thin a basis to build a real, deep, lasting community on. We are a multitude of different people with differing views, philosophies and backgrounds. But to the straight world we are all the same, (they're lazy, and just not that interested) and we do share a common oppression based in how they see us.

That oppression, fed by what is known as "heteronormativity" (google it) is what leads to the sad and terrible over-representation we have in things like drug addiction, depression, self-harm and suicide. Gay marriage is not going to fix that. Political change, challenges to the existing order instead of trying to fit into it will, I believe, do much more to stop the terrible damage that the straight world inflicts on so many queer people than this. 

But there is such a lack of any political engagement or analysis in contemporary gay culture that people don't see how all this works. Understanding that the things that make individual queer lives shitty are not simply a matter of personal choice but are rooted in a society that systematically fucks us over is not as widespread as it once was, but this ties back to the general de-politicisation of our world.  

Yes it's a good step, there is no reason why our love, our relationships, shouldn't have the same legal recognition as straight ones. It will make some people deliriously happy. They will feel as good as straights, because that's what they measure themselves against. Others will just treasure being able to celebrate their love with all the people who matter to them under the same name as their hetero brothers and sisters. Great. 

But don't assume it's what every single queer is desperate for, because it's not.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Come Out Lately?

So have you heard the news? The American journalist, celebrity (and hottie) has finally come out and said "Yeah, I'm gay - so what?"

It's not really a big surprise; as they used to say, he was dropping hairpins all over the place. He wasn't really all that "in".

But he'd never stood up before and said "Yeah, I love men, and... ? "

So now he's out. And that's good.

I admit, I had a little snarky moment, thinking "Oh gee, you took your time! Wait till it's easy! " but that's not all that productive and coming out is something that people do at their own pace. I am always a bit conflicted on big names when they come out - couldn't they have done more, earlier? But it's up to them. So long as they haven't been active hypocrites working against us.

There are  prominent gay men who work desperately to hide any suggestion that they are queer, they hate themselves so much that they will do anything to cover it up - even if they're sucking cock every chance they get to be away from their wives and families. Cooper wasn't like that, and for me that makes a difference - he hasn't been hiding, he just didn't stand up and say it till now.

It's when you know people are lying that it makes it all so bad.

Some gay friends have been "So? Why bother" but coming out does still matter - I believe that passionately.

Why should we live half a life? Why should we have to hide who we are? Because a life in the closet is a life that is a lie. It's a lie to yourself and those you love.

Coming out gives us visibility, it shows that , as the old slogan said "We Are Everywhere". And that is important.

I can remember as a young scared homo in the 70s being almost desperate to hear any news of any openly gay men in the world. I knew, but didn't really care about all the "Michaelangelo, Socrates, Oscar Wilde" famous men of old. I wanted to see men of my time who were out and successful and happy.

Rumours flew wildly about all sorts of celebrities, and even though now it seems comical at the time just trying to find any positive and openly gay men was impossible, so often it was singers, actors and other celebrities who got the label, whether they deserved it or not. And for some reason playing at male bisexuality was trendy for a bit in the 70s - think of early Bowie.

He didn't exactly look or act so straight back then, did he? So I bought every one of his albums I could find. I was trying, in some way, to learn how to be gay.

I guess the point is that for me, I felt so alone, so isolated. I knew there were other poofters around, I'd met my mum's hairdresser after all,  but nobody ever talked of them in a positive way.

They were shown as sad perverts, or jokes, doomed to loneliness, alcoholism and suicide.

And think of all the reactions to those rumours ! Scandal! Horror! Why the fuck should it matter? But it did and it still does.

The sense I had was that being gay was a terrible, evil secret  - something that must be hidden at all costs.

We were effectively de-humanised. We were seen as dirty, broken, unworthy and criminal.

So the obsession with "Did you hear the rumour about X?"  is understandable, and it continues.

It was so hard to find any positive, ordinary picture of a happy gay man - shit what am I saying? It wasn't just hard - it was impossible!

I can still remember being amazed at 17 and meeting two guys in their mid 20s who were living together, out, happy, with balanced lives. This was literally the first time I'd realised that this might be an option for my life.

Things are so much better than they were, but the wider-world is still not a welcoming friendly place for us. It's not uncommon to hear "Yes that's fine you're gay, but let's not talk about it at work/at school/in the rugby team." That message actually pushes us back into the closet, and tells us that in fact it's not ok to be gay.

As a community, old, middle-aged, young, we need to see ourselves mirrored in the wider world we live in. We need to be seen as part of the ordinary fabric of society, because that is what we are.

Coming out never really stops - it's a constant process. But the more it happens the better for us all.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sometimes A Song is Enough...

I got a bit of flak about my last blog from a few friends, and other people too.

"Don't be a Pride hater" was the message - and I'm not. I just have a long memory.

Pride events are happening across the big cities in the Northern hemisphere around this time, and they are positive things for our world. There, I said it.

From Istanbul to Chicago, Manchester to Tel Aviv, there will be parades, dances, workshops, fucking, drugs, political debates, drinking, theatre, fucking, film, drugs, coming out seminars, marriage ceremonies, fucking, screaming arguments, book-launches, falling-in-love, poetry-readings, fucking, drinking, all the things that bind us together.

That bloody rainbow flag will be everywhere too.

Actually I don't mind the flag so much - it's useful when you're travelling to help find a bar or whatever. A rainbow is pretty I the sky.

But I throw up in my mouth a little when people call us a "rainbow" community.

Whatever the "we" is that we're trying to take pride in is a whole weird mix of groups. Some are sexually based identities, like being gay, bi or lesbian, and some are to do with gender identities, those transitioning from male to female or female to male or unsure where they sit - and even though those groups are all lumped together as "queer" and march under the rainbow flag, I don't think we all automatically form a community.

We're mainly defined by what we're not than what we are. We're not straight, or we're not gender-conforming. Thin ground to build some sort of grand coalition.

And it's thin ground because the politics has been taken out of being gay to a large extent, just as it has in so much of the rest of life. That's why we're getting funding for a Pride Parade from the Council's tourism and events people - they've been sold the idea that a Pride Parade is a tourist money-spinner. That's a ludicrous idea, but, dear Auckland ratepayers, thank you for the cash.

I sincerely do hope the new Pride Trust can put on a "Gay Christmas" for us - that'd be awesome fun. And more strength to them for trying. That's on the record and you can quote me.

I have been thinking about community though, what it is, what it isn't, how it's changed over my lifetime, I can recognise it when I see it, but it's hard to describe, and very hard to build. I'm lucky I guess - I feel like I belong to a gay community here in Auckland, probably more than one - I feel a sense of "at home" and safety. I know others who don't though, who don't feel like they fit, and who don't know what to do about it.

And if we are a real community I think we'd find ways to help those guys. A real community survives because it has the mechanisms to pass down knowledge over the generations - a thing we're pretty crap at.

A few weeks ago I was up at Urge on K Rd, my home-away-from-home (seriously, if I lived just a few kms further away I'd save so much money...) it was still relatively early, starting to fill up, but no-one dancing, and DJ Ant put on a tune and bang - I was back ten years or so. Sometimes a song seems associated with a set of people, a place or a time, and this is one of those for me. It's embedded in my mind with a special time and some special men. I love it's dreamy trancey feel, but haven't heard it on the dance-floor in a while.

I had to dance to it, and as I did a few tears rolled down.

I cried a bit because out of those mates, Charlie first and then Dominic, decided to kill themselves.

It's happened too often in my life, too many friends who've made that decision.

I'll never know if I'm right or not, but I always have this feeling that if they could just get through the worst part of that dark depression, that period of utter darkness, feeling completely alone, useless, unloved and worthless, a mood that does pass, if they could just hold on through that nightmare, maybe it just takes ten minutes to get through the worst of it, if they could then they wouldn't take that step. But of course I'll never know.

I've never actually tried to kill myself - but I've been suicidal at times in my life, I've come very close, especially in my teens. It's a theme that has been in my life ever since - it's never gone away, but I know it's there and I have my ways of managing those moods when they show up.

And I remember how I felt every time a friend has made that decision. That terrible anguish, that howling grief, that pain, that deep searing pain and desolation, every time I hear that news.

But when it happens,  I am embraced by a community of grief, a community in pain. Bad things bring us together.

So if having a good thing can bring us together, if having a Pride Parade can do even a little something to make the different groups that we are a bit stronger in the face of a world that is still pretty hostile to us, then yes, I'm for it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Trying to Focus on the Positive...

So GABA have got their wish and the Auckland Council is going to help fund a new Gay Pride parade!

I guess I should be really excited, but...

I can remember all the shit that went down with Hero too well, the incompetence, the embezzlement of funds that had been donated, the lies, the promises broken, the way HIV+ people were pushed to the side, and the way the last few parades turned into a succession of advertising floats that had nothing to do with Gay Pride - sigh.

And people keep talking about Hero as though it was just a parade - it wasn't. The parade was the last major component. Hero started as a dance party that had a "stealth" public health role as a reaction to how HIV was hitting us in those days - the idea was that if you help build a strong, bonded community they will look after each other and themselves much better. A strong, happy, connected community is a healthy community.

Then Hero grew into a festival with plays, concerts, films, debates and a dedicated magazine - it became an entire festival. There were events catering for all sorts of the community - when it worked it was great. If you were there in Aotea Square that day when Helen Clark declared the Hero Festival open you'd remember the thrill of it.

But then it all turned to shit.

But I'm trying to be positive, honestly.

The plan seems to be to use it to signal the end of a two week Gay Pride festival, with the Big Gay Out being the opening event. Of course the BGO is really our day - it's not for straights - whereas the parade will be for everyone - 90% of those watching it will be straight. Will there be a party? Can we ever have one as good as that night in the Town Hall, with Georgina Beyer rising up through the floor to sing "Somewhere" (If my memory is right, things get hazy). The accepted wisdom seems to be that we can't get three or four thousand people to show up for a party anymore.

And is it about Gay Pride? Or are we going to call it "Queer" ? Or GLBTTIF?

I know older men who completely recoil from the term "queer" to describe them, for them it was a weapon used to humiliate and attack them. They hate it. Young hip queer activists usually show blank incomprehension when you bring this up. But older gay men and dykes are used to being ignored by the young.

I do have a fear the parade itself will be blandly vanilla, they'll aim for something "nice" that won't offend the straights. I hope I'm wrong on that, but I do wonder. Will they kick it off with Dykes on Bikes? Or will they go for "Monogamous Married Gay Couples Who Go To Bed at 9:30 and Raise Fox Terriers" so as not to frighten the straights.

Because don't forget - this whole thing is being funded, at least to start with, with money from the wider straight world - and they just might have an opinion on how it should or shouldn't be spent. Topless dykes holding hands with love may be seen as just too much !

And I think the real weakness that could show up here is that this has not come from the grassroots of the Auckland gay community. It is being imposed from the top down, partly to tick a box for the Council, saying "Look, we're just as much fun and grown-up as other cities! Give us your Pink Dollars!"

Of course the myth of the Pink Dollar has been pretty well exploded, but I doubt that anyone in Auckland Council knows that. We're just as rich, poor or in the middle as the rest of the population. And the work of Richard Florida saying a strong gay community helps build an strong attractive international city, part of the argument in Council for funding,  has also been shown to be wishful thinking. So the Council is hoping for some sort of major tourism return on their $100,000 investment. It might work - or not.

Why can't we as a community raise the funds to do this ourselves? I guess because the Auckland gay community, such as it is, is a pretty fragmented beast - there is not much that unites us. I think the parade runs the risk of becoming an inauthentic piece of window-dressing instead of a real celebration of just who and what we are. But I am hoping I am wrong.

Don't get me wrong - it is great to have some sort of public celebration of just who we are. A festival with a parade, if it's done well, could be fantastic. Here's hoping they can pull it off.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Total Top Seeks Piggy Bottom

Top? Bottom? Pitcher? Catcher? Vers? Vers/Top? Vers/Bottom? Pig Bottom? Dom Top? I mean, do you prefer to fuck or get fucked? Or do you really enjoy both? Or are you desperate and will do anything?

For gay men, these words matter. You see them scattered all over internet hookup sites, used as ways of signalling just what we like to do in bed.

That's not that new really. In the old days we used to use a bunch of keys on a belt-hook, or a bandanna. If you wore it on the right, you were a bottom, if on the left, you were a top. You still see it a bit in the leather world, but as a common code among gay men it seems to have pretty much gone. And I remember reading that back in the 50s and early 60s, a lot of gay men said they only fucked, part of not taking on a femme identity. That's changed now.

And it talks pretty openly about arse-fucking too, when you use those words. That's a subject that a lot of people don't like to talk about, but it's a core part of gay sex, so this is a way of saying it without really saying it.

Fucking is wonderful - it's an intensely powerful thing to do, whichever way round you do it. You are physically putting your body into another man, or taking his body into yours. We try and rise above our essential isolation and join to another. That is an incredibly intimate and powerful thing to do. And it feels so good! Or it should.

For a lot of guys it's more than just a sexual signal, they see it as reflecting something about who they are as a man. It becomes part of our identity. Does getting fucked mean you are less of a man? It does for some.

After all, if you model yourself on the straight world, then "real" men fuck, and women get fucked, so for some gay guys, who in my experience anyway, aren't all that comfortable with being gay, being a top is really important for them. "Yeah, I'm into guys but hey, I fuck them, so I'm not girly or anything - I'm nearly straight!"

Right - cause kissing and touching and then fucking and orgasming with another guy is such a straight thing to do...

But these categories don't work that well - I know drag queens who are power-tops - I know big butch hairy gym-bunnies who roll over and spread their legs at the first touch. And I've been to bed with straight guys who say "I really want you to fuck me" - they're curious, it turns them on.

There are all sorts of motives though for how we fuck. One friend of mine who is happily versatile said he ended up being the top in his last relationship, because it brought out the feeling he had of protecting his partner. For him topping was part of looking after him, sheltering and caring for his lover, it wasn't about dominance or being insecure in his masculinity - it was about loving his man and making him feel safe.

Another friend says it's his size, he's very tall and solid, so when he hooks up guys just expect him to top, even though he's vers. I have a preference for short slim tops myself - they are more maneuverable somehow.

For some guys it is simply physical - they really don't like getting fucked, it doesn't feel good erotically, sometimes they put up with it for a partner's sake but it doesn't excite them. Another friend was raped as young gay man and has never let anyone top him ever since. Understandable really. And fucking can be about power - we all know that.

Bottoms really enjoy their work, for some it is the best feeling ever, better than getting blown, better than fucking a guy. Apparently it's the way getting fucked well stimulates our prostate gland. And that does feel good. The joke is once you get the hang of bottoming you'll never stop. You get helium-heels, wear your ankles for earrings, or turn into a black hole. Are bottoms just lazy? The starfish bottom who just lies there and doesn't do anything isn't that popular it seems. You gotta give a little bit back. Move those hips! Pushy bottoms go to the other extreme, trying to control, issuing instructions, making the top wish he'd put a ball-gag in his pocket.

For some bottoms it's also about how safe-sex affects them. A lot of guys simply can't keep an erection when they have to use condoms. So they end up bottoming. And a lot of HIV+ guys feel like we are keeping our partners safer if we bottom rather than fuck them. Biologically there is not much to that argument, but psychologically it's a strong one. It is one thing that no safe-sex programme I've seen anywhere has ever really addressed well. Condoms really are passion killers for a lot of guys. And passion, fun, the thrill, is core. So if you bottom instead, problem solved.

And as much fun as toys can be, they aren't the same as getting a real cock inside you. Strap-ons, dildos etc are great, but never as good as the real thing in my experience.

Pig-bottoms of course are insatiable - happily lining up for the erotic thrill of getting pounded by man after man. And why not? A lot of bottoms are very assertive in the rest of their lives - it's like getting fucked adds some balance to how they live.

Of course, bottoms always say there aren't enough tops around. But then I meet guys in relationships who are both tops. Why? Because as much as we love sex, love is more important I guess - so if you're a top who falls for another top, or a bottom who falls for another bottom, then the relationship wins out over how you fuck.

That's not saying it can't cause some tension: I was chatting with a vers guy recently who was complaining his boyfriend isn't really vers and prefers fucking him to getting fucked. He felt like he was doing more than his share of the work I guess, or missing out on some fun - cause let's face it -  fucking another guy is a lot of fun.

Is being versatile the ideal? I guess it doubles your chances of fun. A lot of guys are happily versatile, just going with the flow, being in the moment, switching and playing along the way. And you'd have to think it makes life easier in a relationship.

Yeah I know, fucking is only one part of gay sex, and some guys never like it in either role. They like to jerk off or suck or get sucked. But in my years of experience and hands-on research, I think fucking is still the sex-act that matters the most.

Fucking carries so many different ideas and meanings, and it can change with the same guy from one day to the next.

But when you look at the ads on Grindr, Manhunt, NZdating, wherever, you see these terms used a lot, so they matter to us. They form part of how we see ourselves. So long as you're happy doing what you're you're doing, then why not?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Gay Marriage - Is It a Right?

I saw that there is a debate tonight in Sydney on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalised, featuring NZ Queer Theorist Prof Annemarie Jagose amongst others. She is taking the position that it shouldn't. And on my friend and  fellow blogger Jeremy Lambert has raised the issue as well, but he's for it, wondering where the activists to push it are.

I am ambivalent on this one. But I'm amazed at how it has gone from a total non-issue for the gay world 30 years ago to the central item of gay activism in the Western world. I saw some Australian research last year saying that for young queers it was now seen as the most important issue.

I've been thinking about it this last week because someone referred to it as "a right" - and that word made me stop and think. Searching for images for this blog I saw a protestor holding up a sign reading "Marriage is a Human Right, Not a Heterosexual Privilege."

I would describe myself as a "Human Rights Hawk", I think the development of the idea of human rights is one of the most important things in human history.

But marriage as a right - really? I'm still unconvinced.

The symbolic power of the act of getting married is incredibly strong for a lot of people though. It has such deep cultural roots, it has so much meaning, even though so many of them end up in divorce.

And I can remember at the age of about 18 at a cousin's (first) wedding, at the reception afterwards, getting a bit drunk and feeling sorry that my family would never celebrate my love for another man in this way, or so I thought then. Now I suspect there is nothing they'd like more than to see me settle down with a nice man and a couple of dogs.

I have loved and been loved by various men over the years, but never felt like I wanted to marry any of them, to join my life together in that way. Maybe it's just the way I am.

I know so many friends who are in long-term relationships, some of 30 or more years, but most of them haven't gone off to get a Civil Union, and don't seem all that interested in pushing for marriage. But for some it is a real aching pain that they feel dismisses their love as second-rate when compared to married straights.

I was talking with friends this weekend, a lovely couple of men, and they have always been clear they saw no need for a Civil Union, until earlier this year when one of them got very seriously ill. Even though they had absolutely no problems with the hospital system, they realised that legally they weren't seen as next-of-kin, and this could place them in a difficult position.

That legal argument is I think the strongest one, and I suspect that the whole drive for legally recognising same-sex relationships might have grown out of the fight against AIDS, when so many times one partner who was sick or dying and had been estranged from his family suddenly found their family had legal rights in their lives and his partner did not. There were some real horror stories of families coming in after a death, sometimes on the same day, and clearing out all they thought was theirs, leaving the loved partner doubly bereft. I don't know, but maybe that's where this all came from.

But is it a right?

Conservatives who say that allowing same-sex marriage is redefining the entire concept of marriage are completely correct I think. Marriage has always been intricately bound up with ideas of property, religion and social continuity. It has largely been about knowing who was entitled to property and who wasn't. There is simply no common historical precedent for same-sex marriage anywhere that I can find - it is a huge change - but I admit that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen.

To me, the real issue is for consenting adults to be able to have their relationships recognised by law. That seems more like a right to me.  That is something I can totally support. If you love someone else so much you decide that you want to bind your lives together in a legal fashion, then fine.

But why marriage? Why only a couple? Why doesn't New Zealand, or most of the Western world, allow polygamous marriages? They have been incredibly common in human history - I have met Muslim women who are very happily living in such marriages with a couple of other wives, some Mormons still practice it - but we won't allow them that here - don't they have that right too? If marriage really is a human right, who gets to define what marriage is?

I know of guys living in long-standing, stable threesomes - why shouldn't they be able to have their relationship recognised as legally valid as well? Why can't they be married? From all I have read or seen of the push for gay marriage, the only form that activists think is acceptable is a couple.

And that points to what I see as a deeply conservative side to this argument, and old activist that I am I am not keen on that. It seems to me to speak of a desire to assimilate, to try and be the same as the straights, to follow them, rather than to consider that in fact we are different and maybe other forms of relationship should be on the table.

Ideally I guess I'd say there should be some legal mechanism that allows any consenting adults to legally tie themselves to any other or others if they wish.

I can understand the desire that some people have to celebrate their love for each other in a public way, and to be sure that their relationship has equal legal privileges, but I can't understand the desire to copy heterosexuals.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

If Looks Could Kill

by R.D. Riccoboni
The guy on the right? I just stumbled across him as I was, you know, doing some research online. And who doesn't like a big, handsome, hairy man?

Well ok, I know some guys actually don't. I don't know if it's because of the era I grew up in, but I've always loved hairy guys. Yes, even hairy backs and necks - love 'em. A hairy arse - mmmm yes please! And I'm enjoying the compliments I'm getting now I've grown my beard out more.

But gay men and our bodies - such a loaded issue for so many of us. All those hours spent in gyms, eating all those special diets, the quest for perfection - I've given up on it myself - at 50 I can settle into dignified desuetude I think.

I had some good news yesterday - went for my regular 6 monthly HIV check-up, and my CD4 count is up, and my Viral Load is still undetectable.

These things make me happy. It's hard to remember now just how sick I was in the bad old days. I am very, very lucky, and I know it and don't take it for granted. I told my Dr about a new job I'm going for and he asked me if I would be able to manage it. Not because I'm sick, but because of the one thing I really notice about HIV now - fatigue.

I just get so tired, so easily. A lot of other guys who've had it for decades say the same thing. Even if they're fit and doing all the right things, it seems after a few decades HIV takes a toll on you, or maybe it's the meds, hard to say, but it's a very common complaint for those of us living with it. 

But if that's the worst that's going to happen at the moment, I can take it. I just nap more.

I guess the other thing with my health that I notice and monitor is depression. It's incredibly widespread among HIV+ people, but not something that gets much attention. It's widespread in general I know, but seems to be extremely high in my peer-group. I have had it at times, and used a variety of techniques to deal with it. Sometimes medical, sometimes counselling, or a mixture. It's just a matter of being aware of it I guess, checking to see if I'm sliding down that slope again, cause it's not fun. 

Mental health issues in general aren't things we're good at talking about, whatever part of society we come from. But your mental and emotional health is just as important as your physical health - and having issues is nothing to be ashamed of. My mate Chris Banks does a good job exploring this stuff on his blog, the Bipolar Bear.

Strange that after all these years, fatigue and depression are the two worst side-effects of life with HIV, but both things that can be managed. It's not the physical side of sickness anymore, it these, and the stigma that goes with it. 

And stigma - shit that is nasty stuff, as that case of the 4 year-old boy in Whangarei, whose play-centre asked him to be withdrawn when they found out he had HIV. The school and most of the parents all seemed totally dumb - and maybe that's because there's not enough education out there, HIV is hardly making the news these days.

But that reaction is just fucked. Ignorant, bigotted hysteria. But you still find it, even in the gay world, where you'd think people would know better.

A while back some arsehole commented on one of my blogs that "You wouldn't stop and pick up food off the floor to eat, just like you wouldn't have sex with someone with HIV" or words to that effect. Nice. Classy. No wonder we get depressed.

I think we scare other gay men so much because we hold up a mirror to them, and they don't like what they see. But that sort of nasty ignorance is not uncommon.

On an entirely different, and much sadder note, did you notice the story on the death of Roman Skorek in Rotorua? 

He was stabbed in the chest by a guy it seems he'd been cruising in a park. Yes, cruising in parks at night is dangerous, but it's a very common practice for gays around the world. And there is something exciting about it, finding a stranger, the hook-up, the semi-public nature of it all, the air of danger.

He was caught looking at "the genital area" of the guy who killed him. His death didn't get much attention in the media. 

Why should looking at another person, with sexual intent, because you think he's hot, be a reason to die? To be murdered? 

Ask women, they get cruised all the time, straight men look them up and down, undress them with their eyes, they talk to their tits, and act like it's totally normal - it's their right. 

Yet if a gay man turns that gaze onto another man, a straight man, it's nearly always seen as a violation, a rape by the eyes almost. And a violent reaction is seen as ok. So often straight men have used the "gay panic" defence - now they can't in NZ, but they used to. That was basically a license to beat up or kill gay guys simply because we looked admiringly at a guy.

I think it's immensely sad that this man's life was ended this way, and sadder still at the lack of acknowledgement around it. 

He didn't do anything wrong. He didn't deserve this, and he didn't deserve the embarrassed silence or indifference that his death resulted in. 

It's a shame.

And it shows how far we have to go.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Are We Still Dealing With This Shit?

Unless you've been living under a rock, you would have noticed the scandalous behaviour last week from a childcare centre in Northland, where they wanted a 4 year-old HIV+ boy, who is on meds, and has an undetectable viral load, removed from the centre until they had "a care plan" in place. Yeah, right.

You don't need a care plan for HIV+ children like this. It's also illegal in NZ to discriminate against anyone because of blood-borne infections.

It just left me shaking my head in sorrow and anger.

The centre has now claimed that they've been slandered by the NZ AIDS Foundation, who, as far as I understand, simply tried to broker an understanding and inform them of the facts, as well as advocate for the boy involved.

It's all been horrible and messy. It must have been particularly distressing for the boy and his family, even his HIV- brothers at primary school have been affected. And I imagine it has been difficult on some level for the people running the centre too - they've come across as ignorant and bigoted - an impression I have yet to see them correct in any way.

But why the fuck are we still dealing with this kind of shit? Why are dealing with this level of ignorance?

It just shows again that HIV is different from just about any other condition you can think of.

It pushes buttons, it rings bells, it scares the shit out of people. Because they are ignorant.

For them, HIV = Death.

The simple fact that this is not the case any more is beyond them, and I'm guessing beyond most people in the country.

Hell, I've encountered similar ignorance from gay men, who you would think would be the best informed, but no, they can be just as bigoted, just as stupid as straights on this topic. In fact I'd say I encounter more discrimination from gay men than I do from the straight world.

HIV brings death and sex together in people's minds, two topics we don't deal well with at the best of times, and that's a powerful combination, and hard to fight.

I guess on some levels it's because HIV has become less of a headline issue, there is an entire generation that has grown up with little real knowledge of it. And let's face it, it's hard to get any positive representations of those of us living with HIV in the media. They love sensationalist issues like this that deal with "innocent victims" like children, but they aren't interested in those of us who make up the bulk of the numbers - gay men. When was the last time Campbell Live bothered to do anything about out issues?

In NZ HIV is still very much a gay man's disease, and the way it is seen reflects the levels of prejudice that still exist against us.

There is the paradox - on the one hand you don't want to minimise the shit that getting HIV will bring into your life, we don't want more people to get it, but on the other hand, it should be treated like any other medical issue. Ideally it should be normalised, seen as any other infection.

How do you fight ignorance, fear and stigma though?

I'd say visibility is key. We need to be able to show the general public that people who have HIV are nothing to be afraid of, that we're just people like anyone else, whether gay or straight, 4 years old or 40. We need to be seen more, and not seen as martyrs or victims, villains or heroes, but as ordinary people.

I don't think the NZAF is funded to do public education on this, though it would be good if they could find the cash to do some sort of campaign on it. That would help. There is simply no way a group like Body Positive or Positive Women can afford to do anything here, they run on the smell of an oily rag.

I know lots of poz guys who have told very few people, I know lots of poz guys who just don't want to have their lives affected by the fear and ignorance out there, and I can understand that. 

Some of us with HIV are open and out about our status, but I can tell you from personal experience that it's not always easy taking that path. But I refuse to see why I should have to hide it either. I am not ashamed of having this virus in my blood, I'm not ashamed of how I caught it, and I'm not ashamed of living with it now.

I wish I had the answer, I wish I had the money to run a nation-wide PR campaign, but I don't, so  I'm going to go on doing what I do and saying what I say. The only way to defeat ignorance is to educate people, and we have to keep on doing that.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Happy Birthday Tom !

I just found out that it was Tom of Finland's birthday yesterday - he was born on May 8th, 1920.

He wasn't the first 20th Century artist to idealise and eroticise the male body, and others were playing with the same sort of images of hyper-masculine men, but he really made it work in a way that paved the way for so many others. Maybe he was just the right guy at the right time.

It's pretty hard to find any of his work that still doesn't resonate with how at least some gay men like to perceive themselves, with how some gay men like to be.

Think of all the hours spent in gyms, those tuna and brown rice diets, all that work to get the six-pack and the big biceps, that "perfect" body, so often the one that Tom was drawing. Tight jeans, leather jackets, the massive cock and perfect bubble-butt.

Of course, no matter how hard you work it you can't do much about increasing your cock size.

But there has always been this  gay tradition of eroticising the soldier, the sailor, the outlaw, the biker - unattached men at the height of their beauty. It wasn't just Tom. Think of Genet and his pimps, sailors and criminals.

These images, in Western culture anyway, are so strong and keep on resonating. Look at this clip from Fassbinder's beautiful film (1982) of Genet's "Querelle of Brest". The same sort of images, the same ideas of beauty,  of what makes a man hot, and men who are somehow disturbing, somehow undermining what it is to be a man, even though they are so obviously and deeply masculine.

Of course, some gay guys find this image oppressive, putting up an image they can't relate to, can never be, and one they associate with the bullies and bad-times they suffered, the teasing for not being "man" enough. But I know a lot of guys who went through school as skinny sissies and now have bodies that Tom would have loved. They find it empowering to transform themselves. Me, I'm too lazy...

This kind of super-butch man has always been slightly problematic  in the gay world. Is this kind of image actually part of the closeted world? Is it conservative? Or is it liberating? Is it sexist? Or is it anarchic? Does it show gay men who are uncomfortable with themselves and overcompensate for the fact that the straight world still sees them as queers, as queens, as less than real men?

Or does it offer a powerful alternative to older stereotypes where gay men are weak, unhappy and bitchy?

It can be used any way, but I think it's mainly disruptive - images of cops, bikers, soldiers, sailors, rugby-players, thrown into blind abandoned orgasmic ecstasy by contact with each other, not with women, is pretty subversive of what the rest of the world thinks it is to be a man I'd say.

The idea that someone who appears so butch, so masculine and tough, and yet wants cock, not cunt, turns ordinary ideas of being a man upside down.

It's the big pecs, not the big breasts, that we want to cuddle up to.

It's masculine, it's butch, but straight men often find the blurred lines deeply disturbing. And some straight men jump the fence at times, they get pulled into it...

But the romantic, erotic wanderer, and the sailor used to be the perfect example, is a strong image. He is hot. He is sexy. And he promises some sort of sweetly broken heart, after you have your wonderful hour/night/weekend affair while his ship in his port - and then he's gone.

And even now that so many gay men just want to settle down into conservative suburban obscurity the image doesn't go away. It's found in porn, in advertising (which is often just porn with more clothes), the image lingers, and it does that because it's so powerful, because it's so damn sexy.

Because on one level at least, being gay is about feelings of lust for other men, and Tom and other artists gave us images of ourselves as strong and sexy - men as hot sweaty, masculine objects of desire. And I like that!

And one last example, New York based queer rockers KINGSHIP have this beautiful song and video "Wandering Sailor" that plays on these themes. Enjoy. And Happy Birthday Tom, and thanks.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


A few weeks ago a friend I'd dropped out of touch with found me via facebook, and she said how good I was looking compared to 10 years ago, and that in fact she was surprised I was still alive.

And 10 years ago I sure as hell didn't think I'd still be here today. But I'm glad I am.

One of the things about those days was the AIDS quilt.

Last week the NZ AIDS Memorial Quilt was handed over to Te Papa, which is probably the best place for it now. I didn't go to the ceremony. I felt a little guilty about that. But I've always had an ambivalent relationship with the quilt I guess.

I asked myself whether or not I wanted to be remembered with one or not a few times, assuming I'd died of course. I used to go out and speak about living with AIDS in schools with it at times.

Some of the panels still make me cry, when I see the names of guys who were my friends decades ago, who died before I came back to NZ. But it also seems caught up in that era of death and suffering that now seems so distant.

It's hard to recall just how black and hopeless things were in the old days of AIDS. On the one hand you want to say "Never forget" on the other, I know that like any graveyard, in time nearly all of those named on the quilt will pass into oblivion. That pain and anguish, the tears and suffering, and the heroism and love, will all be forgotten in a few more decades.

It really did feel like living in a war-zone.

It was a time of amazing struggles, self-sacrifice, pain, anguish and love. It turned people's lives upside down, and there was a time when going to one or more AIDS funerals a month wasn't unusual at all.

For me anyway, death seemed everywhere, and my own death seemed to be right there in front of me.

I consciously decided to try and have a good death, and I have to say that preparing to die has been the most meaningful project I've ever undertaken - nothing else has seemed so gripping as focusing on how to exit well. So I spent about 3 years of my life focussing on my death, preparing for it, not willing to die in the way I'd seen others - I wanted "a good death" whatever that is.

But I didn't die, in fact, I am in better health now than I have been in years, as is the case with so many HIV+ people.

So I guess I feel a reluctance to return to that era of sorrow and death. That's what I didn't go to the quilt ceremony, and that's why I won't be going to the Candlelight Memorial either. I feel as though my life was soaked in death and pain and sorrow over those years, it was woven into the fabric of my being.

I can understand now why so many soldiers who come back from war don't want to talk about it all. It was traumatic, it was painful, it was a shocking thing to live through.

I do remember, I won't forget, but I have this sense that I have done enough mourning.

Now I want to stand in the sunlight and laugh.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Velvet Mafia

It had to happen I guess, it's been building up for a while. And now that ex NZAF Chair Alastair Cameron has been appointed the Leader of the Opposition's Head of Staff, it comes out.

Yes, the Great Gay Conspiracy, the Velvet Mafia, the Homintern. Over cocktails or lattes, quietly chatting in gyms, passing coded messages by the songs DJs play, we push deeper into the social order.

It's all nothing but a front for the deeper penetration of NZ's public life by filthy god-hating Sodomites and the headlong dive of NZ's standards led by their short-haired radical-feminist family-hating Sapphist mates.

The nut-case blogs are at it already - but I don't want to link to them and boost their pageviews.

The fact that Grant Robertson, Labour's openly gay Deputy Leader, is a friend of Cameron's, is seen by some as definitive proof of this godless plot.

Yeah, because in a city like Wellington (well, it's really a big town, not a city) gay men with a strong interest in Labour politics happen to be friends is a surprise how? I know gay men who are active in right-wing politics too, but they don't seem to carry the same level of scrutiny.

It's not a surprise though, and it's the sort of smear we've had before. In some ways we're in good company. In the past Freemasons (no, not the band), Jews, and Communists have all been targetted in the same way - evil, suspicious outsiders who can pass themselves off as "one of us" but really they're out to get us! That's how the conspiracy theorists think.

That was the drive behind the loathsome anti-Jewish Dreyfus Affair in France, behind McCarthyism in the US in the 50s, and homosexuals always get caught up in these things. We were seen as a "security risk", open to blackmail, easy to bribe, and a backdoor for the enemy. Don't forget, we were locked up by the Nazis and the Soviets just the same way the Jews were.

Make no mistake - these comments are nothing but old, deep-rooted homophobia coming out. It really is amazing the amount of power that people ascribe to us. You'd have to think if that were true we'd be in a much better position than we are at the moment - we must be running one of the most inefficient and poorly led conspiracies of all time.

We haven't even improved the national standard of interior decoration yet!

It's true - there are gay networks. Just as there are networks of lawyers, networks of Grammar and Kings' Old Boys and networks of farmers. Humans have a tendency to cluster together with people who share similar views and interests. It's actually a good idea, it means a group can organise and get its voice heard, which is kind of what politics and democracy is about.

I say good luck to Alastair Cameron. He'll need it. Even though I'm a natural Labourite, David Shearer hasn't impressed me yet,  and I can't see him leading the party to victory. Maybe the Velvet Mafia will be able to change all that though. Heh heh heh (Ooops did I say that out loud?)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Running Around With Handbags...

How much does being sexually different from the mainstream world really give us in common? It's something I've thought about before, and it raised its head again the other day after Andreas Derleth, Mr Gay World 2012, said he wanted to change the image of " gay men running around with handbags".

He didn't mean we should ditch Gucci for Prada.

It reminded me of the equally dumb and homophobic comments made by Mike Puru a few months ago that he doesn't want to walk his little dogs in public and be seen as a stereotypical gay man.

But it's a fact that can't be ignored - an awful lot of gay men just want to live "normal" lives in the suburbs with their partners, they don't want to be associated with the more flamboyant and socially non-conformist sides of gay culture as it has grown.

For them, the old stereotype of a gay man as a mincing nelly queen, interested in opera, interior-decorating and gossip, is something they simply cannot identify with. They want to be "men" and fit in with their straight mates. They don't want to be different.

Their position assumes that this is better, this is "correct" way to be a gay man and that being a not-so-butch homo is a bad thing. I understand their desire to be accepted, I really do, but no matter how "straight-acting" and handbag-free they become, a taste for cock up your arse or down your throat is never really going to be seen as truly butch by your straight mates and colleagues.

Gay men can fit in with the mainstream more than any other group of queers though, and hold onto a lot of the power and privilege that goes with being a man in our world. And that is just what a lot of gay men want - they see no need to change the system, they just want to fit into it and get on with life. The "Gay Community" is less central to their lives, or even totally irrelevant.

I'd argue they don't understand either the history of gay oppression and Gay Liberation, or just how we actually got to the position of relative social freedom we now have. It wasn't from fitting in and dumping the handbags. But that was then, and the world has changed hugely. Gay men have choices that a generation ago would have seemed impossible.

And there is no doubt that gay men have done the best out of the movement for sexual liberation and rights. If you're elsewhere on the spectrum of sexual difference, of being "Queer" things aren't as rosy.

The great promise of the "Queer" movement of the late 80s and 90s was to bring that whole collection of letters (LGBTTIF)  that makes such an alphabet soup under one umbrella, to say we are all sharing in the same oppression and have the same interests.

It hasn't really worked out that way though, and it never really held water outside the world of university theorists as far as I can make out. A happily Civil-Unioned white gay lawyer in Remuera just isn't going to have that much in common with a Samoan MTF trans-person. The assumption that sexual difference, that "queerness" unites us all doesn't hold up.

But when someone gets a title like "Mr Gay World" I do expect more of him. I do expect him to realise that in fact a hell of a lot of young gay guys get bullied, get driven to self-harm and suicide because they don't fit in, because they are not butch, because they are in fact, close to the old "handbag carrier" stereotype. And not just young gay guys, all queer youth. Maybe he spoke without thinking, I don't want to spoil his joy in his title, but I hope he reconsiders.

Otherwise he becomes part of the problem, he excludes those who don't or can't fit in. And that's not what I thought this competition and title were about.