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Monday, February 20, 2012

Bears Go Wild!

We gay men have always had to make our own communities. In the past we did it as a way to protect ourselves from a world that hated and persecuted us. Now we do it based out of our strength.

So we've just had the third BearNZ Week, and it was a lot of fun. A big vote of thanks to the guys at Urge for running such a great event again. They make it look so effortless, but it takes a lot of work to get this week running so well.

There were guys from the UK, the USA, Australia, and of course lots of locals and out-of-towners.

I didn't go to everything, but I really enjoyed the events I made it to, and met some cool guys along the way.

I went to Bear Drag, but didn't run - I made that mistake last year, when I stupidly said to Alan from Urge, "I will if you will" and quicksmart he said "You're on!" Embarassing photos followed, I learnt my lesson, and was happy as a supporter this year.

Mr Urge Bear was packed as usual, great fun, and kudos to all the guys who entered, and a big congratulations to David Morris from Wellington for winning the title.
(Pic above lifted from the wonderful LOLCubz)

The Tri-Nations Dance was great, somewhere between 300 -400 guys I guess, all hot, sweaty and mostly shirtless, and a wide age range of men.

I really value having men-only events; it is just good to be able to relax and be ourselves. There are rumours that this year the security guards weren't quite as intrusive or alert as last year, and certain dark corners saw acts of wanton debauchery, but if you put hundreds of hot sweaty near-naked men together, well what do you expect?

And on Sunday, they held the closing bbq at a private home - at least 40 guys showing up and chilling out in Grant and Brian's garden, relaxing and winding down after the week. No tickets, no wristbands, just an honesty box by the bar, delicious food brought with raffle proceeds, guys of all shapes and sizes chatting and just hanging out.

And for me it showed the good side about the bear world. It is relaxed, friendly, welcoming, and non-judgemental. You don't have to be beefy and hairy to take part. You don't need to spend 7 days a week in the gym, or grow a beard, or do anything special really. It is a very inclusive and supportive group of men to be with, and I am really glad of that.

The debates about "community" and just what it is raise their heads every now and then here, and there isn't an easy answer to it, but Bear Week shows that this community is strong. But we wouldn't be without all the work that the guys from Urge and others put in. You do need events, you do need things that give people a reason to come together, and they provide that, but they do it so well because they are so tied into the wider gay world here.

And changing tack just a little, this is my fear around the proposed idea for an Auckland Pride Festival with a parade again. Unless it has deep roots into all the various queer communities here, it won't work. It will just be a beige, bland piece of Auckland City marketing - "Look, we tick the "diversity' box!"

I have an idea of just how much planning and work went into getting Bear Week up and running, everyone involved had full-time jobs elsewhere and working their arses off, often for free, so to get a full two-week festival going is going to be an immense challenge. It won't happen without hundreds of volunteers, and I really wonder if they can find them. Given the huge problems and bankrupticies and acts of embezzlement and bastardry we've seen associated with previous big gay events, like Hero here, and Mardi Gras in Sydney to name just two.

But Bear Week worked beautifully - it is  raltively short, targetted, relaxed and fun.

Thanks so much guys, and I'm looking forward to next year.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who Killed the Unicorn?

Ah, the Big Gay Out has been and gone once more...

It's the last gay remnant of HERO in our lives, and a it was a lot of fun as usual, even if the weather wasn't that kind to us. The BGO is supposed to be the day for the whole Queer community, trans, dykes, gays, drag, bi - the whole kit and caboodle.

And it's a symbol of how the gay world has changed - our biggest event is a picnic now, not a dance-party. It's full of queer couples with their kids, men and women who have no interest in the scene but enjoy a day where they can hang out with thousands of queers and feel good. People bring their straight mates and family along, but it's first and foremost our day, so they have to behave. And it's so great to have a day when we are the ones in the majority.

Symbols matter, and the BGO symbolises us as a community, as Gay Auckland.

So for the official opening, listening to NZAF Executive Director Robinson open the event and blather on about diversity I and quite a few others had to wonder just why a straight Christian man is getting up there to welcome us to our event? What does this symbolise? Nothing personal mate, but no, this is not your moment in the sun. The last time we had a straight Christian man blather on about diversity at the BGO it was the execrable  John Banks in his desperate attempt to be mayor again. Again, symbolically, a shame Robinson chose the same buzzwords as Banks. No matter how nice and supportive (and I believe Robinson is both) he was the wrong symbol to front the day.

This is the Big GAY Out - sure, NZAF have funded it since HERO went bust, but in the past the Chair of the NZAF has been the one to open it, and that's how it should be. Choose someone from our community if the Chair can't be bothered, although public appearances have always been part of the role.

Of course we had politicians galore descend on us. Labour with Leader and deputy-Leader, the Greens, and the PM and Auckland Central National MP Nikki Kaye. Last year Key thought we should be happy the Nats hadn't taken anything away from us. This year he's promising us a new gay parade. Really? He said that last year too.

And there were crowds of people fawning over Key.

Just a reminder - the National Party has never once stood up for our interests as queers. They opposed Homosexual Law Reform in '86, they opposed giving us equal rights un the Bill of Rights in '93, they opposed us having our relatoinships legally recognised in the Civil Unions Act in 2005. They really don't like us - except at election time. If the closeted National MPs had the guts to come out I'd have a bit of respect for them, but it speaks volumes about the party that they don't.

And what has happened to Gay Pride anyway? The pic above is from the incredibly talented and out-there SF artist, Kenji de Sade.

Gay Pride used to be a political movement, but now it seems more an exercise in branding and product-placement. And if it gets in the way of product-placement, even that disappears.

Just look at Sydney - their party and parade began as a political protest for gay rights in 1978 and then went on to become  the fun of the "Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras", but now they've taken out the words "Gay and Lesbian" - what does that symbolise? A wider market? More money from advertisers? It is certainly a much safer brand - why you wouldn't know there were any queers involved in it anywhere with a name like that...

At times various people go on about how shallow and sterile our community has become. Well no wonder, as our institutions are gradually being de-gayed. Visibility matters. We need to be seen, we need to have a presence, and we need to have some sense of our own history, of our whakapapa.

Without that, without knowing where we came from, without knowing what our symbols mean and why they're important, we'll fade away into inconsequentiality. And I'm not happy with that.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Four Things

A few odds and ends that have been running around my head, so here goes. And who will I piss off this time?

Firstly - Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as Wilde once said, so perhaps I should have been flattered when my fellow blogger Craig Young pointed out that both my and his blogs were  being used under false names and with minimal changes on an overseas gay community site - I won't name it.

I have always been really happy for people to use my blogs, link to them, whatever, so long as I am given full credit, and that continues to be my position. I see them as public.

Next -  I pushed a few buttons with my last blog on gay racism. I stand by all I wrote, but let me be clear - I'm not saying we can't have preferences about the type of men we are attracted to - of course we do. I'm just making the point that by saying "No Indians" or "No Blacks" you are using racist language, you are acting in a racist manner even if you aren't aware of it - and I have zero tolerance for racism - so let me raise your consciousness. Racism is evil, stupid and factually makes no sense - there is only one race, the human race, and we all belong to it. Inside the human race are thousands of different ethnicities with all sorts of characteristics - but  biologically there's only one race.

The point I was trying to make is you can describe what you find physically attractive in a guy without using nasty, belittling and exclusionary language. Given all the attention we've been giving to the effects of anti-gay bullying and the power of language used against us lately I am surprised this seems problematic for some gay men.

This next one is tricky: Gay Conservatives, and my feeling of slight contempt for them.

This was kicked off by some things I've heard some guys saying lately, then looking at the self-hatred expressed by "homophobic homo" Mike Puru. And others. I know so many men who spent so much of their lives so deep in the closet they could have been having adventures in Narnia, and when they finally find the courage to come out, they can't shake off their old ways. But of course, they would never have had the freedom to come out without those of us who kicked up a stink, who rocked the boat and made some noise.

They never had the balls to actually come out and fight for our rights, to stand up and be counted. When they finally do make it out, and often leave the wife and kids they've been hiding behind, they take advantage of the social changes activists help make for them, but they also cringe, and ask to stop being so noisy, to be "normal", as, like Puru, they don't want to be seen as gay.

Well fuck that. Dude, you love men and you like cock, you're a poof - get over it.

The tricky part of this comes because as activists we wanted to make the world better for all of us, including those guys trapped in the closet. And we did, with no thanks to them.  So when they finally do come out and ask us to be "normal", yeah, I feel some anger, some resentment, and some contempt.

We can all make excuses not to come out:  "Mummy would be upset", "I might lose my job" ,"My wife guesses but I love her"  - they're all excuses, and really what you're saying is you're scared to admit you're gay, and, very often, you actually don't want to be gay, you think there's something wrong with it, that it makes you less of a man, that other lawyers and accountants in Remuera won't take you as seriously, that maybe the League Club won't be as welcoming. And maybe that's all true - but do you want to go on living a lie with people who think that way? Really?

And then they end up furtively doing the bogs. I understand that, but it's an excuse, not a reason.

If Mummy will be upset, then sit her down and explain to her why she doesn't need to be. In NZ today you can't lose your job for being gay - that's one of the things we fought for. And isn't it just a bit sad that you say you love your wife or girlfriend but are running around doing the bogs behind her back?

And to be clear, I'm not saying everyone has to come out at the age of 16 - it's a personal decision, sometimes it is impossible, I acknowledge that, sometimes youth is at very real risk of violence from family members, or being thrown out, but that is less of an issue when you're a 40-something manager from Grey Lynn - it was gay activists with all our noise and anger who made the world a bit easier for you, so now when I see your desire to hang out with the same people who used to put the boot into us, like the crowds of men fawning over John Key at the Big Gay Out, and hear your desire for us to be "nice" and "normal" - I have to hold my nose a little. Remember Key's words at the BGO last year? Something like "At least we haven't taken anything away from you" - and the gay Nats seemed thrilled by this condescension from him.

I know it's a paradox - and one I'm still working through. We wanted to make the world a better place, and we've achieved an awful lot of our goals. We've created conditions that help 50 year-old National Party members feel free to come out and that's good; freedom to be who you are is a good thing - but they forget just how we got to this place. And it wasn't with their help. So can you STFU with the judgements about the ones who did the work?

And finally...

This book "Lovers" came out in 1979, and I bought it then, from the old "OUT!" Bookshop that used to be in High Street.

It took me ages to figure out it was a gay bookshop. They used to have a sandwich board on the footpath, with that month's cover model, usually some  rugged guy, shirt off, little shorts on, leaning against a mighty pine, or reclining on a mountain top, and if I recall the magazine had the tag "OUT! The Alternative Lifestyle" - for ages I thought it was a magazine about tramping that just happened to have really sexy half-naked men on the cover.  Then I twigged...

But I digress.

I was 18 in 1979, and trying to figure out stuff as a young gay man. For me this book was the first positive representation of gay male love I'd seen. It was the real story of two gay men, using photos to tell the story of their 3 year relationship after they'd split up. It showed me that it really is possible for two men to love each other, not just have sex. I think I read it in one sitting, I was so desperate for information, for ideas, for patterns, for way to explain myself as a gay man and ways to be. It gave me a strong, positive image of gay guys loving and living, and trust me, this was not a common message in that era. 1979 was a different world.

So it was with real joy I found it in a second-hand bookshop in Wellington a few years back. It is still worth reading, it brings up issues of love, jealousy, acceptance, family - all that core stuff we still have to deal with.

Of course, it was written pre-HIV, so there is a real sense of sadness, of poignancy, as I imagine they must have both been lost to the plague, but I can't be sure. The author, Michael Denneny, is still alive and a force today in NY publishing, having been involved in some of the big gay publishing projects, helping develop our culture - that's pretty cool.

As so often, it all comes back to love. And this book helped me understand aspects of it, helped me feel good about my need to love and be loved by other men. Warm fuzzies all round.

And it's the Big Gay Out again this Sunday - always a great day - if you're in Auckland get out and enjoy it.