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 guess...in 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.
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.
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?