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Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Trouble With Express...

There has been a fair bit of anger and upset in certain LGBTTI+ circles this week, after express writer Sarah Murphy published a report on long-time community stalwart Paul Heard's racist comments after he and his partner were gay-bashed on K rd as they were finishing a night out.

I've known Paul for many years, he's a friend and someone I know as a good and decent man. But as soon as I saw those comments I knew he was in trouble.

Paul's comments were racist and offensive, nobody has ever said they weren't. But he had just been gay-bashed, for the third time in recent years, on K Rd, a space that we do tend to view as our own. Getting gay-bashed is traumatic, to put it mildly, and unlikely to elicit a calm and reasoned response.

Yet the event had happened nearly two months ago, and had been reported on the now closed very soon after it happened.

Just why Sarah Murphy decided to dig up the story and present it again at this time is strange. The tone of her reporting was subtly nasty. If she is really concerned about racism in the LGBTTI+ world there are many other stories worth following up. This was not in any way framed as a piece on racism in our world. Nor was it a piece on whether or not K Rd really is "ours". Nor a piece on the prevalence of queer-bashing. It was a petty piece of back-stabbing of one man.

And that's why it got such a rapid and sharp reaction from so many people. It was gratuitous, vindictive and spiteful, that's certainly how it seemed to me.

And it's caused a few others to offer their take on it all, including a very measured response from noted gay media commentator Andrew Whiteside with this analysis.

Sam Brooks writing on The Spinoff seems all in favour of Murphy's approach. I'm assuming they're friends by the tone, but I could be wrong. It's good when your mates stand up for you.

But he does note that "An executive decision regarding the angle and balance of the piece was made that followed the ethos of my new workplace.” That's the elephant in the room really.

He doesn't make any effort to go on to explore what that ethos is in any way. Let's unpack that a little.

Certainly in my experience and opinion, watching express over the last years degrade into a gay version of New Idea at best, or sometimes something closer to The Sun, largely filled with stories yanked from overseas sites like Pink News or The Advocate, some fluffy filler around New Zealand, it has become something that is of no relevance or value to my life or that of any people I know. 

And that's a shame, as it used to function as a very good community paper, under previous ownership. And yes, I used to write the occasional story for it, under both its original and later management.

Look at that sentence above about "an executive decision... the ethos of my new workplace". It's interesting. It deserves our attention, as it seems to indicate that someone other than Murphy shaped the final tone of the story, which possibly explains the nasty, vindictive tone that sits there.

To be fair, express has a reputation for using its writers' names this way. There have certainly been accounts of it happening  before, and a lot of people around town this week were assuming that had happened again in this instance.

But any journalist with a shred of  integrity who puts their name to a piece of copy has to be prepared to stand behind it, with no excuses or caveats. So Murphy offering this little "out' for herself here is not really satisfactory.

Perhaps that explains why real journalists don't seem to stay there very long.

The outrage that swelled around this report was not around Paul's comments being reported or his losing his position at the NZAF. That was old news. 

It was around the nasty, spiteful way the whole story was written up, the core topics trivialised, with a level of innuendo that reads more like it comes from The Sun or the Daily Mail than a publication that claims to represent our various communities.

express revealed itself again that behind its "community" facade it is a toxic mess, irrelevant, and out of touch.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Telling our Stories

I ran into an old friend a few weekends ago. We were both at the wonderful Fāgogo exhibition at the St Paul Street Gallery.

Pati Solomona Tyrell, the artist, has created something truly intriguing, evocative and beautiful. It's nearly over now, but if you can, go see it.It is worth your time.

The works by themselves are beautiful pieces of art, If this exhibition were in a dealer gallery there would be red stickers by them all. And in a wider context, the entire exhibition tells a story.

To put it simply, going by what I've read, Fāgogo is a form of story telling in Samoan culture that builds and holds community heritage and history. Stories told "in a shared context, with an expectation to share the story." He brings this alive in the biggest piece, projected on a wall with a running narrative.

The work is intimately tied into the Fafswag scene that is getting more attention, as we see different queer Pasifika voices make themselves heard.

It's that "expectation to share the story" that resonated with me. Pass the knowledge on.

But getting back to my friend, we hadn't seen each other in ages. We both talked of how we miss Urge as a venue, as a social space, somewhere to go and catch up with others. Nothing has replaced it for gay men. It's not the venue itself that we miss so much as the opportunity it gave to connect.

That opportunity to connect also gave us a chance to meet, to plan, and to share our stories. And that's harder to do now.

One standard way of defining a community is to look for shared understandings of religion or the spiritual world, shared understandings of what is sacred or profane, shared language, shared rules around food, shared dress codes, shared concepts of family and social order, and shared sense of mythical and actual history. Shared stories.Shared narratives.

These shared narratives help create community.

We in the LGBTTI+ world don't have many of these characteristics, and that's part of the weakness that lies with us as communities. We're thin communities, without many of those traits above to bind us.  We often come from such very different backgrounds that we don't have a lot in common, apart from being queer. And being queer in itself is not much of a basis to build lasting community.

But we do have our stories, our narratives, and they can bind us together to some degree.

We need to do more to tell our stories and to pass them down to future generations. We need to keep the knowledge alive - not to say that things will always be this way, but to let younger people coming up know that things were once this way, and that our past to some extent explains their present, and their present will to some extent explain others' futures.

If we forget where we came from how can we know where we're going or value where we are now?

So it is was great to see this video from the UK, of a 78 year old gay man talking to a 13 year old gay boy about how things have changed.

I would love to see more of this sort of thing happening here, and perhaps it's something that Pride can explore, telling our stories as part of the Festival.

Fāgogo is an inspiring model to look to. We don't have the cultural practices or community spaces to share our stories and pass them on this way,  but it would be great if we could find some way to do something like this.

But in the meantime, go see this exhibition if you're in Auckland. It's beautiful. It's art. And it's another thread in our stories.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Losing Our Voice

Clunky, quirky,  and not exactly easy on the eye, but I'm going to miss it.

Long-time editor Jay Bennie announced  that he and his business partner Neil Gibb have decided it's time to retire, which looks like it means the end of Gaynz, the only site of genuine journalism and news that focussed on NZ's LGBTTI+ world.

And as a disclaimer, it's only fair to note that I've been published there many times, as well as in Express when Jay owned and ran that so well.

The website was definitely past its best-by date. It would seem to go against every cliche there is about what wonderful flair for design gay men are supposed to have. And Jay was generous in the way he covered so many smaller events and gave free publicity to many smaller community groups and efforts.

And most importantly, underneath the plain front was real journalism, not just empty puffery for advertisers.

Jay is a trained journalist, and he hired trained journalists over the years to edit the site, and this is what set it apart from any other NZ  news sites or publications that aimed to cater for our communities. in 2011 the site was even nominated for a Qantas Media Award (now the Canon Media Awards).

I used to blog for the site, and had opinion pieces published at times. But I'm not a journalist and have never claimed to be.

Journalists bring a particular set of tools and standards to their work, or they should do. They investigate without fear or favour, looking for the facts and reporting on them.

And Jay did that over the years, whether he pissed off people from the community or not he wasn't afraid to follow a story all the way. Sometimes he pissed me off with how he did it, but he was honest and always acted with integrity, even when some people from our world expected him to cast a less critical eye over aspects of it.

What are we left with?

Eikon, the latest entry in the market, is a well-designed site but it is hardly a credible news source for New Zealand. It seems to mainly gather articles off the net and republish them, and do occasional op-ed pieces. It does that very well, but there is no actual investigative journalism or real reporting as far as I can see.

And Express, well that was initially set up by Jay and used to be a real newspaper, now it's really not much more than a gay Womens' Weekly or New Idea at best.

It's hard to imagine either one of these putting in Official Information Act requests while researching for for stories, or asking questions of a Minister. They do what they do ok, but they don't have a journalist's perspective.

And of course, this being New Zealand, it's not like there is a huge amount of relevant community news to report on every day anyway.

Part of all this is a reflection of how difficult  traditional real journalism is finding survival in today's world. The internet has been great for journalism and also pretty detrimental. The old business model doesn't work so well - but Gaynz never really worked on that model. They were not dependent on advertising to function and I guess that helped them function more as real journalists.

With all its faults, it was a real news outlet. We'll be less well-informed without it, and our communities will lose an important voice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

We Hunger to be Seen

Why are we so invisible?

I don't know if you saw, but there was a news report out this week saying a pair of bodies that had been trapped in the lava at Pompeii, and identified for many years as "The Maidens" is in fact two male bodies.

This has led to all sorts of speculation that in fact they were two lovers, two men taking comfort in each other's arms at this terrible time. The UK magazine Attitude got so carried away that it claimed that they were.

And it's a beautiful and poignant way of thinking about them.Two men, in love, as this terrible catastrophe destroys their world and comes to take their lives, finding some comfort, some refuge in each other, in death as in life.

But it's highly unlikely to be true. There is in fact no way of knowing anything about them except they are two bodies whose forms were preserved in lava.

Yet so many of us really, really wanted to believe they were lovers.

And that's because we so rarely see any evidence of our love, our relationships, or our lives, represented in the world around us.

We rarely see images of two women or men being simply and easily affectionate in public in say a TV show or a movie. We rarely see any representation of gender-diverse or trans people in a positive and everyday setting in the world around us.

I remember how as a teenager I would desperately try and decode every film and song for any possible reference to same sex love, trying to find any hint that there were others out there like me. At 14 I was sure that Lou Reed's "I'm waiting for my man" was about a man waiting for his boyfriend - until my oldest brother explained he waiting for his dealer.

I looked for anything, any possible sign, any possible image or set of words that could be interpreted to show I was not the only freak out in the world. I looked for images that talked of men with men showing love, happiness, and acceptance. And I barely found any.

And when we look around the world now, even though our legal situation is light-years better than when I was growing up, we are still largely invisible.

And we also know that we risk very real danger by making ourselves known, by being seen.

Earlier this month in the Netherlands a couple was viciously assaulted for holding hands in public. It was terrible - but it provoked a wonderful response of all sorts of other men deciding to publicly walk round holding hands - police, MPs, ordinary people on the way to work. A great response. But still utterly terrible it happened to them.

And it could happen to us here.

And that's where we're in a bit of a bind - if we are too unsure of our safety to go around showing who we are, by holding hands, by kissing, or whatever, then we won't become visible and normalised to the rest of the population.  I'd be very wary of holding my partner's hand outside a few areas of town, and even then only in daylight.

But we don't deserve to live this way. We should absolutely feel safe and comfortable exercising our rights to be ourselves in public. But unless someone goes first and starts  taking that risk, it's not really going to change.

That's why I really love the ANZ "Hold Tight" campaign . They made two parts to it, one is the nice glossy TV ad, and that's cool,  and the other one, here above, is where they interview actual ANZ staff, queer and straight, about the subject. Because it's real personal stories I find this to be more moving.

Advertising is one of the most obvious and pervasive ways of talking about the world around us. Ads are everywhere - but'we're not in very many of them. I think  the more we're represented in advertising, the better.

There has been a growing, but small number of efforts like ANZ's above. The more of them that are out there, the more we will be included, the more we will truly be part of the world, and the safer we will be.

Even in my 50s I still hunger to see images of my world around me, and I so rarely get to. To create a world where we are safe to show our love in public, I really think ads like this play a vital part.

Let's hope that one day our stories and images will be included as automatically as the rest of society. Let's hope that our youth will grow up seeing themselves reflected in the world around them. Because it matters.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Farewell to Apps

I blogged years back on how much I enjoyed the hookup apps, the fun and freedom they give. It was a by-product of getting my first iPhone. Suddenly it was all so easy. (Yes, like me, would be the obvious joke here.)

I have been fascinated by our online sexual interactions since the early days of sites like, when we used the chat rooms, then the other hookup sites like NZ Dating. They all make scratching the itch so much easier. I even did my MA thesis on what gay men were doing in sites like those.

Then smart phones changed the game again. Suddenly you could carry hundreds of potential fucks around in your pocket. Men from around the world. It made hooking up overseas so easy.And who knows, maybe you'd even date someone and fall in love! It has happened. I know people who've met that way.

Yet the other day I deleted all of them.

Because love.

It's not that I'm a sudden convert to monogamy, or believe that you can't have a loving relationship in the context of an open relationship. I have plenty of friends who do just that.

It's just a sense that I really don't want anyone else at the moment, which given the miles  of cock and acres of arse I've had in my life might seem a surprise. It's certainly surprised me. I"d see hot guys around me and think "objectively yes he's hot, but actually he's not who I want" - most out of character.

When I think about my life as a gay man, monogamy is probably the only thing I haven't done. .Maybe it's my new fetish.

But seriously, being in love and having that love returned makes it all different.

One thing I realise is that I did use the apps as a way to stay in touch with friends, they were just another messaging platform sometimes, especially when mates were overseas. I had a few long distance friendships with guys I was never going to meet, stuck in small towns in the USA or the Middle East, chatting away over the years. The apps are about more than just sex, that's always been apparent. They build community and connections as well as getting us laid.

If I had nothing else planned for a weekend afternoon a bit of fun via an app was always there to help spend the time. But now  I look at my phone far less often than I used to, no checking who's around to get naked and play.

It's made me consider just how much of that behaviour was simply a habit, a response or even an avoidance mechanism. But I don't judge myself for it.

I've always maintained the thing that makes us gay isn't just the obvious differences of what we like to do with our bodies, it's about who we want our primary emotional relationships to be with.

 It's about love. And when love and sex come together, well, I can tell you it's pretty amazing.