In Italy They Are All Men

“It doesn’t matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”

― Daphne Fielding ―

In 1926, Italy’s dictator at the time, Benito Mussolini, reintroduced the penal code to enforce the rule of Fascism in Italy. The Rocco Code (1930, in force from 1 July, 1931) added more crimes to the list of those punishable with the death penalty, and reintroduced capital punishment for some common crimes. However, when Mussolini came under fire for not including specific laws against homosexuality, he declared “In Italy, they are all males

Unlike the Nazis, who treated gay people as an evolutionary degeneration of the Aryan race and persecuted them under Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, Mussolini’s fascist regime saw homosexuality as a characteristic typically found among the Germans and the English — an affliction from which the virile Italian male was immune. (Today we hear similar arguments from countries like Uganda and Nigeria, saying that homosexuality is un-African…)

As a result, Italy’s strategy was to ‘cover up’ the issue of homosexuality by creating a hostile climate in which open displays of homosexual affections were not tolerated. It was not until 1936, with the outbreak of World War II, that a more visible intolerance towards gay people (men in particular) occurred. During this period, the fascist regime sentenced gay men (often based on mere rumours or accusations) without due process, all in an effort to mimic Hitler’s racist and homophobic policies.

Italia Sono Tutti Maschi (In Italy, They Are All Males), is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel by Luca de Santis and Sara Colaone, which tells the story of the confinement of homosexuals during the Italian fascism regime. There are very few books depicting this part of our history and the authors have gone through great lengths to faithfully reproduce extracts from letters, reports and interviews with survivors — one of which inspired the central character of the book, Antonio.

The elderly “femminella”(effeminate) Antonio, also called Ninella, suffered the painful experience of political exile because of his sexuality. Torn from his family and his work as a tailor, after falling into a trap by the police, Ninella was sent to San Domino — an island in the Adriatic where gay men were exclusively interned.

On San Domino, Ninella makes friends with other unfortunates like him: the foul-mouthed Paterno, the petulant priest Don Nicholas, the slimy dealer Dante and the disguised Attilio, called Chinchilla. Over time Ninella receives the attention of Brigadier Dudiez, his supervisor, and he also falls in love with the young Mimi.

Even though Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is historically factual, it is never didactic. This true story is touching and intense and because of the subject matter, Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is a challenging but memorable and impressive read.

Italia Sono Tutti Maschi, is a must-have for all LGBT history enthusiasts. It has been hailed as one of the most important examples of Italian graphic novels that deal with historical themes. It was first published by Kappa Publishing, in September 2008, and has since been translated in French, German, Polish and Spanish. An English translation is not available yet.

Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is a touching and intense true story

Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is a touching and intense true story


Credits.
Images: Open source editorial images
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes


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Egypt: A Bitter Sweet Symphony

10

He who cannot change the very fabric of his thoughts will never be able to change reality, and will never, therefore, make any progress.

– Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt (1970-1981) –

Egypt was one of the main players during the Arab Spring Uprising — the Arab Awakening — in January 2011, as protesters revolted against their former president, Hosni Mubarak’s, corrupt regime. It was a momentous revolution against police brutality, state of emergency laws, a lack of free elections and freedom of speech, corruption, high unemployment, food price inflation and low wages. In return, Egyptians wanted justice, a responsive non-military government and an active role in the management of their country’s resources.

Under pressure and in fear, Mubarak stepped down and turned all power over to the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Military Council). Sixteen months of political uncertainty followed and on 24 June 2012, the Egyptian State Election Commission announced that Islamist Mohammed Morsi — a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood — had won the presidential election.

For some, Mohammed Morsi’s presidency signalled the beginning of stability in the country, despite the Egyptian military establishment’s resistance to let go of  their control over many aspects of State administration, leaving Egyptian society still smouldering in political polarization.

Spice Boys of Aswan

Spice Boys of Aswan

Every country and every city of the world smells different. Holland smells of pancakes and fried sausages and England smells of biscuits and strawberry jam. Egypt smells of dates and dust.

I arrived in Egypt on 28 February 2013, 34 days after the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, which were marked by bloodshed as protesters clashed with security forces across the country. A mere two years after the Arab Awakening, frustrated with the current Islamist-dominated political scene, angry protesters attacked offices of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and called for the fall of the newly elected Morsi government.

A few days before my departure from London, a friend who recently visited Egypt asked me “to be kind to the locals”. He explained that the revolution, recent shark attacks in the Red Sea, a spate of unfortunate hot air balloon accidents (one happened a day before our departure and killed 19 people) and the continuous media reports about the political unrest, have left the country’s once thriving tourist industry crippled.

As we touched down at Luxor International Airport, my friend’s words hit home. There was only one other airplane — a military aircraft — on the landing strip and the airport terminal was empty apart from being guarded by uniformed men with machine guns. By all accounts, it was a frightening and unsettling welcome.

Once we left the terminal, a rabble of boys ambushed us, asking for bakshees — a tip. Some tried  to sell papyrus sheets, bookmarks, trinkets and jewellery. Slightly bewildered, we made our way to our coach. Once inside, our tour guide explained that the locals meant no harm and were only trying to earn a bit of money. Ironically, the first thing the tour guide taught us to say was not “How are you?”  but “No thank you — Laa Shukran”. “If they persist, you can also say ‘Imshee’. This means ‘go away.”

Begging Boy

Begging Boy – “Bakshees! Bakshees!”

When we reached the banks of the Nile, the contrast between the luxurious cruise ship we were boarding and the street urchins covered in dust and grimy rags, begging by the docking bridge, were reminiscent of scenes from Oliver Twist.

“Bakshees! Bakshees!”

“Laa Shukran.”

“Bakshees! Bakshees!”

“Laa Shukran.”

“Bakshees!”

“Imshee.”

Unprepared for this predatory bother for money — known as ‘The Hassle’ — I battled with clarity of conscious during my two-week vacation, and tried to reconcile the grandeur of an ancient civilisation who built the most breath taking and majestic temples and tombs, with the cacophony and muddle of a country barely edging away from the cliffs of political divide and economic poverty.

Spice-Merchants

Unofficial tour guide Adam and two spice merchants

On the first evening, as I scouted the streets of Luxor, I met a young man called Adam, who told me that the people of Egypt are “happy”. “The revolution changed everything. Now we are free. Don’t believe what the television says. They only tell you one thing. You are safe here. We don’t fight. Muslim and Christians, everybody is happy. Don’t believe what you hear.”

Fruit

Fruit & Veg vendors

However, Adam also confessed that they were all struggling. He explained that, in comparison to the good old days, the streets and markets were empty of tourists. I can vouch for this. The 264-capacity hotel I stayed at during the second week of my visit accommodated a mere 60 guests at best. Very few of the photographs I took of the temples and sites show unwanted heads bobbing into the frames.

Scarf sellers

Scarf sellers walking the lock at Edfu

Since 90 per cent of Egyptians earn a living from tourism, the sharp downturn in tourist numbers explains why The Hassle is so intense — the insistent persistence from shop vendors, calech (horse carriage) jockeys and market merchants for you to spend money. People didn’t seem to be able to meet their most basic social and economic needs. One man pleaded with me to buy a piece of silver jewellery from him so that he could feed his family… Their livelihoods are at stake.

Luxor Street Scene

Luxor Street Scene

As a result, their eager and urgent salesmanship appears superficial and deceptive as they charm bewildered tourists with smiles and winks. “For you, we make special price now. Much cheaper. This is the only shop in Egypt you find this price, because you are my friend.” And then there is the aggression and indignation when you hesitate to part with your Egyptian Pounds (E£).

Felucca

Felucca – river boat – on the Nile, Aswan

In Aswan, which is a much larger city than Luxor, the atmosphere was more militant and aggressive. Here I witnessed political rallies in parks and on street corners. I sensed a discourse between the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis and non-Islamists. On my way back from the souk late one evening, a pack of five boys solicited me for money.

“Imshee. Imshee.”

When I resisted their pursuit, they pushed me into a back alley and tried to steal my camera and wallet. I managed to push my way back into the crowds and as I walked away from them, one screamed: “I am a good person. I have a good heart. Why you don’t give me money?”

74 Virgins

74 Virgins for Martyrs of the Islamic Cause – Graffiti in Asawn

In a country where Kings and Queens once likened themselves to gods, it’s difficult to understand how the Egyptians declined from such power and splendour to what appears to be a position of despair and hopelessness.

Ramsis II

Ramsis II at Abu Simbel

Egypt’s saving grace is its limpid beauty and enchanting mysticism: The River Nile, which has been a life force to millions of people for ten thousands of years, with its humble fisher men casting their nets in the water like a silent meditation, day-in and day-out; the simplicity of the farmers tending their sugarcane crops; the men and women who walk the streets like elegant scarecrows in their full-length pale blue, grey and white gallabiyyahs (dresses) and aemmes (headscarves); the peacefulness at dusk when the sun sets like a big fat silky apricot over the palm trees and minarets, while Muezzins cry their call to prayer in echoes across the valley. It’s holy and primal.

Fishermen

Fishermen heading home after a day on the River Nile

Once I returned to Luxor from my cruise on the Nile, I agreed to have dinner with Adam and his family at their home. Inside, the women were not allowed to sit on the same level as the men. Instead, they sat on the floor and didn’t make eye contact with me. With the little means they have, Adam’s mother went through great lengths to prepare a beautiful meal. And still, she wasn’t allowed to sit at the table with me, but ate her dinner in the kitchen with her two daughters and two granddaughters.

Aswan Souk

Woman following two steps behind her husband and son – Aswan Souk

In fact, I never saw any couples walk hand-in-hand in public. Islam specifically discourages dating, as single men and women are not supposed to be alone together if they are not related, which explains why women and girls grouped together in the streets and when accompanied by a man or a husband, they’d follow a few steps behind.

However, my observation was that this gender division is not tied to any specific religion. Adam, who is a Christian, explained the role of women to me in very simple terms: “The women don’t go out to work. They don’t make money. The men, we work. The woman, her place is at home, to cook and clean and look after the man and his children.

Girls in Luxor Streets

Young girls in Luxor Streets

Sexuality in ancient Egypt was far more liberal, open and untainted by guilt. Sex was an important part of life — from birth to death and rebirth. The gods themselves were earthy enough to copulate. The ancient Egyptians even believed in sex in the afterlife. Sex was not a taboo and Egyptian religion was filled with tales of adultery, incest, homosexuality and masturbation. Masculinity and femininity itself were strongly linked with the ability to conceive and bear children.

Dancing Girl

Dancing Girl

Back then, they had strong and exceptional female figures. The ancient Queen Hatshepsut was the first wife and Queen of Thutmose II, and when he died, she declared herself Pharaoh (a title always and only reserved for a man), denying the old king’s son, her stepson, his inheritance. Her rise to power went against all conventions and today, Queen Hatshepsut is more famous for having the audacity to portray herself as a man, than her reign during the golden age of Egypt’s 18th dynasty.

Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

The facade of the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

She dressed herself as a king, even wearing a false beard so that the Egyptian people would accept her unprecedented behaviour. She had herself portrayed as a man with a male body, and a king’s headdress on all statues, and in paintings and carvings. Some writings even refer to her as a ‘him’ or ‘King Hatshepsut’. She ruled for 20 years and was a bold leader who brought peace and economic success to Egypt.

Hamlet

A primitive hamlet on the banks of the River Nile

Very little is known about Queen Hatshepsut. Some speculate that she was a hermaphrodite, which might explain why she got away with her cunning disguise as a man. Ancient scriptures and early historical accounts refer to her as either a ‘beautiful prince’ or a ‘handsome princess’. However, Hatshepsut did have a daughter, Nefrure, and must be considered to have been a true woman. The dilemma for Hatshepsut was not having a son. Although she tried for many years to produce a son through Senenmut, her favourite courtier, and probably other male relatives including her own father, it was to no avail.

Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

Temple of Queen Hatshepsut carved into the mountain of The Valley of the Queens

After Hatshepsut’s death, her stepson Thutmose III, removed her image from all temples, paintings and carvings as revenge for her shameless seizure of his royal sovereignty. However, as a final touché to gender roles and sexuality, and the royal lineage, this mysterious female cemented her place in Egyptian history by being the only female to be buried in The Valley Of The Kings.

Holding Hands

Men holding hands – a gentle display of brotherhood

Homosexuality on the other hand is still an ambiguous topic in Egypt today, despite the fact that they acknowledge men ‘like that’. Everywhere in the streets and markets, you see men holding hands and walking arm in arm. These are simply displays of affections. After dinner, Adam invited me to an Egyptian wedding where he pointed out a European man. “That is big fat man from French. He stays in Luxor many times. He is friend of everybody and has lots of money. He is a gay, but we don’t say nothing.” I looked at ‘big fat man from French’ where he sat surrounded by young boys and wondered if his friendship came at a cost?

Big Fat Man From French

Big Fat Man From French

Apart from ‘big fat man from French’, I saw no other references to being gay, not in the media, not in secret glances or innocent flirtations on the streets, no clubs or bars and most certainly not on television. In fact, I felt less closeted in my younger years before I came out, than what I did during my visit to Egypt. It was stifling and clastorphobic. I cannot imagine what life must be like for a gay Egyptian man.

Farther and Daughter

Farther and daughter at Egyptian wedding

When the bride finally arrived at her own wedding celebration, she looked horrified. Since this was clearly not a wedding of the affluent and rich, the families probably negotiated the marriage based on the dowry the groom was prepared to pay. I wonder what was her father’s price?

Egyptian Bride

Egyptian Bride

Only once the bride showed up were the women allowed to emerge from behind a carpet-screen that kept them separate from the men. The atmosphere among the crowd intensified with cheers and the firing of machine guns into the air — a display of being happy and feeling festive. This was my cue to return to the safety of my hotel.

Boy with his father at Egyptian wedding

Boy with his father at Egyptian wedding

I spent the last four days of my visit confounded to the grounds of the hotel. Egypt had overwhelmed me. I missed the freedom to walk around without being harassed for money. The face of poverty saddened me and I grew tired of saying “Laa Shukran.” The sound of the call to prayer became duplicitous because I realised that it harboured a darker side and an empty promise — something oppressive and confusing.

Malikah

Malikah — meaning “queen”. Adam’s three-year-old niece.

As I packed my bags to return to England, I looked at the spices that I sympathetically paid far too much for and the delicate perfume glass bottles I bargained down until I got a good price. I remembered the man in Aswan who chased me away and told me that I am not welcome with my camera and the street graffiti promising 74 virgins to martyrs who’d die for the Islamist Cause. I thought about the military convoy that escorted us through the Sahara and the grotesque and imposing temples at Abu Simbel; the presence of armed guards and soldiers everywhere and how the entire country came to a standstill during a fuel shortage. And my heart broke for Malikah — Adam’s three-year-old niece who I met at his house.

Adam boasted that Malikah (meaning “queen”) was the clever one in the family. “She will go far”, he said. But with a culture of keeping women at home and on the floor, the fact that Egyptian children only get a third of the schooling they need, I regrettably have serious doubts about beautiful Malikah reaching her full potential. I wanted to ask Adam for their address, to send Malikah books and clothes and money… a bit of charity to buy away my Western guilt.

Malikah and her cousin

Malikah and her cousin

Would my donations and gifts reach her? Or would it be sold off and confiscated to satisfy the needs of brothers, uncles and fathers? Do I give and turn a blind eye? Or do I pretend to be ignorant and do nothing? Is it really charity if I want to decide how my contribution must be used?

I left Egypt with many questions. Sadly, my fondest memories of the land of Pharaohs and Sphinxes are also the ones that still leave me aching. I don’t claim to understand the complexity of the problems and challenges the Egyptians are facing. Their lives are changing at a tremendous rate and in the aftermath of the revolution, it’s a wild and lawless place. The collapse of its economy is in my view the most dangerous, more so than religious division and political rifts. The most important test for those in power is to get Egyptians back to work, to enable them to earn enough and secure their daily bread and livelihood.

calesh

Calesh – horse and carriage – outside the Luxor Temple

Egypt is like an old man. One who can teach us many things, but one that is also set in his ways. Liberation can happen overnight, but effective and lasting change will take time. As long as they teach their children to continue to beg, borrow and steal, the freedoms they fought for will stay far beyond their grasp. I cannot help but to think that if they invest all their time and effort in educating their young, they might see the dawn of a new Egypt sooner than they think. Perhaps some of their former splendour might even return.

My comments may be rudimentary but are by no means unsympathetic. This much I’ve learned during my trip: Past glory is no insurance for future victory.

Walk like an Egyptian

Walk like an Egyptian


Credits:
Images – Property of Little Red Shoes,.
Text: FR Lubbe


Vicious – A Tragic Waste Of Time

14

I can’t take on all the worries of the world, you know. I can only talk about being gay and being an actor. I’ll have to leave those other battles to somebody else.

– Ian Mckellen –

Vicious, which aired for the first time last night in the UK on ITV, is a far cry from the ground-breaking watershed it promised to be for gay relationships in TV drama… let alone the face of gay culture in mainstream entertainment.

When I first heard that legends of stage and screen Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi were to play a gay couple, I was genuinely excited. Even more so when I read an interview with Sir Ian McKellen — no doubt the poster boy for gay rights in the UK — who said, “It’s not aiming to shock people. It won’t alarm anyone. It isn’t a satire or an exposé of gay life. These characters just happen to be gay. For me it is as if TV has grown-up…

In the past gay characters in sitcoms have been figures of fun. They were funny because they were gay. But I like the fact that these characters are funny because of the people they are. That’s a real advance.”

Finally, I thought, something fresh; something true to life for the gay community.

I was disappointed that instead of being ‘funny’, ‘grown up’ and ‘advanced’, Vicious was nothing more than a sad display of gay typecast.

Written and created by Will & Grace writer Gary Janetti and award-winning playwright Mark Ravenhill, Vicious is the first time that an LGBT couple has been cast at the fore of an ITV comedy. However, judged by the dated and predictable recipe the creators of the series followed, it may very well be the last time too.

McKellen and Jacobi play an elderly gay couple, Freddie and Stuart, who, after 48 years together, find that their mutual affection is matched only by their mutual contempt. They spend their days in their Covent Garden flat, exchanging barbs or scowling at one another from either end of their sofa. Tragically, the lame jokes, cheap gags, faux 70s slapstick humour and lazy script, are barely held together by these two grand knights of acting.

Acting they did… with a capital A. Apart from the promising Iwan Rheon, who portrays the young heterosexual Ash Weston — albeit a two dimensional character by no fault of his own — the rest of the cast resorted (through need not want) to the kind of caricature acting one expects to see in a pub-theatre production of Hamlet. Unfortunately, McKellen and the company’s efforts can only do so much to salvage the script and I am yet to see if these skilled and admirable thespians are able to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse. Ultimately, what the audience is left with is something that is way off the mark in terms of how a modern and liberated gay community (in particular older LGBT people) deserves to be portrayed in the media.

In 2006, the UK charity, Stonewall, published Tuned Out, research into the invisibility of gay people on television. It found that in 168 hours of primetime broadcasting on BBC1 and BBC2, gay lives were represented positively for just six minutes. The research also found that heterosexual licence-payers expected the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, to honestly portray other communities they might not be well acquainted with.

Staircase

Staircase, 1969, starring Rex Harrison and Richard Burton.

Whilst Vicious is not a BBC production, but ITV’s solution to the missing link of gay lives in mainstream media, I still have to ask: Is a bad remake of the 1969 film Staircase, which starred Rex Harrison and Richard Burton, all these media aficionados could muster.

Staircase, is about an ageing gay couple who own a barber shop in the East End of London. One of them is also a part-time actor. Charlie (Harrison) and Harry (Burton) have been ‘roommates’, business partners and intimates for many years. Charlie thinks he can do without Harry, but Harry knows better and patiently bears the barbs and arrows that come his way.

Spot the achingly obvious similarities?

At least Staircase was original and indeed ground-breaking for its time. I suspect that back in 1969, gay men revelled in the fact that such a film was made, even though it was a commercial failure. After all, the 1960s and 70s was a pivotal time in gay history. We were starting to show ourselves to the world with the release of films like Victim in 1961 — still regarded by many as the most important British gay-themed film pleading for tolerance towards homosexuals and an end to the blackmailing of gay men.

Six years later, in 1967, the Sexual Offences Act came into force in England and Wales and decriminalised homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age and ‘in private.’ In 1970, the London Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was founded at the London School of Economics and the first gay demonstration in the UK took place in Highbury Fields, in Islington.

Amidst all the political activism and small sparks of liberation, films like Staircase provided some degree of insight for the mainstream into the lives of older members of the LGBT community, who back then, like today, were left in the shadows.

Staircase was rated R and instead of marketing it as the comedy-drama it was, studio executives treated it like a ‘camp comedy’. At the time, critics panned it. Some said that it was “an unpleasant exercise in bad taste… giving the audience no warmth, humour or even the dregs of understanding.”

Victim

Basil Dearden’s Victim

Dare I ask again, “Do you spot the achingly obvious similarities?”

Unlike Vicious, Staircase did not enjoy primetime broadcasting. In fact, it was rarely seen on television. However, when the film was broadcast by Turner Classic Movies during its June 2007 tribute to gay cinema, film critic Armond White called the film “a rare Hollywood film to depict gay experience with wisdom, humour and warmth”, and “a lost treasure.”

Viewed within its historical place and context, Staircase is indeed a lost treasure. I loved it. Yes, the characters also play on the stereotypical bitchy and bitter drama queens. However, in 1969, this was probably all that audiences (the heterosexual majority) could palate. Back then, ‘camping it up’ was the kind of ‘gay humour’ we used to speak our truth, without causing too much offense.

One must also consider that, at the time, gay people were stringently marginalised in all aspects of society, so this level of platonic characterisation was perhaps all the gay community could safely afford to show the public. However, in the past 44 years, the gay community and our television audiences have grown up. We have moved on and we have moved forward. I honestly cannot say that in 50 years from now I will refer to Vicious as a ‘lost treasure’… it’s more of a cultural insult for gays and heterosexual alike.

In a world where Modern Family and The New Normal already happened, Vicious feels like a step backwards in terms of portraying the gay community accurately. To start with, the name is an instant repellent. Vicious ~ Deliberately cruel or violent and when it is an animal, wild and dangerous to people. Synonyms: wicked, malicious, evil, bad and perverse.  Really? The award-winning screenwriters couldn’t come up with something less obvious and dare I say, insulting? Perhaps a bit more creative? Or if they were that lazy and unoriginal, why not just call it Staircase?

Modern Family

The cast of the American hit series Modern Family

The plot produces ‘jokes’ revolving around Freddie and Stuart, portrayed as two over-the-top drama queens, flirting with the handsome youth Ash, putting each other down, and trying – subtly, they think, but actually very unsubtly – to ascertain whether he’s gay or not.

I cannot help to think:  “Are we still in ‘that place’?” If that’s not a gross exaggeration of every unpleasant stereotype in the book, then I don’t know what is. It leaves no room for character development and not a glimpse of hope is in sight that it will eventually amount to anything sharper.

And I am not saying this because I suffer from some misplaced degree of internalised homophobia. Personally, I don’t feel  represented by this kind of ‘entertainment’. I shudder to think that, in the majority of cases, gay lives are still stereotypically portrayed in the mainstream. Is there no other angle instead of portraying gay people as  bitter and twisted men who have nothing good to say about anyone? There is even the risk that this kind of larger than life stereotyping can scare young gay people, who are struggling with their sexuality, back into the closet… It certainly propagates a degree of self-loathing, to start with… Again I ask “are we still in ‘that’ place?”

Queer As Folk

Stuart Alan Jones in Queer As Folk – The ground-breaking UK television series, 1999.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that older gay people are represented on television and some might argue that the occasional sitcom featuring two bitchy queens is far from being the only characterisation of gay people on television, but instead is one of many. However, Vicious is not ‘occasional’ it’s the first of its kind in a primetime slot, which is why I was hoping to see a bit more artfulness, wit and surprise. We don’t live in the 70s anymore, audiences expect more and gay people deserve more. There is more to the gay community than a bit of slap and tickle. I am yet to see a UK television series that is gutsy (and informed) enough to portray all aspects of gay life without the exaggeration and the humdrum of stereotypes. Yes, we’ve had Queer as Folk… but that was an odd ten years ago. Even that will now be outdated.

Television commissioners are clearly still missing their brief. Like it or not, there are still too many examples of programmes poking fun at gay people (sometimes unbeknownst to themselves), or suggesting that we’re almost entirely defined by our sexual orientation (nudge-nudge Vicious). Like our heterosexual counterparts, we come from many different walks of life, and it’s important that this reality is more visible.

If gay people don’t appear as a part of everyday life on television, viewers will deem broadcasters to be inauthentic. So why not also portray us as well-rounded, normal-behaving African, Asian, Middle-Eastern and European gay people across the entire social spectrum; people who are funny because of our personalities and backgrounds, not because of our sexuality or because we bitch, slap, girl-scream, mince, gawk at fresh man-meat and gossip tiresomely. The ‘normal’ ones are out there — the ones who don’t need the fanfare. Oh yes, and don’t forget the Lesbians… they deserve some primetime telly in their own right.


Credits:
Images – All images from various online sources including ITV.COM. No copyright infringement intended.
Text: FR Lubbe


Dear Maggie

6

I love argument. I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me – that’s not their job.

– Margaret Thatcher –

Dear Maggie,

I do hope you don’t mind my familiarity Baroness MT. However, given our history, we really should be perfectly comfortable addressing one another on a first name basis.

I know that the majority of my kind is rather pleased to know that you have passed away. Some are even filled with glee, knowing that your last few years on earth have been spent in isolation, alone over the Christmas holidays with only your housekeeper as company, ridden with health problems and mental decline and eventually dying in a hotel room — devoid of the company and care of your children and loved ones.

I don’t wish such a death for my worst enemy.

I know this is probably not something you expect from a homosexual, but I’m writing to express my gratitude.

Dear Maggie, like you, I too know what it’s like to be lonely and isolated.

I also know what it’s like to be silent about my deepest desires. I know what it feels like to leave the ‘safety’ of my family and community, because I feared they would reject me. I know about the anguish of pretending to be somebody else because in the eyes of the law, who I was at a certain time in history, was a crime. I know the heartache of seeing friends die because they couldn’t get the drugs and medical care they needed to make them better. I know about standing at the open grave of someone you love. Someone who was much too young to die… a death that easily could’ve been prevented.

You taught me all of this. However, it’s a funny old world and because of you, everything I once knew have now changed.

This is why I’m urged to praise you for Section 28. Thank you for stepping up and proposing something so outrageously wrong that it angered the Gay community to the extent that we said ‘Enough is enough’. It made us stand up for ourselves. It made us fight back.

Thank you for wanting to prevent the promotion of homosexuality. Thank you for taking it one step further; to prevent the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a ‘pretended family relationship’. Thank you for marginalising homosexuals and for making the world think we are less than you.

If you and your government did not do this, then perhaps no other government would’ve done it, and we would’ve remained silent and closeted. As a Gay community, we might’ve become complacent — perhaps even comfortable with the fact that we were seen as second-class citizens, with no equal rights… and we may never have thought: ‘Hang on. This is not right.

Worst still, society would’ve been left unchallenged.

Section 28 is just what we and those against us needed in order for us to realise that we are all the same and equal, no matter who we love. So instead of pushing us back into the closet, this piece of bigoted legislation galvanised the British Gay Rights Movement into action. It gave us a voice and it put us in the spotlight (and you know how much we love that).

Oh my dear, once you gave us our own political platform from where we could shout our slogans and march our marches, the world has become a much better place.

We are stronger, we are prouder and we are more visible.

You yourself said ‘You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it‘. So we did.

Today, as a result, we can adopt children, we can have proper families of our own and we don’t need to hide in the toilets and the bushes anymore. Our shame is dissipating slowly. In fact, we are coming to terms with ourselves and our role in society – a society that is embracing us every step of the way. Heck, we are even on almost every television channel with our own chat shows and we can marry… in a church, my love!

I am pretty sure if it wasn’t for you, our fight would’ve had little bite and we would’ve achieved far less. So, thank you. You’ve epitomised the unkind mother so many of us regrettably still love to hate so much.

Whilst many of my peers and their children possibly will only remember you for the ‘bad stuff’, I will be sure to tell mine (feels great to be able to say that) how your left hand knew very little about what the right was doing. In fact, I don’t think even you knew what impact and ripple effect Section 28 would have on the global Gay community and the movement towards our liberation… Or perhaps you did?

Bless you darling, for all your hard work.

Kind Regards,

Francois.

P.S. Though it’s a bit late now, I promise you, if we knew you were going to be such a trooper, we would’ve sent one of our best to do something about your hair.

** Margaret Thatcher passed away aged 87, on April 8th 2013, after suffering a stroke.**


Credits:
Image – British National Press. Not the property of Little Red Shoes.
Text: FR Lubbe


Conversations With God

2

It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.

– Ian McEwan –

As the sun sets today, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement will begin. It’s the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people and is traditionally a 25-hour period of observance during which they fast and pray. Being the tenth day of the month of Tishrei, Yom Kippur completes the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im, or Days of Awe.

According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend his or her behaviour and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur is set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that you have been forgiven by God.

I’m not Jewish, but in my search for God (if that is what you can call it) and in trying to find a deeper meaning to my life, I’ve always been interested to observe other faiths, religions and traditions. I’ve honoured the celebration of  Yom Kippur twice by going to synagogue services and preparing the food for breaking the fast at the end of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the one day (so I’ve been told) that even non-practicing Jews honour – known as Kippur Jews. In the context of mass participation it carries pretty much the same significance as Christmas and Passover for Christians (not that we fast), Lent for Catholics, Diwali for Hindus and Ramadan for Muslims.

Jerusalem Nun

There are also three more common elements to the religious festivals or days mentioned above:

1. There’s the promise that participation will make the world a better place and turn us into better human beings.
2. We are expected to give some kind of offering or make a sacrifice.
3. Human beings acknowledge the good and evil in ourselves, and need a conversation with God (or other Deity) to pardon us from our wrongdoings.

Conversations with God… I’ve had plenty of those since my childhood. Not praying. Talking. As a boy, I believed that God was the go to guy when you wanted things and my conversations with Him were all about asking (sometimes demanding):

‘Dear God, please let Mom allow me to go and play at Jono’s house.’ (Jono was my best friend.)

‘Dear God, don’t let Mom find out about the hole I burnt in her new carpet.’ (I used to be a budding scientist.)

‘Dear God, if You let me get a bike for my birthday, I will never, ever again be nasty with the nanny.’

My mother had a silver tray and tea set. It was probably the most valuable thing she owned. In more desperate moments of negotiation, I used to say ‘Dear God, if You stop Mommy from giving me a hiding, I will give You her silver tea set. When I die, I will bring it with me and you can have it.’

As I grew older, God portrayed many different roles in my life. When he did not ‘save’ me from my homosexuality, He was the one who had forsaken me. When I fell into a deep a depression, He was the one who punished me for my ‘sins’ by burdening me with melancholy. When I excelled in my career, He was the one who gracefully provided all my riches. God was always either one thing or the other… never everything and inside everyone.

When my mother passed away, I inherited her silver tray and tea set and it became one of my most prized possessions. Every time I looked at it, I remembered my negotiations and consequent promises to God (though I also panicked a bit, because I was not sure how I would navigate carrying the tea set into the heavens and beyond). Then, during a house move that happened at a particular difficult time of my life, the tea set went missing. When I discovered my loss, my first thought was ‘Now I have lost my bargaining power with God.’

That was nearly thirteen years ago. Since then, I have stopped going to church and God has become much more than just someone who is cloaked in traditions and rituals: things that are, if we are really honest with ourselves, just for show. Neither is he a ‘bearded old man in the sky’ who’s wroth and fiery should be feared. I’ve learned that the conversations I am having with Him today, are really conversations with myself and that the best way to start any of those is to always first say thank you for what I have. My inscriptions in The Book of Life is largely written with my own hands (and actions) and my blessings are of my own making.

We can all write a good page for the next year if we pardon ourselves and persevere in doing better the next time around. This will obviously demand some personal sacrifice, be it then by letting go of pride, allowing humility into our lives or being more truthful and less cowardly.

Gamar hatimah tovah — a good completion to your inscription.

Me at Via Dolorosa – Way of Grief, Jerusalem


Credits:
 Text: Francois Lubbe
 Images – Francois Lubbe